Home American History The Death and Times of a Gangster pt. 2

The Death and Times of a Gangster pt. 2

Sam Giancana

The Death and Times of a Gangster pt. 2

Salvatore Momo “Mooney” Giancana was born during the spring of 1908 within the Little Italy section of Chicago. He spent his formative years in street gangs and was responsible for several crimes, including murder, by reaching the age of twenty. Sam gained the position of driver in the ranks of Al Capone’s gang and with the passing of the 1930s would officially joined the Chicago mafia. Officials note amongst 1949 he became the right hand of former Capone Gang leader Anthony “Big Tuna” Joseph Accardo. Giancana over the years would conceal his identity to undertake crimes by using a prodigious amount of aliases which required Federal Bureau of Investigation officials to link his nearly 100 false names. Momo’s rising influence also garnered him a percentage of the profits made by several gambling rackets and liquor businesses within the suburbs of Chicago. It also brought him to the attention of the United States Department of Justice and its subordinate groups.

Sam’s true name appeared a year later on the list of prominent underworld figures Attorney General James McGrath distributed to Justice Department agencies. With his increased power came greater public attention and United States Senate Crime Investigating Committee sought to question him following his appearance on the aforementioned list of important mafioso. Ten days following the press announcement of his possible questioning by officials Giancana was suspected of conspiring with other criminals, including hit man Charles “Typewriter” Nicoletti, to murder a local police lieutenant in his own home. Salvatore’s brazen actions reveal his utter contempt for the law and these earlier years are marked with repeated violence without concern for legal consequences. Yet the gangsters of the Windy City had little reason fear local police due to the significant bureaucratic corruption the mafia had established over the decades.

A member of the Chicago press told FBI officials amid 1952 dozens of underworld records that should have been in the files of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) had vanished. The Bureau was able to locate nearly all of the missing documents with its own holdings and notably the CPD had originally provided them. Such internal corruption allowed Giancana to gain power with each unrecorded murder, extortion, kidnapping, and bank robbery he undertook. Mooney’s reputation of being a dangerous and respected man was cemented by an extensive trail of bodies as he spent many years enforcing the mafia’s will. The next year Paul DeLucia aka Paul Ricca, a former bodyguard to Al Capone, would ascend to lead the Chicago Outfit with his “enforcer” Sam Giancana. Momo would again demonstrate his cunning by using third party assassins via intermediaries to serve the mafia’s interests and conceal its hand from some crimes. He would escape being served a grand jury subpoena with the passing of 1955 following a tip from a spy the outfit had in official circles. Sam would rapidly expand his criminal empire to assume control of unions, race tracks, lounges, and several legitimate businesses as that decade wore on. Officials following this period would brand him the “arch killer” and boss of the Chicago underworld.[i]  

By the close of the 1950s a United States Senate committee was investigating criminal enterprises and they subpoenaed Giancana for testimony. He replied to most questions by invoking his 5th Amendment rights and “only laughed when asked how he ranked in the crime hierarchy”. He conferred with gangland fixer Johnny Roselli about increasing their criminal interests within Las Vegas hotels and casinos in the course of 1960. The Central Intelligence Agency would approach both Salvatore and Roselli in that period to discuss using the mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro but no plot of substance emerged. Instead the wily Giancana used the illegal contacts as blackmail and forced Kennedy administration officials to dismiss unrelated legal charges against him. A year later Sam would meet with additional criminal notables to acquire shares in at least three Las Vegas casinos using Johnny Roselli and others as intermediaries.

Dominic Blasi

Amidst the summer of 1963 Momo was attempting to replace the alderman of Chicago’s First Ward, a person he ousted, with his relative to cement political control of that area. Yet his chosen political appointee John D’Arco was already a member of the Illinois state legislation and the media exposing this situation would prevent Giancana’s plotting.[ii] Simultaneously, Giancana was still the subject of extensive Bureau surveillance that monitored his daily activities and officials installed surveillance equipment in at least one establishment he frequented. A notable figure serving Mooney in the years before he rose to power was Dominic “Butchie” Blasi. This mob enforcer was Giancana’s bodyguard during the 1960s and the FBI thoroughly interviewed him on multiple occasions in the same decade. One meeting was undertaken in the course of 1964 where Blasi confirmed that Giancana believed that federal officials were keeping him under constant surveillance. Dominic told Bureau officials he did not accompany Sam on a recent Hawaiian trip due to not making “that kind of money”.[iii] At this point Giancana was sharing control of the Chicago Mafia with Anthony “Tony” Joseph Accardo, his former mentor, until Salvatore was arrested and jailed. The next year he was giving orders from Cook County jail to his trusted protege and hit squad leader Charles Nicoletti.

As nineteen sixty-six passed Blasi was released from jail and contacted for another official interview. Bureau special agent questions ranged from the location of Sam Giancana to relationships the mafia boss had with some his family members. He noted that Sam would spend lavishly upon various women but he was “frugal” with blood relations and Momo’s brother was selling “hot” watches to survive. While Blasi told officials he would not discuss the criminal business of his associates he “agreed to arrangements for further contacts”.[iv] In the same period competing factions were struggling for control of Chicago’s mob and Sam Battaglia replaced Giancana within the criminal infrastructure. Following his release from prison Giancana fled the US and spent time in multiple Latin American countries to avoid further prosecution. It required nearly a decade for American officials to finally locate and extradite him from Mexico City amid 1974. Following Sam’s relocation to the US he again resided in Chicago and was still recovering from prior surgery abroad. Additionally, he was subpoenaed for testimony before the US Senate about his connection to the CIA’s plotting against Castro but Salvatore died before that could happen.

Dominic Blasi has been repeatedly deemed Giancana’s assassin over the years by varying sources and official documents would support that determination. Yet these claims rarely offer the precise details, that Blasi’s FBI connections explain official failures to apprehend him, and the provenance of the murder weapon. Bearing new facts and undertaking a fresh review of the crime presents a clearer picture of the ambush within Momo’s own basement. Motive, means, and opportunity are the legal requirements used to discern a suspect’s viability and methods used in a crime. In this matter the motive is likely to silence the old boss and prevent any chance he might divulge related mafia secrets. Additionally, Giancana was attempting to regain some of his lost power and this endangered the holdings of Tony Accardo. The Chicago outfit had a strong motive to remove Momo from the equation before he could testify or regain his lost influence and exact revenge.

As for the means, the weapon used to kill Giancana was one of a pair that was purchased by an unknown criminal in Florida years prior. The FBI would trace the murder weapon and learned “the pistol was sold to Tamiami Gun Shop…August 9, 1965…however, has no documentation reflecting this acquisition.”[v] The Bureau learned the gun shop was a “dummy” business that had been used to hide illegal weapons deals with criminals, Cuban exiles, and CIA related figures. The other pistol bought with the Giancana murder weapon according to officials was used in the unsolved murder of criminal August Maniaci a few months after Momo’s death. The driver was hit squad leader Charles Nicoletti and a witness identified his companion Paul Schiro as the assassin.[vi] Thus, both weapons were previously acquired by the Mafia and distributed to people within its ranks for specific murders.

Sam Battaglia

An opportunity to dispatch Salvatore Giancana would present itself the evening of June 19, 1975.

Joe DiPersio served as the Giancana’s home’s caretaker and had went for a brief stroll with old mafioso the night of his death. Dominic Blasi was subsequently observed by DiPersio looking around the house for scotch to drink less than thirty minutes before the attack on Mooney. DiPersio would provide Blasi a glass full of ice and “cleaned up the mess” from a dripping pipe than Sam noticed in the basement ceiling. The caretaker inquired if anything else was required and Momo replied if DiPersio was needed he would call. DiPersio closed the basement’s sliding door to provide them privacy and ventured back upstairs to watch television with his wife at roughly “11:20 p.m.”.[vii] He would subsequently note the air conditioner was on and this paired with the volume of the television proved quite loud. About thirty minutes later he rose to check on Sam and noticed that Blasi’s vehicle was no longer parked in the driveway. 

Within the scant period Giancana and Blasi were unobserved the elder criminal decided to prepare and cook a meal. This consumes precious time which supports unknown people did not have foreknowledge of Giancana’s temporary isolation from protection. In those last moments only a single person was in the basement with Momo, the person for years he trusted to protect his life. Officials note the murder weapon utilized a silencer and this would further cement the assassin realized others were nearby and they required a discreet method of killing Giancana. It was only during this brief window a killer might strike with the rest of the household beyond reach and without the ability to hear what transpired downstairs. Since Dominic Blasi was a recent visitor he did not worry about his fingerprints being all over the crime scene and he quietly leaves the house unobserved.

Joe the caretaker opened the sliding door to the basement and called down the stairs to learn if Mooney needed anything before he went to bed. Hearing no response Joe went to the basement to inspect multiple rooms and this led him to find Giancana slain upon the floor. The gangster lay with a pool of blood under his head and the gas stove nearby was still lit with a burning pan of food. DiPersio turned off the stove, “took the pan off the burner”,  and “burned his hand” seeking to prevent a fire. Yet the absence of smoke filling these areas indicates the food was cooked shortly before Joe reentered the basement. The lack of any signs of a struggle demonstrates the improbability of an unknown killer and based on his body’s position Momo did not anticipate the shot. The assassin operated quickly and knew the basement exit allowed them to leave unseen by others.

DiPersio believed the killer “knew Giancana spent the majority of his time in the basement…when he found the body…the door separating the dining room and kitchen area was almost fully closed. This door was never closed…and was recessed into the wall.” These details would only be known to a person familiar with the home’s layout and random killers lacked such information. The caretakers received a threatening call following Sam’s death and were told remain quiet about the event. DiPersio believed he could identify the caller but refused to disclose the name to officials feasibly due to its criminal origins.

Tony Accardo

The FBI used criminal informants within Chicago to gauge the underworld reaction to Sam’s death and what they discovered further supports the mafia’s responsibility. A related document states “The word is still out ‘he had it coming’ and Accardo, Aiuppa, and the rest of the people are satisfied” the murder was a job “well done”.[viii] The source advised “someone very close to Sam was contacted and ordered to do the job. When orders come from the top, you cannot get off. This guy could well have been English or Dominic Blasi…both had the complete confidence of Giancana.” A different consulted informant offered “…there is no question Giancana was ‘knocked off’ with the approval of the top Mafia members. During the past week informant stated he had been to several hoodlum hangouts…No one discusses Giancana and there is no talk about ‘revenge’ as there would be if the murder was not authorized.” A third informant told the Bureau that “…Charles English or Dominic Blasi would be good suspects” and Momo was “definitely with ‘friends’ when he was killed or more likely just one supposed friend.

Blasi would return to the Giancana home several days later and assured DiPersio he would receive back pay and handle all the mounting bills sent to the house. This seemingly would pacify DiPersio, Giancana’s creditors, and let Blasi continue in service of the Chicago mafia while also maintaining his contacts with officials. Since he was at times a functional Bureau informant it seems officials were unwilling to compromise this source to prosecute the death of a crime boss. They had the motive, the murder weapon, and the only person with adequate opportunity to enact the crime but did nothing.

A later file notes after Salvatore’s murder Charles Nicoletti resented his old mentor’s execution and the FBI believed Nicoletti’s subsequent murder was due to this lingering dispute with later Mafia bosses. It appears even Giancana’s enduring loyalists may have been purged years later for not coming to heel upon his death.[ix] Yet we now can feasibly state based on verifiable evidence what group killed Sam Giancana, why, the means they used, and that officials had little reason to solve the case.


C.A.A. Savastano

[i]. House Select Committee on Assassinations, Federal Bureau of Investigation Subject File, G-H, Correlation Summary, The Mary Ferrell Foundation, maryferrell.org, pp. 1-20, National Archives and Records Administration Identification Number: 124-10195-10024

[ii]. HSCA, FBI Subject File, K-L, Criminal Activities, Political Ties, MFF, pp. 9-10, NARA ID: 124-10277-10302

[iii]. HSCA, FBI, G-H, February 24, 1964, SGI, pp. 1-2, NARA ID: 124-10195-10000

[iv]. Ibid, G-H, September 16, 1966, SGI, pp. 1-3,  NARA ID: 124-10198-10120

[v]. Ibid, (n.d.), SGI, Murder, Gun, NARA ID: 124-10202-10476

[vi]. Federal Bureau of Investigation, February 27, 1979, Judith Campbell Exner, pp. 2-5, NARA ID: 124-10356-10302

[vii]. HSCA, FBI, G-H, January 30, 1975, SGI, BKG Invest, Murder, Assoc, pp. 1-7, MFF, NARA ID: 124-10205-10076

[viii]. FBI, November 5, 1975, Restricted, SGI, p. 3, NARA ID: 124-10202-10444

[ix]. HSCA, May 22, 1978, No Title, Charles Nicoletti, p. 12, NARA ID: 180-10109-10350