Joseph “Joe Cargo” Valachi felt he was going to be killed. He'd been given the kiss of death by boss Vito Genovese himself, in the Don’s jail cell, while he and Valachi were serving time. Valachi killed the man he thought Genovese had sent to kill him. In order to save himself he told his story to the Feds, a dramatic story of the Mafia. He called it “La Cosa Nostra,” as it was known to its hardcore made men. Valachi confessed to contract killings, including the one told of here in this article from the January 13, 1969 issue of New York.
Valachi is believed to have exaggerated his importance in the Mafia, but he gave the world the information no one had ever before heard about the initiation rites, the Code of Silence, and a direct link to killings ordered by his bosses. Valachi knew how the system worked, and had a keen sense of survival when it was his time to be on the wrong end of an assassination.
In '72, a year after Valachi died of a heart attack in prison, a movie about him was released, based on the 1968 book from which this article is excerpted, The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas. Valachi’s name will probably live on while other low level Mafia men are forgotten, because he was played by Charles Bronson in a movie.
Copyright © 1969, 2013 New York Magazine