Francesco Raffaele Nitto (January 27, 1886 – March 19, 1943), also known as Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, was an Italian American gangster. One of Al Capone's top henchmen, Nitti was in charge of all strong-arm and 'muscle' operations. Nitti later succeeded Capone as boss of the Chicago Outfit.
Early life and Prohibition
Francesco Raffaele Nitto was born in the small town of Angri, province of Salerno, Campania, Italy. He was the second child of Luigi and Rosina (Fezza) Nitto and a first cousin of Al Capone. His father died in 1888, when Frank was two years old, and within a year his mother married Francesco Dolendo. Although two children were born to the couple, neither survived — leaving Francesco and his older sister, Giovannina, the only children. Francesco Dolendo emigrated to the United States in July 1890, and the rest of the family followed in June 1893 when Nitti was 7. The family settled at 113 Navy Street, Brooklyn, New York City. Little Francesco attended public school and worked odd jobs after school to support the family. His 15-year-old sister married a 24-year-old man and his mother gave birth to his half-brother Raphael in 1894, and another child, Gennaro, in 1896. He quit school after the seventh grade, and worked as a pinsetter, factory worker, and barber. Al Capone's family lived nearby, and Nitti was friends with Capone's older brothers and their criminal gang (the Navy Street Boys).
A worsening relationship with Dolendo provoked him to leave home when he was 14 in 1900 to work in various local factories. Around 1910, at the age of 24, he left Brooklyn. The next several years of his life are poorly documented, and little can be ascertained. He may have worked in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn around 1911. He probably moved to Chicago around 1913, working as a barber and making the acquaintance of gangsters Alex Louis Greenberg and Dean O'Banion. He married Chicagoan Rosa (Rose) Levitt in Dallas, Texas, on October 18, 1917. The couple's movements after their marriage remain uncertain. He is known to have become a partner in the Galveston crime syndicate run by "Johnny" Jack Nounes. He is reported to have stolen a large sum of money from Nounes and fellow mobster Dutch Voight, after which Nitti fled to Chicago. By 1918, Nitti had settled there at 914 South Halsted Street. Nitti quickly renewed his contacts with Greenberg and O'Banion, becoming a jewel thief, liquor smuggler, and fence. Through his liquor smuggling activities, Nitti came to the attention of Chicago crime boss Johnny "Papa Johnny" Torrio and Torrio's newly arrived soldier, Al Capone.
Under Torrio's successor Al Capone, Nitti's reputation soared. Nitti ran Capone's liquor smuggling and distribution operation, importing whisky from Canada and selling it through a network of speakeasies around Chicago. Nitti was one of Capone's top lieutenants, trusted for his leadership skills and business acumen. Because of Nitti's Sicilian ancestry, he was able to help Capone penetrate the Sicilian underworld in a way Capone alone never could (Capone was not Sicilian). Capone thought so highly of Nitti that when he went to prison in 1929, he named Nitti as a member of a triumvirate that ran the mob in his place. Nitti was head of operations, with Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik as head of administration and Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo as head of enforcement. Despite his nickname ("The Enforcer"), Nitti used Mafia soldiers and others to commit violence rather than do it himself. In earlier days, Nitti had been one of Capone's trusted personal bodyguards, but as he rose in the organization, Nitti's business instinct dictated that he must personally avoid the "dirty work"—that was what the hit men were paid for.
Frank and Rose Nitti divorced in 1928, and shortly thereafter he married Anna Ronga Nitti, daughter of a mob doctor and former neighbor of the Nittis in the 1920s. The couple adopted a son, Joe.
The Outfit under Nitti
In 1931, both 45-year-old Frank Nitti and 32-year-old Al Capone were convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison; however, Nitti received an 18-month sentence, while Capone was sent away for 11 years. Nitti was not a troublesome prisoner, but found the year-and-a-half confinement in a cell difficult because of the closed-in space. When Nitti was released in 1932, he took his place as the new boss of the Capone Gang.
While some revisionist historians claim that Nitti was a mere "front boss" while others, namely Paul "The Waiter" Ricca, were the "real" bosses of the Chicago Outfit, both contemporary and modern accounts confirm that Capone's successor was indeed Frank Nitti. According to Nitti biographer Mars Eghigian, Nitti's age, brilliance, and reputation in the underworld made him Capone's personal choice for successor, rather than younger, less experienced mobsters such as Ricca or Murray Humphreys. In actuality, Paul Ricca was merely the acting boss of the Chicago Outfit for a six-month period between Capone's October 1931 imprisonment and Frank Nitti's April 1932 release. With the recently released Nitti paranoid about violating his federal parole, Ricca was acting in the capacity of emissary that same month when he was arrested with Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and other mobsters by Chicago police and prominently photographed. This picture would cause some to incorrectly infer that Paul Ricca was the new boss of the Chicago mob.
With Nitti calling the shots, the Chicago Outfit branched out from prostitution and gambling into other areas, including control of labor unions (which led to the extortion of many businesses). On December 19, 1932, a team of Chicago police, headed by Detective Sergeants Harry Lang and Harry Miller, raided Nitti's office in Room 554, at 221 N. LaSalle Street in Chicago. Lang shot Nitti three times in the back and neck. He then shot himself (a minor flesh wound) to make the shooting look like self-defense, claiming that Nitti had shot him first. Court testimony later insisted that the murder attempt was personally ordered by newly elected Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who supposedly wanted to eliminate the Chicago Outfit in favor of gangsters who answered to him. Nitti survived the shooting and, in February 1933, was acquitted of attempted murder. During that same trial, Miller testified that Lang received $15,000 to kill Nitti. Another uniformed officer who was present at the shooting testified that Nitti was shot while unarmed. Harry Lang and Harry Miller were both fired from the police force and each fined US$100 for simple assault. Two months later, Cermak was shot and killed by Giuseppe Zangara, a Calabrian immigrant. At the time, Cermak was talking to President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. Most historians believe, corroborated by Zangara's own comments and a note left behind at his room, that he intended to kill Roosevelt but missed and hit Cermak instead.
Anna Nitto died on Nov. 19, 1940 in Mercy Hospital, Chicago, from an unspecified internal ailment. Nitti married Annette (Toni) Caravetta on May 14, 1942; she was widowed almost a year later, when he committed suicide.
In 1943, many top members of the Chicago Outfit were indicted for extorting the Hollywood film industry. Among those prosecuted were Nitti, Phil D'Andrea, Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Nick Circella, Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, Ralph Pierce, Ricca, and John "Handsome Johnny" Roselli. The Outfit was accused of trying to extort money from some of the largest movie studios, including Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, RKO Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. The studios had cooperated with The Outfit to avoid union trouble (unrest itself stirred up by the mob). At a meeting of Outfit leaders at Nitti's home, Ricca blamed Nitti for the indictments. Ricca said that since this had been Nitti's scheme and that of the FBI informant (Willie Bioff) one of Nitti's trusted associates, Nitti should go to prison. A severe claustrophobe as a result of his first prison term, Nitti dreaded the idea of another prison confinement. It was also rumored that he was suffering from terminal cancer at this time. For these or possibly other reasons, he ultimately decided to take his own life.
The day before his scheduled grand jury appearance, Nitti had breakfast with his wife in their home at 712 Selborne Road in Riverside, Illinois. When his wife left for church, Nitti told her he planned to take a walk, then began to drink heavily. He then loaded a .32 caliber revolver, put it in his coat pocket, and walked five blocks to a local railroad yard. Conductor William F. Seebauer and switchmen L.M. Barnett and E.H. Moran were riding in the caboose, backing their train slowly southward over an ungated Cermak Road. The workers spotted an oblivious Nitti walking on the track away from them and shouted a warning. Nitti walked off the tracks staggering towards the fence. Two shots rang out. The workers thought Nitti was shooting at them, then realized he was trying to shoot himself in the head. The first shot fired by Nitti's unsteady hand missed and passed through his fedora. The second bullet slammed into his right jaw and exited through the top of his head, taking a lock of his hair with it and leaving the tuft protruding from the hole in the crown of the fedora. The final, fatal, bullet entered behind Nitti's right ear and lodged in the top of his skull. Police Chief Allen Rose of North Riverside rushed to the scene with a sergeant and several beat patrolmen, and recognized Nitti immediately. An autopsy by Dr. William McNalley, coroner's toxicologist, showed that Nitti's blood alcohol Level was 0.23. A coroner's jury ruled the following day that Nitti "committed suicide while temporarily insane and in a despondent frame of mind."
Frank Nitti died on March 19, 1943, at the age of 57. Nitti is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. Speculation has persisted regarding the interment of a suicide in a Catholic cemetery. Nitti's grave can be found left of the main Roosevelt Road entrance, about fifty feet from the gate. It is marked "Nitto". To the right of the gate is the family plot containing the grave of Al Capone, marked by a six-foot white monument stone. Straight up from the gate are the graves of Dean O'Banion and Hymie Weiss, both North Side Gang, who were killed by the Chicago Outfit under Capone.