In 1945, the police arrested 14-year-old Joe Barboza for breaking and entering. He was packed off to the infamous Lyman Reform School in Westborough, MA, a grim “hellhole.” It was the first reform school in the United States.
He took up boxing like many others who were serving time. Tony Veranis, another Lyman graduate, went on to compile a 25-2-2 professional record before he was forced to retire at age twenty-one because of a brain injury. Six years later, Veranis, an associate of the Winter Hill gang, was murdered.
Barboza learned the rudiments of boxing well in reform school and doled out far more beatings than he absorbed. However, a fellow psychopath, Bobby “Dorchester” Quinn, sparred with him and repeatedly beat him until his hands hurt. An accomplished boxer, Quinn was an early opponent of Rocky Marciano.
At age 26, the plug-ugly Barboza, nicknamed “The Baron,” began fighting professionally, racking up an 8-3 mark against questionable opposition. He was KOd by Don Bale in his last outing on September 23, 1961. Luckily for Bale, he left the Boston Garden before “The Baron” could catch up to him. The volatile and dangerous New Bedford native had a thing about losing.
As for his appearance, something went amiss in his genetic code. His upper body, big chest, and monster-sized shoulders contrasted with a small waist and short, stubby legs. He looked and walked like an orangutan and his huge head and jutting jaw didn’t help matters. His facial profile was a vertical line. Joe appeared to be well over six feet tall when maybe he was 5’10” at most. He had tattooed “BORN TO LOSE” on his right forearm and a pair of boxing gloves on his left bicep.
Notwithstanding his Neanderthal appearance, he was instinctively cunning and did not lack for innate intellect–he reportedly had a high IQ. It was Joe’s unpredictable and deadly disposition rather than his appearance that just about everyone in the Boston area feared the most. Reportedly, even some Boston police would walk away rather than intercede in one of Joe’s street scuffles.
In the ring, The Baron had a fan-friendly, attack style and if he was given a free shot, he had the power to end the fight, but he lacked a defense and technical skills. In short, he was not a very good boxer. Some in the New England area went so far as to question his ring courage or lack thereof but that never was done to Joe’s face.
Once, while sparring with journeyman Cardell Farmos at the New Garden Gym, Farmos tuned up Joe pretty good. Afterwards, Joe was incensed. He ripped off his gloves with his bare teeth, got a gun out of his locker, and went after Cardell who was doing some shadow boxing.
When he saw The Baron coming, Farmos jumped over the ropes, ran down the stairs three at a time on to Friend Street, and headed for North Station with the grotesque caveman giving chase.
Barboza also reportedly sparred with Patriarca crime family associate Americo “Rico” Sacramone (who would be murdered), heavy-handed middleweight Edward Connors (machine gunned almost in half in a Boston phone booth), the aforementioned Tony Veranis, who would later be murdered by infamous James Bulger hit man John “The Basin Street Butcher”Martorano (20 confirmed hits), and world class middleweight Joe DeNucci, the future State Auditor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who lived clean and stayed clean.
Ensconcing himself in East Boston, Joe formed a small gang that specialized in bookmaking, loan sharking, auto theft, and extortion. Soon, he upped the ante and looked to become a Mafia associate always on call to kill for cash. As the son of Portuguese immigrants, he knew that becoming a “made man” wasn’t in the cards.
His moniker changed as well. After he allegedly bit off part of a man’s ear in a bar brawl, he became known as “The Animal,” and then later as the “Joe Valachi of New England.”
He dove into his work as a hit man for the Providence, R.I.-based mob boss Raymond Patriarca and his second in command Henry Tameleo (who hired Joe as an assassin), with great enthusiasm. He is reputed to have murdered between 20-26 men in his lifetime. The exact number is uncertain, but twenty-two is a safe bet.
Barboza was described by the FBI as “the most vicious criminal in New England.” He became a respected figure in the criminal underworld, but his rash behavior and violent reputation eventually made him dangerous enemies. Even Patriarca was shocked by the Animal’s propensity for over-the-top violence. The bottom line was that he lost favor with the mob and morphed from an asset to a liability. He was abandoned by the La Cosa Nostra when he was arrested on a weapons charge in 1966. He also learned that his old criminal associates were planning to kill him.
It was time to become the “Joe Valachi” of New England. He agreed to testify against Patriarca in return for protection by the FBI.
“[Joe was] one of the worst men on the face of the earth.”– Joe’s lawyer, F. Lee Bailey
“[Joe was] no great l[Joe was] no great loss to society.”—Bailey
“The Mafia screwed me and I’m going to screw as many of them as possible.”—Joe Barboza
After a bizarre serious of events and byzantine maneuverings in which cops (FBI) and robbers became virtually indistinguishable, the bribery, deceit, triple-crosses, murders, false imprisonment, and other sordid elements and corruption that was palpable in New England finally boiled over. We’ll save the full story for another day. Suffice it to say that the scheming and sociopathic Barboza would become the man who cost the US Government over $100 million dollars as a result of his actions that sent four innocent men into prison on life sentences. When his lies and false testimony were finally exposed, it resulted in uncovering arguably the most scandalously corrupt behavior that has ever occurred in the history of the FBI (that is, until Whitey Bulger came along).
After flipping, Joe became the first person to receive protection under the Witness Protection Program and was moved to California. He also became the first man to commit murder (in Santa Rosa) while under Witness Protection. And finally, he became the first man to be murdered under Witness Protection.
It ended for “The Animal” near 26th Avenue and Moraga Street in San Francisco. Barboza had just left a friend’s house when he was gunned down by several shotgun blasts at close range. Bespectacled Boston mobster Joe “JR” Russo was identified as the hit man. In a final act of deception, it turned out Barboza’s friend had set him up. Joe was 43.
Postscript: Joe Barboza was a complex individual whose violent life story begged for a book to be written—and it was by the late Hank Messick, a prolific crime writer. Titled Barboza, the 1975 book is difficult to find (used copies may be available on Amazon), but it’s as compelling a true crime story as you could imagine….and if you are a boxing fan, all the better.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. He has won the EPF Nationals championship four years in a row. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he enjoys writing about boxing.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.