10 July 2018

KC's Lazia is gunned down at his home

On this date in 1934...

Sedalia Democrat
Two gunmen fatally shot John Lazia, underworld-connected political boss of Kansas City's north side "Little Italy," July 10, 1934, as he stepped out of a car in front of his apartment building.

Lazia and his wife had spent the evening of Monday, July 9, with their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Carrollo, in the Lake Lotawana area, where the Lazias had a summer home. They returned to Kansas City in the early morning hours of July 10 in an automobile driven by Carrollo. Mrs. Lazia was seated in the front, beside Carrollo, while Lazia and Carollo's wife sat in the rear.

They pulled into the semi-circular driveway of the Park Central apartment building, 300 East Armour Boulevard, where the Lazias lived. When the car stopped under the building's front entrance canopy, John Lazia emerged from a rear seat and began to open the front door to help his wife from the car. At that moment, two gunmen opened fire on Lazia with a machine gun and a shotgun.

Mrs. Lazia
As Lazia fell wounded, he called out, "I'm shot. Get Marie out of here. Step on it, Charlie!"

Carrollo did as he was instructed. The gunmen advanced and fired more shots into Lazia's body. They then ran off into an alley beside the apartment building, climbed into a waiting automobile and escaped.

Lazia was rushed to St. Joseph Hospital (then about two miles away on East Linwood Boulevard). Doctors tended to his wounds - he had been struck by slugs in his chest, shoulder, head, back and arms - and administered three blood transfusions. They were unable to save Lazia. He died at the hospital at just after two o'clock that afternoon.

Lazia claimed not to know who shot him. In his final moments, he told Dr. D.M. Nigro, "I don't know why they did it. I'm a friend to everybody. I don't know why they did this to me."

Newspapers noted that Lazia was an important lieutenant in the political machine of Kansas City Democratic boss Thomas J. Pendergast. It was said that Lazia personally controlled 30,000 votes in the city. The killing brought considerable negative attention to the Pendergast machine. It was the second time that Lazia had damaged the organization. The machine's connections to the region's underworld had been exposed through Lazia's trial for income tax evasion five months earlier. At the time he was murdered, Lazia was free on bond awaiting an appeal of failure to file convictions that resulted in a one-year prison sentence, five years' probation and a fine.

St. Louis Star and Times shows location of victim and gunmen

Investigation goes nowhere

Otto P. Higgins, director of the local police force, took personal charge of the Lazia murder investigation. Joe Lusco, a north side political rival of Lazia, was immediately brought in for questioning. Police also rounded up more than twenty of Lusco's followers.

Lusco
Lusco was reputed to be part of Casmir Welch's political organization, which battled the Pendergast machine. A feud between the Lusco and Lazia factions had already claimed a number of lives, including that of Ferris Anthon, believed killed by Lazia-affiliated gunmen in the summer of 1933.

Lusco, however, insisted that any problems he ever had with Lazia had been resolved long ago. Lusco told investigators that he and Lazia were the closest of friends. Without evidence against the rival faction, police were forced to release Lusco and his men.

There was some suspicion that Lazia was targeted due to the arrests of two men for the killing of bank messenger Webster Kemner during a robbery earlier in the year. Sam DeCaro and Charles Taibi were charged with the Kemner killing. DeCaro was quickly tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Taibi was awaiting trial at the time of Lazia's murder. There were rumors that Lazia provided information to police that linked DeCaro and Taibi to the slaying of Kemner.

Lazia
Eventually, the local authorities suggested that Lazia was killed by gangsters from outside the region. Lazia, they claimed, had enraged distant gang bosses by refusing to allow their men to operate within the Kansas City area.

In the fall of 1934, federal agents found interesting connections between the killing of John Lazia and the Union Station Massacre in Kansas City a year earlier. Kansas City gangster James LaCapra told authorities that Lazia aided gangsters "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Adam Richetti and Verne Miller in their failed but bloody attempt to free Frank Nash from federal custody. Agents also discovered that markings on machine gun bullets used in the massacre were a match for bullets recovered at the scene of Lazia's murder, suggesting that the same machine gun was used in both incidents. Authorities felt this was an indication that Lazia was killed by former allies rather than by known enemies.

Stand-up guy?

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Police and press seemed not to consider that Lazia's recent income tax case had anything to do with his killing, though testimony in that case revealed to press, police and public the connections between political bosses and underworld bosses, the amount of money generated through local gambling rackets and the specific amounts that had been paid to county law enforcement personnel to ensure protection of those rackets. In fighting the government's case, Lazia went to the witness stand, named business partners and described financial transactions. And his fight did not end with his conviction.

When the jury returned a generous verdict, finding him guilty only of misdemeanor failing to file returns for two years and acquitting him of felony tax evasion, Lazia did not act in the way expected of a "stand-up guy." He went to the press and stated, "I'm a victim of prejudice. I feel I've been convicted on charges that never would have been placed against most businessmen."

Though a federal judge in spring 1934 overruled a request for a new trial, Lazia pressed ahead with an appeal, further increasing the exposure of his underworld colleagues. One month before his murder, Lazia learned that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Omaha, Nebraska, would hear his appeal in October.

Saying goodbye

Lazia's remains were placed in a casket reportedly valued at $5,000. Some sources described the casket as silver-plated bronze, others as silver-lined copper. A wake was held at the home of Lazia's sister, and an estimated 10,000 people visited through the night.

St. Louis Star and Times shows funeral procession
On the morning of July 13, about 1,000 people were still crowded around the sister's home as the funeral procession to Holy Rosary Church commenced. More thousands lined the route to the church. Thomas J. Pendergast participated in the sendoff, along with former north side political boss Michael Ross and City Manager H.F. McElroy. The procession included 120 cars and was followed by four trucks filled with floral offerings.

Lazia
The most noteworthy floral piece was a large wheel and axle with an obviously missing second wheel. That was sent by Pendergast. Newspapers called attention to the fact that flowers had been sent from individuals in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and other U.S. cities. Even Joe Lusco sent flowers.

Following the funeral Mass, Lazia's remains were taken to St. Mary's Cemetery to be buried next to the graves of his father and mother.

Though John Lazia was dead and buried, the U.S. Bureau of Internal Revenue was not quite done with him. About a week after the funeral, Collector of Internal Revenue Dan M. Nee filed a lien of $62,280.01 against the Lazia estate, including property owned by Lazia's widow. The government argued that Lazia failed to pay $48,847.76 in owed taxes for the years 1927 through 1930 and also owed interest and fines totaling $13,432.25.

Sources:
  • "John Lazia, Kansas City politician, goes to trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 5, 1934, p. 4.
  • "Gambling den 'fixing' bared in Lazia trial," St. Louis Star and Times, Feb. 6, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Says protection of Lazia's resort cost $500 a week," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 7, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Maze of tax data piled up at Lazia trial," St. Louis Star and Times, Feb. 8, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia deposits put at $153,871 for two years," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 9, 1934, p. 2.
  • "Lazia had money; was it taxable? Is issue at trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 10, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Move by Lazia's lawyers to halt tax evasion trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 11, 1934, p. 16.
  • "Lazias lived on $150 a month, wife testifies," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 12, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Prosecutor asks for 'horse sense" in Lazia verdict," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 13, 1934, p. 6.
  • "Lazia convicted on two counts in income tax case," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 14, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia is guilty on two charges," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, Feb. 14, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia is sentenced by Judge Otis," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, Feb. 28, 1934, p. 7.
  • "John Lazia gets year in jail on U.S. tax charge," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 28, 1934, p. 3.
  • "A new trial for Lazia is probable," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, April 9, 1934, p. 6.
  • "Lazia hearing Saturday," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, April 10, 1934, p. 2.
  • "John Lazia denied retrial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 14, 1934, p. 2.
  • "Lazia appeal will be argued in Omaha," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, June 1, 1934, p. 2.
  • "John Lazia dies after being shot by two gunmen," Sedalia MO Democrat, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "John Lazia shot down by 2 unidentified gunmen today," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Machine-gunners shoot John Lazia, Pendergast's aid," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Politicians are dazed by death of Johnny Lazia," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, July 11, 1934, p. 3.
  • "A Chillicothe young man to aid of wounded man," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 11, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Great throng files past John Lazia bier," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 12, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Italians honor Lazia, lies in $5,000 casket," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, July 12, 1934, p. 10.
  • "The Lazia funeral to cost $40,000," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 12, 1923, p. 1.
  • "Thousands line funeral route of John Lazia," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 13, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Government files $62,280 lien on John Lazia estate," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 21, 1934, p. 3B.
  • "John Lazia linked with massacre of 5 at Kansas City," St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 11, 1934, p. 3.

02 July 2018

July 1958: Profaci infuriates McClellan Committee

On this date in 1958...

Profaci
New York City-based Mafia boss Joseph Profaci, accompanied by attorney Samuel Paige, appeared July 2, 1958, before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (McClellan Committee). Conflict between the committee and the underworld-boss witness was evident from the opening seconds of the testimony.
Chairman John L. McClellan:   State your name, your place of residence, and your business or occupation.
Joseph Profaci:   Joseph Profaci, 8863 Fifteenth Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
Chairman:   What is your business or occupation, please?
Profaci:   I refuse to answer on the ground it might be incriminating me.
Chairman:   You what?
Profaci:   I refuse to answer on the ground...
Chairman:   I don't think you better use the word "refuse." I think that shows disrespect for your government. Do you want to place yourself in that attitude?
Profaci:   I am sorry.
Chairman:   I would use the word "decline." [1]
Senator Irving McNeil Ives, committee vice chairman, got involved in this conversation, and it was established that Profaci was reading his refusal to answer from a piece of paper provided by his attorney. Profaci said he misread the paper, on which was written, "I respectfully refuse..." Following that explanation, Ives suggested to Profaci and attorney Paige that "decline" would be a more appropriate term than "refuse."

The committee then attempted to move back to the issue of Profaci's business but instantly found itself back where it started.
Chairman: Do I understand that you are stating to this committee that if you answered the question as to what is your business or occupation, that a truthful answer to that question might tend to incriminate you?
Profaci: I refuse to answer...
Senator Ives: I wish you would stop using that word "refuse."
Profaci: I decline to answer. I am sorry.

Senator McClellan ordered Profaci to answer whether a truthful explanation of his line of work could be incriminating to Profaci. Profaci attempted to decline again. The chairman pointed out that it could not possibly be incriminating to answer whether he believed another answer would be incriminating. Profaci yielded to that logic and answered, "Yes, I believe" that stating his business would be incriminating. [2]

Though committee members made an issue of Profaci's refusal to answer this rather superficial question, it was hardly surprising. The previous day, reputed Mafiosi James V. LaDuca, Rosario Mancuso and Louis A. Larasso cited the Fifth Amendment in their refusals to answer all manner of questions.[3]

Robert Kennedy
The committee already had an idea of Profaci's business. A summary provided by Chief Counsel Robert Kennedy's investigative staff as the Mafia hearings opened described Profaci: "At Apalachin meeting. Owner of Carmela Mia Packing Co. Number of arrests in Italy and United States. An old-time, well established gangster." [4]

McClellan conferred with counsel Kennedy about whether Profaci was under indictment. "I don't believe he is," Kennedy responded. McClellan attempted to find out by asking Profaci, but received only "I decline to answer on the ground it may be incriminating to me" from the witness.

The chairman turned questioning over to the chief counsel. Kennedy attempted to open things up on a friendly basis. That didn't last long.
Chief Counsel Robert Kennedy: Mr. Profaci, we had a talk yesterday, a nice conversation; did we not? Didn't we have a little talk in the office?
Profaci: I decline to answer.
Kennedy: Mr. Profaci, your English was so much better yesterday. What has happened in the last twenty-four hours?
Profaci: I don't catch your words right.
Kennedy: You don't?
Profaci: I don't catch you.
Kennedy: You caught it awfully well yesterday, Mr. Profaci. You spoke very good and you understood everything I said.
Profaci: If you will be patient, I will catch it.
Kennedy: I don't have to be. Yesterday you spoke very freely and easily. Your accent has gotten so bad today. What happened overnight, Mr. Profaci? You understood and answered all the questions I asked you yesterday, and you spoke very easily, with very little accent. What has happened since?
Profaci: I don't catch the words right when you use big words.[5]

Profaci subsequently revealed that he was born in Palermo and became an American citizen. He hesitated to discuss his birth date, his arrival in the U.S. and his naturalization. He declined to answer questions about his early days in Chicago, visit to Joseph Barbara's home at Apalachin, family connections to the Toccos and Zerillis of Detroit, links to union officials and other associates, import/export businesses and investments in clothing manufacturing firms. When Detective Thomas O'Brien came forward to outline Profaci's arrest record in Italy and the United States, Profaci refused to confirm any aspect of the record. [6]

O'Brien and Kennedy stated that Profaci had been arrested at an apparent Mafia convention in Cleveland on December 5, 1928. Profaci would not discuss it. Vice Chairman Ives took the opportunity to ask a direct question.
Ives: May I interrupt? I would like to ask him: Are you a member of the Mafia?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it might be incriminating.
Ives: ...Are you a member or aren't you?
Profaci: No; I decline to answer. No, sir.
Ives: You are not?
Profaci: No, sir.
Ives: You are under oath, you know?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it may tend to incriminate me.[7]

Senator McClellan (left), Robert Kennedy (right).
Senator Mundt drew the committee's attention to correspondence from Attorney General William P. Rogers that indicated Profaci might be subject to deportation proceedings. That was generally acknowledged as a possible motivation for Profaci's refusal to answer the questions put to him. [8] Chairman McClellan attempted to resolve the issue, but probably should have known better.
Chairman: Would you like to advise us whether deportation proceedings are now pending against you or not?
Profaci: (Conferred for a time with his attorney.) I don't get you, Senator, excuse me. I am sorry.
Chairman: Let me see if I can get it to you so you will get it. Has any action been started to deport you? You know what "deport" means, don't you?
Profaci: Yes, sir.
Chairman: You know what that means?
Profaci: Yes.
Chairman: Is the government now attempting to deport you from this country?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it may incriminate me.[9]

That was all McClellan could take. In halting the questioning of Profaci, he called for a transcript of the testimony to be sent to the Department of Justice to aid in the denaturalization and deportation of Profaci: 
We should rid the country of characters who come here from other lands and take advantage of the great freedom and opportunity our country affords, who come here to exploit these advantages with criminal activities. They do not belong to our land, and they ought to be sent somewhere else. In my book, they are human parasites on society, and they violate every law of decency and humanity.... [10]
When he opened the committee's Mafia-related hearings on June 30, Chairman McClellan stated, "There exists in America today what appears to be a close-knit, clandestine, criminal syndicate. This group has made fortunes in the illegal liquor traffic during Prohibition, and later in narcotics, vice and gambling. These illicit profits present the syndicate with a financial problem, which they solve through investment in legitimate business. These legitimate businesses also provide convenient cover for their continued illegal activities...

"In these hearings, and the ones to follow, we are going to call in some of the leading figures in the national criminal hierarchy. These people are all involved in legitimate enterprises, management and labor... As a starting point for our hearings, we intend to focus on the criminal group which held a meeting at the home of Joseph Mario Barbara, Sr., in Apalachin, N.Y., on November 14, 1957. The discovery of this meeting by the New York State Police had the effect of revealing the scope of the interrelationships of some of the leaders of the national crime syndicate..."[11]

Notes:
  1.  Hearings before the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (McClellan Committee), Part 32 - "Mafia," 85th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958, p. 12337-12338.
  2.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12338.
  3.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12231-12321.
  4.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12199.
  5.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12339
  6.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12339-12349, 12351-12353.
  7.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12346.
  8.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12353-12357.
  9.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12357.
  10.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12357.
  11.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12192-12193.