Born as Salvatore Giangana to Sicilian immigrants in Little Italy, Chicago. His father, Antonino (later simplified to Antonio) Giangana, owned a pushcart and later briefly owned an Italian ice shop, which was later firebombed by gangland rivals of his son.
Sam Giancana joined the Forty Two Gang, a juvenile street crew answering to political boss Joseph Esposito Giancana soon developed a reputation for being an excellent getaway driver, a high earner, and a vicious killer. After Esposito's murder, in which Giancana was allegedly involved, the 42 Gang was transformed into a de facto extension of the Chicago Outfit. The Outfit was initially wary of the 42ers, thinking them too wild. However, Giancana's leadership qualities, the fact that he was an excellent "wheel man" with a get-away car and his knack for making money on the street gained him the notice of Cosa Nostra higher-ups like Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, Paul "The Waiter" Ricca and Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo. In the late 1930s, Giancana became the first 42er to join the Outfit. In 1942, Giancana also allegedly forced jazz musician Tommy Dorsey into letting singer Frank Sinatra out of his contract early, so that Sinatra could expand his career. This story was famously referred to in "The Godfather."
In 1945, after serving a sentence at the Federal Correction Complex, Terre Haute, Indiana (during which time he told his children he was away "at college"), Giancana made a name for himself by convincing Accardo, then the Outfit's enforcement chief, to stage a take-over of Chicago's African-American "Policy" (lottery) pay-out system for The Outfit. Giancana's crew is believed to have been responsible for convincing Eddie Jones to leave his racket and leave the country. Giancana's crew was also responsible for the murder on August 4th, 1952 of African American gambling boss Theodore Roe. Both Jones and Roe were leading South Side "Policy Kings". However, Roe had refused to surrender control of his operation as the Outfit had demanded. What is more, on June 19, 1951, Roe had fatally shot Lennard "Fat Lennie" Caifano, a made man in Giancana's crew. Over an FBI wiretap during the early 1970s, Giancana said of Roe, "I'll say this. Nigger or no nigger, that bastard went out like a man. He had balls. It was a fuckin' shame to kill him."
However, it was generally understood that Accardo and Ricca still held the real power. No major business transactions, and certainly no hits, took place without Accardo and Ricca's approval.
Giancana was present at the Mafia's 1957 Apalachin Meeting at the Upstate New York estate of Joseph Barbara Later, Buffalo crime boss Stefano Magaddino and Giancana were overheard on a wire saying the meeting should have taken place in the Chicago area. Giancana claimed that the Chicago area was "the safest place in the world" for a major underworld meeting because he had several police chiefs on his payroll. If the syndicate ever wanted to hold a meeting in Chicago, Giancana said, they had nothing to fear because they had the area "locked up tight.
It is widely reputed, and partially corroborated by the Church Committee Hearings, that during the Kennedy administration, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited Giancana and other mobsters to assassinate Cuban president Fidel Castro. Giancana reportedly said that the CIA and the Cosa Nostra were "different sides of the same coin."
The association between Giancana and JFK is indicated in the "Exner File" written by Judith Campbell Exner. Exner was reputed to be mistress to both Giancana and JFK and claimed she delivered communications between the two regarding Fidel Castro.
However, Giancana's daughter, Antoinette, has stated her belief that her father was running a scam in order to pocket millions of dollars in CIA funding.
Giancana and McGuire, who had a long lasting affair, were originally introduced by Frank Sinatra. During part of the affair, according to Sam's daughter Antoinette, McGuire had a concurrent affair with President Kennedy.
As a result, Giancana was deposed in the mid 1960s by Ricca and Accardo as day-to-day boss, and replaced by Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa. After about seven years of exile inside a lavish villa in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Giancana was arrested by Mexican authorities in 1974 and deported to the United States. He arrived back in Chicago on July 21st, 1974.
A gunman later entered Giancana's kitchen and shot him in the back of the head as he was frying sausage and peppers. After Giancana fell to the ground, the gunman turned him over and shot him six more times in the face and neck. Investigators suspected that the murderer was a close friend whom Giancana had let into the house. One reason for this suspicion was that Giancana, due to his heart problems, could not eat spicy foods. Therefore, he might have been cooking for a friend. Giancana was killed shortly before he was scheduled to appear before a U.S. Senate committee investigating supposed CIA and Cosa Nostra collusion in plots to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.
Some commentators have alleged that the CIA killed Giancana because of his troubled history with the agency. However, former CIA Director William Colby has been quoted as saying, "We had nothing to do with it."
Another theory is that Trafficante crime family boss Santo Trafficante Jr. ordered Giancana's murder due to mob fears that Giancana would testify about Cosa Nostra and CIA plots to kill Cuban president Fidel Castro. Trafficante would have needed permission from Outfit bosses Tony Accardo and Joseph Aiuppa to kill Giancana. Johnny Roselli, whose body was found stuffed in an oil drum floating off Miami, was definitely killed on Trafficante's orders.
Most investigators believe that Aiuppa ordered the Giancana murder. Giancana was still refusing to share any of his offshore gambling profits with the Outfit. In addition, Giancana was reportedly scheming to become Outfit boss again. According to former Mafia associate Michael J. Corbitt, Aiuppa seized control of Giancana's casinos in the aftermath of the murder, strategically sharing them with his caporegimes.
Longtime friend and associate Dominic "Butch" Blasi was with Giancana the night he was murdered, and was questioned by police as a suspect. FBI experts and Giancana's daughter, Antoinette, do not consider him Giancana's killer.
Other Mafia suspects are Harry Aleman, Charles "Chuckie" English, and Charles Nicoletti. In the 1995 movie Sugartime, Dominic "Butch" Blasi, as portrayed by Elias Koteas, is shown murdering Giancana.
Giancana was interred next to his wife, Angelina, in a family mausoleum at Mount Carmel Cemetery, in Hillside, Illinois.
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