Who Is Joseph Sullivan?

Born on March 31, 1939, in Queens, New York, Joseph “Mad Dog” Sullivan would go on to become a Mafia hit man, being incarcerated at Attica prison and noted as the only person to escape in 1971. He was recaptured and, after being released on parole, was imprisoned again on three murder convictions, including the killing of Teamsters vice president John Fiorino. Sullivan is serving three life sentences.

Joseph Sullivan Photo

Joseph Sullivan

Career Criminal

After four years in Attica prison, Sullivan accomplished a seemingly impossible feat. He was able to escape from the prison, which was thought to be escape-proof. On April 7, 1971, Sullivan made his way outside the prison walls and got a ride to the local bus station from someone waiting in the Attica parking lot. He was captured a few weeks later while walking down a street in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. Sullivan was caught carrying a sawed-off rifle at the time.

Murder of Mickey Spillane

A few years after his return to prison, Sullivan had help forming his next escape plan. Former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark worked as his lawyer and aided him in winning parole in December 1975. Release from prison did not mean Sullivan returned to society a reformed man. Working for the Genovese crime family, he executed two members of an Irish mob group headed by Mickey Spillane during the summer of 1976.

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In 1977 Sullivan got married. He and his wife Gail eventually started a family, becoming parents to two boys, Ramsey and Kelly. But all of this domestic bliss did not sway Sullivan away from his criminal life. He was considered a suspect in the murder of Irish mob boss Mickey Spillane that occurred that same year, but Sullivan was never charged in the crime. He was also reportedly linked to the slaying of Tom “the Greek” Kapatos. Another intended target for Sullivan was Carmine “Cigar” Galante, head of the Bonnano crime family.

For much of the summer of 1978, he tried to carry out the hit on Galante but failed. The efforts of a team of hit men did what Sullivan couldn’t the following summer — they shot Galante to death at a Bushwick, Brooklyn restaurant.

Arrest and Trial

It is believed that Sullivan killed between 20 to 30 people. A consummate professional, he trained before completing an assignment. “Two or three days before I would go to this park near my house and run, not fast, just jogging. I wanted to be by myself, prepare myself mentally, sort of go through a dry run,” he later explained to the Centre Daily Times.

John Fiorino Murder

Sullivan handled his final hit in 1981. He was hired to kill John Fiorino, a Teamsters Union official and reported mafia member. Waiting outside a restaurant near Rochester, New York, Sullivan shot Fiorino with a shotgun. Trying to flee the scene, his car got stuck in a snowbank. His associate, who was driving the car, was soon caught, but Sullivan escaped by hiding in the snow for roughly eight hours. After his eventual arrest, the police then linked him to two other murders that took place on Long Island.

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Sullivan was convicted of the Fiorino murder and two other killings in 1982. He was given three life sentences. Today, Sullivan is an inmate at Sullivan Correctional Facility located in Fallsburg, New York. He will be eligible for parole in 2069, a veritable life sentence for a convicted killer in his 70s.

Early Life

Born one of six children to New York City police detective Joseph Sullivan Sr. on March 31, 1939, in Queens, New York, Joseph “Mad Dog” Sullivan Jr.’s life was turned upside-down at the age of 13, when his father died. To ease some of his mother’s burden, Sullivan was sent to live with relatives after his father’s passing. But the new arrangement did not work out, and Sullivan returned home. The situation at home, however, wasn’t any better. By this time, his mother became an alcoholic as a way to manage her grief.

Sullivan ran away in 1953 and ended up at a reform school in Warwick, New York. Sullivan made several attempted escapes from the school, landing in and out of other reformatories for the next few years. He was finally released at the age of 19. In desperate straits, he ended up enlisting in the U.S. Army. Sullivan was caught for leaving without permission, and sent to Governors Island. According to his autobiography, he didn’t stay for long. Sullivan escaped from the facility and swam his way back to Manhattan.

Sullivan was quickly captured, but he faked a mental illness to avoid a court martial and jail time. Instead he was sent to the Valley Forge Army Hospital for a time.

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Sullivan started committing robberies around the age of 12, eventually graduating to murder. He killed a man during a bar fight, and was arrested in 1965 for the crime. Two years later, Sullivan was convicted of manslaughter and given a 20- to 30-year sentence. He ended up serving his time at the legendary Attica Correctional Facility. Sullivan allegedly earned the unflattering nickname “Mad Dog” from fellow inmates during this time, due to a lifelong undiagnosed salivary gland disorder.


  • Name: Joseph Sullivan
  • Birth Year: 1939
  • Birth date: March 31, 1939
  • Birth State: New York
  • Birth City: Queens
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Joseph Sullivan was a Mafia hit man who was the only known person to escape from Attica. He is currently serving three life sentences.
  • Industries
    • Crime and Terrorism
  • Astrological Sign: Aries

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  • Article Title: Joseph Sullivan Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/crime/joseph-sullivan
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: April 16, 2019
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014