Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Life And Death Of Frank Nitti Chicago Gangster

Francesco Raffaele Nitto or Frank “the enforcer” Nitti was one of millions of immigrants who came to America in search of a better life. He grew up in the teaming slums of Brooklyn where he dropped out of school in the seventh grade. He tried his hand at a number of trades; pinsetter, factory worker, barber and jewel thief / fence. Among his friends were Al Capones older brothers and their gang the Navy Street Boys.
He left Brooklyn in 1910 and moved around for most of the next decade. Nitti spent part of 1913 in Chicago where he plied his barber / jewel fence trade through which he became acquainted with north side gangster Dion O'Bannion. He didn't settle in Chicago and eventually surfaced in Galvaston Texas where he become a associated with a crime syndicate run by "Johnny" Jack Nounes. His 1918 departure from Galvaston in 1918 reportedly stemmed from his theft of a large sum of money from Nounes and fellow mobster Dutch Voight.
Back in Chicago he settled in the Taylor St. area on south Halsted St. where he worked as a jewel thief, liquor smuggler and fence. It was through his liquor smuggling activities that he came to the attention of fellow Brooklyn expatriots Johnny Torrio and Al Capone. Both now major players in the crimminal organiztion of Big Jim Colosimo.
With the advent of prohibition Nitti's stock kept rising and with the subsequent murder of Colosimo and the retirement of Torrio Nitti became one of Al Capone's top men. By this time he was in charge of Capone's booze importing and distribution operation. Despite his nickname Frank was not a dirty hands guy he was much more a business man content to leave the rough stuff to guys like Machine Gun Jack McGurn, Tony Accardo and others.
When the heat from the 1929 St. Valentines Day Massacre became too much and Al ended up going to prison on a gun charge it was Nitti along with Jake Guzik and Tony Accardo who ran the organization. Capone was out in less than a year but Nitti's stature in the mob made him one of the governments major targets. In 1931 Nitti along with Al Capone were indited for income tax evasion. They were both supposed to get 18 months but when attempted jury tampering came to light in Capones trial he ended up getting 11 years.
Nitti was released from prison in 1932 and took over the reins from Capone who was now done for. Or maybe not there is a school of thought amongst Chicago mob historians on this issue, not that there isn't much up for debate with the Outfits history. At any rate there is a large school of thought that Nitti was the front man for the likes of Paul “the waiter” Ricca, Jake Guzik & Murray Humphries who really ran the show.
In December of 1932 Nitti was the victim of a spectacular attempted hit by a Chicago police detective. This incident is the subject of a recent video that is part of our Chicago Crime Now & Then series. 

Prohibition came to an end in 1933 and the cash cow that made the Chicago Outfit the force it was expired and the boys had to find new ways of making money. They expanded into gambling and favor racketeering in Chicago and beyond. It was a plan that proved to be very successful but one part of it almost took down the mob and did cost Nitti his life.
In 1943 the lid came off the mobs penetration of the movie industry when many powers in the Chicago Outfit were indicted for extortion. Among those charged were Nitti, Phil D'Andrea, Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Nick Circella, Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, Ralph Pierce, Ricca, and John "Handsome Johnny" Roselli. They were accused of extorting money from some of the biggest studios, including; Columbia, MGM, Paramount, RKO, and 20th Century Fox. The studios had cooperated with The Outfit to avoid unrest stirred up by the mob controlled unions.
At a meeting of Outfit leaders at Nitti's home, Ricca blamed Nitti for the indictments. Ricca said that since this had been Nitti's scheme and that of the informant was Willie Bioff one of Nitti's trusted associates, Nitti should go to prison. A sufferer of claustrophobia as a result of his first prison term, Nitti dreaded the idea of another prison confinement. It was also rumored that he was suffering from terminal cancer at this time. For these or possibly other reasons, he ultimately decided to take his own life. This part of the story is the subject of another of our videos .

For more on Chicago's organized crime history check out our 

 Chicago Crime Now & Then playlist.

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