Shot dead on the streets of San Francisco almost a half-century ago, his reputation as a Boston-area enforcer persists – along with his infamous decision to flip to the FBI that eventually thrust him into witness protection.
The first-ever to enter the program – as well as its first casualty – his story would be a warning for future feds of what not to do.
After multiple attempts on his life – including one that saw his lawyer lose his right leg as Barboza testified before a committee in DC – the crazed hitman known as the Animal left his government-given apartment only to be gunned down.
The act, carried out by four shotgun blasts fired from a Ford van, brought the killer’s life to an unceremonious end – and a DOJ probe would later criticize the FBI’s strategy surrounding him one of lawmen’s ‘greatest failures’ of all time.
Joseph Barboza, a tough talking former Mafia enforcer, sought to connect Frank Sinatra and three Boston sports figures with the New England crime syndicate headed by boss Raymond Patriaroa in testimony before the House Crime Committee in ’72. He was killed four years later
The government-given apartment where Barboza – who took credit for 75 stabbings, 500 beatings, and more than 20 murders – was located and gunned down in February 1976
The 2000 investigation also saw feds slam the 1972 testimony that got Barboza killed as having ‘disastrous consequences’ – as it also saw four men wrongly convicted for killings the tough-talking ex-boxer committed himself.
Families of the four wrongly convicted men – two of whom were put to death – would later sue the FBI for withholding evidence that would have freed them, after the DOJ probe found that that federal agents who had known Barboza was lying.
They were eventually awarded $101.7million – one of the largest-ever government-involved judgments in history.
More than 23 years later, the legacy of the bureau cooperator partially responsible lasts on – a life that his one-time lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, suggested should not be celebrated.
Shortly after his Barboza’s 1976 death, he said: ‘With all due respect for my former client, I don’t think society has suffered a great loss.’
Barboza’s sordid life tells the rest of tale.
A triggerman, street collector, and intimidator for Raymond Patriarca’s famed New England syndicate, The Animal Barboza was a famous and feared figure in the 1960s.
His name stemmed from an incident where he allegedly bit a man’s ear in a fit of rage – and he once turned down $1,000 for a hit just to do it for free.
Such an MO spurred noted mob historian Casey Sherman to remark: ‘His stake in mob lore in America is quite significant.’
A small-time burglar with a boxing background
Barboza’s ‘Animal’ nickname stemmed from an incident where he allegedly bit a man’s ear in a fit of rage. He also once turned down $1,000 for a hit – before doing for free
Aged 43 at his time of death, Barboza grew up impoverished in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and served his first stint in prison when he was just 18.
Before that, he began a brief career as a professional light heavyweight boxer – one upended by his planned five year bid at Massachusetts Correctional.
Three years in, Barboza – still a small-time street thug – would lead the largest prison break in the facility’s history, when he and and six other inmates overpowered four prison guards and were able to drive off in two separate cars.
During their less than 24 hours of freedom, the group beat random people in the street, visited multiple bars in Boston, and wandered to the neighborhoods of Lynn and Revere.
With six other inmates in tow, the group caused mayhem in the streets of Boston, trolling the city’s red-light district – then known as the Combat Zone – while attacking and beating innocent bystanders on the streets.
The inmates were finally apprehended at an East Boston train station just 24 hours after their escape.
The night of freedom, however, was short-lived, with the group eventually apprehended at a subway station in East Boston – leaving Barboza with a fresh set of charges aside from his initial conviction for burglary.
In November of that year, he was set to face trial, but slugged a corrections in the prison’s cafeteria, and three months later, in 1951, he tossed a table at another guard’s chest as he entered his cell unannounced.
The series of infractions extended his sentence several years – a stint that was cut short when he was paroled seven years later. Around that time, Barboza would be exposed to the same crime scene he would soon dominate.
Enter – The New England Mafia
Still acting predominantly as a burglar, he joined a band of criminals under the family’s umbrella for some four years – before being recognized for his fearlessness
Following his parole, Barboza’s animalistic nature caught the eye of the New England mob.
The encounter – occurring at an East Boston bar in 1958 – also saw the con earn his Animal nickname from a crime family underboss to a don he eventually served, and then put away.
The incident today still lives in infamy – with one witness account indicating that Barboza, then in his mid 20s, was drinking at the mobbed-up bar when an elderly patron, incensed by his obnoxious behavior, chided him for his rudeness.
Not one to accept criticism, Barboza approached the older man, and slapped him hard across the face.
Seated nearby was Patriarca family underboss Henry Tameleo, who witnesses recalled was angered by Barboza’s activity in his crew’s hangout.
‘I don’t want you to ever slap that man,’ he reportedly shouted to Barboza after the slap, telling the two-bit burglar: ‘I don’t want you to touch anybody with your hands again.’
Barboza proceeded to adhere to the man’s order – but in a decidedly sardonic way.
Without putting his hands on the barkeep, he leaned over and bit the man’s ear, before wryly telling Tameleo: ‘I didn’t touch him with my hands.’
The move put the future enforcer on the family’s radar, and within months, he became a recognized figure in the New England crime scene.
Still acting predominantly as a burglar, he joined a band of criminals under the family’s umbrella for some four years – before being recognized for his fearlessness.
A man so vicious he ‘made Caligula look like a saint’
Within a few years, Barboza would earn his spot as one of the mob’s most recognizable – and feared – contract killers of his day
Within a few years, Barboza would earn his spot as one of the mob’s most recognizable – and feared – contract killers of his day.
In 1962, likely to earn his stripes, he turned down $1,000 to carry out a hit for his new family, instead doing the deed for free.
One of more than 20 gangland killings to which he would own up to less than a decade later, the move saw Barboza take what was presumably the first step to becoming the sidewalk soldier that struck fear into the hearts of so many.
Because of his Portuguese heritage, though, he was fated to never to become a made man. His drive – along with his inherent attitude – however, was enough for him to make a name for himself, along with heaps cash along the way.
But the state of the streets in Boston at the time created a need for someone like Barboza – a person willing to clean up loose ends, almost to a fault.
Now a bona fide Patriarca hitman, Barboza, within a span of a few years, would kill over two dozen people, during what was an especially deadly time on the streets of Boston.
Gangs were at war, and Barboza was a devoted soldier, committing revenge killings at the drop of the hat – all while instilling elements of both fear and respect amongst his comrades.
His reputation helped maintain order within the Patriarca ranks, many of whom did their daily duties out of fear of death.
But after a gun-related arrest in 1966, Barboza would quickly time to reassess his place in the organization – after boss Patriarca failed to bail him out.
The flipping point
Prior to his arrest – after which New England prosecutors demanded $100,000 in bail – Barboza became somewhat of liability to his higher-ups in the Boston underworld
Prior to his arrest – after which New England prosecutors demanded $100,000 in bail – Barboza had become somewhat of liability to his higher-ups in the Boston underworld.
Demanding protection money on top of what his bosses and underbosses were already paid, his brash demeanor left him without friends in high places – and while locked-up, no one attempted to post his bail.
The development left the previously loyal soldier disillusioned – and when he heard a jailhouse rumor that his former family had put a hit out on him, he was even more on the fence.
Worsening matters was the fact that the only two Patriarca associates who took pity on his plight – and raised $59,000 of the needed $100,000 in an effort to free him – ended up dead in a hit made to look like the work of a rival Irish gang.
The FBI would quickly capitalize on Barboza’s situation – visiting him as he sat in prison hopeful someone would pony up his bail.
Poised to stay in the pen for the next five years, the Animal soon became a cooperator – after feds lied to him and said the going rate for his head was a sum identical to the bail that would have set him free.
Then, into a bid to turn Barboza into an informant, agents sent in Stephen ‘The Rifleman’ Flemmi – a close associate of rival boss Whitey Bulger – to tell The Animal the FBI would protect him if he cooperated with them against the Italian mob.
He obliged, and the government soon concocted a strategy surrounding its then-biggest asset.
Feds sink their teeth in – as Patriarca grows fed-up
A man close ties with New York’s Genovese and Colombo crime families, Patriarca had also been growing increasingly wary of Barboza – hence his hesitance to post the $100,000 that would have set him free
On the outside, Patriarca ran the New England Mafia with more of a measured approach than an iron fist.
A man close ties with New York’s Genovese and Colombo crime families, he had also been growing increasingly wary of Barboza – hence his hesitance to post the $100,000 that would have set him free.
Meanwhile, gangsters with mob ties to Boston’s Irish gangs killed each other on a near daily basis.
The Boston Irish Gang War, which persisted until the mid-1960s, was especially bloody, and the Italian mob’s stance was to stand back and let the Irish fight it out.
Meanwhile, back in the pen, Barboza wisely allied himself with the Winter Hill Gang, the ultimate victor.
Later, Whitey Bulger – killed in prison while serving two consecutive life terms a decade ago – would emerge as the gang’s most infamous leader.
But the Italian mob had still not decided to whack Barboza, as the Animal had been led to believe.
Always good for a straight beating or drive-by shooting, he had been one of the outfit’s most reliable triggermen – but even he had started to unnerve bosses with the way he had been acting before entering prison.
As this was happening, then U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy – who would get assassinated within a year – had both Patriarca and The Animal in his sights
In one incident during his stint, Barboza reportedly told Patriarca how he wanted to take care of one target by pouring gasoline in the basement of the man’s townhouse and setting it on fire – despite the man’s mother living on the first floor.
Even the thought left Patriarca – an old school, lifelong mobster – appalled.
‘He’s crazy. Someday we’ll have to whack him,’ he said at the time.
As this was happening, then-US attorney general Robert Kennedy – who would get assassinated within the next two year – had Patriarca and The Animal in his sights.
The FBI had already been infiltrating the organization with several informers, and with Barboza in their camp, they figured they had the ammunition needed to take them down.
Agents would go on to coach Barboza to falsely testify against four men for a murder he in fact committed, and by June 1967, he had officially flipped.
Barboza how now decided to become the state’s star witness, tossing his ties to the Mafia hierarchy.
The decision was a fateful one – and one the FBI had been looking forward to for years.
Meanwhile, the US marshal assigned to protect his family, John Partington, was putting together the first facets of the federal witness protection program – with Barboza set to be its inaugural subject.
To trial – and eventually the West Coast
Ensuing hearings would see seven mobsters, Patriarca included, put away for life on murder and other charges – but first, feds were tasked with protecting their new chess piece
The ensuing hearings would see seven mobsters, Patriarca included, put away for life on murder and other charges – but first, feds were tasked with protecting their new chess piece.
Partington, the first to head the federal witness protection program, first transported Barboza to a small island off of Cape Ann, Massachusetts – a move that left Barboza irate when he stepped out of the helicopter and saw the house and the terrain.
‘You got to be s******g me,’ he reportedly said.
Partington would then station sixteen marshals on the island to protect Barboza, but the Animal – as his name would suggest – was difficult to tame.
When one agent brought him a rescue dog to keep the murderous mafioso company, Barboza responded by training the canine – to attack the marshals at his hand signal.
Needless to say, the dog went back.
During this time, countless contract killers relentlessly sought Barboza – who had now changed his surname to Baron – but were largely unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Barboza testified repeatedly, sending members of his former outfit to prison, with Patriarca cuffed on conspiracy to murder charges.
Enrico Tameleo, the mobster who had intervened when Barboza slapped the elderly man in Revere bar, and Peter Limone, a body guard for underboss Gennaro Angiulo, and two others were put away for the 1965 murder of Edward ‘Teddy’ Deegan.
Also a former professional boxer who had been working as a longshoreman, Deegan’s death would shine a light on the misdoings of the FBI. The four men were eventually found innocent, with feds found to be coaching Barboza into fingering them.
Entering the program – and more bodies
The mob, meanwhile, had not forgotten its business with its former bruiser – and soon became aware of his whereabouts. On February 11, 1976, less than three months from his release, the mob made good on their word, fatally shooting him has he left his San Francisco apartment
Needless to say, the convictions did not sit well with La Cosa Nostra.
Six of the outfit were sentenced to death, though all were later reduced to life sentences.
While trials were in session, two men planted a car-bomb under the hood of what they presumed to be Barboza’s Oldsmobile, not knowing the contract killer had gifted it to his attorney, John Fitzgerald, in lieu of legal fees.
Somehow, Fitzgerald survived the blast, but had to have his leg amputated below his right knee as a result. He quit practicing law in Massachusetts soon after.
Measures to protect Barboza continued – with feds providing the man who once tallied his misdeeds at 75 stabbings, 500 beatings, and 20 murders, a new name and life.
Guarded around the clock by US marshals, he refused an offer to relocate to Australia because he would have not been allowed to bring his dogs, and in return for his testimony, was only given a one year sentence.
In 1969, he was released on parole and put in the new Witness Protection Program, becoming the very first man to gain protection status in the process.
He ended up in Santa Rosa, California, but still continued to kill.
Rumors placed the number as high as 10 men, but he was only convicted of one – the 1971 killing of a 27-year-old truck driver in a dispute over stolen bonds.
Likely due to his protected status, he was sentenced to only five years in Folsom Prison, and was released early in 1975. At that point, he moved to San Francisco.
The mob, meanwhile, had not forgotten its business with its former bruiser – and soon became aware of his whereabouts. A hit would soon follow.
Animal gets put down
The killer who brought the Boston mob to its knees had now been silenced- and made him the first killed while in the Federal Witness Protection Program
Upon Barboza’s release in 1975, an internal memo advised federal agents that ‘the word on the street in Boston is that the bad guys… plan on publicly executing him.’
On February 11, 1976, less than three months from his release, the mob made good on their word, fatally shooting the Animal has he left his San Francisco apartment with four shotgun blasts fired from a Ford van.
The triggerman, notorious Boston mob capo Joseph JR’ Russo , would eventually become the New England outfit’s boss in 1989, killing his way to the top to do so.
Barboza, living under the name Joe Donati, had been carrying a Colt .38 in his pocket, but never got the chance to use it.
The killer who brought the Boston mob to its knees had now been silenced- and made him the first killed while in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
Over 7,500 witnesses and 9,500 families have entered the program since, with at least a dozen killed.