On this date in 1956:
|San Bernardino County Sun|
Jack Dragna, longtime underworld boss of southern California, was found dead of an apparent heart attack in a Los Angeles hotel room on February 23, 1956.
Dragna appeared to rise to command a Los Angeles-based Mafia organization during the Prohibition Era. He was uncontested boss from about 1931 until the moment of his death and evidently had strong connections to underworld leaders in New York and Cleveland. The regional Mafia during his reign was noted for its involvement in luxurious off-shore gambling ships as well as its failures to secure control of nearby Las Vegas casinos and, despite several attempts, to eliminate rival gambling racketeer Mickey Cohen. Dragna was succeeded as boss by attorney Frank DeSimone.
Often suspected of wrongdoing but rarely convicted, Dragna managed to avoid serious legal jeopardy between Prohibition and the early 1950s. Then the attention of local, state and federal law enforcement fell on him. His first dramatic setback occurred in late June 1951, when he was convicted of "lewd vagrancy" and "resorting" for an affair with twenty-three-year-old "cigarette girl" Annette Eckhardt. The case involved tape recordings of Dragna and Eckhardt activities (including a nude canasta cardgame) inside a love-nest at 330 S. Mariposa Street. Dragna that July was initially sentenced to six months behind bars, but he was able to reduce the jail sentence to under a month, which he served in June of 1952.
A state crime commmittee report released in 1953 labeled him the chief of the southern California branch of the U.S. Mafia (referred to in the jargon of the time as "L'Unione Siciliano"):
There can be little doubt that Jack Dragna and his gang of associates, such as the Sicas and the Adamos of Los Angeles, and the Matrangas, Dippolitos and Le Mandris of San Bernardino County, were all connected with the notorious L'Unione Siciliano. Certain papers seized by the Los Angeles police on February 14, 1950, from the Dragnas definitely tend to confirm this view. Several small address books were taken from the gangsters. The names listed read like a Who's Who of the Mafia in the United States. Some of them are regarded as among the most powerful and dangerous professional criminals in the Country. They also contained, of course, the usual sprinkling of names of police officers, district attorney's investigators, bail bond brokers, lawyers and lobbyists. That these acquaintances were business rather than social is indicated in many instances by Dragna's canceled checks, the payees of which were often known gangsters. The seized papers also showed that gangster funds are being invested in certain legitimate businesses, such as clothing, fruit, wine, olive oil and importing.
Dragna was battling a U.S. deportation order at the time of his death. The government's case against him related to a Mexico vacation he took in 1932. When reentering the U.S. from Mexico, Dragna falsely claimed U.S. citizenship. (Dragna applied for citizenship in the 1940s, but his application was denied.) The false claim resulted in his arrest by federal authorities twenty years later. That arrest occurred December 8, 1952, at 3927 Hubert Avenue, Los Angeles, his home at the time.
|Dragna (LA Times)|
At about that time, he reportedly had a home at 4757 Kensington Drive in San Diego and apparently visited with his nephew Louis Dragna at 1429 Thelborn Street in the Los Angeles suburn of West Covina. On February 10, 1956, however, he became a resident of the Saharan Hotel, 7212 Sunset Boulevard (described in one newspaper as a $7 a day motel). According to hotel manager Alexander Germaine, he checked in under the alias of "Jack Baker."
On Thursday, February 23, hotel maid Mrs. Alice Charles (named "Alice Dick" in one account) found Dragna dead in his bed and summoned authorities. Reports stated that Dragna was dressed in a set of pink pajamas. Police found bottles of heart medication at his bedside, along with two sets of false teeth. They concluded that he suffered a heart attack sometime the previous night.
A total of $986.71, including nine hundred-dollar bills, was found in his possession. An identification card bore the name Jack Ignatius Dragna, accompanied by the address of nephew Louis. Dragna's late model Cadillac was found parked outside the hotel. In Dragna's luggage, police found a small statuette of Jesus.
While police were searching the hotel room, they received a call on the room telephone from Dragna's daughter Anna Niotta of San Diego. Mrs. Niotta reportedly had heard a report of her father's death on the radio.
In its report of the sixty-four-year-old Dragna's demise, the Los Angeles Times noted that the longtime gangland leader had always been conspicuously absent from incidents of bloodshed during his reign:
The reputed top man of this area's Sicilian Black Hand society never turned up in the vicinity of violence. It was standing conversation in the underworld that whenever the shotguns began to go off, Dragna would be discovered peacefully undergoing a checkup in a hospital.
- "Dragna, 66, dies of heart attack," San Fernando CA Valley Times, Feb. 24, 1956, p. 2.
- "Dragna arrested for deportation by U.S.," Hollywood CA Citizen-News, Dec. 8, 1952, p. 1.
- "Jack Dragna, Mafia gang figure, found dead in bed," San Bernardino County CA Sun, Feb. 24, 1956, p. 1.
- "Jack Dragna," Findagrave.com, March 21, 2002, accessed Jan. 1, 2016.
- "Jack Dragna behind bars," Los Angeles Mirror, June 5, 1952, p. 6.
- "Jack Dragna found dead in Sunset Blvd. hotel," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 24, 1956, p. 1.
- "Jack Dragna held guilty in vag case," Los Angeles Mirror, June 27, 1951, p. 12.
- "Jack Dragna in move to quit jail," Los Angeles Daily News, June 13, 1952, p. 57.
- "Jack Dragna sentenced to 180 days in jail," Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1951, p. 2.
- "U.S. nabs Jack Dragna on illegal entry charge," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 9, 1952, p. 2.
- Jack Ignatius Dragna, California Death Index, Los Angeles, Feb. 23, 1956.
- Special Crime Study Commission, Final Report of the Special Crime Study Commission on Organized Crime, Sacramento: State of California, 1953, p. 64.