Sam “Momo” Giancana (1908-1975) was one of the most fascinating gangsters of the 20th century. He has been the subject of numerous documentaries, the most recent of which is MOMO: The Sam Giancana Story (2013). In this film, Giancana’s life is traced from his rough childhood to his involvement with the Kennedy administration and beyond. As boss of the Chicago Outfit, Giancana was a major figure in the underworld, but that was not enough. He also became something of a celebrity, and his high-profile lifestyle was one of the reasons he was killed.
Giancana’s childhood is described as rather brutal. He was very young when his mother died, and his father took out his frustrations by beating the boy. While nobody claims that this was the reason he joined the juvenile 42 Gang, it was probably a contributing factor. Giancana’s ruthlessness made him stand out, and he was soon called up to join the Chicago Outfit, the Second City’s version of La Cosa Nostra.
Sam married Angie DeTolve in 1933, and the couple had three daughters. When his wife died in 1954, Sam never remarried, and his subsequent involvement with well-known women made headlines. Giancana may have enjoyed the limelight, but his bosses were not amused with all of the attention he was getting.
There was no question that the Outfit was prospering with Giancana though. Through his control of the Teamsters, he extorted the movie studios in Hollywood, and practically took over Las Vegas. In 1955, the Outfit financed The Riviera hotel and casino, then they got the Stardust, the Tropicana, and the Desert Inn. In the next decade, they added the Hacienda, the Sahara, and the Fremont to their Vegas holdings. Gambling led them to Batista's Cuba, where the Outfit was allowed to prosper unhindered. The gravy train ended in 1959 when Fidel Castro took over.
The full story of Giancana’s involvement with the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, the CIA, and the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro will probably never be known, but it is almost mythological in scope.
In MOMO's version of the tale, the series of events begins with Joe Kennedy‘s desire to see his son John become President. He enlists Frank Sinatra to talk to Giancana about securing the union votes to make this happen. In return, it is understood that the government will drop their investigations into organized crime. When JFK was elected in 1960, Robert Kennedy went after the mob with a vengeance.
The murder of Marilyn Monroe was meant to topple the Kennedys. When she was poisoned, a bunch of love letters from Robert Kennedy were left all around her to be discovered. The people interviewed in the film claim that the Secret Service got rid of all of this evidence, and her death was deemed an accidental overdose. At the same time, the CIA had hired the Outfit and others in a scheme to assassinate Castro. The CIA part of the story has actually been somewhat confirmed through the release of documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
The most intriguing revelations in MOMO are in regards to the assassination of JFK. Sam’s brother "Pepe" claims that the three men who did it were Richard Kane, Chuckie Nicollette, and “Milwaukee” Phil Aldarisio. Lee Harvey Oswald was always nothing more than a patsy, and was killed by Giancana’s old friend Jack Ruby. The reason Ruby did it was because he had just six months to live, and decided eliminate the possibility of Oswald ever talking. What he did not realize when he took this action was that his previous history with the Outfit implicated them by association.
In 1966, Giancana was called before a grand jury, and refused to testify. He spent a year in jail for contempt, and when he was released. he fled to Mexico where he lived for the next seven years in exile. When he was extradited, he was called up again, and was reportedly ready to talk. His murder on June 19, 1975 has never been solved. The police detail that was watching him in his house was recalled for some reason, and he was shot in the back of the head while cooking dinner.
The speculation is that either his bosses had him killed because of all of the attention he had received over the years, or because of his involvement in the Kennedy assassination. The people interviewed in MOMA give more weight to the unwanted attention angle, but I think the Kennedy situation would be much more likely. Of course, you have to believe the Pepe Giancana account of the assassination to buy that one, and that is a pretty big leap of faith. The “lone gunman” theory is an even bigger leap of faith though, so who knows.
The life of Sam Giancana makes for one hell of a story regardless of what you believe, and the people who tell it here include Giancana’s daughters Bonnie and Francine; John J. Binder, who wrote The Chicago Outfit; Arthur Lurigio PhD., Loyola University; FBI agent Ross Rice, and the disguised “Mr. X,” who is described as an Outfit soldier.
MOMO: The Sam Giancana Story was released to DVD and streaming media on November 19, 2013.