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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kennedy and the Mafia, an enduring fascination

It is ironic that on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s first (and only) inaugural speech, the FBI rounds up more than 100 mobsters in a sweep of arrests on the East Coast.
COLUMN: Kennedy and the Mafia, an enduring fascination
Handout photo of U.S. President Kennedy and Peace Corps Director Shriver walking side by side at White House in Washington

The relationship between organized crime and the Kennedy Family remain a permanent fixture in any discussion of the famous – some would say, infamous – Massachusetts Irish clan.
The connections between the Mafia and JFK have been well-detailed, although much of the analyses is mere speculation and some assertions are downright ludicrous.
Not only was the mob credited with helping JFK reach the White House (after Joe Kennedy called in a few favors and somehow got Chicago boss Sam Giancana to deliver key votes in West Virginia), the President’s downfall (i.e, assassination) has also been blamed on the Mafia by many observers.
Joseph Kennedy, the grand old patriarch of the family, was well acquainted with mobsters through his bootlegging activities in the 1920s as well as through his experiences as a Hollywood producer.
His son John not only frequented Mafia-controlled casinos in Havana and Las Vegas during the 1950s, but he even shared a lover (Judith Campbell Exner) with Giancana, one of the most brutal mob killers in history.
Among the many, many conspiracy theories behind the Nov. 22, 1963 murder of the President is the supposition that top mobsters had Kennedy killed because his younger brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, waged an unremitting campaign to arrest, try, convict and jail mobsters all over the country.
New Orleans Mafia chieftain Carlos Marcello was identified in a 1979 report by the House Assassinations Committee as the most likely conspirator behind the assassination.
If so, Marcello was responsible for the crime of the century and perhaps one of the most famous criminal acts in world history.
However, the motives for Marcello would seem rather petty – the little man of New Orleans was arrested and deported a few months after Kennedy’s inauguration as an undesirable alien. After returning to the U.S. (with the help of well-connected lawyers) Marcello reportedly threatened to kill the president as a form of revenge.
While he was certainly capable of violence (and ordering others to kill for him), it’s hard to believe that a man as shrewd and business-minded as Marcello (who ran New Orleans with an iron fist for decades) would be foolhardy enough to try to murder a sitting president.
If Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed a Mafia assassin (as some have claimed), he certainly never received any kind of payment for his services.
But questions remain and some legitimate theories point directly to Mafia involvement.
In a book written by Frank Ragano, the lawyer who represented teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa (a prominent Kennedy enemy) and the Mafia boss of Florida, Santo Trafficante Jr., among many others, he claimed that Trafficante confessed to him that the mob had killed John F. Kennedy, but that they made a mistake – they should’ve killed Bobby instead.
Tragically, Robert Kennedy himself was murdered less than five years after his brother -- and that killing has prompted even more waves of conspiracy theories over the past forty years.
The alleged inter-relationships between the Kennedys, the CIA, J. Edgar Hoover and mobsters (as well as Hollywood entertainers like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe) have seemingly entered the realm of American myth and legend. Sort of like our own "Greek myths."
The answers and explanations to these tragic acts will likely never be fully known – and perhaps the eternal questions, doubts and mysteries surrounding them is what keeps us endlessly fascinated by the cross-currents of fame, wealth, power, violence and death.


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