SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – A famous East Coast mafia hitman during the deadliest mob wars of the 1960’s became the first member of the witness protection program when he moved to the Bay Area. But the move didn’t change his behavior and he ultimately met his end in San Francisco in 1976. It’s a story that’s soon to become a major motion picture.

Joe “the Animal” Barboza was a famous and feared. The nickname originated after Barboza chewed off a man’s cheek in a fit of rage.

“His stake in mob lore in America is quite significant, “ said writer Casey Sherman.

Sherman’s new crime novel traces Barboza’s violent life. He admitted to killing 26 men when he was a loan shark and a hired assassin for mob boss Raymond Patriarcha.

Barboza bragged about this methods in this rare interview with a Boston television station in 1970.

“You know, I stabbed them in the face,” Barboza said without flinching. “I stabbed them in the legs. I stabbed them in the arms. I stabbed them in the chest. You understand?”

But when the Mob bosses double crossed him, threatening to kill his family, “the Animal” became an FBI snitch. He testified against the Mafia in three criminal trials.

“He brought down the biggest godfather in New England in Raymond Patriarcha,” Sherman said.

Barboza was the first gangster to testify against the Mafia in a criminal trial, and as a result, was the first man ever placed in the witness protection program.

He got a new name, and a new life in the Bay Area. The FBI set him up in a culinary school in Santa Rosa. He got a job in the kitchen of a freighter, and he also once worked for the Rathskeller Restaurant in San Francisco.

“They gave him a menial job. He was disgruntled and he immediately went back to his life of crime,” said Sherman.

Barboza killed a man in Santa Rosa and, at trial, his true identity came out. After serving five years in prison, Barboza moved to San Francisco and lived in an apartment near Ocean Beach.

“Joe Barboza thought that San Francisco had a void of leadership when it came to organized crime,” said Sherman. “He would see if he could take over the rackets in San Francisco.”

But by now, the mob knew where he was, and sent assassins to kill him.

It all ended for Joe “The Animal” Barboza on a quiet Sunset District neighborhood near 26th Avenue and Moraga Streets.

Barboza had just left a friend’s house when he was gunned down. Mob hitman Joe Russo did the deed, and it turned out Barboza’s friend had set him up.

“I remember the guy got whacked,” said retired San Francisco police captain Richard Cairns.

He was one of six officers sent to guard a family associated with Barboza. Cairns said he had no idea this was a mob hit. The FBI and the U.S. Marshals took over the case.

“It was obvious there was a lot of anxiety, a lot of worry,” remembered Cairns.

After a few days of around–the-clock security, Cairns said the feds took over.

“The U. S. marshals loaded them in a van,” Cairns said, “and we escorted them to the federal building and we went on our merry way. That was the end of that.”

Barboza was a low level gangster who turned on his bosses and paid for it with his life.

The true crime story will soon become a Hollywood movie.


(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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