Lawrence Mangano: The Immigrant Who Became Public Enemy No. 4

Oct 14, 2009 - by Allan May - 0 Comments

Lawrence "Dago" Mangano

Lawrence "Dago" Mangano

He’s obscure now, but "Dago" Mangano was one rung away from the top of the Chicago Outfit’s ladder in 1944 when hit men pumped some 200 shotgun pellets and five .45 caliber bullets into him.

by Allan May

Lawrence "Dago" Mangano was listed by the Chicago Crime Commission as a public enemy as early as 1923. The day before his funeral in 1944 a Chicago Times article called him, "the immigrant who became ‘public enemy’ No. 4." In William Roemer’s book Accardo: The Genuine Godfather, he states, "In 1931 he (Tony Accardo) was arrested, again with a guy who would ascend the ladder and become one of the most famous names in the Chicago mob: Dago Lawrence Mangano." For someone who was rumored to be that close to the top leadership rung on the Chicago Outfit’s ladder, little is known of Mangano.

Mangano grew up in Chicago’s notorious "Patch" section, an area that also spawned "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, Frankie Pope, Albert Anselmi, and "Diamond Joe" Esposito. His first recorded prosecution was in 1912 for pandering. One source says he was arrested over 200 times, but never spent a day in prison, this being attributed to "bum raps" and "good lawyers." Another source states, "he had a long record of charges and imprisonments for vice, gambling, larceny, etc."

In 1928, Chicago Police Captain Luke Garrick raided one of Mangano’s gambling dens. Mangano responded by bombing the captain’s house. When Capone was battling the Aiello brothers, Mangano and Capone gunman Phil D’Andrea called Dominic Aiello and warned him to leave town, they then punctuated that message by shooting up his bakery. Mangano later worked with Ralph Capone and Charles Fischetti as the three were put in charge of beer distribution.

Mangano was a suspect in two prominent murders in 1931. On April 29 he was playing cards with Mike "de Pike" Heitler, the aging Chicago pimp who had become a thorn in Capone’s side. The following day, Heitler’s charred remains were found in a burning house in the suburbs. Mangano was held in police custody for three days and then released. The second murder was the Aug. 1 shooting of North Sider Jack Zuta. Mangano’s close friend, Tony Accardo, was also suspected of taking part in this hit.

With the end of prohibition, gambling became the number one source of illegal income for the underworld in America. Most of the action in Chicago could be found in the Loop where Mangano was one of the top bosses. The Outfit’s gambling interests were protected by the Kelly-Nash political machine. Edward J. Kelly was mayor of Chicago while Patrick A. Nash was the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee.

Another political friend of Mangano’s was Joseph Adduci. Elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1934, Adduci caught a lot of heat in the newspapers because of his relationship with Mangano and mob extortionist Willie Bioff. Adduci would later testify before the Kefauver Committee that Mangano had helped finance his political career.

For Chicago’s gambling underworld, the war years caused a boom, but also ignited bloody turf battles. Gambling activities picked up in all fields: casinos and nightclubs, horse race betting, and betting on baseball, football, and basketball games. New gamblers were out pushing for a piece of the action. By 1943, the gambling battles turned every bit as vicious as the bootleg wars of the 1920s. With new operations springing into existence, the number of killings increased as syndicate figures battled for dominance.

The year 1943 would also be a benchmark year in the history of the Chicago Outfit. As the result of indictments handed down in a Hollywood extortion case, the top layer of the Chicago leadership was about to be removed. Frank Nitti committed suicide in March, and later in the year, Paul Ricca and Louis Campagna were found guilty in the extortion case and sent to prison. Accardo was destined for the top spot. His only competition was believed to be Mangano.

Also in 1943, one half of the Kelly-Nash combine died, Nash on October 6, and Kelly had to assume the chairmanship of the central committee. Protecting the gambling syndicate was still an important function of Chicago politicians and Moe Rosenberg was making sure the protection fees kept rolling in. When Rosenberg died, Ben Zuckerman replaced him. When Zuckerman was murdered on Jan. 14, 1944, Mangano was a suspect.

On August 3, 1944, Mangano was on his way home from Cicero at 4 a.m. after a night of visiting various gambling joints. With him were Michael Pontillo, his bodyguard, and Rita Reyes, a young lady friend of Pontillo. Reyes had met Pontillo in a bar and had been out with him for two days straight, missing two days of work from her job in a war factory. The divorced, 25-year-old Reyes lived with her brother and sister and had left behind a scribbled note, "Take care of the dog. I won’t be home for a couple of days."

As the trio drove on, Mangano noticed that they were being followed. Thinking that it was the police, he asked Pontillo for a five-dollar bill. "I’ll pull around the corner and if they follow me I’ll know it’s a squad," Mangano stated. He figured the five dollars might settle any problem.

Mangano pulled to the side of the road on Blue Island Avenue just past Taylor Street. He stepped out of the car to meet his pursuer. When the big black car drew near gunshots sounded and Mangano fell in the street as the vehicle sped past. Pontillo and Reyes managed to drag Mangano to the sidewalk. While they did, the hit men circled the block. When Pontillo spotted the car again, he pushed Reyes down, but this time he was severely wounded.

Although over 200 shotgun pellets and five .45 caliber bullets hit Mangano, he was still alive. A police officer, who was a block away when the shooting started, arrived and asked Mangano who shot him. "If I knew I’d tell you," he moaned. Mangano was rushed to Bridewell Hospital where he begged the doctors to, "put me to sleep." He died at 5:48 a.m. Pontillo died five hours later.

There was only a small turnout for Mangano’s funeral. The papers reported the mourners were mostly women relatives "who embraced each other tearfully." Only three bouquets of flowers were reported.

Police theorized that Mangano’s death was in retaliation for the Zuckerman murder. Other mob insiders believed Accardo was just making sure he didn’t have any competition for the top spot.

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