Born in Chicago, Illinois, Torello's first arrest was in 1945; his rap sheet would eventually include convictions for auto theft, armed robbery, burglary and hijacking. Torello would serve two years in federal prison for violating firearms laws. Torello would serve as capo of the South Side/26th Street crew. In the late 1960s, Torello sent Robert "Bobby the Beak" Siegel to Las Vegas to help collect $87,000 from an associate of Frank Rosenthal, the Outfit agent at the Stardust Hotel & Casino. This story was related by Siegel at the "Family Secrets" organized crime trial, in Chicago, in the summer of 2007.
On another occasion, an angry mob boss Sam Giancana dispatched Torello and mobster Jackie Cerone to kill Outfit member Frank Esposito, in Florida. Luckily for Esposito, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) secretly recorded Giancana's conversation and warned Esposito. He then settled his dispute with Giancana and the hit was canceled. According to tape recordings, Torello and his killers had planned to murder Esposito, cut him up in small pieces and feed them to the sharks off the Florida coast.
In August, 1961, Torello, along with Fiore "Fifi" Buccieri, Jackie "The Lackey" Cerone, Sam_DeStefano and Dave Yaras, participated in the infamous torture murder of loanshark, William "Action" Jackson. The Outfit suspected Jackson of stealing its money and working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as an informant. The 300-pound Jackson was hung on a meat hook and tortured with ice picks, baseball bats, a blow torch and an electric cattle prod. This ordeal went on for three days, until Jackson finally died of shock. Federal authorities later obtained details of Jackson's murder from conversations overheard between Torello, Buccieri and Cerone.
Excerpt from FBI wiretap of Cosa Nostra telephone conversation relating to murder of William Jackson:
James Torello: Jackson was hung up on that meat hook. He was so heavy he bent it. He was on that thing three days before he croaked.
Frank Buccieri (giggling): Jackie, you shoulda seen the guy. Like an elephant, he was, and when Jimmy hit him with that electric prod...
Torello (excitedly): He was floppin' around on that hook, Jackie. We tossed water on him to give the prod a better charge, and he's screamin'....
...As it turned out, Jackson was not an FBI informant.
By the early 1970s, Torello had become a high ranking member within the Outfit. In 1973, with the death of Fiore "Fifi" Buccieri, Torello became the Outfit's chief enforcer. He also became involved in loan sharking, illegal gambling and pornography.
In April 1979, James Torello died of cancer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He was 49.