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Organized crime boss, Sam Giancana climbed to the top of Chicago's underworld and became a player on the national stage through shadowy ties to the Kennedys.
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Born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 15 (some sources say May 24), 1908, to Sicilian immigrant parents, Sam Giancana started out as a wheelman for Al Capone and worked his way to the top of Chicago's illegal gambling operations. He had many ties with politicians, including the Kennedys,
and was called to testify regarding Mafia involvement in a CIA plot to assassinate Castro. Giancana himself was killed before giving testimony.
Gangster and crime boss Sam Giancana was born Gilormo Giancana, on June 15 (some sources say May 24), 1908, in Chicago, Illinois. Baptized Momo Salvatore Giancana and known as Sam, he grew up in a rough neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, as the son of Sicilian immigrants. As a teenager, Giancana led a street gang called "The 42s," who carried out low-level tasks for members of the powerful Chicago Mafia of the 1920s, led by the notorious gangster Al Capone. Giancana got a job as a "wheelman," or driver, in the Capone organization, and was arrested for the first time in 1925, for auto theft. He soon graduated to "triggerman," and by the age of 20 had been the prime subject in three murder investigations, but was never tried.
In 1933, Giancana married Angeline DeTolve; the couple had three daughters. (Their daughter Antoinette published a memoir, Mafia Princess, in 1984.) Giancana climbed the mob ranks throughout the rest of the decade, as the leadership in Chicago changed with the jailing of Capone in 1931 (he died in 1947). He first served prison time starting in 1939, for illegally manufacturing whiskey.
After his release in the early 1940s, Giancana set out to take over Chicago's illegal lottery gambling operations, particularly those in the city's predominantly African-American neighborhood. Through a brutal string of events, including beatings, kidnappings, and murder, he and his associates won control of the numbers racket, increasing the Chicago Mob's annual income by millions of dollars.
A psychologist who interviewed Giancana during his Selective Service physical examination during World War II classified the gangster as a "constitutional psychopath" who showed "strong antisocial trends." As a result, Giancana received 4-F status and was disqualified from military service. He profited from the war on the homefront, making a fortune manufacturing counterfeit ration stamps. By the end of the war, the Giancana family had moved from the city to a house in the affluent Chicago suburb of Oak Park.
When Anthony "Tough Tony" Accardo stepped down as the head of the Chicago Outfit (as the city's branch of the Mafia was known) in the mid-1950s, Giancana ascended to the top spot. By 1955, he controlled the gambling and prostitution operations, narcotics trafficking, and other illegal industries in his hometown. Under his leadership, the Chicago Mafia grew from a relatively small-scale racket to a full-fledged criminal organization. He later told an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that he "owned" not only Chicago, but Miami and Los Angeles as well.
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Bootleggers, smugglers, drug dealers, hit men—all these occupations are the provenance of mobsters, who operate in ethnic, family and business networks. Mobsters' real life crimes, and Hollywood's fascination with them, has earned them a special place in the American imagination. From Al Capone's Chicago crime ring to Bugsy Siegel's Las Vegas racket, these mobsters have made their names notorious from coast to coast.
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