"Renaissance Thinking About the Issues of Our Day"
Excerpt from Chapter 23 of "Ultimate Sacrifice".
Marcello, Trafficante, and Rosselli had several things in common, in addition to confessing their roles in JFK’s assassination in later years. The three were close associates who met at least once or twice a year, sometimes at a secluded location free from FBI surveillance revealed in this book for the first time.1 All three were under intense and unrelenting pressure from Attorney General Bobby Kennedy by 1963, pressure that had begun in 1957. All three were in business with Jimmy Hoffa, who was also under constant prosecution from Bobby Kennedy. But unlike Hoffa—a highprofile, very public figure—these three godfathers shunned the limelight and were unknown to the general public in 1963. All three had dealings with mobster Jack Ruby and had associates close to Lee Harvey Oswald. All three had links to the French Connection heroin ring. All three had worked for the CIA, in attempts to assassinate Castro.2 And despite the Kennedys’ best efforts, all three had operatives who had managed to penetrate the C-Day plan without the Kennedys’ knowledge.3
Why these three Mafia bosses were willing to risk killing the President in 1963 can be explained only by looking at their operations before they came under assault by the Kennedys. That was the era they wanted to return to, a time when J. Edgar Hoover publicly denied that the Mafia even existed.
Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli were each powerful in their own right by the 1950s. But the more they worked together, the more powerful they became. Their combined actions are rarely discussed outside of obscure government reports, old newspaper articles, and a few books, some long out of print. The House Select Committee on Assassinations volumes had some good information on Marcello, less on Trafficante, and strangely little on Johnny Rosselli, so it never gave a clear sense of how the mob bosses worked together. The action they took together in 1963 to assassinate JFK was not the first time they had worked together or the first time they had assassinated public officials. Likewise, C-Day wasn’t the first CIA operation the three mob bosses had infiltrated—that was something they had done several times in the years before they killed JFK.
The 1950s were a golden time for Carlos Marcello, the New Orleans godfather who headed America’s oldest and—in many ways—most ruthless Mafia family. Marcello not only had his enemies killed, but sometimes even had their bodies dissolved in lye and dumped on his 6,500-acre private estate outside New Orleans. Marcello was a short bulldog of a man, with a prominent Roman nose befitting an emperor of crime.4 His empire reached from Texas to Alabama, and the many ports (notably Houston and New Orleans) and Mexican border crossings in his territory made him an important part of the highly profitable French Connection heroin network.5
According to Marcello’s biographer, noted historian John H. Davis, Marcello’s “gambling wire” served “bookmakers in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Chicago, Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi.” In most of those locations, he also had a “call-girl ring,” run by an associate of Jack Ruby.6 Marcello’s gambling and call-girl operations in Alabama were linked to the assassination of the Alabama attorney general-elect. The New Orleans godfather would eventually “extend [his] operations to California, Central America, the Caribbean, and beyond.”7
Marcello’s biographer says that “next to New Orleans, the most important city in the invisible empire of Carlos Marcello was Dallas.” Since it “did not have a Mafia family of its own, . . . its underworld was a satellite of the Marcello organization and its leaders . . . took their orders from Carlos Marcello.” Davis quotes “one law-enforcement official” as saying the “Marcello network in Texas was ‘an independent, elaborately insulated operation’” where Marcello reaped the benefits while remaining behind the scenes. Carlos “Marcello’s slot machines could be found almost everywhere in Texas” and, “according to a report by” the “Texas State Attorney General . . . the Marcello gambling syndicate in Texas” eventually “numbered 800 bookmakers handling gross revenues of $700 million.”8
Long before Bobby Kennedy became US Attorney General, he knew about “Marcello’s representative in Dallas, Joe Civello,” according to a recent history of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). While chief counsel for the Senate “Rackets” Committee in the late 1950s, Bobby “suspected that Marcello, through Trafficante in Florida . . . played a dominant role in international drug trafficking. As Bobby was certainly aware, the FBN office in New Orleans believed that Marcello received narcotics from Trafficante in Florida on Teamsters trucks and that” Marcello had a front company that “smuggled drugs from Mexico ‘without interference from customs.’”9
Frank Ragano, the lawyer for Jimmy Hoffa and Santo Trafficante, wrote that “Santo mentioned obliquely that Marcello’s power extended to Texas, where he had placed an under-boss, Joe Civello, to run rackets out of Dallas. I recalled from newspaper stories that Civello, in fact, had represented Marcello at the Apalachin conference in 1957.”10
Dallas newspaper reporter Earl Golz wrote that Marcello “knew Civello from rackets connections near Baton Rouge, La., before Civello moved to Dallas.” These connections involved “a heroin and cocaine bust . . . that reached from Dallas to New Orleans to Chicago.” It was “in 1950” that Marcello and Civello “quietly cemented a Dallas–New Orleans relationship” that lasted for decades. This relationship was confirmed when “Federal agents” found telephone “toll records which showed a number of calls between Civello and Marcello’s” company in New Orleans. FBI agents were informed that Jack “Ruby was a frequent visitor and associate of Civello, after Ruby moved to Dallas.” Ruby was linked by several witnesses to narcotics traffic, and “federal agents” found “telephone communications” between Civello and “a major trafficker in narcotics” from New York.
Golz also found that “Marcello invested heavily in Dallas area land and bankrolled bars, restaurants, and other businesses.” The head of the New Orleans Crime Commission said that “there’s been a long history of Marcello negotiations in connection with real estate in the Dallas area . . . he acquires land and properties, more often than not, in the names of straw men.” In addition, “vending machine operators paid him a percentage of their take and so did gamblers, although Marcello doesn’t gamble himself.”11 Shortly before JFK’s assassination, a Marcello associate used a vending-machine executive to pay Jack Ruby several thousand dollars, according to JFK press secretary (and former Senate crime investigator) Pierre Salinger.
Marcello had what Golz considered “the Mafia’s most expansive kingdom ruled by a single godfather.”12 Former Justice Department prosecutor Robert Goldfarb related a meeting with Robert Kennedy about Marcello, in which Marcello was termed “a top syndicate member, if not the top Mafia boss” [emphasis in original].13 Marcello’s special position allowed him to undertake certain activities without the approval of the Mafia’s national commission.
Marcello received special treatment not only from the national Mafia, but also from local, state, and even federal officials. According to a recent history of the FBN, “Marcello was protected at home; although FBI agents had arrested him in 1938 for possession of 23 pounds of pot, when he was known to be running one of the ‘major narcotics rings in the New Orleans area,’ Louisiana Governor O. K. Allen arbitrarily reduced his sentence and within nine short months Marcello was back on the streets.”14 Within a few years, Marcello was running one of the major narcotics rings not just in New Orleans, but in the whole country, along with his close ally Santo Trafficante.
The FBN history quotes Clarence Giarusso, a veteran New Orleans narcotic agent and later its chief of police, to explain Marcello’s freedom from prosecution: “We don’t care about Carlos Marcello or the Mafia. City cops have no interest in who brings the dope in. That’s the job of federal agents.”15 However, even some federal agencies weren’t interested in Marcello’s heroin trafficking.16 In 1959, FBN agent Tony Zirilli “was set up because he had gotten close to” making a case on “Carlos Marcello through Marcello’s girlfriend.”17
The history of the FBN goes on to say that Bobby “Kennedy wanted to nail Trafficante and Marcello, but the FBN had only four agents in its Miami and New Orleans offices, and the FBI—though it had the manpower—chose not to place wiretaps on them. These two were the only Mafiosi to receive such privileged treatment from J. Edgar Hoover.” New Orleans FBI agent “Regis Kennedy even made the outrageous claim that Marcello was not involved in crime.”18 The FBI agent claimed that he considered Marcello merely a lowly “tomato salesman,” long after Marcello’s crime empire had been exposed by the Congressional hearings of John Kennedy and others.19 The FBI’s “handsoff” approach to Marcello might be explained by Johnny Rosselli’s boasts to Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno that Hoover was once arrested for having gay sex in New Orleans.20 Marcello wasn’t even a US citizen, having been born in Tunisia, though for much of the 1950s that presented little problem for him thanks to his bribes and political influence.
Trafficante’s lawyer Frank Ragano, who met Marcello on several occasions, wrote that “despite Marcello’s prison record, despite being vilified by congressional committees and the press as an unsavory mobster, in Louisiana, he seemed invulnerable, operating his rackets with impunity.” He pointed out that “Louisiana politicians and law-enforcement officials had a long history of being corrupted by the Mafia.”21
Marcello’s political savvy and largess extended to national politics, important to someone whose territory covered many states and who was subject to deportation by federal authorities. His influence in Washington sprang from several sources. Marcello employed a well-connected Washington, D.C. lobbyist whose clients included the Somoza family. Lyndon Johnson, then one of the most powerful members of the Senate, received support from Marcello during the 1950s, in the same way that powerful mobsters supplied money to powerful politicians in many parts of the country. Richard Nixon’s connections to Marcello will be covered shortly.
John Davis writes that “Marcello’s payoff man in Texas in the fifties . . . had been a principal financial backer of Lyndon Johnson’s political campaigns in Texas from the late forties on, to the extent that it could be said that illegal profits from Marcello’s slot machines in Dallas and Houston . . . were crucial to the success of Johnson’s senatorial campaigns.” Davis says that “Johnson, because of his dependence on” this money, “had helped kill in committee all antiracketeering legislative proposals that could have affected . . . Marcello’s activities in Texas.”22
Carlos Marcello himself told Mafia authority Michael Dorman that in 1960, Marcello had “promised his support at the convention to Lyndon Johnson” and indeed “the Louisiana delegation went for Johnson.” Marcello said “Sure, I’ve got plenty of political connections; I don’t deny that. I’ve been helping put people in office for years. I’ve spent a whole lot of money on campaign contributions and I’ve spread the word to people to support my candidates.” Marcello even admitted “Well, naturally, I’m not goin’ to support someone who’s later goin’ to go out of his way to try to hurt me. In the old days, when I was involved in gambling, I’d try to elect a governor or mayor or district attorney who took a lenient position on the gambling issue.”23
It’s important to put Marcello’s support for LBJ in context. Like Nixon, LBJ was not part of the JFK assassination plot. But just as Marcello tried to support LBJ and Nixon over JFK in 1960, Marcello saw either man as preferable to JFK in 1963 and 1964. After JFK’s death, Marcello’s biographer, John Davis, writes that Marcello had “enough on Johnson so that the new President would not wish an investigation to turn up evidence of Carlos [Marcello’s] complicity.”24
When Marcello could not buy influence with government officials, he had no qualms about trying to kill them. According to one Mafia history, “in April 1955 . . . there was some reason to believe that [New Orleans Sheriff Frank] Clancy was talking to federal agents about Louisiana gambling.” Earlier, “Clancy . . . had been a reluctant witness at the Kefauver [Crime] Hearings in 1950–51” where “he revealed that he had allowed the underworld to place 5,000 slot machines in his parish” and “New Orleans boss Carlos Marcello [had] opened three gambling casinos.”
Now Clancy was talking to federal agents, so when Clancy was hospitalized for a medical condition, there was a “guard outside his door.” However, a police report says “the guard was removed . . . by somebody representing themselves as the sheriff’s wife.” Someone then “walked into” a hospital “room and proceeded to smash” a patient’s “skull with a cleaver.” There was only one problem: The murdered man was a New Orleans bank teller who had the room next to Sheriff Clancy’s room. But the sheriff got the message and “ceased giving information to federal agents.” In fact, everyone got the message: “A nurses’ aide who had seen the killer and provided police with a detailed description three days later suddenly recalled she had no idea what the man looked like.”25 The same type of witness intimidation would occur on several occasions after the JFK assassination.
Other Marcello hits were more successful. Aside from the usual smalltime mob hits in Marcello’s territory, the head of the New Orleans Crime Commission “was able to attribute at least three, possibly four, murders to Marcello, including the gangland-style killing of two of Marcello’s former narcotics associates,” and “for none of these crimes was Marcello ever charged.”26 One reason Marcello never faced prosecution for any of his murders might have been his philosophy, expressed in “a sign on the door leading out” of his office, that said THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET IF TWO ARE DEAD.27
Part of Marcello’s gambling empire included “the most lavish illegal casino in the nation” called “the Beverly Club,” which featured top entertainers and lavish furnishings. As the 1950s progressed, Marcello would expand his gambling interests into Las Vegas, with the help of Johnny Rosselli.28
Marcello was even closer to Santo Trafficante. Here are Trafficante’s own words about Marcello, in sworn, immunized testimony to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978: “Mr. Trafficante: I know Carlos Marcello about 30 years. I met him in New Orleans. My father had an operation there.” Trafficante went on to say that “I see him once in a while when I go to New Orleans. He’s come to Miami. . . .”29 Trafficante admitted that he had discussions with Marcello “about Robert Kennedy . . . that Bobby Kennedy had him deported” and “put him on a plane with some marshals and dumped him in Guatemala.” Trafficante agreed that Marcello “was pretty upset” about that and that Trafficante “felt that Robert Kennedy had mistreated” Marcello. Trafficante said that even seventeen years later, in 1978, “I still think he mistreated him.”30
The violent barbershop murder scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s first Godfather film was inspired by the real hit on New York mob boss Albert Anastasia in 1957. This daring killing made headlines across America, and Santo Trafficante’s involvement in it first brought him to the attention of the Kennedy brothers. The Mafia godfather of Tampa and much of Florida, Trafficante’s influence extended to New York City, Alabama, and even Cuba. Despite his deadly reputation, Santo Trafficante was highly intelligent and, according to his lawyer, “was an avid reader, who every day perused four or five newspapers from Florida, New York, and Chicago.”
Trafficante was an average-looking man who preferred to stay out of the limelight. In the only photo of him in his Havana casino, Trafficante almost seems to blend into the background.31 The Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ (FBN) internal list of major heroin kingpins gives a very precise description of Trafficante (technically, “Santo Trafficante, Jr.,” since he took over as godfather from his father of the same name): “Born in Tampa, Florida on November 15, 1914 . . . height 5' 10" ; weight 175 lbs . . . gun shot wound scar on upper left arm . . . visits major cities on the Eastern Seaboard of United States.” The FBN document calls Trafficante “a powerful Mafia figure in Tampa, Florida” and notes that he “attended the underworld meeting at Apalachin, New York on November 14, 1957,” which was called to deal with the aftermath of Anastasia’s assassination.32
Santo Trafficante was a major casino owner in Havana before Castro took over, and Trafficante hid out in Cuba when Senator John Kennedy and his brother Bobby tried to subpoena him about the Anastasia hit for their Senate Organized Crime hearings in 1959. As described later, those hearings propelled JFK to the presidency—he even announced his candidacy in the same hearing room where Hoffa, Marcello, and others had been grilled by the committee.33 While Trafficante was in Havana in 1959, government documents show that he met Jack Ruby, who had been running guns to Cuba, and formed other alliances that would help him kill JFK a few years later. Among Trafficante’s “criminal associates” listed in the FBN report quoted above was a man Jack Ruby told the Warren Commission he stayed with in Havana in 1959.34 As detailed shortly, it is both ironic and tragic that one other mobster the Kennedys fruitlessly tried to find for their hearings in 1959 was a low-level Mafia operative who smuggled arms to Cuba and was known to the Kennedys only by his alias: “Jack La Rue.”35
A large measure of Trafficante’s power, wealth, and nationwide influence came from his prominent role in the narcotics trade, which also included Cuba. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics said that Trafficante worked with “Cuban racketeers in Miami” and “knows most of the major sources of supply of narcotics to Central and South America.”36 Among Trafficante’s “Criminal Associates,” the FBN listed a gangster close to Jimmy Hoffa, Frankie Dio. Frankie Dio would later be involved in a major heroin bust at Fort Benning when it was a C-Day Army base, a bust that linked Trafficante, Marcello, and French Connection kingpin Michel Victor Mertz.
One Mafia history notes that Trafficante’s mob family is “one of the oldest Mafia groups in the country” after New Orleans, and this allowed it to stake out an early share of what would become known as the French Connection heroin network. It says “the Tampa family, through the years, figured significantly in the narcotics trade and simply ignored requests or directives from other crime families to curtail such activities.” During the 1920s, “Tampa became the American end of a drug pipeline extending from Marseilles, France, through Cuba to Florida.” By 1940, Santo Trafficante, Sr. was the undisputed leader of the mob in Tampa, where he prospered “in the narcotics trade, especially with the French underworld.”37
“Trafficante [Sr.] always wanted to make it big in Cuban casinos and dispatched his son, Santo Jr., to Havana in 1946 to operate mob casinos.” Upon Trafficante Sr.’s death in 1954, his son Santo “succeeded his father as boss of Tampa.”38 Santo Trafficante also assumed his father’s key role in the French Connection heroin network. For example, just weeks after the heroin car bust depicted in the famous French Connection film, Trafficante’s key French supplier got another heroin-filled car into New York with no problem.39 As we will show, those aspects of Trafficante’s mob career—drugs, Cuba, and the French Mafia—would all play key roles in the plot used to penetrate C-Day and kill JFK.
Trafficante had a long history of murder and assassination. According to a recent history of the FBN, at the Kefauver (Crime) Committee Hearings in Florida in the early 1950s, “Santo Trafficante in Tampa was linked to fourteen murders over twenty years, including the June 1950 murder of” a Committee witness before he could testify. “Tampa’s Police Chief told the Committee that the Mafia had a standard operating procedure for murder, which included the importation of hired killers from out of town, and setting up patsies to take the fall.”40 Also, an “FBI Agent . . . linked Marcello to Trafficante” and “identified drug trafficker Carlos Marcello as the main cog in Southern interstate crime.”41 Trafficante’s proven techniques of working with Marcello, importing “hired killers from out of town,” and “setting up patsies to take the fall” would be applied against JFK.
Possibly to compensate for his lack of higher education, Trafficante consumed biographies of powerful men—Churchill, Napoleon, Mussolini, and General George S. Patton—as well as histories of World War II.42 His interest in Patton was also professional since—as we shall see—Patton once had tried to stamp out Trafficante and Marcello’s rackets in notorious Phenix City, Alabama, across the river from Fort Benning. In that battle, even the great General Patton had been unable to defeat Santo Trafficante.
Trafficante also worked closely with mob boss Johnny Rosselli in the 1950s, even before they worked together on the second round of the CIAMafia plots to kill Castro beginning in 1960. But Rosselli was a very different kind Mafia don from either Trafficante or Marcello.
Johnny Rosselli’s biographers noted that “Rosselli’s combination of tact and muscle made him perfect for the job” of representing the Chicago Mafia in Las Vegas.” He could be relied on to finesse delicate negotiations” yet “he could be crossed only at the risk of execution.”43 Noted historian Richard Mahoney points out why the Chicago Mafia needed a powerful mob boss in Nevada: “In Las Vegas, the Chicago outfit had controlling interest in no fewer than four casinos, which together threw off about $10 million in skim a year,” in addition to their considerable reported profits.44
Rosselli’s biography says that his “first deal in Las Vegas” was “the construction of the $50 million Tropicana,” then the “most luxurious” casino “on the strip. The hidden ownerships represented the peaceable combination of the most powerful mob chieftains in the country, including . . . Carlos Marcello, the don of the New Orleans Mafia.”45 The Tropicana opened in April 1957. According to Mahoney, “Rosselli unofficially managed the Tropicana in Las Vegas in the late 1950s.”46
One result of the Tropicana business partnership between Rosselli and Marcello would be the explosion of Las Vegas’s golden “Rat Pack” era of the late fifties and sixties, thanks to another Rosselli associate, Frank Sinatra. In 1956, when construction on Rosselli and Marcello’s Tropicana was started, Las Vegas needed glitzier casinos and more big-name entertainment to compete with the exotic tropical locale of Havana. Havana casinos at the time were also generally classier, while Havana itself offered more in terms of vice. In addition, Las Vegas can be cold in the winter and sweltering in the summer, in contrast to the year-round ocean breezes of coastal Havana. Las Vegas also needed a new super-hotel/casino like the Tropicana to compete with now-forgotten US gambling meccas like Hot Springs, Arkansas, whose quasi-legal casinos featured big-name entertainers like Nat “King” Cole.
Marcello was a logical partner for Rosselli’s huge Tropicana venture, because since 1947 Marcello had been running “the most lavish illegal casino in the nation.” Marcello’s “Beverly Club in Jefferson Parish near New Orleans” had “huge crystal chandeliers, fine china for diners, and name entertainers like Sophie Tucker and Tony Martin.”47
In the first major exposé of the mob’s influence in Las Vegas—published the month JFK was assassinated—Mafia experts Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris give a description of Rosselli in 1963 that would have been just as valid in the 1950s: “Johnny Rosselli . . . lives the good life of a respected ‘elder’ in the Mafia.”48 Before The Godfather became a bestseller in the late 1960s, a more common term for a powerful mobster was Mafia “don.” It’s a sign of Rosselli’s high rank when Reid and Demaris point out that “Don Giovanni, as he is known to the Mafiosi, is soft-spoken and polite. The rough edges of the old torpedo days have been polished to a fine patina of masculine gentility.”49
Reid and Demaris paint a vivid picture of Rosselli’s posh life in the years before the Kennedy assassination: “Rosselli spends his leisure hours . . . at the Desert Inn Country Club. He has breakfast there in the morning, seated at a table overlooking the eighteenth green. Between golf rounds, meals, steam baths, shaves, and trims, Twisting, romancing and drinking, there is time for private little conferences at his favorite table with people seeking his counsel for friendship. It may be a newsman, a local politician, a casino owner, a prostitute, a famous entertainer, a deputy sheriff, a US Senator, or the Governor of Nevada.”50 In Rosselli’s case, his associates brought him surprisingly close not just to John and Bobby Kennedy, but also to Senator Barry Goldwater. Rosselli had two close friends of Senator Goldwater assassinated in the late 1950s.
Rosselli did not begin his life in such lavish surroundings, associating with friends of presidents and presidential candidates. Rosselli was born on the 4th of July, 1905—but in Italy, not the US; therefore, all his life Rosselli had to face the same deportation worries as his friend Carlos Marcello. Early in his criminal career, “Rosselli (born Francesco Sacco) had been arrested for peddling heroin in 1921,” according to a history of the FBN.51 Former Congressional investigator Gaeton Fonzi says that Rosselli “started as a street hood in Al Capone’s Chicago mob. Over the years he transformed himself into a dapper, slick and consummately charming diplomat for Organized Crime, moving among the top family bosses as a broker of mutual interests,” primarily “in Las Vegas and Hollywood.”
Rosselli was a powerful behind-the-scenes influence in Hollywood. According to Gaeton Fonzi: “The story goes that Rosselli . . . ‘suggested’ to Harry Cohn, then head of Columbia Pictures, that Frank Sinatra get the Maggio role in From Here to Eternity, the part that subsequently saved the crooner’s sinking career. Mario Puzo dramatized the incident in The Godfather’s horse’s-head-in-the-bed scene.”52
In return, Johnny Rosselli would become a shadowy member of Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack” during their glory days. Even before that, Rosselli brokered deals with the likes of Howard Hughes and other Hollywood studio heads. Court documents show that in 1947, Rosselli had been an uncredited producer on a minor “B” movie, He Walks by Night,53 which depicted a murderous ex-serviceman who kept his rifle wrapped in a blanket. In one scene, he’s stopped on a deserted street by a police car—but when the cop gets out to talk to him, the serviceman shoots him with a pistol and runs away. Sixteen years later, Rosselli would use all those same elements again, only this time in real life, to make it appear that an ex-serviceman in Dallas had shot Police Officer J. D. Tippit with a pistol and shot JFK with a rifle supposedly kept hidden in a blanket.
He Walked by Night was one of three films “produced in part by an actual gangster,” according to Rosselli’s biographers.54 Producer “[Bryan] Foy once described him as an ‘artistic consultant.’”55 Rosselli’s real role was probably in the influence he could bring to bear. For example, one film-noir history finds it “surprising” that the “notoriously low-budget studio, Eagle-Lion” was able to “provide” T-Men “with a massive publicity campaign,” including a lavish “pictorial spread on the film” in “Life magazine, which usually lent its support only to the glossier efforts of the big-name studios,” not minor “B” pictures.56
Rosselli’s influence in Hollywood continued into the early 1960s, where he and his associates tried to prevent a film from being made of Bobby Kennedy’s best-selling Mafia exposé The Enemy Within. But the roots of Rosselli’s power in Hollywood—and the reason his name couldn’t be listed in the credits of He Walked by Night—led directly to Rosselli’s assassination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s two good friends. These two assassinations from the 1950s are important in showing the extent of the power of Rosselli and his Chicago Mafia family, who could assassinate with impunity two friends of a US Senator, one of whom had recently been the mayor of Las Vegas. It also shows why Rosselli was not concerned about the possibility that the assassination of JFK might result in a Goldwater presidency after the 1964 elections: If Senator Goldwater was incapable of going after the man behind the assassination of his two good friends, the Mafia had little to fear from any investigation a President Goldwater might undertake into the JFK assassination.
In The Green Felt Jungle, Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris say that “along the strip in Las Vegas, [Senator] Barry Goldwater is known to the wags and older show girls as a real ‘swinger,’” because of his frequent presence there in the 1950s. Then, “Barry Goldwater was a frequent visitor, occupying plush suites, first at the Flamingo and then later . . . at the Riviera.57
Las Vegas mayor Gus Greenbaum introduced Goldwater to “Willie Bioff, the convicted panderer, extortionist, and celebrated stoolie.” By the late 1930s, Bioff and Rosselli had a highly profitable labor racket with the Hollywood studios, and Rosselli lived the glamorous lifestyle to the hilt. “But in 1941 . . . Bioff had been . . . convicted” on federal racketeering charges. After serving three years of a ten-year sentence, Bioff turned informer “and assisted the government in the prosecution of nine Chicago mobsters, including Johnny Rosselli,” who was sent to prison.
By “1955 Bioff found an even more unlikely friend: the junior Senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater. The two men were often seen together, and Goldwater . . . personally chauffeured Bioff in his private plane all over the Southwest to attend various parties. When questioned by reporters, Gold- water became indignant, protesting that he had no idea that his friend . . . was the notorious Willie Bioff. Later” Goldwater claimed Bioff “was . . . giving him a special insight into union racketeering.”58 Goldwater was able to make that claim because he served on the McClellan Crime Committee along with Senator John F. Kennedy and the committee’s chief counsel, Bobby Kennedy.
According to Reid and Demaris, “in 1952 when Goldwater was seeking election for his first term in the [US] Senate,” Willie “Bioff . . . contributed $5,000 to Goldwater’s senatorial campaign.”59 However, Johnny Rosselli hadn’t forgotten Bioff and the conviction that had sent Rosselli to prison and which kept him from having a real studio position. So, “on November 4, 1955, Willie Bioff” was killed at his home in Phoenix, when his truck exploded in his driveway, due to “a dynamite bomb wired to the starter.”60
The case was never solved. Rosselli’s biographers confirm that “the police never did question Johnny Rosselli about the murder of Willie Bioff.” Johnny Rosselli had been so worried about the Bioff murder that he had immediately called “a Los Angeles reporter and stated for the record that he ‘hadn’t seen Bioff in years.’” And “Rosselli then called” a close friend “and asked if he might stay in” their “guest room until the excitement died down. ‘They’re going to be on my back instantly,’ Rosselli explained. ‘I’m going to need to lie low for a few days.’”61 Like Marcello and Trafficante, Rosselli would soon learn the value of having a patsy on hand to take the fall for a major mob hit, to quickly take the heat off.
Unlike the mob murder of Bioff, the assassination of former Las Vegas Mayor Gus Greenbaum—also close to Goldwater—was meant to be attributed to the mob, so it didn’t need a patsy. It was intended as a very public lesson, since Greenbaum was openly tied to the Mafia. Mayor Greenbaum had been a “close friend” of Barry Goldwater, and “some of the Senator’s speeches were written in Las Vegas,” with the aid of Greenbaum’s “ghostwriter.”62 However, by 1958 Greenbaum was experiencing a variety of problems, including heroin addition, which the Mafia didn’t permit for someone involved in casinos in Las Vegas.
According to Rosselli’s biographers, “by the summer of 1958, when Rosselli had moved into the top position in Las Vegas, Greenbaum was ordered to sell out of the Riviera” casino, but “Greenbaum refused.” So, “on December 3, 1958, Gus Greenbaum’s body was discovered in his bedroom, nearly decapitated,” and “his wife Bess” had had “her throat slashed with a butcher knife.”63 Reid and Demaris note that “the Greenbaum funeral was attended by three hundred mourners, including Senator Barry Goldwater.”64 As with the murder of Rosselli’s nemesis Bioff, there was “no clue, no suspicion, no arrest,” even though five years later, the authors of Green Felt Jungle were able to document the arrival of two hit men from Miami shortly before the murder, who left shortly after the hits in a private plane.65