Sleeping With the Fishes in Sheepshead Bay

In our first guest post, author Tom Folson tells Sheepshead Bites readers about the Sheepshead Bay origins of one of the most famous Mob sayings in pop culture: “Sleeping with the fishes.”

In my recently released book, The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld, I recount the real events that inspired Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, the most famous of which, “sleeps with the fishes,” originated at the bottom of Sheepshead Bay. The victim was Joe Jelly, a roly-poly member of the Gallo gang of Red Hook. Jelly had a fierce reputation as the most feared gunman in South Brooklyn. Inspector Raymond Martin of the NYPD called him, “a fat little torpedo who reminded me of Mae West, except that he suggested deadliness more than sex.”

On a dog day in August 1961, the Gallo triggerman left his Bensonhurst home in a dented Cadillac Imperial sedan. He was off to go deep-sea fishing with his crap-game partner and Marine “buddy” Sally D, who owned a fruit stand on Avenue U, docked a thirty-two-footlong cabin cruiser on Sheepshead Bay, and was about to give Joe Jelly the double-cross for revolting against the Don, Joseph Profaci. According to an FBI informant, when the boat was well out of sight of the shore, Sally D and his cohorts on the cabin cruiser cut off Jelly’s arms and legs, stuffed him in a barrel and threw it overboard into the bay.

The “Sicilian message,” Puzo dubbed it, was delivered to the Gallo brothers at 2:30 in the morning of August 25, 1961. A car drove by Jackie’s, the family diner on Church Avenue and Beverly Road. A package was thrown from the backseat. Inside the package were Joe Jelly’s clothes, wrapped around dead fish. To paraphrase Puzo, “Joe Jelly sleeps with the fishes.” I came across the fish story from the FBI records on Crazy Joe Gallo while researching The Mad Ones. The original “fish file” is posted on The Mad Ones blog

Tom Folsom - author of The Mad Ones

Tom Folsom is the author of The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld. A writer, director, and producer of television documentaries for A&E and Showtime, Folsom is the co-author of Mr. Untouchable, written with its subject, Harlem heroin kingpin Nicky Barnes. He lives in New York City.


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