When Mafia chieftain Sam “Momo” Giancana, 67, was shot seven times in his Chicago suburban house, the story was more than just another gangland killing. Recently Giancana had been questioned by a federal grand jury about his Chicago activities. But his name had also surfaced before the U.S. Senate committee investigating the CIA as one of the men recruited in 1960 to aid in the assassination of Fidel Castro. Was the killing Mob revenge? Could the CIA have been remotely involved? For a professional view of the case, Linda Witt, Chicago correspondent for PEOPLE, interviewed 62-year-old Charles Siragusa, a first-generation Sicilian-American who has devoted a lifetime to pursuing the Mafia as an officer of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, both at home and abroad. Now executive director of the Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission (formerly Crime Commission), Siragusa remains a colorful and implacable enemy of the Mafia.
Did the Mob “hit” Giancana?
They certainly had enough reason to. They were undoubtedly afraid this guy might unlock the door to their secrets—whether they included something about the CIA or not. When word came out that a Senate committee would call Giancana to testify, the Mob says, we need this like a hole in the head. At 67, and in bad health, Giancana’s not going to risk the slammer. He might talk. Besides, some of the young turks in the Mob might have thought it was time for an old guy to retire to a village in Sicily. Only I never heard of a Mob retirement, except a horizontal one.
The FBI said the .22 caliber pistol used indicated Giancana may not have been executed by the Mafia. What do you think?
First, I think a trusted friend, maybe a bodyguard, did it. And the Mob has been using .22s in the last year. A .22 shatters on impact and tears up the body. A hit like this must be at close range, and a .38 or .45 would go right through the body. Unless you hit a vital organ, you’ll have a witness to a murder attempt rather than a stiff. The first bullet, in the back of the head, was fired from maybe a foot away. Remember that it was a hot night; the killer wouldn’t have worn a jacket, so he couldn’t hide a .38 or .45. But a .22 could have been concealed.
CIA director William Colby has denied that the CIA had anything to do with the murder. Is it at all possible the CIA had a hand in the hit?
Maybe. Maybe they were afraid the guy would talk. So many things have happened in this country starting with Watergate; the only thing you’d surprise me with today is documentation that my wife is a Communist. When people get too much power they start to lose their common sense—the stupidity of brilliant people never ceases to amaze me.
Could the CIA have had any links with the Mob?
About the CIA approaching the Mob, and Giancana in particular: it makes sense. I’ve heard rumors for years in Washington from various law enforcement agencies about the CIA considering an assassination squad. I’d say there’s at least a 70 percent likelihood the CIA was seriously talking to the Mob. After all, who is better equipped to make a big international hit than the Mob? Just like in Watergate, there are some things the boss shouldn’t know because it could hurt him—and using the Mob for political assassinations might be one of them.
How does organized crime affect the average citizen?
Organized crime is pervasive, far more so than street crime. You can educate and raise living standards and solve that problem. But organized crime, for instance, threatens businessmen. Who knows how much extra you pay for merchandise that stores have had to buy back from a fence?
What legitimate businesses is the Mob in?
What aren’t they in? These guys aren’t oblivious to what’s going on in the world. They started in bootlegging and prostitution. Now they are in motels and hotels, stolen securities, construction, highway paving, restaurants and purveying. I’m sure they’ve been involved in the phony land sales in Florida and Arizona. There’s no self-respecting mobster who doesn’t have an interest in Las Vegas.
How about the old standbys of prostitution, liquor and buying politicians?
The money in sex these days is no longer in street hustling, but in massage parlors and porno book stores. In fact, there’s evidence that lower-echelon hoods are into massage parlors fronting for bigger guys. The way they are into liquor these days is to have a liquor commissioner or a building inspector [who must approve a bar’s construction] in their hip pocket—influence. Really, the Mob is so powerful it doesn’t need many politicians. They can always remind a judge of a past favor, and get one in return. Influence!
Who will take Sam Giancana’s place?
The theory of a single Mr. Big is obsolete. There’s a collective leadership now, because organized crime in big metropolitan areas is so vast it has to have many levels of leadership.
There are no Godfathers, then?
No Don Corleones, no actual familes as such—though some of the big guys have relatives around them like Carlo Gambino in New York and the Sica brothers in Los Angeles.
You think the movie The Godfather gave a wrong impression?
No. The Godfather was a very factual movie. The only thing I take issue with is that it glorified the cruds. It indirectly justified some of their actions. The film helped those guys believe they can absolve themselves of their past sins by patting their grand-kids on the heads. To me they are still cruds, and it bothers me that the public only worries about organized crime when something like the Giancana assassination makes the papers.
There’s been much concern among Italians that Hollywood always casts gangsters as Italian when, they claim, gangsters come in all nationalities. Do you as an Italian resent this?
I have a reputation for being anti-Italian. I never even get invited to the Columbus Day parades. But all my best friends are Italian—and if it was up to me, I think Giancana should have been shot for violation of the Italian Meatball Act. What kind of snack was that he was preparing when he was shot? Sausages and spinach? I never heard of it, and I’ve been eating dago food all my life. But 95 percent of the Sicilian population in America are good upstanding people, and we do take a bad rap for the bad 5 percent.
What other racial groups are represented in the underworld?
Well, there’s Meyer Lansky, for instance, about the only non-Italian in the Syndicate. He’s there because he grew up on New York’s Lower East Side where the Jewish and Italian neighborhoods met. Other than him, though, the Mob is Italian—about 2,000 Italians strong. I don’t think any other group, including black gangs, have shown they can match the Italians for sheer brutality.
What do you mean by brutality?
There’s no end to the Mob’s atrocities. In the ’60s they hung William “Action” Jackson, a low-level “gofer,” upside down on a meat hook, took a butcher knife and sliced off pieces of his ass, poked him with meat tongs, and hit him with an acetylene torch. It took him two days to die from shock. Italians love to be ruthless. But maybe it’s time the Italians gave up the title and let someone else take over.
You yourself are of Sicilian origin. How did you come to dedicate your life to trying to eliminate the Mob?
You could say it was destiny, my getting into mob busting. As a kid growing up in New York City’s Mulberry Street neighborhood, I’d hear my parents talking about knifings, extortions, kidnappings. I got paranoid about gangsters, especially Sicilian ones. Today I might be the oldest living Sicilian-American still on the crime kick.
As you near the end of your career, is there anything—or anyone—you feel you’ve left undone?
Yeah. Lucky Luciano died a natural death. Just when I was about to get that crud after 23 years of staking him out, he up and dropped dead on me in a Naples airport in 1962. Only time it bothers me to see one of them cruds die is when I’m on the verge of getting him.