By Thom L. Jones
He went to church every Sunday in Deal, New Jersey, with his wife and three daughters. The kids in the neighbourhood called him 'cump.' He had a home there on five acres, where he raised prize ducks, that was valued at $400,000. By to-days standards, many millions. He was short and squat with thinning hair, brushed straight back and whenever you see a photo of him, he's wearing the most hideous, hand-painted silk ties.
One of a kind was Willie (right).
Then one day, in October 1951, he arranged to have lunch with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, but before he could keep that appointment, he had another, with four guys in Joe's Elbow Room at 793 Palisades Avenue in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Dino and Jerry never got to sit with the man that day. His other friends shot him a number of times and left him sprawled on his back, on the floor, dead and bleeding, sporting another awful tie.
He was a best friend to Frank Costello, who had been his best man at his wedding and a godfather to at least one of his children, led a gang of really tough guys, 60 at least, in the Garden State, with a lock on gambling that had made him and Frank very rich, was allegedly the under boss of the mob Frank controlled, now called the Genovese Family, never carried less than $2000 in his money roll, drove the best cars money could buy.
So why did it all go horribly wrong that crisp, clean morning of October 4th?
There was a rumour going around that he'd gone a little off his mind, more than a little really, because of the damage done by syphilis that he'd contacted in his younger days, and that he had to be put down before he did irreparable damage to Cosa Nostra, babbling away at the Kefauver Hearings, telling reporters little tit-bits of information, that kept stirring the pot on organized crime in New Jersey. That wasn't the reason of course. As always in the Mafia, what you see and hear is not what you necessarily get. Willie had to go because Vito Genovese was sick of waiting to take back the family he'd left in Frank's hands in 1937, when he did a runner to Italy to avoid a murder rap. He'd been back four years, and now, he was ready to make his move.
Then again maybe there was an even more basic reason Willie got the clip that morning. Some sources claim he had reneged on a drug deal, and the party of the first part decided he no longer needed the party of the second part.
Quarico Moretti grew up in East Harlem on East 108th Street, just up the block from Frank Costello who became one of his closest friends. His first, probably his only, legitimate job, was delivering milk for 25 cents a week. He tried his hand at prize-fighting but at 5'4'' he wasn't big enough or heavy enough to go anywhere there, so he got into crime like so many of his peers, and found he was really good at that. At some stage during this period of his life, people started calling him Willie Moore, a knick-name he came to use more and more often himself. He became so well established and trusted in the mob, that he was sent to meet and escort back to New York, Joe Bonanno, when he landed illegally in America The Federal Bureau of Narcotics kept tabs on Willie, and he was listed by them in 1931 as a major narcotics violator, with his own ID number: 138-A. By the time the Castellammarese War was under way, he was 36 years old and a seasoned veteran of the New York underworld. Along with Frank and Vito and big Al and little Tommy Luchese, he backed Masseria, then changed sides when the momentum shifted.
After the dust settled, he moved over to New Jersey and started what was to become one of the biggest gambling and sports betting operations in the state. He worked in conjunction with Longy Zwillman and Anthony Sabio aka 'Chicago Fats'.
In 1944, Joe Doto, another major player in the crime family then run by Charley Luciano, upped and left Brooklyn and moved across the Hudson and joined them. They creamed huge revenues from the numbers business and bookies working for them in factories, at the ports and offices in Bergen County, the New York wide spread wire system and the illegal casinos and 'sawdust' dice barns they set up in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Moretti expanded into legitimate areas: laundries, cigarette vending companies, trucking companies, wherever there seemed good opportunities to launder money.
He was a consummate gambler, to the point that he converted his family room in the big house down in Deal into a sports betting room, and would often hosts groups of other gamblers who would spend the day betting on horses and sports events.
Willie was a man of respect in every sense, important enough to attend the mob convention in May 1929 at Atlantic City, and fly down to Havana, Cuba to meet up with Lucky Luciano at the Hotel Nacional, having been one of the twenty or so senior mob figures who waved Lucky goodbye when he was deported on February 2nd, 1946 from New York. No doubt, if he'd lived long enough, the cops would have caught him running his chubby little legs off, through the woods at Apalachin.
That morning, Thursday, October 4th., Willie drove himself to the restaurant, parking his new, cream coloured Packard convertible outside the building. His chauffer, Harry Shepherd, had been loaned out to one of Willie's associates, Albert Anastasia, who'd claimed his own driver was sick, and he had to go for an X Ray appointment that morning to St. Mary's Hospital up in Passaic. He'd make sure he stayed there until the afternoon, thereby setting up the perfect alibi.
As Willie stepped from his car, a man came out of the restaurant. They shook hands, and went inside. There, three other men were waiting. According to the waitress on duty that day, Dorothy Novack, the group chatted awhile in Italian at a table by the window, then asked to see the menu. She went into the kitchen, and a moment later heard gun shots. Smart woman, she waited awhile, and when she came out, found Willie dead on the floor, lying next to one of the tables. It was 11.25 am.
The cops arrived, and the dicks wandered around, taking a few photos, smoking, chatting to themselves. They seemed more interested in the re-play on a radio, of the historic baseball pennant match fought out the day before, between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, than the corpse they had come to inspect and evaluate. He was after all, just another guinea. Gone.
There was a cafe sign above the body, advertising the special of the day: Chicken in the Rough-$1.50
Willie lay in quiet repose on the black and white lino floor. His left arm was crooked, thick, ham fist holding onto his heart long stilled; his ankles neatly crossed, a hint of sock showing, his eyes closed to the violence of that final moment, as his killers shot him, face on, a mark of respect- he had the right to see what was happening- the blood pooling out from under his shattered head, one of those awful ties, soaked in red, crumpled over the shoulder of his open jacket. They killed him with respect because it was to be seen as an act of pity, putting a sick lion to sleep. It wasn't of course. Imprudent as he may have been, Willie died to satisfy ambition, or maybe revenge, rather than to ameliorate a sad case of loose lips.
The cops never caught the guys who did it, which in mob killings is almost a given. They found a couple of fedoras, carelessly left on tables by the gang, and one of them was traced to a dry cleaners on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, which interestingly enough, lay just across the street from the apartment of the brother of one John 'Johnny Roberts' Robilotto, a guy well know to the cops.
Forty seven year old Johnny Roberts was originally sponsored into the Luciano organization by Tony Bender, a shifty, double-dealing crew boss, close to Vito Genovese, but Costello vetoed him on the grounds his brother was a cop. Albert Anastasia took a liking to him and worked him into his own family. Johnny was therefore a big supporter of Big Al; probably when Al said 'jump' Johnny would have said 'how high?'
In due course, the police arrested one Joseph Li Calsi and charged him and Robilotto, but the evidence against them didn't stack up, and they were subsequently released. So did Johnny kill Willie and if so, why would Albert A. sanction this? He was supposedly a close friend and ally of Frank Costello, hated Genovese with a vengeance and logically would have done nothing to help him in his attempt to dethrone Frank, which the killing of Moretti would surely have helped along.
But Al had gone to all that trouble to establish an alibi so must have known what was going down that morning. Did 'The Commission' ratify it, as has been supposed. Who knows? Maybe they did, maybe not. If they did, then surely Frank Costello had to be one who voted against the motion, but got lost in the numbers.
It's complicated, as are most mob politics. Everyone involved is long dead and the mob don't keep minutes, so all we have is hypothesis, a dangerous quicksand to navigate when dealing with Cosa Nostra lore.
Some sources claim there was an 'open' contract out on Willie, so anyone could kill him if and when the opportunity arose. But for Anastasia to go to the trouble arranging that alibi, indicates that he knew the killing was going down that morning.
Did Al hope to move in and take over Willie's very lucrative operations. Hardly. There's was Willie's brother Salavator 'Solly' the right bower, to contend with and 'Johnny Caboos' the left bower, Willie's trusted number two. Both tough guys, and don't forget the heavy hitters in the crew who respected and supported the boss. How would they react? Another theory that went around, was that Anastasia, worried about Moretti's behaviour insofar as it might impact on his own safety, had him killed before Willie killed him. But why would Willie lend a guy his driver, then kill him?
The other thing that’s worth some thought is just who were the guys Willie had arranged to meet and for why? He was a busy man, pushed for time. He had this big lunch date with two of America's top movie stars, so this detour into Cliffside Park had to be important. What was it about? He surely knew one, if not all of the men waiting for him. What was so important that morning that couldn't wait until another day?
Shifting sands, broken mirrors, circles going nowhere.
The thing that is intriguing is why would gunmen from another mob be used? There were plenty of tough guys in the family over in Harlem and down on the west side. In the Gambino Family, there was a long history of bosses getting killed by their own guys-Mangano, Anastasia, Castellano. It makes more sense to use your own troops surely, easier to control and manage.
It's a puzzle, and it's logical to suppose the missing pieces will stay just that.
They gave him a funeral on October 9th. fit for the king of Bergen County- over 5000 people attending either the ceremony or internment- as his family and friends travelling in 75 cars, buried him in a $5000 coffin inside a sepulchre in Saint Michaels Cemetery, on South Main Street, in Hackensack. It sits there to-day, squat and gray, with a cross on the roof, towering over the tombstones that stretch away on all sides.
In life, Willie Moore never towered over anyone. He's made up for it now.
The place where Willie got whacked is still a place where you can go to eat. The building, on the corner of Palisade and Marion Avenue, was bought and renovated by the Esposito family from Amalfi, Italy, who turned it, sometime in the 1980's, into the Villa Amalfi, one of the better Italian restaurants in this part of New Jersey. There's music and good food, friendly service and the only thing that gets whacked there to-day is the steak.
© Thom L. Jones 2010