(1900-1933): Assassin
Joseph Zangara is always listed as and was executed
as the would-be assassin of President-elect Franklin
D. Roosevelt and the killer-by-mistake of Chicago
mayor Anton Cermak. However, a strong minority
view is that Zangara never wanted to kill FDR — con-
trary to his own later confession — but was a hired
Mafia hit man assigned to shoot Mayor Cermak
while he was with the president-elect in Miami in
February 1933. Indeed, Judge John H. Lyle, gener-
ally held to be the most knowledgeable non-Mafia
man on Chicago crime, stated categorically that
"Zangara was a Mafia killer, sent from Sicily to do a
job, and sworn to silence."
Cermak, elected as a "reformer," was anything
but that. He waged war on the Capone Mob (at the
time Big Al was already in prison) but not so much
to clean up the city as to replace the Capones with
his own gangsters, headed up by Teddy Newberry.
He moved against Frank Nitti, Capone's at least titu-
lar successor, once Big Al was behind bars. In fact,
court testimony later indicated that the mayor had
dispatched some "tough cops" to erase Nitti, which
they attempted to do after handcuffing the unarmed
gangster. Nitti was shot three times in the back and
neck but miraculously survived, whereupon the
mayor of America's second city hurriedly left his
bailiwick for Florida.
The way the theory goes, Nitti had Newberry
killed and then sent a hit man — Zangara — to take
care of the mayor. Considering the fact that the
mayor had left Chicago on December 21, 1932, and
was still in Florida on February 15, 1933, it is con-
ceivable that he might not have been planning to
return at all, figuring Florida sun was preferable to
Windy City lead.
On February 15 Cermak was in an open car with
FDR in Miami when Zangara opened fire, fatally
shooting the "wrong man" Cermak. Yet Zangara
had won several pistol-shooting awards when he was
in the Italian Army. The fact that he of all people
failed to hit the president-elect led some crime
observers to believe that he might have hit his real
target after all. Lingering in his deathbed for three
weeks, Mayor Cermak declared he had no doubt
that he had been Zangara's real target.
Why had Zangara missed FDR? According to
press accounts, his failure was due to the alert reac-
tions of fearless spectators who grabbed his arm and
shoved it upward as he began to fire. Privately Zan-
gara contradicted this version to his lawyers, saying
his arm had not been seized until he had gotten off
all his shots. A policeman who helped bring him
down confirmed this version of the events. It made
the theory that he had hit his target all the more
Zangara ranted and raved against capitalists, yet
there was nothing on the record to indicate he was
an anarchist, communist, socialist or even Fascist.
Despite all his ravings previously against "capitalist
presidents and kings," Zangara turned out to be a
registered Republican.
Joseph Zangara was almost stripped of all his clothing
after being seized in his unsuccessful attempt to
assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some
have insisted Zangara was a Mafia hit man who did get
his actual target, Chicago mayor Anton Cermak.
For two years before the shooting Zangara had
lived in Florida, his main occupation seeming to be
betting on horses and dogs. One researcher on Zan-
gara, the Reverend Elmer Williams, wrote that Zan-
gara had worked in a syndicate "cutting plant" in
Florida "convenient to a canal where the whisky was
run in from the islands." Williams's thesis was that
Zangara got in trouble with his underworld employ-
ers and was given the choice of being tortured and
murdered himself or killing Cermak.
Of course Zangara went to the electric chair pro-
claiming his pride with his act, insisting he had
wanted to kill FDR. He said of Cermak, "I wasn't
shooting at him, but I'm not sorry I hit him."

Was that the real Zangara speaking or the Mafia
hit man sticking to his cover story? If it was the lat-
ter, it was hardly unbelievable. The mob always
could draw on such unlikely sources ready to lay
down their lives in some secret agreement. In The
Godfather Mario Puzo tells of the Bocchicchio fam-
ily, which permitted one of its members to confess to
a murder he hadn't committed and go to the chair for
it. That was fiction but it was hardly outside the
behavior patterns within certain Sicilian Mafia fami-
lies. The family was made an offer, a reward, it
couldn't refuse. Had Zangara got an offer he too
could not refuse? The majority view says no, that he
was a political assassin, period. There are those in
law enforcement and the underworld who laugh at