Feature Articles

December 2001

El Rubirosa

By John William Tuohy

     In 1961, one of the many things that the Chicago mob wanted was a replacement for Cuba, so they looked around for a small, poor country, close to the United States, one that could be easily controlled, preferably run by a corrupt dictator who would allow the outfit to build its casinos on his sandy shores and stockpile its dirty money in phony banks created just for them.

     Central America had potential. The Outfit and their occasional partners, the CIA, virtually ran the place anyway, but it was hot, and undeveloped and poor, real poor. And if there was one thing gambling tourists in search of a good time didn't want, it was to look at sweaty, poor, undeveloped locals.

     No, Central America wouldn't do.

     Then the boys stumbled on the Dominican Republic, just off the Florida coast. It fit the bill exactly. The problem was that, the island's dictator, Raphael Trujillo, was not only losing his mind, he showed signs of warming up to the Soviet block. If that happened, the US would pull its support from the island, and the outfit would have to find another country to corrupt.

     Trujillo had his own contacts within the mob. For decades, he and Joe Bonanno, out of New York, had been in various businesses together. When the Kennedy administration broke relations with the Republic, Trujillo traded dope for stolen guns.

     Still, the Republic had real potential for Chicago, who weren't greatly concerned for Joe Bonanno, a man they held in contempt. All the mob needed to do was get the Kennedy administration to commit to its continuing support to the Republic with or without Trujillo in charge. And that's when the boys discovered the legendary Dominican Playboy, Porfirio Rubirosa, El Rubirosa.

     Rubirosa had spent most of his life in Palm Beach and New York bars trying, and succeeding most of the time, in seducing rich socialites, but he was also a roving ambassador for the Dominican Republic, with two primary duties. One was to make sure companies doing business with his father-in-law's government understood that they were to pad their bills with an extra 15%, which would be kicked back to the dictator's New York based holding companies.

     His other duty was to keep track of American based dissidents to Trujillo's reign. Using well paid mob contacts, Rubirosa turned information on the dissidents over to Trujillo's feared and brutal secret police, the SIM, which was under the control of Colonel John Abbes Garcia. He ran the secret police, the SIM (Servicio Intelligencia Militar), which dogged Dominicans all over the world.

     On more then one occasion, the SIM simply turned their murderous chores over to one of New York Mafia families to complete. The SIM and the mob kidnapped Dr. Jesus E. Galindez, a lecturer at Columbia University on March 12, 1956. Galindez had been an outspoken opponent of Trujillo.

     Two versions were advanced. One was that the SIM kidnapped him and threw him into a ship's furnace. The other is that he was returned to the Dominican Republic and Trujillo himself tortured him. The kidnap murder caused a minor international outrage, and to quell the public, Trujillo hired a New York law firm to investigate the disappearance, but all they could come up with was that Galindez had disappeared.

     Porfirio Rubirosa didn't seem the type to run an international terrorist squad. A Dominican by birth, Rubirosa's father had been a general in the army and later the charg´┐Ż d'affaires in Paris where Rubirosa grew up in the best schools and amongst the best people. He returned to the Dominican Republic in 1926 to study law at the age of 17 but left school to start a military career.

     By age twenty, he was a captain and came to the attention of President Trujillo who one day sent the handsome young captain to the airport to pick up his daughter, the plain looking Flor d'Oro -- Rubirosa took the hint and married the girl.

     Trujillo eventually rewarded the young Rubirosa's good sense by appointing him the position his father had held in Paris and even when Rubirosa divorced Trujillo's daughter in 1940, he managed to stay in the dictator's good graces and was allowed to retain his diplomatic position as well.

     After his divorce, Rubirosa married the French film star Danielle Darrieux and then American tobacco heiress Doris Duke, in 1947. When told that he would have to sign a pre-nuptial agreement minutes before the marriage took place, Rubirosa was so infuriated he smoked a cigarette throughout the entire ceremony. Afterwards, in an effort to soothe him over, Duke presented Rubirosa with a check for $500,000.00, several very expensive sports cars and a converted B-25 airplane, since he was also a pilot, and a string of polo ponies. The marriage lasted for thirteen months.

     Next, in 1953, Rubirosa married Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, his fourth wife, while carrying on an affair with the much married Zsa Zsa Gabor. He would later be named in her divorce petition. His marriage to Hutton lasted only 53 days during which time Hutton gave him, or spent on him, no less then $3.5 million in cash and gifts.

     Rubirosa was the ultimate pleasure seeker who loved the elegant life. Most nights would be spent dining on exotic foods and then drinking and dancing the rest of the evening away to the Latin rhythms that were then so popular with the international set then.

     "He also suffered," said a friend, "from a rare disease called priapism which kept him in an almost constant state of sexual arousal and left him unable to be sexually satisfied. He rarely achieved orgasms during sex and then only after hours of struggle. He knew that thing of his was his potential meal ticket and he actually trained to keep it in peak condition. He did exercises for it. He would drink each day a potion called pago-palo which he said came from the bark of a certain tree in the Dominican Republic, he believed that it guaranteed performance ... I once saw him balance a chair with a telephone book on it atop his erection. He said to me, "It's a muscle like any other, it can be strengthened."

     In the spring of 1961, Frank Sinatra, Sam Giancana and John Kennedy's new best friend, tumbled into Rubirosa's life when he, Peter Lawford and Dean Martin rented a luxury yacht in Germany and met with Rubirosa and his wife Odile off the French coast.

     Sinatra may have acted as the conduit between the mob, Rubirosa and the elite within the Dominican Republic which was plotting to overthrow Trujillo.

     With a verbal commitment, by way of Rubirosa, from the Dominican Republic's elite that the mob would be free to operate there once Trujillo was gone, all that Rubirosa had to do was to assure the Kennedy's that if it assisted in the Dominican military in replacing Trujillo in a coup, that the new government would be pro-United States.

     It's also not known if Sinatra set up the meeting, but after his cruise with Sinatra off the French coast, Rubirosa was invited to meet President Kennedy at his summer house on Cape Cod in late September.

     Rubirosa would be in the States anyway. The Manhattan District Attorney had summoned him to New York to question him about his role in the mob related kidnap-torture of several Dominican exiles.

     The day before Rubirosa, Sinatra and the president met in Cape Cod, Sinatra had spent the afternoon at the White House with performers Danny Kay and Judy Garland, teaching the staff how to make Bloody Mary's and then sipping them out on the rear balcony that overlooks the Washington monument.

     The next day, Sinatra took the president's private plane to the Kennedy's summer home on Cape Cod with Peter and Pat Lawford, Ted Kennedy and Porfirio Rubirosa and his wife Odile. The party went sailing on the president's boat, The Honey Fitz, for three and a half hours, during which Sinatra told everyone about his trip to Italy and his meeting with the Pope. When he was finished, a drunken Peter Lawford said, "All your friends in Chicago are Italian too, huh Frank?"

     It will probably never be known what Kennedy, Sinatra and Rubirosa discussed out on the Cape, but less than a month after the meeting, John Kennedy gave CIA Director Alan Dulles the okay to assassinate Trujillo and Sam Giancana began his plans to rebuild the Dominican Republic into another pre-Castro Cuba.

     Everything was moving along smoothly, until one of Bobby Kennedy's bugs picked up on Giancana's plans to turn the Dominican Republic into another Cuba, with the White House as an unwitting co-conspirator.

     Kennedy was enraged at Giancana's gall and ordered the FBI to "lockstep" the mob boss. Wherever Giancana went, the FBI was there.

     The pressure from the lockstep got to Giancana and came to a head when Giancana and Phyllis McGuire were returning from Las Vegas to O'Hare airport. When Sam emerged from the plane, with McGuire's hat and pocketbook in hand, FBI agent Roemer "whistled and howled at the gangster and told him how pretty he looked." "That bastard," Giancana said, "started whistling and saying I was queer and everything like that. I wanted to kill him. People gathered around, we were screaming back and forth. Man oh man, it was fuckin' ridiculous....He wanted me to throw a punch, that's what he wanted, the lousy cocksucker."

     As Giancana and McGuire raced down the airport's hallways, the agents walking only inches away from Giancana and McGuire kept "telling me what a great ass I had," as Sam said later. Finally Giancana turned and said "Why don't you fellows leave me alone, I'm one of you?" referring to the CIA plot to kill Castro.

     "Oh really?" said FBI agent Roemer, "Come on Momo, show us badge."

     When Giancana walked away in disgust, Roemer said "Oh come on Moe, we'll show you ours if you show us yours."

     Giancana flung himself around to face the agents and screamed, "What do you want to know? Ask me. Go ahead. Anything you want to know. Go ahead."

     "OK, tell us what you do for a living."

     "That's an easy one. I own Chicago. I own Miami. I own Las Vegas."

     More words were exchanged and finally agent Roemer lost control and yelled out to the crowd that had surrounded them.

     "Sam Giancana, this slime, is the boss of the underworld here in Chicago, this slime. You people are lucky you're just passing through Chicago and you don't have to live with this jerk."

     Momo stuck his face into Roemer's and said: "Roemer you light a fire here tonight that will never go out we'll get you if it's the last thing we do!"

     The day after the airport incident, Giancana was still fuming and talking about killing FBI agent Roemer. Cooler heads prevailed and Giancana called off the contract on the agent's life.

     Tony Accardo, Giancana's boss, called off the contract, the next day.

     As for Rubirosa, in 1968 he ran his sports car, at an estimated 97 miles per hour, into a tree along the French coast and was killed instantly

Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to

Past Issues

Copyright © 1998 - 2001 PLR International