Imagine being a kid whose father was Al Capone's attorney and being taken to school by Sam "the Cigar" Giacana.
That's the early life of Donald "Donnie" Parrillo, who has written and self-published a book, "Capone May Go Free," about his family's connections to the Chicago mob. Parrillo served as councilman in Chicago's notorious First Ward, which has been credited with swinging the presidential election in favor of John F. Kennedy.
"It's about an era that's never going to happen again," Parrillo said. "Today, organized crime is very little. It's more of a myth."
Parrillo, who will be 79 on Dec. 13, had a heart attack while visiting Michigan City about a month ago. He's recovering from quadruple bypass surgery at his Chicago home. He spoke to The News-Dispatch by phone about the book he worked on for nearly a year.
In the book's prologue, Parrillo assures the reader, "Every word you are about to read is true. This is truly a true story based on my own experiences, from growing up in Chicago's 'Little Italy' where I saw 'Taylor Street Justice' administered with an iron hand, to that truly frightening moment when I was approached at my father's grave by the leader of the Chicago Outfit, Sam 'the Cigar' Giancana, and asked to run for alderman of Chicago's legendary First Ward."
The book's title comes from a newspaper headline about Parrillo's father, William "Billie" Parrillo, who found a legal loophole to get the infamous Al Capone free from prison. Capone had already served more than four years of an 11-year sentence at Alcatraz for tax evasion. Capone was released on parole and, ultimately, was done in by brain syphilis he got from actress Jean Harlow. He died at age 48.
William Parrillo also died at 48, and his son has never gotten over the early death. His father graduated from Kent College of Law in Chicago and became an assistant U.S. district attorney. William Parrillo left to start his own law practice with partner Joe Roach. Soon, his son said, "they became the go-to lawyers in Chicago for gangsters...," including Capone, Giancana and Frank Nitti.
Parrillo makes a point of saying his father worked for the organized crime syndicate, but he wasn't connected to them.
"They never could order him what to do," Parrillo said. "He was never in a position where he had to say yes."
The author devotes an entire chapter to Giancana, commonly referred to as "Mo." He knew Giancana "from the day I was born," he said. The Chicago mob boss occasionally took him and his brother to school.
"Mo loved the limelight," Parrillo recalled.
He writes about being asked to go to his father's grave, where he was met by a man dressed like a cemetery caretaker. The man turned out to be Giancana, and he asked Parrillo to run for alderman of Chicago's First Ward, one of the most politically influential wards in the city.
"The government was breathing down the First Ward's back because gambling was running wild," Parrillo said. "They knew I was a legitimate businessman."
Parrillo served as alderman from 1964 to 1968 and said he benefitted financially from it.
"The $11 million deposit bank I owned went to a $36 million bank," Parrillo said. "I also inherited a lot of money."
Parrillo spent summers at his family's lake house in Long Beach, starting at age 3 until his late teens. He lived full time in Long Beach with his wife and two children from 1979 to 1989. His daughter, Kimberly, graduated from Elston High School in 1986, and son Timothy is a 1987 Elston graduate.
"I loved Long Beach and the area so much, I wanted them to experience it, too," Parrillo said.
He considers the mobsters he knew as men who treated each other honorably.
"The lesson I learned from the big shots was, if you're an honorable person, you can never be stopped," Parrillo said. "When you make a commitment, you follow through with it."
Parrillo is distributing the book only in Michigan City. He has contracted with local resident Alan Harvey to stock the books in the three Al's Supermarkets and at The Bookstore at Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets. Visit www.caponemaygofree.com or call (877) 874-6220 for more information.
Thanks to Laurie Wink
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