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 was later the front-man for the Chicago Outfit, the organized crime syndicate headed by Capone.

Frank Nitti was portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia in the 1988 biopic “Nitti: The Enforcer”.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

So much for Hollywood.

Here’s some history, for you:

Nitti’s Early Life

Francesco Raffaele Nitto was born in the small town of Angri, in the Italian province of Salerno, Campania.

He was the second child of Luigi and Rosina (nee 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 hours 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.

Francesco 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 Francesco 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.

Uncertainty, and Gang Links

The next several years of Nitti’s life are poorly documented, and little can be ascertained.

Francesco 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 definitely married Chicagoan Rosa (Rose) Levitt in Dallas, Texas, on October 18, 1917 – but the couple’s movements after their marriage remain uncertain.

Nitti 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.

Prohibition, and 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. 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 instincts dictated that he should personally avoid the “dirty work”, and contract it out to others – an early use of delegation.

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 New King of Chicago

Frank Nitti took over control of Chicago after Capone was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment in 1932 for income-tax evasion.

Nitti got down to business almost immediately.

He summoned those close to Capone to a conference, outlining how things were going to operate in Capone’s absence, with him as head. Most of the Outfit’s top men were in attendance, including Jake Guzik, Murray Humphreys, Gus Alex, Anthony Accardo, and Paul Ricca.

At the summit Paul Ricca was promoted to Underboss; he would be Nitti’s second in command when enforcing the Outfit’s law on the streets of Chicago. Also promoted that day was Tony Accardo, who had been Capone’s bodyguard; he was given the rank of Capo.

After Repeal

The repeal of the extremely unpopular Volsted Act in 1933 brought an end to Prohibition – and meant that the Outfit had lost its largest source of income.

Nitti had to diversify the Outfit’s interests into areas that had once been secondary to bootlegging.

Nitti expanded their operations into prostitution, gambling and labor racketeering. He also involved the Outfit in legitimate business enterprises, including taverns all across Chicago and a substantial stake in the slot-machine business.

Gambling was to become the lifeblood of the Chicago Mafia, just as bootlegging had been in the Capone era.

A few months into his reign Nitti had to deal with constant pressure from the police – much of it instigated by an old Capone foe, Teddy Newburry.

Further Marriages

Anna Nitti died in 1938.

On November 8, 1939, Capone’s former lawyer Edward J. O’Hare (who had co-operated in bringing about Capone’s downfall) was shot and killed.

Nitti married Ursula Sue Granata – O’Hare’s fiancée – who died in 1940.

He subsequently married Annette Caravetta on May 14, 1942.

Hollywood Extortion Indictment

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 – labor unrest which was 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 the FBI informant who exposed the scheme (Willie Bioff) one of Nitti’s trusted associates, Nitti should go to prison.

An Ambiguous Death

Severely claustrophobic 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 seems to have 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.

Two railroad workers spotted Nitti walking on the track of an oncoming train and shouted a warning. They thought the train hit him, but Nitti had jumped out of the way in time.

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 contained .23 of 1 per cent of alcohol – enough to cause an ordinary person to become intoxicated.

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 an Illinois Central railroad branch line in North Riverside, Illinois on March 19, 1943, at the age of 57.

Nitti is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. 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. And straight up from the gate can be found the graves of Dion O’Banion and Hymie Weiss – both North Side Gang leaders ordered killed by Capone.

Lot of action, at Mount Carmel.

But that’s all the action, for this one.

See you for our next story – I hope.

Till then.