Feature Articles

April 2001

"Like Cashmere On A Leper"

(Part One)

By John William Tuohy

     Paul Ricca, better known as Paul the waiter, was an enigma to those around him. He could, and often did, cry openly at the birth of a soldier's new born child.

     In the working class dominated underworld, where ignorance is a virtue, Ricca was not only relatively well read, he practiced old world manners. He never spoke a vulgar word. He bowed slightly to women and they adored him. He was refined in the peasant Italian view of what refinement was. He never told an off color story. Politicians liked him. Mob legend says that he was a guest for dinner at the Roosevelt White House.

     Ricca spoke often and colorfully about his impoverished childhood in Naples and he was known to be generous in his donations to assist Chicago's poverty stricken immigrant Italian community.

     From his massive estate in River Forrest, empowered by his vast fortune, most of it in cash, Ricca was able to slip in and out of Chicago's elite society "like cashmere around a leper."

     The real Paul Ricca was a stone cold killer, equally proficient with a knife or an ice pick. He enjoyed his reputation for heartlessness and cruelty. Even Sam Giancana was amazed that Ricca "...a real bastard that guy. He would laugh while he cut out a man's heart."

     Ricca was suspected by police and Federal agents of taking part in at least 24 murders in as many years. That number didn't include the many other killings he ordered during the almost forty years that he ruled over the Chicago outfit.

     The little that is known about his background, for he was a very secretive man, is that he was born Paul De Luca Angelo Ciolo in Naples 1897.

     In 1917, Ricca killed Emilia Parillo. Ricca liked to say that he knifed Parillo to death because Parillo, just a boy at the time Ricca snuffed out his life, dared to ask for Ricca's sister, Amelia's hand in marriage and later that he killed Parillo because he had jilted her.

     Ricca liked that story so much that he spread it around and even paid some newspaper people to print it for him.

     The truth is that Parillo was killed in a retaliation murder for the Mafia which Ricca was already a member of in 1917.

     Whatever the reason, the 17-year-old Ricca stabbed the unarmed boy to death while he begged for his life and then left him on a dark street to bleed to death.

     Ricca was arrested and did some time for the killing, but only two years since it was a crime of passion and in the village life view of things, Ricca had acted honorably if his story was to be believed.

     However, when Ricca was released from jail, he hunted down the witness against him, a young man named Vincenzo Capasso, and slit his throat from ear to ear and then fled to America using the name Paul Maglio, a village friend. There was no doubt who had killed Capasso. Ricca was tried in absentia and convicted to twenty-two years in prison.

     Ricca arrived in America just before his twenty-first birthday by way of Cuba to avoid annoying questions by the Immigration department.

     Once in Cuba, Ricca was placed in touch with a fellow Neapolitan, "Diamond Joe" Esposito, who brought Ricca out to Chicago and placed him under the Bloody Genna brothers.

     Ricca's first job was to run sugar and whiskey from Cuba to points north and moonshine from Kentucky to Chicago.

     But Diamond Joe could see that Ricca was far more intelligent that the lowly bred Gennas and their religious fanaticism and blood lust. As a result, Ricca climbed up the ladder quickly.

     Esposito liked him, Ricca could court favor when he had to, and he was made maitre d' at Esposito's restaurant the Bella Napoli, hence his nickname "Paul the Waiter," a name Ricca detested. "I was the manager, you want to call me a waiter. . .then go ahead."

     In 1928, when the Justice department started using deportation as a means to level out the Capone organization, Ricca retained American citizenship under the name Paul DeLucia, because he wrongly assumed that the Italian government had notified the American government he was living in the country under the name Paul Maglio. That was another mistake that would come back to haunt him. Ricca had already filed income tax returns under the name Paul Maglio and swore on those documents that he was an American citizen and that Paul Maglio was his actual name.

     During his long career as Chicago's most influential and powerful gangster, the federal government would never allow Ricca to live out his life of crime without interference. But even under the constant scrutiny of the entire Justice department, Paul Ricca ruled supreme in the Chicago underworld for almost four decades.

     With time, Ricca drifted over to the Capone organization and again, he courted the powers that be and rose up the ladder quickly and quietly.

     Ricca was present with Al Capone at the Atlantic City conference and by 1929, a year after he had set up Diamond Joe Esposito for murder, law enforcement and the syndicate considered him an up and coming star of the Chicago mob.

     In 1930 Capone sent Ricca as his personal emissary to New York in an effort to settle the Castellmarese war. It was the start of Ricca's push to power on the national syndicate commission. Ricca continued to sit in on national commission meetings, sometimes with Nitti's knowledge, more often without it.

     As early as 1929, Ricca could read the writing on the wall and the writings said that Capone was going down, sooner or later, but Capone was going down. The feds were planning to get Capone and make an international example out of him.

     The smart money and the old time bosses, who had taken a liking to Ricca, advised Ricca to keep a low profile and distance himself from "that gorilla," as New York called Capone behind his back.

To be continued

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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