March 19, 1943: Gangster Frank Nitti Shoots Himself…Three Times!

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A Brief history

On March 19, 1943, the successor to Al Capone’s crime empire was drunk and despondent over a pending Grand Jury appearance.

Digging Deeper

Frank Nitti, 57 years old, was running the Chicago crime scene having taken over when he and Al “Scarface” Capone went to jail for tax evasion.  Capone had gotten 11 years in prison, while Nitti, Capone’s second in command, had only been sentenced to a year and a half.  When Nitti was released in 1932, he took over as the crime lord of Chicago.  Or did he?  Some evidence exists that indicate Nitti was the big boss in name only, and the real power behind the scenes lay with his supposed lieutenant, Paul “The Waiter” Ricca.

Nitti’s life took a turn for the worse in 1932 when Chicago police attempted to murder him, shooting him 3 times in the back and neck while slightly wounding a policeman to make it look like they shot Nitti in self defense.  Nitti not only survived, but he was acquitted of attempted murder, while the police involved got a $100 fine for simple assault and were fired!  The story behind that incident is that Mayor Cermak may have been responsible for the attempt in an effort to replace Nitti with a gangster boss controlled by city hall!  One way or another, Cermak got his only two months later when he was assassinated while talking to President Roosevelt!

Nitti and the Chicago mob had branched out from bootlegging at the end of prohibition into all sorts of aspects of crime, one of which was manipulating labor unions to extort money from Hollywood production companies.  This activity would prove to be Nitti’s undoing. M ob leaders blamed Nitti for their predicament and made it clear that since the scheme was Nitti’s idea and since the government informant was someone Nitti vouched for that Nitti should take the blame and go to jail to prevent the others from serving time.  Nitti had been traumatized by his 1931 stint in prison and was terrified of returning behind bars.  He may or may not have also been suffering from terminal cancer, but certainly was claustrophobic and was dreading confinement.

Drinking himself drunk, Nitti took a walk along a rail yard where trainmen witnessed him shoot himself in the head without effect!  That was apparently because he missed, putting a bullet through his hat!  Nitti’s next shot shattered his jaw but failed to put him down, and only the third shot behind his ear did the trick and Nitti was dead at 57.  Nitti had finished the job that crooked Chicago cops had failed at 12 years before!

Nitti, being an Italian Catholic, was buried in a Catholic cemetery although normal Catholic doctrine is that suicides are a mortal sin and people who commit suicide are banned from Catholic cemeteries. Apparently, the coroner’s ruling that Nitti was temporarily insane due to intoxication and depression relieved Nitti of the responsibility for his decision to kill himself, another cracked chapter in this story!

Frank Nitti lives on in re-runs of the 1950-60’s television show, The Untouchables as the main villain for Eliot Ness to chase around and in many movies played by actors such as Sylvester Stallone, Billy Drago, Stanley Tucci, and even Bill Camp on the cable television show, Drunk History!

The final tidbit: Former NHL goalie, Antero Nittymaki wore a picture of Frank Nitti on his hockey mask!  Question for students (and subscribers): Who’s picture would you wear on yours?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Eghigian Jr., Mars.  After Capone: The Life and World of Chicago Mob Boss Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti.  Cumberland House Publishing, 2005.

Humble, Ronald D.  Frank Nitti: The True Story of Chicago’s Notorious Enforcer.  Barricade Books, 2008.

Nitti The Enforcer.  Direct Source Label, 2006.  DVD.

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.