Friday, April 01, 2016

In Capone's Shadow: Former Teacher Writes Book on Frank Nitti

Book Review of "After Capone: The Life and World of Chicago Mob Boss Frank The Enforcer"" Nitti""" by Mars Eghigian reviewed by Wally Spiers

Even the title of Mars Eghigian Jr.'s new book reflects the fact that Frank Nitti has always been in the shadow of the flamboyant Al Capone.

"After Capone. The Life and World of Chicago Mob Boss Frank (the Enforcer) Nitti," (437 pages, 75 pages of notes, Cumberland House Publishing Inc.) tells the story of the quieter Nitti who ran the Chicago Mob for more than a decade after Capone built the organization from bootlegging liquor.

The book offers insight to gangland events of the time in Chicago and other connected cities -- not just what happened but also why it happened. It tells of the transformation of the mob from Prohibition busters to gambling and protection racketeering.

Nitti actually was named Francesco Raffele Nitto when he was born in Italy. He Anglicized it to Frank Nitto but even then his last name was constantly misspelled.

Eghigian, of Belleville, is a former horticulture teacher at Southwestern Illinois College and now is a financial planner.

Why, then, a book on a Chicago crime boss? Eghigian said his grandfather came to the metro-east about the time of World War I and established a dry cleaning business on 13th Street in East St. Louis. "When I was a kid I would hear stories at dinner," he said. "My family knew of the local mobsters and protection rackets, like the Master Cleaners and Dyers Association.

"They told stories like the exploding suits."

Exploding suits?

Apparently, to make their points about the need for protection, mobsters would have agents drop off suits or coats in which flammable material had been sewn in the lining. When the heat of the presses hit the material, it would explode, scaring the wits out of everyone.

Eghigian said he found that there really was not much published information on Nitti. "Nobody wrote abut him, at least not accurately," he said.

Eghigian asked a friend who also was an author, former FBI agent Bill Roemer, about the gangster. "He said, 'Nitti was just one of those guys who fell through the cracks. Why don't you write a book?'" Eghigian said. Then Roemer provided Eghigian with a lot of leads.

Eghigian said he has really worked on the book since 1991. Instead of vacations at the beach, he would be in libraries and microfilm files, digging out information.

He found that Nitti ran Chicago after the imprisonment of Capone, even during Nitti's own 18-month prison sentence. In fact, Nitti was in charge for much longer than Capone, until Nitti committed suicide in 1943.

"My goal was to put out a professional project, to do the work. I thought I had time. Nobody had touched Nitti for more than 40 years. Luckily I was right," Eghigian said.

Eghigian is working on other projects now in relation to crime and gangs. He said it is nice to see the results of all his work. "It was a fun project," he said. "It's really fun to see it finished."

Thanks to Wally Spiers

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