Danny Greene was born in Cleveland, to parents John Henry Greene and Irene Cecelia Greene (née Fallon). His father was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but his mother was born in Pennsylvania. Three days after his birth, Greene's mother died. He was called "Baby Greene" until his mother was buried, and was eventually named after his grandfather (Daniel John Greene). His father drank heavily and eventually lost his job as a salesman for Fuller Brush. After this, Danny temporarily moved in with his grandfather (a newspaper printer), who had also been recently widowed. Unable to provide for him, Danny's father placed him in Parmadale, a Roman Catholic orphanage in Parma, Ohio, three miles outside Cleveland.
In 1939 Danny's father began dating a nurse and married her. They started their own family and brought Danny home. At age six, he resented his stepmother and ran away on several occasions. His paternal grandfather took him in, and Danny lived with him and an aunt for the rest of his childhood in the Collinwood neighborhood. Danny's grandfather worked nights, so he was able to roam the roads at night. When his father died in 1959, the newspaper obituary listed his children from his second marriage, but didn't mention Danny.
At St. Jerome Catholic School, Danny developed a great fondness for the nuns and priests. He developed a lasting friendship with some of his teachers and served as an altar boy. An athletic boy, he excelled at baseball and was an all-star basketball player. Although Greene was a poor student, the nuns at St. Jerome let him play sports because he was valuable for the team. Greene attended St. Ignatius High School. In frequent fights with Italian-American students, children of more recent immigrants' struggling for place, Danny developed an intense dislike for Italians that lasted his entire life. After being expelled from Saint Ignatius, he transferred to Collinwood High School, where he excelled in athletics. A Boy Scout for a short time, he was kicked out of his troop. He was expelled from Collinwood High School due to excessive tardiness, which he claimed was caused by the bullying of fellow students.
As an adult, Greene stood 5'10" and was self-conscious about his personal appearance. He pursued physical fitness; lifting weights and jogging. As he became older, he quit smoking and drinking, and had a hair prosthesis. He followed a rigid diet of fish, vegetables and vitamin supplements. Greene was a devoted animal lover and owned two pet dogs. He had a habit of putting out food for the birds and squirrels. While some claim Greene privately disliked Italians, nonetheless, he collaborated with many Italian-Americans in business and criminal interests.
Expelled from high school in 1951, Greene enlisted in the United States Marines, where he was soon noticed for his abilities as a boxer and marksman. He trained at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He was transferred many times, possibly because of behavioral issues. Promoted to the rank of corporal in 1953, Greene taught new recruits how to be artillerymen. He was honorably discharged later that year.
In the early 1960s, Greene worked steadily as a longshoreman at the Cleveland docks years before the work was unionized by the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA). In his free time he read about Ireland and its turbulent history. He began to think of himself as a "Celtic warrior". Some writers have speculated that reading about such warriors inspired his criminal ambitions. In 1961, the president of the local union was removed from office by the ILA and Greene was chosen to serve as interim president. He handily won the next election. Once president, Greene had the union office painted green [to represent his Irish ethnicity] and installed thick green carpeting. He was known to drive a green car, wear green jackets, and often handed out green ink pens. In office, he raised dues 25% and pushed workers to perform "volunteer" hours to assist in providing a "building fund". Those who refused often found themselves losing work. He fired more than 50 members while denouncing them as "winos and bums" to other workers. Greene led sometimes violent protests and strikes to force the stevedore companies to allow the ILA to oversee the hiring of dockworkers. As a prerequisite to landing a job as a longshoreman, many workers had to unload grain from the ships on a temporary basis and turn their paychecks over to Greene. Said to have been collected to build a union hall, most of the funds ended up in Greene's personal bank account. An unidentified ILA member would later recall about Greene, "He read On the Waterfront. He imagined himself a tough dock boss. But he was thirty years too late. He used workers to beat up union members who did not come in line, but he was never seen fighting himself. He was a spellbinding speaker and a good organizer."
As a union organizer, Greene sometimes declared work stoppages, as frequently as 25 per day, to demonstrate to company owners his authority on the docks. On one occasion, he threatened to murder the two children of one owner; the FBI put the man's house and family under protection. After Sam Marshall, an investigative reporter, collected affidavits that supported charges of extortion, Greene was exiled from the union and convicted of embezzlement. The conviction was later overturned on appeal. Rather than face a second trial, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of falsifying union records, was fined $10,000 and received a suspended sentence. Afterward, he did not pay the fine or receive any prison time. After returning to his rackets, Greene met and befriended Teamsters boss Louis Triscaro. He introduced Greene to Jimmy Hoffa. After the friendly meeting, Hoffa later reportedly said to Triscaro, "Stay away from that guy. There's something wrong with him." Marty McCann of the Organized Crime Division of the FBI recruited Greene as an informant. He became a top-echelon confidential informant. Greene passed along information to the FBI, but only that which suited his personal needs and would not hurt those close to him. His codename was "Mr. Patrick", a reflection on his Irish pride. It was his confirmation name and that of his beloved Irish saint. Protected by his informant status, Greene increased his criminal activities. By 1964, the members of the union were fed up with Greene's behavior. The Plain Dealer began writing a nine-part investigative series about him. The series brought Greene unwanted attention from the U.S. Attorney, the Internal Revenue Service, the Labor Department, and the Cuyahoga County prosecutor.
The ILA began its own investigation and soon removed Greene from office. Eventually, Greene was convicted in federal court of embezzling $11,500 in union funds as well as two counts of falsifying records. The verdict was overturned by an appeals court, and federal prosecutors finally settled for Greene's guilty plea to two misdemeanor charges. He was fined $10,000, but paid only a fraction of it. Some think that his FBI connections worked to lessen his punishment.
Greene started working for the Cleveland Solid Waste Trade Guild, where he was hired to "keep the peace". Impressed with his abilities, mobster Alex "Shondor" Birns, hired him as an enforcer for his various "numbers" operators. The Cleveland family underboss, Frank "Little Frank" Brancato, used Greene and other Irish-American gangsters to act as errand boys and as muscle to enforce the Mafia's influence during the 1960s over the garbage-hauling contracts and other rackets. Until his death in 1973, Brancato reportedly regretted bringing Greene into the mob due to the damage Greene did. In May 1968, under Birns's orders, Greene was supposed to attack a black numbers man who was holding out on protection money due. Unfamiliar with the military-type detonator, Greene barely made it out of his car before the bomb exploded. He told the police a story and survived being thrown nearly 20 feet, although the hearing in his right ear was damaged for life. In the future, Greene would only trust professionals to handle bombs for him.
Mike "Big Mike" Frato broke away from the guild and founded the more legitimate trade group called the Cuyahoga County Refuse Haulers Association. A legitimate businessman, he protested Greene bringing mob involvement and strong-arm tactics to the guild (although he had his own connections). The Cleveland Solid Waste Trade Guild fell apart shortly thereafter. In 1971, Frato's car was destroyed by a bomb. Inside was found an accomplice of Greene named Art Sneperger. Sneperger had allegedly been careless with the bomb he was planting, and Frato was across the street. The previous September, Greene had directed Sneperger to fix a bomb on Frato's car, but Sneperger had second thoughts and informed Frato of Greene's plan. Sneperger had also been a police informant and revealed everything to Sgt. Edward Kovacic, of the Cleveland Police intelligence unit, including Greene's status as a top-echelon FBI informant.
Some investigators believed the explosion was an accident caused by a radio signal, possibly from a short wave radio or a passing police car. Others posited that Birns and Greene arranged Sneperger's death after learning of his informant status. Sgt. Kovacic was told by an underworld source that Greene had pushed the detonator, killing Sneperger instantly. The case was never officially solved. On November 26, 1971, Frato was shot and killed at Cleveland's White City Beach. Greene was arrested and interrogated. He admitted to the killing but claimed self-defense. He said Frato had fired three shots while Greene was jogging and exercising his dogs, and he fired one back. Evidence seemed to corroborate Greene's story and he was released. Cleveland police later learned Frato was armed and had an opportunity to kill Greene several weeks prior to the White Beach shooting. During their partnership, Greene and Frato had become so close that they had named sons after each other. Not long afterward, Greene again found himself a target while jogging in White City Beach. A sniper, concealed several hundred feet away, fired several shots at Greene from a rifle. Instead of ducking to the ground, Greene pulled out his revolver and started shooting, while running toward his would-be assassin. The sniper fled and was never positively identified. Investigators learned that this attempt was part of a murder contract left by Birns. Greene left his wife and their three children for their own safety and moved to Collinwood, where he rented an apartment. Journalist Ned Whelan wrote about Greene: "Imagining himself as a feudal baron, he supported a number of destitute Collinwood families, paid tuition to Catholic schools for various children and, like the gangsters of the Twenties, actually had 50 twenty-pound turkeys delivered to needy households on Thanksgiving." He often picked up restaurant tabs for friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, and left generous tips. Greene evicted a bookmaker who operated out of a small Waterloo business, and kept a local bar in order by personal visits. When a rowdy group of Hells Angels moved into Collinwood, Greene visited their headquarters with a stick of dynamite. He threatened to light it and throw it into their club house until they came out to hear his warning to keep things quiet while in Collinwood.
He formed his own crew of young Irish-American gangsters, called The Celtic Club. His main enforcers were Keith Ritson, Kevin McTaggart, Brian O'Donnell, Danny Greene, Jr. and Billy McDuffy, who set up gambling dens across the city. He also allied with John Nardi, a "Cleveland family" labor racketeer who wanted to overthrow the leadership. Underworld crime figures note that James "Icepick" Sterling, a gun and explosives expert, is believed to have almost 60 contract killings under his belt but was never arrested or questioned in any of the Cleveland bombings. “Retired” after Greene's 1977 death, Sterling moved to Troy, Michigan. The relationship between Greene and Birns began to sour. Greene had asked Birns for a loan of $75,000 to set up a "cheat spot", a speakeasy and gambling house. Birns arranged for it through the Gambino crime family. The money was lost in the hands of Birns's courier Billy Cox, who purchased cocaine. The police raided his house, arrested him, seized the narcotics and what was left of the $75,000. The Gambino family wanted their money. Birns pressed Greene, who flatly refused to return it, reminding him that he couldn't return something he never received and that Birns's courier had lost it.
To settle the dispute, Birns directed an associate to hire a hitman for Greene and gave him $25,000 for the job, especially in the event of any harm befalling him. Several minor underworld characters, burglars by trade, took the contract, but made numerous failed assassination attempts on Greene. Not long after, Greene found an unexploded bomb in his car when he pulled into a Collinwood service station for gas. The explosive was wired improperly and failed to detonate. Greene disassembled the bomb himself, removed the dynamite, and brought the rest of the package to a policeman, Edward Kovacic. Kovacic offered him police protection, but he refused. He refused to hand over the bomb, telling him, "I'm going to send this back to the old bastard that sent it to me". Suspecting that Birns was behind it, Greene decided to retaliate. On March 29, 1975, Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter, Birns was blown up by a bomb containing C-4, a potent military explosive, in the lot behind Christy's Lounge, the former Jack & Jill West Lounge, a go-go spot at 2516 Detroit Ave. near St. Malachi's Church.
On May 12, an explosion rocked Collinwood. Greene's building was destroyed, but the man had only minor injuries. As the second floor fell, he was shielded from the debris by a refrigerator that had lodged against a wall. A second, more powerful, bomb failed to explode, for which Greene credited the intercession of St. Jude, whose medal he always wore around his neck. In 1975, Greene began to push into the vending machine racket, traditionally controlled by the Mafia, as well as muscling into gambling operations. The Cleveland family leadership was angry, especially the soldier Thomas "The Chinaman" Sinito. He thought Greene was an extortionist, due to the excessive fees he charged for coin-operated laundry contracts. Greene controlled some of the more lucrative laundry contracts that Sinito wanted. Sinito and mob soldier Joseph "Joey Loose" Iacobacci murdered one of Greene's associates. Greene had dynamite wired to the frame of Sinito's car, but Sinito found the bomb, removed and disarmed it, and later destroyed it.
In Greene's competition with the Mafia to build a vending machine empire, John Conte became a victim. Conte owned a vending machine company, but worked as a route man for another one. His company provided slot machines to various private clubs and parties. Conte was also a close friend of Joseph Gallo. On the day of his disappearance, Conte told his wife he had a meeting with Greene. That was the last time she saw him, as his badly beaten corpse was discovered a few days later at a dump site in Austintown.
Police investigators theorized that Conte was beaten to death in Greene's trailer and his body later transported to Austintown. They found some physical evidence, but Greene was never charged with Conte's murder. In 1976, longtime mobster John Scalish died, leaving control of Cleveland's lucrative criminal operations, specifically the city's Teamsters Union locals, up for grabs. Scalish had appointed James Licavoli as his successor, but other mobsters such as John Nardi challenged him for leadership of the organization. With the assistance of Greene, within weeks Nardi had many of Licavoli's supporters killed. They included Licavoli's underboss, Leo "Lips" Moceri. The Cleveland family's enforcer, Eugene "The Animal" Ciasullo, was seriously injured and sidelined for several months by a car bomb. Soon after, a bomb planted in Alfred "Allie" Calabrese's car killed an innocent man. Frank Pircio, of Collinwood, died while moving Calabrese's Lincoln Continental before getting his own car out of their shared driveway. This began a longstanding war between Licavoli's Cleveland crime family and Greene's Celtic Club.
In 1976 alone, 36 bombs exploded around the Cleveland area, which was soon given the moniker "Bomb City, U.S.A." The ATF tripled its staffing in northeast Ohio in order to handle the bomb investigations. A suspected bombmaker, Martin Heidtman, was arrested, but was released for lack of evidence. According to To Kill the Irishman (by Rick Porrello), Greene killed at least eight of the Mafia hit men sent to assassinate him, using bombs or bullets.
After the failed Waterloo Avenue bombing, Greene played up the stories of the Mafia's failed assassination attempts to his benefit. His bravado and flamboyant behaviour only added to his growing aura of invincibility and power in the urban legends of the Cleveland criminal underworld. He granted interviews to local television stations. For a newspaper photographer, he posed proudly in front of a boarded-up window of his destroyed apartment building. During a televised interview, Greene said to one television reporter,
"The luck of the Irish is with me and I have a message for those yellow maggots. That includes the payers and the doers. The doers are the people who carried out the bombing. They have to be eliminated because the people who paid them can't afford to have them remain alive. And the payers are going to feel great heat from the FBI and the local authorities ... And let me clear something else up. I didn't run away from the explosion. Someone said they saw me running away. I walked away."
In response to the reporter's assertion that, like a cat, Greene had nine lives, Greene said, "I am an Irish Catholic. I believe that the Guy upstairs pulls the strings, and you're not going to go until he says so. It just wasn't my time yet." In another televised interview, he denied any knowledge of the underworld war. He said, "I have no axe to grind, but if these maggots in this so-called Mafia want to come after me, I'm over here by the Celtic Club. I'm not hard to find."
On May 17, 1977, Greene's longtime ally John Nardi was killed by a bomb, planted by Pasquale Cisternino and Ronald Carabbia. After Nardi was murdered, a mafia boss, James Licavoli, arranged a ceasefire with Greene, hoping to kill the other man off-guard. Shortly after their meeting, Greene muscled in on a large West Side gambling operation originally run by Nardi. Greene offered Licavoli a percentage, but it was declined. On October 6, 1977, Greene went to a dental appointment at the Brainard Place office building in Lyndhurst, Ohio. Members of the Mafia had tapped his phone and were aware of the visit. After Greene visited a dentist and left the office building, he approached his car. The automobile parked next to his exploded, killing Greene instantly, the carbomb was believed to have been planted by a hitman known as Ray Ferritto.
Greene's remains were cremated on October 8, 1977, and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.
In the aftermath of Danny Greene's murder, his hitman Ray Ferritto was arrested by Cleveland police, and subsequently was targeted by Licavoli. Ferritto surrendered himself to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and struck a deal in order to gain protection. This all led to the Mafia Commission Trial, which put Mafia Families from all over the United States, especially all of New York's 5 Families - the Gambino crime family, the Genovese crime family, the Colombo crime family, the Lucchese crime family, the Bonanno crime family, on trial. This trial practically ended the existence of the Cleveland Mafia.In 1998, Rick Porrello, a former Cleveland-area police lieutenant, wrote To Kill The Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia (1998), about Greene's engagement with the Mafia. He won a national Non-Fiction award for the book. It was adapted as a movie first entitled The Irishman: The Legend of Danny Greene.In 2011, the biopic Kill the Irishman, which loosely chronicles Greene's life, was released to favorable reviews. It was directed by Jonathan Hensleigh and starred Ray Stevenson as Greene.The season 11 episode "Brother's Keeper" of Law & Order is based on his case.