Barboza, also known as "The Animal", "The Wild Thing", "Joseph Donati", and "The Joe Valachi of New England", was born to Portuguese emigrants from Lisbon, Portugal who settled in the old whaling city of New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was born on September 20, 1932, the son of a middle-weight boxer and a mother who was a seamstress. Joseph's father was a constant womanizer who eventually abandoned his wife and four children when Joe was only twelve. He had one older brother who became a minor criminal in New England, and a younger sister and younger brother. He was quite burly, yet many women had to put up with his violent nature due to their financial dependence on him. Joe was fluent in Portuguese, Italian and Spanish and was self-educated because of a lack of formal schooling. He was a skilled chef who cooked, for his family and members of his crew, authentic Portuguese cuisine dishes and later, after graduating from cooking class as a sauce, vegetable and roast chef, learned how to cook French cuisine, mostly with wines. Barboza had rugged good looks and thick, dark brown naturally wavy hair, and dark eyes. He was married to a Jewish woman. He fathered a daughter, that he adored, in 1965 and also a son and lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts while employed by the Patriarca crime family.He was a close friend of Joseph Amico and Arthur Bratsos, both of whom would later be murdered for trying to avenge his incarceration.
He earned the nickname "The Animal" after an altercation at a Revere, Massachusetts club that was patronized by figures of organized crime and Patriarca crime family underboss Henry Tameleo. Barboza was at the nightclub drinking when an older Italian patron who did not enjoy Barboza's crude behavior told him so. Barboza approached the man and slapped him hard across the face. Tameleo, who was seated not far away, shouted angrily, "I don't want you to ever slap that man. I don't want you to touch anybody with your hands again." Barboza, now brooding at the bar, suddenly leaned over and bit the man's ear. "I didn't touch him with my hands", he snarled at Henry Tameleo. It is stated by other sources that he chewed off the man's cheek, but this was never verified nor proven.
Joe himself would pursue a career as a professional light heavyweight boxer and member of the United States Boxing Association for a short period of time, with his first boxing match on April 18, 1949 against Rocky Lucero in El Paso, Texas and his last fight on September 23, 1961 against Don Bale in Boston, Massachusetts. He fought with an orthodox stance. He boxed under the moniker of "The Baron". His boxing record shows Joseph as winning eight out of the eleven matches, with five of them ending in knock outs. He was classified as an out-fighter who was known for having very powerful punches. He was a sparring partner of Patriarca crime family associate, Americo Sacramone, future Massachusetts Auditor Joe DeNucci, Edward G. Connors and Anthony Veranis. He later worked as a longshoreman and as a clerk in a fruit store but always returned to crime.
He was first sent to prison in 1950 to the Massachusetts Correctional Institution - Concord for five years. Barboza would later lead a wild prison break in the summer of 1953, which would become the largest in the prison's seventy-five-year history. Joe and six other fellow inmates had guzzled contraband whiskey and pilfered amphetamine tablets, overpowered four prison guards and raced away in two separate cars. During their furlough of freedom they beat random people in the street, cruised the bars in Boston's Scollay Square, wandered to the neighborhoods of Lynn and Revere, and were finally apprehended at a subway station in East Boston. The escape party had barely lasted twenty-four hours. That November, while awaiting trial for his prison break, Barboza slugged a prison guard in the cafeteria for no reason. Three months later, he tossed a table at a guard's chest when he entered his cell.
It is thought that he first met figures of Boston organized crime while incarcerated at Walpole, and it is thought that they arranged to have him paroled in 1958. He became a recognized figure in East Boston's organized crime circles and was a regular habituée of a bar on the corner of Bennington Street and Brook Street which became known among local criminals as "Barboza's Corner". His crew of small-time burglars and thieves consisted of Joseph W. Amico, Patrick Fabiano, James Kearns, Arthur Bratsos, Thomas DePrisco, father and son team Joseph Dermody and Ronald Dermody, Carlton Eaton, Edward Goss and Nicholas Femia. All of his crew would all later be murdered by rival mobsters including himself. The crew was officially supervised for the Patriarca crime family by Stephen Flemmi. He was never officially inducted into the Patriarca crime family because of his Portuguese heritage but within eight years during the escalation of gangland warfare he earned a reputation as one of Boston's most prolific contract killers and sidewalk soldiers. He had a reputation of being absolutely fearless.
It was widely believed in law official circles that Barboza had performed contract killings for Raymond L.S. Patriarca. By January 1966, Barboza was considered a powerful crime figure in the Boston underworld and was often represented by F. Lee Bailey which proved to be a huge mistake. But he was also facing major problems. The authorities were constantly on his heels. For disturbing the peace one night, he slugged a Metropolitan District Commission Police Officer, Joe MacLean and received a six-month sentence. After his release from prison and his graduation from an expensive cooking school he was shipped out on the S.S. President Wilson to the Orient.
In his 1975 biography "Barboza" written by true crime writer Hank Messick he admitted to murdering at least seven men, although he bragged to his friends that the total was closer to twenty nine because he wanted to be respected and feared—nobody really knew the truth. He loved children and animals and was known to take neighborhood children to the park or zoo. He would often buy popcorn for children in the movie theatre that didn't have any and his young daughter wanted for nothing. He was an amazing artist and would entertain neighborhood children with his sketches of Disney characters. A few notorious victims on his murder roster while involved with organized crime included Edward McLaughlin and both Cornelius Hughes and Stevie Hughes, who Barboza hunted down in a fit of rage after receiving news that his best friend Vincent Flemmi was badly wounded in a 1967 shootout with them. Barboza aligned himself with the Winter Hill Gang in part because James "Buddy" McLean was an ally of Vincent Flemmi, who Barboza trusted along with his brother Steven Flemmi. As early as 1965, FBI agent H. Paul Rico, was using that trust to drive Barboza into becoming an informant. Joe drove a 1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass which was referred to by law enforcement as "the James Bond car" because it had a sophisticated alarm system and a device for making thick black smoke come out of the tailpipe.
By 1966, he had a very turbulent position in the Boston underworld. He had been shot at while standing outside his home in Chelsea. The local authorities believed there had been other unreported attempts. Brimming with reckless power, he was not abiding to the traditional rules of the La Cosa Nostra. One night he went into a nightclub that was paying Gennaro Angiulo for protection and demanded that the owner make payments to him as well. By mid-1966, the unrelenting attention from the law Barboza received from the authorities only made his standing in organized crime more tenuous.
In October 1966, he came to terms with his falling-out with the organized crime element after he and three local hoodlums were arrested on weapons charges while cruising the Combat Zone in Boston. His accomplices were released on bail, but Barboza had his bail set at $100,000 which he could not afford. Nobody from the Patriarca crime family came down to post his bail and he heard that it was the Mafia family who tipped off the cops.
Two of his compatriots and members of his crew, Arthur C. Bratsos and Thomas J. DePrisco, went to raise Barboza's bail. Five weeks later, after raising $59,000 the pair were murdered in the Nite Lite Cafe by soldiers serving under Ralph "Ralphie Chong" Lamattina, who served in the crew of Ilario Zannino. After relieving them of their bail money, they stuffed their bodies in the back seat of Bratsos's car and dumped it in South Boston, hoping to throw blame onto the Irish gangs. However, a mob associate named Joseph Lanzi tipped the cops about the murder. He was later murdered by Mafia associates Carmen Gagliardi, Frank Otero and Ben DeChristoforo.
The FBI began diligent efforts to turn Barboza into an informant. In December, Joe Amico, another friend of Barboza’s, was murdered. The following month, after a ten-day trial, Barboza was sentenced to a five-year term at Walpole on the weapons charges. In the summer of 1967, Steven Flemmi met with Joseph and informed him that Gennaro Angiulo and his brothers had plans to murder him. In June 1967, Barboza turned FBI informant while imprisoned for murder, and eventually testified against Raymond Patriarca, Sr. before becoming one of the first informants to enter the Witness Protection Program. The government told Barboza his wife and children would not be protected unless he agreed to testify. The government also promised to set him up in his own restaurant—and plastic surgery to change his appearance and further protect Barboza and his family—but it did not fulfill either of these promises.
Barboza went on to testify against Raymond Patriarca and many high-ranking members and associates of the New England family. On June 20, Patriarca and Tameleo were indicted for conspiracy to murder in the 1966 killing of Providence bookmaker Willie Marfeo. On August 9, Gennaro Angiulo was accused of participating in the murder of Rocco DiSeglio. Finally in October, six men were charged with the March 1965 murder of Edward “Teddy” Deegan. Shortly after the indictment of Raymond Patriarca, which drew front page stories about Barboza as a turncoat, Barboza wrote to the Boston Herald: "All I want to be is left alone." The La Cosa Nostra was willing to pay Barboza $25,000 to quit talking. He showed some interest in the deal raising the price to $50,000 which was agreed upon but later turned down after consulting his lawyer.
Gennaro Angiulo was later found not guilty. Despite efforts by reporters to coax jurors to explain their deliberations, none did. Twenty years later, however, jury foreman Kenneth Matthews said none of the sixteen jurors had found Barboza believable, stating "He didn't help the state at all. He wasn't reliable. He was nothing as a witness."
While the trials were going on, the mob tried to get at Barboza by planting a bomb in the car of his attorney, John Fitzgerald, resulting in Fitzgerald losing his right leg below the knee. After that Barboza was moved around frequently from Thacher Island to Fort Devens and even to the Junior Officers' quarters located in Fort Knox, Kentucky. Barboza owned a German Shepherd dog and while at Fort Knox he would walk his dog with future corrupt FBI agent John Morris who was a member of the military police at the time. In May 1968, the Deegan trial began. After 50 days of testimony and deliberations, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Found guilty and sentenced to death were Peter J. Limone, Louis Greco, Henry Tameleo and Ronald Cassesso. Sentenced to life in prison were Joseph Salvati and Wilfred Roy French.
Barboza was given a one-year prison term, including time served. He was paroled in March 1969 and relocated to Santa Rosa, California where he enrolled in a culinary arts school and is rumored to have killed ten more men. In 1971, he pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge in California and was sentenced to five years at Folsom Prison. At prison Barboza became an amateur poet and wrote poems portraying the evils of the La Cosa Nostra and his own fearlessness, "Boston Gang War", "The Mafia Double Crosses", "A Cat's Lives" and "The Gang War Ends". Additionally, he was a talented artist.
Barboza was paroled in October 1975 and moved into a $250-a-month apartment as "Joseph Donati". He took the last name from small-time underworld figures, identical twin brothers Richard and Robert Donati. After he was befriended by small-time South Boston hoodlum James Chalmas, Gennaro Angiulo found out where Barboza was. On February 11, 1976, Barboza left Chalmas' San Francisco apartment; as he was walking to his car, he was hit by four shotgun blasts at close range. He was killed instantly. Although he was armed with a Colt .38, Barboza never had a chance to draw it.
F. Lee Bailey was quoted as having said Barboza's death was "no great loss to society." Barboza's young daughter never recovered from her father's death.
Ilario Zannino, chief enforcer of Gennaro Angiulo, was later overheard on a hidden bug saying that it was J. R. Russo who had assassinated Barboza. In the conversation, Zannino described Russo as "a genius with a carbine".
While working for the FBI, corrupt Agent H. Paul Rico helped to frame Joseph Salvati, Peter Limone, Louis Greco as well as his former mob superior, Henry Tameleo for the murder of a small-time criminal named Edward "Teddy" Deegan in Chelsea, Massachusetts, protecting the real culprit. Deegan was the maternal uncle of Gerry Indelicato, future aide to Governor Michael Dukakis. Deegan had been marked for death by the New England family in 1965 for several burglaries which he had committed with future Winter Hill Gang heavyweight, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
Out of the six people convicted for the murder, only Ronald "Ronnie the Pig" Casseso and Wilfred Roy French were actually involved and present in the alley where the murder took place. FBI agent Paul Rico had offered French and Casseso leniency if they would corroborate Barboza's false testimony. Both French and Casseso refused the offer and when French was threatened with the death penalty he responded by telling Rico to "warm up the electric chair." Cassesso died in prison 30 years later. French was finally freed 34 years later.
Winter Hill enforcer John Martorano became a government witness in 1999 after learning that both Steven Flemmi and James "Whitey' Bulger were FBI informants and have been delivering information about the Mafia and the Winter Hill Gang to them. In his plea agreement, he told the Drug Enforcement Administration agent that Barboza had admitted to lying about the men convicted of killing Teddy Deegan. Barboza allegedly said that the Patriarca crime family had "screwed me and now I’m going to screw as many of them as possible."
Martorano also revealed that Vincent "Jimmie the Bear" Flemmi, the brother of Stephen Flemmi, had admitted to murdering Deegan. Vincent Flemmi and his brother were both acting as informants to the FBI. Instead of arresting Vincent Flemmi, the FBI knowingly let four men go to prison for a crime they didn’t commit. Barboza used this opportunity to settle some old grudges with some local North Enders and Mafia associates who he felt had not shown him the proper respect.
Tameleo and Greco died in prison after serving almost 30 years, and Salvati and Limone were finally released in 1997 and 2001, respectively.The families of Greco, Tameleo, Salvati and Limone filed lawsuits totaling in excess of one billion dollars filed against the Federal government. In July 2007, U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner in Boston found the bureau helped convict the four men and the U.S. Government was ordered to pay $100 million in damages to the four defendants.