Born Palermo, Sicily, 1901.
Killed Bronx, NY, Feb. 3, 1931.
"Joe the Baker" Catania, a relative of the Terranova family, rose to prominence within the Bronx-East Harlem Mafia of in the 1920s and was a key figure in the Castellammarese War of 1930-31. There appears to be no significant family relationship between Catania and "Joe the Grocer" Catania, who was murdered in Brooklyn in 1902.
Sons of Antonio Catania, who ran a Manhattan bakery, Joseph and his brother James were both known by the "Baker" nickname. The Catania family entered the U.S. gradually between 1900 and 1903. The family initially settled in the Arthur Avenue neighborhood of the Bronx, then moved short distances to Hughes Avenue and then to Bassford Avenue.
Catania was arrested numerous times for assault, burglary and disorderly conduct in the mid-1920s, but the charges were repeatedly dropped. In 1928, Catania was one of seven known criminals in attendance at a Bronx banquet held in honor of Magistrate Vitale. The presence of the hoodlums led to Vitale's downfall and helped bring an end to the Jimmy Walker Administration in New York City.
By the outbreak of the Castellammarese War, around 1930, Catania was a major force in the Bronx-East Harlem underworld. Evidence of his importance: When peace feelers were sent by Catania's superior, Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Masseria, to Castellammarese rebel leader Salvatore Maranzano, Maranzano stated that he could not end the war yet because Joe Baker still lived. It is often said that Catania earned Maranzano's hatred by stealing his liquor shipments. However, it seems at least as likely that Catania stood in the way of Maranzano allies in the Bronx.
The 29-year-old Baker was shot six times in the head and body by a Maranzano hit squad at 11:45 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1931, in front of 647 Crescent Avenue in the Bronx. He was rushed to Fordham Hospital, where he died.
With Ciro Terranova and his allies picking up much of the tab, Catania was given perhaps the most elaborate gangland funeral in New York history. The cost was estimated at $40,000, including a $15,000 solid bronze coffin (the cost of the coffin is obviously overstated). Forty cars were needed to carry the floral displays, the largest of which - a 13-foot-high creation bearing the words "Our Pal" - was purchased by Terranova.
Terranova was apparently deeply affected by the loss of Catania (his wife's nephew) as well as a trusted aide and friend. At the funeral home, Terranova reportedly put his hand on Catania's coffin and swore to avenge his death. Maranzano spies learned of this and attempted unsuccessfully to corner and eliminate Terranova at that location.