Killer: The Bronx-born son of a Jewish bootlegger, “Joey the Hit Man” was introduced to crime when he was just eleven years old. For the next thirty years he was a numbers king, scalper, loan shark, enforcer, and drug smuggler. He hijacked trucks, fenced stolen goods, and trafficked in pornography. But Joey really made his name as a Mafia assassin, racking up thirty-eight cold-blooded hits—thirty-five for cash, three for revenge. In this no-holds-barred account, he reveals the brutal truth of a life in organized crime.
Hit #29: In the fall of 1969, a public execution in a Brooklyn Italian restaurant earned Joey a mention in the New York Daily News and a twenty-grand payout from the mob. Next up: The bosses suspected their trusted numbers controller, Joe Squillante, was skimming the nightly bets to settle personal debts. But Squillante, aka Hit #29, was no clueless patsy and an unpredictable bull’s-eye. Taking the job meant entering into a game of predator and prey as nerve-racking as the cock of a .38 hammer.
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About the Author
David Fisher is the author of more than twenty New York Times bestsellers, including, most recently, Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man (2016), cowritten with William Shatner. In 1973, Fisher set the standard for organized crime memoirs as the coauthor, with “Joey the Hit Man,” of the New York Times bestseller Killer: The Autobiography of a Mafia Hit Man. It was followed by the true crime classic Hit #29: Based on the Killer’s Own Account (1974), Joey the Hit Man’s blow-by-blow depiction of his most harrowing contract murder. Fisher lives in New York.
Read an Excerpt
JOEY — WHAT YOU'D CALL MY EARLY YEARS
Fuck The Godfather.
For years movies, television, books, newspapers and magazines have been portraying mob members as something they are not. If anyone believed half of what they saw on the screen or read about us, he would have to conclude that the mob consists of a bunch of tough guys who spend most of their time threatening delicatessen owners in Bronx-Italian accents, screwing beautiful broads, meeting famous people and shooting each other.
Nothing could be farther from the truth: Actually very few mob members even have Bronx-Italian accents.
The other things aren't quite true either. A lot of mob people are not very tough, many of the broads tend to be plump and have skin trouble, the people we meet and deal with are very ordinary, most of us stay home at night and watch TV, and we only shoot each other when absolutely necessary. In fact, the entire image of life within the mob that has been created by the mass media has very little to do with reality. I know, because I have lived and worked within the organization for the past three decades.
Organized crime is very loosely organized but highly structured. We have our own social system and, because we can't use the regular legal system, we've had to construct our own police force to deal with internal problems. That's where I fit in.
Every member of organized crime is capable of doing many different things, but each is an expert in at least one area. Some guys are great bookmakers. Others are wonderful smugglers. Me? I kill people.
My official title is "hit man" and I have 38 "hits" to my credit: 35 for money and three for revenge. But all 38 have been members of the organization. I have never killed an honest man. I may have messed up a few reminding them to pay their debts, but every one of my 38 was a mob member.
There are levels or categories of membership within the structure of crime. If you are a runner, for example, you take bets, that's your category. Or you might specialize in fencing stolen goods, or "shylocking" (lending money at very high interest rates). Because I have no compunctions about doing anything, because it is a well-known fact that I will pull the trigger, I fit into a much higher, more respected category.
I don't even call it murder. To me it's a way of making a living. It's a job. It's my profession. But it's not all I do.
I also smuggle narcotics and cigarettes; hijack trucks; bootleg perfumes, records and eight-track tapes; run card games; work the numbers; do a little muscle work; book some bets; make pornographic movies; put people in contact with shylocks; fence some stolen goods; and now and then scalp some tickets. But my specialty is killing or, as we put it, hitting people in the head. I am one of the most feared killers in this country today. I have a reputation of being able to get the job done, quickly and efficiently, no matter what unexpected problems pop up. The reason is simple: I don't care if I live or die.
If I live, I live; if I die, I die. I have been through it all. The ability to make that statement, and mean it, is what makes me a dangerous man. Violence does not faze me because I have lived with it all my life. I got into this business because I found it could let me live the way I wanted to live. I could earn the kind of money I wanted to earn. I have no regrets. Crime has been very good to me. Crime does pay, and anybody who says it doesn't is crazy. I'll tell you, right now there are more of your so-called criminals walking around with a pocket full of money than there are guys sitting in the can. The guy who goes to prison is the stupid jerk who tried to mug some old man or rape a broad or hold up some nickel-and-dime grocery store. He goes up. The professionals in this business rarely get time. Why? Because we go out of our way not to antagonize the honest citizen. We let people come to us.
I would estimate that, in my lifetime, I have earned roughly four million dollars. That is a lot of money. And if I paid taxes on $300,000 I paid taxes on a lot. As far as the Internal Revenue Service is concerned I am a mediocre traveling salesman handling a line of women's cosmetics. A friend of mine keeps me on his books and every week I sign a check and give him the tax difference. Nobody would know I've made that much money, certainly not my neighbors. I don't live big, I don't live ostentatiously. I don't ride around in flashy Caddies. I ride around in a comfortable, late-model car. I don't go to nightclubs. What I do like to do, unfortunately, is bet. I bet big, and most of the time not too well. I'm a terrible handicapper. I'm lucky if I get a horse that lives. So there isn't much of that money left.
I'll tell you who still has a chunk, my wife. In this business, there are two things you learn: Take care of your wife and never lie to your lawyer, because these are the two most important people in the world. Every time I make a good score I give some to my wife. I know she's gonna salt it somewhere. I don't know where she's gonna put it, but she's gonna put it. This money goes for the day when I get my head blown off, or I die of old age. Or if I have to go away for a while I want to know she's protected. Also, if I need bail money she'll be able to put it up.
Sometimes you get to know your lawyer better than your wife. In my three decades in this business I have never been convicted of a felony. I have been questioned in 17 murder cases (for the record, I was guilty in three of them). I have been brought before a grand jury seven times; four times I was released and three times I was held for trial. I have spent time in jails all across this beautiful country waiting to go on trial. But I have never lied to my lawyer. And I have never been convicted.
So organized crime has been good to me. If I had to do it all over again I'm not sure I'd change a thing. I've had an exciting, interesting, profitable life. Nobody stuck a gun into my ribs to make me go into it. It's fed me, given me things that I wanted out of life. It has changed me from a very wild, physical type of individual which I was when I was younger, to the thoughtful, quietly violent man which I am now.
I started in crime when I was 11 years old. Not because I particularly wanted to, but because I had no choice. I did not exactly have what you would call a model childhood. I was born in New York City in 1932, the second son of second-generation Eastern European immigrants. My father was a reasonably successful bootlegger and my mother was a very typical Bronx housewife. He was about five foot six and weighed a solid 170, my mother was a little taller and weighed just a little less. When prohibition ended he became a numbers banker. When the money was coming in I remember things being fine. But when I was four years old my father killed two men Dutch Schultz had sent to try to take over his operation. He was arrested and sent to prison and my whole world changed. I didn't see him again for six years.
My mother had never really worked and this was still the middle of the depression. She tried to get a job but couldn't find a single thing. With no money coming in except what my brother, who was three years older than me, could steal we just couldn't make it. She had no choice but to send me to the state orphanage.
I have a difficult time focusing in on the orphanage building itself. That time period seems one big blur. It was a brick building completely stocked with crying kids. Every time you turned around somebody was yelling and crying. I couldn't sleep at night because of all the noise. I went back a few years ago to see the building but it had long since been turned into a parking lot. It was the policy of the orphanage to board out as many children as they could, so I only spent a total of eight months there. My life from the time I was five until I left and went home at age ten was a succession of foster homes.
The foster-home program was successful when a child was put with a family that really cared for him and it failed when the child was placed with people who took him just for the money the state paid. In the five years I was in the program I was with eight different families, just as many good as bad. The real problem was that the orphanage had a policy of limiting any stay to a maximum of one year, so when you finally got comfortable in a place it was time to leave. One of the very best years of my life was spent with a family on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in a heavily German area called Yorkville. I was placed with a family of German refugees who had a daughter twice my age. In Germany this man had been a professor of mathematics at some university and the family had been wealthy. But when they fled Hitler they lost everything and had to start from scratch here. The old man didn't do too badly. He was smart and he worked hard and he made a decent living.
Every time I think about people in general, what phonies most people are, I think about these people. Even with all their problems they had the ability to take someone in and really care for him. They tried their very best to make me feel like I was their son. They would buy me nice clothes, buy me the toys I never had, take me to baseball games, and even the daughter would stand out in the courtyard and play catch with me. I was happy there, but at the end of one year the guy from the state came and took me away from them.
As I grew older I stayed in contact with these people. I tried to pay them back many times over, but I never could really pay them back. When the old man had a stroke I arranged his hospital care and when he came out I made sure he got the best rehabilitation possible. I would always send them gifts. They never knew what I did, but they knew I was successful. To them I was always a nice little boy who came to live with them for one year.
They were the best. The worst lived across the city, in a rough neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen. They had a one-bedroom apartment and I slept on the folding bed with their son. We were both seven years old. The first day I was there I caught this kid going through my clothes. These clothes were literally all I had that I could call my own, so I tore into him. I beat him up as badly as one seven-year-old can beat up another. That night the old man, who worked for the transit authority, came home and heard what happened. After dinner he grabbed hold of my arms and held them behind my back while his son pounded away at my stomach. I threw up all over myself but there was nothing I could do about it. It was a helpless feeling. I felt terrible and alone that night. I didn't stay with that family very long. The next day I beat up the kid again and just about every day after that (hiding or running from his old man at night) until they finally sent me back to the orphanage.
I came home when I was ten years old. Home? Not quite. My father had gotten out of prison but he was never around the place. I never saw him. My brother had gotten a job in a warehouse so I only saw him at night. And my mother had gotten sick. She was just in the beginning stages of a long fight with cancer when I came home. She was too sick to really take care of me, my brother or my father, so we all went out on our own. I watched my mother die. At one point she had been a happy, healthy woman of about 160 pounds. When she died she weighed maybe 70 pounds. I lived with horror and brutality all my life, but watching her die in pain was the worst I ever seen. She lived for three years, until I was 14, and made me a believer in mercy killing. Had I been a little older I would have killed her myself.
My father died a year after she did. He had given up a long time before he finally died and one day he just didn't wake up. He knew I had gotten into crime but he never said much about it. I was bringing home the money to support the family and what could he say? "Just do what you think best," was the closest he ever came to advice. I didn't miss him when he died; I missed him while he was alive.
My brother and I became close when I moved back in. There was one incident that stands out in my memory like it was yesterday. It was one of the rare days when we had meat for dinner. I just ripped into mine and finished it quickly. My brother could see I was still hungry, so he took a piece of his meat off his plate and put it on mine. "Here, kid," he said, "you eat this. I'm not hungry anyway." He became my best friend that day, and we've stayed very close ever since. He grew up to be a respected small businessman and has done well. He knows I'm involved with the mob and probably knows that I pull the trigger. We've never talked about it. The closest we ever came took place when I was leaving his house one day. He walked me to the door and as he was handing me my coat he felt the gun in the pocket. He just looked at me. Finally he said, "Be careful, kid." That's all.
After our parents died we lived together for over a year in a small apartment. Then he decided to get married and I found myself a furnished three-room apartment and moved in. I was totally and completely on my own. I was 16 years old.
By that time I was an established veteran in the local numbers organization. I had started working just after my 11th birthday. A guy by the name of Joe Bagels, who felt sorry for me because my family had nothing, introduced me to my first boss, Sammy Schlitz. Sammy asked me if I wanted to take numbers and I told him I'd love it. At this point my family wasn't just poor, we were destitute. I wasn't missing any meals — I was just postponing them. So when the offer came I had no choice but to accept it. And, I admit, it sounded like an adventure.
My first "office" was at the intersection of Jennings Street, Wilkins Avenue, and Intervale Avenue in the Bronx. This was right in the middle of the neighborhood shopping area. There was a Jewish delicatessen on one corner, a candy store which was actually a bookmaking office on the opposite corner, and a big drugstore was right next to the candy store. There were also half a dozen open-air fruit stands within a block.
I was living on Freeman Street, which was one long block away from this corner. My first morning on the job I got up around 5:45 A.M. and put on my two warmest shirts. It was late September and I didn't own a jacket. Finally I stuck a pad and some pencils in my pocket and started lugging a bridge table and a wooden chair, my "office," to the corner. By the time I got there and got set up it was almost 6:30.
My very first customer was the owner of one of the fruit stands. He put a nickel on number 013, I remember it perfectly, and then saw I was shivering. He took his jacket off and gave it to me. He would do that every morning: He would wear the jacket to work, I would wear it while I was sitting there, and then he would wear it home. That went on for about a month, until I bought my own coat.
I spent a lot of hours at that table. It was decorated to look expensive and there was a big picture of Buckingham Palace printed on it. I would leave it at the fruit stand when I was done working so I wouldn't have to lug it back and forth.
My customers were the people who worked in the stores, the people who passed me on the way to work or on the way home, plus the housewives who would come down in the morning to bet.
Of all my customers there is one man that stands out. He was a little black guy, he couldn't have been more than five foot three and he had a clubfoot. He worked as a ragpicker. I once asked him what he would do if he won, and he just looked at me. I don't think he ever considered it possible that he could win. But every day he came hobbling along, laid his three cents down and said, "You gonna get me a winna today, sonny?" And every day I would answer, "I think today is going to be your lucky day." It never was, though. Right up until the day I became controller he would come up and lay his pennies down.
The first day I was there I took in $100 and change from people on their way to work. In those days people didn't bet like they do today — they were betting two cents, three cents, a quarter was a big bet. I also learned the most important fact of life that day: You do not operate unless you have a contract.
A contract is an agreement to do something, from bribery to murder. It's strictly oral, for obvious reasons, but in this business your word is your bond. You live and die on it. If you give me your word and take my money, I expect you to do something; if I take your money or give you my word, you have the right to expect me to do something. The penalty for breaking your word ranges from very bad to much worse.
At eight o'clock that first Monday morning, the cop who walked that beat showed up, stood there, made sure nobody bothered me, and then left. I never found out what that cop was getting, or exactly who was paying him off, but he never took a dime from me. From that morning on, with the possible exception of my time in the army, I never did what you would call an honest day's work in my life.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Mafia Chronicles"
Copyright © 2018 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- Cover Page
- Title Page
- Introduction by David Fisher
- 1 Joey—What You’d Call My Early Years
- 2 The Gang’s All Here
- 3 The Numbers
- 4 The Process of Elimination
- 5 The Shy’s the Limit
- 6 The Business of Pleasure
- 7 Bettors, Bookies and Bookmaking
- 8 Horses and Other Athletes
- 9 Big Deal
- 10 Some of Our Best Friends Are in Show Biz
- 11 The Cost of Highs
- 12 I Can Get It for You No Sale
- 13 The Godfather: The Way Things Ain’t
- 14 Gallo and Colombo: The Way Things Are
- 15 Doing Business with Cops and Pols
- 16 Fences
- 17 Going Legit
- 18 The Graybar Hotel
- 19 Good-bye
- Epilogue by David Fisher
- Hit #29
- Title Page
- Planning the Perfect Hit
- Hit #28
- Say It Ain’t So, Joe
- Contacted and Contracted
- Sweetlips Gives Me the Envelope
- Tailing Him
- Doubts and Great Danes
- Young Ladies and Old Ladies
- Squillante Bets His Life
- Near Miss?
- The Best Laid Plans
- Near Mrs.
- Right Guy, Wrong Crime
- The Longest Day
- But First a Brief Word From My Sponsor
- The Longest Night
- After the Ball Is Over
- Copping Out
- About the Author