Tocco, a native of Terrasini, Sicily, was regarded as a leader of the Detroit area's West Side gang and may have succeeded as boss of that organization following the February 7, 1931, murder of boss Cesare "Chester" LaMare. Authorities knew him as the "beer baron of Wyandotte" and as organizer of rackets in downriver communities. He had been arrested eleven times since 1915 - on charges including murder, arson, bootlegging and income tax evasion - but had never been convicted. At the time of his murder, he was the proprietor of the Kitty Kat Beer Garden, 635 South Bayside Avenue. About six months earlier, he shut down a gambling establishment.
At nine-thirty in the evening of May 2, Tocco parked his scarlet red sedan on Antoine Street and emerged. Shots were immediately fired at him from a shotgun and a revolver. Tocco ran from the car to the rear door of 215 Antoine Street, home of his longtime friend James Palazzola. As he ran, the guns continued to fire.
The gunfire halted as Tocco stumbled through the doorway into Palazzola's kitchen. Tony Bozzo, a neighbor of Palazzola, took Tocco to the hospital. Police interviewed Tocco in his hospital room, but the Mafioso claimed he was unable to identify the shooters.
Early in the morning of May 3, Tocco received a blood transfusion from his brother Peter and went into surgery. Doctors tended to six bullet wounds in the gang boss's back. Four slugs were removed. The damage to Tocco's internal organs was too great to repair. Tocco died of internal hemorrhage that afternoon.
|Detroit Free Press, May 4, 1938.|
The authorities considered the possibility that Tocco was killed as the result of a romantic affair. While he was married and had children, Tocco was reportedly spending a good deal of his time with Mrs. Gina Rossi, wife of a former Tocco business partner. There was also suspicion that out-of-town gunmen had been brought in to murder Tocco. The previous Friday, two men asked Wyandotte police officers for directions to Tocco's beer garden establishment.
It appears that Tocco may have been eliminated in order to cement a new East-West alliance in the Detroit underworld. In later years, the Detroit Mafia, commanded by Joseph Zerilli, William "Black Bill" Tocco (said to be no relation of Joe Tocco) and Angelo Meli, was referred to by such nicknames as "The Partnership" and "The Combination."
- "LaMare, lord of West Side, assassinated," Escanaba MI Daily Press, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 1.
- "Police arm to trap steel-clad gangster," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 11, 1931, p. 2.
- "Tocco, Sciacca freed on bail," Detroit Free Press, Dec. 11, 1931, p. 8.
- "Blasts wreck Tocco's home," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 22, 1932, p. 1.
- "Police discover evidence of arson in debris of bootleg king's abode," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 23, 1932, p. 13.
- "Ex-run chief shot in gang war outbreak," Port Huron MI Times Herald, May 3, 1938, p. 1.
- "Two men and a woman sought in Tocco slaying," Detroit Free Press, May 4, 1938, p. 1.
- "Joe Tocco, ex-beer baron, dies with lips sealed on identity of slayer," Lansing MI State Journal, May 4, 1938, p. 1.
- "Detroit tavern keeper killed," Escanaba MI Daily Press, May 4, 1938, p. 2.
- "Tocco's love affairs probed as police question relatives," Detroit Free Press, May 5, 1938, p. 1.
- Michigan Deaths and Burials Index, Ancestry.com.
Additional information on Prohibition Era Detroit and its involvement in the U.S. Mafia's Castellammarese War can be found in DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. 1 by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona