Raymond L.S. Patriarca: New England Mob Boss (1952-1984): Part One

Episode Teaser:

In today’s episode, the first of a two-part series, we’re finally branching outside of New York to cover Raymond Patriarca, one of the most feared and respected bosses in the history of the American Cosa Nostra.

Intro:

Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of The Member’s Only Podcast. I am your host Jacob Stoops, and I’m a long-time history buff and mob aficionado.

As mentioned in the teaser, today we’re covering off on the man who was boss over the New England area for over 30 years, Raymond Patriarca. Patriarca, who based his operations in Providence, Rhode Island, was one of the most feared and respected bosses in the history of the American Cosa Nostra. He ruled over the New England area with an iron fist for more than 30 years as the namesake of what is still known even today as the Patriarca crime family. 

Now before we get into the episode, I’d just like to remind you to please smash that subscribe button and turn on the bell to get notifications when I post a new episode. 

If you’re new to the channel, welcome! If you’ve been a follower, please feel free to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on the episode. I’m looking forward to some more spirited debates, and thus far people haven’t been shy about sharing their thoughts, so I’d encourage you to keep it coming. 

Now onto the show! 

By most accounts, Ray Patriarca was one of the most ruthless and effective bosses, be it inside or outside of New York, in the entire country. In fact, legend has it that he allegedly even once ordered a solider to murder his own son. 

So when I say ruthless, I mean about as heartless as they come. Even still, his men respected him, he was viewed as a good and fair leader, and due to that he was able to exert control not just Rhode Island but on the entirety of New England. He ruled his Mafia domain with an iron fist for over three decades.

Now before we dive in I just want to quickly caveat the following. With most of my previous subjects, information was relatively sparse. In the case of Patriarca, there is almost too much information to take in and it was a little like drinking water from a firehose. 

To put it in perspective, I have done Freedom of Information Act requests on previous subjects and was lucky to get back any information. In the case of Patriarca, I got back over 15,000 pages of documents which to me was shocking.

Due to the fact that there is just so much source material, I’m breaking this biography into a two-part series that I feel will be one of the most comprehensive looks at Raymond Patriarca available. So without further adieu, let’s get started on part 1 of the Ray Patriarca biography and we’ll kick it off as we always do by exploring his early life.

Early Life & Criminal Beginnings:

Raymond Loreda Salvatore Patriarca was a first-generation Italian-American born on March 17, 1908, on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is about 40 miles west of Boston. He was the son of Italian immigrants.

His father, Eleuterio Patriarca, was an Italian immigrant from the village of Arce, Lazio, which is a small municipality in the province of Frosinone, in the region of Lazio, Italy. To put that in perspective for those unfamiliar with the region, Lazio is close to half way between Rome and Naples, which would make the Patriarca’s Neapolitan in their ancestry.

His mother was a woman named Vincenza DeNubila, who was also listed in records as Mary Jane, and was born in Massachusetts making her of Italian-American descent also.

An interesting thing that I found in Raymond’s birth record was his father’s name is listed as Elenterio while his mother’s first name is listed as Vincenza rather than Mary Jane. In fact, Raymond’s “official name” is listed as Raimondo and not the Americanized “Raymond.” However, in their marriage record from 1903, the names of Ray’s parents are officially listed as Eleuteria and Mary Jane. 

Anyhow, at the age of four, Raymond moved with his family to 161½ Atwells Avenue in Providence, Rhode Island. Raymond’s father was in the alcohol business as one record showed him working as a wine clerk at a hotel while another source says he was a saloon keeper and/or ran a local liquor store. There seems to be a bit of confusion on occupation as Ray’s family had two people boarding with them, one of whom also was listed as a saloon keeper. Either way, it’s clear that Ray’s dad dealt in alcohol in some way.

Ray’s mother stayed at home to take care of the growing family, which consisted of Raymond, as well as 3 older sisters Lizzie, Adellina, and Grace, as well as an older brother, Joseph.

Young Raymond’s early life was relatively uneventful and fairly common for young Italians of the time. He left school when he was 8 (about the 3rd grade) to “shine shoes and work as a bellhop” to help support his family. Unfortunately, he found that the pay was meager and as a result began drifting into a life of crime to make money.

During the same time period, after the end of World War I, another significant event was unfolding nationally-speaking and that of course was Prohibition. 

From October of 1919 until its repeal in 1933, the Volstead Act as it was known made it illegal to manufacture and distribute or sell alcoholic beverages. This law of course blew up in the government’s face in the sense that it was largely unpopular to a thirsty public, and was incredibly difficult to effectively enforce. 

Additionally, because the demand for alcohol was still present, rather than being supported by legitimate companies, the demand was served essentially on the black market by bootleggers who recognized the immense monetary potential and set up illegal operations to capitalize.

So it’s no surprise that many Italian mobsters shifted their primary criminal activities to bootlegging which increased their wealth, grew their list of contacts, and provided many with an Ivy League education in crime prior to the founding of the modern American Cosa Nostra in 1931. And Ray Patriarca was no different. 

Born in 1908, he was coming into his own during the 1920’s and early 1930’s which of course was right in the middle of Prohibition. 

In 1925, when Raymond was just 17 years old, his father passed away after falling in a bathtub and hitting his head on a medicine cabinet. This event left young Raymond without a father figure to steer him in the right direction. By that time, all the Patriarca kids were old enough to work and, like most immigrants, they all lived in the same Federal Hill house. Ray would later tell a congressional committee that he “drifted a little” when his father died.

During his teenage years, Patriarca began diving head-first into illegal activities, and he was arrested and convicted of breaking prohibition laws in Connecticut while still in his teens. At this time, he’d become deeply involved in drunk rolling and bootlegging and was already honing his underworld reputation. 

But even then he was already trying to hide his true occupation as he showed up in a 1930 U.S. Census listed alongside his family which stated that his occupation was as an “automobile salesman”. This was both a good front, and a great way to acquire the vehicles he needed to smuggle alcohol.

He was later said to be so ruthless that he arranged hijackings of liquor shipments that he was actually hired to protect. And of course this sort of thing often led to bloodshed when discovered, so either he was really good at concealing discovery of his involvement in these “hijackings” or his enemies were too scared to confront him. He was also indicted as an accessory to murder before Prohibition’s end in 1933.

In addition to smuggling liquor, he was also involved in hijacking, armed robberies, assault, safecracking, and auto theft. By this point he was no stranger to taking pinches, and would be arrested many times though he’d typically find one way or another to wiggle out of it.

As the 1930’s went on, Patriarca would become more deeply involved in the underworld and Italian organized crime in Rhode Island, gaining a reputation as a professional criminal. 

His arrests, dating to 1928, included failing to stop for a policeman, breaking and entering, larceny, robbery, vagrancy, violation of the Mann Act, conspiracy to violate the White Slavery Act, and masterminding a jail-break in which a prison guard and a trusty were killed. 

During his lifetime, Patriarca was arrested or indicted more than 30 times, convicted 7 times, imprisoned 4 different times, and served 11 total years in prison (with more than half of his prison time relating to murder conspiracy charges).

What was clear is that from an early age, Ray Patriarca possessed a rare combination of talent. He was incredibly shrewd, smart, and calculating, but also wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He would later gain a reputation for being incredibly fair, but if you dared to cross him he had no problem having you murdered. As a Boss in that life, these are the most important qualities a man needed to maximize his effectiveness.

He was once described by a Massachusetts state policeman as being, “just the toughest guy you ever saw.”

According to FBI memos, “During the same time period, a number of competing gangs had sprung up in Rhode Island. They formed a similar pattern, in that there was the tail-end of the Irish mob; and the beginning of the Italian underworld gang was gaining ascendancy. The top man in the gambling rackets in Rhode Island, according to police officials in that state, was CAMERON “DINKY” O’CONNOR. In the 1930’s, one of the strong-arm boys who worked as an enforcer for O’CONNOR was RAYMOND L.S. PATRIARCA.”

In 1931, Patriarca was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in the federal prison at Atlanta for transportation of a female over a state line for the purposes of prostitution (which was a violation of the Mann Act). 

Then in 1932, he was charged with committing an armed bank robbery down in Massachusetts but the witnesses refused to ID him and he was off the hook.

And as you get deeper into the 1930’s, this is where Patiarca’s star in the American Cosa Nostra really began to shine and people in high places began to really take notice of his earning capabilities and leadership potential.

Rise to Power:

Before we talk about how Ray Patriarca rose to power, allow me to give you a bit of history on what became known as the Patriarca crime family. 

Before the start of Prohibition, the modern-day Patriarca family actually began as two separate Mafia families—one in Boston and the other in Providence. Now the history at this point is a little murky, but I’ve done my best to puzzle out what was a very complex situation involving several major geographical areas.

During the turn of the century, many Sicilians immigrated to the Federal Hill area of Providence, Rhode Island as well as the Boston, Massachusetts area. And of course with them came their traditions, as well as an element of crime which was referred to as the Black Hand (though that type of harassment would largely be phased out in the late 1910’s and replaced by more traditional Mafia groups).

The Providence Mafia group was founded by Frank “Butsy” Morelli in 1917, who’d moved to the New England area from Brooklyn during World War I. Morelli’s family established control over all bootlegging and illegal gambling operations in Providence, Maine, as well as Connecticut.

It is actually rumored that the very famous 1920 case of Sacco and Vanzetti in which the two men were executed for a Massachusetts robbery in which two victims were killed was actually committed by the Morelli gang.

The Boston family, which was the more significant of the two at the time, was founded in the 1910’s by Gaspare DiCola. DiCola led the group until his murder in 1916 at which time another Gaspare, Gaspare Messina took over as new boss with a powerful lieutenant named Joseph Lombardo.

In 1924, Gaspare Messina decided to step down as Boston’s mafia boss, and (of all things) work as a businessman in a grocery store on Prince Street in Boston’s North End. It’s at this point when all Hell breaks loose. 

Various gang factions of the Boston underworld would struggle to fill the power vacuum and fought for control over illegal gambling, bootlegging, as well as loan sharking rackets. 

During this struggle, a mobster named Filippo “Philip” Buccola (imported from Palermo, Sicily) emerged as the key leader of the Boston family. And of course as you get into the early 1930’s, the Castellammarese War kicked off in New York creating turmoil for the entire underworld.

Now one thing that wasn’t clear to me was that allegedly in December of 1930 or early 1931 a meeting was held to elect the previously-retired Messina as the leader of not just the Mafia in Boston, but temporarily as the Capo Di Tutti Capi of the entire American Mafia, with Joseph Lombardo as his Underboss. Obviously we know that this wouldn’t be a permanent thing.

During the early 1930’s the New England Italian Mafia was at war with other ethnic groups including Irish and Jewish gangs to control all territory within Boston. In December of 1931, in a bid to eliminate the very power Irish mob group called the Gustin Gang, Lombardo arranged for the murder of an irishman named Frank Wallace, who was the head of the South Boston’s group. This was a fairly important murder as it helped the family gain more territory, rackets, power, and money.

On the heels of this hit in 1932, the old Morelli-Messina family from Providence received permission from The Commission to merge and formally become what is known today as the Patriarca crime family (though it wasn’t yet called that at the time). Now it’s important to know that at this point in time, the primary power base of the family was in Boston and not Providence though it would later shift.

After the merger and consolidation of the two organizations in the early 1930’s, at some point there was a transition of power from Messina to Philip Buccola who would become the Boss. Buccola ran the family from East Boston and continued to operate a war footing to defeat and eliminate any non-Italian competition. After the murder of infamous Jewish mob boss and gambling czar Charles “King” Solomon in 1933, Buccola essentially became the most powerful mobster in New England though Boston would maintain a heavy Irish contingent for years to come.

According to FBI memos, “some sources who have been acquainted with the evolution of gangsterism in the New England area, attribute PATRIARCA’s success in welding the Italian element in Rhode Island with the Italian underworld element in Massachusetts to the influence of PHILIP BUCCOLA.”

Now back to Patriarca.

In the late 1920’s and after the passing of his father, it’s said that Patriarca served an apprenticeship of sorts within the Providence family continuing his involvement in bootlegging, but also getting into prostitution and hijacking.

Right around this time—it’s difficult to discern—he would become a hitman for the mob and a key lieutenant for Buccola. According to the New England Historical Society, Patriarca was officially “made” in 1929. He would begin to forge alliances with New York families including the Profaci and Luciano crime family who were said to view him as their “can-do” guy in New England.

He would later say (quite morbidly I might add), that “The happiest days of my life were when I was on the street clipping.”

During the 1930s, Patiarca’s reputation and public notoriety would grow so much in the underworld that the Providence Board of Public Safety had named him “Public Enemy No. 1” and ordered the police to arrest him on sight. 

In 1938, 29-year-old Patriarca participated in and was arrested for several robberies. 

One was of a Brookline, Massachusetts jewelry store called Wallbank Jewelry Company, allegedly stealing $12,000 worth of gold and gems along with an employee’s car.

Five nights later, they were attempting to pull off another heist at the United Optical Plant in Webster, Massachusetts when a barking dog alerted police. The authorities found Patriarca hiding under a bench, arrested him and charged him with carrying a gun without a permit, possession of burglar’s tools, and armed robbery.

In another robbery case, he would be arrested and would stand trial after holding up a Boston jewelry store “Daniel Seidler & Sons” on Washington Street in which he stole diamonds valued at $20,000. 

Unfortunately for Patriarca and his partner, they would be arrested again at a race track in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and identified by the owner of the store they’d robbed via pictures in a “rogues gallery.” The owner stated that he recognized one of the men due to the fact that they’d removed their hood during the robbery.

Now, for the time, the two robberies that they pulled off turned out to be massive scores that netted the robbers what equates to $252,000 and $420,000 in today’s money.

But it’s unlikely that Patriarca got to enjoy much of that money as he was sentenced to 3-5 years in prison for the 3 crimes. 

However, Patriarca had an ace up his sleeve in the form of Executive Councilor Daniel H. Coakley, a close associate of Massachusetts Governor Charles F. Hurley. It was later alleged that Patriarca’s brother Joseph had surreptitiously met with Coakley and paid him off. 

In a stunning twist, young Patriarca was officially pardoned by Governor Hurley in 1938 after serving only 84 days in prison. 

There were reports that Patriarca had leveraged his political connections to secure a release, and afterwards an inquiry was demanded by outraged Massachusetts state legislators as part of a state-wide protest. Representative Roland D. Sawyer even went so far as to call the release a “disgrace.” He would go on to say: “The pardon of Raymond Patriarca is the last and boldest of a long chain of bold and defiant acts, and it seems to be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

That inquiry revealed that Executive Councilor Daniel H. Coakley, a close associate of Governor Hurley, had drawn up a parole petition based on the appeals of three priests. 

One priest had been tricked into signing the letter as a favor to a donor under the understanding that Patriarca had just committed minor juvenile delinquencies. Another priest, who didn’t know Patriarca at all, had never been consulted nor authorized his signature. 

And of course the third and most infamous priest, a “Father Fagin,” did not exist except in the mind of Coakley, who had in actuality fabricated him. There was in actuality no Father Fagin. He wasn’t a real person. Let that sink in.

In his petition for pardon, Coakley stated that Patriarca was “a virtuous young man eager to be released from prison so that he might go home to his mother.”

As a result of the inquiry, Coakley was impeached and dismissed in disgrace from the Governor’s office. 

Though the scandal greatly impacted Coakley’s political career, it had the opposite effect for Patriarca. The episode had enhanced Patriarca’s reputation in the underworld, and it demonstrated his immense power, craftiness and just how much political clout he had even at that relatively early point in his career.

According to FBI reports, “some well-informed police in the Boston area feel that it was BUCCOLA who, as a very suave, well-spoken individual, made contacts with influential politicians and, in fact, induced [redacted] to procure the crooked parole for PATRIARCA in 1938.”

After being released from prison in 1938, Patriarca returned to Providence. 

In 1939, at age 31, Patriarca married Helen G. Mandella. The couple would go on to have one son, Raymond Patriarca Jr., in 1945 who eventually would follow his father into the mob lifestyle. But there is evidence that Patriarca didn’t just marry Helen because of love; there may have been some other forces at work.

FBI memos stated the following, “Another factor which tended to establish PATRIARCA as a ‘big man’ in the rackets was the patronage of the late FRANK IACONE. IACONE was the boss of the Italian underworld element in the Worcester, Massachusetts area. PATRIARCA, himself, it will be recalled, was a native of Worcester, married a MANDELLA girl from Worcester, and continued to maintain his contacts in the underworld element there. As a result of such friendships with the acknowledged leaders, PATRIARCA emerged as the undisputed boss in the underworld of southern New England.”

In yet another interesting find from the U.S. Census records came in 1940, where Patriarca was still listed as living at his mother’s residence, and his occupation had changed from “automobile salesman” in 1930 to “handy man” and “mother’s estate” (which I’ll assume means looking at his mother’s affairs).

In reality, during the 1940s Patriarca continued to rise through the Cosa Nostra ranks, increasing his influence and power within the New England underworld. His ascension certainly included murder and he also had a knack for politial corruption that would serve him well in his future as a mob boss.

However, Patriarca would briefly be tied up in a bit of legal trouble.

First, Patriarca served a 2.5-3 year sentence in Massachusetts State Prison on a charge of robbery and assault with intent to rob. For that offense, he was paroled on May 11, 1944.

Shortly after his release from Massachusetts State Prison in 1944, he was arrested by the Cranston, Rhode Island Police Department on a charge of being an accessory before the fact to two murders. The background of that prosecution is as follows:

“On Easter Saturday, 1930, there was a desperate attempt by two unidentified individuals to rescue prisoners from the State Prison at Howard, Rhode Island. During the course of the abortive foray, a prison guard and a prison trusty were killed. The murders remained unsolved for a number of years up until 1944, when a former Rhode Island [redacted] came forward and named PATRIARCA as one of the two deperadoes involved in the attempted break-out. PATRIARCA disclaimed any knowledge of the affair and pleaded the Statute of Limitations. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island upheld PATRIARCA’s contention and he was released.”

So as would be the case time and time again for Patriarca, crisis averted.

As the decade went on, Patriarca worked to broaden the family’s connections in order to solidify their rule over much of New England and Rhode Island. He continued to acquire power, wealth, political influence, and prestige and had clearly gained the notice of his boss, Philip Buccola. It was during this time period where Patriarca essentially became Buccola’s heir apparent, the driving force in the family, and a serious man to be reckoned with.

FBI memos recanting the history at the time stated “When Patriarca was released from Massachusetts State Prison in 1944, he had achieved sufficient notoriety as a criminal to have considerable influence in underworld circles. The so-called boss of the underworld’s element at that time in Rhode Island was Frank Morelli, also known as “Butsey” Morelli, who dominated the booking and lottery field. Patriarca commenced to surround himself with reliable persons and soon out-stripped Morelli in the quest for leadership. Morelli had a weakness for liquor and gambling, started to lose influence, and, as of today Morelli is a broken-down alcoholic who has no authority in the underworld.”

In February of 1946, police officials in Rhode Island stated that they’d been informed that Patriarca had called a meeting at the Narragansett Hotel of about 75 to 100 bookmakers in Rhode Island for the purpose of informing them that he and Johnnie Candelmo had a “protection service,” which they were going to make available to all bookies in Rhode Island. And this is essentially how Patriarca and Candelmo “cut themselves in” on all booking business in Rhode Island. When some bookies refused the “protection service,” they were summarily murdered.

And as the clock turned to the 1950’s, it was said to be nearly impossible to be a major figure in crime in New England and not have to deal with Patriarca. If you defied him, you risked life and limb as he had no qualms about ordering murders of unwilling “partners.”

Maybe his only rival at the time was an Irish mobster named Carlton O’Brien. O’Brien was a former bootlegger who went into gambling and had taken control of the local racing wire service. In 1952, Patriarca’s hitmen would shoot O’Brien to death, which would allow Patriarca to gobble up more even rackets and continue his ascension to the throne.

Coming Soon: Part Two of the Raymond Patriarca Biography

Okay, so that is it for Part One of the Ray Patriarca biography. We will be releasing Part Two in the very near future (it is already recorded; undergoing editing at the moment).

Just a reminder, if you like my channel and enjoy my content don’t forget to mash that subscribe button on YouTube. And of course leave lots of comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

If you want to read some of the details of what I’m presenting and look at the sources for yourself, I’ve hosted (see below) all of the FBI files I obtained in my Freedom of Information Act request.

Again, Part Two will be out shortly and I promise that it will be just as amazing as Part One in terms of the level of detail and the things that we were able to dig up.

Thank you for watching, and until next time Gratzie!

Online Sources:

Books & Other Sources:

  • Sherman, Casey (2013). Animal: The Bloody Rise and Fall of the Mob’s Most Feared Assassin.
  • Lehr, Dick and O’Neill, Gerard (1989). The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family. 
  • Cressey, Donald Ray (1969). Theft of the Nation: The Structure and Operations of Organized Crime in America. Harper & Row. ISBN 9780060500269, 0060500263.
  • Sifakis, Carl (2006). The Mafia Encyclopedia: From Accardo to Zwillman. Third Edition. Viva Books Private Limited. ISBN 9788130902753, 978-8130902753