Joseph “Polack Joe” Deven


“Polack Joe” Deven, born Joseph Deven to Italian immigrant parents Pietro and Angelina Davino, was a notable figure in Camden, New Jersey’s early 20th-century history. His life story is marked by a series of intriguing and often controversial events.

Joseph Deven was born on February 19, 1893, in Pennsylvania. The 1900 Census recorded the Davino family, including Joseph’s older siblings Theresa and Frank, residing at 4 Harkins Place in Philadelphia. By 1906, the family had relocated to 326 Spruce Street in South Camden, with Pietro Davino, a stone mason, having Americanized his name to Peter Deven and starting a business as a contractor. The family grew with the birth of a younger brother, Albert, in 1905.

The Devens lived in an area of South Camden known for producing both notorious and successful individuals. The 1914 City Directory lists Peter Deven and his sons, Frank and Joseph, all working as stone masons. By 1917, Joseph Deven, then married with two children, was working as a bartender and residing at 318 Joint Alley.

The 1920 Census records Joseph Deven as a widowed stone mason living at 639 Locust Street, near the home of George V. Murry, a corrupt police detective. Deven’s involvement in various illegal activities, including drug selling, was alleged during an investigation into Murry’s activities.

After Murry’s death in 1922, Deven emerged as a political leader in Camden. The 1924 City Directory lists him as a bartender living at 639 Locust Street, but he was also operating a saloon at 801 South 2nd Street. His political activities and criminal involvements continued to intertwine, leading to his arrest for violating the Volstead Act.

In 1925, Deven briefly served as a deputy U.S. Marshal, guarding the padlocked Poth brewery, despite his criminal background. His employment was terminated following media attention. Failed attempts to secure a city government position for Deven followed.

Deven’s personal life was tumultuous. In 1926, he attempted suicide after a failed reconciliation with his estranged wife. By 1927, he was working as a stone mason again and residing at 626 North 8th Street. Despite rejoining political forces with William D. Sayrs, Deven found himself arrested for drunken driving and was considered too controversial for a city job.

His criminal activities culminated in the fatal shooting of Joseph Cimino in 1928, resulting in a manslaughter conviction and a five-year prison sentence, of which he served two years. Further legal troubles followed, including a sentence for carrying a weapon in 1931 and a return to prison in 1933 for a parole violation.

Joseph Deven’s later years were less eventful. He lived with his younger brother Albert, who had founded Deven’s Printing Press in Camden. Joseph Deven passed away in Glendora, New Jersey, in April 1971. Albert Deven moved to Glendora in the mid-1950s and later to Magnolia, New Jersey, passing away in 1975. His wife, Rose Pologruto Deven, survived him until 2001.


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