Monday, 29 May 2023 07:56

Al Pacino and John Travolta Meet the Giancana Myth - Part 1

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Jim DiEugenio renders the actual facts about the rise, the leadership and the fall of Sam Giancana in Chicago, his duel with Bobby Kennedy, his escape to Mexico, and his ultimate murder in his own home likely at the hands of his own aide-de-camp. Nicholas Celozzi does an adequate job on this.

The first announcement I saw was on last June 27, 2022. It was in the Hollywood trade paper Deadline. It said that David Mamet was going to direct a film version of a Nicholas Celozzi script about Celozzi’s great uncle Sam Giancana. In describing the script, the key statement in that story was the following:

…that purports to tell how his great uncle, the notorious Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, arranged the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as revenge for trying to bring down organized crime after the mob helped put JFK in the White House.

The story also stated that Bonnie Giancana, Sam’s daughter, will be a consultant and executive producer.

David Mamet has a strong interest in the JFK case. Oliver Stone and I met with him about two years ago for lunch at a restaurant in Brentwood. He was kind enough to bring along copies of his script called Blackbird. That was an interesting entertainment about the possible alteration of the Zapruder film. As noted in the article, someone pulled the plug on that production the day before they were to start filming, even though Cate Blanchett was signed as the star.

Let us now leap forward to another story in Deadline, dated May 15, 2023. In 11 months, Celozzi put together a cast consisting of Al Pacino, John Travolta, Viggo Mortenson, Shia La Beouf, Rebecca Pidgeon and Courtney Love. In this installment, the story line is still the same: “a hit ordered by Chicago mob kingpin Sam Giancana as payback for JFK’s attempt to undermine the mob after they helped get him elected.” The story then parenthetically adds that this theme was a big part of Oliver Stone’s JFK. Which it was not. In fact, I don’t even recall it being any part of the 1991 feature film.

In the first article Celozzi states that much of his material is based on stories he recalled hearing from a guy named Pepe Giancana, real name Joseph. He was a brother of Sam who died in 1996.

The longest story I have seen about this project was in the Daily Mail last July 15th. It turns out that in two days in November of 1963 (the original title of the script), Pepe—a lowly bookmaker—drove Sam around. He had to since Giancana had sent men to Dallas for 11/22/63. Their job was to help Lee Oswald murder JFK, but to also make sure Oswald did not talk afterwards. Celozzi told reporter Tom Leonard that the three men in Dallas were Charles Nicoletti, John Rosselli and Jack Ruby. But they did not have a clear idea of how the murder would be done. It turned out Rosselli was to take out Kennedy if Oswald missed and Nicoletti was to kill Oswald before he was apprehended.

Pepe told Celozzi that Oswald misfired from the upper floors of the Texas School Book Depository. So Rosselli fired and hit JFK. This caused Oswald to flee the building. Nicoletti was in a car with patrolman J. D. Tippit and was screaming at Oswald to get in, but he did not. So they followed and TIppit caught up with him but Oswald shot the policeman. Nicoletti followed Oswald but lost him. Sam then contacted Jack Ruby. According to Celozzi, Jack knew he only had six months to live since he had cancer. So he polished off Oswald.

After reading these stories, I decided to go back and look at a documentary film made by Celozzi about ten years ago. It was called Momo: The Sam Giancana Story. Because two of the main talking heads were Sam’s daughters—Francine and Antoinette—the documentary was rather a warm and fuzzy look at the Chicago Don who, according to the FBI, was responsible for about 13 murders as he was working his way up the ladder in Chicago. The first half of that film was passable as a biography. But left some important details out. Since Giancana is the major character in the upcoming feature, let us fill in some factors that help spell out the man’s life. Including the probability that a pall bearer at his funeral, Butch Blasi, was his likely murderer.


Giancana was not the real name of the family. It was Giangana and they stemmed from Sicily. (William Brashler, The Don, p. 12) Leaving Italy, Sam’s father Antonio moved into a section of Chicago called The Patch, which was the equivalent of New York’s Little Italy. Sam (original name Salvatore), was born in 1908 and his mother died when he was two. (Sam the Cigar, by Fergus Mason, p. 19) Antonio remarried—actually twice—and eventually the family had 8 children. His father was not very kind to Salvatore and physically abused him. Sam was thrown out of school and escorted to St Charles Reformatory.

When he left the reformatory in 1921, Sam joined a gang of juvenile delinquents in The Patch called The 42’s. That title was based on the Ali Baba legend of the 40 thieves. (Brashler, p. 32) For Sam, this was a kind of apprenticeship for his future career in La Cosa Nostra. The 42’s pulled off burglaries and stole cars, graduating to bombings and murders. But they also learned how to manipulate the system by paying off cops and judges. This was done by collecting dues from members. (Susan McNicoll, Mafia Boss: Sam Giancana, p. 10) But still, shortly after marrying his only wife Angeline DeTolve, Sam went to Joliet prison on charges of attempted burglary.

Sam made his reputation as what was called a “wheel man” or getaway driver. (Brashler, p. 33) That ability, combined with an ill-fated amendment, is what caused Sam to come to the attention of La Cosa Nostra in Chicago. Due to the 18th amendment and the accompanying Volstead Act, in January of 1920 America went dry. Sam became a transporter of illicit liquor between men like Joe Esposito and the Genna brothers who set up a series of stills.(McNicoll, pp. 10-12) Esposito was killed in a murder in which Giancana was the getaway driver.

The first leader of this profitable Chicago network was Big Jim Colosimo, who brought in Johnny Torrio from New York. Torrio ended up killing Colosimo over control of liquor distribution. Torrio had stills set up in Canada and he expanded the business scope by opening up speakeasies all over the city. But Torrio was then shot in 1925, returned to Italy and Al Capone, Torrio’s partner, took over. (Mason, p. 27) Sam became a driver for Capone’s gang and was inducted as a member in 1926. (ibid, p. 30) He was also arrested for murder around this time, but got off when the chief witness was killed.

Capone was convicted of income tax evasion in 1931. He was paroled in 1939 but did not return to live in Chicago. He died in Florida in 1947. When Capone was jailed, control of the Chicago mob was given to Frank Nitti and Paul Ricca. And it was around that time that Lucky Luciano set up the national commission of organized crime. (Brashler, p. 68)

Ricca liked Giancana but Sam was busted again in 1939. He got a four year term for manufacturing alcohol without a license. This ended up being a blessing in disguise. Because while in prison he met up with a man named Bill Skidmore. It was Skidmore who introduced him to Eddie Jones. Jones was the leading member of a family who ran the lottery rackets in the African American community. To say this was profitable does not begin to describe the money it brought in: the low estimates being $15,000 per day. (Brashler, p. 91; Mason p. 39) Skidmore knew about this and he knew who Jones was, since he was in the same cell block. Eddie Jones did something that most of his henchmen did not do: he talked to Caucasian members of the Chicago mob, now called The Outfit. Jones and Skidmore took Sam to school on the numbers game. Giancana did the computations and figured no other racket The Outfit was in had this kind of profit margin.


Jones had made a mistake. For when Sam got out of prison in late 1942 he understood what could bring him both wealth and stature in The Outfit. In May of 1946 he kidnapped Eddie and threatened him with death unless he gave up his lottery racket to Sam. In return Sam would give him a cut and a lump sum of 250,000 dollars. Jones took the offer he could not refuse and left for his villa in Mexico. (Brashler, pp. 101-05)

This greatly expanded Giancana’s wealth, since the Jones lottery was not just in Illinois but in at least three other states: Iowa, Maine and Idaho. This prize greatly curried favor with Tony Accardo, Ricca and Jake Guzik, the triumvirate over The Outfit. Giancana now became the equivalent of Accardo’s chief of staff. (Brashler, p. 112). But there was still one holdout for the African American lottery in Chicago, a man named Ted Roe. This feud between Roe and Giancana went on for years, with several casualties. Finally, Sam had Roe killed in late summer of 1952.

Sam now had so much money he could set up genuine small businesses and list himself as a salesman for his brother-in-law’s Central Envelope Company. He used his new wealth to set up gambling centers through wire services. All the while Accardo was teaching Sam the ways of The Outfit. When his student was fully tutored, Accardo decided to step down since he was under intense pressure from the IRS. Giancana assumed power in 1955, a year after his wife died. (Mason, p. 54). The understanding was that Accardo would serve as first consigliere.

But once Sam took power in Chicago, it was almost deemed that his would be a rocky reign. First, back in 1950-51 Senator Estes Kefauver held hearings throughout the country on organized crime and many of these were broadcast to a wide audience. (McNicoll, p. 41) That was the first national exposure of La Cosa Nostra. And people like Accardo, Ricca, and Frank Costello testified. The single division of the Chicago Police Department investigating organized crime gave Kefauver some materials they had on The Outfit. One of the outcomes of this attention is that it made it difficult for the FBI to now deny that La Cosa Nostra existed in America.


In 1957 two events occurred which further exposed organized crime in America to a point that there was no turning back. One was caused simply by accident i.e. the discovery of the Apalachin meeting in New York. Scores of Cosa Nostra leaders were gathered there to discuss, among other things, the aftermath of the attempted murder and the actual murder of, respectively, Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia. The local authorities thought it was odd to have so many expensive cars gathering in such a rural location. When they discovered many of them were registered to known criminals, they called in state policemen, set up roadblocks and raided the home of Joseph Barbara. Giancana never wanted the meeting to be there and pushed to have it in Chicago. (Brashler, p. 172) But he did attend, and was one of the capos to escape into the woods while over sixty were apprehended. But their convictions were overturned on appeal the following year. This event provoked J. Edgar Hoover to form the FBI’s Top Hoodlum Program. (ibid, p. 135) As part of it a special team was assigned to Chicago. Men who were college graduates, some with law degrees e.g. Ralph Hill, Vincent Inserra, Jack Roberts and, as we will see, Bill Roemer.

The other event that made things troublesome for the Cosa Nostra in 1957 was the formation of the McClellan Committee, sometimes billed as the Rackets Committee. That committee was led by Senator John L. McClellan, a Democrat from Arkansas. But both Senator John Kennedy and his brother Robert served on it. The former as a committee member and the latter as Chief Counsel and investigator. This is where RFK’s legendary pursuit of Teamster leaders Dave Beck and Jimmy Hoffa began. Bobby soon discovered that Hoffa had set up several ‘paper locals” for members of Cosa Nostra to run, these were local unions in name only which Hoffa used to prop up vote counts. Therefore, Kennedy’s inquiry spread over into organized crime. When Apalachin occurred, he immediately went to FBI headquarters and was shocked when he found out how little information Hoover had on these big city Mafiosi. (McNicoll, p.49)

Like its predecessor, the Kefauver Committee, the McClellan hearings attracted much media attention, some of it on live television. In front of cameras, the public saw Beck take the fifth amendment 117 times. He was indicted for tax evasion in May of 1957. Later that year, the AFL-CIO expelled the Teamsters from membership. In one of his most memorable confrontations, Bobby Kennedy finally got Giancana in front of the committee. This was after Sam had criticized the committee at length to reporter Sandy Smith. (Brashler, pp. 156-57) RFK did not take this mildly and he referred to Giancana as ‘Chief gunman for the group that succeeded the Capone mob.” Which was more or less accurate. (Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, p. 172) In June of 1959 Giancana took the Fifth Amendment 33 times as Pierre Salinger set forth his past record. Then the following much quoted exchange took place:

RFK: Would you tell us if you have opposition from anybody you dispose of …by having them stuffed in a trunk? Is that what you do Mr. Giancana?
SG: I decline to answer because I honestly believe my answer might tend to incriminate me.
RFK: Would you tell us about any of your operations or will you just giggle every time I ask you a question?
SG: I decline to answer because I honestly believe my answer might tend to incriminate me.
RFK: I thought only little girls giggled Mr. Giancana. (ibid)

Around this time, the FBI was beginning to get some traction against The Outfit. Hoover allowed them to use electronic surveillance, to recruit informants, and to follow Giancana wherever he went. By following Giancana, Gus Alex, Murray Humphreys, Jake Guzik and Frank Ferraro, they began to locate their meeting places. They applied for permission to bug their conference rooms and this was approved. But once this was in place, something really bizarre upset the proverbial apple cart.

The CIA recruited Giancana to kill Fidel Castro.


There have been many renditions of how this recruitment happened, how it progressed and its ultimate failure. Many of which the reader should avoid. Perhaps the very worst is in Seymour Hersh’s hatchet job of a book, The Dark Side of Camelot. But one of the first things the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) did in the mid-nineties was to declassify the CIA’s Inspector General’s Report on these plots. That report was written at the request of Lyndon Johnson. The reason being that John Rosselli was talking to certain people in Washington and distorted versions of the plots were getting out into the media e.g. Drew Pearson. (Handsome Johnny, by Lee Server, pp. 460-61, also All American Mafioso, by Charles Rappleye and Ed Becker, p. 270). Unfortunately, the Church Committee chose not to include the 145 page IG Report in its four volumes. But when the ARRB did declassify it, the mythology about what had happened was dispelled.

In 1960, President Eisenhower had approved a plan to get rid of Fidel Castro. This included a possible invasion. The Director of Plans, Richard Bissell, began to think up a fallback position—namely assassination—to help with Castro’s removal. He broached the idea of contacting underworld figures with Sheffield Edwards, chief of the Office of Security. (IG Report, p. 14) Edwards thought about using Robert Maheu since he had been on retainer for CIA and also had contacts in Las Vegas, where the Cosa Nostra had some very profitable gambling casinos. John Rosselli was The Outfit’s man in Vegas and Maheu contacted him. Rosselli decided that the two men who could help the most in this effort were Giancana and Santo Trafficante of Tampa and he introduced the CIA, in the form of Edward’s go-between, Jim O’Connell, to the two men. (IG Report, pp. 16-19)

Giancana, the seasoned killer, rejected a gangland shooting since he said no one would volunteer for an assignment like that since it would be almost impossible to escape. He preferred administering certain poisons to Castro. (IG Report, p. 25). The long and the short of it was that none of the attempts worked. And therefore, when the Bay of Pigs failed spectacularly, the man who started the plots—Dick Bissell- and the men who approved them—Director Allen Dulles and Deputy. Director Charles Cabell—were fired. (IG Report, pp. 17-18). But the reasons for their firings were for misleading President Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs invasion. The IG Report makes it clear that neither JFK nor RFK knew anything about the plots to kill Castro. (IG Report, pp. 132-33)

So how did Attorney General Robert Kennedy find out about the plots? Giancana asked a favor of Maheu. Sam suspected his girlfriend, professional singer Phyllis McGuire, was cheating on him with comedian Dan Rowan in Las Vegas. (Brashler, p. 206) So he asked Maheu to bug Rowan’s hotel room. But the authorities discovered the bugging equipment. (IG Report, pp. 58, 59,68) This was then reported to the FBI. The FBI reported the episode to RFK and he requested a briefing on the incident. He could not understand why Maheu was so interested in aiding Giancana with his personal life. He got the answer to that question in May of 1962. (David Talbot, Brothers, pp. 85-86). But as the IG Report makes clear, the CIA deceived Kennedy by saying the plots had been discontinued when in fact they had not. (IG Report, p. 64) In what the Agency termed Phase Two of the plots, one gangster from the first phase, John Rosselli, had teamed up with CIA officer William Harvey in attempts to send teams into Cuba to terminate Castro. (Talbot, p. 86).

The plots went on until 1966. With first Harvey and Rosselli, and then with a Cuban national named Rolando Cubela. But we will end our discussion of them here since this ended Giancana’s role in them. If the reader has not read the CIA’s IG Report, I recommend he does to avoid being misled by writers with an agenda, like Hersh. (Click here)


To say that Giancana’s decade long reign as the leader of The Outfit was rocky does not convey how contrary to the rules of La Cosa Nostra it was. Accardo was very determined to never draw any undue attention to his activities, since that allowed them to work in the dark so to speak. But for whatever reason Giancana could not or would not conduct himself in that manner. Relying on Maheu to do him a personal favor which backfired is one example. His open wooing of Phyllis McGuire is another. Mafia Dons are not supposed to let themselves be photographed in public, especially with a celebrity. Since those kinds of pictures go around the world in newspapers and magazines. But this is what happened with Giancana. Unlike Accardo, he also had a volatile temper. Once after FBI agent Bill Roemer walked into one of his meeting places as a deliberate provocation, Giancana had one of his men, Chuck English, stop the G man as he was leaving. English told Roemer that if Bobby Kennedy wanted to talk to him, he knew who to go to. Roemer took this to be Frank Sinatra, and the reply confirmed it. (Man Against the Mob by William Roemer, p. 263) When The Outfit’s foremost fixer, Murray Humphreys, heard this he shouted, “You don’t give up a legit guy! For Christ sakes that’s a cardinal rule!” (ibid)

And then of course, there was the famous shouting match at O’Hare Airport in July of 1961. The FBI had decided to really turn up the heat on Giancana, knowing that AG Bobby Kennedy had made him a prime target. In fact, in a short time, RFK would assign 70 agents to Chicago, which was a 1400 % increase in manpower. (Roemer, p. 167). The Bureau decided to intercept Giancana as he was traveling with McGuire. They met her as she was getting off a plane and escorted the singer to a private room to discuss Giancana, knowing this would enrage the Don. Did it ever. Roemer and Giancana got into a screaming match with literally hundreds of people walking to and fro. Roemer and Ralph Hill asked Giancana if he knew anything about the listening device in Dan Rowan’s room in Vegas, knowing this would provoke him. Sam responded with some rather harsh language sprinkled with profanity, even threatening Roemer at least twice, but then backing off. Finally Roemer let loose with the following:

All you folks. Come over here! I want you to see something. Take a look at this piece of slime! This is Sam Giancana. He is the boss of the underworld here in Chicago. Take a good look at this garbage! The big boss, Giancana. You people are lucky, you’re just passing through Chicago. We have to live with this jerk! (Roemer, p. 150)

It was these kinds of open confrontations that the outside leaders of The Outfit, like Accardo and Paul Ricca, looked at with disdain.

Bobby Kennedy’s focus on Giancana eventually led to the Lock Step tactic in 1963. This was a degree of surveillance that came pretty much close to being total and 24/7. Nine FBI agents were on each 12 hour shift.

  1. When Sam arrived at the airport they trailed him off the plane and drove home behind him.
  2. At night there were three cars around his house.
  3. He was followed while taking walks in the park.
  4. When Sam went to dinner they took the next table.
  5. If Sam got up from the table to go to the men’s room, Roemer went to the men’s room and was in the next urinal.
  6. When Sam went golfing, they were behind him in the next foursome.

I could go on, but this does not even include the electronic surveillance they had blanketed Giancana with. (We will get to that later.). Giancana couldn’t take it and he filed a lawsuit. In Celozzi’s documentary he says that Giancana won the suit. This is not really true. Bobby Kennedy decided not to mount a defense on constitutional grounds. He did not think a lower court could intervene in a DOJ inquiry. So even though Giancana prevailed at trial, this was overruled on appeal.(Brashler p. 243) And there was no let up in the interim between the two court rulings, since Roemer got the sheriff’s office to make up the parameters which the local court had limited the FBI to. (Roemer, p. 270)

This was really the beginning of the end for Giancana. For now, with all of this surveillance on the man, the local US attorney’s office, led by David Schippers, decided to place him in a legal vise. They would subpoena Giancana and grant him immunity. This way, if he refused to reply to questions, he could be prosecuted for contempt. That is what happened and Giancana was convicted of contempt. All of his appeals failed.(Brashler, p. 272) When Giancana was released after a year—the life left on the grand jury,—he knew that he could not regain power since Ricca and Accardo would veto it. He also knew the DOJ could use the same tactic to place him in prison again. So in 1966 he made a smart decision and fled to Cuernavaca in Mexico with Richard Cain.

Cain was a complex character about which one could write a separate essay. He started as a Chicago cop who was fired for supporting Mayor Richard Daley’s GOP opponent. He went to Miami and trained Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs. He then went to work for Richard Oglivie, the Chicago sheriff. But it was found out he was—with the help of the Cosa Nostra—making phony drug raids in order to build his own reputation; so he was fired again. He was also convicted for perjury, obstruction and conspiracy, but that was overturned on appeal. (Brashler, pp. 288-89)

Cain set up Sam in Cuernavaca and furnished him with a lawyer named Jorge Castillo. There he served as a roving ambassador for The Outfit. He set up gambling casinos on cruise ships in the Caribbean and even one as far away as Tehran. It is likely that Sam would have stayed there for the rest of his days. But Castillo made a rather large mistake: he failed to gain Giancana permanent resident status. So in July of 1974 his new home in San Cristobal was raided and he was sent back to Chicago where Roemer was waiting for his plane. But the man who got off was not the same Giancana. In fact, he told the burly G man he wanted no trouble and did not want to get personal like it had been. (Roemer, p. 352)

Upon his return Giancana made four grand jury appearances and was reputed to have said he was not going to rot in jail. He also told Accardo he was reluctant to share his new enterprises in the Caribbean and Tehran with The Outfit. (McNicoll, pp.96, 98) Along with his notoriety—he was slated to appear before the Church Committee—these may have been the reasons for his murder.

The circumstantial evidence seems to indicate that Blasi was the hit man. He had been at the home that July night, left, and was seen coming back later, around 10 :30 PM by Francine Giancana. (ibid, p. 98; see also Brashler, p. 321) Giancana knew his killer since he let him into his house and then turned his back on him as he was cooking peppers and sausages. The weapon was a .22 Duromatic target pistol with a silencer. The first bullet came in at the back of the head landing in the front left portion of his brain. Giancana fell to the floor and the killer shot him through his mouth. Finally the silencer was placed under the victim’s chin, aimed upward, and five more bullets shattered his jaw. Giancana had lived by the gun and now he had died by the gum.

The above is a summary of Giancana’s life. And the Celozzi documentary deals with most of the matters in an adequate way. It is not at all distinguished as film making. But the offensive part of the film is in certain matters that, to this viewer, should not be in a serious documentary. Since it is part of what has come to be known as the Giancana myth.

We will deal with these in Part 2.

Go to Part 2 of 2

Last modified on Thursday, 15 June 2023 03:39
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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