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Author Frank Hayde left no stone unturned as he assembled a comprehensive and readable history of the Kansas City underworld. He neatly tied together generations of political shenanigans by the influential Pendergast political machine and numerous murders and illicit business ventures by the local Sicilian-Italian Mafia organization.
In telling just over a century's worth of history, Hayde did considerably more than merely hit the high points - the Union Station Massacre, point-shaving allegations against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Strawman case, and the shocking assassination of a political boss within a Democratic headquarters. Hayde also provided rich detail on little known events, such as the Election Day riots of the 1920s and 1930s and the River Quay war, without ever allowing his narrative to become bogged down.
The result is the most complete picture yet of the Kansas City underworld and of the mutualistic relationship between organized politics and organized crime.
Drawing from court testimony, interviews and law enforcement surveillance, Hayde was able to tell plenty of the history through the actual words of the people who made that history. The big names on the seedier side of Kansas City's last century are all to be found within the covers of The Mafia and the Machine: several generations of Pendergasts; loyal machine politician Guy Park; Mafia front men Johnny Lazia and Charlie Binaggio; mobsters Joseph "Scarface" DiGiovanni, James Balestrere, Tano Lococo, Tony Gizzo and the Civellas - "Uncle Nick," "Carl the Cork" and "Tony Ripe."
While many books have been written about the Pendergast machine and about the Union Station Massacre, the surface has barely been scratched until now on Kansas City's colorful and violent gangster past. A center of gang activity from the James boys to the Civellas, it was characterized by Attorney General Homer Cummings in the 1930s as one of the spokes in the "Midwest Crime Corridor" axis, along with Chicago and the Twin Cities. The rise and fall of the Pendergast machine, its sponsorship of political and police corruption and wide-open gambling and vice which made the city a haven for outlaws, and its intertwining with the Kansas City Mafia are explored in detail. The Mob history continues through the Civella years of the KC Family's influential involvement in the Teamsters Union and Las Vegas and their rapid decline as the 20th Century closed. Long closely associated with the Chicago Mob (as indicated by their shared name -- "the Outfit"), KC's Italian mob was still no mere satellite, as Hayde amply demonstrates here. For sure it's in many ways a negative slice of history but it's history all the same. Like Chicago, Kansas City is one of the few truly all-American cities, the "Crossroads of America" where the urban East met and mingled with the Wild West. Like it or not, and maybe only a Midwesterner can truly appreciate this, the corruptive influences of the past were a major force in the rapid transformation of KC from a wild frontier cowtown to a sprawling and cultured metropolis. And there is truly inspiration in the rise of Harry Truman, one of our greatest Presidents, whose political career was sponsored by Tom Pendergast but who retained the strength to avoid embracing the venality of the Machine. Indebted but not beholden, Truman gave no favors to "Boss Tom" but acknowledged Pendergast's "mistakes" without disowning him as a man or a friend when others found it politically expedient to do so. That kind of honesty is sadly lacking in politicians these days.
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"The story of the American Mafia, is not complete without a chapter on Kansas City, Missouri. Even Hollywood gives a nod to Kansas City in movies about the Mafia. When Vito Corleone hosted a meeting of the national syndicate in "THE GODFATHER", he welcomed delegates from Kansas City and the other territories. In Martin Scorsese's epic "CASINO" Chicago is never mentioned by name, but Kansas City is freely invoked as the setting for complicated Mob conspiracies. When New York wise guys needed a cover for Hugh Grant in the Mob comedy "MICKEY BLUE EYES, they dressed him up as a "goodfella" from KC. And in the second season of HBO's "THE SOPRANO'S", Sal Bonpensiero's FBI handler makes mention of a fellow organized crime investigator who was reassigned to Kansas City. Screenwriters and storytellers have long been aware of what many Midwesterners are not: KANSAS CITY IS KEY IN THE HISTORY OF ORGANIZED CRIME!"
"Investigations conducted in the 1950's in Kansas City and elsewhere revealed a "second government" that reigned throughout the 20th century. This shadow government was made up of one "FAMILY" in 19 major territories and 5 "FAMILIES" in New York City. Bosses reigned over their families and territories like feudal lords from the old country. A commission of powerful bosses from several cities oversaw this network of families, making the rules and arbitrating disputes. In the glory days, the mafia reached into every segment of urban society and its tentacles often radiated right from the Heart of America. Events unfolding in Kansas City would affect the fortunes of all the Mafia families and shape the destiny of the entire underworld. The history of "LA COSA NOSTRA" (This Thing of Ours."), is an intricate web of intrigue, with Kansas City right in the thick of it.Read more ›
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