• Facebook
  • Twitter

Sam Giancana

(1908-1975)
Syndicate Leader

He was, a police report stated, “a snarling, sarcastic, ill-tempered, sadistic psychopath.” That was a young Sam Giancana, a man who would become for a time the most powerful Mafia boss west of the Mississippi. If he never was truly the most powerful (he was kept in check by the two most powerful “elders” in the Chicago Outfit, Paul “the Waiter” Ricca and Tough Tony Accardo), Giancana qualified nonetheless as the most ruthless of the top bosses in organized crime. He was also perhaps the screwiest, originally nicknamed “Mooney” because he was considered as nutty as a “mooner.” (Giancana himself corrupted that into “Momo,” which was a much safer moniker to use around him.)

Some observers saw Giancana’s involvement in various CIA plots to assassinate Cuban Premier Fidel Castro as a sign of Giancana at his mooniest. There is considerable evidence that certain other leading mafiosi in that CIA madness were in it solely to milk funds out of the U.S. government, but Giancana was a firm believer in the viability of the caper. In another of his unstable moments Giancana was said to have put out a “contract” on Desi Arnaz because he produced the television show called The Untouchables, which glorified federal agent Eliot Ness and vilified, from Giancana’s viewpoint, the Italian gangsters of the Capone mob. If a murder order was given to hit men to get Arnaz, it apparently was withdrawn. It is known that quite a few Giancana-ordered murder assignments were canceled by Ricca and Accardo.

Yet there is no doubt that Giancana brought about the deaths of scores of men; considering he bossed the Chicago Outfit, the most dog-eat-dog crime family in the country, the total could be in the hundreds. A graduate of the juvenile 42 Gang, probably the worst of its ilk in the Chicago of the 1920s, Giancana started his arrest record in 1925 and, through the years, was arrested more than 70 times. The charges included: contributing to delinquency, burglary, larceny, assault and battery, fugitive, damage by violence, assault to kill, conspiracy to operate a “book,” possession of concealed weapons, suspicion of bombing, gambling, possession of a fictitious driver’s license, and murder. The prime suspect in three murders before he was 20, he was indicted for one of these when he was 18, released on bail and then never tried when the key witness somehow got himself murdered. He did three prison terms early on, for auto theft, operation of an illegal still, and burglary.

Like other members of the 42 Gang, Giancana’s greatest wish was to be noticed by the Capone mobsters, who used some of the 42 boys for minor chores such as stealing a car when one was needed for a job. Giancana captured the most attention because he was an excellent “wheel man” who considered no obstruction too large when he was driving, especially in making an escape from the scene of a crime. Eventually, Giancana came under the wing of Tony Accardo and Paul Ricca, serving both at times as chauffeur. Ricca especially was impressed by Giancana’s bearing—that of a mindless twerp eager to kill when ordered. Ricca had, at the time, catapulted to the heights within the mob and had learned the best possible life insurance was to have a bunch of maniacal killers backing him up. Giancana was that in time and, more important, would have a bunch of ruthless young 42ers ready to do his bidding. Under Ricca’s tutelage, Giancana moved upward in the Chicago Outfit, and, as he did, brought other 42ers in with him, men like Sam Battaglia, Milwaukee Phil Alderiso, Marshall Caifano, Sam DeStefano, Fifi Buccieri, Willie Daddano, Frank Caruso, Rocco Pentenza and Charles Nicoletti.

By the 1950s the ravages of age had downed many of the old Capone hands, operatives and enforcers — Terry Druggan, Golf Bag Hunt, Greasy Thumb Guzik, Phil D’Andrea, Little New York Campagna, Claude Maddox and Frank Diamond. Accardo and Ricca promoted Giancana to operating head of the mob. It represented in a sense the changing of the guard, and Giancana promoted up the ladder his old 42er buddies and other young men. As these gangsters took over, they became known as the Youngbloods.

The mob took over more rackets than ever before. In the early 1950s, Giancana had masterminded the move to take over from the black numbers kings. A few judicious murders in this field upped the income of the Chicago Outfit by millions of dollars a year.

Sam’s star rose higher and higher. He was no godfather whose hand was to be kissed, who was to be hugged by hulking enforcers. The name of the game in Giancana’s crime family was money, and he who produced wealth for the mob earned its respect, provided the cash flow continued unabated. Sam moved in entertainment circles, and his friends included Frank Sinatra, Joe E. Lewis, Phyllis McGuire and Keeley Smith. His relationship with the Kennedy family can only be called complex, and there is little doubt that for a time he shared a mistress with the president of the United States.

Giancana’s interests ranged from Las Vegas to Mexico to Cuba and elsewhere, no one knowing them all. And there was the CIA connection that haunted Giancana the last 15 years of his life. Somewhere in all these activities were the seeds of Giancana’s doom.

In 1975, the details of the Giancana-CIA relationship were still coming out, and Sam was slated to go before a Senate investigating committee to testify. For several years he had been in decline with the mob because of his excesses. His murders, his love affairs, his battles with the FBI attracted too much heat. Before his death, Ricca reluctantly decided Giancana had to cool it (by chandler). He was replaced in his boss role by Joey Aiuppa, a selection that Giancana did not like. Giancana busied himself with gambling enterprises in Mexico. Now he was a source of considerable irritation to Accardo and Aiuppa, who pointed out to Giancana that he was living on mob money. Giancana saw it as his money. He had become a much-hated man—by the mob, by the CIA, by the FBI, perhaps by the other mafiosi involved in the Castro caper.

On June 19, 1975, Giancana was in the basement kitchen of his Oak Park, Illinois, home cooking a little snack before bedtime. Someone was with him: his murderer, but Giancana never suspected. As Giancana had his back turned, minding his sausages, a gun, a .22-caliber automatic with a silencer, was placed inches from the back of Giancana’s head. There was a slight plop and Giancana crashed to the floor. Professionals know that a single shot to the head does not always kill. The murderer rolled Giancana over and placed the gun under Giancana’s chin and shot bullet after bullet, six more in all, into his jaw and brain. When the news broke of the assassination, CIA Director William Colby announced, “We had nothing to do with it.” Newsmen checked with syndicate figures and got the same response from that quarter. Someone was lying. One of Giancana’s daughters