Few historical events have given rise to the hundreds, perhaps even thousands of conspiracy theories as the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, TX. From an inside job to an unidentified umbrella man, extraterrestrials, multiple gunmen and a joint effort between the Cubans and Soviets have been all cast as the perpetrator of, or directly involved with, Kennedy’s demise.
So too has the mafia. Though officially refuted and even derided over the decades, theories of mob involvement continue to persist and fascinate. The supposition even gets a mention in director Martin Scorsese’s 2019 film The Irishman, when crime boss Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesce, utters, “If they can knock off a president, they can knock off the president of a union.”
Theorists believe Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa conspired with the mafia to kill JFK
Conspiracy theorists have long surmised the mafia was involved in the assassination due to the enmity created when JFK and his brother Robert F. Kennedy began a campaign to stop mob influence on the Teamsters labor union. When JFK was elected president in 1960, he appointed Robert as attorney general. In his new role, Robert began a very public attack on organized crime, in particular going after Jimmy Hoffa, who had been elected leader of the Teamsters union in 1957. At that time the union controlled the majority of commercial trucking in the United States. Hoffa was known to consort with major mafia bosses, the mob having already corrupted many labor unions in large cities.
As a senator, Robert pursued Hoffa over racketeering charges, though no conviction was brought against the Teamster leader. On becoming attorney general, Robert went so far as to form a “Get Hoffa” squad to aid his quest, ultimately succeeding in bringing him to justice. In 1964 Hoffa was convicted of attempted bribery of a grand juror and sentenced to eight years in prison. But it was the earlier actions of the Kennedys that adds fuel to the assassination theory involving the mob.
When JFK was unsuccessful in overthrowing Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1961, mafia-controlled casinos on the island remained shut down, angering American crime family bosses who had invested heavily to create a tourist destination to rival Las Vegas. Theorists suggest the mafia and Hoffa conspired to kill the president as an act of retribution.
READ MORE: What Happened to Jimmy Hoffa?
Some think Robert Kennedy was the original target
According to the 1994 book written by attorney Frank Ragano, who represented Hoffa, the teamster leader asked mob bosses Santos Trafficante and Carlos Marcello to arrange the assassination of President Kennedy. Ragano also claims that on the day the president was killed, he joined Trafficante in a toast. Ragano recalls a dying Trafficante confessing in 1987 to having a role in the killing, though he says the mob boss eventually came to regret not killing Robert instead of his brother.
Robert feared he had somehow gotten his brother killed, according to biographer Evan Thomas. “That Robert Kennedy’s attempts to prosecute the mob and to kill Castro had backfired in some terrible way, had blown back, as the intelligence folks say…,” Thomas said. “Bobby thought that he’d be killed, not his brother and now he has this daunting, horrible realization, or fear that all of his attempts to get the mob and to get Castro have in some terrible way blown up and come back to haunt his family and resulted in the death of his brother.”
Frank Sheeran claimed to have delivered guns to Dallas before JFK's shooting
The Irishman, based on investigator Charles Brandt’s 2003 memoir, I Heard You Paint Houses, chronicles the life of Teamster official Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and his connection to the Bufalino crime family and Hoffa. Though omitted from the film, Brandt writes in the book that Sheeran claims to have delivered three rifles to Dallas in the days preceding the Kennedy assassination. The same type of rifles used in the shooting.
There's been no 'available evidence' pointing to the mob's involvement
In the late 1970s, former New York City police detective and mafia expert Ralph Salerno was a consultant investigating mob involvement in the JFK killing by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Salerno said he reviewed “thousands of pages of electronic surveillances of organized crime leaders all over the United States” at the time the killing took place and heard nothing suspicious.
Salerno tried hard to find mob involvement in JFK’s death, according to The Kennedy Half Century by author Larry J. Sabato. “I felt it would have raised the hackles of the entire nation against organized crime so I would have loved to have found something. But I didn’t find that.”
The House Committee’s final report, though it acknowledges that “the national syndicate of organized crime, as a group, was not involved in the assassination of President Kennedy,” also notes that “the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual members may have been involved.”