On February 15th, 1933, Italian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara, suffering from a stomach ulcer and from frustration over the inequalities of the world, fired several shots at President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt at a political rally in Miami, Florida. The President-elect was unhurt, but then-Mayor of Chicago Anton Cermak, who had helped Roosevelt win over the voters of Chicago, was mortally wounded. Conspiracy theorists claimed that Zangara had been hired by a mobster (e.g. Al Capone) to assassinate Roosevelt, but the FBI investigation found that Zangara had worked alone. He is immortalized in the Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins.

Guiseppe Zangara was born in Ferruzzano, Sicily on September 7, 1900. At the age of six he started school but after two months he was forced to go to work to help improve the family income. During World War I he acted as a sharpshooter in the Italian Army. After the war, Zangara did a variety of menial jobs in Italy, eventually immigrating with his uncle to the United States in 1923.

Zangara settled in New Jersey where he ostensibly got a job as a bricklayer, however his true occupation was bootlegger. In 1929 he was arrested for operating a massive thousand-gallon still, and was sent to federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. After being released, he moved to Florida and developed a gambling addiction, blowing his money on horse and dog racing. He eventually owed so much money to his Mob bookies that he had to become a drug mule in order to pay off his debts. Zangara would have to courier drugs from a south-Florida processing plant up to New York. However, Zangara was later caught by his bosses skimming off some of the drugs and cheating them out of the profits. He was quickly earmarked for elimination.

Meanwhile in Chicago, newly elected mayor Anton Cermak hired two corrupt cops to kill Mob boss Frank Nitti for $15,000. This was not to “clean up the city,” but instead to make things easier for his organized crime connection, Frank Touhy. The Chicago Outfit, not pleased that the new mayor tried to have one of their top guys killed, quickly put a hit out on Cermak, causing him to flee to Florida until hopefully the heat died down.

Guiseppe Zangara was the perfect assassin, not only was he Sicilian and a trained sharpshooter, but he also had nothing to lose. If he didn’t go through with the Cermak job he was going to be killed anyway, and Florida was known to have liberal laws dealing with mentally unstable criminals, so Zangara could just plead insanity. On February 13, 1933, Zangara fired three shots into Anton Cermak as he sat on a stage thirty feet away from newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The accepted version of the murder is that Zangara was a complete psychopath who was supposedly aiming at Roosevelt, a man whom he paradoxically said he admired and, despite being a sharpshooter, missed his real target by thirty feet.

Zangara pled insanity when he was brought to trial, but he took a prison warden into his confidence and told him the whole story. The warden reported to the Secret Service that Zangara was not insane and was “linked to some sort of criminal syndicate.” Zangara was quickly found guilty of murder and sentenced to the electric chair.

On March 20, 1933, Guiseppe Zangara was executed. His final words were “Viva Italia! Viva Comorra!” Comorra is an Italian word synonymous with Mafia.

Organized Crime by August Bequai
The Outfit by Gus Russo

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