Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
Frank Nitti was born in Agri, Italy somewhere between 1884 and 1888. His birth year varies depending on which site one visits. His headstone reads that he was born in 1888 but his draft registration card reads that he was born in 1886. Like most Italian immigrants at that time, Frank arrived in New York with his family as an impoverished youngster. While a teen-ager, Nitti was a part of the Five Points gang along with his future boss Al Capone but they did not know each other in the gang as they were in it at different times. After World War I, Nitti moved to Chicago with his mother. Nitti took a part time job as a barber but also sold illegal liquor from there and fenced stolen goods. Nitti was also very good at smuggling whiskey from Canada into Chicago. It was during this time that he had come to the attention of John Torrio and John Torrio brought him to the attention of Al Capone.
They brought him into the gang because of his organizational skills and because he already had a network of underworld contacts. He was soon made Al Capone’s second and organized the hits but never pulled the trigger himself. He was just in on the planning of hits. In 1930, while Al Capone was serving eleven years in jail for tax evasion, the Outfit needed a new boss. The media said that it was Frank Nitti but in reality it was Paul “The Waiter” Ricca who was the top dog. Nitti, himself, thought he was in charge as well but there were times when Ricca would retract an order that Nitti gave by saying “We’ll do it this way and let’s say no more about it.”
Nitti had been very lucky to stay out of jail as much as had and was very good at having other people do the dirty work for him. However, in 1943 he wasn’t so lucky. This is when the Hollywood Extortion Case, as it would be come to be known as, happened. Nitti and other mob figures were indicted on extortion charges when they gained control of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and if the major studios at the time didn’t pay them money, the union would be used against the studios. Fox paid, RKO paid, MGM paid and Warner Brothers paid as well. This was a big money maker for the mob until a reporter from Chicago saw a man named Willie Bioff at a big Hollywood party and he knew Bioff to be a small time pimp from Chicago and is somebody who would not normally be at a big Hollywood party.
As the reporter began to investigate, he found out that Bioff was still wanted by the state of Illinois for a pandering conviction. When Bioff was eventually arrested, it came out that he and a man named George Brown were extorting movie theaters. They were tried and found guilty but instead of doing hard time, the two men decided to turn states evidence against Nitti and others for the Hollywood Union extortion. At a meeting, after the arraignment for the charges, they had a meeting at Nitti’s house in Riverside and they lambasted Nitti for his poor handling of the whole affair and that Bioff and Browne should have never been allowed to testify. Ricca then told Nitti that he should be a “stand up guy” and take the rap for it and that he should be the only one to any time. Nitti, a claustrophobic, couldn’t stand the thought of going back to jail so he decided that he wouldn’t go back; he couldn't go back.
One night when his wife went to church, Nitti began drinking and went out for a walk with his .32 caliber handgun. He sat down by a fence in the rail yard near his home and shot himself in the head. Two railroad workers heard the gunshot and went running toward a man they saw sitting on the ground. They saw him raise the gun to his head again and they shouted to him. Nitti pulled the trigger and ended his life.
It was March 19, 1943 the day after the argument with Ricca. The trial still went on as planned and all defendants were found guilty and given ten years in jail. It was later discovered that Nitti may have been suffering from cancer as well. He left behind a third wife and an adopted son and he was known as a good family man and a doting father. He was buried in MT. Carmel Cemetery at the family plot and the inscription on the family tombstone reads: There is no life except by death. There is no vision but by faith.