Frank Nitti


January 27, 1881 Angri, Campania, Italy


March 19, 1943 (aged 62) North Riverside, Illinois, U.S.





Cause of death

Intracranial hemorrhage

Resting place

Mount Carmel Cemetery

Francesco Raffaele Nittoni, AKA Frank Nitto, AKA Frank 'The Enforcer' Nitti" (January 27, 1881 – March 19, 1943) was an Italian American gangster. One of the top henchmen of Al Capone, in charge of all strongarm and muscle operations. Nitti was later the front-man for the Chicago Outfit, the organized crime syndicate headed by Capone.

Although Frank Nitti has gotten the reputation over the years as the right-hand man of gangster Al Capone and a feared killer in his own right, this has actually proven not to be the case. Although Nitti and Capone were as youths in New York City both members of the Five Points Gang--one of the most notorious of the city's many violent street gangs at the turn of the century--they apparently were in the gang at different times and didn't know each other. It wasn't until Nitti later moved to Chicago, where Capone was already established as a major gangland figure, that the two became acquainted.

Nitti ran a barber shop from where he peddled bootleg liquor and where various denizens of the neighborhood would fence stolen property. He had a knack for smuggling whiskey from Canada to Chicago and distributing it throughout the city, a talent that brought him to Capone's attention. He was subsequently brought into the Capone mob, where he did indeed become "Big Al's" right-hand man.

When Capone went to prison for income-tax evasion in 1929, Nitti was installed as head of the Capone mob by Paul "The Waiter" Ricca, who was the real power in Chicago's gangland hierarchy. Nitti's position was solely as a frontman, to take the spotlight off Ricca and the other gangsters who actually ran things; he had no real power and his "orders" were usually countermanded by Ricca, who--unlike Nitti--was a member of the Commission, a "board of directors" of Mafia crime families.

Nitti did manage to get into trouble on his own, though. In late December of 1932 he had a run-in with a gangster named Ted Newberry, who was running what used to be the Moran/O'Bannion gang. Newberry, it was rumored, had Chicago mayor Anton J. Cermak on his payroll and vowed to get Nitti. Shortly afterwards two Chicago detectives showed up at Nitti's office, sent there by Cermak to arrest him, and a few minutes later a gunfight erupted, during which one of the detectives was shot in the hand and Nitti himself was badly wounded and almost died, and spent several months in the hospital. When he recovered he was put on trial for the attempted murder of the officers. However, at the trial it came out that the detectives had been paid to assassinate Nitti, although it wasn't determined by whom, and that the officer who was shot had actually deliberately shot himself in the hand so as to provide an excuse to kill Nitti, who was in fact unarmed. He was acquitted of the charges.

In 1943 two Chicago mobsters were indicted for labor racketeering in a scheme to take over several Hollywood labor unions and extort money from the movie studios in exchange for labor peace. They were tried and found guilty, but instead of going to prison they made a deal to inform on their gangland bosses, among whom were Nitti and Ricca, who were soon indicted. Ricca and the other mobsters ordered Nitti to take the blame for the scheme, since the two gangsters who turned on them were Nitti's men. Nitti, who had served 18 months in prison in the early 1930s for income tax evasion, was extremely claustrophobic and the thought of spending several years in a small prison cell was too much for him to bear. He refused the order to take the rap for them all, and a violent argument ensued between Nitti and the other gangsters. The next day Nitti went for a walk along the railroad tracks near his home, and as several railroad employees working nearby were looking at him, he pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head.

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • He was the top lieutenant in the Chicago mob run by Al Capone.
  • He worked as a barber. He also had a sideline as a fence for stolen jewelry.
  • He was claustraphobic.
  • He and his future boss Al Capone were both members of New York's notorious Five Points Gang, although not at the same time.
  • Using a combination of his Italian and American names, his gravestone reads "Frank Nitto."
  • Much of the public perception about him comes from the hit television series "The Untouchables" (1959). As portrayed by Bruce Gordon, Nitti was shown as taking the place of his boss, Al Capone, while Capone was in prison. In reality, the real men in power, learning from Capone's mistake, kept out of the spotlight and used Nitti as a front man who had little actual power.
  • Was portrayed by Billy Drago in The Untouchables (1987),Stanley Tucci in Road to Perdition (2002) and Harold J. Stone in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967).

Nitti Character Pictures[edit | edit source]

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