Born ‘Salvatore Giangana’ to Sicilian immigrants from Partanna, in the province of Trapani, in Little Italy, Chicago, also known as “The Patch”. His father, Antonino (later Americanized to Antonio) Giangana, operated a pushcart and later briefly owned an Italian ice shop, which was later firebombed by gangland rivals of his son. It has been alleged by relatives that Giancana’s father would have become legitimately wealthy had he not always been forced to bail his eldest son out of prison.
Giancana joined the Forty-Two Gang, a juvenile street crew answering to political boss Joseph Esposito. The name of the 42 Gang came from associating themselves with Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. They thought they were one better. He soon developed a reputation for being an excellent getaway driver, a high earner and vicious killer. After Esposito’s murder, which Giancana was allegedly involved in, the 42 Gang was transformed into a de facto extension of the Chicago Outfit Giancana’s leadership qualities and knack for making money on the street gained him the notice of Mafia higher ups like Paul Ricca.
Sam married Angeline DeTolve, the daughter of immigrants from the Italian Region of Basilicata, on September 23, 1933. They had three daughters. Angeline died in 1954 and left Sam to raise his daughters. Sam never remarried after the death of his wife and was known as a good family man, despite frequent infidelities, and held his wife in high regard and respect during their marriage and after her death. All of the Giancana daughters have married at least once. At least one daughter has taken the “Giancana” name again. It has been suspected that during Giancana’s many affairs he had other children, including one that may reside in the prison system in Oregon.
After serving a term in the Illinois Prison System, from where he told his children he was away “at college,” Giancana made a name for himself by forcefully staging a take-over of Chicago’s African-American bookmaker’s, supposedly, nickel-ante, pay-out games for The Outfit. Giancana’s crew is believed to have been responsible for the murder of Teddy Roe, an African-American gang leader from Chicago’s South Side. Roe had allegedly refused to give over his stake in the games that Giancana had demanded and had also fatally shot a member of Giancana’s crew.
When the money started rolling in after this Southside gambling war, the amount that this nickel-ante game had produced for the Mafia was staggering and brought Giancana further notice. It is believed to have been a major factor in his being anointed as the Mafia’s new boss when Tony Arcardo retired from being the front Mafia boss, in 1957. However, it was generally understood that Accardo and another veteran of the Capone era, Paul Ricca, still held the real power. Giancana had to consult them on all major business transactions and assassinations. Giancana was purported to have been present at the Mafia’s 1957 Apalachin Meeting, in upstate New York.
It is widely reputed and partially exposed in the Church Committee Hearings that Giancana and other mobsters had been recruited by the CIA during the Kennedy administration to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who had taken power in January 1959. Giancana was himself reported to have said that the CIA and the Mafia are “different sides of the same coin.” The association between Giancana and JFK is indicated in the infamous “Exner File”, written by Judith Campbell Exner. Exner was reputed to be mistress to both Giancana and JFK and some allege she may have delivered communication between the two regarding Fidel Castro.
However, Giancana’s daughter, Antoinette Giancana, has stated her belief that her father was running a scam in order to pocket millions of dollars in CIA funding.
According to the recently-declassified CIA “Family Jewels” documents, Giancana and Miami Syndicate leader Santo Trafficante, Jr. were contacted in September 1960, about the possibility of an assassination attempt by a go-between from the CIA, Robert Maheu, after Maheu had contacted Johnny Roselli, a Mafia member in Las Vegas and Giancana’s number-two man. Maheu had presented himself as a representative of numerous international business firms in Cuba that were being expropriated by Castro. He offered $150,000 for the “removal” of Castro through this operation (the documents suggest that Roselli, Giancana nor Trafficante accepted any sort of payments for the job). According to the files, it was Giancana who suggested using a series of poison pills that could be used to doctor Castro’s food and drink.
These pills were given by the CIA to Giancana’s nominee Juan Orta, whom Giancana presented as being a corrupt official in the new Cuban government, and who had access to Castro. After a series of six attempts to introduce the poison into Castro’s food, Orta abruptly demanded to be let out of the mission, handing over the job to another, unnamed participant. Later, a second attempt was mounted through Giancana and Trafficante using Dr. Anthony Verona, the leader of the Cuban Exile Junta, who had, according to Trafficante, become “disaffected with the apparent ineffectual progress of the Junta”. Verona requested $10,000 in expenses and $1,000 worth of communications equipment. However, it is unclear how far the second attempt went, as the entire program was cancelled shortly thereafter due to the launching of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
At the same time, Giancana, according to the “Family Jewels,” approached Maheu to bug the room of his then-mistress Phyllis McGuire, whom he suspected of having an affair with comedian Dan Rowan. Although documents suggest Maheu acquiesced, the bug was not planted due to the arrest of the agent tasked with planting the device. According to the documents, Robert Kennedy moved to block the prosecution of the agent and of Maheu, who was soon linked to the bugging attempt, at the CIA’s request. Giancana’s behavior was too high profile for Outfit tastes, and attracted far too much federal scrutiny. He also refused to cut his underlings in on his lavish profits from offshore casinos in Iran and Central America. Both of these factors resulted in much bitterness among the Mafia’s rank and file. As a result, Giancana was deposed as day-to-day boss by the still in control Accardo and replaced by “Joey Doves” Joseph Aiuppa. After about seven years of exile inside a lavish villa in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Giancana was arrested by Mexican authorities and deported unceremoniously back to the United States.
Shortly after returning to Chicago, Giancana was shot in the back of the head on 19 June 1975 while frying Italian sausage and peppers in the basement of his home in Oak Park, Illinois. After falling, his body was turned over and shot a further six times in the face and chin. It was believed by investigators that his murderer was a close friend whom he had let into the house. At the time he was scheduled to appear before a Senate committee investigating CIA and Mafia collusion in plots to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Some have alleged that the CIA was responsible for the shooting as Giancana had a somewhat troubled history with the agency. However, former CIA Director William Colby has been quoted as saying, “We had nothing to do with it.” Most investigators believe that Joey Aiuppa, Giancana’s onetime friend and successor as Chicago Outfit boss, was responsible for ordering the hit on the disgraced former boss.
Giancana had reportedly continued in his refusal to share the profits from his offshore gambling operations and was also scheming about how to regain his former post as boss. According to former Mafia associate Michael J. Corbitt, Aiuppa seized control of Giancana’s casinos in the aftermath of the murder, strategically sharing them with his capos.It is widely believed that longtime friend and associate Dominick “Butch” Blasi was Giancana’s assassin. Other Mafia suspects are Harry Aleman, Charles “Chuckie” English, and Anthony Spilotro. Giancana was interred next to his wife Angelina in a family mausoleum at Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside) in Hillside, Illinois
- June, 15, 1908
- Chicago, Illinois,
- June, 19, 1975
- Oak Park, Illinois
Cause of Death
- Multiple gunshot wounds
- Mount Carmel Cemetery
- Chicago, Illinois