#24: Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara Sr. (Part One)


In this episode, we discuss Joseph Barbara Sr., the mobster who famously hosted the ill-fated Apalachin Mob Meeting in Apalachin, New York. In this first of a two-part series, we discuss the beginning of Barbara's mob career including:

  • His birth in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, Italy
  • His immigration to the United States in 1921
  • His first jobs in and around Endicott, New York as well as Old Forge, Pennsylvania
  • His introduction to the Pittston mob of Northeastern Pennsylvania (more famously called the Bufalino Crime Family)
  • How we gets started in the rackets during the 1920s
  • His relationship to top Pittston mob leaders Santo Volpe, Charles Bufalino (the uncle of Russell Bufalino), Angelo Polizzi, and more
  • His involvement in up to four murders in the Northeastern Pennsylvania area in the early 1930s

Additionally, we located a long-buried photo of a young Barbara that we do not believe has been widely surfaced. Part Two will cover his ascension to leadership within the Northeastern Pennsylvania & Southern New York Mafia, and of course the events leading up to and after the Apalachin meeting in 1957.

Episode Transcript


“Steinberg, terror stricken, started to flee the moment the shooting began. But he was pursued by the man with the shotgun and fell mortally wounded just a few feet from the car used by the killers.”

“As Steinberg, with several bullet wounds in his body, lay in the middle of the road, one of the mobsters called out from the car:”

“‘Give it to him again!’”

“At this command the man with the weapon walked to Steinberg’s prostrate form, aimed his gun with deliberate care at the wounded man and calmly pulled the trigger. Steinberg died before he could be rushed to the State hospital.”

“With their deadly mission completed, the killers sped through the block where they ambushed Steinberg and Weiss and headed to Monsey avenue, turning north on that thoroughfare. They were lost to view long before police reached the scene.”


Hello everybody and welcome to The Gangland History Podcast, formerly The Members Only Podcast. I am your host, mob enthusiast and historian, Jacob Stoops.

In today’s episode, we will be discussing the life and times of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara, the man most infamously associated with the ill-fated Apalachin conference in November of 1957 outside of maybe Vito Genovese. 

Barbara is most often overlooked as a legitimate gangster in his own right based on how his mob career ended, but I can promise you that he was a very formidable force within the American Cosa Nostra specifically in Northeast Pennsylvania and he had many connections to some of the biggest figures in Cosa Nostra history, which we’ll get into in this episode.

Before we get into the episode, I’d like to remind you to please hit that subscribe button and hit the little bell to turn on notifications so you never miss a video, or you can follow the podcast on Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts). Please don’t forget to give us a review, good, bad, or ugly!

And now, let’s get into the biography of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara.

The Early Years

The man who came to be known as “Joe the Barber,” Joseph Mario Barbara, was born Guiseppe Maria Barbara, on August 9, 1905, in the infamous Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. His father was also named Joseph Barbara and his mother was a woman named Angela Galante. Joseph had one brother, Charles Barbara.

Castellammare del Golfo, which is located in the province of Trapani, is situated in the northwest coast of the island of Sicily. Featuring an absolutely stunning view overlooking the Mediterranean, the name of the town can be translated as "Sea Fortress on the Gulf", stemming from the medieval fortress in the harbor.

This small Sicilian town of roughly fifteen to twenty thousand people is also noted for another reason. It is the birthplace of some of the most-prominent Sicilian-American Mafia figures in the 20th century including the likes of Salvatore Maranzano, Stefano Magaddino, Vito Bonventre, John Tartamella, Carmine Galante, and probably most famously, Joseph Bonanno. 

Now, for those history buffs out there, a significant event was happening in the 1910-1920 timeframe—World War I. And of course Italy was a combatant. But in the aftermath of the war, a journalist named Benito Mussolini rose to power and essentially became the dictator of Italy. With Mussolini’s rise to power, he was able to brush aside or persecute many enemies, and one of those key forces that he pushed against was the Sicilian Mafia. 

In his efforts to gain control of Southern Italy, and most especially Sicily, he appointed a brutal man named Cesare Mori as a Prefect of the city of Palermo, with the charge of eradicating the Sicilian Mafia at any price. To avoid the persecution of Mori, many mafiosi fled from Sicily to America to set up shop and start fresh. However, most brought with them their old world traditions, and kept to their clannish nature as a means of protection and power.

During the height of Italian immigration to the United States in the early 20th century, many residents from Castellammare del Golfo immigrated to New York City and other areas around the country, and the Castellammarese men represented the major opposition to fellow Sicilian, Joe Masseria, in New York City in the late 20’s and early 30’s, leading to the Castellammarese War, fought for control of the Underworld in New York City and nationally between the Maranzano clan of Castellammare del Golfo and the Masseria clan.

Young Joseph Barbara and family would live in Sicily until the age of 16, when the family would immigrate to the United States, arriving in New York City on May 28, 1921. Six years later in 1927, he would become a naturalized citizen at the age of 22.

His family would appear to have first settled in the area of Endicott, New York.

From 1922 until 1928, Barbara would find gainful employment at the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Factory in Endicott, New York along with his good friend (and fellow Mafia member) Emanuel Zicari, and would become a citizen of the United States on May 2, 1927. A notation in his FBI file would suggest that he was sent home for being tardy to work and never returned.

It’s around this time when I think he would find his true calling within the underworld.

And it’s at this time that young Mr. Barbara would first show up as running afoul of the law when his name would show up in The Binghamton Press on October 12, 1927. The article would detail a fairly vicious assault by a 22-year-old Joseph Barbara on a man named Cecil Bates, also 22, who accused Barbara of beating him on Clark Street in Endicott, New York. 

In what would become a long-standing trend, Barbara would be acquitted of third-degree assault by a jury just 10 days later after claiming self-defense when the jury didn’t believe Bates. During the testimony, Bates would allege that Barbara thrusted a knife into his back, cutting through his vest and shirt, but not cutting flesh, with Barbara also threatening to stab and shoot Bates. But even with that testimony, Barbara was able to skate free.

According to records I was able to locate from May 18, 1933, in which Barbara was applying for a marriage license, by the time Barbara was 27 years old, he would reside for a time in Old Forge, Pennsylvania at a home on 104 South Main Street. 

He’d later move to another location on that street, sometimes reported as either 717 or 1717 South Main Street around the early 1930’s for those that like to go look that sort of thing up on Google Maps.

The following month, on June 24, 1933, he would marry a young woman six years his junior named Josephine Vivona, in Endicott, New York, and the couple would go on to have four children; Two sons, Joseph Jr. and Peter, and two daughters, Angeline, who died at the age of two, and Angela.

In his marriage application in 1933, young Joseph Barbara would list his occupation as salesman. However, based on notes I found about his early years, it seems that after arriving in the Northeastern Pennsylvania area in the 1920’s, Barbara at some point developed key relationships with several key figures in the underworld including a men named Santo Volpe, Charles Bufalino, Salvatore and Joseph Falcone, and Angelo Polizzi.

Why are those names important you might ask?

Santo Volpe was in fact from around 1908 until the early 1930’s, considered to be the Mafia Don of the Pittston, Pennsylvania mob, the forerunner to what would become the Bufalino Crime Family. At some point we’ll do a story on him as he was involved in some serious stuff including the murder of the sitting boss of Pittsburgh in the early 1930’s, a man named John Bazzano. 

According to FBI sources, Santo Volpe was the self-titled “king of the night,” recognized leader of the Sicilians and had as lieutenant's Joseph Barbara and Angelo Polizzi who were in the bootlegging racket having strong connections with the national combine and Charles “Lucky” Luciano himself.

How does Barbara become involved with Volpe you might ask? I would say probably in the traditional way at first where a young up-and-comer kid from the neighborhood catches the eye of the local mob and they slowly begin to put that person to work.

However, I did come across the following note from 1958 that would lay out some of Barbara’s early years according to a man named Louis Pagnotti, Sr. who knew Barbara and had once loaned him money to start a business, though in this note he was attempting to dispel a rumor though it may have served to corroborate the Volpe connection:


“He also said that at no time had BARBARA ever been his chauffeur and that a rumor had apparently arisen that BARBARA had served in this capacity for PAGNOTTI years ago. PAGNOTTI pointed out that the rumor was to the effect that BARBARA had been a chauffeur for a coal operator in the Old Forge area years ago and he pointed out that years ago he had not been the only coal operator in that area and BARBARA probably had served as a chauffeur for some other individual. PAGNOTTI denied knowledge as to just who BARBARA’s employer might have been.”

*End Quote*

How many coal operators have a chauffeur?!? As you’ll see later, that man, though Pagnotti refused to name him, was in fact Santo Volpe who perhaps uncoincidentally shows up in the report slightly below this note.

Additionally, another report would also support Barbara’s role as Volpe’s chauffeur as well as his bodyguard in the early 1920’s. Another note would refer to Barbara as just “one of Volpe’s boys.”

Again, what sort of coal operator needs both a chauffeur and a bodyguard?

The second man I mentioned, Charles Bufalino, was actually the uncle of future boss Russell Bufalino, and a member of the Pittston mob who eventually would rise to the position of Capo.

The next pair associated in reports with Barbara were brothers Salvatore and Joseph Falcone, who were powerful members of the Magaddino family who ran the rackets in Utica, New York. The Falcone brothers would later be among those who attended the famous 1957 Apalachin Conference at Barbara’s home.

And as for Angelo Polizzi, he would become a long-time highly respected member of the Mafia in Detroit and alleged member of the infamous Purple Gang (his alias was also allegedly the very badass “King of the Night” which I get the sense the group in Northeastern Pennsylvania referred to themselves at). Throughout Polizzi’s career, he’d tally a long arrest record with charges of armed robbery, carrying a concealed weapon, murder, as well as counterfeiting.

Polizzi would have long-time connections to Barbara all the way up until his death in the late 1950’s, as well as key Partnership guys like Joe Zerilla and Bill Tocco. In fact, he was a witness at Joe Barbara’s wedding and you can actually see his name on the marriage certificate, so that would tend to indicate that they were very close friends.

All of these men would be involved and implicated in homicides involving our subject, Joseph Barbara, and all would go on to or had already had long and successful careers in Cosa Nostra.

Making His Bones

According to many reports that would come out after the Apalachin fiasco, Joe Barbara appears to have been more than just the man whose home was opened up for this national mob conference. 

He was quite the force in the underworld in the Northeast Pennsylvania and Southern New York area in his own right, a fact that is largely overshadowed by the embarrassment stemming from the Apalachin meeting. 

Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara (FBI #474250) would allegedly be involved in many brutal homicides over the years, and he would ultimately become a very feared and respected member of Cosa Nostra all the way up until Apalachin. 

A note later in his life would say the following about him:


“All his life has been an associate of known gangsters and racketeers, and has a reputation of being a gunman, murderer, bootlegger, and molester.”

*End Quote*

So that is quite the auspicious reputation, and we’re about to dive head-first into it.

In the early 1930’s, Barbara was living at 406 Fairview Avenue in Elmira, New York and supposedly working days as a beer salesman and evenings as the manager of Vivona Brothers Restaurant in Endicott, New York. 

However, it’s at this time where Barbara would allegedly begin taking part in gangland hits, going full-force into his life as a mafioso. 

The first documented instance in which I was able to tie Barbara’s name to a murder was the murder of a man named Charles Calamara, a local mine worker who’d only been back in town for a few days after returning from Italy after a two year hiatus. Calamara was fatally shot on January 4, 1931 in Pittston, Pennsylvania. Calamara, after being wounded 8 times by two shooters, provided a deathbed confession naming his two assailants as brothers Tony Marilla and Carmel Merletti of Pittston.

A report in the Scranton Republican on January 7, 1931 would carry front-page pictures of the men being detained for questioning in the murder, and this is where I first got a glimpse of a 26-year-old Joseph Barbara. And frankly, I don’t think I’ve seen this particular image of Barbara shared anywhere before, so I found this extra interesting due to that fact.

The article read:



“Accused Killer Is Questioned by State Police”

“Tony Marilla, His Two Brothers, a Cousin and Old Forge Man Are Held at Wyoming Barracks as Authorities Seek Solution in Calamara Murder”

“PITTSTON, Jan. 6.—State and city police in the Wyoming barracks tonight were questioning Tony Marilla, the accused slayer of Charles Calamara, who was fatally wounded on East Railroad street, this city, on Sunday night.”

“Carmello and Joseph Marilla, brothers of the accused man; Carmel Merletti, a cousin, and Joseph Barbara of Main street, Old Forge, also are being held at the troopers’ headquarters.”

“Throughout the day a detail of state troopers, in charge of Sergt. Joseph Miller, Chief of Police Luke Keating and County Detective John Dempsey, were making a checkup on statements of witnesses given to the authorities on the night of the shooting. They are also checking on statements made last night by Tony Marilla, when he gave himself up at police headquarters.”

“The police re-visited the scene of the crime and the Marilla home. The scene and the home are on a direct line with where the .38 calibre revolver and five empty shells was found.”

“At the barracks tonight, State Police Captain William A. Clark announced that Marilla maintained that he was on his way to Pittston from Old Forge at the time the shooting occurred.”

“Marilla’s brother, when questioned, stated that Tony came home, took off his good clothes and put on his old suit and overcoat and went to town. The good clothes that are mentioned and the description of Marilla tally with the description of the man seen running away from the scene, it was reported. The description of the other man is said to tally with that of Carmel Merletti, a cousin of Tony.”

“This afternoon Undertaker Charles Graziano received a cablegram from the wife of the dead man, at Montedoro, Italy, in response to cable sent her yesterday.”

“The cablegram read:”

‘I want to know if it is true my husband is dead. Please wire at once. If so, do not bury body until further notice. Mrs. Charles Calamara.’

“Mr. Graziano immediately replied by cable, informing her that the first cablegram was correct.”

*End Quote*

An FBI report from 1958 describing this incident, albeit with incorrect names, would go further on the motive for the assassination of Calamara:


“Joseph Barbara, the host, was arrested in 1931 by the Pennsylvania State Police, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, charged with suspicion of murder.”

“Calomero Callogaro of Montedoro, Sicily, arrived in Pittston, Pennsylvania on December 31, 1930. On January 4, 1931, at about 8:00 pm., Callogaro was walking along Railroad Street, Pittston, when he was overtaken by two men, one of whom fired six shots at him. The victim in his dying declaration accused one Tony Morreale of shooting him because of difficulties between the victim and Santo Volpe, and Charles Bufalino.”

“It was established that Barbara was a frequent visitor at the home of Carmle Morreale, a brother of Tony. Upon his apprehension, Tony Morreale claimed that at the time of the murder he was working at Old Forge at a still owned by Barbara. Barbara was arrested on suspicion of being the second man; however, he was discharged when witnesses could not identify him.”

*End Quote*

Ultimately, Barbara and the others would be released and he would escape any charges. However, a note in an FBI field document citing the incident 27 years after the fact would corroborate Barbara’s involvement in the Charles Calamara homicide, noting the issue between Calamara and Pittston mob boss Santo Volpe as well as Volpe’s lieutenant Charles Bufalino.

This would not be the last time Barbara would have a brush with the law, and certainly not the last time his name would come up in relation to a murder.

That same 1958 report would detail many other chilling incidents related to “Joe to Barber”’s handywork:


“Later in 1931, Barbara was arrested by New York City Police charged with violation of Section 1897 of the Penal Law (gun). Barbara had been stopped at a road block in Brooklyn during a hunt for Vincent Coll, a New York gangster who was later murdered. When Barbara was searched, a pistol was found in his possession. In court he produced a permit signed by a judge in Broome County, New York. He was then discharged. (8/1/31)”

*End Quote*

I was able to cross reference an article out of The Brooklyn Daily Times confirming this incident, and interestingly enough Barbara would be found with some future Mafia superstars who the aficionados may recognize. Additionally, there is also a connection, intentional or not, with the murder the previous month of one, Joe “The Boss” Masseria. Reports like these are why I love looking back at old newspapers. You never know what you’re going to find.

The article would say the following:



Four Picked Up in Car in Flatbush Near Where Man Was Slain.


“Still intent on the armed war against gangsters, the bandit motor patrol ranged through the city streets last night and policemen on beats watched their jobs with renewed vigor and rounded up a score of gun carriers and petty thieves.”

“In Brooklyn, four men with guns were taken while en route to a Coney Island hotel, scene of a previous ‘big time’ execution.”


“Three up-State visitors to a house at 1206 Ocean pkwy., accompanied by a fourth man from Manhattan, all well-armed with .32 Colt revolvers and a big .32 Colt Special in their auto, were taken in tow by Brooklyn police late yesterday and jailed overnight in the Parkville station.”

“With a fifth man, tenant of the Ocean pkwy. House, who was arrested later, they will be arraigned in Flatbush Court today on charges of having guns in their possession.”

“The quartet, who said they were on their way to attend an Italian dinner tonight in a Coney Island hotel—the same in which Joe ‘The Boss’ Masseri was shot a month or so ago—aroused the curiosity of Motorcycle Policeman Ray Dukes of Motorcycle Squad No. 2, honor medal man and formerly pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers.”

Arrests Four Men

“Dukes saw the four men—big, swarthy individuals—leave the porch of the house, which is only about four blocks away from where Guido Ferrari was slain by clothing racketeers yesterday, and climb into a car parked at the curb.”

“Their appearance and manner aroused his suspicion and he approached the car with drawn gun. Nicola Gruppose said he was the owner of the car and that he lived at 511 Oak Hill ave., Endicott, N.Y., and showed a permit signed by an official of that town for the .32 Colt that he carried.”

“Within the car Dukes found the big Colt special but none of the other three—Joseph Barbara, of 2 Washington ave. and Vincenzo Cappola, of 511 Oak Hill ave., both of Endicott, and Natale Evola, of 12 Prince st., Manhattan—would admit ownership of the weapon.”

“He took the four to the Parkville station, where they were questioned by Capt. John J. Ryan, division head of detectives, and Detective Lieut. Thomas Reilly, pretending the arrival of headquarters men.”

*End Quote*

First, the murder referencing Joe “The Boss” Masseri was actually a reference to Joe Masseria, and the paper (as papers often did especially back then) just got his name wrong. 

Regarding the arrest, in that situation may have been pure coincidence with respect to the destination being that where the Masseria hit took place, as well as the proximity of the murder of Guido Ferrari. Maybe they were involved in some way, but probably not.

Okay, now to unpack the report just a little bit, there were other notes in the FBI field report suggesting that during the 1931 traffic stop where Barbara was found to be in possession of a firearm, present with him at the time were several additional hoodlums, one of which was a man named Natale Evola, who would eventually rise to the position of Boss of the Bonanno Crime Family after the Joe Bonanno situation. 

Again, that’s a pretty big connection and shows that Barbara was coming up in the ranks with some pretty heavy hitters.

A separate article out of the Scranton Republican from August 4, 1931, would tend to indicate that this incident, actually had more sinister undertones:


“Former Local Youth Alleged Head of Gang

Joseph Barbara, 26, Arrested by New York Police While Cruising in ‘Bullet-Proof’ Car

“NEW YORK, Aug. 3—Joseph Barbara, 26, formerly of Old Forge, Pa., and three other reputed gunmen are being held here today after they failed in an alleged attempt to commit a gang killing in ‘Harlem’s Little Italy.’”

“Barbara, said by police to have been implicated in the murder of Charles Calamara on Railroad street, Pittston, last Jan. 5, was described as being the ringleader of the gunmen and was refused bail. His three pals were released under heavy bonds after being arraigned in Flatbush court.”

“Barbara was armed and serene. Since Tuesday when a band of guerillas sprayed a street in the upper East Side section with machine gun bullets, killing a five-year-old boy and wounding four other children, police cars, manned by expert riflemen, have maintained a twenty-four hour patrol on streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn.”

Riding in ‘Bullet Proof’ Car

“Shortly after one o’clock this morning, Officer Raymond Dukes, in charge of one of the cars, became suspicious of a presumably ‘bullet proof’ sedan speeding along Ocean parkway. Dukes and his squad trailed the auto and after a short chase succeeded in bringing it to a halt. Barbara and the other three men were found to be heavily armed, police said.”

“One of the men, according to authorities, said that when they were stopped they were on their way to slay Santa Vultaggio, 1206 Ocean parkway. Officers, who went to Vultaggio’s home to tell him of the plot, found a revolver on the premises. Vultaggio was arrested on a charge of violating the Sullivan law.”

*End Quote*

First, I refuse to believe that one of the men in that car would have just spilled their guts, telling police they were about to go commit a murder. That seems really unlikely, unless there was some use of force to get it out of them. But, that’s what was reported in the papers for sure.

That being said, I don’t believe in coincidences, and I think that this police officer probably caught all the men, who were loaded to the teeth, prior to them being able to carry out a hit. You often hear in the mob that men don’t carry guns unless they plan to use them. 

Well, all of these men had guns, and I doubt they would carry guns around just to go to a restaurant, although I know 1931 New York was certainly a different time and place, but given all the heat why risk it, right? And why would you just randomly be loading 4 to 5 guys into a bullet-proof car? Because something was up, and that officer—trusting his instincts—likely foiled their plans that evening at least.

Ultimately, Barbara would produce a permit for his revolver and would walk free for the second time that year.

But Joseph Barbara in the early 1930’s was a busy man, and as you’re about the see, the battle for control over local alcohol rackets was still hot and heavy even as Prohibition was nearing its end. 

Joseph Barbara would prove to be a key member of that battle for control. I would come across an FBI report would detail his involvement in 1932 in the murder of a man named Jacob Steinberg (who also went by Harry Steinberg, Jack Lewis, Jacob Levine and other names) as well as the wounding of another man:


“On February 10, 1932, Barbara was taken into custody in Scranton, Pennsylvania and charged with suspicion of murder. He was not booked on the aforementioned charge; the arrest does not show on his criminal record.”

“Harry Steinberg, alias Jack Lewis, a New York City parolee, in company with Edward Weiss of Scranton, was walking down Muncy Avenue in Scranton when a car, operating in the same direction, overtook them. The occupants of the car started shooting and, as a result, Steinberg was killed and Weiss was wounded and later recovered. When taken to the hospital, Weiss identified Barbara and Nick Ross as the killers. They were both arrested and taken to the hospital. Confronted by them, Weiss recanted his previous story and stated that they were not the men. Barbara and Ross were subsequently released.”

*End Quote*

The February 10th, 1932 edition of The Scranton Times would detail the gangland slaying in big bold print on their front page, and would provide incredible detail which made this hit seem as if it was right out of the pages of a Hollywood movie script:




Two Victims of Assassins Armed With Shotgun Literally Sprayed With Lead—Dead Man Came to Scranton From New York Five Weeks Ago—Killers In Scranton’s First Gang Murder Pump Bullets From Ford Sedan.

“Gang guns flamed forth for the first time in this city early today, leaving one known racketeer dead and another one seriously wounded.”

“Ambushed by four men who were in an automobile in the 300 block of Poplar street this morning at 5:45, Jacob Steinberg, alias Levine, twenty-five, described by the police as a New York beer racketeer, was literally sprayed with lead pour from a pump action shotgun. He was killed almost instantly.”

“Steinberg’s companion, Edward Weiss, twenty-four, of 817 Monroe avenue, in custody only recently for a $10,000 silk theft, was shot in the left thigh but managed to escape before the gunmen could carry out their plan to kill him.”

“The New York man, who came to this city but five weeks ago, had both of his forearms shattered by shotgun slugs. He also had a number of wounds in his left leg. The bullet which ended his life landed in his spine.”

Were Traveling in Sedan

“The killers, traveling in a small and apparently new sedan, lay in wait for their victims. The car cruised slowly along the curb after heading into Poplar street from Wyoming avenue and its occupants, believed to have been hired gunmen, waited until their headlights picked up the approaching forms of Steinberg and Weiss, who were on the sidewalk when they were ‘put on the spot.’”

“Steinberg and Weiss were walking east on Poplar street, paying no attention to the car which was drawing toward them.”

“Suddenly a gun was thrust from a rear window of the machine. A hail of lead belched from the weapon in the direction of the men on the sidewalk. The trigger man in the car fired several shots and then leaped out with his weapon in his hands.”

“Weiss fell with several slugs in his left thigh, one of which fractured the thigh bone. But he scrambled to his feet and ran, leaving a scarlet trail of blood in the snow behind him.”

‘Give It To Him Again.’

“Steinberg, terror stricken, started to flee the moment the shooting began. But he was pursued by the man with the shotgun and fell mortally wounded just a few feet from the car used by the killers.”

“As Steinberg, with several bullet wounds in his body, lay in the middle of the road, one of the mobsters called out from the car:”

“‘Give it to him again!’”

“At this command the man with the weapon walked to Steinberg’s prostrate form, aimed his gun with deliberate care at the wounded man and calmly pulled the trigger. Steinberg died before he could be rushed to the State hospital.”

“With their deadly mission completed, the killers sped through the block where they ambushed Steinberg and Weiss and headed to Monsey avenue, turning north on that thoroughfare. They were lost to view long before police reached the scene.”

“Weiss, bleeding profusely from his leg wound, managed to make his way to a court in the rear of Klots silk mill. He then crawled between two houses to Capouse avenue, where he collapsed on the sidewalk directly opposite the entrance to the city stables.”

Weiss Taken to Hospital.

“Weiss was picked up by several employees of the stables, many of whom were then reporting for work. He was placed in a commandeered roadster and hurried to the State hospital by Al Eisele, of 1433 Monsey avenue, and several others who were attracted to the scene by the noise of the shooting.”

“The wounded man, who is expected to recover, regained consciousness on the way to the hospital and was able to give detectives a detailed account of the double shooting. Weiss’ mother was summoned to his bedside soon after he reached the hospital.

“Several hours after the tragedy the pump gun used by the killers was found on the Delaware near the Hudson railroad tracks near the Sanderson avenue crossing. It was loaded with two shells when picked up by Tony Conella, a track foreman, of 119 Smith street, Dunmore. The police also found three twelve-gauge shotgun shells in front of the Atlantic Refining company plant, not far from where the weapon was discovered.”

“‘Don’t call the cops,’ was Weiss’ request as he was being picked up from the sidewalk on Capouse avenue. Weiss, according to the police, said he could not identify any of the four occupants of the death car.”

Result of Beer Runners’ Feud

“The police, it is understood, are working on the theory that Steinberg, who is better known here as Levine, was the victim of Scranton’s first ‘spot’ murder by gangmen, because of a beer feud in which he and Weiss figured. Specially imported gunmen are believed to have been brought here to carry out the murder.”

“One report which gained wide circulation soon after the murder was that Steinberg and Weiss had been in the Green Ridge section early today for the purpose of hijacking a beer drop. Still another angle being checked by the police was that the pair who were shot were suspected by local racketeers of having been connected with the recent hijacking of eighty halves of beer from a central city beer runner.”

“Detective Edward Kelly, who lives in the 900 block of Capouse avenue, only a block away from the scene of the killing, was the first police officer on the scene of the murder. He was followed quickly by Sergeant Walter Luther, who helped to assist Weiss to the hospital; Captain of Detectives John Phillips, Detective George Green and Detectives Angelo Manno and a number of other uniformed men and detectives.”

Ferguson Sees Shooting.

“Martin Ferguson, well known Pine Brook business man, who lives at Capouse avenue and Poplar street, gave the police an eye-witness account of the gunplay.”

“‘I heard two shots,’ said Ferguson. ‘There was a pause and then three more shots.’”

“Ferguson got out of bed and opened a window on the Poplar avenue side of his second  floor apartment. It was directly beneath this window that the shooting took place.”

“Fearing that some of the shots might strike the house, Ferguson said he waved his wife back from the window. He could distinguish several forms in the street through the darkness, but did not recognize any of the men, he said.”

“‘One man ran up Poplar street a short way,’ Ferguson told the police. This was Steinberg, who tried to get away, only to be pursued and killed before he could travel ten feet from the automobile of the gunmen.”

“A number of shotgun slugs fired from the car struck a service pole on the curb outside Ferguson’s residence. But the killer’s aim was deadly once he emerged from the machine and chased after Steinberg following the wounding of Weiss.”

“At police headquarters the statement was made that Steinberg is known to detectives as a beer racketeer. The authorities are fully convinced, according to their statements, that the matter was the outgrowth of a beer feud of some sort, probably carried out in revenge for a recent hijacking or through a tip-off that Steinberg and Weiss were engaged in that kind of mission when they headed for Green Ridge early this morning.”

Professional Gunmen

“The killers laid their plans with great care and carried out their deadly task without a hitch. All signs point to the fact that hey were professional gunmen, according to the police, who are also checking reports that Weiss might have been the innocent victim of some gang flareup that made Steinberg a marked man before he ever left New York.”

“Even though the killers were imported here from some other city, as police suspect, it is thought that they were accompanied on their expedition of death by at least one or more local men. Otherwise, the police said, the man picked to handle the murder weapon would not have been able to identify Steinberg and Weiss, particularly at an hour of the morning when the streets were still shrouded by darkness.”

Mixed In Beer Racket

“Since getting out of the scrape due to his suspected implication in the silk theft, Weiss has managed to steer clear of arrests. Detectives say that he has been mixed up in the beer racket lately and that he became friendly with Steinberg soon after the man came here. The two are thought to have formed a partnership in their outlawed activities.”

“Weiss was closely questioned at the hospital this morning by Captain Phillips and other detectives. It is understood that he furnished little information that would aid in identifying the gunmen aside from the fact that they were riding in a new Ford car.”

“The shotgun which was later found on the Delaware and Hudson tracks had been wrapped in a burlap bag before being tossed from the fleeing car. In addition to the shells discovered not far from where the gun was picked up the police also found a number of empty and loaded shotgun shells on the scene of the murder.”

“The neighborhood where the double shooting was staged was thrown into excitement as the news circulated that a murder had been committed. Several hundred people soon gathered at the spot, where large pools of blood from the wounds of Steinberg and Weiss were left in the snow.”

*End Quote*

And again, if you believe that FBI report, the shooter in this murder was Barbara himself along with a compatriot. In the days after the killing of Steinberg, articles would speculate that the killing came from New York as well as from the Pittston mob, tying it back to what they suspected, and as I theorized, control over the local beer rackets.

Again, police would question several men including Barbara but with Weiss not talking, they’d have to release everyone, and Joseph Barbara would get away yet again.

Regarding the murder of Steinberg, the note would go on to suggest that Barbara, as well as the aforementioned mobsters Santo Volpe and Angelo Polizzi were involved, and the investigation uncovered this face by tracing calls from Barbara’s house to the house of Salvatore and Joseph Falcone of Utica (and of course these brothers would be attendees as I noted at Apalachin). 

And of course, just before Apalachin occurred it’s worth noting that Polizzi visited his old friend in September of 1957 just before his own death, nearly 30 years after the hit. 

Again, this just goes to show the connections of Barbara, who at the time was still fairly young, but was doing a lot of heavy work and could by this point definitely be characterized as an “up and comer” within the Italian underworld.

But Joseph Barbara in the early 1930’s was a very busy man, and an FBI report would detail his involvement in what I believe to be the most infamous murder associated with Barbara, that of bootlegger Samuel Wichner:

“In 1933, Barbara was arrested by the Scranton Pennsylvania police, on suspicion.”

“At 7:00 p.m., on February 16, 1933, the body of Samuel Wichner, a bootlegger and hi-jacker, was found in the rear trunk of a car on Meridian Avenue, Scranton, Pennsylvania. Death was caused by strangulation. There was a noose about the victim’s neck and the rope was fastened to the victim’s knees, in typical gangland fashion.”

“Two men had been observed leaving the victim’s car and entering a black Buick sedan occupied by two other men.”

“The victim had informed his wife that he had been to Barbara’s home on a previous night for a conference on a bootlegging venture with Barbara, Santos Volpe, and Angelo Polizzi and had been instructed by Barbara to return at 9:30 pm. the following night without informing anyone as to where he was going.”

“During the investigation, calls were traced from Barbara’s home to Utica 4-0613, listed to Salvatore Falcone and Brothers, 550 Bleeker Street, Utica, New York.”

“On the failure of the witness, who had observed two men leaving the victim’s car, to identify either Polizzi or Barbara they were discharged.”

*End Quote*

As everybody knows, I spend an inordinate amount of time digging into old newspaper articles in part to corroborate the information that I find in FBI reports, but more for the fact that I really enjoy digging into what I feel like is a window back in time. As a history buff, I eat this stuff up. And what I like about looking at some of these articles is that they tend to be fairly accurate with respect to reporting the facts of certain events like this one.

And so, as I always do, I’ll take you through the sequence of events as reported by the local papers in February of 1933. First, we’ll begin with reports the day after the body of Samuel Wichner was discovered.

An article in the Scranton Republican on February 17, 1933 would run the story of Wichner’s murder with front-page headlines reading:



“Victim of Feud Bound and Left In His Own Car”

“Samuel Wichner, Hanover Township, Beaten and Strangled, Dead Nearly Twenty-Four Hours Before Police Make Gruesome Discovery; Machine Believed Parked on Meridian Avenue Early Yesterday Morning”

“Bound and trussed with heavy sashcord, a section of which had been pulled around his neck so tightly as to cause death by strangulation, the body of a man said to be Samuel Wichner, 31, 100 Lynnwood avenue, Hanover township, was found last night stuffed in the rear compartment of a coupe which had been parked for nearly twenty hours in the 400 block of Meridian avenue, West Scranton.”

“Apparently the victim of a gangster feud resulting from alleged hi-jacking of liquor and beer shipments, Wichner, the Scranton police believe, was murdered outside of the city and jammed in the small section in the rear of his own car which his slayers then drove to West Scranton.”

Police Question Two Men

“Two men, who were with Wichner on Wednesday night, and who are believed by the authorities to know something of the murder, were taken into custody in Wilkes-Barre late last night, and early today were being questioned by Wilkes-Barre and Scranton police, Lackawanna and Luzerne county detectives, and state troopers.”

“The men described themselves as Jack Lourie, 30, 122 Second avenue, Kingston, and Sidney Bloom, 25, 155 East Market street, Wilkes-Barre.”

“The murder of Wichner, the most gruesome of the three gangster killings which have been recorded in this county during the past year, was discovered at 7 o’clock last night when Motorcycle Patrolman Ralph Van Horn went to Meridian avenue to examine the parked car after residents of the neighborhood had reported that the machine had stood there all day.”

Rope Bound Around Neck

“Lifting up the cover on the rear section of the Ford coupe, the patrolman saw the man’s body, with the rope bound around his neck, his chest, his abdomen and his legs. The victim’s arms were free.”

“His head was badly cut and bruised, and blood poured from his left ear, Dr. J. Harold O’Dea, deputy coroner, who later examined the body, said the man had probably been brutally beaten before his slayers bound him and strangled him, and that the blood may have come from his car as the result of a hemorrhage caused by a skull fracture. The body was so stiff as a result of exposure that Dr. O’Dea and Coroner F.A. Bartecchi decided to wait until this morning to make a post-mortem. There were no bullet holes or knife wounds on Wichner’s body.”

*End Quote*

The article goes on to explain more about the discovery and how the police came to believe that Jack Lurie and Sidney Bloom were suspects in the murder. 

According to reports, the police interviewed Wichner’s wife who told them that her husband had left the house around 8pm in the company of Lurie. Lurie and Wichner then went to a restaurant called the Rialto Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre, where they met up with Sidney Bloom. From there, the 3 men left at around 8:30pm, with Bloom returning an hour later.

The suspects, Lurie and Bloom, would say that they didn’t see Wichner again after they left the restaurant, and that he’d gotten into his car and driven to Scranton. 

Now as I mentioned, although it doesn’t show up in the local papers, eventually the police follow their leads and start to center their investigation on Joseph Barbara. According to FBI reports, Volpe and Angelo Polizzi had previously been involved in liquor dealings with Wichner, so they were familiar to some degree.

Based on the old FBI reports I found, it appears that on the evening of Wichner’s murder, he’d met with Barbara, Santo Volpe, and Angelo Polizzi to discuss bootlegging (and most likely his hijacking of their shipments). At the conclusion of that meeting, Wichner leaves but is told to come to Barbara’s house the following night at 9:30pm and he unwisely goes and walks right into the trap. This is probably around the February 15th or 16th timeframe in 1933. And of course we know that Wichner is badly beaten and strangled, most likely by Barbara himself.

The police talk to Wichner’s wife and as a result start tracing calls of Barbara, and within a week they arrest Barbara as well as Angelo Polizzi for suspicion, and in addition question Santo Volpe as well. Unfortunately for law enforcement, after a brief interrogation, with no proof and nobody willing to identify the pair, the best that they could do was revoke the men’s pistol permits.

Subsequently, both Barbara and Polizzi would be released the same day, February 23, 1933, and by February 25th, 10 days after the discovery of the body, the case would officially collapse and remains unsolved, though Barbara was widely believed to have committed the murder.

So by this point if you’re keeping score, this is at least 3 murders in a relatively short time-period that Barbara is involved in, and he walks free on each and every one of them. And for Joe Barbara, things would continue to be on the upswing, and he’d really lead a charmed Mafia life nearly until the end.

Speaking of being on the upswing, the rather extensive report we referenced earlier would continue, insinuating that on the day of his wedding, June 24, 1933, Joe Barbara was also mastermining an armed robbery of a Binghamton shoe factory (which I guess is a fairly air-tight alibi). Who does that by the way?!?

The story goes:


“On June 24, 1933, at 10:00 A.M., the Gotham shoe factory in Binghamton, New York, was held up and robbed of a payroll in the sum of $4775 by two men using a Buick sedan, New York license 2L4520, registered in the name of James Hart, 1114 Park Place, Brooklyn, New York. An operator’s license issued to one James Richmond of 282 Pitkin Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, was found at the scene, this proved to be fictitious.”

“The Buick sedan was found abandoned with the motor running at about 11:00 a.m. the same date, about one mile from the scene of the robbery. One hour prior to the robbery, a Chrysler sedan bearing Pennsylvania license #69Z12 was seen in the vicinity where the Buick was later found. Only the operator was in the Chrysler sedan. At 11:00 a.m. this automobile was again seen in the same vicinity and was alleged to have picked up two men. At 2:00 p.m. the same automobile was alleged to have picked up two other men in the vicinity, making a total of five. The Chrysler was checked out to be registered in the name of Joseph Barbara of 717 South Main Street, Old Forge, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania.”

“On the date of the holdup, Joseph Barbara was married to Josephine Vivona of 4 Garfield Avenue, Endicott, New York, with many known New York gangsters at the wedding.”

*End Quote*

Now, because I like to double-verify and because sometimes stories sound more like myth than fact, I did double-check this, and it is in fact absolutely true. There was a daring day-time robbery of the Gotham Shoe Factory reported near the date I just mentioned and what’s better is that the factory was robbed again just a few months later. I wonder if that was the handiwork of Barbara and crew as well?

So in the early 1930’s, Joseph Barbara was essentially a one-man crime wave, and that particular robbery of $4,775 in 1933 would constitute roughly $113,000 in today’s money, so a pretty nice score for Mr. and Mrs. Barbara to put towards their honeymoon if you ask me.

Can you imagine how that conversation with his new wife probably went?!?

“Honey, I’ve lined up a major score that’s going to pay for our honeymoon and then some! But here’s the catch, it has to be done today!”

“But Joe, we’re getting married today.”

(Choking sound)

“Okay honey, whatever you say”

And the mayhem with Barbara wouldn’t stop in the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, as he’d continue to solidify his reputation in the Northeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New York underworld both locally as well as within the national combination.

The 1958 report would continue to lay out Barbara’s potential involvement in yet another murder:


“On July 9, 1934, Barbara was questioned by the Broome County authorities in connection with the murder of Joe Morreale on July 4, 1934.”

*End Quote*

Okay, so I’m not going to go into as much detail on this one as I did the others as it’s probably overkill, but again, this is at least the fourth time Barbara gets pulled in and questioned on a murder rap in the early to mid 1930’s. So it’s clear that he’s a violent guy and he’s dead center on the local authorities radar.

In this case, in the early part of July 1934 a local hood named Joe “Colorado Joe” Morreale, who himself had a long police record, was taken for a ride and murdered. There are many theories that circulated regarding the reasons for his death including being the finger man in the arrest of another man, Stephen Cuchiara (whom he’d been staying with for a few weeks), a potential double-cross hijacking of a liquor shipment, or potentially knowing too much about the murder of three men in a mine shaft in Old Forge, PA in the earlier part of 1933.

In any event, Morreale was taken to his death in his own car and upon reaching the murder site was pushed out and shot 16 times in the head, neck, shoulders and left arm, with the autopsy revealing he’d been shot by a .32 caliber revolver and .32 caliber automatic pistol. A witness living near the scene told police she saw two cars come out the Gulf Rd. where he was found at about 3 am, and the body was found around 7am (with the coroner stating that “Colorado Joe” had been dead for about 4-6 hours).

In the end, 12 people including Barbara were questioned, but within 3 weeks all local gangsters would be ruled out and the case would go unsolved.

FBI reports later in his life would refer to Barbara as a “kingpin” in gambling activities in Endicott and vicinity, though he would remain in the background and furnish the money. Reports of Barbara’s control over local bookmaking, gambling, and lottery operations would continue well into the 1950’s though authorities were never able to secure any evidence to prove he was behind it.

Reports would also suggest that Barbara had been suspected for years of being the man behind the operation of all illegal stills in the area, though efforts to arrest him would prove futile. Though authorities couldn’t provide it, they believed Barbara’s connections to bootlegging and for being the most common acquaintance to those who were most typically arrested for bootlegging activities were key indicators, as well as their belief that he was one of the only men in the area at the time with enough money to set up a network of illicit stills. Even after bootlegging ended, illegal stills were still big sources of revenue for the various mobs primarily because the illegal alcohol was both cheaper to make and you didn’t have to pay taxes, making it continue on as an appealing option for businesses looking to cut costs (or not have their legs broken). Angelo Bruno was known to have stayed in this business after Prohibition as well.

But like many mafiosi, he was about the attempt to go legit, or at least appear that way for public appearances.

Check out Part Two

Jacob Stoops, the host of The Gangland History Podcast

Jacob Stoops

Host of the Gangland History Podcast

This podcast sits at the intersection of my life-long love for history, my love of mob movies, my now decades-long fascination with the Mafia, as well as my passion for content creation.