Organized Crime / Personalities

Giancana, Sam and Chuck. Double Cross: The Explosive, Inside Story of the Mobster Who Controlled America. New York: Warner Books, 1992. 366 pages.

The dust jacket of this bestseller claims that this is "the first book to solve -- finally -- the sensational, hitherto unsolved mysteries behind the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe." Yes, the book is sensational. Yes, Chuck Giancana, the younger brother of "Mooney" Sam, spent his career at Mooney's side and was privy to his secrets. But no, there's nothing to work with apart from Chuck's recollections of Mooney's occasional blustering -- over a span of five decades -- about how he had ex-bootlegger Joseph P. Kennedy in his pocket, had worked with the CIA on secret missions in Cuba, the Vatican, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and had helped arrange the deaths of MM, JFK, and RFK.

The authors note that "too many important political revelations have gone unnoticed by the U.S. reader due to tedious journalistic research, which results, unfortunately, in tedious reading. Instead, the subject of Sam Giancana's life has been approached with every attempt to engage the reader -- to tell a good story -- while maintaining historical accuracy." But while it's true that neither Mafia bravado nor CIA subversion lend themselves to the footnoting that scholars and mainstream journalists demand, what this means, ultimately, is that we're still left looking for the corroboration that might help us rewrite our history.

Lacey, Robert. Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life. London: Century, 1991. 547 pages.

This biography of Meyer Lansky (1902-1983), believe it or not, is fundamentally sympathetic. Author Robert Lacey grew close to Lansky's frail son Buddy before Buddy's death in 1989, and admits that two years earlier, on his first research trip to Israel, the evil genius he had been pursuing was failing to materialize. Lacey had discovered uncensored U.S. documents which had been furnished by the U.S. in 1971 to help Israel consider Lansky's petition for citizenship.

"The documents left no doubt that the man was a crook, that he had made his living on the wrong side of the law, that he knowingly consorted with men of violence -- that he was a gangster. But here was no Satan. Meyer Lansky had not dealt in drugs -- or prostitution or loan-sharking or stolen property. He had not been a director of Murder, Inc., killing or ordering hits to contract. He was not the head of a shadowy underworld corporation, laundering money and infiltrating legitimate business. It was remarkable, in fact, looking at the evidence, what Meyer Lansky had NOT done. There was nothing here to sustain the notion of Lansky as king of all evil, the brains, the secret mover, the inspirer and controller of American organized crime -- the man whom I had set out to write a book about." (p.442)

Messick, Hank. Lansky. London: Robert Hale & Company, 1973. 286 pages.

When the U.S. edition of this book was published in early 1971, Meyer Lansky was living quietly in Tel Aviv. Journalists there suddenly became interested, and following a Hebrew edition of this book, public opinion forced the government of Israel to deny citizenship to Lansky under the Law of Return. This biography of Lansky portrays him as chairman of the board of the international syndicate. It was Lansky who set up Carlos Marcello in New Orleans, who gave orders to Santo Trafficante, and who cooperated with Paul Ricca, the man behind "publicity hound" Sam Giancana.

Hank Messick's many books on organized crime are widely respected. In 1965 he was hired by the Miami Herald for a series on Meyer Lansky, and his first book, The Silent Syndicate (1967), reported on crime and gambling in Kentucky and Ohio. Messick makes a distinction between the syndicate and the Mafia. The former is international and multicultural, and often includes the latter as a subset. But beginning with the Joseph Valachi hearings in 1963 and J. Edgar Hoover's "La Cosa Nostra" hype, the Mafia got all the attention while Lansky was left alone. Messick was the first to hint at the reason for this: Hoover had been compromised by Lansky, as Anthony Summers recently confirmed in "Official and Confidential" (1993). This debate is significant today for assassination theorists, because most "Mafia did it" authors still give Lansky a mere footnote or two at best.

Ragano, Frank and Raab, Selwyn. Mob Lawyer. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994. 372 pages.

Just when the controversy over Oliver Stone's movie "JFK" was at its height, mob lawyer Frank Ragano, in an interview with Jack Newfield (New York Post, 1/14/92), confessed that in early 1963 he carried a message from Jimmy Hoffa to Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello to take out the President. Those who believe that the Mafia was responsible felt that this was a major breakthrough. Stone himself, while noting that the Mafia and CIA worked hand in hand, insisted that some aspects of the cover-up (the autopsy photos and the Warren Commission, for example) convinced him of non-Mafia involvement. And it's curious that every time a loose spotlight flashes on the CIA, the media start feeding us articles and books about how Oswald acted alone (Plan A) or how the Mafia did it alone (Plan B); only kooks and buffs believe otherwise. By now both A and B are non-threatening: all the players are dead and the mob in America is history. So pick one or the other, but Plan CIA is still off-limits. The owners of our major media know that too many threatening secrets are still buried in the vaults at Langley. Ragano's autobiography is valuable, and it makes a case for Mafia involvement because there's no strong reason to doubt him. But he was not involved with the CIA during his career, and Hoffa and Trafficante didn't tell him more than he needed to know. In the end Ragano merely adds one very small piece to a much larger puzzle. -- D.Brandt

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