Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

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The President, The Lady and Godfather


Daily Mail 22nd September 1976

Douglas Thompson, Dermot Purgavie, Peter Greig and Jeri Elrod


THIS story is about two of the most powerful men in the world, the President of the United States and the Mafia's Godfather of God­fathers.

It is a story of intrigue and corruption at the very centre of America's political life. The link between the two men was Judith Campbell (now Mrs Exner), the beautiful fun-seeking daughter of a wealthy Irish-American family. Judith Campbell, a young divorcee, became a Party girl on the Holly­wood circuit and later a fringe member of The Clan, the glamorous jet-set led by Frank Sinatra, America's biggest star. Soon she was his lover.

It was Sinatra who, at a Las Vegas party in February 1960, introduced her to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was campaigning as the Democratic Presidential candidate. They began an affair.

Judith Campbell was to go to another of Sinatra's parties, in March 1960. He intro­duced her to another man, Sam Flood, one of the many aliases used by Sam Giancana, feared boss of the Chicago Mafia, the man at the top of America's toughest industry, crime.

JUDITH Campbell Exner, as she is known today, still maintains that' Sam Giancana, the Mafia chieftain of Chicago, truly fell in love with her.

Questioned closely, she admits that maybe, in the way of such things, he did so for better reasons than romantic infatuation. Perhaps, yes, he intended to use her. Maybe it was a set-up . . . but in the end it was love.

Their meeting, 59 soon after she began her affair with Jack Kennedy, the Presidential candi­date, is almost too close for coincidence.

A power to be feared

Giancana had a motive . . . that is irrefutable, because he never did anything without a motive. Perhaps he wanted to use Judith Campbell to find out what was in Kennedy's mind.

More likely, he had thoughts of sexual blackmail and that could be applied whether Kennedy won the Presidency or not. He would still be a Senator and not the first to do business with the Mafia under pressure.

So it was not too much trouble to pay a great deal of attention and flattery to this new young woman. Nor was there any loss of prestige in being seen with someone who looked so good.

The greater the ruthlessness of Mafla bosses, the greater their personal respectability and venera­tion for the family. Giancana was a widower. For sexual companionship, he had as wide a choice as any man in America. For, in addition to drug trafficking, gambling and hijacking, the Mafia controlled a huge prosti­tution business, which, at its peak, provided exquisite beauties for some of the most important   men in America.

But Giancana would never be seen in public with a prostitute. The days of the gang molls were over. Giancana's respectability demanded a lady at his side ... a woman ol breeding, which he would label class. A woman he could introduce to his family. Such a woman was Judith Campbell. But whv her ? Because she was sophisticated, upper class and desirable ?

Or because she had become the mistress of the man who could be the next President of the United States ?

Giancana was an unprepossessing man in physical appearance but, round him, things happened: In his own .land, he was the king and, when he went into a restaurant in Chicago, he received the attention accorded to royalty. There was no other way.

One sign of displeasure and the unfortunate owners would know that their business was doomed. Deliveries would halt, unions would strike, customers would fade away and vandals would finally work things over so that nothing of value would be left.

There was no one, in the world which Giancana dominated, who did not fear his power. Even the powerful names of show-business. They all toed the line and some more than others. For Judith Camp­bell was to find that The Godfather was full of racial prejudice and loathed 'niggers', as he called them.

The trouble with Sammy

Perhaps that was because the Mafia were at that time beginning to come up against the 'Black Power' crime syndicate. The big struggle in the underworld for control would be between black and white and much of the power of the Mafia would be lost to Negro gangs over the years ahead.

Anyway, Giancana would always cause embarrassment and nervous­ness around 'The Clan', for while he and Frank Sinatra would always be friendly and respectful The God­father could not bring himself to be civil to Sinatra's great friend, Sammy Davis Jnr.

Judith Campbell recalls an inci­dent in a Chicago night club.

'Sammy directed his performance to our table and azain Sam ignored him. This time, however, Sammy came to our table after the show.

'Sammy greeted us, a big smile on his face, and Sam turned away from him. Sammy caught the movement and quickly turned his attention to me, asking me when I got in, where I was staying, how did I like Chicago?

'It was polite conversation but with a nervous edge as he kept glancing at Sam, who was im­patiently drumming his fingers on the table.

Champagne and roses

'"Hey", Sammy said, turning his full attention to Sam. "Would you good people join me and a few friends for a little soiree?"

'Sam abruptly stood up. "No, no, we can't," he said, "We don't have the time".

' "Well, I thought . . ."

' "Just forget it, okay ? I told you, we don't have the time".

'Sammy gave me an anxious look and backed away. "Sure, okay, see you good people later".'

On the way back to the hotel, she complained to her friend about his rudeness. Abruptly he told her: 'Don't worry about that nigger. He can take it.'

Sammy Davis Jnr., however, eould only take it with re­assurances and he was on the phone to Judith Campbell later that night to ask, with nervousness bordering on fear, 'Have » offended him ?'

And because no one wished to offend Mr Giancana, the facilities he could provide for Judith Campell when she was his guest would be greater and more lavish than any of her other friends had bestowed. The hotel suites were larger, the champagne vintages more rare, the flowers more beautiful and expensive.

Sometime in April 1960, Judith Campbell found herself living in the John Barrymore Suite of Chicago's Ambassador East Hotel. There were five dozen yellow roses scattered around the bedroom from 'Sam.' There would always be five dozen yellow roses from 'Sam.' It was one of his nicer habits and Judith Camp­bell fell for it very much.

Mafioso work in curious ways. Although they control multi-million dollar business empires and although today much of their busi­ness is legitimate (funded from their illegal profits in crime) they still conduct their business affairs from the kind of venues that their predecessors used at the turn of the century . . . barber shops, base­ment garages and the back; rooms in saloons.

The headquarters of the Chicago Godfather was The Armory Lounge, a small bar and spaghetti restau­rant in Forest Park, a Chicago suburb. There was a long bar down the narrow room and booths on the opposite wall. It had a juke box and a coin telephone. And in the back there was a dining area, cov­ered with bright chequered table­cloths and behind that . . . the back room.

The Armory was run by Doris and Carmine Fanelli, though they were clearly a front for Giancana and the organisation. Giancana and his henchmen, including Dominic 'Butch' Blasi, the Chicago Mafia's chief 'enforcer' and executioner, would eat their spaghetti and take fundamental decisions in that back room.

The movies do not exaggerate the lives of mobsters . . . FBI evidence would later show that Giancana would pause between a mouthful of spaghetti and order the execution of a troublesome rival, as casually as he might order up another glass of Chianti.

In six years of his rule between 1958 and 1963, Chicago police recorded 53 mob murders and 24 major bombing attacks. The majority, the FBI believe, were conceived and planned in the Armory.

Heartland of the mobster

And it was here that Sam 'Flood' as she still knew him, took Judith Campbell on April 7, 1960. She was enchanted by the Italian simplicity of it all. Giancana introduced her to his friends, who made her welcome with exaggerated courtesy. She recalled that they talked among themselves in a language she could not understand and her friend Sam told her it was Sicilian. When she joked that she would go to Berlitz to learn ... 'he just about fell over laughing.'

It seems incredible that a sophisti­cated woman in her late twenties, American-born and bred, would not realise instantly she was in the heartland of the mobster. Yet, Judith Campbell insists to this day, that it would be weeks, even months,-before she really knew the truth about her new friend, Mr Sam Flood.

But much more interesting was Giancana's attitude. He was a man of awesome power with a savage, cruel temper. The thought of shar­ing one of his women with another man was totally alien to his position and background.

Yet he passively, even humbly, accepted his role. Everything was all right as long as Judith would come and see him when she wasn't with the man she loved—Jack Kennedy.

Because one thing Judith Campbell found it difficult to do was to be discreet with her new-found friend. He was such a good and easy listener. She could air her problems to him and he was always so friendly and sympathetic.

And so, on that first stay In Chicago, she told him about he* love affair with Jack Kennedy. Indeed, she had come straight to Chicago from Washington after spending a night 'at Kennedy's home in Georgetown.

Mrs Kennedy had been away In New England at the time and after dinner with a political friend, Kennedy had taken Judith Camp­bell on a tour of the house and eventually they made love in the master bedroom.

Afterwards he offered to buy her a mink coat, or pay for the one she was wearing, which she had bought out of alimony payments. She had refused but later in the relationship she would accept two thousand dollars as a gift towards the price of the coat.

But that was only one of the things they discussed. The Senator had been wistfully romantic and made it plain that he wanted a long-term relationship with Judith Campbell. He couldn't wait to see her again and asked if she would come down to Miami, where he would be the following week.

Much of this she would tell her new found friend in Chicago. Of course, she knew she had to be dis­creet but, she had to explain to him why their friendship had to remain Platonic. And he listened and said he understood, so much so that he offered to fly her down to Miami. It was funny but it just happened that he had to go down there on busi­ness ... so she could come with him. Delightedly, Judith Campbell accepted the offer.

Diamonds for insurance

He was an agreeable companion taking her to night clubs and floor shows and even to his summer home in the exclusive resort of Palm Beach, ironically not too far from the Kennedy home. There he bought her presents, not all of which she accepted. So the days passed while she waited for her assignation with Jack Kennedy. One present he bought her against her wishes while she was standing in the same jewel­ler's shop. It was a turquoise and diamond earring and ring set.

Delighted with her surprise he boasted "You never even saw me buy this and you were standing right beside me.' As she said afterwards : 'It always delighted him to put something over on me.'

The question was — just exactly what was Giancana trying to put over on Judith Campbell ? The Mafia crime empire had swollen enorm­ously with the introduction of the drug cult to the U.S. Giancana was an unques­tioned boss with a personal take of milfions of pounds a year from his activities. He had respect.

He was equally aware, however, that the climate was changing in America and that a gangbuster era was about to begin. He had taken precautions about this, legitimising as many of his activities as he could. But he knew that a new administra­tion in the White House, particularly if it were a Kennedy administration, would begin to go after organised crime. And that was giving turn cause for considerable thought.

This was one of the reasons ... that he was taking out insurance by becoming the friend of Judith Campbell. But then in that summer developed another plot which would involve The Godfather and the Government in a scheme so bizarre that it was beyond the imagination of. the most highly paid fiction writers then cashing in on the cult of espionage fiction.

it was this ! The Central In­telligence Agency, America's vast spying and insurgency in­dustry, decided that it would make, an alliance with the Mafia. Object.' to assassinate leading political figures who were hostile to the United States.

Not until 15 years later when the Church; Committee began investi­gating the. CIA did the facts emerge. At the time the vast conspiracy Was buried .beneath the glamour and glitter of Kennedy's administration.

This is the story. In 1959, Robert Maheu, a private detective in Wash­ington with strong Government con­nections, met Johnny Roselli . . . a Mafia leader who was effective deputy to the Godfather Giancana. They became close friends. Maheu was a part-time CIA operative, and-late in 1959 he introduced Roselli to senior' CIA executives.

This was clearly on orders. The CIA was smarting from Fidel Castro's takeover as dictator of Cuba. He had had some help from the U.S. to stage his revolution but, when he obtained power, he turned. Cuba Left and became violently anti-American.

Apart from making Cuba a stra­tegic threat to the U.S. which would blow up Into the Cuban missile crisis two years later, he was appro­priating American business interests. And it was not only the fruit, rum and sugar interests that were hit when Castro began to impose his Caribbean-style socialism. It was also the vice industry.

For three decades America's crime syndicate had - built Cuba into the most decadent vacation area iii the world.- There-were no pleasures known: to man that could not be bought there through Mafia franchises. They - owned the hotels, the gambling saloons, the bars and brothels. Now all that was gone. But the Mafia still had their underworld infrastructure in Cuba which, if anything, was stronger than the CIA -underground political network. Someone in McClean, Virginia, where the vast CIA HQ sprawls across the countryside, had the idea . , . let's, get the Dons to help us get that sonofabitch Castro.

'Let's kill the crazy Castro.'

Early in 1960, Maheu put the idea to Roselli. 'Look ... between the agency and .the "family''; surely we can remove Castro. The agency would like ' you to think' about the idea and then maybe both sides could get together.'

Rose III was surprised although he may not have shown it. For years, the Mafia had talked about going legi­timate "but this was beyond their wildest dreams … to become an agent of the U.S. Government on an important political diplomatic insur­gency operation abroad.

Other CIA men talked to him.

Look, Castro. if not controlled, could provoke a third world war because he was reckless and crazy and maniacally .anti-American. Agreed?The Mafia man agreed.

Very well, then. The deal was spelled out.  The Mafia still had better contacts on the island than the CIA. Let them eliminate Castro and who knows? It could lead to a return of the status quo.

Roselli,  suitably impressed,  said that he would have to put the proposition to his leader . . . Giancana.

The CIA gave him permission, knowing full well that he would do so ill any case . . . they had no illusions about where his true loyalty lay.

When Roselli reported to The God­father in Chicago, Giancana snorted in astonishment: 'If they think we can hit an entrenched leader like Castro, they're crazy,' he is reported to have said.

Nevertheless, he did hot turn the idea down. There were clear dividends to be obtained ... a favour was always repayable with another favour . . . and to work with such a powerful and secretly influential arm of the Government as the CIA, was clearly going to be useful in the future when trouble came, as it inevitably would. Roselli was told to keep the con­versations going. Giancana was taking out all the insurance he could against a change of fortune resulting from a change of administration in the White House.

On the track o£ Kennedy

Around the time he gave Roselli the go-ahead, he just happened to be in Sinatra's party w^ien Judith Campbell came to Florida for the weekend.

Now he was in Florida the centre of anti-Castro activity— for further information and negotiations with the CIA. Happily, Judith Campbell was with him and she would be keeping another rendezvous with Kennedy. Giancana would keep track of it. In the months to follow, he would see Judith Campbell regularly.

And, in particular, he fixed the dates with her so that they would invariably follow one of her secret liaisons with John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 1
The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 2
The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 4

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