“Torch Murder” of 1934, Part Two

Torch Murder Headline January 1934

Investigators believed that they had identified the victim of a brutal killing outside of Dover as that of a Cleveland organized crime figure. However, they were about to learn that the victim of the torch murder was someone whose activities were much more local.


Newspapers across the state of Ohio had already run the story naming Frank T. Joiner as the likely victim of the “torch murder” when a woman in Canton became concerned about her own husband. She had not seen her husband since the day before, the day of the murder and torching, and had begun to reach out to her husband’s friends and associates inquiring about his whereabouts. Her effort ended abruptly when the police arrived at her home on a tip that her husband was the owner of the burned out vehicle found in Dover.

Carmela Gioffre’s (1887-?) husband, Joseph Gioffre (1888-1934), had dropped her and her daughter Candida (1913-?) off at downtown Canton’s shopping district the afternoon before at around 2:00 pm. The two planned to shop and take in a movie at the Valentine Theatre while her husband worked. Joseph had not returned home that night, but that was not unusual for him given the nature of his work and did not immediately worry Carmela. Meanwhile, the investigators working to identify the nearly cremated remains found in the torched Dodge Coupe in Dover had managed to trace the ownership history of the car. This led them to Carmela’s doorstep the following afternoon of January 12, 1934.

Downtown Canton, Ohio c. 1935. (Source: ohiomemory.org)

After being contacted by police in Canton, Carmela and her daughter were brought to New Philadelphia to try to identify the objects that had been found at the crime scene. Carmela identified the belt buckle as being that of her husband and, later that day, Sheriff Laird confirmed that the keys found were to the locks on Carmela and Joseph’s home at 1011 15th Street Northwest in Canton. Now that the authorities had a positive identification on the torch murder victim, they set out to discover who he was and why someone would want him dead.

Joseph Gioffre, sometimes recorded as Joffre, was born in Italy under the name Giuseppe Gioffre. Little is known of his early years in Italy except that he was born May 4, 1888, the son of Dominic and Maria Gioffre, and married Carmela in Italy around 1910. The couple had a daughter, Candida (1913-?), in 1913, around the time Joseph immigrated alone to the United States. Like many immigrants before him, Joseph planned to earn enough money to bring his family at a later date. It was how Joseph earned his money that ultimately led to his murder, and subsequent burning, on a road outside Dover in 1934.

Joseph traveled to Detroit, Michigan after his arrival in the United States, settled in a predominately Italian neighborhood and found work in the auto industry. It was here that he began to be associated with Italian organized crime, often referred to in the papers of the day as Camorra or the “Black-Hand.” Joseph succeeded in bringing his family from Italy in 1924, and they settled in a small house at 15750 Linwood Street in Detroit. The tentacles of Detroit’s organized crime operation began to spread out into the cities of Northern Ohio and Joseph soon followed, moving his family to Mansfield, Cleveland, and finally, Canton.

Everywhere Joseph Gioffre lived his connections with organized crime activities and personalities were documented by arrests and investigations. Extortion, bootlegging, murder, and violence against businesses that refused to cooperate were his calling cards. His closest associates were known members of organized crime throughout northern Ohio, though the police were not able to obtain convictions for any of the crimes for which they were accused. Canton police had even raided Gioffre’s home searching for evidence in an extortion investigation but turned up nothing. The police believed that, at the time of his death, Joseph Gioffre was the head of Canton’s organized crime operations.

Headline in the Mansfield News, 13 January 1934.

The day of his murder, after dropping off his wife and daughter, Gioffre visited a “bootlegging place” in Canton in the company of fellow Canton resident Louis Marino. Marino, in July 1933, had been the victim of an attempted murder in his back garden. Though he survived, he refused to identify his attacker and no one was ever charged. Gioffre received a telephone call around 4:30 pm and he and Marino left the “bootlegging place” shortly after. They drove to the home of another associate, Peter Poro, and arrived at his home on Cherry Avenue in Canton around 5:00 pm.

Joseph Gioffre, after he and Marino arrived at Poro’s home, made a phone call to an unknown associate. According to Poro the conversation was entirely conducted in Italian though Poro was unable (or unwilling) to state what the conversation was about. Numerous neighbors of Poro then witnessed Joseph Gioffre leave the home and drive away in the Dodge Coupe around 5:30 pm. Neither Peter Poro nor Louis Marino were able (or willing) to say where Gioffre was headed or with whom he had spoken to on the phone. It was the last time Joseph Gioffre was seen alive.

According to the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Joseph Gioffre, Joseph was killed by a blow to the head that fractured his skull. The pathologist believed, because of the condition of Gioffre’s heart, that he had been killed shortly before being mutilated, stuffed into the back of the coupe, and set afire. Blood spatter found alongside the road near the coupe supported the idea that Gioffre had been murdered near the car. The murder likely had occurred only minutes before witness James Brick first saw the two cars at 9:00 pm. The pathologist reported Joseph Gioffre’s manner of death as “evidently a gangster murder.”

No one was ever brought to justice for the murder of Joseph Gioffre that took place a few miles outside of Dover, Ohio on the night of January 11, 1934. Authorities chalked up the murder to a disagreement among organized crime parties over some aspect of their illicit activities. All indications are that, after the death of her husband, Carmela returned to Italy with her daughter. Tuscarawas County was not immune to the dangers of organized crime. The “black hand” had been around the county for decades before Gioffre’s killing, but the brutal and dramatic death of Joseph Gioffre in 1934 was unique in the county’s criminal history.

Joseph Joffre’s (Giuseppe Gioffre) death certificate, 1934. (Source: familysearch.org)

For more information, visit: Back in Day, ‘Black Hand’ Terrorized Ohio Cities

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.

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