Louis Campagna - Done in by a Grouper
By Allan May
When Louis “Little New York” Campagna met his demise, it wasn’t because he ended up “sleeping with the fishes.” Instead, it was because he was done-in by one.
Little is know about his early life. He was born in 1900, most likely in the Brooklyn section of New York City. It has been reported that he was a member of the infamous Five Points gang. This probably rings true because Al Capone, who legend has it brought Campagna to Chicago, was a one-time member of that gang.
A year younger than Capone, Campagna actually made it to Illinois before Capone’s appearance there. In 1919 Campagna, still a teenager, was convicted of robbing a bank and was sentenced to the Pontiac Reformatory in Illinois. He was paroled in April 1924 and six months later was returned for a parole violation. He was released again in November 1924.
Although the exact date has been lost, sometime between December 1924 and the summer of 1926 Campagna ended up in Chicago to serve as a Capone bodyguard.
The highlight of Campagna’s gunman days during the Prohibition years came during a gang war in late 1927. Joseph Aiello and his three brothers were trying to piece together the remnants of the Genna brother’s empire that had been shot to pieces in 1925. The Aiellos aligned themselves with the remnants of another gang that had fallen on similar hard times – the Northsiders, now headed by George “Bugs” Moran. Aiello wanted to remove Capone and take over the Unione Siciliano, which was being run by Capone’s hand picked leader, Anthony Lombardo, who ironically, was a friend and business associate of Joe Aiello.
One of Aiello’s first moves was to try to bribe the chef at one of Capone’s favorite restaurants to poison Al’s meal with prussic acid. The chef went straight to Capone and revealed the plot to him. Next, Joe Aiello offered to pay $50,000 to anyone who would kill Capone. Soon four gunmen, including two from St. Louis and one from Cleveland, were killed by Capone torpedo “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn while trying to collect the bounty.
A fragile peace that was arranged came to an end in November 1927 when police raided an apartment across the street from Lombardo’s home on Washington Boulevard and discovered shotguns and a large supply of ammunition. Lombardo’s followers went to Joe Aiello’s home to get an explanation but were told he was away in New York City.
Aided by a series of tips, the police made three more raids. At an apartment on Western Avenue they found a cache of dynamite and percussion caps. Next they went to the Rex Hotel on North Ashland where they arrested Milwaukee gunman Angelo La Mantio and four Aiello associates. Taken to the South Clark Street station to be questioned, La Mantio, only 23, confessed that he had been hired by the Aiellos to kill Capone and Lombardo and had been paid a $5,000,advance.
From the Rex Hotel, police went to a room in the Atlantic Hotel where they found two rifles and ammunition in a room that overlooked a saloon owned by former alderman Michael Kenna. Both Capone and Lombardo were known to frequent the place. On Monday afternoon, November 21, 1927, Capone and Lombardo were brought to the detective bureau on South Clark Street to view the suspects. (The newspapers referred to Capone only as Al Brown, but stated the following day that his name was actually Caponi.) Both Capone and Lombardo refused to identify any of the men.
In the meantime, police, acting on the La Mantio confession, went to the Aiello home and found him there. When word got back to Capone that Aiello was being held at the South Clark Street station he reacted as Capone normally did – sensationally. Six taxicabs soon approached the station house, one behind the other. Twenty to twenty-five gunmen got out and began to take up positions around the station.
Louis Campagna, along with two other men, stood near the front door of the station. Campagna drew a revolver from his shoulder holster and stuck it in his coat pocket. This caught the attention of a policeman inside the station and he went outside with several other officers and seized the three men. A search of Campagna, Frank Perry, and Samuel Marcus was quickly completed and two revolvers each were recovered from Campagna and Perry, and one from Marcus. However, as the men were being questioned by Chief William E. O’Connor, Marcus whipped out a hidden sawed-off Colt revolver. The reason for this act of stupidity was never made clear and Marcus was immediately overpowered.
The three men were placed in a cell next to their rival Aiello. The police then placed into a nearby cell an officer, disguised as a prisoner, who understood Sicilian. Aiello quickly recognized his enemies and became terrified.
“You’re dead, friend, you’re dead,” Campagna told Aiello. “You won’t get to the end of the street still walking.”
“Can’t we settle this thing?” Aiello pleaded. “Give me fifteen days, just fifteen days, and I will sell my stores and my house, and leave everything in your hands. Think of my wife and my baby, and let me go.”
“You dirty rat,” replied Campagna, several years before James Cagney made the line famous. “You started this thing. We’ll end it. You’re as good as dead now.”
A short while later, Aiello was booked for conspiracy to commit murder and had his bond approved. Aiello and his wife and child were given a police escort to a taxicab and driven away to safety. The following day, three bakery shops owned by the Aiellos were found closed. Due to appear in court the following day, his lawyer announced Aiello had suffered a nervous breakdown. This brought smiles to the faces of Campagna and the other Capone associates in the courtroom.
Joe Aiello then disappeared from Chicago – for a while.
Campagna continued as Capone’s faithful bodyguard. After Capone moved his headquarters to the Lexington Hotel, whenever Al spent the night there it was said that Campagna slept on a cot outside his room with an automatic in each hand.
Campagna’s name surfaced again after the July 1, 1928 murder of Frank Yale in Brooklyn. New York police discovered that a few hours before the killing a telephone call was placed to the Hawthorne Inn in Chicago from Campagna’s mother’s home in Brooklyn, which was near to the Yale residence.
By the time Capone went away to prison on income tax evasion charges, Campagna had moved up the organizational ladder. During the 1930s and 1940s he was at a level even with, or just below, Frank “the Enforcer” Nitti, Paul “the Waiter” Ricca, Charles “Cherry Nose” Gioe, Lawrence “Dago” Mangano, and Anthony “Joe Batters” Accardo. In December 1932, Campagna was present at the La Salle-Wicker Building when a special police squad dispatched by Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak entered and shot Nitti. The crime boss survived, but Cermak would be dead a few months later. (See my column “The First Shooting of Frank Nitti,” February 22, 1999.)
In 1934, Campagna was in partnership with Willie Heeney and Joseph Corngold in two gambling houses in Cicero. With an original investment of $1,500, Campagna later told the Kefauver committee that his earnings in the Austin Club and the El Patio reached $75,000 a year.
Campagna was involved in the Chicago mob’s efforts to muscle in on Local 278 of the Chicago Bartenders & Beverage Dispensers Union. In 1935, in a meeting held at the Capri Restaurant on North Clark Street, Campagna sat with fellow mobsters Ricca, Joseph Fusco, Jake Guzik, and Fred Evans while Nitti threatened George B. McLane. “Give us the names of anyone who opposes and we will take care of them,” Nitti stated. “We want no more playing around. If you don’t do what we say, you will get shot in the head. How would your wife look in black?”
In 1940, Campagna, Nitti and the others were indicted and charged with conspiracy to loot Local 278’s treasury. McLane, when called on to testify, invoked the Fifth Amendment. The prosecution’s case then failed and the union was thrown into receivership and the charges dropped.
Also, during the mid-1930s, Nitti, Campagna, Ricca, Gioe, Phil D’Andrea, Nick Circella, Frank Maritote, Louis Kaufman, and Johnny Roselli, were part of an extortion plot involving the International Alliance of Theatrical, Stage Employees & Motion Picture Operators union.* With Willie Bioff and George E. Brown acting as front men for them the Chicago mob made over a million dollars from the venture.
During this period, Bioff was sent to prison on an unrelated charge. He sent word that he wanted to get out of the rackets. He was paid a visit by Campagna who informed him that, “Anybody who resigns, resigns feet first.” Bioff understood the message. When he and Browne were finally indicted in the union scam they both rolled over on their Chicago mob partners. The indictment of the leadership of the Chicago mob would result in the death of Frank Nitti* and the conviction of eight others including Campagna.
Campagna and Ricca were sentenced to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Feeling that they were too far away from Chicago, they tried to get transferred to Leavenworth prison in Kansas. Their request for transfer was denied by Atlanta prison officials. Their next request went a little higher, this time to the Bureau of Prisons in Washington D.C. Again the petition was denied. Then, working through Campagna’s wife Charlotte, Paul Dillon, a one-time campaign manager for Harry S. Truman in St. Louis, was contacted for help in getting the transfer. Over the vigorous opposition of the Atlanta warden, the Atlanta Prison Board, and the Board of Prisons in Washington D.C., Campagna and Ricca received their transfers to Leavenworth.
Once there, Chicago mob bigwigs Anthony Accardo and Murray Humphreys paid regular visits, signing in each time as Joseph I. Bulger, a mob attorney. Ricca and Campagna were now back with old mob associates Gioe and D’Andrea. The group now made attempts to get paroled even though less than one-third of their sentences had been served. The stumbling block for Ricca and Campagna was their nonpayment of back taxes totaling almost $600,000.
With the help of attorney Eugene Bernstein, a one-time employee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the money was collected through “anonymous donations,” and the tax obligation paid. In addition, $15,000 was paid to Dallas, Texas attorney Maury Hughes to secure the dismissal of charges of mail fraud from an earlier indictment of the group.
Next, again with the help of Paul Dillon, a petition was filed for parole for the men on August 6, 1947. One week later, Campagna, Ricca, Gioe, D’Andrea, and Roselli were released on parole. This travesty of justice caused a public outcry and the men were warned to stay away from Chicago. Through the efforts of their attorneys the men were soon able to return to their homes and businesses.
The clamor died down for a while until Senator Estes Kefauver revived it during his interstate crime hearings during the early 1950s. However, nothing ever became of the paroles.
After the hoopla from his early prison parole and his appearance before the Kefauver committee Campagna’s name rarely appeared in the newspapers. Campagna and his wife owned an 800-acre farm near Fowler, Indiana that was operated by their son. The$couple spent a lot of time there. This was in addition to their home in Berwyn, a Chicago suburb.
On May 30, 1955, Campagna was in Florida on a fishing trip aboard the yacht “Nellie,” owned by William Scott Stewart, his attorney. Campagna had just reeled in a 30 pound grouper, when he collapsed. One of the other four passengers radioed the Coast Guard and a helicopter was dispatched. Campagna was life-flighted to Mercy Hospital in Miami where he was pronounced dead of a heart attack at the age of 54
Campagna’s grief stricken wife Charlotte wired for the body to be returned to Rago’s Funeral Home on Harlem Avenue in Berwyn. At the wake held on Thursday June 2, three hundred cars jammed the funeral home parking lot, Harvard Avenue, and nearby side streets. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported:
“Tony Accardo stood at the door, and strict etiquette was observed. That is, the senior gangsters were permitted inside the mortuary, while the lesser lights milled around outside. Those who got past Accardo were permitted to offer condolences to Campagna’s widow Charlotte.
“The gangster’s body reposed in a bronze coffin, reminiscent of the old time gang funerals but the floral offerings were in less profusion than in days of yore.”
Among those who arrived to pay their last respects were Murray Humphreys, Rocco Fischetti, Joey Glimco, Claude Maddox, Joe Aiuppa, Sam Battaglia, Sam Giancana, Jackie Cerone, Ralph Pierce, and two of Al Capone’s younger brothers, John and Albert.
Campagna’s funeral was on Saturday, June 4. He was laid to rest at Mount Carmel Cemetery where his former boss Capone had been buried eight years earlier. Campagna’s close partner in crime, Paul Ricca, who had not been able to attend the wake, was in the funeral procession of 75 automobiles. The newspapers reported he looked ill, but he would survive another seventeen years.
At the cemetery, Accardo, who had been in charge at the wake, stood on a knoll about fifty feet from the burial site. Prayers were led by the funeral home director, Jack Rago, who first apologized that Campagna had been denied the rites of the Catholic Church because of his past and that appeals to the Catholic diocese had been turned down.
Although several hundred people were at the cemetery, it was not like the old days. The newspapers proclaimed there wasn’t a single politician, judge, or policeman among the mourners.
* = Will be covered in future columns.
Copyright A. R. May 1999