Home > History > Joe Morgan: The Croatian Godfather of the Mexican Mafia!

Joe Morgan: The Croatian Godfather of the Mexican Mafia!

Mexican Mafia Leaders

The story of Joe “Pegleg” Morgan (upper right corner) is a fascinating tale of how a white man could reach to the top of the most feared Hispanic prison gang in the USA. For several decades, Morgan was one of the leading figures in the so-called Mexican Mafia, and he was as loved by his friends as he was feared by his enemies. Check out the story here!

Joseph Morgan was born in the San Pedro District of Los Angeles, California in 1929. Joe was raised by his Croatian mother in a predominantly Hispanic neighbourhood, and it didn’t take long before he got involved in the street gangs of East LA. When he was 17, Morgan was convicted of murder after he killed the husband of his older girlfriend with a tire iron . While in custody, he took on the identification papers of his cellmate and escaped, but he was soon captured. Joe was sentenced to 9 years in jail, and he became the youngest inmate ever at the San Quentin State Prison. Morgan was a tall and tough kid, who developed a good relationship with the latino convicts, because of his background in the street gang El Hoyo Soto Marvilla.

Joe was released on parole in 1955, but would go back to state prison the next year, after he had robbed a bank with a machine gun for almost $20,000. At the same time, a couple of young inmates at a youth facility in California decided to form a prison gang to protect themselves from other criminals, and this group would later be known as the Mexican Mafia (Even though they are named the Mexican Mafia, and have close connetions the drug cartels and organized crime in Mexico, it is important to remember that we are talking about a United States prison gang). Growing up in East Los Angeles, and with a background from hispanic street gangs, Morgan would end up mentoring the young leaders of the group when they were later transferred to San Quentin. The Mexican Mafia, or La Eme (The letter M in spanish) soon got a reputation for being one of the most dangerous and most violent prison gangs in the entire country. As the power of the Eme grew, so did the power of Joe Morgan, and even though he was not hispanic, he became one of the godfathers of the Mexican Mafia.

Another picture of Joe Morgan and the leaders of the Eme (Upper Left corner)

Joe Pegleg Morgan

“Papa Joe”, as he was called, is described as very intelligent, and a shrewd businessman. He had a calming presence on the often young and hot-blooded members. “Pegleg” (a nickname he got because of his artificial leg, but it was rarely said to his face) was also the mastermind behind their most lucrative business; the drug trade. Due to his connections with the drug cartels, he was able to import pure heroin and cocaine from Mexico, and then supply it to the whole West Coast. “La Eme” became one of the first prison gangs to take their business outside of jail. Dealers in the area now had to choose between paying a “tax” on the profit to the gang, or a bullet in the head. There were few who said no. In a couple of years, Joe and the rest of the “brothers” (carnales) organized a drug racket that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, making the organization even more powerful.

Because of Morgan’s race, he also had a connection with the Italian-American mob, and he would later be the man behind the alliance between La Eme and the Aryan Brotherhood. Both groups had a common rival in the African-American gang “Black Guerilla Family”, and the Mexican Mafia would often pay the Aryans for hits on “rats” or opposing gang members. Morgan’s best friend and protégé, Rodolfo Cadena wanted to gather all the hispanic gangs into one national crime syndicate, but he was killed by the “Eme’s” biggest rivals Nuestra Familia, after being stabbed over 50 times in 1972. This would begin one of the bloodiest feuds in the american prison system, and Eme members still have a “kill on sight” policy for Nuestra Familia members.

The Black Hand is one of the most famous signs of the Eme

Eme Black Hand

In 1976, Joe Morgan was again released on parole. He married his girlfriend Jody, who he would have 2 children with, but he would soon enough find himself in trouble with the law again. After he was indicted with federal narcotics charges, he ran away to Utah, but was arrested there the next year. Even though he pleaded guilty and only received a moderate sentence in 1978, he would never again be a free man. The same year, a former Eme member turned on the gang, and testified against Joe. He pinned Morgan to several murders, both inside of prison and out on the streets. “Pegleg” was sentenced to life in jail, to be served in the maximum security section of Pelican Bay State Prison. In the years to come Joe continued to a be mentor for the Mexican Mafia, and many describe him as the most powerful Eme member ever. He became a legendary icon for many young gangsters, and even prison guards (who claim he was always kind and respectful towards them) say there was “something” about “Papa Joe”. A member who badmouthed the “White Godfather” in 1991 found out just how revered Morgan was by the other members when he was stabbed 26 times in 1991.

Another sign of the power of the Mexican Mafia and Morgan was the year after, when they ordered their affiliate gangs on the streets to stop with the drive by shootings that had plagued East Los Angeles. In the next 6 months, not one drive by incident was reported, in an area that was notorious for its violence and gang related murders. In 1992, the movie American Me brought national fame to the prison gang. The Eme was not satisfied with how they had been portrayed though, and 3 people who had worked on the movie were killed because of it. Morgan himself filed a lawsuit against Universal Studios for basing one of the leading characters on him without Joe’s permission.

The next year though, Morgan was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and transferred to California State Prison in Corcoran where he died November 9, 1993 at the age of 64. Even to this day, and even though he had no hispanic blood in him, Joseph Morgan is a hero to many latino gangsters, and they regard “Papa Joe” just as much a Chicano as they themselves are. A more historically correct look on the history of the Mexican Mafia, than the American Me movie, is the book “The Black Hand” by Chris Blatchford from 2008.

Inside the Mexican Mafia

Mexican Mafia Book

Today the Mexican Mafia has almost 400 full members, with several thousand affiliates and allies. They are among other things involved in murders, drug trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling and prostitution. The Eme demands a tax from every hispanic street gang in Southern California, in exchange for protection when their members go to prison. This caused a feud with the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, but even they now use the number 13, symbolizing the thirteenth letter in the alphabet in respect of  the Eme! Their most famous allies in addition to MS-13 are the Aryan Brotherhood, Armenian Power and of course all the loosely connected hispanic gang members (mostly in California) called “Sureños”. Their main enemies are Nuestra Familia, Black Guerilla Mafia and “Arizona’s New Mexican Mafia”.

MS-13 is one of La Eme’s most powerful allies

MS 13

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  1. January 5, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Whoa. One word. Crazy!

  2. January 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Why is he pegged “Croatian”? What about the father? Was he Croatian too, or did he come from US stock?

    • January 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Even though his father was American (probably Irish), his mother who raised him alone was Croatian, and it had a big influence on him. Morgan grew up in San Pedro, Los Angeles which had the biggest Croatian community on the West Coast, and Croatian restaurants where everywhere. Today there are over 35 000 croats in the area, and Los Angeles has even named a part of 9th street “Croatian Place” in honour of their historic presence there. Most of the immigrants have roots to Dalmatia, especially the islands of Brach, Hvar and Korcula.

      Former bassist and co founder of the area, Krist Novoselic (and other influential Croatian-Americans) also come from San Pedro. The American author John Shannon says San Pedro was the last great place to grow up in the Los Angeles area, that there was a real sense of community, praising the local Sicilian and Croatian fishermen :).

      Here is a picture of the “Croatian House” in the area!

      • George
        June 27, 2014 at 2:28 pm

        island of Vis.
        Surnames like Ivcevic, Mardesic (probably Morgan) Svilicic

    • NiNi
      September 22, 2013 at 3:32 am

      Joe Morgans father was also Croatian as well. Descending from the island of Vis

      • September 22, 2013 at 10:13 am

        Morgan is not a Croatian surname – I didn’t know that, jumpingpolarbear who wrote the post wrote that it wasn’t certain where his father was from, probably Irish … but be it as it may every nation’s gene pool has riff raff and environment of childhood its influences can also shape a person to a significant degree…

        • October 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm

          Wikipedia says American father, and I doubt his father was also croatian, but if you have any evidence Nini I would like to see it :)

  3. January 6, 2013 at 6:03 am

    Thanks Jumpinpolarbear on your reply. I am aware of all you say however as a Psychologist, of Croatian background from one of the Islands you mention – to boot – I simply cannot accept your assumption that his mother’s upbringing had all to do with how he ended up – that’s what I construe from you calling him “Croatian” – with his upbringing in the US environment and his mixed genes and his mother who probably was not courageous enough to fight against peer-pressure amongst youngsters in a “foreign land” I would have thought that it’s quite unfair to call him “Croatian” – sorry to be sensitive but I can’t help being fair. Cheers.

    • January 6, 2013 at 9:21 am

      I don’t hink his Croatian heritage had anything to do with why he became a gangster. He moved to East LA early on, an area notorious for its problems with crime and gangs. Morgan is referred to as Croatian almost everywhere else, so that is why I also went with it, highlighting how unique it was that a guy with no hispanic roots was accepted as one of them!

    • Mario Croata
      March 19, 2014 at 6:05 am

      Joe Pegleg is full Croatian, I grew up in San Pedro. Morgan is an Americanized named for his last name, since Croatians, Mexicans, Italians etc tried to Americanize so the that Anglos can pronounce their names and less racism and discrimination. Joe Pegleg grew up going to St Anthony’s Croatian church in Los Angeles. San Pedro is a tough hard-working immigrant town, some Croatians joined gangs, most didn’t. Most Croatians were just poor peasants and fisherman who came to San Pedro for a better life from the poverty of the Croatian islands. Many succeeded in making a better life for their children, but life was hard, and living between the old world culture and modern american life was difficult for both the immigrants and their first generation children! You cant tell me that a life of an immigrant in a foreign land not knowing the language is easy? In the San Pedro Cro community, we have had plenty social issues like any group, alcoholism, culture slash etc!!! It wasnt always an easy life and some joined gangs……Ina- are you saying that all Croatians from islands are perfect and dont have issues that causes one to join a gang, especially growing up in a rough neighborhood? I am not sure where you grew up, but this is the reality for many Croatians in San Pedro! Zivila Hrvatska!

      • March 19, 2014 at 1:47 pm

        No Mario Croata I am not saying that, what I am saying is that in any nation you have individuals who are inclined certain ways and you cannot say that because someone has Croatian or any other heritage they are bad or good because of it. I am also saying that peer pressure or growing up in surrounds also has a good deal to do with how one turns out.

    • Mario Croata
      March 19, 2014 at 6:08 am

      Ina- Sorry but, who are you to decide who is Croatian and who is not? Just cuz he was a gangster does not make him Not-Croatian. Half of Croatia is corrupt and mafia and they not Croatian either? Know your facts, he is Croatian and many in the San Pedro community knew his family, not saying we are proud, but it comes down to History and he is part of Croatian-American history Period!

      • March 19, 2014 at 1:50 pm

        As I said Mario Croata he is an individual and it does not necessarily follow that just because he is Croatian living in America he is what he is because he is Croatian. Every country has individuals, lots of them, who are corrupt and criminal, every country has overcrowded prisons etc

  4. January 6, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    They should make a movie of this guy! Your history reads like great fiction, brother.

  5. simmarie
    October 23, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    I am a psychology student can anyone give me more site on Joe Morgan. I am writing a paper on him and I need more resources.

  6. November 26, 2013 at 2:56 am

    Interesting background on La eMe, aka Mexican Mafia. This guy is responsible for the MURDER of thousands of innocent people. I hate the fact that he’s being glorified by some of you.

    The Mexican Mafia is responsible to the complete disintegration of Pomona, California, my hometown. I have been witness to the wholesale MURDER of a general of young people, literally from my front door.

    I am absolutely sickened by these animals.

    We in Pomona have started a petition drive asking the Feds, State & County to take over the administration of the city. The gang lifestyle is so ingrained in Pomona, that people are afraid to talk or even sign the darn petition, for fear of retaliation from more often than not, their own relatives.

    The Mexican Mafia own and run Pomona, California. It is a very sad thing to see.

  7. November 26, 2013 at 2:58 am

    CORRECTION: generation of young people

  8. tilen veznaver
    December 29, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Big Croatian! Pokoj ti duši legendo!!

    • simmarie
      December 29, 2013 at 11:06 pm

      I am studying forensic psychology. I have interviewed one Joe Morgan’s co-defendants. However, I need more information on the man to complete my thesis.

  9. January 3, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    Croatians have committed several acts of genocide in the European wars of the last century. Many joined the Nazis in hunting Jews, Serbs and others, so its no wonder that Pegleg is the Godfather of the EME. But thats all past, yesterdays news. And Croatians and Chicanos are devout Catholics as well. I had a Croatian friend in high school, 6’5″, 270 lbs., and this dude was always starting fights when we would go cruising around. I mean, he was a good guy to have on your side. Croatians are also the nicest, most inviting, most creative folks you will ever meet. San Pedro, along with Echo Park, were probably the last cool places to grow up.

  10. March 11, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Hello, always i used to check blog posts here in the early hours
    in the daylight, since i love to learn more and more.

  11. Mario Croata
    March 19, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Joe Pegleg is full Croatian, I grew up in San Pedro. Morgan is an Americanized named for his last name, since Croatians, Mexicans, Italians etc tried to Americanize so the that Anglos can pronounce their names and less racism and discrimination. Joe Pegleg grew up going to St Anthony’s Croatian church in Los Angeles. San Pedro is a tough hard-working immigrant town, some Croatians joined gangs, most didn’t. Most Croatians were just poor peasants and fisherman who came to San Pedro for a better life from the poverty of the Croatian islands. Many succeeded in making a better life for their children, but life was hard, and living between the old world culture and modern american life was difficult for both the immigrants and their first generation children! You cant tell me that a life of an immigrant in a foreign land not knowing the language is easy? In the San Pedro Cro community, we have had plenty social issues like any group, alcoholism, culture slash etc!!! It wasnt always an easy life and some joined gangs……Ina- are you saying that all Croatians from islands are perfect and dont have issues that causes one to join a gang, especially growing up in a rough neighborhood? I am not sure where you grew up, but this is the reality for many Croatians in San Pedro! Zivila Hrvatska!

  12. Mario Croata
    March 19, 2014 at 6:10 am

    He spoke the Croatian language at home, ate his moms Cro food and grew up around other Cros and went to Croatian church. What else do you want

  13. Buster Gordon
    March 28, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Faggots

    • tilen veznaver
      March 30, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      Say that to a Croat

  14. tilen veznaver
    March 30, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Mario, what was his Croatian name if you know maybe?

    • nicole
      March 30, 2014 at 8:49 pm

      I can get that name for you, but it will take a minute. My “friend” was a friend of Morgan’s at the peek of his criminal career all the way to his death bed. There is so much that people do not know about Morgan. For starters, he was extremely intelligent he could speak 5 languages. He spent a lot of time reading about the law and knew the text verbatim. Morgan had a sense of humor even when he was on trail for murder he used his intelligence and humor to degrade the DA. Who he use to refer as “Porky Pig Mother Fucker” and Morgan did this openly in court.

      • tilen veznaver
        March 31, 2014 at 7:09 pm

        Take your minute:) sounds like you live in San Pedro?

        • nicole
          April 1, 2014 at 12:07 am

          Lol….Morgan’s friends and family live out there, but my “friend” is currently incarcerated.

  15. Miester
    September 1, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Basically …The biggest and hardest Mexican gangster was a Yugoslavian.

  16. comppal
    September 18, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    it seems to me that a lot of croatian people are taking pride in this asshole… what a shame.

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