Joe Valachi – Part 1
Valachi, Joe “Cago” – He was the first stool pigeon to break the Italian mob’s vow of “omerta” – their sacred code of silence.
Joe Valachi knew he was a marked man.
In 1962, Valachi, a dense thug with a long rap sheet, had been convicted of narcotics trafficking and had been nailed with a 15-year prison sentence. Valachi was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was housed with about 90 other “wiseguys,” or “made men” in the Italian mob, incorrectly called the Mafia by law enforcement (The Mafia exits only in Sicily).
Yet, Valachi had unwittingly incurred the wrath of his boss, Vito Genovese, who was also serving time in the same Atlanta pen, also for narcotics trafficking. Genovese pulled some strings, and Valachi found himself in the same prison cell with Genovese. Though entirely innocent of the charges, Valachi was branded a rat.
One night, Genovese told Valachi a parable with a pointed meaning.
“You know, Joe,” Genovese said. “Sometimes, there’s one bad apple in a barrel of apples. You have to get rid of that apple, or it will hurt the rest of the apples.”
That said, Genovese planted a kiss on both of Valachi’s cheeks. This was the chilling “Kiss of Death,” and Valachi knew his days were numbered.
Already, Valachi had escaped three attempts on his life. The first was when he was offered food by another inmate which Valachi knew to be poisoned. When Valachi didn’t bite, he was cornered in the shower, but he managed to escape before a prison shank could be inserted between his ribs. Then, while he was in the prison courtyard, an inmate tried to goad Valachi into a fist fight. Valachi knew if that happened, in the confusion of the roaring crowd, he could be stabbed to death quite easily.
Valachi then ran up to the head of the prison guards, and he demanded that he be put into the “hole,” or solitary confinement. When the prison guard asked why Valachi was making such a shocking request, Valachi told him, “Someone’s going to kill me, or get killed. Is that enough for you?”
Valachi’s request was granted, but after a few weeks in the hole, without any explanation, Valachi was sprung from solitary and released back into the general prison population. Valachi figured that Genovese had pulled a few strings again, and it was only a matter of time before he was executed by a Genovese underling.
So with his head on a swivel, at approximately 7:30 a.m. June 22, 1962 , Valachi spotted who he thought to be Genovese Crime Family enforcer, Joe “Joe Beck” DiPalermo, in the courtyard. Valachi could think of only one thing – DiPalermo was there to kill him, and it was time for Valachi to make a preemptive strike of his own.
Being caught by surprise, Valachi had no weapon with which to defend himself. Suddenly, he spotted a two-foot long piece of metal pipe lying on the ground. Valachi snatched the pipe off the ground, rushed up behind “Joe Beck,” and he repeatedly cracked his skull, until the victim’s white brain matter seeped onto the floor of the courtyard.
Valachi explained his actions in The Valachi Papers by Peter Mass.
“I was out in the yard by the baseball diamond, “Valachi said. “All of a sudden I saw three guys behind the grandstand looking at me. They were about 50 yards away. Then they started towards me. I had my back against the wall. There was some construction work going on, and I saw a piece of pipe lying on the ground. Just as I picked it up, figuring that if I’m going to go, they’re all going to go, a guy waked by and said, ‘Hello, Joe.’ I looked up as he passed me. He looked just like Joe Beck, so I said to myself I might as well take him too.”
Unfortunately, the poor sap with the cracked skull was not Joe Beck, but an innocent soul named John Joseph Sapp, a simple forger who had absolutely no connections to organized crime.
This is when Joe Valachi decided there was no downside to him becoming a rat, and he began singing a sweet tune the federal prosecutors were delighted to hear.