The official story put forth by the Warren Commission is that President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) who fired three shots from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. However, Oswald’s guilt has long been in doubt and in 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations found a “probable conspiracy” in Kennedy’s murder. Some believe that the conspirators included members of the Italian American Mafia, notably mob bosses Santo Trafficante, Jr. (1914-1987) of Florida and Carlos Marcello (1910-1993) of New Orleans, Louisiana. We know for certain that Oswald was at the Book Depository as the assassination happened. However, events that played out following the shooting in Dealey Plaza indicated a darker and more sinister climate of danger that awaited Kennedy as he stepped off Air Force One at Love Field that morning. It is no secret that mobsters were not fans of Kennedy or his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1929-1968). But did the mob have the power to kill the president? Author Ron Chepesiuk explores this question and more in this short book about the Trafficante family and the role the mob may have played in Kennedy’s death.
Believers of the lone gunman theory will not entertain any theories about the mob, CIA, or others. And for good reason. If we do believe the mob was involved, then a conspiracy exists. However, the mob did have motive, and that aspect is addressed in the book. But before we get to the Kennedy assassination, the author primes us with background information on Trafficante and his father Santo Trafficante, Sr. (1886-1954) who were the undisputed rulers of the Tampa underworld. The book is not an extensive biography of the father or son but provides basic information to understand who they were. But what is of more interest are the connections between them and other underworld figures, and this is where the plot thickens.
Because the book is short, there is a lot of information that is highly condensed. Readers may benefit from other material on the Kennedy assassination, and I always recommend the late Jim Maars’ (1943-2017) ‘Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy‘ which provides a thorough analysis of the shooting in Dealey Plaza, the death of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit (1924-1963) and numerous other components of the crime that will send chills down your spine. Chepesiuk’s story is solely on the Mafia, but he does mention other players when necessary. However, the story here remains centered around the Trafficantes, Marcello and the nexus of underworld crime figures who welded power in America. There are no “smoking guns”, but I did notice that anyone expected to appear before the House Select Committee on Assassinations seemed to meet a sudden death. Appearances are made in the story by Chicago mobster Salvatore “Sam” Giacana (1908-1975) and mobster Johnny Roselli (1905-1976). Their stories are surreal, especially Giancana’s direct link to Kennedy.
It is impossible to discuss the mob’s anger at Kennedy without acknowledging the impact of former Cuban President Fidel Castro (1926-2016). Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the Mafia had turned Cuba into a cash machine and playground for Americans looking for a quick getaway to have fun. Former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) had allowed the mob open reign but on January 1, 1959, that all changed as Castro marched triumphantly down the streets of Havana. Mobsters who had the means to do so, left as soon as they could. But Trafficante Jr. had an interesting experience in Cuba which I had forgotten about. It is telling of what Castro through of the mob and sets the stage for the future alliance between the CIA, Mafia, and disgruntled Cuban exiles. Castro was serious and the only way the mob could enjoy Cuba was if the bearded leader were gone. This is the beginning of a dark rabbit hole which we cannot go into here. But the author gives us an idea of the sinister partnerships that existed for “mutual benefit”.
There is one more section of the book I want to address, as no discussion of Kennedy’s murder can be held without addressing the dark presence of Jack Ruby (1911-1967), whose actions that weekend following the assassination were strange to say the least. The Warren Commission insisted that Oswald and Ruby did not know each other. But is that the truth? As seen in the book there is compelling evidence that they did know each other, and I recommend readers watch the documentary ‘Rush to Judgment‘ by the late Mark Lane (1924-2016) who published the book of the same name. Ruby’s mob connections cannot be ignored, and the author weaves them into the story at hand showing that powerful figures were watching Oswald.
The truth about Kennedy’s murder may never be known. And if it is, maybe not in my lifetime as author Anthony Summers says in his book regarding the murder. Thousands of pages of records are still classified, and as time passes, those with knowledge of what did happen will pass on taking what they know with them to the grave. But I do believe that we have enough information to know that Oswald was only a small piece in a larger puzzle. The mob certainly wanted Kennedy gone and benefited from his death. It had the money and power, but to a certain extent. Removing a president from office is a concerted effort dependent on compartmentalization, a concept the Mafia knew well. The list of Kennedy’s enemies was long, and his death was nothing short of regime change. The mob was only one enemy, and its role is still up for debate. But what Chepesiuk shows is that the mob had a personal stake in seeing Kennedy eliminated. For a good understanding of the powerful crime figures who had turned sour on Kennedy, this is an informative read.