Button Guys of The New York Mafia welcomes our first guest author, Chicago mob historian Dushan “Toodoped” Dzonov. In this article, he takes a deep dive into the life and times of Chicago Outfit hitman, Chuckie Nicoletti.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” – Genesis 9:6
Evil and wicked individuals such as mob killers or hitmen have a mechanism of neutrality, where deviance equals normality and murder becomes philanthropic because it is somehow related to helping the group or organization they belong to. But along the way, depression, paranoia, and existential crises all loom large among Chicago’s most dangerous criminals.
This means that these so-called Mob hitmen are less manipulative – or less “Machiavellian” – but since some of them are involved in the everyday affairs of the criminal organization, along the way, they usually develop narcissistic, parasitic, impulsive, and very cold emotions. They never express concern for their victims, but usually, they never cease to forget them. All criminal actions made by these Mafia killers are led by loyalty to their boss or adherence to the group’s mission rather than personal interest.
Charles “Chuckie” Nicoletti (real surname Nicoletto or Nicoletta) was a made member of the so-called Chicago Outfit. At first sight, he was a very good-looking guy with a gold front tooth and was a smooth dresser. But in reality, he represented a real-life bogeyman that struck fear in the hearts of his victims and fellow mobsters. Nicoletti was like a bullet because he never had any problems with race, religion, or nationality. So, he made money for everyone and with anyone who had the skills for it.
He also didn’t have feelings for another man’s life, even if it was a woman or a member of his own blood family. He once said, “Hey, hitting a broad is the same as hitting a man…only she’s got tits and a pussy. Who the fuck cares?! A guy is not there to screw her, he’s there to do a fuckin’ job.”
Nicoletti left a big mark on Mafia history, followed by a slew of urban legends, as a participant in some of the mob’s bloodiest events. But in the end, he also left this world with a little touch of mystery. There’s not much info out there detailing every aspect of his criminal or personal life, but I’ll try and paint a picture of his life story as best I can.
Charles Nicoletti – Early Life
Everything started in 1903 when large numbers of Sicilians started arriving in Chicago from Europe. At the beginning of the 20th century, Italian gangs were the most numerous and later became the most powerful. Back then, the North and West Sides of Chicago were considered the epicenter of the Italian population. Areas such as “Little Hell” or “Little Sicily” is where many Italian or so-called Black Hand gangs operated, as well as at the “Death Corner” of Milton and Oak Streets.
Filippo (Philip) Nicoletti and Grazia (Grace) Nicoletti (born Alessi) were natives of Santa Caterina Villarmosa, Sicily. One day they decided to leave their homeland and hard conditions and headed to the new land of opportunities, the United States of America. When they arrived in Chicago in 1907, the family settled in an apartment at 737 Campbell Avenue on the Near West Side. They had two children together, Philip Jr., who was born in 1914, and Charles who was born on December 3, 1916.
Charles, or “Chuckie” as he was known, grew up in an impoverished and dysfunctional family. His father, who worked as a teamster, was a heavy drinker and a very abusive man. When little Chuckie started attending public school, he was forced to stay on the streets after classes were over because his father was abusing his family on a daily basis. He couldn’t stand seeing his mother and brother getting beaten bloody nor could stand the daily threats and punches that he also received at the hands of his father.
During those days, Chicago’s streets were filled with poverty and violence on a daily basis. So, the people and youngsters who lived in those areas were forced into a life of crime. The huge Italian families squeezed mainly between Taylor and Mather streets, a place filled with criminals, brothels, and saloons. Brawls and bloody battles between the residents were a daily occurrence.
These hard conditions spurred some of the kids, including Chuckie, to begin reaching out to each other to form small criminal gangs of their own. It was the “only” way to survive both in and out of their homes. After running from their homes, most of these young boys slept in abandoned cars or beneath back porches and survived by pickpocketing and stealing food from vendors.
At the time, many parents, like Philip Sr., for example, didn’t care what their kids were doing because they had bigger problems of their own, so the street gangs became the only families these kids had. Eventually, they learned how to organize themselves and started surviving in their own way and on their own terms.
The 42 Gang
During the late 1920s, one of the most prominent juvenile gangs on Chicago’s West Side was the 42 Gang. They were characterized by the youthfulness of its members where the average age was between 16 and 23.
The so-called “Patch” area was the gang’s territory, and most of the boys had criminal records in juvenile and boys’ courts. Their only “school” was a reformatory named St. Charles, and the types of crimes they committed differed depending on their age. For example, older gang members were mostly involved in robbery and stickups, while younger members were mostly involved in larceny.
Legend has it that the gang came to be called the “42s” after one of their “more literate” gang members recounted the classic folktale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
The 42s started making the newspaper headlines and were noticed by some of the big-time gangsters from around the West Side. They knew that the poor, young boys would do anything for two bits, a beer, or a cigarette.
But later, the gangsters started throwing money at these boys, thus making them their own “farm teams” to carry out their dirty work. The young boys would do everything and anything to impress the gangsters, and they soon graduated to committing high-profile murders and bombings and running vice enterprises.
So, it is quite possible that in his own little mind, Chuckie Nicoletti saw the daily act of violence and criminal activities as a “natural” thing and coupled with the constant domestic violence and the Sicilian mentality, he decided to defend his own honor.
On February 25, 1929, at 7:30 pm, Philip Sr. came home very drunk, quite probably with many abusive thoughts on his mind about his own family, and started beating his own wife, Grace, like never before. The poor woman’s screams were heard all around the neighborhood. Young Chuckie ran to the kitchen and started punching his father, begging him to stop. This enraged Philip Sr. to the point that he took a knife, pointed it at his son, and threatened to kill him.
He began chasing his young son, who ran into a bedroom, took out a gun hidden in a bureau drawer, and pointed it at his father. But that didn’t stop Philip Sr. So, Chuckie closed his eyes, squeezed the trigger, and the gun went off. When he opened his eyes, his father was laying on the floor, choking on his own blood. In a matter of seconds, his heart stopped.
So, in essence, Chuckie Nicoletti “made his bones” when he was only 12 years old.
After the shooting, someone called the cops from the 23rd Precinct. When they arrived, they found was 39-year-old Philip Sr. laying dead on the floor, his wife sobbing beside him, and young Chuckie with the gun in his hand standing in the corner of the room. The cops calmly approached Chuckie, took the gun from him, and brought him back to the station for questioning.
Just two days later, on February 27, the Cook County Coroner’s Office cleared Charles Nicoletti of his father’s death. He was exonerated of the murder but also commended for protecting his family from his drunk and knife-wielding father.
Since the story was front-page news in all the City’s papers, every kid in the hood was probably scared of Nicoletti just for the fact that he killed someone in his own blood family and was more than likely destined for underworld recruitment. In 1931, two years after his father’s death, 14-year-old Nicoletti dropped out of school. He was only in 8th grade at the time he decided to pursue a life in the streets and possibly joined the 42 Gang.
During those days, the 42s were believed responsible for many burglaries, including 80 percent of the auto thefts in Chicago at the time. After stealing the cars, they turned around and sold them for $75 to $200 each; Fords for $75, Buicks or Chryslers for $150, a Peerless or Packard for $200, etc.
During the early 1930s, many older members like the Battaglia clan started working for the Capone family, which soon became known as the Chicago Outfit.
One of the most prominent members of the 42s, who probably first received the “button” from Capone himself, was Sam “Teets” Battaglia. He later brought in many members from his old gang into the organization by assigning them various criminal activities which they executed on behalf of the Outfit. They were also considered a “special breed” of young killers, who the members of the hierarchy or the bosses themselves would call upon to “take care of business.”
By the time he was 17 years old, in 1934, Nicoletti was arrested on charges of conspiracy and burglary, went to trial, and was convicted. He received 1-year probation and a $5,000 fine. Hi criminal connection paid the fine and from that point forward, Nicoletti’s fully belonged to the Chicago Outfit.
As a side note, it’s quite possible that Battaglia was the one who first brought Nicoletti first into the 42 Gang and, then, later, the Outfit.
New Beginnings for All
By the mid-1930s, Nicoletti’s mother Grace married again to a man named Paul Tergo (Terssio – possible TN.) The story goes that Tergo was not much different than her former, now-deceased husband, Phillip Sr., because he was always in and out of the county jail. So, it appears that Grace Nicoletti had a thing for tough guys. Some sources say that Tergo was an old associate of the Capone Mafia and was probably one of the key people who introduced his stepson to the upper circles of the Chicago Syndicate.
In 1940, Charles Nicoletti decided to expand his family by marrying a young, beautiful girl named Agnes Raimondi. Agnes was one year older than Chuckie and, later, the couple had one child together, a son. Chuckie and his family moved into an apartment at 2745 West Lexington.
While his family was growing steadily, Nicoletti’s illegal activities were also on the up and up. By the late 30s and early 40s, the Outfit’s main racket was gambling, and, allegedly, Nicoletti got involved in bookmaking at the race tracks and numerous card games and other criminal activities with others such as Ernest Sansone, an ex-convict and gambling operator from the West Grand Avenue area.
Together, they ran bookmaking operations, car theft operations, and vending machine rackets. Later, they became involved in narcotics. In May 1943, Nicoletti and Sansone were arrested by the Chicago police for peddling narcotics, including heroin. Nicoletti was later sent to Midland, Michigan to serve 18 months in prison.
The same year, on December 30th, 1943, a Federal Grand Jury returned a guilty verdict against Outfit boss Paul Ricca for the Hollywood extortion case (a racketeering and extortion scheme aimed at movie studios in Hollywood). He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Because of this, the top layer of the Chicago leadership changed with Charles Fischetti moving into the acting boss position and Tony Accardo becoming his number two guy.
Nicoletti’s longtime friend and alleged former 42 member Sam Giancana also climbed up the ladder. He was elevated to a capo position for the so-called Taylor Street/Cicero crew.
On December 24, 1944, Nicoletti was released from prison and returned to Chicago where he was most likely greeted by his old friends, who, by now, were in the upper circles of the Chicago Outfit. During this time, Nicoletti met another up-and-coming mobster and future partner in crime and friend named Felice Alderizio – aka Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio.
Alderisio was born in 1912 in Yonkers, New York, and was 4 years older than Nicoletti. As a teenager, Alderisio had left New York for Milwaukee to compete as an amateur boxer under the moniker “Milwaukee Phil.” But his career as a boxer was short-lived because it was more profitable for him to use his fists a different way. Many mobsters were quite aware of Milwaukee Phil’s fighting abilities, something which served him very well for his next “profession.”
In 1930, when he was only 18 years old, Alderisio made his way to Chicago where he started lurking around the Lexington Hotel, which was the Capone Family’s headquarters, hoping to get some kind of job. And it seems he did. According to Chicago police records, his first arrest occurred just a few years later in 1933 in Wheaton, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) for suspicion of car theft.
Alderisio’s older cousin, Luigi (Cock-eyed) Fratto – aka “Louis Cock-eyed” – also a former boxer, was already working for the Capone mob and knew most of the members. In fact, Fratto was the main guy who allegedly introduced some of the former 42s and other youngsters to the members of the organization. Fratto was allegedly already working with youngsters like Giancana, Battaglia, and the Caifanos. So, he brought in and eventually introduced Alderisio to other members of the organization. In no time, Alderisio gained a reputation for being quite brutal.
I don’t have any information on whether it was Alderisio or Nicoletti who joined the Outfit first. But what I do know is that during the 1940s, they became one of the most feared duos within the Chicago Outfit, and they developed a close business relationship with each other.
The Real Bosses
In 1947, there were more changes in the Chicago Outfit. Tony Accardo became the new acting boss, while Sam Giancana became the new underboss or number two guy. This was obviously good news for the whole crew, including the Caifanos, the Battaglias, and the Frattos.
But it was also good news for Alderisio and Nicoletti because, by the late 1940s, the Alderisio-Nicoletti deadly combine became just one of the many ruthless hit teams under the auspices of the Chicago Outfit who enforced the rules of Mafia “justice.” A good example of this was during political elections when kidnappings and murder were par for the course, and, in time, the gangsters became more powerful than the politicians. During this period, it was the mob who decided who was going to win the elections and who wasn’t. And those who opposed the Outfit, ended up with a bullet in their heads.
In the October 1948 political election, William J. Granata, the Republican candidate, was running against State Representative James Adduci. Aducci was a close associate of the Chicago mob, and some investigators believed he was a made member.
The story goes that Granata and his brother Rep. Peter Granata had refused to trade votes that they controlled on the West Side for the benefit of the Outfit. So, the mob decided to show them who the boss was. On October 8, as Granata entered the Skyline Apartment hotel where he lived, an assassin armed with a meat cleaver crept up behind him and ended his life in the most brutal fashion. He was found that morning with his skull split wide open and his neck severed.
None other than Charles Nicoletti was questioned about the murder but there was no evidence to hold him, and he was released from custody.
Police Captain William Drury was a tough cop who arrested a lot of mob members and worked to expose corruption in the Chicago Police Department. In 1950, when Senator Estes Kefauver launched an investigation into organized crime, Drury provided written and oral testimony regarding the Outfit.
On September 25, 1950, Drury’s wife received a call at their home that William’s request for police protection has been granted. He was to call back at 7:00 p.m. At about 6:45 p.m., Drury arrived home and parked in his garage when shots rang out. His wife found him an hour later, mortally wounded from a close-range shotgun blast. He died shortly thereafter after being transported to a hospital. Witnesses claimed to have seen a black car speed west in the alley around the time of the shooting.
Authorities questioned many suspects about the murder, including Marshal Caifano and the “Three Doms” (Dominick Brancato, Dominick DiBella, and Dominick Nuccio,) but not long after the initial investigation, police received an anonymous phone call accusing Leonard Caifano, Sam Micelli, and Charles Nicoletti as the real killers of Drury.
Two years later, in 1952, Charles Gross, was running for Republican Committeeman of the 31st Ward. He was putting on a good campaign but didn’t want any shady people around him. So, the Outfit’s leadership sent another hitman named Lenny Patrick to warn the politician and also make him an offer to retire.
But Gross was having none of it, and on February 6, 1952, he was blown away by seven shotgun blasts outside his home. The only witness to the murder was a woman by the name of Julia Jankowski who told the cops that after the shooting, she saw a big, black car speed past her followed by another car. She also described two men in the first car as being around 30 to 35 years old, and two men in the second car being around 25 to 28 years old. Later, she was taken to the Bureau of Identification to study pictures of known hoodlums.
On February 25, 1952, 35-year-old Chuckie Nicoletti was arrested and questioned by Lt. John Golden of the police homicide division regarding the murder. He was cleared of any connection with the murder after passing a lie detector test and later was released on a $25 bond on a disorderly conduct charge.
These are only a few of the many examples in which the Chicago Outfit actually controlled every part of corruption within the government and police force. So, they literally had a “license” to kill, and hitmen like Nicoletti played a major role in eliminating every obstacle that came their way.
Making Some Examples
Sometime around 1952 or 1953, Nicoletti’s longtime friend Sam Battaglia was elevated to the capo position. Both Nicoletti and Alderisio belonged to his crew. At the same time, the Outfit’s original boss Paul Ricca was already out of jail but he had a problem, because his “chief executive,” Tony Accardo, lost some of their most lucrative rackets such as the meat and tobacco rackets. On top of that, Accardo allegedly held some lucrative operations of Ricca’s, and because of that a conflict occurred between the two bosses.
One of Ricca’s prime “leaders” in the conflict was Nicoletti’s boss, Battaglia. So, in 1954, Battaglia allegedly ordered the murders of Paul Labriola and Jimmy Weinberg, which was allegedly carried out by Nicoletti and Alderisio. Some of the old bosses started to get nervous because of the ambitious young “turks” who were making more money than them and killing people in the blink of an eye. And, obviously, that left a sour taste in the mouths of some of the old big shots.
This is the reason Ricca and Battaglia ordered Nicoletti and Alderisio to make a few examples out of a few people. The first two targets were old-time Capone big shots Charlie “Cherry Nose” Gioe and Frank “Diamond” Maritote. Both were very close to the Chicago Outfit ruling panel and spent time in jail with Ricca over the previously mentioned movie extortion case.
Gioe and Maritote were against the “new mob order” which failed to take them and their interests into account. The two also had problems with Ricca’s union guy Joey Glimco over the union business. Rumors soon spread that Gioe was a cheater and was also talking to the federal tax people about Ricca’s immigration status. Maritote also apparently demanded a piece of a new wire service. The service was established on the Near North Side by syndicate hoodlums as Joey “Caesar” DiVarco and Jimmy Allegretti, who both belonged to the North Side crew under Ross Prio.
Maritote and Gioe’s protests at this situation became so volatile that Ricca and Battaglia felt it was necessary to liquidate them. The first one to go was former capo Charlie Gioe, and Nicoletti and Alderisio were allegedly the ones called upon to take care of the problem.
On August 18, 1954, Gioe was having dinner at a near north side restaurant on Erie St. with former deputy sheriff Vincent Occhipinti and ex-fighter and Outfit associate Hyman Weisman. After the dinner, Gioe and Weisman entered their car in the parking lot when a black sedan approached, and two hitmen opened fire. Gioe was shot in the head and was killed instantly, but Weisman miraculously escaped unharmed. The cops searched for Joey Glimco to question him about the shooting, but he was nowhere to be found.
Three days later, on August 21, Frank Maritote, who lived at 710 S. Keeler) was about to take his 3-year-old son to the movie theatre. As soon as he opened the garage door and walked around to get into it, a big, black sedan drove up, and two hitmen started blasting at Maritote with shotguns. His young son crouched in terror in the front seat of the car, unharmed by the barrage of bullets, but Maritote was killed instantly.
Once again, Nicoletti and Alderisio showed their perfection in executing their murder contracts.
Next on their list was another old-time Capone racketeer named Alex Louis Greenberg.
On December 8, 1955, Greenberg was having dinner with his wife at the Glass Dome Hickory Pit, located at 2724 S. Union Ave. As they were leaving, Greenberg was shot by two hitmen. He was a tough guy, so he had enough stamina to stagger after the men as they fled on foot. But Greenberg didn’t make it far before he collapsed on a curb and succumbed to his wounds. His killers were never caught.
Greenberg’s murder was allegedly done as a favor for Nicoletti’s friends, Louis Fratto and Ralph Pierce, but why Greenberg was murdered remains unknown. The story goes that during an earlier police raid on Greenberg, the cops found a piece of paper listing Fratto’s name and payment amount written next to it. So, it’s possible the Outfit feared Greenberg would turn government witness and thus needed to be eliminated.
The big Outfit “cleanup” allegedly ended a few days later with the murder of John Coletta, a known hijacker, and burglar who liked to target Outfit joints. On December 10, 1955, the 38-year-old Coletta was beaten to death while he was sitting in his car, his body doused with gasoline and set on fire.
A few days after the Coletta hit, Police Lt. Joseph Morris again received an anonymous phone call. This time, the caller instructed Morris to go to a certain garage if he wanted to find the killers of Gioe, Maritote, Greenberg, and Coletta. Morris immediately gathered four of his undercover operatives and at least a dozen of armed policemen and led a raid on a large brick garage in the rear of 936 S. Laflin St.
That day, four undercover cops, carrying sawed-off shotguns under their overcoats, were allowed inside the garage building by lookout men. As they entered, they found a huge crap game in progress and for the next 10 minutes, the cops did nothing but watch the game, which, by the way, was conducted on a cement floor instead of tables. When the gangsters finally noticed the cops standing there, they ran for the door. But the gangsters had nowhere to run because the rest of the policemen were waiting for them with submachine guns at the ready.
Seventy-one men were arrested, including some of the most prominent West Side figures, including John “Johnny Bananas” DeBiase and James Cerone (brother of “Skippy” Cerone and first cousin of Jack Cerone) of the Elmwood Park crew; Alex Mazzone, Tony Orlando; William Marzullo, the son of Alderman Vito Marzullo of the 25th Ward; and Chuckie Nicoletti.
Nine police wagons were needed to take the suspects to the station. It turned out that the garage held one of the largest floating crap games in the City which operated every Sunday afternoon somewhere in the vicinity of Taylor and Laflin Streets. Back at the station, the suspects were questioned about the slayings, but nobody dared talk, and, eventually, everyone was bailed out by a professional Outfit bondsman.
The cops were foolish enough to believe that the evidence they obtained would stand up in court, but no dice. During that time period, Chicago’s judicial system was corrupted to the core. So, most of the illegal gambling cases were thrown out for lack of evidence and the lack of witnesses willing to testify.
Out with the Old, In With the New
By 1956, the relationship between Ricca and Accardo was completely stabilized and both began leading the Outfit “from the shadows.” They realized that the well-known “old guard” had to go and it was time for the faithful “new blood” to take over the leadership. It was a very smart move.
In 1956, Ricca and Accardo sat down with Giancana, Murray Humphreys, and Frank Ferraro, and unanimously voted for Giancana to take the boss position. From that point forward, Giancana’s henchmen viciously punished anyone who opposed the new guard. And it was reported that the new boss didn’t have much respect for most of the “old guard.”
At some point, both Nicoletti and Alderisio became made members of the Outfit’s Italian faction. They were most likely sponsored by both Giancana and their new capo, Sam Battaglia. In addition to Battaglia, Giancana also had two more capos who were his friends from the old days, Fiore Buccieri and Willie Daddono, which meant that Giancana had the whole West Side under his rule.
Also during this period, Nicoletti has been arrested, investigated, and released after almost every gangland murder that happened in Chicago. Authorities labeled him as being in the front ranks of the younger generation of gangsters within the Chicago Outfit.
Nicoletti executed his murderous missions professionally with passion and finesse and also became a big earner because of his reputation, and nobody dared refuse his offers. He became a devoted and deadly Mafioso, who often heard saying, “Once a guy gets in the booth, it’s like a fuckin’ coffin, he never gets out.”
Thanks to Giancana’s personal crew of capos and enforcers, everyone in the Outfit quietly watched how the new boss and his young crew took the entire organization to a much higher level, while their mentor and protector, Paul Ricca, sat safely on the throne of Chicago’s underworld and watched down from the top.
Many of Giancana’s friends from the old days became members of the organization and also overseers of his rising criminal empire by being given specific, agreed-upon territories which were overseen by their street bosses. Giancana also had crew bosses from different nationalities that handled the day-to-day hustles and murders on the streets of Chicago and other parts of the U.S. They were mostly involved in bookmaking, loansharking, policy rackets, union and state corruption, vending machines, prostitution, and narcotics.
The Potato Salesman
In 1958, Nicoletti purchased an $85,000 three-flat apartment at 1638 N. 19th Ave. in Melrose Park which became the headquarters for the Battaglia crew, and owned a club on Lexington Street named Cal-Lex.
He earned legitimate income from commissions obtained from car dealerships such as Montgomery Automobile Sales and Denemark Cadillac Agency. As a bonus, Denemark Agency also gave Nicoletti a new Cadillac every year. Nicoletti was also employed as a potato salesman and owned a grocery store named La Joys, located on Taylor Street. He also owned three meat and vegetable markets on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
On the criminal side, Nicoletti was involved in bookmaking, extortion, and narcotics. According to some FBI reports, one of his associates in the drug business was a Jewish mobster known as Jake Klein, who had connections to the Genovese Family in New York.
Nicoletti also became a gambling boss overseeing handbooks and wire rooms, mostly on Warren Avenue and Monroe District. And like any Outfit big shot from that era, he also controlled a very lucrative burglary crew that mostly operated around Chicago’s “Gold Coast” area.
With the help of many corrupt police connections, the crew allegedly made over $1,000,000 a year from stolen goods. They mostly stole furs and jewelry from Gold Coast apartments, stores, and wholesalers. Sometimes, their friends with a badge even warned them when special police task forces would be operating in areas where the gang planned robberies.
Together with another Outfit hoodlum named Julius Greco, Nicoletti also handled stables of call girls, madams, and stag shows on the West Side. Some of the numbers rackets on the West and Near North Sides came under the direction of Battaglia, and Nicoletti and friends were put in charge of changing up the “political setup” on the West Side so that the crime syndicate could move into the policy racket in that area without any obstacle.
In addition to all the above, Nicoletti also was heavily involved in the coin machine rackets, expanding his reach as he moved up in the Chicago underworld.
By now, Nicoletti was riding high in the mob world and was looked upon as one of the leading figures in the Outfit. One good indication of this is Nicoletti’s attendance, along with other top Chicago hoodlums such as Paul Ricca, Tony Accardo, Eddie Vogel, Ross Prio, Frank LaPorte, and Sam Battaglia, at the wedding of one Giancana’s daughters in 1959.
The Up-And-Coming Chuckie Nicoletti
In 1960, Nicoletti partnered with another up-and-coming Outfit big shot named Gus Alex in a huge bookmaking racket operating out of the Arlington Park and Washington Park race tracks, both located in the Chicago metro area. Their men there were brothers Nick and George Bravos, who also happened to be cousins and close associates of Alex.
The Bravos brothers got $1,000 a week from the operation with the rest of the thousands of dollars made being kicked up to the of Alex and Nicoletti. One of their main obstacles at the tracks was a former police captain named Frank Pape who became security director. Back in the late 1940s and early 50s, Pape had a reputation for his aggressiveness against the underworld.
During those days, Pape was constantly hounding Nicoletti, who ended up spending hundreds of dollars to pay off Pape’s higher-ups to lay off Nicoletti. Pape was well-known for being impossible to bribe, but that was in the old days. But Pape soon wisened up knowing that no matter how hard he tried, Nicoletti and his friends couldn’t be touched. He eventually made a deal with Nicoletti and the Bravos to be paid $1,000 a week so the bookies could operate freely at the tracks without any problems.
A similar situation happened with another former cop named Tom Downs, who was in charge of Sportsman’s Park race track. Downs owed the Bravos brothers $10,000 in bets that had been placed in different mob-owned race tracks. Rather than demanding the money from Downs, the Outfit let him “eat it up,” meaning that the amount owed would be reduced whenever Downs won. In the end, Downs was never paid any money, which also allowed the mob to keep him under control. And that’s the way guys like Nicoletti cleared the way for their illegal business operations at the tracks.
Downs wasn’t the only one indebted to Nicoletti. Back in 1958, his own bookmaking overseer Nick Bravos had been kidnapped and held for a $75,000 ransom. George Bravos paid the ransom and Nick was released. Later, the brothers went to Nicoletti for some help, and a few days later, the three kidnappers, one Greek and two Italians, were found beaten, stabbed, and shot to death in the trunk of a car near Plainfield, Illinois.
In fact, that’s how Nicoletti, Alex, and the Bravos brothers ended up becoming business partners.
The M&M Murders
As stated earlier, Charles Nicoletti had already earned respect within the Outfit because of his professionalism and creativity with which he did his job. Plus, many Outfit members didn’t have the stomach for the things that this guy was capable of which elevated him even higher, even if was out of pure fear.
For example, in 1962, a local Billy McCarthy and Jimmy Miraglia got into a heated argument with Ronnie and Phil Scalvo over Billy going into an Outfit-connected saloon in Rosemont called the Black Door, where he got very drunk and abusive. The Scalvo brothers, who managed the bar (their father was also closely tied to Outfit boss Tony Accardo,) got into an argument with Billy over his behavior, beat him up, and threw him out of the bar.
Later, Billy found Jimmy, told him what had happened, and the two foolishly decided to exact revenge. A few nights later, the two went back to the Black Door. But instead of getting even with the Scalvos, they ended up getting another beating. Furious at the turn of events, they decided to just eliminate their problem. A week later, the two revenge-seeking hoods shot the Scalvo brothers and a cocktail waitress to death while they were sitting in a car.
This murder allegedly caused the Outfit’s boss Accardo much grief and anger. So, once again Nicolleti and Alderisio were called to take care of the two thugs.
On May 2, 1962, Nicoletti and Alderisio were hunting for Miraglia and McCarthy all around Chicago, but their hunt was interrupted when the cops found them crunching on the floor of their car. They had parked on a side street when the cops showed up, recognized the two, well-known hit-men, and hauled them in on suspicion charges.
The black sedan they had been hiding in was the same car previously mentioned in some of the other murders during “the big clean up” in the 1950s. Later, the press dubbed the car “The Hit-Mobile,” because of its perfect design for committing murders.
It had three switches under the dashboard. Two of the switches disabled the taillights so the car would be harder to track at night, and the third switch opened hidden compartments which held an impressive collection of weapons and torture devices.
The cops confiscated the car, but as usual, Nicoletti and Alderisio were later released.
But the arrest didn’t stop Nicoletti and Alderisio from finishing their task. Nicoletti called in on one of their old friends from the 42 gang, Sam (Mad Sam) DeStefano who knew Billy and Jimmy all too well because they owed him some money. DeStefano, in turn, called up one of his underlings, a young Outfit hitman named Anthony Spilotro.
Spilotro and Billy McCarthy shared a mutual friend named Frank Cullotta (who later turned informant.) Culotta set up a meeting with McCarthy, but instead of Culotta being there when McCarthy arrived, Spilotro was there along with Nicoletti.
Billy was kidnapped and later tortured in every which way. Spilotro had used his dark imagination and put Billy’s head in a vise, squeezing it to the point where one of Billy’s eyes popped out from the pressure. According to sources, Nicoletti was allegedly eating pasta when the eye popped out of Billy’s head.
Under the influence of enormous pain, Billy gave up the whereabouts of his friend Jimmy. Spilotro “ended” Billy’s pain by slashing his throat with a knife and then set off to find Jimmy. When they found him, Spilotro slit his throat too, then threw the dead buddies in the trunk of a car on a Chicago street where they sat, stenching up the neighborhood until they were discovered two weeks later.
The newspapers called the double murder the M&M Murders, and it was another job well done for Nicoletti and Alderisio.
The Road to Your Demise
Leo Foreman was a convicted Chicago swindler, bondsman, and president of the LeFore Insurance company. He was an aggressive monster of a man, 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing in at 270 pounds. He also, unfortunately, had horrible Outfit connections with guys like DeStefano, Alderisio, and Nicoletti.
Foreman’s road to his demise began when DeStefano received a minor traffic ticket. Instead of simply paying the fine, Mad Sam decided to fight the case and went to trial. Foreman told DeStefano that he would take care of the problem because one of the judges was his friend. But when DeStefano faced the judge, he was fined several hundred dollars for contempt even though he was found innocent of the traffic violation. When the decision was read, Mad Sam got really mad and cursed everyone in the courtroom. But most of his anger was directed at Foreman. That was strike one.
Julius Greco, one of Nicoletti’s mob associates, was serving a 15-year sentence in Leavenworth prison and, apparently, Foreman told Nicoletti that he was related to a Minnesota Senator named Hubert Humphreys, and through that relationship, Foreman was going to get a Presidential pardon for Greco. So, Nicoletti and DeStefano called Foreman for a meeting at DeStefano’s house to make a plan for their next move.
But as time passed, Nicoletti realized Foreman was lying because Humphreys wasn’t doing anything to help his buddy, Greco. In other words, it seemed that Foreman either didn’t know or didn’t ask the Senator to help him out. Nicoletti blew a fuse because of it, and started about Foreman’s future in this life. That was strike two for Foreman.
After a short time, Foreman made another huge mistake. Joe Stein who was the owner of a loan company, lent money to Foreman but never saw his money again. Foreman didn’t know that Stein’s partner in his company just happened to be Phil Alderisio. Soon, Alderisio walked into Foreman’s office to confront him about his games. Foreman didn’t like Alderisio in his face, and in a fit of rage, pulled out a gun, pointed it at Alderisio, and told him to back off. Alderisio just smiled and said, “We’ll see about that,” and walked out of the office. That was strike three.
When Nicoletti heard what happened, he calmly ordered DeStefano to take care of Foreman “Action Jackson”-style (Action Jackson was a mobster who was gruesomely tortured to death by the Outfit). Additionally, Foreman owed DeStefano $7,000, so Mad Sam wanted to make sure he got his money first before he killed him.
So, DeStefano went to Foreman’s office and confronted him about his money, Foreman admitted that he might have made some “arithmetic mistakes.” DeStefano went into a rage and started cursing him. With this, Foreman again pulled a gun and kicked DeStefano out of his office.
Later, on November 13, 1963, Nicoletti appeared at Foreman’s house and advised him that DeStefano was ready to let bygones be bygones if Foreman helped fence a diamond theft and paid back his debt.
So, the next day, Foreman was lured into a basement where he was shot in his legs by Mario DeStefano, Chuckie Crimaldi, and Tony Spilotro. Foreman was lying on the floor crying in pain when suddenly Mad Sam showed up, dressed in pajamas, and went to work. Before the torture, Mad Sam told Foreman that he was going to be a blood sacrifice to Satan. And after being viciously tortured for hours, DeStefano shot Foreman in the head. His body was stuffed into the trunk of a car and found a few days later.
In the early 1960s, the new administration under Giancana had already expanded their illegal and legal enterprises around the world into Nevada, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, and Florida, as well as Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Western Europe, the Middle East, China, and even Japan. They were mostly opening casinos around the world while also importing and exporting gambling and vending devices, stolen cars, prostitutes, weapons, and narcotics.
During this time, the Outfit became not just a national threat but also a worldwide threat. The only government entity that knew about the Outfit’s criminal activities was the CIA. But instead of trying to eliminate this menace to society, the CIA joined them, forming an alliance with these criminals. The CIA used the Outfit’s criminal operations to get information from all of the countries where the Outfit operated their business activities. These gangsters were almost like spies for the CIA, feeding government officials around the world with money and power, and making them their own allies.
A few of Chicago’s most prominent gangsters who got involved with the C.I.A. plots included Sam Giancana, Johnny Roselli, Hyman Larner, and Richard Scalzetti (aka Richard Cain.) Both Giancana and Roselli were very flashy mobsters who liked the wile adventures and also wanted to be known as the top gangsters in the country. Cain was a government guy and Larner was known as an international gangster. My point is, that there is evidence that these guys were involved in international operations, and also loved the nature of those kinds of crimes and alliances.
There is also evidence that Nicoletti’s partner Felix Alderisio also traveled frequently to Europe and Asia to form international illegal enterprises. One indication of this was Alderisio’s obsession with collecting antiques from around the world. He also made frequent trips to Havana, Cuba in connection with his gambling operations and was well-acquainted with all the big-time gamblers from that area.
So, these guys brought a lot of attention to themselves from the authorities because some of them started letting this power and influence get into their heads. As for Nicoletti, he was a very quiet guy and very deadly, but wasn’t flashy and didn’t like the limelight like the rest of his companions.
Because of his relations with these flashy mobsters, the feds were constantly picking up and questioning Nicoletti. For example, on May 15, 1962, Nicoletti was interviewed by the feds at a gambling spot in Niles, Illinois. He was questioned about his associations with Giancana and Roselli, and in a quasi-cooperative attitude, Nicoletti’s only comment was, “I never see him no more”.
As far as Nicoletti’s connection to the CIA during this period, I’ve found no evidence of it. He was strictly a Mafia guy. But years later, speculation would spread from various government sources and others that Nicoletti was involved in many CIA/Mafia operations because of his close associations with these high-profile Outfit figures who had secret government contacts.
The Kennedy Problem
The early 1960s was an exceptional period for the Chicago Outfit and the National Crime Syndicate, in general. Back in 1957, the U.S. Senate Select Committee, also known as the McClellan Committee, was created by Chairman John McClellan together with Chief Counsel Robert F. Kennedy and Senator John F. Kennedy. The committee investigated and questioned many mafia bosses from around the country, and it was televised publicly across the nation.
Now, the Chicago Outfit was getting too much unwanted public attention, and there was tension brewing within the organization. The worst thing that happened to the mob was when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States on January 21, 1961. He appointed his brother Robert Kennedy as U.S. attorney general, and RFK made going after the mob his highest priority.
By now, many Outfit figures like Nicoletti like to keep out of the limelight, but that wasn’t the case with his boss Sam Giancana. He thought he was a movie star, posing and smiling for pictures in front of the press while walking around Chicago, Vegas, and many other places. He hung around with famous people and even dated some, including the singer Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters, and others.
Giancana had Sicilian blood running through his veins, so that kind of lifestyle was unacceptable for his other Sicilian friends like Accardo. On numerous occasions, Charles Inglesia, aka Chuckie English, advised Giancana to stay away from the spotlight as a real mafia boss should do. But Giancana didn’t feel he was to blame for the heat. Instead, he pointed his finger toward the Kennedy brothers.
According to FBI wiretaps, Giancana and the rest of the national mob screamed for the blood of the Kennedys because of all the problems they were causing. But they also had ally who shared those same wishes – the CIA. You see, back in 1961, the U.S. government made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. They recruited a group of about 1,400 Cuban exiles to be trained for several months by the CIA in preparation to invade the Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs, on April 17, 1961.
But Castro had been tipped off about the invasion and was ready and waiting with 25,000 troops who defeated, killed, or captured many of the invaders, embarrassing JFK and the United States, and causing Castro to form a closer alliance with the Soviet Union. The CIA and the U.S. mob blamed Kennedy for the failure because he hadn’t approved the backup he had promised to the invaders, and Kennedy blamed the CIA for their unprofessional activities and planning. So, something had to be done.
After a while, the FBI. electronic surveillance started picking up conversations between Sam Giancana and other high-profile criminals expressing their concern about their criminal activities in the wake of this fiasco. Giancana told his cohorts that from now on, everybody was on their own, which meant that the members would no longer be receiving support from the top.
During one conversation between Giancana and Felix Alderisio, things got heated. Alderisio, because of his extensive travels, was very passionate about classical ruins, and spent hours photographing them. Alderisio talked for about 20 minutes, describing ruins he had recently seen in Europe when Giancana lost his patience and yelled at Alderisio:
“Phil, goddammit! Ruins! I got coppers coming out of my eyeballs and you sit there telling me about ruins! Listen to me, Phil, listen real good! Forget about them goddamn ruins!”
All this “harassment” of Giancana and his friends, and the disruption of his business enterprises, sent a clear signal that it was time to end the Kennedy administration. And that’s exactly what happened. On Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 pm. allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald.
On Sunday, November 24, Oswald was being led through the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters when suddenly a guy by the name of Jack Ruby stepped from the crowd and shot Oswald in the chest, fatally wounding him on national television. And that was the end of the Kennedys. Giancana and the rest of the national mob were celebrating like it was New Year’s Eve.
They thought that now that Kennedy was gone, their problems were over and they could operate freely. But they were dead wrong because their problems were far from over. In fact, their real problems were just beginning.
New Problems Abound
Jack Ruby, the guy who killed Oswald, was a mob associate since day one, so the feds picked up a few of Ruby’s closest associates who belonged to the Chicago Outfit for questioning. These included Lenny Patrick and Dave Yaras, who were two of Giancana’s lieutenants in the non-Italian faction. But as expected, these guys gave up nothing and denied their close associations with Ruby.
The only thing the two told authorities was that they knew Ruby from back in the days in their old neighborhood. But, unfortunately for the mob, the damage was already done. If the mob was really involved in the JFK hit, then the statement made by Patrick and Yaras was a huge mistake because, now, the heat from the government was going to be more intense than ever before.
The Outfit bosses started getting paranoid and knew things had to be changed for the good of the Outfit. Murray Humphreys, who by now had become the most paranoid old man who walked the streets of Chicago with a gun under his belt, thought the same thing – that Giancana was slowly slipping. But Paul Ricca was still the most respected boss in the organization, and he wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen to his Taylor Street guys.
Even with the government on his tail, Giancana still continued his very public love affairs and continued to brazenly taunt the government. Plus, he and Chuckie Nicoletti along with another Chicago hoodlum named Americo DePieto were involved in the narcotics trade, which was the most dangerous activity to be involved with during this time. According to FBI files, Nicoletti and DiPieto were the main ringleaders of a large national narcotics ring under the auspices of Giancana.
During this period of increased pressure from the government, Sam Giancana acted like it was no big deal, traveling around the world with his girlfriend Phyllis McGuire. And, so, when he wasn’t around, many of his underlings and so-called friends started talking behind his back. One day, Paul Ricca met with some of the Outfit’s political bosses, including Pat Marcy, and told them he had never seen things as bad as there were then.
So, even old man Ricca had his limits and decided to change things around in Chicago’s underworld.
The first thing he did is order Giancana’s flamboyant associate Johnny Roselli to leave Las Vegas and the West Coast overall. Later, Ricca sent a message to Giancana ordering him to return to Chicago and get control of the situation.
But in November 1965, Giancana was sentenced to one year in jail for contempt of court after refusing to answer a grand jury’s subpoena. On top of that, his former underboss Frank Ferraro died the previous year of natural causes. So, Ricca ordered his underlings to get together and discuss who should become the new acting boss of the Chicago Outfit. Charles Nicoletti met with Chuck English and Jack Cerone at the Red Steer restaurant in River Grove, Illinois to discuss the possibilities.
Later, Ricca called a final meeting, which was also chaired by Tony Accardo, to elect a new acting boss for the Outfit. Present at the meeting were Sam Battaglia, Willie Daddano, Felix Alderisio, and the Fratto brothers (Louis and Rudy.) They voted to put in Sam Battaglia, Giancana’s old friend from the 42 Gang, as the new acting boss. And, in turn, Battaglia named his old friend Felix Alderiso, who was also Nicoletti’s long-time friend, as the new underboss.
During Giancana’s stay in prison, Nicoletti received instructions about business through Sam’s brother Chuck Giancana. When Sam got out of prison, and in order to cool things down around town, Ricca agreed with Giancana’s idea to expand their operations in Mexico. They already had their guy Nick “Dean” Circella over there, so Giancana negotiated with Circella to divide those lucrative gambling operations.
But Circella quickly realized what was happening and that Ricca and Accardo were spearheading the effort to place Giancana in Mexico as overseer of the gambling operations and keep him away from Chicago.
Battaglia’s promotion to acting boss was not well-received by many members of the Oufit and they were unhappy about the decision to sendGiancana to send him to Mexico. Battaglia was a very treacherous mobster who had many enemies within the organization.
But things were going smoothly for Chuckie Nicoletti because when Battaglia took the boss seat, Nicoletti became the primary force in Melrose Park. He became the sole owner of Al Piemonte Ford Co., located at 2500 North Avenue, had an interest in the Mars Oldsmobile Co., and also purchased the land on which Al Piemonte was built. In addition, Nicoletti opened up a restaurant on North Avenue with Lou Nikolas and two other Greeks. Nicoletti also expanded his legitimate businesses by purchasing several condominiums in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and invested in hotels and gambling joints in Puerto Rico.
In the late 1960s, it seemed that Chuckie Nicoletti was riding high in Chicago’s underworld.
Adding to his good fortune was having Melrose Park’s police chief, Dominic Cimino, in his back pocket. Nicoletti and Cimino were constantly seen together at Slicker Sam’s Saloon, located at 1911 Rice Street. The owner of the saloon was Sam “Slick” Rosa, who was a golfing partner of Sam Giancana and a close associate of Nicoletti. He operated a crap game at his establishment.
Nicoletti and Outfit member Rocco Salvatore oversaw all of the gambling operations in Melrose Park for Battaglia and even expanded his gambling operations in Northwest Indiana. His main guy over there was a ruthless mobster known as George Dicks.
In January 1967, the FBI put a lot of pressure on Battaglia’s territory and made multiple raids on many of the Outfit’s gambling spots in Melrose Park. They revoked the liquor licenses of many Outfit-owned clubs in that area and also started an intense investigation into the activities of Battaglia and one of his top lieutenants named Joe Amabile.
They were arrested and charged with conspiring to extort $45,000 from a suburban Chicago home builder named William G. Riley. They were set to go to trial on April 24, 1967, and Gus Alex, the Outfit’s fixer and main representative for the South Side faction, had obtained the list of jurors assigned to the case. His intention was to pressure the jurors to vote for an acquittal. But the scheme failed and Battaglia and Amabile were convicted, each sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
Gus Alex was not happy with the men assigned to take care of the job. And Battaglia as well as his two main enforcers Alderisio and Nicoletti saw this failure as a slap in the face. So, not soon thereafter, Alex decided to take a “vacation” away from Chicago.
Battaglia was jailed at Leavenworth federal prison where many top Chicago mobsters were also jailed, including Marshal Caifano and Rocco Pranno. The government wasn’t too thrilled at the idea of them all being together, so they moved Battaglia to another cell block which just happened to house serial killer Richard Speck, who had murdered eight student nurses
Many of these top mobsters were jailed in the same prison and as a result of that, Battaglia was moved in the same area as Richard Speck, a serial killer who murdered eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966. This was a situation that was very disturbing to Battaglia.
The Winds of Change
The late 1960s wasn’t a good time for the Outfit’s gambling and bookmaking operations. Hundreds of their bookie joints were continuously raided throughout the city. But the winds weren’t yet changing for the worse for Nicoletti
On February 8, 1968, Nicoletti was arrested along with his associate Joe Scaramuzzo during a raid of one of his grocery stores that fronted a bookmaking operation. Nicoletti operated his racket in a room at the rear of the store, which was located at 1000 Loomis Boulevard and was officially owned by his wife, Agnes. The operation handled an estimated $100,000 a month in horse bets.
At the time of the raid, authorities seized gambling paraphernalia, a sawed-off shotgun, a .38 caliber revolver, and a pamphlet detailing how to “bug” police radio calls with a new electronic eavesdropping device.
On March 14, 1968, Nicoletti appeared before Judge Albert LaPlante in a Domestic Relations Court for a two-hour bench trial. He was fined $200 and walked away a free man.
In 1967, Jackie Cerone became the new acting boss for the Outfit under Ricca and Accardo, with Fiore Buccieri as his underboss or “relay man.” He was the one responsible for transferring all final orders to the representatives on the Outfit’s board of directors, which included Ross Prio, Frank LaPorte, Gus Alex, and Felix Alderisio. According to some sources, by this time, Nicoletti had already been elevated to a capo position or district boss of the Grand Avenue crew under his representative Alderisio, and imprisoned boss Battaglia.
On July 25, 1969, a grand jury in Chicago returned a suppressed indictment against Felix Alderisio on charges of federal bank violations. Four days later, he was arrested at his home, located on Berkley Road in Riverside, Illinois. At the time of the arrest, an Outfit hoodlum and member of Nicoletti’s and Alderisio’s crew named Joey “the Clown” Lombardo just happened to be visiting. And during a search of Alderisio’s home, cops found 33 different kinds of weapons, including 14 handguns and 19 rifles and shotguns.
In January 1970, Alderisio went to trial. The main witness in the case was Irwin “Pinky” Davis, a convicted associate of Alderisio. Davis was concerned about his safety and the safety of his family because he greatly feared retaliation from Alderisio or Nicoletti. But Davis was an outstanding witness for the government, so much so that on January 30, 1970, Alderisio was sentenced to 5 years in prison on the bank violation charge and an additional 2 years for a firearms violation.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
Now that his buddy and business partner was in jail, Nicoletti tried his hand at becoming more independent by expanding his shakedown activities on area supermarkets. Since he was involved in the supermarket business, Nicoletti brought in Lenny Patrick, who was one of his partners from the North/West Side. Patrick introduced Nicoletti to Louis Steinberg, the president of the Steinberg-Baum discount chain. Patrick and Steinberg had a long-standing relationship.
On November 15, 1970, Nicoletti attended a meeting with Outfit members Mario DeStefano, Lenny, and his brother Mike Patrick at a North Western Avenue pizza parlor to introduce Steinberg and their new partnership. Steinberg wrote checks, some as high as $900,000 that were cashed in different banks and then transferred to the chain’s 20 different subsidiaries or affiliates, with different corporate names, some of which were owned by Nicoletti and the Outfit.
The FBI also received a report that in return for introducing Steinberg to Nicoletti, Nicoletti introduced Patrick to the narcotics trade on the West Side. Narcotics had become one of his few remaining rackets since the government had destroyed most of the illegal gambling rackets. And things were about to get a little worse for Nicoletti.
On September 25, 1971, Nicoletti’s old friend and partner in crime, Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio, died suddenly from a heart attack at the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. he was 59 years old. His death brought an end to the brutal history of one of the most vicious duos in Chicago’s underworld history. Alderisio’s wake which was held on September 26, was attened by more police than the gangster’s friends and family. Police noted that some of the mobsters attending his funeral included Charles Nicoletti, Chuck English, Joe Gagliano, Dominic DiBella, and Irv Weiner.
Alderisio’s death was followed by the death of Joe Gagliano on December 14, 1971. He was the king of West Side loan sharks. Authorities noted that Paul Ricca had attended Gagliano’s wake with his head bowed not in respect for a fallen comrade but as an indication of defeat.
That same year, the aging Outfit’s elder statesman Paul Ricca made one last move. He advised his long-time comrade Tony Accardo to step up and create a ruling panel. According to FBI surveillance, Ricca and Accardo had several meetings with the Nicoletti and Joey Aiuppa crews about this suggestion.
Ricca’s and Accardo’s idea was to find the right guy for the job and to groom him until he was competent enough to take charge all on his own. Some sources say that for a short time period, Ross Prio, the North Side Representative was to relay the decisions made by Ricca and Accardo to the rest of the organization.
But in 1972, both Ricca and Prio died of natural causes. So, it was left to Accardo to create a new leading or governing board. Some sources say that Accardo allegedly “nixed” Ricca’s previous position as top boss for the Outfit, while others say that Accardo inherited that same spot with Aiuppa as the new acting boss, Alex as the new advisor and “connection guy,” and Nicoletti as the new acting underboss.
One Last Wish
But the glory days of 56-year-old Nicoletti were slowly coming to an end. With his old boss Sam Battaglia rotting in jail, Nicoletti decided to grant him one last wish.
During Battglia’s trial, there were three key witnesses who testified for the government in the case. The first one was William Riley, president of the Riley Management Company and the victim of the extortion; the second was Mike DiVito, a suburban contractor; and the third was Henry LaKey, the president of Carlson Construction Compan,y and the main witness in Battaglia’s trial.
Riley and DiVito were given new identities and were relocated to other parts of the country, but LaKey declined to be relocated and only changed his last name; he was now known as Henry Rufo.
A few years later Nicoletti, through his corrupt police contacts, knew about LaKeys’s whereabouts and decided to make a move. And on December 15, 1971, the body of LaKey was found in the trunk of a stolen car in Freeport, Illinois. He had been viciously beaten and his body was covered in knife wounds, cigarette burns, and other signs of torture.
At this time, Melrose Park was still one of the most lucrative territories for the Chicago Outfit, and Nicoletti was still a major force there. In December 1972, the new acting mayor of Melrose Park was August “Augie” Taddeo. He had taken the spot after the death of former mayor Jake LaSpisa. Taddeo also happened to be the godson of Outfit boss Joey Aiuppa and a close associate of Nicoletti.
Vic Taddeo, Augie’s father, worked as a dealer at gambling games in Cicero and was also a muscleman for Aiuppa.
Nicoletti and Aiuppa played a major role in placing Taddeo as the new mayor. Shortly before LaSpisa’s death, Nicoletti was still the dominant force in Melrose Park politics, and he had few people he could choose from for the mayor spot.
One was Ralph “Babe” Serpico, who served as the Democratic Committeeman for Proviso Township. He served two stints in prison and was outed by the press as the connection between the Chicago outfit and the Democratic Party. So, Nicoletti washed his hands of Serpico.
The other guy was Lou Nikolas, but Nikolas started bragging way too early, telling friends he was going to be the next mayor and had the backing of the Chicago syndicate. This move even enraged Sam Battaglia while he was in prison. So, the Outfit called Nikolas and told him not only was he not going to be the mayor but he also had to resign his job as trustee. And that’s when Taddeo came into the picture and was put in as Melrose Park’s mayor.
This was also the time when Nicoletti started sharing his Melrose Park operations with Aiuppa and became the boss of that area. Now, both Nicoletti and Aiuppa were the major forces in some of the most lucrative areas in Chicago, including parts of the North Side. Their main messenger was an attorney by the name of Barney Bruno, who delivered instructions and messages to other lower members and imprisoned bosses like Cerone and Battaglia.
On February 7, 1973, a big meeting was held at the SAC club in Melrose Park at the request of certain members and associates of the Chicago Outfit. The main figures at the meeting were Aiuppa and Nicoletti, followed by Tony Mastro, Tony “Bucky” Ortenzi (capo for Aiuppa’s crew), John Romano, Louis and Frank Karris, Rocky Montagna, attorney Vito Dalleo and mayor August Taddeo. Also attending were also two unknown individuals who came with Montagna and also a cop known only as “Slim.”
The two people Montagna brought with him allegedly came from the West Coast, either Las Vegas or Los Angeles, to purchase a quarter of a million in stolen securities. The deal was done. Aiuppa handed a brown paper sack filled with cash to “Slim,” who then departed the meeting.
Next on the agenda was the quarrel between Ortenzi and the attorney Dalleo. Dalleo thought that Ortenzi was far beneath him mentally and socially, so he didn’t want to take orders from him. Suddenly, some hard words were exchanged, but it was all over when Aiuppa ordered Dalleo that he was to take orders from Ortenzi or else.
After that, Nicoletti, Aiuppa, Taddeo, and the Karris brothers discussed the new pub that the brothers wanted to front. Taddeo was ordered to see to it that they would not receive any troubles from the Melrose Park police. There was also a discussion between Ortenzi and the two unknown people about Nicoletti’s and Aiuppa’s desire to purchase a building, which had recently burned down, for $75,000. They wanted to open a club there which would be fronted by the Nikolas brothers. The deal was done.
The last item on the agenda regarded the juice operations in Melrose Park. The members present at the meeting were told they were now on their own because the Outfit was afraid that the government agents were using infiltrators to trap the juice operators.
Making Lots of Cash
By this time Aiuppa and Nicoletti ran Melrose Park pretty smoothly and made a lot of cash. They also felt that Gus Alex wasn’t devoting much of his time as a part of the ruling panel because they started having many problems with “City Hall.” The problem was that Alex spent most of his time in Florida and often traveled to Europe. Both Aiuppa and Nicoletti advised Tony Accardo that he should put some pressure on Alex to permanently stay in Chicago.
During a meeting between Accardo and Alex, the Greek boss stated that he had no intentions of staying in Chicago nor did he have any intentions of taking on greater responsibilities. He also tried to talk Accardo into letting him retire to Florida and into buying a house next to his. Later, Alex also became very critical of Aiuppa and Nicoletti and was enraged because by now, Nicoletti and Aiuppa divided the Chicago Outfit into two factions.
One faction was the “Management” faction which had been formed by Accardo, Aiuppa, and Dominic DiBella. The second faction was “The Blazers” which was headed by Nicoletti and Grand Avenue members Joey Lombardo, Frank “the German” Schweihs, and Tony Spilotro. So, the “Management” wasn’t too happy with Alex and his operations in the Loop. They wanted more money, and they also suggested that Alex should take a more active part in the North/West side which was one of the most profitable areas for the Chicago Outfit.
As one of the bosses in Melrose Park, Nicoletti’s enterprises had problems with thievery. During this period, Nicoletti discovered an organized band of thieves who were preying on the receipts of mob-owned coin-operated vending machines in the western suburbs. They were mostly two-bit punks who had never worked a day in their lives and now wanted to cut themselves in on a piece of the action.
Nicoletti’s men warned this band of thieves through their leader, a 33-year-old guy named James Leonetti. But despite the warnings, Leonetti still prowled the suburbs, skillfully using a set of lock picks and a metal receptacle to carry off his loot. So, Nicoletti was forced to make an example out of him.
On July 15, 1973, Leonetti was lured by one of his friends to Bill’s Grill, located at 2300 W. North Avenue. At 3 a.m., two masked men entered the tavern, grabbed him, spun him around, and shot him to death. Then they carefully placed a metal receptacle on his chest which Leonetti had used to ply his trade. When the cops searched the scene, they found about $300 in coins spread around in his car which was parked near the tavern. The gangsters had left their message unmistakably for all those who could recognize it.
The Tides Begin to Turn
Things got bad for Nicoletti when his close associate and former boss Sam Battaglia died of cancer on September 7, 1973, at the age of 64. The handpicked successor of Sam Gaincana died a broken man because while he was in prison, his wife Angela and his second son Sam Jr. both died of heart attacks. It was a terrible tragedy, and also an example of the bad karma that surrounds these people.
In July 1974, Nicoletti’s exiled boss Sam Giancana was deported by the Mexican government under pressure from the U.S. Government. The Mexican authorities had entered Sam’s estate, San Cristobal, took him into custody, and deported him. On December 17, 1974, Giancana was brought before a federal grand jury to testify about the CIA plot to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro that happened back in the 1960s.
Accardo couldn’t stand these daily pressures any longer, so he and Aiuppa passed down an order for the problem to be solved Mafia style. On June 19, 1975, Giancana was murdered in the basement kitchen of his Oak Park home. He was shot six times in the head with a .22 caliber pistol. Supposedly, the killer was one of Sam’s closest associates, Dominic “Butch” Blasi.
None of his gangster friends showed up to his funeral, not even Nicoletti. Most of his closest friends in the Outfit avoided his funeral because of the huge number of reporters and FBI agents that were present at the time.
On June 24 and September 22, 1975, Johnny Roselli was called before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to testify about the CIA plot to kill Castro. On April 23, 1976, Roselli was called before the committee to testify once again, but this time for the alleged conspiracy to kill President Kennedy back in 1963.
Three months after his first round of testimony on the Kennedy assassination, the Committee wanted to bring back Roselli, but it was too late. The mob had gotten to Roselli first. On August 9, 1976, Roselli’s chopped-up and decomposing body was found in a 55-gallon steel fuel drum floating in Dumfoundling Bay near Miami, Florida.
By 1976 most members of the old Taylor Street Crew were gone and the remaining members like Chuck English, Butch Blasi, and Marshal Caifano had no choice but to accept the new administration and mix in with the other remaining crews around Chicago.
After Giancana’s death, Joey Aiuppa became the official boss of the Chicago crime syndicate and his second in command was Jack Cerone. Accardo took the position as elder statesman or top advisor, and Gus Alex remained as the Outfit’s prime fixer and boss of the non-Italian faction of the Outfit.
One day Accardo sent a message to Alex to get back to Chicago immediately because there was some trouble going on between Outfit’s members. One of the problems was the drastically diminished income from bookmaking and loansharking, and most of the remaining illegal operations were taken over by the new administration. So, guys like Nicoletti still didn’t think about retirement because they were still looking to find new ways to make a quick buck. And the only racket available that was most profitable during those days was narcotics.
The Beginning of the End
Nicoletti knew that if the Outfit didn’t generally get involved in drugs, but if he didn’t, some other criminal group would take it. Nicoletti also knew that, by now, most of the bosses stashed their millions, so they didn’t need any narcotics businesses around them. Nicoletti was a gangster to the core, so he didn’t think about the rules handed down by his superiors and stuff like that.
When Alex came back from Ft. Lauderdale, he was very angry. Accardo had explained to him that some of the old big shots like Nicoletti were convincing younger generation of mobsters and future mobsters to get involved in narcotics because it was a money maker. And that’s when Alex and Nicoletti began a feud over the narcotics racket.
Alex and Accardo were against it, but Aiuppa stayed open-minded. Through Aiuppa, Nicoletti hoped to change the resistance from Accardo and Alex to allow members to engage in drug operations.
Many of the members like Lenny Patrick supported Nicoletti and his desire to supplement their income. But at the end of the day, boss Joey Aiuppa turned his back on Nicoletti and sided with Accardo and Alex, refusing to give that faction approval to become involved in the dope trade. This decision created a deeper hatred and rivalry between Alex and Nicoletti.
The previous situation was probably one of the main reasons why Nicoletti was shelved or ousted from the organization as well as the alleged unsanctioned murder of Milwaukee Mafia member Augie Maniaci.
By 1977, most of Nicoletti’s illegal rackets had been taken by his former associates from his own crew. He was 61 years old, with grey hair, but even at his age, he still was in good enough physical condition to take on any job. He had a legitimate business which was the Metropolitan Burial Vault Company, located at 1325 Main Street in Melrose Park, and was always helping his workers with driving and loading the trucks.
Around this time, Nicoletti started having chest pains, so he decided to visit his doctor. He was devastated when the doctors diagnosed him with metastatic lung cancer. They told him he had only five months left to enjoy his life. Nicoletti always thought he was going to end up shot to death on the streets of Chicago like a real gangster. But that’s life, and it was also one of the main times when he thought about retiring from the mob.
One day Nicoletti was visited by FBI agents inquiring about the slayings of Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli. He told the agents he never knew Roselli, but that his name was familiar to him from the latest news coverage regarding his murder. When he was asked about Giancana, Nicoletti told the agents that he was an old friend but had no comment about the murder.
He also told the agents that he was struggling and just trying to make a buck from his legitimate business. At the end of the interview, Nicoletti told the agents that “crime does not pay today,” prompting the agents to ask if crime paid in the past. Nicoletti only shrugged his shoulders and with a grin on his face said, “I don’t know.”
Later some sources say that Nicoletti even decided to become an informant for the feds, but I personally still don’t have any records to review what type of information Nicoletti allegedly gave to the government. He allegedly made this move because he was no longer considered a high-level member of the Outfit and most of all, he was already dying.
Like a Gangster
On March 28, 1977, the House Select Committee on Assassinations wanted to question Nicoletti about his alleged involvement in the JFK assassination. The House investigators were tipped off by an ex-Outfit associate turned informant named Chuckie Crimaldi, who used to work for Nicoletti’s crew member, the late Sam DeStefano.
So, the investigators immediately began to arrange an interview with Nicoletti. They hoped that Nicoletti could supply them with information about Jack Ruby’s mob connections and the CIA/Mob operations. Also, the investigators had information that Nicoletti had been recruited by Roselli and Giancana to work on the map logistics in the murder plot against Fidel Castro. Nicoletti probably wasn’t aware that some of his former “friends” in the Outfit like Gus Alex were already tipped off about this investigation.
On March 29, 1977, Nicoletti received a phone call from someone to meet him/them at the parking lot of the Golden Horns Restaurant in suburban Northlake, Illinois. The “unknown persons” (probably Frank the German together with either Harry Alleman or Joey Lombardo) met with Nicoletti in his 1976 Oldsmobile.
According to some police reports, one person sat in the front seat next to Nicoletti and the second individual sat in the back seat while the person in the back seat pulled out a gun and shot Nicoletti three times in the back of the head with .38 caliber slugs at point-blank range. As his body leaned forward towards the driving wheel, Nicoletti’s foot apparently stuck on the accelerator, overheating the engine which set the car on fire.
There’s also another story that Nicoletti was in a high-speed chase and was caught up at the parking lot of the restaurant. Trapped by the parked cars in the lot, he attempted to flee the hitmen. Some investigators said that one of the hitmen firebombed Nicoletti’s car while the other one did the shooting.
Anyway, some of the people passing by the restaurant saw the fire and called the cops. After they arrived and pulled Nicoletti out of the car, they discovered he was still alive but wasn’t conscious. He was taken to the intensive care unit at Northlake Community Hospital where he died 6 hours later.
Nicoletti’s murder was an obvious mob hit, but the question remains, “Who did it and why?” My opinion is that the hit obviously came from the Outfit’s top echelon because none of the younger criminals would have had the courage to do this on their own. Nicoletti spent all of his life planning hits and executing people, so it wouldn’t have been an easy job to get him.
But again the question remains, who pulled the strings and pushed for Nicoletti’s death? My personal pick is Gus Alex, and my reasoning is simple – the long-time feud between the two of them. One of the problems was the narcotics business which Alex despised. And maybe another problem was Alex being one of the bosses on the ruling panel, the position Nicoletti may have thought belonged to him.
So when the investigation of JFK’s assassination began, Alex seized the right moment at the right time. Or maybe Nicoletti pushed for a suicidal mission?! Maybe he didn’t want to suffer from the cancer that eating away at his body, so he granted his own wish about getting shot on the street?!
Either way, his murder remains unsolved.
After Nicoletti’s death, many conspiracy theories surfaced around Chicago and the U.S. One theory was that Nicoletti had harsh quarrels with his superiors about the CIA taking over their international illegal operations, like smuggling narcotics and white slavery. Another theory was that he was willing to talk to the government about his involvement in the Castro plot and the Kennedy assassination.
And because of the murders of Richard Cain, Sam Giancana, and Johnny Roselli, who all were involved in the CIA operations, some theorists also believed that the CIA was responsible, or at least influenced the decision to kill them as well as kill Nicoletti. This particular theory came to the surface when some people who were allegedly involved in the Kennedy assassination allegedly committed suicides or died suddenly and unbelievably fast from cancer or other diseases.
Even 15 years after his death, Nicoletti still made the headlines. In 1992, Charles Giancana, the brother of Sam, and his nephew Sam Jr., published their book, Double Cross, which was mostly about Sam Giancana’s life. But in their book, they claim that Richard Cain, along with Charles Nicoletti, were the two gunmen who killed President John F. Kennedy.
In 1994, James Earl Files, aka James Sutton, who is serving a 50-year prison term at the Danville Correctional Center in Danville, Illinois, for the attempted murder of two police officers, stated in an interview that he and Nicoletti were the shooters in the assassination of Kennedy.
So, with these kinds of stories, true or false, Nicoletti’s legend grew even further.
In closing, Charles Nicoletti was truly a Mafioso who destroyed the lives of many people and families. And, in the end, he was undone by the same tactics and violence that he used during his entire life. He killed his own father to protect his own blood family and later continued to kill just to protect his other “family,” the Chicago Outfit. He’s remembered in history as one of the best serial killers for the mob. Yet, with all of the blood that was shed in the streets of Chicago, Nicoletti was never charged with any of the murders he committed.
Nicoletti was very loyal to his superiors and made a lot of money, but as one famous mob researcher once said, “If there’s a special hell reserved for the Mafia, then people like Charles Nicolleti deserve one of the most excruciating places in that hell.”