Joseph Lonardo was the first real godfather of the Cleveland Mafia. They built their empire with help from the Porello brothers, whith whom he and his brother had worked before in the Sicilian sulpher mines of Licata.
Corn Sugar Baron
Joseph Lonardo was born in 1884 in Licata, Sicily. Together with his brother they began working at the sulpher mines where they met and befriended the Porello brothers. Realising they couldn't keep up doing the hard work they decided to leave Sicily and try their luck in America.
Once they arrived in Cleveland Joseph Lonardo rose up to become a succesfull and legitemate businessman
in the lower Woodland Avenue district. Lonardo became rich as a dealer in corn sugar which was used by bootleggers to make corn liquor. However, it didn't last long until "Big Joe" got himself involved in criminal activities.
They would make the booze and Lonardo would buy it back giving them a commission.
He became the leader of a powerful and vicious gang and was known as the corn sugar baron, Joe Porrello, one of his closest friends becale his corporal.
With the advent of Prohibition, Cleveland, like other big cities,
experienced a wave of bootleg-related murders. The murders of Louis Rosen,
Salvatore Vella, August Rini and several others produced the same suspects,
but no indictments. Men who intervened with Lonardo's business were beaten or killed. One of those men was Nicola Gentile, who was an enemy of Lonardo and nearly survived a murder attempt in 1920. Several
of the murders occurred at the corner of E. 25th and Woodland Ave. This intersection
became known as the "bloody corner".
By this time, Joe Porrello had
left the employ of the Lonardos to start his own sugar wholesaling business.
Porrello and his six brothers pooled their money and eventually became successful
corn sugar dealers headquartered in the upper Woodland Avenue area around E. 110th Street.
With small competitors, sugar dealers and bootleggers, mysteriously dying violent deaths, the Lonardos' business flourished as they gained a near monopoly on the corn sugar business. Their main competitors were their old friends, the Porrellos.
In 1926 Lonardo was at the hight of his power. That year he travelled back to his native Sicily to visit his mother. During
his 6 month absence he lost much of his $5,000 a week profits to the Porrellos who took advantage of his brothers John Lonardos lack of business skills and the assistance of a disgruntled Lonardo employee.
When 'Big Joe' came back from his trip he started to negotiate with the Porello's to get back his money and territory.
On 13 Oct.
1927 Joseph and his brother John Lonardo went to play cards and talk business at their local barber shop with Angelo Porello.
As the Lonardos entered the room they were gunned down by 2 men. Joseph Lonardo was killed with 3 bullets to the head and John, who was hit in the chest, managed to drew his gun and chase the men.
As one of the shooters turned back to Lonardo he struck him with the butt of his gun several times to the head leaving John bleeding to death. One of the gunman was believed to be Salvatore Todaro, who was murdered himself in 1929 by Lonardo's son, Angelo Lonardo.