Morelli, Frank (1896-1965)

b. Providence, RI, Feb. 21, 1896.
d. Providence, RI, Aug. 10, 1965.

Butsey, c. 1920.
Frank "Butsey" Morelli was an early leader of Italian organized crime in Rhode Island, mentoring a number of later Mafiosi, including Raymond Patriarca and Henry Tameleo. Morelli and some of his brothers long have been suspected of involvement in the April 1920 South Braintree, Massachusetts, robbery-murders for which Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in August 1927.

Historians attempting to pinpoint Morelli's birth and death dates have been misled by statements made by former New England mobster Vincent Teresa in his autobiographical book, My Life in the Mafia. Teresa indicated that Morelli was born in Brooklyn and moved with his family to Rhode Island around the time of World War I. Teresa stated that Morelli was nearing a death from cancer a few years after the conclusion of the Kefauver Committee hearings in 1951. Efforts to correct these errors have been hindered by the fact that Frank Morelli had a different name at the time of his birth.

Morelli was born Adolfo Molarelli to parents Gennaro "John" and Filomena "Fanny" Caruolo Molarelli in Providence in 1896. He was the last of five boys born to the couple.

The Molarelli family had spent about five years in New York, and one of Frank's brothers (Ferdinand "Fred") was born there before the clan relocated to Rhode Island. The Molarelli family, originally from Italy (probably the area of Foggia), moved to southern France following the birth of their first son in February 1881. This son was called "Stazio," generally a nickname for Anastasio, Eustacio and similar names, but became "Joe" when the family reached the U.S. Two more boys - Nicolo "Mike" and Pasquale "Patsy" - were born in France.

The family name gradually changed in Rhode Island from Molarelli to Morelli. Frank appears to have discarded his given name of Adolfo in the 1930s, as Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany.

The Morelli boys grew up in a congested North End Italian neighborhood along Ledge Street, Charles Street and Marietta Street (much of the area population is of Italian descent today). Joe Morelli became leader of a burglary gang that included his brothers and a number of other young men from the neighborhood, including Joseph "Gyp the Blood" Imondi, Anthony Mancini and Albert "Bibba" Barone.

Gennaro's death in 1918 coincided with the start of his sons' trouble with the law. Joe, Fred and Patsy were arrested for stealing shipments of shoes from freight trains in 1919. The reported holdup of a payroll truck resulted in additional arrests the same year. Mike Morelli left Providence about this time to become a resident of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Filomena Morelli appears to have been placed in the city-run Dexter Asylum by 1920. The asylum cared for elderly, poor and mentally ill residents.

Fred Morelli and Bibba Barone reportedly were behind bars in April of 1920, but other members of the gang were free on bail pending trial, when shoe factory paymaster Frederick Parmenter and guard Alessandro Berardelli were shot to death in South Braintree, Massachusetts. Some authorities believed the Morelli gang to be responsible, but law enforcement eventually focused its attention on two other men - Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti - linked with a violent gang of political radicals responsible for a series of bombings.

Joe Morelli
Because the Morelli gang was charged with robbing railroad cars, they faced trial in federal court. Joe, Frank, Fred and Patsy Morelli and Bibba Barone were convicted in June 1920. All were sent to Atlanta Federal Prison. Gang leader Joe Morelli received the longest sentence, 12 years. Much of the rest of his life was spent in federal prisons due to several other convictions. He died of cancer in August 1950, after penning his memoirs.

Prison correspondence revealed that Frank Morelli had connections in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Troy, New York; Boston, Massachusetts; Jersey City, New Jersey; Montreal, Canada; and Havana, Cuba. Morelli was released from Atlanta in February of 1924, as Prohibition Era bootleggers were organizing into cartels.

While establishing himself as leader of the Providence underworld, Morelli was involved in some violent incidents. Just months after his release, he was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. In the following year, he was the victim of a stabbing. In 1931, authorities suspected but could not prove that Morelli was involved in the house-bombing of a Providence gambling racketeer. Morelli soon became known as leader of gambling rackets in the region and moved himself and his wife into a new home at 315 Mount Pleasant Avenue in western Providence.

As Frank immersed himself in the rackets, brother Patsy appears to have taken over control of the robbery gang.

The post-Castellammarese War Mafia reorganization recognized Rhode Island as a territory of the New England crime family. At the time, the organization was dominated by bosses from the Boston area, but Morelli remained the recognized leader in Providence.

At the conclusion of Prohibition, Mafiosi invested in gambling rackets and sought to expand their territories to tourist areas in Florida. Morelli participated in these endeavors. He was arrested on suspicion in Miami Beach, Florida, in the fall of 1936.

Butsey, c.1947
A decade later, as Raymond Patriarca returned to Providence after a term in Massachusetts' Charlestown State Prison, Morelli began turning control of the rackets over to Patriarca. Patriarca soon would rise to command the regional crime family. Around 1947, Morelli is believed to have retired from the day-to-day racket operations, but that year saw him involved twice with big-name mobsters.

In early February 1947, he traveled to Havana, Cuba, with New York-based Mafiosi Philip Lombardo and Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno. The trip was made during Charles "Lucky" Luciano's brief stay in Havana. In early November, authorities suspected Morelli of providing a hideout for the wife and father-in-law of New York Mafioso "Trigger Mike" Coppola. The two were wanted as material witnesses to the 1946 murder of East Harlem politician Joseph Scottoriggio.

Law enforcement investigations of gambling in the Providence area in the 1950s continued to turn up evidence of Morelli involvement, though Morelli was by then under treatment for cancer of his jaw and throat. Mobster Vincent Teresa later recalled that Morelli had surgery to remove a portion of his jaw.

Through the early 1960s, the FBI considered Morelli to be one of the decision-makers in the New England regional Mafia.

Morelli died in 1965 at the age of 69, following a return of his cancer. No notice of his death was published in the press. He was quickly and quietly buried at St. Ann's Cemetery in Cranston, Rhode Island.

See also:

Documents and books:
  •  Air Passenger Manifest of Pan American NC-88893, trip no. 424, departed Havana, Cuba, arrived Miami, Florida, on Feb. 9, 1947.
  •  Certificate of Death, Rhode Island State Archives, Town or City no. 2146, State File no. 6127, Aug. 10, 1965.
  •  Ehrmann, Herbert B., The Untried Case: The Sacco-Vanzetti Case and the Morelli Gang, New York: The Vanguard Press, 1933.
  •  Frank Morelli prisoner file, no. 11332, Atlanta Federal Prison, National Archives and Records Administration.
  •  Joseph Morelli prisoner file, no. 11330, Atlanta Federal Prison, National Archives and Records Administration.
  •  Kehoe, S.A. John F. Jr., "The criminal commission, et al, Boston Field Division," FBI report BS 92-6054-136, Dec. 21, 1962, p. 3.
  •  Morelli, Joseph, "Introduceing the Most Famous Case in the World: The Sacco-Vanzetti Case and the Morelli Gang," Small Manuscript Collection, Harvard Law School Library.
  •  New York City birth records, certificate no. 10569, March 1, 1894.
  •  Passenger manifest of S.S. Suevia, arrived New York City on June 1, 1891.
  •  Polk's Providence City Directory, Vol. 1934, Providence: R.L. Polk & Co., 1934, p. 664.
  •  Polk's Providence City Directory, Vol. 1937, Providence: R.L. Polk & Co., 1937, p. 798.
  •  Polk's Providence City Directory, Vol. 1938, Providence: R.L. Polk & Co., 1938, p. 798.
  •  Polk's Providence City Directory, Vol. 1941, Providence: R.L. Polk & Co., 1941, p. 530.
  •  Polk's Providence City Directory, Vol. 1942, Providence: R.L. Polk & Co., 1942, p. 566.
  •  Polk's Providence City Directory, Vol. 1943, Providence: R.L. Polk & Co., 1943, p. 562.
  •  Polk's Providence City Directory, Vol. 1945, Providence: R.L. Polk & Co., 1945, p. 480.
  •  Rhode Island Birth Records, Feb. 21, 1896.
  •  Rhode Island death records, Feb. 7, 1918.
  •  Rhode Island State Census of 1915, Providence County, Providence City, Ward 3, Congressional District 3, Representative District 5, Enumeration District 267.
  •  Rhode Island State Census of 1935, Providence, no. 351191.
  •  Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 035-24-4165, Sep. 7, 1965.
  •  Teresa, Vincent, with Thomas C. Renner, My Life in the Mafia, Garden City NY: Doubleday & Company, 1973.
  •  The Providence Directory, Providence: Sampson & Murdock Company, 1905, p. 507.
  •  The Providence Directory, Providence: Sampson & Murdock Company, 1918, p. 548.
  •  The Providence House Directory, Providence: Sampson, Murdock & Co., 1896, p. 471.
  •  The Providence House Directory and Family Address Book, No. 8, 1899, Providence RI: Sampson, Murdock, & Co., 1899, p. 330, 571.
  •  United States Census of 1900, Rhode Island, Providence County, Ward 3, Enumeration District 30.
  •  United States Census of 1910, Rhode Island, Providence County, Ward 3, Enumeration District 180.
  •  United States Census of 1920, Rhode Island, Providence County, Ward 2, Enumeration District 188.
  •  United States Census of 1940, Rhode Island, Providence County, Ward 5, Enumeration District 80.
  •  World War I draft registration card, No. 429, Ward 3, Precinct 6, Providence RI.
  •  World War I draft registration card, No. 432, Ward 3, Precinct 6, Providence RI.
  •  World War I draft registration card, No. 2983, No. 563, Boston MA, June 4, 1917.
  •  World War II draft registration card, serial no. U-1116.
Periodicals (by date):
  •  "Joseph Morelli takes stand in own defense," Boston Globe, May 21, 1920, p. 12.
  •  "Sacco-Vanzetti motion heard," Boston Globe, Sept. 13, 1926, p. 1.
  •  "Madeiros' confession read in court today," Boston Globe, Sept. 14, 1926, p. 1.
  •  "Morelli denies he did So. Braintree shooting," Boston Globe, Sept. 15, 1926, p. 32.
  •  "Says make of murder car has significance," Boston Daily Globe, Sept. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  •  "Concludes argument against new Sacco trial," Boston Daily Globe, Sept. 17, 1926, p. 16.
  •  "Sacco, Vanzetti denied new trial," Boston Globe, Oct. 24, 1926, p. B1.
  •  "New trial denied to Sacco, Vanzetti; appeal to be made," New York Times, Oct. 24, 1926, p. 1.
  •  Frankfurter, Felix, "The portentous case of Sacco and Vanzetti," St. Louis MO Post-Dispatch (originally published in Atlantic Monthly), April 13, 1927, p. 23.
  •  "Report of Governor's Advisory Committee in Sacco-Vanzetti Case," North Adams MA Transcript, Aug. 8, 1927, p. 16.
  •  "Morelli gang under arrest," Boston Globe, April 25, 1928, p. 11.
  •  "Joseph Morelli takes poor debtor's oath," Boston Daily Globe, Sept. 26, 1928, p. 12.
  •  "War on gang in Providence," Boston Globe, Dec. 10, 1931, p. 12.
  •  Keegan, William J., and Jay Nelson Tuck, "Scottoriggio perjury indictments awaited as one jury ends probe," New York Post, Nov. 6, 1947, p. 5.
  •  "Nationally backed three-city gambling ring thrives in New England," Detroit Free Press (originally published in Providence Journal-Bulletin), May 4, 1950, p. 4.
  •  "Phones removed after 'booking' charged by paper," Berkshire (Pittsfield MA) Eagle, May 4, 1950, p. 2.
  •  "Sacco case figure dies," New York Times, Aug. 28, 1950, p. 11.
  •  Murphy, Jeremiah V., "Underworld chief? 'Prove it,' he says," Boston Globe, Feb. 26, 1967, p. 13.
  •  "Patriarca is released in $25,000 bail; arrested for first time in 20 years," Nashua NH Telegraph, June 22, 1967, p. 20.
  •  Krupa, Gregg, "Patriarca," Providence Journal, Sept. 6, 1987, p. Mag-6.