What I need is a lawyer with enough juice to get Ray Charles a driver’s license.
-Lenny Bruce, political satirist
The transfer to Leavenworth lessened Ricca’s dissatisfaction, but far from eliminated it. Now, at least, the gang boss might be able to turn visiting day into a covert council with his Chicago confreres, Joe Accardo and Curly Humphreys. Of course, felons were not allowed visits from anyone other than family and attorneys, but the Outfit was not about to allow a bureaucratic rule prevent their corporation from holding business meetings. The key facilitator in these powwows at Leavenworth was once again attorney Joseph Bulger, the “supreme president” of the Unione Siciliana.
With Ricca, Campagna, Gioe, D’Andrea, Maritote (Diamond), and Circella now confined together, all that was missing for an Outfit quorum were Accardo and Humphreys. However, taking turns impersonating attorney Bulger, Joe Accardo and Curly Humphreys accompanied Eugene Bernstein, the gang’s tax attorney from the Twenty-fourth Ward, to the high-security lockup to confer with their associates. Bernstein, a former ten-year IRS agent, later said that he had never met Accardo or Humphreys before; he had merely been instructed to deliver them to Leavenworth. “Bulger said he will send someone who is acquainted to help me,” Bernstein later testified. Ricca would later admit to federal investigators that his friends had signed in on visitors’ day by forging the name Joseph Bulger.
By Bernstein’s own admission, these trips numbered over six, but it is believed that that was an huge understatement. For over a year, the secret Outfit meetings proceeded, with one piece of new business always at the top of their agenda: obtaining an early parole for their “stand-up” partners. Ricca’s demand was virtually inconceivable for countless reasons: They had criminal records and incorrigible reputations as the heirs to Capone; the outstanding mail-fraud indictments involving the IATSE dues were still untried in New York; they owed $600,000 in back taxes and penalties. Despite the obstacles, the Outfit was convinced that its strong ties to Truman’s shadow world would save the day. Putting its nose to the grindstone, the empire of crime confronted the obstacles one by one.
The Mail-Fraud Problem
The gang’s brain trust, led by Humphreys, typically decided to attack the problems systematically. First, they took on the impending mail-fraud troubles. Recall that the gang was initially charged, but never tried, for bilking some forty-six thousand IATSE members out of $1 million in dues, most of which had gone into the Outfit’s coffers. By the spring of 1946, after months of planning, the powerful prisoners were ready to approach the man they would delegate to accomplish phase one, a high-powered, Dallas-based attorney named Maury Hughes, considered the best trial lawyer in the South. However, Hughes was employed to use his connections to prevent a trial and to obtain a dismissal of the pending mail-fraud indictments. Hughes had a long association with the Windy City, having defended a number of its more colorful citizens.1 The FBI developed information that led them to conclude that Hughes was also acquainted with Harry Ash, Sid Korshak’s First Ward law partner and Charles Gioe’s parole adviser.
But it wasn’t Hughes’ Chicago links that were of interest to the gangsters. More important, Hughes was a boyhood friend of fellow Texan, and present attorney general, Tom Clark, Hughes having attended school with Tom’s younger brother Bill. According to his son, Maury, Jr., Hughes was also a friend of President Truman’s and, as a high-ranking Democratic national committeeman, attended the 1944 Chicago convention, working with Sidney Hillman and the rest to guarantee Truman’s addition to the ticket. With his friend Clark controlling the parole board, and his friend Truman controlling Clark, Hughes was the perfect man for the job.
In the spring of 1946, a man described by Hughes to be of clear Italian descent, with “a swarthy complexion and olive skin,” appeared at Hughes’ Dallas law office. Sporting a gangster-chic pinkie ring with a large diamond, the man introduced himself as “Mike Ryan.” The six-foot-tall, fiftyish man said he lived in Chicago, where he was in the trucking business, but had other interests in California, such as a string of horses he owned.
“I have a friend in the penitentiary that has a case pending in New York,” Ryan said. “His name is Paul De Lucia.”
Hughes later told investigators that, despite his familiarity with Chicago, he had never heard of De Lucia/Ricca, or the other defendants. Ryan told him that Ricca had wanted to be a priest as a youth, but had made a wrong turn. “All right, tell me something about the case,” responded Hughes.
Ryan described the mail-fraud charge that threatened to scuttle Ricca’s parole chances. The gang’s first parole opportunity was over a year away, but they wanted enough time to cover all the contingencies. Hughes agreed to think it over and advise Ryan of his decision. About ten days later, Ryan and two associates met with Hughes in Chicago’s posh Stevens Hotel. Ryan offered Hughes a $1,000 retainer against an extravagant $15,000 fee, plus expenses, if he was successful in having the fraud charges dropped. Hughes’ experience told him that this could be the easiest $15,000 he would ever earn, since courts rarely wasted the time or money for a trial in which a sentence would likely run concurrently with a previous conviction, as they both stemmed from the same general crime. All Hughes would have to do was let the authorities know who his friends were (Truman, Clark, etc.) and demand habeas corpus: either go to trial now or drop the fraud charges. Hughes’ prediction was canny. Although (possibly) unbeknownst to the Dallas attorney, prosecutor Boris Kostelanetz’s own opinion was that the fraud charges should be dropped, since there was little chance the prisoners would be released before 1953. Joe Bulger, who was in the courtroom the day the appeals were heard, reported that Judge Knox said, “I am not going to put any time on this mail-fraud case. You have a conviction in one case, and if that sticks, we are not going to waste any time on these cases.” Hughes’ involvement seemed, according to Congress, to represent nothing more than “an insurance policy.”
Whether having known or merely intuited the authorities’ recorded views, Flughes accepted Ryan’s offer and proceeded to contact the defendants’ previous lawyers as well as government authorities such as Kostelanetz in New York, and Attorney General Tom Clark’s assistant Peyton Ford in Washington. Over the next year, Hughes journeyed to New York, Washington, and Chicago lobbying for his new clients. (Back in Chicago, on October 9, 1946, the legendary Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna died. Assorted gamblers and First Ward machine bosses paid their respects. Representing the Outfit, Jake Guzik attended the funeral.)
During the hotly contested 1946 off-year elections, Chicago Tribune reporter Jim Doherty was among the first to learn of the next phase of the Outfit’s parole strategy. “We began hearing that there was considerable agitation in the Italian wards of Chicago, that efforts were being made to push Republican Italians over into the Democratic fold,” wrote Doherty. Hitting the streets of the Italian ghettos, Doherty was told, “The word is out, we all got to go Democratic this time.” One of Doherty’s editors got to the bottom of the vote push when an Italian friend disclosed, “We have got the word. We have to go Democratic this time so four guys can get out on parole.” Doherty subsequently located Italian Republican ward leaders who were later punished by their party for succumbing to the peer pressure and actually delivering the vote to the Democrats. “The facts were and the record showed that those Italian Republicans did vote Democratic,” Doherty testified. “Those Italian Republican leaders delivered ten thousand or fifteen thousand votes to the Democratic organization.” According to Mooney Giancana, the Italians were putting on a show; they merely wanted to prove to Truman what they could do for him when his election came up in 1948.
With the parole gambit moving apace, the Outfit did not ignore the day-to- day business of organized crime. In December 1946, Joe Accardo headed an Outfit delegation to a national Commission meeting in Havana, organized by Meyer Lansky, who had been invested in Cuban casinos since the midthirties, and the deported Lucky Luciano, who had snuck into Cuba. More than two dozen regional bosses and their families arrived on December 21, finding themselves ensconced on the top four floors of the luxurious Hotel Nacional.2 As with any upperworld convention, meeting rooms and banquet facilities were all booked in advance, while the criminal conventioneers conducted their business in a manner not unlike that of their upperworld counterparts. On the first night of the conference, December 22, the attendees threw a lavish bash in which they paid tribute to Luciano by handing him envelopes stuffed with cash. When Luciano totaled the $200,000 Christmas gift, he announced he would use it to invest in the National’s casino.
Over the Christmas holidays, the bosses met to deal with the key items on the conference agenda: the infighting of New York’s five “families”; the wisdom of engaging in the narcotics trade (Luciano and Costello were against it); and the “Ben Siegel situation.” Siegel had been spending the Commission’s money as if it were water in the Nevada desert, constructing the first of the glitzy Las Vegas hotel-casinos, the Flamingo. His original budget had been $1.5 million, but Siegel had managed to squander over $6 million, with rumors rampant that he was skimming from his Commission partners.
On Christmas Eve, the confreres were treated to a party honoring Frank Sinatra, who had arrived from Chicago with Accardo and the Fischetti brothers. In his memoirs, Luciano asserted that years earlier he had put up $60,000 to jump-start Sinatra’s fledgling career. Congressional investigators believed that Sinatra couriered a briefcase stuffed with over a million dollars to Luciano at the Havana conference, as the return on Lucky’s investment. In later years, Sinatra would visit Luciano in exile in Italy. Syndicated columnist Walter Winchell wrote, “When Italian police raided Lucky’s lavish apartment in Rome, they found a sterling silver cigaret case, inscribed: ’To My Dear Friend, Charlie Luciano,’ over one of the most sought-after American autographs, that of a young star, a known gangster lover.” Although Winchell did not name him, the facts soon emerged that the signature read, “Frank Sinatra.”3
When the conference ended, the bosses returned to their respective dominions. For Joe Accardo, that meant back to work on the disposal of the mail-fraud charges and the complex parole issue. His bags were hardly unpacked when the Outfit heard the news from Florida: At his Palm Island estate, Big Al Capone, the gang’s forty-eight-year-old patriarchal figure, had suffered a massive stroke on his January 18, 1947, birthday and died one week later. The event was likely related to his raging case of syphilis, which had rendered him both weak and demented. After being released to his family on November 16, 1939, Capone underwent a program of experimental syphilis remedies at Baltimore’s Union Memorial Hospital.4 While the treatments actually succeeded in slowing the progression of the disease, they could not stop the inevitable. After four months, Al Capone retired, finally, to his villa in Florida, where he spent his final years with his beloved wife and son in near seclusion.
Shortly after his death, Capone’s body was secretly loaded into a laundry truck and driven to a local funeral parlor, where it was then embalmed and placed in a hearse. Ten days after Al Capone’s passing, the $2,000 coffin bearing his disease-ravaged corpse arrived by hearse from Miami, with Capone’s family arriving by train. At around 2 P.M. Scarface was interred in the Mount Olivet Cemetery on Chicago’s Far South Side. From behind a police-guarded periphery, a couple hundred gawkers braved the frigid eleven-degree winter air to observe the amazingly small (by Chicago standards) gangster funeral. The top bosses who did attend arrived in rental cars, hoping to avoid identification by police. The intimate gathering was the result of a decree by boss Joe Accardo: “We gotta draw the line someplace. If we let ’em, everybody in Chicago will crowd into the cemetery. Al had no enemies.”
The curious throng watched as only Al’s most trusted friends and relatives drove up to burial plot fifty-eight near the south end of the cemetery. The Campagna family and Al’s brother Ralph attended, as well as Capone’s in-laws and other relatives from New York. But those who were of most interest to the press and public were the pinkie-ringed, well-dressed men alighting from the follow-up cars, a who’s who of Chicago crime paying their respects to Al’s mother, Theresa Capone; his widow, Mae; and son, Sonny. Some Outfitters considered “too hot” at the time were barred from the proceedings by Accardo; they were instead allowed to pay their respects indoors at the Rago Brothers Chapel, the site of the private wake held earlier. Wake attendees later spoke of the hoods’ reliving old times, bringing smiles to one another’s faces. Curly Humphreys especially was noted as having lightened the mood with war stories that kept the likes of Guzik chuckling. Now graveside, the mischievous mourners were more true to form with a distraught Charlie Fischetti barking at a press photographer who attempted to take a picture of Al’s distraught mother, “I’ll kill the son of a bitch that takes a picture.” Al’s younger brother, Matt, also threatened the press. The grief-stricken older brother, Ralph “Bottles” Capone, was more restrained as he pleaded, “Why don’t you leave us alone?”
Under the funereal canopy, Monsignor William J. Gorman conducted the brief reading as Al’s mother sobbed profusely, comforted by Joe Accardo. Before reciting the traditional prayers of the Catholic Church, Gorman offered his own thoughts on the occasion: “The Roman Catholic Church never condones evil, nor the evil in any man’s life. But this ceremony is sanctioned by our archbishop in recognition of Alphonse Capone’s repentance, and the fact that he died with the sacraments of the Church,”
In a few years, due to their disdain for curiosity seekers, the Capone family had Al’s remains secretly transferred to a family plot in Mount Carmel Cemetery on Wolf Road in the western suburb of Hillside. His spare, flat grave marker notes merely his name, birth and death dates, and a quotation: “My Jesus, Mercy.”5
On May 6, 1947, the fraud charges were finally dropped in New York. According to sources developed by reporter Jim Doherty, the order for the dismissal came from Washington, from Attorney General Tom Clark, the same Tom Clark who one year earlier had ordered the FBI’s CAPGA (Capone Gang) probe disbanded; and the same Tom Clark who scuttled an FBI investigation into the Kansas City vote fraud that defeated Truman’s sworn enemy Congressman Roger Slaughter and resulted in the murder of a female election official. After the court proceedings, Hughes met with Ryan to collect the balance of his fee. Ryan walked Hughes to the Manhattan’s Corn National Bank, where, as promised, he transferred a $14,000 cashier’s check to Hughes. After saying their good-byes, Ryan and Hughes went their separate ways. Hughes said he never saw the mysterious Ryan again. When pushed by congressional investigators, Hughes admitted that he had possessed Ryan’s phone number, but had lost it when a pickpocket had lifted his address book at a Chicago Cubs game.
The Tax Payments
Undoubtedly the easiest preparole penalty to satisfy was the issue of Ricca’s and Campagna’s back taxes and penalties, totaling over $600,000. Although the dollar figure was irrelevant to a crime cartel pulling in millions per month, Humphreys believed the punishment excessive and decided to have it lowered; he may have also relished the opportunity to show off the long reach of his growing personal influence. Almost immediately, the penalty was lowered to a paltry $126,000, while the Outfit’s law enforcement adversaries threw up their collective hands in frustration and bewilderment. It has never been explained just how Curly accomplished this feat of legerdemain.
Humphreys then accompanied attorney Bernstein to Leavenworth to report the good news to Ricca, who, according to Bernstein’s later testimony, repeated the gang’s mantra: “Go see Bulger.” After consultation with the enigmatic Joe Bulger, Bernstein waited for the other shoe to drop. Meanwhile, Bulger, the “supreme president” of the twenty-five thousand-member Unione Siciliana, put the word out once more: “The boys need some money.” Apparently, Ricca and Campagna had demurred from tapping their personal fortunes to settle the matter. Without hesitation, the same loyal Sicilians answered the call as they had four years earlier when they’d contributed to the gang’s bail fund. Out of the blue, men began arriving at Bernstein’s office, bringing sheaves of banknotes, saying, “This is for Paul” or “This is for Louis.” The FBI estimated that some forty-two separate drop-offs were made. It was as though, according to Bernstein, money fell from the sky. Bernstein later told a rapt, if dumbstruck, congressional committee, “This sounds like fantasy, I agree with you. It sounds fantastic.” To the end, Bernstein contended that he never identified the men who contributed to the fund. When Louis “Little New York” Campagna learned of the windfall, he feigned astonishment, exclaiming, “It’s an act of God!” Later, when grilled by congressional investigators, Campagna was asked by a sarcastic Congressman Clare Hoffman, “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” To which a bemused Campagna answered, “Yes. I mean, if you were me, wouldn’t you?”
The fraud charges and the tax penalties dispensed with, the stage was set for the coup de grace. Crime historians agree that the obtaining of an early parole for Capone’s heirs is one of the greatest examples of the influence of organized crime in U.S. history.
The Impossible Parole
In 1947, some eleven thousand requests were made for early paroles, with roughly 50 percent granted. When word reached Chicago that Al Capone’s proteges were under consideration, virtually no one believed it would be possible. No one, that is, except the Outfit. At the gang’s direction, the letters of reference began arriving at the parole board’s office. Dozens of influential Chicagoans, including one bishop and four other clerics, spoke up in testament to the redeeming qualities of their friends, Ricca et al. Steve Healy, the owner of the landmark Stevens Hotel and one of Chicago’s premier public-works contractors, also worked for the gang’s release. Calling from California, Sidney Korshak suggested to his Chicago law partner Harry Ash that he act as Charley Gioe’s parole supervisor, the revelation of which would later cost Ash his irony-laden patronage job as the Illinois superintendent of crime prevention. Korshak had stayed in regular contact with Gioe, visiting him many times in Leavenworth. Meanwhile, the Chicago press reported that rumors were circulating about an alleged Jake Guzik trip to New York. The allegations, never investigated, stated that Guzik had New York boss Frank Costello offer Postmaster General, and former Democratic National Committee chairman, Robert Hannegan $350,000 if he could secure the paroles.
At the same time, Louis Campagna’s wife, Charlotte, was instructed to call Paul Dillon to enlist his services once more. Dillon later said he accepted the offer to make up for what Bioff and Browne had done; they were the ringleaders, he said, and he had personal experience with Browne, whom he knew to be a liar. “[Browne] was as unreliable a man as I ever dealt with,” Dillon later testified. “When I found that his testimony was the main testimony that convicted these men, I said I wouldn’t believe in their conviction under any conditions.”
Although Dillon claimed to have met with Wilson only as a favor for Mrs. Campagna, he in fact admitted cashing a $10,000 check from the Campagnas at the conclusion of his minimal work on their behalf. Also added to the legal team was Ricca’s attorney from the original extortion trial, A. Bradley Eben. It is possible that Eben was brought in on the chance that his connections might hold some sway on the eventual outcome: His mother, Mary Agnes Eben, worked in the White House as assistant secretary to President Harry Truman.
Dillon, who routinely traveled to the nation’s capital every other week, immediately went to Washington to call on his friend parole board chairman T. Webber Wilson, where he greeted Wilson’s secretary saying, “Wilson will know me. I’m a friend of the president.” Dillon was informed that Wilson was out of town and that the board would not be considering the gang’s parole until it came due in early August. Dillon then filled out the requisite paperwork, formally requesting the paroles for his clients. Per custom, the original judge in the case (John Bright) and the prosecutor (Boris Kostelanetz) were sent Bureau of Prison Form 892, asking their opinions on the the impending decision. Kostelanetz wrote back in strong opposition: “The convicted defendants are notorious as successors to the underworld power of Al Capone. They are vicious criminals who would stop at nothing to achieve their ends. The investigation and prosecution were attended by murder, gunplay, threatening of witnesses, perjury, etc.” As Kostelanetz later told Congress, “I opposed parole in each case, except the case of Gioe.” He explained that the court was never able to demonstrate that Gioe profited from the extortion scam. Judge Bright concurred: “I beg to advise you that I would oppose a parole.” Bright then enumerated the laundry list of crimes in which the men were involved. “I know of no better way to suppress these kinds of activities than severe punishment . . . When I sentenced [Ricca] and his coconspirators to prison I felt very strongly that the full sentences should be inflicted.”
Despite the perceived obstacles, the gangsters were confident. In Chicago, Mooney Giancana, privy to Truman’s vulnerable past, told his brother that Ricca and the rest would be out “real soon.” In his own hyperbolic manner, Giancana described how Truman’s shadow world in Kansas City would be used to leverage the eventual early release of the Hollywood-extortion prisoners:
It’s just like Chicago out there. They had a mick mayor, Pendergast, on the take big time . . . loved to bet on the ponies. And they got the Italians [Lazia] for muscle and to make money with the rackets. So, fact is, Truman owes everything he’s got to us. Pendergast made him a judge and then, with Italian muscle behind him, got him into the Senate. When the ’forty-four election came up . . . Kelly here in Chicago got him on the ticket with Roosevelt. Shit, Chicago got Roosevelt and Truman nominated and elected. We were good to Roosevelt; he was good to us. He died and Truman’s been our man in the White House ever since. It’s been smooth sailing with him there.
On August 5, Dillon again showed up at the office and met with Wilson and another of the board’s three members, Fred S. Rogers. (Both Rogers and the third member, Boleslau J. Monkiewicz were appointed by Maury Hughes’ longtime friend Attorney General Tom Clark.)
On August 11, 1947, after the parole board had conducted what Congress later called “perfunctory” investigations into the defendants’ histories, the paroles were approved by Wilson and Rogers, over the objections of Kostelanetz, Bright, and a host of Chicago newsmen. In Leavenworth, Ricca and pals began packing their bags, and two days later, when Monkiewicz came to Washington, he added the final imprimatur. Rogers later said that Wilson had convinced him that “the Al Capone Gang [the Outfit] was not functioning in Chicago.” According to Rogers, Dillon persuaded the board that Bioff and Browne “testified themselves out of the penitentiary and testified these men in.” Incredibly, the board never learned of the defendants’ phone-book-thick rap sheets. Jim Doherty, an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, interviewed the parole board about their action and came away from the interview perplexed: “They [the board members] were very vague and mysterious. They seemed to have had no idea of who these men were. They never heard of the Capone gang. The Capone gang to them was something that might have come out of a fairy tale or might have been something in ancient history, but they didn’t know, or at least they wanted me to believe they didn’t know, the menace of the Capone gang to the city of Chicago.”
Syndicated columnist Drew Pearson had his own theory about the parole board’s baffling pronouncement. Parole Board Chairman Wilson “was crooked,” Pearson informed the FBI. According to Pearson, Wilson had compromised his position on at least two occasions when “money changed hands in connection with the granting of paroles.” Soon after their controversial ruling on the Outfit’s paroles, Wilson and Rogers resigned their posts.
On the first day Ricca and friends became eligible for parole, only one week after Dillon’s meeting in Washington, they exited the confines of Leavenworth. Unquestionably a massive “coming out” party was thrown at one of the Outfit’s restaurants. Throughout Chicagoland, Outfit associates celebrated their bosses’ triumph. Perhaps the grandest coming-out party was thrown by Paul Ricca five months later, on the occasion of his daughter Maria De Lucia’s wedding to Alex Ponzio, the owner of an electric supply company. Maria had postponed her marriage until her father was released from prison.6
After the ceremony, some five hundred guests feasted at the Blackstone Hotel, where, according to the bridegroom, the tab came to between $27,000 and $30,000, an astronomical sum in 1948. Jules Stein’s Music Corporation of America (MCA) supplied the Buddy Moreno big band at a cost of $1,000. Before the day ended, the Ponzios were the recipients of the traditional Italian envelope presentations from the guests, and given the stature of the father of the bride, no one was about to present a thin wrapper. According to Alex Ponzio, the couple received an amazing $35,000 in cash, in addition to a $20,000 trust gift from Paul Ricca to his daughter.
The good cheer, however, was not universal. One month after the paroles, and after reading Jim Doherty’s work in the Trib, Illinois congressman Fred E. Busbey, a member of the Committee on Expenditures, fired off a letter to Attorney General Tom Clark, demanding an investigation. Clark complied with the request and tasked Hoover’s FBI to investigate. While waiting for the FBI’s report, Busbey and Michigan congressman Clare Hoffman, the committee chair, initiated their own congressional probe. Between September 1947 and June 1948, the committee interviewed 56witnesses under oath, while the FBI spoke with some 275. Although the committee was never able to prove a bribe had been paid for the gang’s release, they were highly suspicious of the administration’s actions.
Fueling the committee’s suspicions was the total lack of cooperation of Clark’s Justice Department and Truman’s White House, since both refused to turn over the FBI’s interviews to the committee.7 Congressman Busbey wrote: “To this day, members of this committee have been unable to get even a hint of [the FBI’s] results, nor what was learned from interviewing 275 or more witnesses.” On two occasions in October 1947, Hoffman wrote to President Truman, beseeching him to issue an executive order commanding Clark to release the FBI material to the committee. Truman never responded, but merely instructed Deputy Attorney General Philip Perlman to deny the request based on the principle of separation of powers. In its final report, Hoffman’s committee concluded: “The syndicate has given the most striking demonstration of political clout in the history of the republic.”
Just how politically sensitive the findings of the withheld FBI report were can be seen in the recently released portions of the document, in which the Bureau ended with the following summary and caution:
It is noted that Humphreys’ involvement in the above situation is consistent with his functions to act as the mastermind of the strategy utilized by Chicago area hoodlums when confronted with prosecution of any type. Extreme caution should be exercised in the use of this information. It should not be included in the body of a report even though paraphrased. It should not be used . . . unless specific clearance is obtained from the Bureau and from Chicago. This is an extremely delicate and sensitive source which the Chicago office is making every effort to protect.
In 1948, under extreme pressure from Hoffman’s powerful committee, the reconstituted parole board revoked the paroles, but the Outfit’s lawyers posted bail and succeeded in introducing a barrage of delaying tactics that stalled the case into oblivion.
Throughout the committee’s investigation, legislators repeatedly hinted that “big money” had been paid to secure the gang’s release. In Chicago, street hoods claimed to know for certain that this money went not just to attorneys, but “into the White House and the attorney general’s office.” And more than money may have been used in the bribery. According to Mooney Giancana, Curly Humphreys relayed a Ricca offer to the attorney general. “Ricca even promised Clark a seat on the fuckin’ Supreme Court if he helped get him out,” Giancana said. According to his brother Chuck, Mooney told how the allegedly extorted Hollywood studios made a $5-million personal gift to Truman for the granting of the paroles, with Tom Clark guaranteed the Supreme Court post for his role. The Outfit also promised Truman its support in the 1948 elections. As far as Truman went, “We own him,” said Giancana. “We own the White House,” In that contest, Truman’s friends in Chicago reportedly returned the parole favor. “Boy, does Truman owe Chicago,” Giancana said. “Thirty thousand votes . . . that’s all he won by. Jesus, we had to beg, borrow, and steal to swing the son of a bitch . . . No way the man doesn’t know who got him elected.” After the razor-thin 1948 election, the Outfit felt they had increased their “marker” on the Oval Office.
Mooney was corroborated in part when a hidden FBI bug picked up Curly Humphreys bragging in 1964, “The trick was to get to Tom Clark. He had the power to see that the New York indictment was vacated. But he had a lot of problems with that. What a cry would go up if the ’Capone guys’ were dismissed. Finally a deal was made: If he had the thick skin to do it, he’d get the next appointment to the Supreme Court.” Clark played along, and when the next Supreme Court opening came two years later, on October 3, 1949, Clark indeed received Truman’s nomination to the nation’s highest court. The Chicago Tribune immediately responded to Clark’s appointment, noting “Clark’s utter unfitness for any position of public responsibility and especially for a position on the Supreme Court.” The paper called for Clark’s impeachment when it editorialized, “We have been sure of Clark’s unfitness ever since he played his considerable role in releasing the Capone gangsters after they served only the bare minimum of their terms.” A few years later, Congress’ massive Kefauver hearings on organized crime would call the episode “an awesome display of the syndicate power and ability to wield political influence.” The FBI’s hidden mikes overheard Humphreys’ more prosaic summary: ’Attorney General Tom Clark was always one hundred percent for doing favors.’
Though the early parole and the appointment of Clark were two of the major scandals of the Truman presidency, no one ever pursued the linkage of the Outfit and Truman beyond the hamstrung congressional probe. Therefore, it was never learned how the Outfit was able to guarantee that Truman would go along with Clark’s court appointment. And it will likely never be proved that Truman himself personally prevailed upon his appointees to spring Ricca and his pals. It is worth noting that President Truman had a record of granting highly questionable pardons, many of them to members of the Pendergast machine, not to mention the 1945 pass he granted Nick Schenck. Most of Pendergast’s paroled thugs had been convicted of participating in the Kansas City voting fraud that not coincidentally helped place Truman in the Senate.8
In Truman”s defense, Mafia expert Hank Messick wrote, “Truman was just too busy with the United Nations, the cold war, and the state of the economy to pay much attention to internal corruption.” Truman himself was conflicted concerning his path to the Oval Office. He told his wife, “The terrible things done by the high ups in Kansas City will be a lead weight on me from now on.” About one of his political fixes for Pendergast, the distraught Truman wrote, “Was I right, or did I compound a felony? I don’t know.” Perhaps the most trenchant summary was written by historian and Truman expert Richard Lawrence Miller: “The fanatic, unthinking, and eternal devotion Truman demanded from everyone ever associated with the Pendergast machine has no justification in normal American political practice or in the history of Kansas City politics.” In later years, as Miller wrote, Truman engaged in internal dialectics “to ease his own guilty conscience about his role as an honest front protecting the power of thieves and murderers.”
The bust-up of the Hollywood extortion scam caused many to conclude that the Outfit had ceased its hegemony in the movie capital. That assumption could not have been more erroneous. With their associates now permeating every facet of the movie industry’s craft and teamster unions, and with labor negotiator Sid Korshak still in place manipulating the unions and studios like chess pieces, the gangsters’ presence in Hollywood was as strong as ever, if less blatant. “We’re not about to turn our back on so much money and power,” said Mooney Giancana. “Besides, those guys [Cohn, Mayer, Warner] are more than business contacts . . . they’re our friends now. Rosselli’s got them in his pocket.” Giancana’s assessment was dead-on. After his release from prison, Johnny Rosselli was sponsored right back into the motion picture business by, of all people, Joe Schenck, who had also been imprisoned during the Hollywood shakedown and had supposedly been extorted by Rosselli’s Chicago bosses. Working as a producer at Eagle Lion Studios, Rosselli cranked out hit gangster films that were noted for their realism.9 In short time, he moved into the legendary Garden of Allah bungalow apartments, home to stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. As if making up for lost time, Johnny went on a starlet-dating binge, romancing the likes of Lana Turner, Betty Hutton, Donna Reed, and Virginia Hill, girlfriend of the recently whacked Ben Siegel. On the side, Rosselli continued loan-sharking to the stars, with millions of Outfit lucre loaned out to juiced-up actors with gambling problems. The technique remained a tried-and-true method for the hoods to get off-the-books shares of stars’ careers.
It was even obvious to the children of the Outfit members that the gang’s stature in Tinseltown had not diminished one whit. As she later recalled, then fourteen-year-old Antoinette Giancana, Mooney’s youngest daughter, was given a personal tour of MGM’s facilities by top producer Boris Pasternak in 1949. Pasternak saw to it that she was introduced to such stars as Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy. Llewella Humphreys, Curly’s only child, spoke of a studio head who escorted her and her mother, Clemi, onto Joan Crawford’s closed set. Suddenly, the feisty Crawford, whose past had been secreted by Rosselli, acted the diva: “Get those two out of here,” she fumed. “I will not have it on my set. It’s closed.” Whereupon the studio honcho shot back, “Either they stay or you go, and you are through in the movies.” Llewella’s photo scrapbook holds photographs of the youngster with Jimmy Stewart, Tony Bennett, and Fay Wray. Lest there be any confusion about the Outfit’s continued influence in Hollywood: When teenaged Llewella needed an escort to her high school prom, she asked her daddy if he could arrange for Frank Sinatra to be her date. One call from Curly and the bobby-sox idol was on the next plane to Chicago.
Not all of the favors given to Outfit members were the result of intimidation, real or implied. Many successful upperworld habitues genuinely liked most of the Chicago bosses, many of whom preserved Capone’s tradition of Good Samaritan beneficence, freely sharing their ill-gotten wealth with the downtrodden. One only has to stay in Chicago for a day to find octogenarians with tales of gangster-style humanitarian ism. It is generally agreed that Curly Humphreys was the “nicest hood” ever to make the Public Enemy List. Not only was Humphreys beloved in Oklahoma by the Native Americans whose cause he championed decades before it became chic, but he was known in Chicago as a man who quietly helped anyone in need. FBI reports note that Humphreys was the one gangster who looked after just-released convicts who needed jobs, and who made certain the Outfit gave pensions to widows and disabled associates. A telling example of Humphreys’ silent altruism occurred in 1950, according to a number of retired Chicago police officials. Informed by a friend on the force that a relative of Attorney General Tom Clark’s had gotten into a legal jam with the park police, Curly contacted park police chief Ot Lewis and persuaded him to deep-six the written complaint. Humphreys then met with the complainant, paying him off to drop the charge. When asked if this was Humphreys’ way of returning Clark’s parole board favor, a park police retiree said, “No. It was just typical Humphreys - just doing the right thing to help a guy.”10
As the nation entered the Fabulous Fifties, so did many of the Outfit bosses enter theirs. Fittingly, the underworld barons began to aspire to less demanding lifestyles, wishing to spend more time with their families and hobbies. Some contemplated a life away from the stresses of the “business world,” hoping to enjoy the fruits of their labor in comfortable retirement. One by one, however, they would learn that getting out was exponentially more difficult than getting in; by now, too many associates and their families were dependent on their founders’ continuing leadership.
Joe Accardo was so enamored of the easy life that he made one ostentatious purchase that caused a good degree of friction between him and his cohorts. For years, the Accardo family had lived in a modest ranch house at 1431 Ashland Avenue, in the Chicago suburb of River Forest, where Joe was known as a beer distributor. In 1951, Accardo decided he deserved a home fit for a king, which in many ways he was. Curly Humphreys, the avowed apartment dweller, was among those who warned against such an extravagance. “The smart money don’t go to the suburbs,” Curly said. “You and your family will stick out like a sore thumb and the feds will always know exactly where you are.” Jake Guzik, now in his sixties and semiretired, agreed with Curly and stayed at the Chicagoan Hotel when in town. Guzik bought his dream house on San Marino Island, off the Miami coast, far from the prying eyes of Chicago police and the feds.
Ignoring Curly’s counsel, Joe purchased a red-roofed, twenty-two-room mansion at 915 Franklin Avenue (also in River Forest), just two blocks from his pal Paul Ricca. At the price Accardo paid, $125,000, the home, which came to be known as the Palace, was a steal. It had been built by a millionaire manufacturer in 1930 for $500,000; four decades after Joe’s purchase, it would sell for almost $2 million. Curly’s wife remembered that “Curly was mad as hell at Joe after he bought the Palace. He didn’t speak to him for weeks.”
Accardo’s stone palace was a local showplace, far and away the most opulent home in a neighborhood of impressive dwellings. Its amenities included high-vaulted rooms, an indoor pool with a garden on its roof for Joe’s queen, Clarice, a gun and trophy room, a pipe organ, a walk-in safe, wood spiral staircases, carriage and guest houses on the backyard half-acre. The property was encircled by a seven-foot-high, wrought-iron fence and two electrically controlled gates. But even this much opulence was not enough for Accardo. After moving into his new digs, Joe installed a $10,000 black onyx bathtub and an indoor, two-lane bowling alley. He had the plumbing refitted with gold fixtures and added a massive barbecue pit to the backyard. Even Mooney Giancana’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Antoinette, was taken aback by the garish spread, “It was almost obscene the way he flaunted his wealth,” she later wrote. “He reminded me of some medieval Sicilian godfather dispensing baronial favors from his stately, wood-paneled library filled with valuable and classical gems that I bet he never bothered to open, let alone read.”
The Palace’s backyard would become the scene of legendary Fourth of July cookouts, attended by all the Outfit leaders, foot soldiers, and their families. Typically, these patriotic frolics were surveilled from the other side of the iron fence by a gaggle of curious press and Chicago detectives. Joe liked to entertain his guests by toying with the prying officials. One year, a detective yelled from the periphery, “Hey, Joe, you gonna have fireworks?” Feigning shock, Accardo answered back, “Certainly not, Officer, that would be illegal.”
Sharing the new home with Joe were his wife, Clarice, and their four children: Anthony (born 1936), Marie (1939), Linda Lee (1941), and Joseph (1946). Both of the Accardo boys were adoptees. Clarice, like her husband, was an opinionated leader, assuming the responsibilities com mensurate with her role as the Outfit’s first lady. Afternoons at the Palace often found Clarice hosting teas with the spouses of other gang bosses. From her wives’ club, Clarice regularly gleaned information useful to her husband and the orderly running of his business. “Joe’s wife told him what the gang’s wives said,” recalled one Outfit member. On one occasion, Clarice informed Joe that Scotty Stevenson, a foot soldier married to a Capone relative, was neglecting his family. Stevenson was summoned to Accardo, who pulled the subordinate aside. “I’m paying your wife from now on,” Joe decreed. “You will get paid by her. If I can’t trust you to take care of your family, how can I trust you to take care of my business? This shit keeps up and you ain’t going to be around.”11
Accardo, who was never known to cheat on Clarice, was especially terse with members who flaunted their infidelities in public. Although discreet liaisons with mistresses were tolerated, men who brought pain or dishonor to their family were dealt with harshly - often beaten, or ousted from the gang altogether. The transgressions were not only frowned upon for moral reasons; as Joe was well aware, the antiphilandering edicts also served a pragmatic function. Consequently, Accardo was heard to scold more than one adulterer, “You’re embarrassing us.”
Marital woes were not confined merely to the lower-level members of the gang. In 1951, the Outfit’s chief strategist began a seven-year affair with a dice girl who would eventually become the next Mrs. Murray Humphreys. With Curly’s wife, Clemi, and daughter, Llewella, living full-time on their Oklahoma property, Curly had been spending increasingly longer periods alone in his Chicago apartment, where he had free rein to indulge his weakness for young blondes.
During this period, Curly frequented numerous Windy City bistros, among them a Near North restaurant called Ye Olde Cellar Club, where Jeanne Stacy was among the most attractive of the dice-rolling 26 game girls. Stacy was born Betty Jeanne Neibert in St. Charles, Missouri, in 1928. By the time she was seventeen, she had the looks of actress Tippi Hedren and the independent spirit and razor-sharp wit of Mae West. Seeking adventure, the teenaged Neibert, now using the name Stacy, headed for Chicago, where she quickly hooked up with a third-tier Outfit bookie twenty-five years her senior named Irving Vine, whom she married after a short courtship. “It was a marriage of convenience,” Jeanne explains today. “I was a minor when we got together, and I needed a place to live. We shared the rent, and for the last three years we weren’t even a couple.” The marriage to Vine, an underling of slot and jukebox king Eddie Vogel, lasted six years, and Stacy soon fell in with Humphreys.
When Humphreys first eyed Jeanne Stacy in the Rush Street restaurant, he merely admired the youngster from afar. “I was a teenager when I came to his attention,” Jeanne recalls, “so he didn’t make any moves. He waited till he was ready, till the time was right.” The “right time” turned out to be a scene worthy of the film Married to the Mob. At the time, Curly’s driver, Hy Gottfried, had been carrying on his own affair with another pretty blonde who lived in Stacy’s building. Gottfried devised moneymaking schemes for the Outfit, often with unreliable cohorts. Curly was once heard to remark, “I spend half my time straightening out this guy [Gottfried] with the boss.” Gottfried’s tenuous purchase with Accardo made his adultery all the more perilous. “Hy’s wife eventually found out about his girlfriend and hit him over the head with a bottle of beer,” Stacy says. “He blamed me. He thought I had told his wife.” Fully aware of Joe Accardo’s decree about keeping infidelities secret from the wives, Gottfried was furious that Stacy might have jeopardized his standing with the boss (to say nothing of the harm it caused his marriage). “He wanted to mug me, break my arms or something,” Stacy remembers. “One day, while he’s driving Murray, he comes by my place to do a drive-by. When Murray saw it was me, the dice girl, he called it off. He told Hy, ’You can’t hit a sweet little thing like that.’” Humphreys’ attraction to the young dice girl was coupled with Stacy’s obvious preference for older men: Curly was a full twenty-nine years older than the liberated Jeanne Stacy. Soon, Stacy and Humphreys, whom she always refers to as Murray, began seeing each other on the side. Few women can say that they met their future husbands at a drive-by where she was scheduled to be his victim.
The combined stress of his illicit affair and his pressure-filled role as the Outfit’s mastermind took its toll on Curly. According to his FBI file, Humphreys suffered the first of a series of heart attacks in 1950. Upon his admittance to the hospital, the fifty-one-year-old gangster guru gained notoriety among the facility’s staff. As recounted in Humphreys’ FBI report: “When he was questioned about whether he had hospitalization insurance by the admitting officer, he pulled out a roll of $100 bills and waved them around, demanding, ’Is this hospitalization enough?’ This story made the rounds of the hospital, so that very soon everyone who worked there was aware of the identity of Humphreys.”
1. Among his Chicago clients was Mike Potson, the former manager of (Big Jim) Colosimo’s Cafe. At the time, Potson was a known Outfit gambling boss with IRS problems.
2. In addition to Accardo, Lansky, and Luciano, others in attendance included Vito Genovese, Joseph Bonanno, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Moe Dalitz, Doc Stacher, and Longy Zwillman.
3. Tales abound of Sinatra’s associations with hoodlums, going back to his days running the streets of Hoboken, New Jersey. In fairness, at the time of Sinatra’s emergence as a singer, there was no practical way of avoiding making some accommodation with gangsters, who controlled much of the entertainment industry. But Sinatra clearly went overboard with his affinity for the hoods. Senate investigator Norman Polski wrote: “Mickey Cohen, Frank Sinatra, and a Jimmy Tarantino were believed to have operated the Hollywood Nite Life Magazine, and were closely associated in the fight racket with [the Outfit’s] Barney Ross . . . In the latter part of 1949, Sinatra was supposed to have provided a $75,000 bankroll to back a fight that was held on the West Coast. It is believed he worked in close contact with [Los Angeles mobster] Mickey Cohen and Blinkie Palermo, manager of [boxer] Ike Williams.” Sinatra’s 1,275-page FBI file is loaded with the crooner’s connections to the mob, the strongest of which appears to be with Chicago’s Fischetti brothers, with whom Sinatra became extremely close in the midforties. Sinatra’s first wife, Nancy, was a cousin of a top hood in New Jersey boss Willie Moretti’s gang.
4. In one protocol Capone was repeatedly injected with a form of malaria, the theory being that by inducing high fevers, the syphilis bug might die from heat. He later became one of the earliest recipients of the powerful new antibiotic penicillin.
5. Apropos of Capone’s life, the multitude of flower arrangements were carted off to hospitals and orphanages in Chicago’s poorest sectors, while the Outfit went back to the office to again consider the business of paroling Al’s most trusted proteges.
6. A federal investigator described the extravaganza for a congressional committee thus: “This wedding breakfast and reception, which has been facetiously referred to as De Lucia’s “coming out” party, was held on January 24, 1948 . . . and has been unexcelled for gaiety, splendor, and lavishness by few if any of the parties staged by the first families of Chicago.”
7. In his closing statement, Hoffman wrote, ’There is no evidence in the record that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which, because of an executive order and because of the instructions of the Department of Justice, refused to make available to the committee information presumably in its possession, in any way assisted the committee or its investigators . . . The Department of Justice . . . gave the committee no assistance whatsoever.’
8. Truman also shocked many when he pardoned “Ice Pick” Danny Motto, a New York labor thug convicted of murder and racketeering. The Justice Department had scheduled Motto’s deportation, but Truman intervened at the last moment.
9. Among the Rosselli-produced pics were T-Men, Canon City, and He Walked by Night. Years before his incarceration, Rosselli allegedly worked with his boss at Eagle Lion, Brynie Foy, in producing the B movie Roger Touhy, Gangster, which was released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1944; the film’s legal adviser was none other than Sidney Korshak.
10. Although the author knows the names and specifics of the case, it would serve no purpose to divulge them, especially since both the complainant and the alleged perpetrator are still alive.
11. Accardo’s intercession may indeed have saved the Stevensons’ relationship. Many years later, Mrs. Stevenson buried her husband after fifty years of marriage.