I admittedly know very little about Joe Colombo prior to him being given the contract on Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese. Anybody want to fill me in, I’d appreciate it. His father was a member of the Profaci family and was killed in 1938 when Joe was 15. Joe had some legitimate jobs and also spent some time in the U.S. Coast Guard. At some point Joe followed in his father’s footsteps and got with the Profaci family.

Colombo apparently was a good money collector and was involved in extortions. He worked his way up in the family and became a capo. During this time there was a big beef going on between the family boss Joe Profaci and family rebel Crazy Joe Gallo over the increased tribute that Profaci was asking from all his captains.

TIME Mag Joe Colombo

Gallo had had enough and kidnapped some upper level members of the family including Joe Colombo. Gallo held these men for several weeks before a compromise was reached. All the hostages were released. Unfortunately Joe Profaci was not a man of his word and reneged on the deal. This started the first of what we call Colombo Wars but at the time was really the Profaci War.
Suffering from liver cancer, on June 6, 1962 Joe Profaci dies. The family consiglieri Joseph Magliocco takes the reigns. Magliocco was tight with Joe Bonanno and at this point Bonanno had designs on becoming the boss of bosses. He was making good money with the heroin he and Galante were bringing in and he was also the longest tenured boss on the Commission. The only thing standing in his way at this point was the treacherous Carlo Gambino. Gambino solidified his position when his son Tommy married the daughter of Tommy Lucchese that same year. The Gambino family and the Lucchese family were now one. Joe Bonanno would have to take out Gambino and Lucchese. He worked out a deal with Joe Magliocco and the plan was in place. Unfortunately for Magliocco and ultimately Bonanno, the job was given to Profaci capo Joe Colombo. For reasons unknown to me, Joe Colombo ran to Carlo Gambino and told him of the plan. Gambino and Lucchese went to the Commission with this news. Bonanno ran off into hiding (You don’t really believe he was kidnapped, do you?) and Magliocco was let off with a $50,000 fine and kicked out of the Mafia. As a reward for his telling on his boss and Joe Bonanno, Joe Colombo was made boss of the family and the family name was officially changed to the Colombo family.


So what do we have now. We have Carlo Gambino for all intents and purposes having 3 out of 5 families in his pocket. He was also tight with Funzi Tieri of the Genovese family. Carlo was now boss of bosses. These events also caused the Bonanno War. With boss Joe gone the family was in turmoil and factions started fighting against each other. I don’t believe the Bonanno family got back completely on its feet unto Joe Massino took over. We all know what became of that though. That’s another story.

So Joe Colombo is handed the reigns of his own family. He not only was the youngest boss at 41 years old but he was the first American born boss. Say what you want but the old time Italian bosses knew how to run things. Joe Colombo on the other hand thought that it was a good idea to poke and prod law enforcement. He created the Italian-American Civil Rights League. He claimed that law enforcement targeted Italian-Americans unfairly. Racial profiling as they say today. Were Italians discriminated against? Sure they were. At one time Italians were the bottom rung of all minorities in the U.S. Dis law enforcement concentrate on Italians when investigating the Mafia? Sure they did. Why wouldn’t they. Is a standing Mafia boss the right person to be bringing all this to light? Of course not.

Newspaper photo of Colombo just before his shooting. You can actually see Jerome Johnson’s camera.

On June 28, 1971 Joe Colombo was shot while giving a speech at the second annual Italian Unity Day rally in Columbus Circle in New York City. Joe didn’t die but was in a coma for the next seven years. The shooter was a black man named Jerome Johnson. I only say he was a black man because some believe that this fact may be a clue on who ordered the hit, or attempted the hit as the case may be. Crazy Joe Gallo had recently gotten out of jail and it was known that while inside he recruited African-Americans to be with him once they got out. No ties were ever found between Jerome Johnson and Joe Gallo. Then there’s our old friend Carlo Gambino. Carlo was old school and liked everything nice and quiet. This was not who Joe Colombo was. Colombo had been given warnings to tone it down. There are FBI files that say Greg Scarpa Sr. told the feds that Colombo had told Don Carlo that the 2nd Unity Day would be the last one. If that is true, why would Gambino have him killed then? You also can’t believe everything you read in FBI files. Hey maybe Jerome was just a psycho who acted alone. Or if you believe Colombo’s son Anthony (RIP) maybe the feds themselves had him killed.

I’m not yet convinced that this shooting will always be a mystery but it probably will. If the truth were to be told, it would have been told by now.

Michael Maffucci