Feature Articles

July 2001

Battaglia Brothers

By John William Tuohy

     The Battaglias, Paul Augie, Sam and Frank, crawled out of Chicago's little Italy and dominated the Chicago mob for four decades, before they fell from power.

     The eldest brother was Paul, a member of the Genna gang as well as a founder of the street gang, the 42's. He was later one of its leaders. Paul Battaglia's first arrest, on January 24, 1934, for trying to shake down a wholesale producer, came in august company. The others arrested with him included Willie Bioff, Frank Miller, cousin to the notorious Miller boys and Nicky Dean (Circella). Bioff and Circella would join up again in 1933 to extort the Hollywood studios.

     Paul Battaglia owned a saloon at 819 West Madison, where he conduced a successful bail bond business. The saloon was also next to the first burlesque house shaken down by Willie Bioff and George Browne. The end for Paul Battaglia came when he started robbing

     Capone-protected gambling houses. He continued robbing the casinos when Frank Nitti became boss, but Nitti was far less tolerant in these things then was Big Al. Nitti sent out gunners to kill Paul Battaglia on August 27, 1938. He was kidnapped off the street, shot twice through the head, and then tossed into an alley from a speeding car.

     Augie Battaglia was a good natured thug who, as leader of the 42's, was worshipped by the gang's younger members, Giancana, D'Arco and the like. Augie was killed in a shoot-out with police during the labor wars of 1931, when he was the leader of the 42's.

     Brothers Frank and Sam Battaglia were in custody at the time but were allowed to attend Augie's funeral, handcuffed to police detectives. A group of 42's at the funeral considered slugging the cops and freeing the brothers but then decided against it.

     Brother Frank Battaglia is best known for the robbery shooting of a pregnant women named Mrs. Maria Pelletier. The mother of four, Mrs. Pelletier refused to allow Battaglia to steal her purse and fought back. Battaglia shot her through the head, took her purse and fled by car with other 42 gang members Sam Battaglia, Marshal Caifano and future democratic boss John D' Arco.

     Sam "Teets" Battaglia was a burglar and muscle man, who joined the outfit in 1924, after putting in his time with the 42 as well.

     Sam was a good looking, huge teenager when he smashed onto the headlines in 1930, when he was charged with robbing, at gunpoint, the wife of Mayor William "Big Bill" Hale Thompson of $15,500 in jewelry and taking the shield and pistol off of her police bodyguard-chauffeur, Officer Peter J. O'Malley. He was arrested a few days later and released for lack of evidence.

     Teets, he picked up the name from his threats to pay up or he would "kick your Teets down your throat," was arrested twenty-five times in thirty years and was suspected in no less then seven murders.

     Two weeks later, on December 1, 1930, he was picked up for driving the getaway car for hold-up men who robbed a high stakes poker game of a bunch of successful merchants who met each Sunday for a friendly game.

     However, the police were tipped off, and were waiting for Battaglia and the others when they showed up for the caper. After the robbers entered the house, the police were already inside, with their guns drawn. There was a shoot-out, and one of the players, a city egg inspector Leonard Sanor, was caught in the crossfire and killed.

     All of the robbers got away except Battaglia, who was sitting in the car with the motor running. Released on bond, Battaglia was accused of shooting police detective Martin Joyce at the C&O cafe, a speakeasy, on New Year's Eve. Apparently, Joyce was in the bar room drinking when Battaglia and three others crashed into the front door and attempted to rob the place. Joyce pulled his weapon and ordered them to surrender but Battaglia fired off a round into the cop's belly and then fled.

     Later that same year, Battaglia was accused of kidnapping Louis Kaplan, a wealthy car company owner and holding him for a $100,000 ransom. In each case, Battaglia was represented by Sidney Korshak, the mob's lead attorney and advisor in the late 1950s through the 1970s.

     When called before the McClellan committee, Teets took the Fifth sixty times in less then an hour of questioning.

     In the 1950s, Battaglia was promoted to crew chief working under Rocco DeGrazio in Elwood park. While DeGrazio busied himself in the narcotics financing business, Battaglia opened a string of gambling joints and prostitution rings.

     When most other Itallian mobsters refused to dabble in loansharking, more or less leaving it to the Jewish arm of the organization, Battaglia readily leaped into the business and for almost a decade was one of Chicago's leading juice kings, with an estimated $5,000,000 out on the streets of Chicago and Las Vegas at any given time. Battaglia also controlled all of the gambling in the suburbs of Melrose Park, Schiller Park, Bellwood, Elmwood Park and the entire west side of Chicago.

     Battaglia was such a big money earner, that it was widely assumed, in and outside of the mob, that he, and not Sam Giancana, would take Tony Accardo's place when Joe Batters retired.

     Since Battaglia was such a good earner, Tony Accardo allowed him to run a bigger than usual crew. Working directly under Battaglia's command were some of the biggest names in the rackets: Albert "Obbie" Frabotta, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Aldersio and Marshal Caifano. Aldersio, Battaglia and Jackie "The Lacky" Cerone and a lesser known hood, Frankie Beto, owned the Sahara North Hotel together, as well as a massive handbook out of a storefront called Court Cleaners, on West Harrison Street.

     The name Court Cleaner came from the fact that most of its handbooks clients were lawyers who came from the nearby law library. Battaglia's other busines partner included Irwin Weiner, the bailbondsman and friend of Jack Ruby, who assured the Warren commission that Ruby wasn't at all connected to the mob.

     Weiner and Battaglia owned several businesses together including a meat processing plant.

     Other Battaglia regulars included John Wolek, called Donkey Ears, who was a convicted burglar, Joe Amabile, better known in the underworld as Joe Shine who operated the El Morocco lounge in North Lake, and Josephine Donofrio, who was Battaglia's wife sister.

     There was also Rocco Salvatore, who was Battaglia's constant companion and gofer. Joe Rocco was another crew member who was employed as Battaglia's horse ranch as a trainer. He later admitted to a congressional committee that he was afraid of horses. Rocco's actual job was as the outfit's leading counterfeiter.

     There was also Angelo Jannotta, the crew's chief bookmaker. The Battaglias made a fortune dumping stolen whiskey into Chicago's bars, arson for hire and by laying claim to all of the parking services across the city.

     The crew pooled 25% of their funds and invested heavily in commercial real estate in Nevada and Arizona, where they owned a massive industrial office complex. They owned car leasing companies, laundries, hotels, motels, resorts trucking, building supplies wholesale companies, clothing factories, food processors, dairy products and theaters.

     Battaglia's crew made so much money that the entire gang were regular attendants at the stockholders meeting of giant conglomerate, Twin Foods. A company spokesman later identified four of the gangsters in Battaglia's crew as paid salesmen for the company.

     The crew also owned a car dealership together, on North Cicero Avenue. One day 300 cars, the dealership's entire stock, simply disappeared from the lot. The crew filed for bankruptcy and collected on the insurance.

     With the cash they made from that scam, Battaglia sent crew member Marshal Caifano out to Las Vegas with "a boat load of cash" to invest in real estate that surrounded the casinos along the strip.

     Battaglia and Caifano went back to the 42 gang, and they were arrested together on August 18, 1943, when a cruising police car stopped them after recognizing Battaglia. A search of the car produced a sawed off shotgun, a rifle, a hand grenade and five pistols. Battaglia said he didn't know who the weapons belonged to, and since the car was a rental, the case was dropped. From that day onwards, not a single ranking member of the outfit ever rode around in a car that was owned by him, outright.

     Although otherwise happily married, and a good father to his children, in 1960 Battaglia was keeping Darlene Fasel as his mistress. Fasel was the daughter of a wealthy River Forrest industrialist who disowned her and cut her out of the family will.

     Battaglia's daughter would marry Donald Gagliano, creating a sort of mob royalty. His son gained a reputation as a high school football star who looked like he might go on to the professional leagues.

     Sam Giancana's place as Don of the Chicago outfit was taken by Teets Battaglia in 1965. Teets didn't want the job, he was making a fortune without it, but Accardo pressured him into it and Battaglia assumed the mantle of power that Big Jim Colosimo made some eighty years before.

     By June of 1966, Battaglia, who was supposed to be leading the mob and above petty issues, almost went to war with Fifi Buccieri and his crew when Buccieri invaded the north side gambling locations that belonged to Battaglia's crews.

     Accardo and Ricca called a meeting and tried to work it all out, but when underboss Joe Ferriola seemed to be siding with Buccieri, Milwaukee Phil Aldersio leaped across the table at the hood, threatening him.

     "I'll tear you apart, limb by limb."

     At this point, Chicago was almost leaderless. Then Battaglia brought down more heat when Police Captain Lewis Case of Oak Park was forced to resign due to his deep involvement with Battaglia, even escorting the hood and his wife to Miami Beach in the winter.

     After that, his son was brought up on draft dodging charges and Teets brought in the legendary, and colorful Edward Bennett Williams to defend him, which created another media circus around the outfit.

     He would either have to step down like Giancana did, or be killed. Luckily for all involved, the federal government convicted Battaglia on an extortion charge in 1967 and sent him to prison. He had been boss for just over a year, the shortest reign in the history of the mob. Battaglia died of cancer in 1973.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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