Barrel murder―– where a corpse is deposited in a barrel and abandoned ― came into vogue in the United States in the 1870s, especially in New Orleans and New York. It was the outbreak of such crimes that first led U.S. authorities to announce the presence of the Mafia in this country.
The barrel was deposited in the ocean if the corpse was not meant to be found or else it was shipped off by rail to some nonexistent address in a distant location. In other cases the barrel was simply left in a vacant lot or on a street corner. This was often done if the purpose of the killing was to deliver a murder threat by advertising the deadly capabilities of the perpetrators.
The leading exponents of barrel murder were Lupo the Wolf (Ignazio Saietta) and the Morello family, originally from Corleone, Sicily. Together they were believed to have murdered and barreled at least 100 victims over three decades.
Eventually the power of the Morellos and Lupo, who went to prison, was broken and the barrel technique fell out of favor, mainly because it so clearly established the crime as a mob job.
Also troubling was the fact that many freelance killers started using the technique in an effort to shift the blame for their actions to the Mafia.
The barrel procedure was revived in 1976 when 71-year-old Johnny Roselli, who was involved with Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana in the CIA-underworld plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, was murdered and his body stuffed into a 55-gallon oil drum and dumped in waters off the coast of Florida. The drum eventually washed ashore despite the holes punched in its sides and heavy chains used to weigh it down.
The killers probably should have known that gases produced by the decomposing body would lift the grisly container to the surface.
Underworld sources point out that the barrel technique has long since been abandoned, but whoever disposed of Roselli’s body in this fashion either did not know that or else was trying to label the killing as a mob hit.
Since the Roselli murder has not been solved, it cannot be ruled out that the barrel method was revived as a red herring by either organized crime or the CIA.