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Sam Giancana

Crime Files
Sam Giancana

Gilorma (Sam) Giancana was a leading crime boss of 1950s Chicago, the archetypal mobster with connections to political and business circles, especially the US government. Rumours persist that he was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Running whiskey around Chicago in the Prohibition, Sam was used to blackening an eye or breaking a nose. It wasn’t long before he became Al Capone’s best boy and succeeded to the top of Chicago’s crime rackets. Born in Chicago's ‘Little Italy’ in 1908, Sam Giancana soon learnt how to take care of himself in a tough neighbourhood. He was often beaten by his father for various misdemeanours and ended up expelled from Reese Elementary School due to rebellious behaviour. Later he was sent to St. Charles Reformatory which proved futile and six months later he returned back to the Little Italy neighbourhood, but away from home and his father's leather strap. Giancana’s nickname ‘Momo’ derived from the slang term ‘Mooney’ which meant crazy. He was known for his unstable, vicious behaviour and short fuse. His criminal career began in the 1920s on Chicago's West Side as a member of a violent street gang called ‘The 42s’. On 23 September 1933 Sam married Angeline ‘Ange’ De Tolve, but this did not stop him from continuing to visit whorehouses. As the dutiful mobster wife, she just turned a blind eye to his indiscretions. Brothels were obviously more than just flesh palaces offering sex, they also appeared to be major networking arenas going by the likes of other mobsters, such as Al Capone who Sam met while in a whorehouse. The two men got on and soon Sam became known as Capone’s boy. When at just 18 he was first arrested on suspicion of murder, the key witness rather mysteriously was killed. Charges against Sam were dropped although during the thirties he still went to prison for ten years. When Al Capone was finally nailed by the authorities, his successor Frank ‘The Enforcer’ Nitti decided to shape a new underworld. However, this time Nitti was canny enough to employ ‘front men’ to camouflage the activities of syndicated criminals. Sam Giancana had the qualities Nitti was looking for. Firstly, Sam was an excellent getaway driver and secondly a potentially ruthless killer.


24 May 1908 - Sam Giancana is born23 September 1933 - Marries Angeline ‘Ange’ De Tolve1943 - Released from prison after ten years1957 - Heads Chicago Outfit1960 - Supports JFK’s Presidential election1966 - Forced to step down as head of Chicago Outfit1967-74 - Exiled in Cuernavaca, Mexico19 June 1975 - Assassinated at his home in Oak Park, Illinois

Key Figures

Angeline ‘Ange’ De Tolve - Sam Giancana’s wifeAl Capone - Sam’s first boss at 18Frank ‘The Enforcer’ Nitti - Sam’s second Mafia boss who he succeeds in 1957JFK - Sam is alleged to have helped the Massachusetts senator win his 1960 Presidential electionFidel Castro - alleged to have plotted assassination with the CIA to kill the Cuban PresidentJudith Campbell - LA socialite and mistress of both Sam and JFKWilliam Colby - CIA DirectorJoseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa - may have ordered Giancana’s assassination

The Aftermath

Giancana Dethroned In 1966, Giancana was forced to step down as Mafia boss because he refused to share the profits of his Latin American gambling operations. This was a major violation of Mafia protocol and reflected Sam’s greed.Another aspect of his behaviour that worried the mob was Sam’s excessively high-profile lifestyle, hobnobbing with Hollywood stars and popular entertainers like singers Phyllis McGuire and Frank Sinatra. He had also been put under close surveillance by the FBI for serious legal problems.Exile and Assassination The dethroned Giancana spent the next seven years (1967-74) in exile in Cuernavaca, Mexico, until the Mexican government capitulated to US Justice Department pressure and deported him to the United States.Giancana was meant to appear before a Senate committee investigating CIA and Mafia links to kill Castro. Whoever decided to carry out an assassination plot on the former Mob King did so to perhaps insure that Sam didn’t reveal anything too incriminating on his return to Chicago.On 19 June 1975, in the basement of his home in Oak Park, Illinois, an unknown assassin shot Giancana in the head seven times with a silenced .22 calibre handgun. He was found with a wound to the back of his head and six bullet holes in a circle around his mouth. Some suspect the CIA was responsible, others the mob carried out the act with its tradition of omerta – the vow of silence adhered to by all mob members.CIA Director William Colby was quoted as saying, "We had nothing to do with it."In fact many researchers believe that Giancana's onetime friend and Chicago Mafia boss, Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa ordered the hit on the disgraced "Momo" because he had become too talkative. Aiuppa may have feared Giancana would reveal everything he knew about Chicago mob operations.Giancana has been the subject of many biographies. One of them, ‘Mafia Princess’, was written by his daughter Antoinette and filmed as a TV movie starring Tony Curtis as Giancana.

The Crimes

Released from prison in 1943, Sam worked his way to the top of Chicago’s crime rackets. After Capone was jailed, Sam’s new boss Frank Nitti moved Capone’s outfit into labour racketeering, gambling, and loan sharking. It extended its tendrils to Milwaukee, Madison, Kansas City, Hollywood and other Californian cities, where the Outfit's control of labour unions gave it leverage over movie production.But Sam, with his now familiar trademark of pork pie hat and dark shades didn’t get his hands on the helm of the powerful mafiosa outfit, heading its Chicago headquarters until as late as 1957.During the early 1950s, it is alleged Sam pulled strings for the Kennedy family, getting a career-threatening marriage of Senator Jack Kennedy annulled, and all legal documents eradicated.There are also strong suggestions that the CIA covertly used Giancana and the mob during the last days of the Eisenhower administration, in their attempt to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro who had taken power in January 1959. Giancana himself said that the CIA and the Mafia are "different sides of the same coin".It is also alleged that Joseph P. Kennedy recruited Giancana to help influence labour union support behind his son, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, in the young man’s bid to secure the Democratic nomination for the 1960 Presidential election.If the story is true, it was an ironic twist of fate that the eventual President JFK, together with his brother Robert Kennedy, turned against Giancana in order to dismantle the criminal underworld and imprison Giancana.Could it therefore have been Giancana himself who backed the assassination of JFK due to this betrayal?Years later it was discovered that Giancana and JFK had shared the same mistress, Los Angeles socialite, Judith Campbell, who acted as a go-between for the two men, in 1960.