Catania, Joseph "Grocer" (c1862-1902)

Born Sicily, c1862.

Killed Brooklyn, NY, July 22, 1902.

"Joe the Grocer" Catania of Brooklyn is remembered inaccurately as the father of younger Mafioso "Joe Baker." No documentary evidence proves the two Catanias were at all related.

"Joe the Grocer" Catania, a green grocer by day, was among the earlier Brooklyn members of the Lupo-Morello Mafia. Catania was involved in the Mafia's counterfeiting operations.

The popularly accepted story of his demise: Catania, 40, became drunk one night and began talking too much about the counterfeiting racket. He was eliminated as a Mafia disciplinary measure. Largely unaware of his link to Lupo's gang, police decided that Catania's murder was the result of an old-country feud, ended by imported killers.

Oft-repeated and erroneous legend says his corpse was discovered packed with sawdust inside a barrel at 73rd Street at the bay on July 23, 1902. That legend is the result of the confused memories of some 1900s New York journalists and the mixing of the Catania story with that of Benedetto Madonia (who was found in a barrel). A muddled 1909 news report actually referred to a murder victim named "Benedetto Catania."

News accounts of the discovery of Catania's body by four boys heading to the bay for an early evening swim do not mention a barrel. According to New York Times, New York Tribune, New York Evening World and Brooklyn Eagle articles, Catania was discovered within a potato sack lined with floor mats sewn into the shape of a large bag. His throat had been cut. His right thumb and forefinger were missing, authorities said, apparently the result of an earlier accident.

Police arrested Sicilian immigrant Vincenzo Troia for the killing of Catania, since the two men recently had quarreled over a debt. But Troia was let go when the old-country feud theory emerged.