The Death and Times of a Gangster

Mr. John Roselli aka Filippo Sacco

Mr. John Roselli aka Filippo Sacco

Many criminals associated with various organized crime families have been the enemies of American law enforcement since the early twentieth century. However, the Central Intelligence Agency contacted a small but notable minority of Mafia leaders and members for use in political assassinations. The target was Fidel Castro, the reasoning questionable, and the unintended flaws numerous. Some of the Castro Plots had multiple phases, each with different leaders and focus on vastly different methods. The only Mafia personality that was verifiably part of multiple plot phases was Filippo Sacco, better known as Johnny Roselli.i  

Despite the unverifiable claims offered about Roselli having a direct role in undertaking the JFK assassination, Roselli has no verified connection to the events in Dealey Plaza. However, Roselli's various efforts drew him into the case as he tried to influence officials.  Roselli during one conversation with an Agency lawyer blamed Castro for President Kennedy's death. This statement circulates among national media outlets, Congressional investigators, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.ii Roselli's unproven claim was likely to reinforce the existing call for military operations against Cuba. If successful, this would potentially allow the Mafia to regain control of the Cuban underworld and its gambling businesses.

Agency Director Allen Dulles authorized the Castro Plots, Agency officers Colonel Sheffield Edwards, Deputy Director Richard Bissell, and Western Hemisphere Chief J. C. King discussed them. Agency employee Robert Maheu contacts Roselli and later met with him and Office of Security representative James O' Connell. Roselli arranged for Mafia leaders Sam Giancana and Santos Trafficante to meet officials as well. Agency employees and criminals had found a mutually beneficial arrangement. Yet all their plans failed.

During Phase II of the Castro Plots CIA officer William Harvey became acquainted with Johnny Roselli. Harvey was responsible for the recruitment of potential assassins for use in the foreign nations and designing military style assassination plots targeting Fidel Castro. Officials compiled some of their later meetings and in time lost trust in Harvey's judgment.iii The two men formed a friendship that outlasted warnings to desist, Harvey's reassignment to Rome, and his eventually dismissal from the Agency.

"Mrs. C.G. Harvey...stated she first became acquainted with John Roselli in the early 1960's when her late husband William, was employed by the CIA. As a result of her husband and Roselli's employments, their frequent contacts developed into a friendship which lasted until Harvey's death...they maintained contact with him on a friendly basis, which included occasional telephone calls and several overnight visits by Roselli at their home."iv In nineteen sixty-seven, Harvey again comes under investigation by the Agency's Inspector General at the behest of Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms. Director of Security Howard Osborn paid Helms a visit and to gain higher approval to "bury this material."v During this period, Roselli also invited his long estranged brother Albert Sacco to a dinner with a different related associate, Mafia leader Santo   

Roselli attempted to blackmail the Agency to avoid prison for other crimes, and the Agency dismissed his threats. Roselli or possibly someone acting on his behalf reacted by furnishing reporter Jack Anderson details of the Castro Plots.vii Officials send Roselli to a Federal prison located in Seattle Washington. After his release, he went to live with relatives in Florida. After settling into a routine Roselli's apparent retirement seemed to be the final chapter of his infamous life. Then he testified to a Congressional Committee regarding the Castro Plots and subsequently disappeared months later.

His niece Jo Anne Quintana and her husband Jose told the Federal Bureau of Investigation about their interactions with Roselli. Among them were multiple sightings of Santos Trafficante with Roselli, and Jose had met Trafficante prior to a later Roselli introduction. They learned of Roselli's disappearance from another niece Eloise McKnight.viii Roselli's attorney David Walters advised Roselli's brother-in-law Joseph E. Daigle to call authorities and file a missing persons report. Walters also informed Senator Frank Church and the Congressional Committee Roselli prior testified before of his disappearance.ix        

Roselli's sister Edith Daigle was the single other living member of his immediate family and she noted he slept in and fixed himself breakfast in the early afternoon. Roselli offered no information to Daigle regarding any planned destination before leaving and she expected him to return for dinner. He left the Daigle home driving his sister's Chevrolet and Mrs. Daigle additionally offers that Roselli had no local Miami acquaintances, girlfriend, and only went away to visit one of his lawyers. Daigle states he would not cause her undue anxiety and called if he was going to be late for dinner. The report states "...she is not optimistic about him and felt he has met with foul play of some kind." Events would soon confirm her accurate intuition. 

Johnny Roselli had prior mentioned in a joking manner to his sister that if he ever disappeared look for the car in airport parking. This was likely due to the Mafia's tactic of killing someone and disposing of the car in airport parking to avoid short-term discovery by authorities. Joseph E. Daigle later received a call from his daughter Eloise; she had found the car Roselli left in parked at the airport.x The car appeared normal beyond a smudged window and Roselli's golf clubs were in the trunk, but Roselli was not there.xii Unfortunately, Daigle disturbed the car and its contents before any police search occurred. 

Dade County Department of Public Safety Detective Erwin in the early afternoon of August 7, 1976 made a gruesome discovery. Miami officials "...had recovered a 55-gallon steel drum containing a human body from the waters of Dumfoundling Bay". Local authorities contacted FBI Special Agent Edward J. Dunn Jr. and who relayed the case details to Detective Erwin. By the end of the day, the FBI's Identification Division had matched Roselli's thumbprint to the dismembered corpse.xiii Roselli's cause of death was "asphyxiation" and the killer inflicted his most grievous injuries after he expired. 

Bureau agents with the assistance of various Industrial business people tracked the Roselli barrel almost to its industrial origin using outer markings and notations. Tallowmasters Plant Manager John Bozsoki offered his professional opinion that an industrial business likely had discarded the drum. He states a "smaller outfit who could not afford to clean it and recondition it..."might have used it. Inside the drum was a notable amount of yellow grease, feasibly used by local Miami restaurants for cooking.xiv   

Two related sources with questionable motivations offered their suggestions to the FBI indicating about one possible suspect responsible for Roselli's grisly end. Tony Varona's acquaintance and Cuban exile Jose "Pepe" Aleman and militant Frank Sturgis each named Santos Trafficante responsible for Roselli's death.xv xvi Yet both men have offered various contrary and opportunistic statements.

It is feasible Mafia and Cuban exile leaders sought revenge for Roselli's testimony that revealed the Castro Plots. This also might have concerned some criminals about future leaks regarding all their former illegal undertakings. It might have endangered other lucrative arrangements with corrupt officials. Roselli's murder numbers among the handful with possible connections to verified operations involving the assassination of a world leader. The murder's victim, timing, associations, and manner present significant questions worth considering.  
C.A.A. Savastano  
TPAAK Facebook

i. Federal Bureau of Investigation, House Select Committee on Assassination Subject File: John Roselli, No Title, Birth Data Re John Roselli,  p. 2, National Archives and Records Administration Identification Number: 124-10288-10198
ii. House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), Staff Notes, Report on the evolution and implications of the CIA sponsored as, pp. 12- 13, NARA ID: 180-10147-10192

iii. HSCA, Segregated CIA  file, Collection of Memos Re: Conversations with/between John Roselli and, Subject: Meetings between William K. Harvey and Johnny Roselli, December 11, 1967 pp. 1-3, NARA ID: 1993.08.04.16:43:16:960036
iv. FBI, HSCA Subject File: John Roselli, No Title, Statement of C.G. Harvey, January 6, 1977, p. 1, 124-10289-10035
v. HSCA, Segregated CIA file, Johnny" (Roselli), Box 48, March 29, 1967, NARA ID: 1993.07.01.10:13:43:620800

vi. Ibid, Statement of Albert Sacco, August 23, 1976, NARA ID: 124-10289-10035
vii. HSCA, Seg. CIA file, Roselli, John, Box 1, February 12, 1972  
viii. FBI, HSCA Sub. File: John Roselli, No Title, Statement of Jose and Jo Anne Quintana, August 23, 1976, NARA ID: 124-10289-10035
ix. Ibid, Statement of David Walters, August 9, 1976, NARA ID: 124-10289-10035

x. Ibid, Statement of Edith Daigle, August 9, 1976
xi. Ibid, Statement of Joseph E. Daigle, August 20, 1976
xii. Ibid, Statement of J. E. Daigle, August 9, 1976
xiii. Ibid, Memo of Telephone Conversation and Thumbprint ID, August 7, 1976
xiv. Ibid, Statement of John Bozsoki, October 18, 1976
xv. Ibid, Statement of Jose Aleman, November 22, 1976
xvi. Ibid, Statement of Frank Fiorini aka Frank Sturgis, October 14, 1976

Edited: December 2017

Related Podcast
The Roselli Stone