The Chicago Syndicate: Disbarred Attorney Who Claimed Mob Elected JFK Dies

Monday, November 06, 2006

Disbarred Attorney Who Claimed Mob Elected JFK Dies

As the Kennedy clan maneuvered to get JFK elected president, they turned to the Chicago mob for help -- and disbarred Chicago attorney Robert McDonnell helped the two sides connect, according to a controversial 1997 book by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.

Mr. McDonnell, according to The Dark Side of Camelot, helped arrange a secret meeting between the future president's father, Joseph Kennedy, and then-Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. A deal was supposedly struck, with the mob helping turn out the vote.

Much later, Mr. McDonnell married Giancana's blunt-spoken daughter, Antoinette, who today doesn't necessarily buy the story.

Regardless, she allowed that Mr. McDonnell certainly had "a colorful past," which included stints as a World War II soldier, a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. It was in the latter profession that he often was in the news, representing some fearful figures such as alleged mob murderer "Mad Sam" DeStefano.

Despite expressing concern over the years that he might get whacked, when Mr. McDonnell died on Oct. 29, it was from natural causes, his family said. He was 81.

"He liked to live on the edge -- much to the chagrin of my mother and myself," said Mr. McDonnell's brother Greg. "My brother was a rogue, but he was a good rogue."

Mr. McDonnell was raised on the South Side around 82nd and Wood, said his brother. His mother was a housewife; his father worked for a family contracting business. Mr. McDonnell attended St. Ignatius High School, where he played football. He went to the University of Notre Dame and played football there, too, but left before graduating. World War II was under way, and Mr. McDonnell "went to the draft board and said, 'Take my number,' " his brother said.

He ended up as an Army infantry squad leader and was shot several times after helping overtake a German machine gun nest in Italy. A German medic helped treat him, and Mr. McDonnell later intervened on the medic's behalf after the German was captured by Americans and was going to be killed by them, Greg McDonnell said. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, his brother said.

After returning to the U.S., Mr. McDonnell finished school and got a law degree. He served as a Cook County prosecutor before becoming a criminal defense attorney.

He embraced the fast life, especially drinking and gambling, but life wasn't always pleasant. When his River Forest home burned in 1960, he reportedly went into hiding, fearing the blaze was started by the mob. Mr. McDonnell served prison time for trying to bribe a union official, and he was twice disbarred.

Services have been held.

Thanks to Robert C. Herguth

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