Paul “the Waiter” Ricca

Paul “the Waiter” Ricca
Paul “the Waiter” Ricca

Known for his elegant manners and dress, Paul Ricca was probably as traditional—and stereotypical—a mafioso as the Chicago Outfit ever sported. Paul "the Waiter" Ricca, both soft-spoken and mean, issued his fearsome murder instructions with a simple phrase, "Make'a him go away." The object of such orders was of course as good as dead.

Ever since Al Capone's departure from the scene in the early 1930s, controversy has raged among journalists as to who has been the boss of the Chicago Outfit. Among those held to be in command were Greasy Thumb Guzik, Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti, Tony Accardo, Sam "Momo" Giancana, Joey Aiuppa and Paul Ricca. In fact, for 40 years Ricca was the top man. He frequently delegated duties to others but no important move was made without his permission. He was always consulted. Ricca's death in 1972 was regarded by the mob as the passing of the Patriarch.

Ricca came to America in 1920 from Sicily. When he was 17 he had killed one Emilio Parrillo for which he eventually served two years in an Italian prison. He was also questioned about scores of other murders, including 14 in a family feud, but nothing came of that. Upon release from prison for the Parillo killing, Ricca went right out and slaughtered Vincenzo Capasso who had been the chief witness against him in the Parrillo trial.

Ricca then fled Italy and ended up in Chicago, where he worked first as a theater usher and later as a waiter, a job which not only earned him his nickname, but also provided him with an answer when asked by police about his occupation. Ricca wrangled an introduction to Al Capone and since they had mutual friends among certain gangsters who had returned to the old country, he was quickly accepted into the Torrio-Capone mob.

Ricca became a power in the Capone days, known to Big Al as a man who could figure the angles in any sort of racket. It was a mark of Ricca's prestige when Capone stood up as best man for him at his wedding in 1927. Through the 1930s Ricca continued to grow in stature, and by 1939 he was well in command of the organization. Within the Chicago syndicate power gravitated to the man strong enough and cunning enough to seize it, and the only ones regarded as even close to him in cunning and strength were Guzik and Accardo, but in each trait respectively.

Ricca understood that real power in the mob was determined by the street mobsters, and he knew how to rally force to his side. He had a long string of syndicate killers allied with him, many of them psychotics who would do anything to curry his favor. Ricca gave them plenty of orders.

However, as much as Ricca was dedicated to the bullet, he had great admiration for the bribe as well. A firm devotee of the fix, he paid off politicians at almost every level of government. Although he was arrested often and went to prison several times, he always seemed to get off with surprisingly short sentences.

Together with much of the mob leadership, Ricca was caught in the enormous shakedown of the motion picture industry in the early 1940s. Along with most of the others he was sentenced to 10 years in 1943 but was released in August 1947 supposedly due to the intercession of Attorney General Tom Clark.

The early paroles in the case enraged the Chicago press, which published Ricca's claims that his influence extended into the White House. Printed accounts had Ricca instructing his lawyers to find out who had the final say in granting him a speedy release, saying: "That man must want something: money, favors, a seat in the Supreme Court. Find out what he wants and get it for him."

While it must be noted that several of the Chicago newspapers were bitter enemies of President Harry Truman, the facts were that Attorney General Clark did allow the early parole of Ricca and the others to go through, and Clark was appointed to the next opening on the Supreme Court.

In 1952 the conservative Chicago Tribune called for Clark's impeachment because of his "utter unfitness for any position of public responsibility and especially for a position on the Supreme Court bench." Its vitriolic editorial raged: "We have been sure of [his] unfitness ever since he played his considerable role in releasing the four Capone gangsters after they had served the bare minimum of their terms."

From the mob's viewpoint, the important thing was having the masterful Ricca back in circulation and once more the real power in the Chicago underworld. Tough Tony Accardo, who had visited Ricca in his cell by masquerading as his attorney, had kept Ricca informed of syndicate activities. Within a few years, Ricca, when he was so inclined, permitted Sam Giancana to give syndicate orders.

But he and Accardo remained in the background, well insulated from official investigations. In the Kefauver Committee hearings on organized crime in the early 1950s, Ricca was dubbed "the national head of the Crime Syndicate." The McClellan Committee in 1958 referred to him as America's "most important" criminal. Ricca's testimony on the witness stand before each committee was punctuated by frequent pleas of the Fifth Amendment.

In 1957 Ricca was stripped of his citizenship and two years later was deported. Ricca resorted to a myriad of appeals and delaying actions, even getting a court stay on deportation to Italy by bringing an action before an Italian court, demanding that his Italian citizenship be dropped. In a remarkable action, the Italian government would not take Ricca back, even to serve out his old murder term, presumably because he might adversely influence Italian prisons and criminals.

Frustrated American immigration officials ordered Ricca to apply to other countries to grant him refuge. Following instructions, Ricca sent letters to some 60 countries, supposedly seeking asylum. But apparently, in an idealistic desire for full disclosure, he also included a packet of news clippings to explain why the United States wanted him to emigrate elsewhere. No nation expressed the slightest interest in accepting him. The government was still trying to deport Ricca when he died in 1972.

By then Ricca might well have accepted deportation to Italy. He spent many hours at the Alitalia terminal at O'Hare Airport listening to Italian tourists speaking the native tongue. The consensus was that Ricca had turned a bit senile, spending so much time at the airport, but federal agents suspected he was arranging meetings with smugglers of contraband or drugs.

Ricca died in bed in October 1972, an event that would cause shockwaves in the outfit. He had been Giancana's staunchest supporter, there being no accurate count on the number of victims Giancana had made "go away" as Ricca wished. Giancana had acted too irrationally for Chicago's liking through the 1960s, and Ricca agreed with Accardo that he had to be trimmed back in power.

However, as long as Ricca lived Sam was safe, as were some of Giancana's more erratic backers like Mad Sam DeStefano. Within months of Ricca's death DeStefano was murdered by the mob. A couple of years later Giancana was assassinated as well. Ricca's hand was all-powerful, but not from the grave.