Joe Valachi – Part 3
Soon, the Minutemen grew in status, and they began hanging out at 116 Street, which was the criminal hub of East Harlem. The special meeting place for the gangsters was a hot Italian eatery called the Venezia Restaurant.
“Guys were coming there from all over the city,” Valachi said. “Besides us Italians, there were the Diamond Brothers, Legs and his brother Eddie. There were also Jewish boys, and Irish guys who came from Yorkville (the area around 86th Street on the Upper East Side). Sometimes you saw (Louie) Lepke and Gurah (Shapiro) and Little Augie (Orgen) from the Lower East Side.
But the big man on 116th Street was Ciro Terranova, the “Artichoke King.” Terranova got his nickname because he had tied up all the artichokes sold in the city.
“I don’t know where they all came from, but he was buying them all out,” Valachi said. “Being artichokes, they hold, they can keep (not go bad). Then Ciro could name his own price, and as you know, Italians got to have artichokes to eat.”
Wanting to get back to the fame and splendor of being a crack getaway driver, Valachi broke away from the Minutemen, and he formed his own group of petty crooks. Instead of wasting the money he had received from the Minutemen’s scores, Valachi was smart enough to have started a saving account (probably under his mattress). By the time he split from the Minutemen, Valachi had enough cash to buy a 1921 Packard. This time, in case the license number was copied down by an ambitious cop after a robbery, Valachi was smart enough to use a fictitious name for the car’s license and registration,.
Valachi also got wise to a better way of breaking unto stores and businesses. Instead of initiating the theft with the noise of breaking a store window, Valachi’s new crew used jimmies and other tools of the burglary trade, which allowed them to attack more lucrative and high-tech businesses. This translated into more cash for the gang.
Unfortunately, the gang’s choice of burglary tools was not always of the finest make. This almost cost Valachi his life.
One night, during a heist of furs from a Bronx warehouse, one of the poorly made jimmies snapped in half. Figuring he could jet to East Harlem, get a new jimmy and return in no time, Valachi told his gang to jump back into his Packard. But before he could get the car into gear, Valachi heard a shot ring out.
And then the lights went out.
A passing foot patrolman had noticed the robbery in progress, and instead of yelling, “Freeze, or I’ll shoot!” the cop started firing away.
A bullet lodged in Valachi’s head, and with another gang member taking the wheel, the Packard sped away while the cop kept firing. No one else was hit.
When the gang reached 114th Street in East Harlem, they decided Valachi was dead, and they didn’t know exactly what to do with his body. So they pushed the unconscious Valachi out of the car a few feet from the East River. Then, to make if appear Valachi had been the victim of a gangland slaying, one of the gang members emptied his pistol into the air.
An hour or so later, the gang got curious, and they circled back to where they had dumped Valachi. No one had responded to the shooting, and after further examination, the gang discovered Valachi was still very much alive. They brought him to a mob doctor, who worked on the Q.T., and after anesthetizing Valachi with a few slugs of Scotch, the doctor removed the slug from Valachi’s head, and said, “This kid won’t die. He’s built like a bull.”
The doctor was prescient. Although it did take Valachi two months to get back to normal, he went back to burglarizing whatever he could get his hands on.
“The thing that saved me was all the work I did at Sing Sing with the sledgehammer,” Valachi said. “I was in real great shape when I got shot.”
Unfortunately, Valachi’s luck with burglaries continued to go south.
Valachi entered a brief partnership with another mug named Dominick “The Gap” Petrilli. Petrilli told Valachi he had a great score concerning a silk warehouse in Upper Manhattan (whenever Valachi got involved with silk, things never went smooth). The problem was there was so much silk on the premises, they could not stuff it all into Valachi’s Packard. What they needed was another crook with another car. They got both in the name of Joe “Pip the Blind” Gagliano, who had a Lincoln of his own. Two more second-story men were enlisted for the heist, and all went smooth.
Both cars were packed and ready to go, when Valachi noticed a prone figure in the corner of the warehouse under the telephone. It turned out to be the night watchman. Valachi’s gang proceeded to do the Tarantella on the watchman’s head and body. The watchman was trying to say something, but with all the noise it was impossible to hear what he was saying. Finally, Valachi thought he heard the magic words.
He knelt down and said to the watchman, “What did you say?”
The watchman said through bloody teeth, “I said I already called the cops. What are you beating me for? You should be getting the hell out of here before the cops get here.”
Valachi thought for a second, and then he figured the watchman made sense.
“Let’s blow!” Valachi yelled at his crew.
And that they did, but not before “Pip the Blind” said goodbye to the watchman with a kick to the ribs.
The five thugs ran out of the building and jumped into the two cars. But Valachi’s car battery was dead. So they all piled into Gagliano’s Lincoln and zoomed away from the warehouse.
That should have been the end of this caper, but then Valachi got lonesome for his Packard.
The next day, Petrilli convinced Valachi that it was just plain dumb for them to leave the Packard in front of the warehouse. Besides, the needed it for other jobs. Valachi agreed, but afraid of doing the dirty work himself, he sent a pal back to the warehouse to retrieve the Packard.
Valachi tried to justify his actions.
“You got to remember, I was just getting over a bullet in the head,” Valachi said in The Valachi Papers. “And I wasn’t thinking too good.”
The man Valachi selected for the job of retrieving the Packard was the boyfriend of Valachi’s younger sister; a teenager who was barely old enough to drive. The kid took along Valachi’s sister, and as soon as they jumped inside the Packard, the car was surrounded by cops, who had been waiting patiently for someone stupid enough to retrieve a car that was just involved in a silk robbery.
Of course, Valachi was not going to let his sister take the pinch, so he turned himself in to the police the next day.
Valachi quickly made bail, and he immediately planned his next robbery.