this day in crime history: march 20, 1933


On this date in 1933, would be presidential assassin Giuseppe Zangara was executed in the Florida electric chair. Forty-five days prior to his execution, Zangara had tried to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. He missed Roosevelt, but managed to shoot several other people, including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Cermak later died of his wounds.

The general consensus among historians is that Roosevelt was the intended target, and that Cermak was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there is another school of thought: Cermak was the real target. As the story goes, Cermak was behind the attempted assassination of Chicago Outfit boss Frank Nitti. The designated hitters for that job were officers of the Chicago PD, who claimed that they shot Nitti in self defense. Nitti survived the shooting and stood trial for his supposed assault on the officers. The jury didn’t buy it, and Nitti was acquitted. The officers, on the other hand, were eventually charged with assault. One flipped on the other, and they were both convicted and fined $100 each.

As payback for the attempt on Nitti’s life, the Outfit supposedly contracted Sicilian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara to kill Cermak. The hit went down as planned, and Zanagara took the fall as a “crazed gunman.” Of course, there’s not much proof to support this theory, which is fairly standard for conspiracy theories. But it makes for an interesting story. Maybe Oliver Stone will make a movie about it someday.

Further reading:

Awesome Stories: Frank Nitti – The Enforcer

Chicago TribuneThe Shooting of Anton Cermak

Executed Today – 1933: Giuseppe Zangara, who is not on Sons of Italy posters

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6 thoughts on “this day in crime history: march 20, 1933

  1. Those two cops got off pretty easy. They should have least had to write “I will not try to kill Frank Nitti” 1,000 times.

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  2. John D.:
    Convicted w/a $100 FINE?

    Wow, guess the Chicago PD was also on the mob’s payroll…heh.
    A pretty wild story there with the assassination attempt.

    Good link to the Chicago Tribune, too.

    Have a safe weekend out there.

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  3. I think the Frank Nitti story is the more reasonable. Several eyewitnesses said that Zangara was not aiming at FDR; a Miami copper on the scene was quoted as saying, “He was no more shooting at Roosevelt than I was.”
    Zangara liked to play the horses with money he got from juice loan guys, but he was a lousy horse player and owed them tons of money. Zangara also had strong mob ties. His last words in the chair were, “Viva Italia! Viva Camorra [Mafia]!”
    Cermak was known as Ten-Percent Tony, because that’s what he took out of every city contract. He hated the Outfit because he was backing another gang, run by Roger Touhy. After Cermak was killed, the Outfit pulled a fake kidnap of a professional con man named Jake Factor (brother of Max Factor) and framed Touhy for it. Touhy went to prison for 20 years and his gang was destroyed. That consolidated the Outfit’s power in the Midwest.
    But, since justice was swift in those days, we’ll probably never know.

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