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Frank Ragano

Frank Ragano

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Frank Ragano was born in 1923. His Sicilian born father ran a small store in Tampa. He joined the United States Army during the Second World War and won the Bronze Star while fighting in Germany.

After the war Ragano became a clerk for the Florida Supreme Court. In 1948 he began representing Mafia boss, Santos Trafficante. He also worked for New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello and in 1961 he defended Jimmy Hoffa against claims that he had plundered the Teamster Pension Fund.

In 1971, Ragano was arrested for tax evasion. One of his partners, Sam Rizzo, gave evidence against him in court. He was convicted and given 3 years probation. More importantly, he lost the licence needed to work as a lawyer. This was eventually regained in 1981 and in 1984 he represented Santos Trafficante in a racketeering trial.

In August 1990, Ragano was again charged with tax evasion. After a long struggle he was eventually sentenced to 10 months in prison. On 14th January, 1992, the New York Post claimed that Trafficante, Marcello and Hoffa had all been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Ragano was quoted as saying that at the beginning of 1963 Hoffa had told him to take a message to Trafficante and Marcello concerning the plan to kill Kennedy. When the meeting took place at the Royal Orleans Hotel, Ragano told the men: "You won't believe what Hoffa wants me to tell you. Jimmy wants you to kill the president." He reported that both men gave the impression that they intended to carry out this order.

In his autobiography, Mob Lawyer (1994) (co-written with journalist Selwyn Raab) Ragano added that in July, 1963, he was once again sent to New Orleans by Hoffa to meet Santos Trafficante and Carlos Marcello concerning plans to kill President John F. When Kennedy was killed Hoffa apparently said to Ragano: "I told you could do it. I'll never forget what Carlos and Santos did for me." He added: "This means Bobby is out as Attorney General". Marcello later told Ragano: "When you see Jimmy (Hoffa), you tell him he owes me and he owes me big."

Ragano also told Dan E. Moldea of the Washington Post that the Garrison investigation of Clay Shaw, Guy Banister and David Ferrie was an attempt to divert public attention away from Carlos Marcello. According to Ragano "Garrison was shielding Marcello from being implicated in the Kennedy murder case," Ragano says.

Ragano also told the story of how Santos Trafficante remarked just four days before he died: "That Bobby (Kennedy) made life miserable for me and my friends... We shouldn't have killed John (Kennedy). We should have killed Bobby."

Of the Mafia trio, only Roselli testified before the State committee. On July 19, 1975, the night before he was going to be questioned by committee members, Sam Giancana was preparing a supper... when a person he evidently trusted and had invited to share the meal ended his life by firing a .22 caliber handgun equipped with silencer into the back of his head. The killer followed up by discharging six more rounds into Giancana's neck and mouth.

Some organized-crime experts theorized that Giancana's murder was unrelated to the Senate inquiry, and that he was killed by rivals to stop him from regaining supremacy of Chicago's Mafia clan. From what I had picked up over the years about mob executions, the nature of Giancana's death contradicts that theory. In a traditional Mafia hit, a bullet in the throat signifies that the victim had been 'talking,' and a bullet in the mouth means he will never 'rat' again. Undoubtedly, Giancana was murdered to prevent him from talking about the CIA-Castro plot or any other Mafia secret.

Almost exactly on the first anniversary of Giancana's death, another layer of mystery was added to the coincidence of his slaying and the Senate's CIA investigation. After years of seemingly cooperating with congressional committees and talking rather freely with newspaper columnists about Mafia affairs, Johnny Roselli became extremely cautious, almost reclusive...

In late July 1976, Roselli made a dinner date. He was seen with his old friend Santo Trafficante at The Landings, a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Two days after dining with Santo, Roselli disappeared.

Twelve days later, on August 7, 1976, a fifty gallon drum containing the legless body of a silver-haired man... The corpse was Johnny Roselli.

The manner of Roselli's death also fit a Mafia pattern. He was beguiled to his death by someone he trusted. The dumping of his body in the bay was another message: The killers either wanted to give the impression that he had deliberately vanished or they wanted to punish his relatives for his misdeeds, perhaps his violation of omerta...

One fact, however, was indisputable: Santo Trafficante was the only survivor of the three mobsters recruited by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro.

Frank Ragano Wiki, Biography, Net Worth, Age, Family, Facts and More

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Frank Ragano is a well known Attorney. Frank was born on January 25, 1923 in Ybor City, Florida, USA..Frank is one of the famous and trending celeb who is popular for being a Attorney. As of 2018 Frank Ragano is 75 years (age at death) years old. Frank Ragano is a member of famous Attorney list.

Wikifamouspeople has ranked Frank Ragano as of the popular celebs list. Frank Ragano is also listed along with people born on 25-Jan-23. One of the precious celeb listed in Attorney list.

Nothing much is known about Frank Education Background & Childhood. We will update you soon.

Name Frank Ragano
Age (as of 2018) 75 years (age at death)
Profession Attorney
Birth Date 25-Jan-23
Birth Place Ybor City, Florida, USA
Nationality Ybor City

Frank Ragano Net Worth

Frank primary income source is Attorney. Currently We don’t have enough information about his family, relationships,childhood etc. We will update soon.

Estimated Net Worth in 2019: $100K-$1M (Approx.)

Frank Age, Height & Weight

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Family & Relations

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  • Frank Ragano age is 75 years (age at death). as of 2018
  • Frank birthday is on 25-Jan-23.
  • Zodiac sign: Aquarius.

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Frank Ragano American Attorney

Frank Ragano was previously married to Nancy Ragano (spouse).


American Attorney Frank Ragano was born on 25th January, 1923 in Ybor City, Florida, USA and passed away on 13th May 1998 Tampa, Florida, USA aged 75. He is most remembered for Mob Lawyer (1994. His zodiac sign is Aquarius.


Help us build our profile of Frank Ragano! Login to add information, pictures and relationships, join in discussions and get credit for your contributions.

Relationship Statistics


First Name Frank
Last Name Ragano
Age 75 (age at death) years
Birthday 25th January, 1923
Birthplace Ybor City, Florida, USA
Died 13th May, 1998
Place of Death Tampa, Florida, USA
Build Average
Hair Color Grey
Zodiac Sign Aquarius
Ethnicity White
Nationality American
University Stetson Law School
Occupation Text Mob Attorney, Writer
Occupation Attorney
Claim to Fame Mob Lawyer (1994
Year(s) Active 1952-1990

Frank Ragano (January 25, 1923 – May 13, 1998) was a self-styled "mob lawyer" from Florida, who made his name representing organized crime figures such as Santo Trafficante, Jr. and Carlos Marcello, and also served as lawyer for Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. In his 1994 autobiography Mob Lawyer, Ragano recounted his career in defending members of organized crime, and made the controversial allegation that Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. confessed to him shortly before he died in 1987 that he and Carlos Marcello had arranged for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. These Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories have been called into serious question by others.

Frank Ragano - History

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The Lies of the Irishman

Assuming you were alive in April 1972 and old enough to cross the street by yourself, you could take credit for the spectacular murder of mobster Crazy Joe Gallo—gunned down during his own birthday party at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy—and nobody could prove you didn’t do it.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about New York City organized crime can tell you who was behind it: The murder was payback for an equally brazen shooting—in broad daylight, in midtown Manhattan—of mob boss Joseph A. Colombo Sr. a year earlier, an attack Gallo supposedly ordered (though even that no one can say with absolute certainty, since the shooter was shot dead on the spot). But no one has ever been arrested or charged in Crazy Joe’s killing, and so technically it’s still unsolved.

The same is true about the disappearance, in July 1975, of Teamsters’ union legend Jimmy Hoffa. He had made some lethal enemies in the mob. After serving a prison term, he persisted in trying to regain control of the union even after he was warned, over and over, to back off. The last time anybody saw him, he was standing outside a restaurant in the suburbs of Detroit, waiting to be driven to what he believed would be a peace meeting. The FBI and investigative reporters have devoted decades of effort to solving the mystery, but all we have is guesswork and theories. So if you want to step up now and say you whacked him, be my guest.

That’s the thing about these gangland slayings: When done properly, you’re not supposed to know who did them. They’re planned and carried out to surprise the victim and confound the authorities. Eyewitnesses, if there are any, prove reluctant to speak up. And nobody ever confesses, unless it’s to win easy treatment from law enforcement in exchange for ratting on other, more important mobsters. Those cases often turn into the ultimate public confessional—the as-told-to, every-gory-detail, my-life-in-crime book deal. Followed by—if you’re a really lucky lowlife—the movie version that fixes your place forever in the gangster hall of fame.

And then there’s the strange case of Frank Sheeran.

Only if you had been paying close attention to the exploits of the South Philadelphia mafia back in its glory days (the second half of the 20 th century) might you have noticed Sheeran’s existence. Even there he was a second-stringer—a local Teamsters union official, meaning he was completely crooked, who hung around with mobsters, especially Russell Bufalino, a boss from backwater Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sheeran was Irish, which limited any Cosa Nostra career ambitions he might have had, and so he seemed to be just a 6-foot-4, 250-pound gorilla with a dream. He died in obscurity, in a nursing home, in 2003.

Then, six months later, a small publishing house in Hanover, New Hampshire, unleashed a shocker titled I Heard You Paint Houses. It was written by Charles Brandt, a medical malpractice lawyer who had helped Sheeran win early parole from prison, due to poor health, at age 71. Starting not long after that, Brandt wrote, Sheeran, nearing the end of his life, began confessing incredible secrets he had kept for decades, revealing that—far from being a bit player—he was actually the unseen figure behind some of the biggest mafia murders of all time.

Frank Sheeran said he killed Jimmy Hoffa.

He said he killed Joey Gallo, too.

And he said he did some other really bad things nearly as incredible.

Most amazingly, Sheeran did all that without ever being arrested, charged, or even suspected of those crimes by any law enforcement agency, even though officials were presumably watching him for most of his adult life. To call him the Forrest Gump of organized crime scarcely does him justice. In all the history of the mafia in America or anywhere else, really, nobody even comes close.

Now, though, Frank Sheeran is finally going to get his due.

When it premieres at the New York Film Festival in September before a fall release, The Irishman (as the tale has been retitled) will immediately enter mob movie Valhalla: Martin Scorsese directing, Robert De Niro as Sheeran, Al Pacino as Hoffa, and Joe Pesci as Bufalino, all together for the first (and probably last) time. Sheeran is a part that De Niro has reportedly wanted to play since Brandt’s book came to his attention over a decade ago. The actor has been nursing it along ever since, finally getting Netflix to put up a reported $160 million. This will be Scorsese’s most expensive film ever, in part because of the extensive digital manipulation required to allow De Niro, who turns 76 this month, to play Sheeran from his prime hoodlum years until his death at age 83.

All in all, an astounding saga. Almost too good to be true.

No, let’s say it: too good to be true.

“I’m telling you, he’s full of shit!” This is a retired contemporary of Sheeran’s, a fellow Irishman from Philadelphia named John Carlyle Berkery, who allegedly headed the city’s Irish mob for 20 years and had many close mafia connections. Berkery is a local legend, one of the few figures of that era still alive, not incarcerated, and in full possession of his wits. “Frank Sheeran never killed a fly,” he says. “The only things he ever killed were countless jugs of red wine. You could tell how drunk he was by the color of his teeth: pink, just started dark purple, stiff.”

“It’s baloney, beyond belief,” agrees John Tamm, a former FBI agent on the Philadelphia field office’s labor squad who investigated Sheeran and once arrested him. “Frank Sheeran was a full-time criminal, but I don’t know of anybody he personally ever killed, no.”

Not a single person I spoke with who knew Sheeran from Philly—and I interviewed cops and criminals and prosecutors and reporters—could remember even a suspicion that he had ever killed anyone.

Certainly, his first noteworthy mischief held no promise of underworld greatness. In 1964, at the somewhat advanced age of 43, Sheeran was charged with beating a non-union truck driver with a lug wrench—about what you’d expect from a Teamster goon. Sheeran was later twice indicted in the murders of union rivals. But in neither case did the government or anyone else accuse him of touching a trigger, only of hiring the hit men who did his dirty work for him. When Sheeran was finally convicted of something, it was for cheating his own union members. Not exactly the kind of crime that gets you invited to Don Corleone’s daughter’s wedding.

But none of Sheeran’s nonlethal past mattered or even came up once the book came out. Though Publishers Weekly called it “long on sensational claims and short on credibility,” the credulous world welcomed a solution to the mystery of Jimmy Hoffa’s whereabouts and a chance to read tales of other famous mobster mayhem. Even the New York Times’ reviewer wrote, “It promises to clear up the mystery of Hoffa’s demise, and appears to do so.” The book appeared on the Times’ extended bestseller list and has sold over 185,000 copies, according to its publisher. Charles Brandt, the former chief deputy attorney general of the state of Delaware, was, at 62, the author of a hot property.

Let’s start by looking at Sheeran’s most explosive claim, of having shot his friend Jimmy Hoffa.

Here’s the version of that mystery that has, over the years, gained the most traction: Not only was Hoffa—against the mob’s wishes—intent on regaining control of the Teamsters upon his release from prison (for jury tampering), but he was also feuding with mafioso Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, head of the Teamsters local based in Union City, New Jersey. With the assistance of the Detroit mob, Provenzano hatched a plot where a fake meeting would be arranged and a car driven by a Hoffa ally would deliver the victim to his killer, Provenzano’s top enforcer, Salvatore “Sally Bugs” Briguglio. Because Sheeran and Hoffa were close friends as well as union brothers, Sheeran was recruited to ride along in the car to calm any worries Hoffa might have had about getting in.

And here’s Frank Sheeran’s version: In consultation with his fellow mob bosses, Sheeran’s patron Russell Bufalino set up the killing for when he and Sheeran would be in Detroit to attend a wedding. Sheeran rode with the driver when they picked Hoffa up outside the Machus Red Fox restaurant and traveled to an empty house, where the bogus peace meeting was to take place. There, Hoffa jumped out of the car and walked toward the front door with Sheeran on his heels. They entered the vestibule, Hoffa saw there was no one inside, and realized he had walked into a trap. Sheeran, standing right behind him, pulled out his gun.

“If he saw the piece in my hand he had to think I had it out to protect him,” Sheeran said in the book. “He took a quick step to go around me and get to the door. He reached for the knob and Jimmy Hoffa got shot twice at a decent range—not too close or the paint splatters back at you—in the back of the head behind his right ear.”

At which point Sheeran exits the scene and a cleanup crew takes over.

Now then: Who buys Frank Sheeran’s story?

According to Brandt, Robert Garrity, the FBI agent who led the investigation into Hoffa’s disappearance, once told him, “We always liked Sheeran for it.” But when I emailed Garrity to verify that, he wrote back: “I have no interest in talking about that book for a number of reasons which are personal. Good luck with your article.”

We can, however, read Garrity’s original conclusions in something called “the Hoffex memo,” a 57-page summary of the investigation drafted in January 1976. The document lists a dozen men who were suspected of having some involvement in either killing Hoffa or disposing of his remains. Here’s what the memo said about Sheeran: “Known to be in Detroit area at the time of [Hoffa’s] disappearance, and considered to be a close friend” of Hoffa’s.

Which suggests that Sheeran might have been part of the plot to kill Hoffa. But it was Briguglio, according to the memo, who was “involved in actual disappearance” of Jimmy Hoffa.

Does Steven Brill buy Sheeran’s story?

Brill is the author of The Teamsters, a history of the union and Hoffa’s disappearance, published in 1978. “When the book came out,” Brill says, “I had vaguely mentioned Sheeran as someone who might have been partially involved in Hoffa’s abduction. As a bit player.”

But Brandt’s book says Brill was reported to have interviewed Sheeran and had him—on tape—confessing to the murder.

“Total bullshit,” Brill says. “I would love to have had that. But I never talked to him.”

Does Ronald Cole buy Sheeran’s story?

Cole was a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Strike Force in Philadelphia, which brought union boss Sheeran into his sights. He’s the prosecutor who finally put Sheeran behind bars for making sweetheart deals with businesses that employed Teamsters.

“I remember when the book came out,” Cole says, “I asked the FBI agents if they gave any credence to it, and they all told me, ‘No!’ ”

Does Selwyn Raab buy Sheeran’s story?

Raab is a veteran journalist, a reporter at the New York Times for 26 years, and the author of Mob Lawyer about Frank Ragano, who represented, among other gangster legends, Jimmy Hoffa.

“I know Sheeran didn’t kill Hoffa,” Raab says. “I’m as confident about that as you can be. There are 14 people who claim to have killed Hoffa. There’s an inexhaustible supply of them.”

Does Dan Moldea buy Sheeran’s story?

“I play second banana to no one” on this story, he says, and it’s easy to see why—he’s the author of nine books of investigative journalism, but is still best known for 1978’s The Hoffa Wars, which he began researching before its subject vanished. Between working on that book and on his website, he has spent more than 40 years on the Teamster trail, chasing down every shred of evidence and rumor about Hoffa’s disappearance and disposal.

Sheeran “was definitely involved,” Moldea says, “but he confessed to a murder he didn’t commit. Truthfully, I’m upset because I spent my entire career investigating this case, interviewed over 1,000 people, and I have a legitimate claim to having made an important contribution. And then a guy who wrote a one-source book based on the word of a convicted felon and proven liar gets everything? The bestselling book, the movie star treatment that comes to very few but is what every author wants? Yes, I’m bitter about this.”

Even Sheeran, before he said that he killed Hoffa, said that he didn’t. In 1995, he announced to Kitty Caparella, who covered organized crime for the Philadelphia Daily News, that he was negotiating a multimillion-dollar deal for a book he would write with a collaborator he met in prison. “I did not kill Hoffa and I had nothing to do with it,” Sheeran told her, and then he named the real mastermind behind the disappearance: President Richard Nixon.

Before we go any further, a brief but possibly relevant digression about the “paint splatters” Sheeran mentioned in his account of Hoffa’s killing. According to Sheeran, the first time he and Hoffa ever talked was on the phone, in a conversation that Hoffa started by saying, “I heard you paint houses.” Also according to Sheeran, those words were mob code meaning: I heard you kill people, the “paint” being the blood that splashes when you fire bullets into a body.

To which Sheeran replied, “Yeah, and I do my own carpentry work, too.” Meaning: I also dispose of the dead bodies.

Here’s my nagging question: In all of mob literature, fictional and factual, has anyone ever uttered such expressions about painting and carpentry? I couldn’t find any. Nobody I interviewed—and they number in the dozens, good guys, bad guys, neutral observers—had ever heard it either. Go Google it yourself and email me if you find it anywhere except in Frank Sheeran’s mouth. Even Charles Brandt admits he had never heard of it, but added that mobsters in Bufalino’s isolated corner of northeastern Pennsylvania “have their own lingo.”

I don’t want to slow things down any further by pointing out that Sheeran was from Philly and Hoffa from Detroit.

Anyway, it’s a vivid and memorable title. It was chosen by Frank Weimann, the literary agent who sold the book.

Brandt says that when Hoffa made that fateful phone call, he was looking for someone who would kill union rivals and other foes for him. Sheeran claimed he took the job. Brandt told me, “Frank confessed to 25 to 30 murders, he couldn’t remember how many. One day he did a tour for Hoffa—he flew to Chicago and then to Puerto Rico and did a total of three hits.”

And there we have just one more astounding piece of Sheeran’s tale: so many murders he lost count! Except there’s no evidence that even one such killing ever took place. No one (aside from Frank Sheeran) has ever alleged that Hoffa commissioned even a single murder. When you ask Brandt for proof, he can only point to times that Hoffa—who was a famous hothead and raging blowhard—said he wanted to kill a long list of people, including John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and others who crossed him. No known murders, though.

Here is the version of Joey Gallo’s killing as it has come to be accepted over the years: He was out on the town with friends, family, his new wife, and her daughter to celebrate his 43 rd birthday. First, the party visited the Copacabana nightclub, and then, in the wee hours, decided to eat. They couldn’t find an open restaurant in Chinatown so they wandered into Little Italy to a new joint, Umberto’s Clam House, not knowing it was owned by a mobster named Matty the Horse.

As they entered, a hood who was connected to the Colombo family saw them and immediately split, found some colleagues, and told them he had spotted Gallo. They called their boss, who told them to arm themselves, drive over to Umberto’s, and kill him. They followed orders, burst into the restaurant, and one of them—a convicted murderer named Carmine “Sonny Pinto” Di Biase—began blasting. Gallo was hit three times. Killers and victim then made their way outside, where the murder crew piled into cars and took off and left Gallo in the street, dying.

And here’s Sheeran’s version: Gallo’s murder happened not due to his war with the Colombo family but because, earlier in the evening at the Copa, Crazy Joe was rude to Sheeran’s boss Russell Bufalino, who gave Frank the nod. Sheeran says he was informed by spies not only which restaurant Gallo would choose hours later, but exactly where he would be sitting. Sheeran arrived at the appointed time and entered alone, trying to seem like a working truck driver needing a break.

A split second after I turned to face the table, Crazy Joey Gallo’s driver got shot from behind. … Crazy Joey swung around out of his chair and headed down toward the corner door to the shooter’s right. … It was easy to cut him off by going straight down the bar to the door and getting right behind him. He made it through Umberto’s corner door to the outside. Crazy Joey got shot about three times outside of the restaurant not far from the corner door.

OK, who buys Sheeran’s story?

Hard to say, since the detectives in charge of the case are dead. But newspaper coverage of the killing all carried a description of the gunman offered by police and witnesses—according to the New York Daily News he was “about 5-foot-8, stocky, about 40 years old and with receding dark hair.” In other words, not Sheeran but Di Biase.

Does Frank Storey buy Sheeran’s story?

Storey was the FBI assistant special agent in charge of the organized crime program at the New York City field office. “That’s just crazy,” he says. “He didn’t do it. He never would have gone to New York to do that. It just wouldn’t have happened.”

Does Sina Essary buy Sheeran’s story?

Essary was sitting at the table at Umberto’s with her new husband Joey Gallo, her 10-year-old daughter, and the others in their party when the bullets began to fly. “They were little, short, fat Italians,” she says of the hit squad, hardly describing a 6-foot-4 Irishman.

Does Nicholas Gage buy Sheeran’s story?

Gage was the New York Times reporter who broke the inside story of Gallo’s killing, including who did it, how, and why. He had been covering the mob for the Times and the Wall Street Journal for years and wrote The Mafia is Not an Equal Opportunity Employer, a 1971 book that focused partly on Gallo. (They met not long before the murder.) Gage interviewed Joseph Luparelli, the wiseguy who spied Gallo at Umberto’s and set in motion the events that led to the killing. Then, in 1975, Gage spent three days interviewing Gallo’s bodyguard, Pete “the Greek” Diapoulas, who was shot once, and who told the same story—including identifying Di Biase, whom he knew, as the shooter.

“I haven’t read the script of The Irishman,” Gage says, “but the book on which it is based is the most fabricated mafia tale since the fake autobiography of Lucky Luciano 40 years ago.”

Before we go any further, another quick digression about something you may have noticed earlier—the weird way that Sheeran phrased his confessions to both murders. Specifically, his use of the passive voice. “Jimmy Hoffa got shot twice at a decent range.” “Crazy Joey got shot about three times outside of the restaurant.”

I wondered about that, too.

Near the end of the book, Brandt tries to get Sheeran to confirm, one final time, all that he confessed before.

“Now,” Brandt said to Sheeran, “you read the book. The things that are in there about Jimmy and what happened to him are things that you told me, isn’t that right?”

Frank Sheeran said, “That’s right.”

“And you stand behind them?”

And he said, “I stand behind what’s written.”

Which means that even in his deathbed confession, Frank Sheeran never actually says the words, “I killed Jimmy Hoffa,” or that he killed Joey Gallo, or anybody at all.

When I bring this up to Brandt, he scoffs. Had Sheeran made the grammatical misstep of saying plainly “I killed them,” Brandt believes, he would have been making an airtight confession to two murders and exposed himself to guaranteed life in prison.

“If anything,” Brandt says, “it adds to Frank Sheeran’s credibility.”

Sheeran’s claims about killing Gallo and Hoffa aren’t even his most amazing yarns. He also said that just before the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, in 1962, he was ordered by his mob bosses to drive a truckload of uniforms and weapons to a dog track in Florida, where he delivered the cargo to CIA agent E. Howard Hunt, who , a decade later, would be one of the Watergate burglars. And then, in November 1963, Sheeran said he was summoned to an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, where a gangster handed him a duffel bag containing three rifles and told him to deliver them to a pilot, who took the bag and disappeared—and then, next thing you know, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated the president. Also, Sheeran tells about taking a suitcase containing half a million dollars in cash to the lobby of the Washington, D.C. Hilton, where he was joined by then–U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell, who sat a while to shoot the breeze and then walked off with the money, a bribe for his boss, President Richard Nixon.

I could keep going like this, but you get the picture. It’s time, at last, to ask: Does anybody buy Frank Sheeran’s story?

I found four such individuals.

Fleischer was the editor at Steerforth Press who bought the book and guided it to publication. “When I read it,” he says, “my reaction was this potentially was the biggest thing we ever published—in terms of sales, but also in terms of historical importance.”

Fleischer knew they would be contradicting widely accepted versions of famous crimes. “I couldn’t help but worry we were going to come out looking silly somehow,” he says, “but just the opposite happened.” Fleischer is now the publisher of Steerforth Press.

Weimann, a veteran New York literary agent who has also represented other successful mob-related books, including memoirs by Joe Bonanno and his son Bill, steered Brandt’s book through two publishing deals that fell apart before the successful third try at Steerforth. One of those attempts was scuttled, Weimann told me, when it was discovered that Sheeran had forged a letter he said Hoffa had written to him.

Brandt writes in the book that despite the forgery, he still believed in Sheeran. What about Weimann? Did the literary agent have any doubts about the truthfulness of the book?

Shawn is a Fox News reporter who went to Detroit and found the house where Sheeran said Hoffa was killed, then had the floorboards in the doorway tested for human blood. And found some, he revealed—but none of the DNA matched Hoffa’s (which Shawn says could be attributed to the years that passed between the killing and the testing). In the course of his reporting, Shawn says he interviewed people in Sheeran’s hometown and in Hoffa’s, not one of whom ever suspected a thing. “In Philadelphia they think he was just a drunk. In Detroit they never heard of him,” Shawn says. “So, he’s the perfect guy” to carry out the murders. “He slipped through the cracks.” When a Slate fact-checker followed up with Shawn, he replied that he’s still investigating and added, “My hour and a half documentary, Riddle: The Search for James R. Hoffa is available now on the new streaming service Fox Nation.”

And Charles Brandt buys it.

This was not Brandt’s first experience with hardened criminals or with publishing. In the Delaware attorney general’s office, he says, he specialized in homicide prosecutions and was an expert in the art of questioning bad people to learn the truth. Before working with Sheeran, he had written a novel based on murders he had solved.

At first, Brandt says, Sheeran told him he wanted to do a book proving he was innocent in Hoffa’s disappearance: “But I could tell, this guy has something he wants to get off his chest. Interrogation is a journey.” Sheeran started by admitting that he was there on the scene when Hoffa was killed, Brandt says, but it wasn’t until more than eight years later—when Sheeran realized that he was nearing death—that he finally confessed to shooting his friend and Teamster brother.

Brandt questioned Sheeran over the course of five years, he says, and used every trick he learned as a prosecutor to try and catch Sheeran in a lie. “I knew that everything I ultimately accepted from him was the truth,” Brandt says. Any skepticism about the book “is nonsense.”

After the initial publication of I Heard You Paint Houses, Brandt says, he began receiving independent verifications of Sheeran’s claims from people in a position to know. “It was like stuff was coming out of nowhere to corroborate Frank’s confession,” he says. These accounts appear in the updated edition of the book.

According to Brandt, New York City Detective Joe Coffey, who investigated Gallo’s shooting back in ’72, told him that he “believed it had been solved by Frank’s confession.” But in The Coffey Files, the detective’s own 1992 memoir, he says he learned from informants that Sonny Pinto was the shooter—just as everyone has held all along. We can’t reconcile these Coffey died in 2015.

The best of Brandt’s verifications came when he discovered an eyewitness to Gallo’s shooting. In the book, she’s anonymous at her request. In 1972 she was a college student visiting New York, Brandt writes, and happened to be at Umberto’s in the wee hours of the night in question. When I spoke with her on the phone, she asked to be identified as someone who has worked as a journalist for New York City newspapers.

When she heard shots, she says, she looked up at where they came from and saw a tall man, “not particularly Irish-looking,” she remembers. “He was ruddy. He was definitely not a short Italian.”

Did she see a gun in his hand? “No—I don’t think so,” she says.

In his book, Brandt says that in 2004, he showed her several photos of Sheeran, at different ages. He writes:

Then she looked again at the photo of Sheeran taken around the time of the Gallo hit, and she said with palpable fear, “This picture gives me chills.”

When I spoke with her, here’s what she said: “As far as corroborating that it was Frank Sheeran, when I was shown three photos, the person I identified looked more like him than anybody else. And this was many, many years afterward.”

Thirty-two years, to be exact. Does she believe he was Gallo’s killer?

“Do I think it was Frank Sheeran? Yeah.”

And that’s it for the real-life version of events. Now we can turn to the movies, where the standard of proof is more relaxed. Martin Scorsese grew up in Little Italy. He has already directed two classic movies about the mob—Goodfellas and Casino—based solidly on nonfiction books by a respected journalist, Nicholas Pileggi. So, we know he is somewhat wise in these matters. Yet he’s made a movie based on a book whose central claims are denied by a whole lot of people in a position to know.

It’s possible The Irishman will treat Sheeran’s stories as tall tales. Scorsese, of course, has played with subverting criminals’ self-aggrandizement before think of Jordan Belfort’s unreliable narration in The Wolf of Wall Street, a movie that makes it clear, by the end, that its protagonist views us, the audience, as just another mark. Is that what Scorsese’s up to with The Irishman? Did Netflix invest nearly $200 million in a scathing satire of gangster braggadocio? Or does he buy Frank Sheeran’s story?

I don’t know. Scorsese declined to talk to me.

I do know about a discussion in 2014 between Robert De Niro and Hoffa expert Dan Moldea, after a writers’ banquet the author hosts annually in Washington. There, Moldea spent 20 minutes lecturing De Niro that his movie would be based on a lie while the actor quietly listened. “De Niro was very polite, and Dan was very forceful,” said Gus Russo, Moldea’s friend and a fellow investigative reporter.

Moldea doesn’t disagree—“I told him, ‘Bob, you’re getting conned.’ ”

“Hollywood gets the last word,” Russo says.

Does De Niro buy Sheeran’s story? I don’t know. He also declined to talk to me.

We’re closing in on the end of this saga, and still have yet to wonder: Why might Frank Sheeran have confessed to such horrible acts if he hadn’t done them? According to Brandt, Sheeran, nearing death, returned to his Catholic faith and wished to clear his conscience, even though it meant admitting that he had killed his best friend. It takes some of the shine off that halo when you remember that he could have spilled his guts while he was still healthy enough for life in prison. Sheeran can’t enjoy any of the financial reward for his confession but his heirs, three of his daughters, can: They and Brandt split all proceeds from the book, including the film rights. Even if that motive for writing the book seems cynical, we’d know that at least once in his life, Sheeran had a selfless impulse.

And so, to sum things up, here’s what “I Heard You Paint Houses” asks us to believe, the story that The Irishman appears ready to tell the world: that starting at age 52, having no known murders on his résumé, Frank Sheeran, a Teamster thug and well-known drunk, was selected to carry out two of the most audacious hits in the history of organized crime, plus a long list of other heinous acts.

On the other hand, here’s what we know for sure: Nobody ever accused Frank Sheeran of killing Jimmy Hoffa—except Frank Sheeran.

Nobody ever accused Frank Sheeran of killing Joey Gallo—except Frank Sheeran.

Nobody ever accused Frank Sheeran of killing 25 to 30 other people, so many he couldn’t remember them all. Except Frank Sheeran.

Now, maybe that means he really was the smartest, sneakiest, stealthiest hit man of all time.

But then you remember that, by and large, mob guys have never been what you’d call geniuses of crime. Oh, they break a lot of laws. They’re superb at that. Still, history has shown that they are not the type to repeatedly break the law unobserved, undetected, unarrested. Eventually they all get caught, most on multiple occasions. They wind up either behind bars, dead, or living under new, government-issued identities.

I spoke of this once with the late journalist Jimmy Breslin, who was among our greatest chroniclers of mob life (and whose comic novel, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, was inspired by Gallo and his crew).

I asked Breslin: Aren’t gangsters as smart and cunning as they’re depicted in movies and books?

“IQs of 55,” he said. “They all went to jail. What does that tell you? To be charitable, it was an overrated business.”


This is the age of confession, an era of dragging oneself through the mud abusers and abusees compete in the marketplace of self-abnegation. Which is why it seems inevitable that a place be set for Frank Ragano, a man whose chief claim to fame is a long career as "house counsel" to the mob.

But in this time of revealed secrets, Frank Ragano claims to possess one of the best. He says he knows who killed President Kennedy. He says he knows why. And he says he knows all this because one of the plotters told him.

Sure, sure, you've heard this one before. And Ragano's alleged source doesn't make his claim easier to believe. It is, after all, Santo Trafficante Jr., the powerful Florida Mafia boss, whose death seven years ago prevents him from denying his role.

Ragano is a short 71-year-old with wispy, reddish hair, and he is talking in a restaurant at the Mayflower because he has written a sort of Godfather Dearest, "Mob Lawyer," in which he recounts years of serving organized crime. His clientele included the very vanished Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (killed by the mob in 1975), but numero uno was Trafficante, whose line of work included bolita, a numbers game, drug trafficking and a big interest in Havana's pre-Castro gambling casinos. The mob made Ragano very rich -- and very circumspect. Of Trafficante, he says, "I think if I'd been inquisitive, curious -- I think as soon as I was no longer any use to him -- he'd have me killed."

But that was then. Ragano says that when Trafficante vouchsafed the historic news about JFK's murder seven years ago, it came as a sort of deathbed admission. The mobster confessed, Ragano says, as they drove through the streets of Tampa on March 13, 1987 -- four days before Trafficante died. The exact date is important because there is an argument as to whether Trafficante actually made the trip from Miami.

If Trafficante did not, Ragano's story falls apart, which is why his every word is being challenged by the dead mobster's family, who insist that Trafficante was too ill to travel. To which Ragano says, "If they are sincere in their contentions that he was not here in Tampa on that Friday the 13th, I would suggest that they file a lawsuit so this issue can be settled by a court of law."

The theory that the mob killed JFK has had many devotees. The House Assassination Committee came to that tentative conclusion in 1979, 15 years after the Warren Commission said that one lone nut killed the president. The House committee singled out Trafficante and New Orleans Mafia chieftain Carlos Marcello, who died in 1992.

Ragano, to be sure, has no proof. But his testimony is rich in detail, right down to the words allegedly spoken, in Sicilian, by the dying Trafficante as they drove around Tampa: "Carlos e futtutu. Non duvevamu ammazzar a Giovanni. Duvevamu ammazzari a Bobby." ("Carlos messed up. We shouldn't have killed Giovanni . We should have killed Bobby.")

How does a person react to discovering who was behind the crime of the century?

"I didn't know how to deal with it," Ragano says earnestly his Florida drawl sounds incongruous in a world of Sicilian confidences. "As a lawyer. As a human being. As an old friend. I just didn't know how to deal with it." He turns to Nancy Ragano, who has been girlfriend and wife for 30 years. "I didn't tell her for a while," he says, "and she kept asking me, 'What's wrong, what's bothering you?' "

"Frank was very disturbed for about two weeks there," says Nancy Ragano, who sounds like the Florida coed she was when she met the mob lawyer. "I thought maybe it was Santo's death."

"When you find that a man you know is responsible for the president's death, my God . ." says Frank Ragano.

". -- the godfather to my son," says Nancy Ragano, "and those are not nice things to hear."

As the Raganos talk on, it is suddenly a most peculiar Washington moment. This conversation has been taking place in a quiet corner of a restaurant in the hotel where, years before, Ragano had lunch with Hoffa -- and where J. Edgar Hoover regularly lunched with his deputy, Clyde Tolson, and where, Ragano says, he once saw Hoffa and Hoover greet each other. On this bright spring day, two tables away, sits former CIA chief Richard Helms, who served as deputy director of plans after the Bay of Pigs fiasco -- a time when the CIA tried to hire Trafficante and the mob to kill Fidel Castro. Ragano does not recognize Helms, who occasionally looks his way.

Ragano is trying to figure out why Trafficante told him:

"If somebody was to tell me why did Santo tell you about it, I don't know anybody else he could have told. I was close to him for 27 years. He was a sick man. And I think maybe he owed me something." Ragano pauses. "It could very well be that he didn't think I'd say anything about it."

Then there is the view that Ragano is making all this up, which is what Trafficante's widow and daughters say, while lamenting that their children and grandchildren must bear the stigma.

Mary Jo Trafficante Paniella says by telephone that her father was at Miami's Mercy Hospital on March 12 and March 14, and family lawyer Henry Gonzalez, by fax, produces hospital records to show that Trafficante received dialysis treatments on those days. "One thing we do remember is the week my father died," says the 54-year-old Paniella, who teaches elementary school. "When named a date and said he was with my father, we said, 'How can he say this?' "

It's easy, Ragano says, because Santo Trafficante was not in the hospital on March 13, 1987. Ragano carries with him a March 19, 1987, Tampa Tribune story in which Ragano says he talked with Trafficante on March 13 about his medical options.

At the suggestion that Ragano might have made his historic confession by phone, Ragano says Trafficante was so fearful of being bugged that he'd carry a pocketful of quarters for pay phones. "To suggest for a moment he would be talking to me about the murder of a president over a telephone, that's beyond comprehension."

If he has witnesses that the two met in Tampa, who are they? asks Paniella.

Ragano says he has three -- but won't produce them. "One guy is afraid of retaliation. The other guys are two doctors, who say they'll testify if they're summoned to court."

Then Ragano says, "I did not see the two daughters in house that Friday. The one person I saw was his widow, and she's not making any claims or denials at all."

Ragano is wrong about that. "That's a big, big lie," says the 74-year-old Josie Trafficante by telephone. "My husband was too sick to fly anywhere. If he had to travel, I had to take him in a car, because he had that colostomy bag."

"In view of the terrible things that I've said about her late husband in our book, and knowing her as I do," Ragano responds later, "I'm not at all surprised that she would parrot the claims of her two daughters."

Of herself and her 50-year-old sister, Sarah Ann Trafficante Valdez, Mary Jo Paniella says, "Our children have this burden to bear. They'll have this all their lives because he decided to write a novel."

"This book was not written to make me look good," says Ragano. "It makes me look terrible."

That is one Ragano statement that no one will dispute.

Ragano's coauthor is Selwyn Raab, a New York Times reporter who has covered the Mafia for two decades. Raab's brief narrative is set apart from Ragano's, and occasionally he takes his writing partner to task. "Frank's refusal to consider the evidence of Trafficante's ties to the Mafia was rank self-deception for a lawyer trained to be logical," he writes at one point.

Not only does Raab scold Ragano, but Ragano scolds himself. His memoir is filled with quotidian humiliation, such as the night that Trafficante ordered Ragano to solicit the favors of a cigarette girl at a Miami bar.

The worst happened on the night of Nov. 22, 1963, when the future Nancy Ragano, then 19, walked into a Tampa hotel bar to find Trafficante exulting, "The son of a bitch is dead." Ragano's glass, she says, was raised in a toast.

"I have to tell you," she says, almost angrily, "I'm not so sure I've ever forgiven Frank for that night."

Wait a minute, says Mary Jo Paniella. An FBI surveillance report proves that her father was in Miami that night. Ragano says that Trafficante routinely misled the FBI.

"I think that was the night I made my pact with the devil," says Ragano, "sitting there like an idiot, toasting the death of the president."

More humiliations were to come: conviction for tax fraud in the early 1980s, his law practice suspended and finally, last year, a prison sentence, of which he served 10 months. At age 70, Ragano was broke and without a livelihood. Through the worst of it, in the mid-'80s, his old friends shunned him -- even Trafficante, although the mobster eventually reconciled with his former "house counsel."

"Here's a guy, I thought we were closer than brothers," Ragano says, "and when I was in trouble, Santo turned his back on me. How coldblooded can you get?"

Some students of the Kennedy murder, such as the indefatigable Harold Weisberg, are skeptical of Ragano's claim. Among those who believe it are G. Robert Blakey, Justice Department veteran and chief counsel to the House Assassination Committee, who says, "I have carefully studied his story and I think he is telling it as he remembers it." But that is no surprise. Blakey 15 years ago said it was a "historical truth" that the mob -- Trafficante and Marcello, in particular -- killed Kennedy to get the administration off its back.

Washington lawyer Ron Goldfarb, who is completing a book on Robert Kennedy and organized crime, also takes Ragano seriously. "He's broke, he's looking to cash in on a book," says Goldfarb. "On the other hand, does what he says line up with other things you know are so? The answer to that is yes."

Ragano says he hasn't a clue about what happened in Dealey Plaza on the day Kennedy was shot.

"I think Santo was the brains, and I think Carlos carried it out. . Whenever we would talk about Carlos, Santo would always remind me that he had powerful friends in Texas, and he did have a man in Dallas, a Mafia figure who represented his interests there."

Ragano remembers a conversation that took place in a car with Marcello and Trafficante. The radio was on, he says, and they heard the news about New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's loopy investigation of the assassination.

"Santo said, 'Carlos, mark my words, before this thing's over they're going to blame you and I for killing the president.' And I looked back there, and both of them looked like the cats that ate canaries. And I wondered at the time -- I wondered why they'd make a statement like that."

Ragano says Marcello and Trafficante both knew Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana, who once had the same girlfriend as John F. Kennedy.

"Giancana felt, rightly or wrongly, that he was instrumental in bringing about the <1960>election," Ragano says. "Because there was only 118,000 votes, the smallest margin ever, and they felt they had a friend over there and they felt betrayed.

"And they were close, Santo and Giancana. . I would say all those guys had to know. I know they all felt they were double-crossed. But I don't think they could pull off something like this without some of those guys getting together and deciding on it."

Ragano says the plot might have begun in July 1963, when Hoffa, who hated the Kennedy brothers, told him: "Something has to be done. The time has come for your friend and Carlos to get rid of him, to kill that son of a bitch John Kennedy."

Ragano -- only half-seriously, he says -- carried the message -- for the man they nicknamed Marteduzzo, which means little hammer. "Marteduzzo," he told them, "wants you to do a little favor for him." But, he writes, the reaction was odd: "Santo and Carlos exchanged glances. . Their facial expressions were icy. Their reticence was a signal that this was an uncomfortable subject."

"I don't think he could order those two guys to do anything," Ragano says, "but if they could lead Jimmy to think they did it because he ordered it, it would make the pension fund more accessible. These are devious people, these are cunning people, they don't think the way we do, everything has double meanings.

"The whole motive revolves around one thing -- forget everything else. The Teamsters pension fund. It all goes back to that -- a billion dollars.

"So by killing Kennedy, Jimmy would be beholden to Carlos and Santo and they would have access to that pension fund. They had the motive and obviously had the capability. When wanted to get rid of Castro, who did they turn to? Santo -- not one of their own agents.

"I don't pretend to know how it happened," Ragano says, "but after I talked to Santo, four days before he died, all these pieces fell together. I could see the jigsaw puzzle."

Account of famed Riggs vs. King match heightens Tampa mob intrigue

TAMPA — A new chapter was written in the ever-expanding history of Florida's underworld when ESPN.com published a lengthy article Sunday exploring allegations that former tennis champion Bobby Riggs threw his famed match against Billie Jean King — the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" — as part of a deal with the mob.

The story by veteran investigative journalist Don Van Natta Jr. was pinned to the curious recollections of Hal Shaw, a 78-year-old Tampa resident who said he worked at the Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club in the 1970s. Shaw asserted in the article that while working late one night, he overheard mob lawyer Frank Ragano and bosses Santo Trafficante Jr. and Carlos Marcello discussing Riggs' plan to go in the tank.

Shaw's story — which he told Van Natta he kept secret for four decades out of fear of reprisals from the mob but has now decided to reveal to "set the record straight" — is titillating, implying that King's vaunted victory in 1973 wasn't on the level.

But some familiar with Ragano and with the history of the Florida mob expressed skepticism Monday that ready-for-Hollywood scene in South Tampa ever happened.

Chris Ragano, a Tampa lawyer and son of the late Frank Ragano, said his family did not move to Tampa until 1979. Shaw said the conversation he witnessed took place at the end of 1972 or beginning of 1973.

Shaw also said he gave golf lessons to Frank Ragano's wife while working as an assistant pro at Palma Ceia. Chris Ragano said his mother has no memory of ever receiving lessons from Shaw, particularly not before the family lived in the Tampa Bay area.

"I think it's so far-fetched that it's ridiculous," Chris Ragano said, noting that his father's gangster clients preferred meetings over dinner at Malio's or La Tropicana to surreptitious get-togethers on golf courses.

"I think they would have a little more class," Ragano said. "They were smart enough not to do something like this. They wouldn't sneak into Palma Ceia."

Shaw told Van Natta that Ragano, Trafficante, Marcello, and an unrecognizable fourth man walked into the pro shop at Palma Ceia "after midnight" while he was working late to fix members' golf clubs. He said he hid and watched rather than interacting with them because he "feared burglars."

Ragano supposedly told the others that Riggs owed $100,000 to gangsters, and that in exchange for throwing the match the debt would be erased. Riggs went on to lose to King with a stunningly poor performance in September 1973, forgoing his usually strict training regimen to party and self-publicize in the months before the match.

Shaw could not be reached for comment Monday. The blinds were down and nobody answered the door at his listed address in Seminole Heights.

Selwyn Raab, a former New York Times investigative reporter who co-authored the 1994 book Mob Lawyer with Frank Ragano, said he never came across any mention of the Riggs scheme in FBI files on Ragano, Trafficante or Marcello, and Ragano himself made no note of it in his copious written records on his interactions with his mob clients.

"It's kind of a good story," Raab said. "I don't think (Ragano) would have excluded it."

With the principals dead and absent further verification of Shaw's tale, Raab said, "I'm afraid all that's left is seances."

Superman of Havana

Note: This article contains sexually explicit details.

The mayor’s son drew on his cigarette, thought back 60 years, paused, and made a chopping motion on his lower thigh—15 inches, give or take, from his groin to just above his knee. “The women said, ‘He has a machete.’”

The mayor’s son is in his 70s now, but he was a teenager back then, during the years of Havana’s original sin. He thought back to his father as a young man, a lotto-numbers runner who rose to the mayoralty of the gritty barrio de Los Sitios, in Centro Habana. His dad loved mingling with the stars that flocked to the capital, and he sometimes took his boy to meet them: Brando, Nat King Cole, and that old borrachón Hemingway. The mayor’s son once got blind drunk with Benny Moré, the famous Cuban crooner who had a regular gig at the Guadalajara.

But more revered than all the rest was the man of many names. El Toro. La Reina. The Man with the Sleepy Eyes. Outside Cuba, from Miami to New York to Hollywood, he was known simply as Superman. The mayor’s son never met the legendary performer, but everybody knew about him. The local boys talked about his gift. They gossiped about the women, the sex. “Like when you’re coming of age, reading your dad’s Playboy s. That’s what the kids talked about,” the mayor’s son said. “The idea that this man was around in the neighborhood, it was mind-boggling in a way.”

Listen to this story on episode 3 of The Trip, a Roads & Kingdoms podcast.

Superman was the main attraction at the notorious Teatro Shanghai, in Barrio Chino (Chinatown). According to local lore, the Shanghai featured live sex shows. “If you’re a decent guy from Omaha, showing his best girl the sights of Havana, and you make the mistake of entering the Shanghai, you’ll curse Garcia and will want to wring his neck for corrupting the morals of your sweet baby,” Suppressed , a tabloid magazine, wrote in its 1957 review of the club.

After the revolution of 1959, the Shanghai shuttered. Many of the performers fled the country. Superman disappeared like a ghost. No one knew his real name. There were no known photos of him. A man once famous well beyond Cuba’s shores—later fictionalized in The Godfather, part 2, and Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana —was largely forgotten, a footnote in a sordid history.

In the difficult years that followed, people didn’t talk about those times, as if they never happened at all. “You didn’t want to make problems with the government,” the mayor’s son said. “People were afraid. People didn’t want to look back. Afterward it was an entirely new story. It was like everything didn’t exist before. It was like year zero.”

And into that void the story of Superman disappeared.

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The Riviera hotel, built in 1957 by mobster Meyer Lansky, overlooks the Malecon.

Havana was unusually cool. It was late January, weeks after President Obama announced normalized relations with Cuba. We stayed in the city’s Vedado neighborhood in a casa particular , a musty rental apartment owned by an aging former diplomat. The chilly sea breeze fluttered the flimsy curtains covering the windows. The apartment overlooked the Riviera hotel, built in 1957 by the mobster Meyer Lansky beyond that was the Malecón, the seaside highway and hub of the city’s social activity.

I had come with photographer Mike Magers to trace the story of Superman—or whatever we could find of it. It had begun as a curiosity for us but evolved into a strange obsession. We had discovered Superman as a brief mention in a Vanity Fair oral history of the Tropicana club. Here was a man with a supposedly 18-inch unit who starred in live sex shows celebrated in Cuba and beyond, and yet virtually nothing was known about him. We were intrigued. Cuba, with profound changes afoot a year after Washington reopened relations with Havana, is having to think about what kind of country it wants to be. It’s a question that naturally calls for a clear-eyed look at the kind of country it once was. What better place to start looking than with the legend of Superman?

Unfortunately, clues about who Superman was and what happened to him were virtually nonexistent. In New York we met a few Cubans from the diaspora looking for leads, but we had nothing concrete by the time we boarded the plane for Havana via Cancún other than a short list of names of people who might know someone who knows something.

A contact had referred us to a man named Alfredo Prieto, an editor at a publishing house who was working on a book about 1950s Havana, and we paid him a visit on our first day in the city. Prieto was 60 years old, a heavy smoker with black hair and a laid-back demeanor. When we met in his office in Vedado, he seemed bemused by our quest. Superman, it turned out, was a fascination of Prieto’s as well.

“Superman was by far one of the main attractions for Cuba,” he began. Not only did Superman perform at the Shanghai and other clubs, but he also did private sex shows for wealthy Americans. “Superman, as a character, was very deep in the American imagination. They had a saying: ‘Cuba is a place where conscience takes a holiday.’”

Prieto had been investigating Superman for his forthcoming book. He’d found a few people who knew the man, but his story remained a mystery. Most of it was rumor, hearsay, maybe true, maybe not. His name might have been Enrique. He lived in barrio de Los Sitios, across from a church. Sitios was a working-class neighborhood located next to Chinatown, where the Teatro Shanghai was based.

Judas Tadeo church in Barrio de Los Sitios.

In the archives of Tulane University’s Latin American Library, in New Orleans, Prieto had found testimony from American tourists who described Superman as “the Man with the Sleepy Eyes. Male, forties, handsome, tall, with a penis from here to the corner.” Prieto said he’d heard that Superman had died in Havana, living in hiding and working as a gardener. But no one knew for sure if this—or anything else—was true.

I asked if we could talk to the people he’d interviewed, those who knew Superman. He said he would try to set up a meeting, but it would be unlikely that these people would talk to foreign reporters. They were still ashamed, still afraid of the consequences of talking about that period. I also asked Prieto how a man who had once been so famous could completely vanish—not just from the island, but from history itself. Why were there no photos of him? How could no one know his true name or what became of him? Did he even really exist, or was he just an urban legend, a myth?

He told me that after the revolution the regime tried to erase the past. The ’50s in Cuba was an era of graft and corruption, mobsters, and American money. It was an embarrassment, a stain, and Superman was the human embodiment of that stain. The era became dangerous to even talk about in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

But in 2015, as relations between Cuba and the U.S. began to thaw, that time was finally being reexamined, Prieto said. Cubans wanted American tourist dollars, but they didn’t necessarily want to go back to the excesses of the 1950s. “One of the things they’re saying loud and clear is: One, we have to avoid the mistakes of the past and two, we have to avoid ‘Cancunization.’ And ‘Cancunization’ is a metaphor for fake.”

Prieto asked us to fill him in on any leads we could find. “It’s a mystery. I try to follow la pista , but at some point it just”—he snapped his fingers—“vanishes in the air.”

Alfredo Prieto is writing a book about Havana in the 1950s.

Havana, 1959. The eve of the revolution. Fidel Castro waits in the Sierra Maestra, while in the city the clubs and cabarets overflow with tourists, gangsters, and movie stars. Ernest Hemingway, at the peak of his fame, lives by the water outside town Tennessee Williams, a regular visitor from his home in the Florida Keys, is a fixture at El Floridita. Showgirls draw crowds by the hundreds to the dazzling Tropicana club. The hotels are booked: the Florida, the Nacional, the Riviera. The mobsters, in bed with dictator Fulgencio Batista, are taking over the city they envision casinos and resorts stretching from Havana to Varadero, 95 miles down the coast.

“Havana is incomparably the chief city of the West Indies,” noted W. Adolphe Roberts in his 1953 book, Havana: The Portrait of a City . “The influence of pleasure seekers from the United States has swelled yearly, reaching a figure that makes Havana the principal tourist resort of the Western World. Nothing apparently can halt its growth.”

Those were ominous words, it turned out. Corruption, crime, decadence, and economic disparity fueled Castro’s revolution and earned the island an unfortunate reputation as the whorehouse of the Caribbean. Americans came in droves looking for release, for glamour, for drink, and in no small part for sex. People came to Havana for many reasons, but one loomed larger—quite literally—than the rest.

According to lore, Superman first had sex with female performers, who were bound to a pole and acting with exaggerated terror, then invited women from the audience to participate. In Vanity Fair ’s oral history of the Tropicana, Rosa Lowinger, author of Tropicana Nights , said that she’d heard Superman would “wrap a towel around the base of his cock”—which she tapped at 18 inches—“and see how far it could go in.”

In 1955 the late novelist Robert Stone was a 17-year-old radio operator with an amphibious assault force in the U.S. Navy. His ship, the USS Chilton, docked in Havana, where he embarked on a bender fit only for a sailor. In a 1992 piece for Harper’s Magazine , Stone describes attending a show at the Shanghai. “The Shanghai was a blue-movie parlor and burlesque house that was home to the Superman Show, the hemisphere’s paramount exhibición .”

The “Superman Show,” Stone recounts, featured a blond performer “whose deportment was meant to suggest wholesomeness, refinement, and alarm, as though she had just been spirited unawares from a harp recital or a public library.” The other performer was a black man “who astonished the crowd and sent the blond into a trembling swoon by revealing the dimensions of his endowment.” Stone continues, “Suffice it to say that the show at the Teatro Shanghai was a melancholy demonstration that sexism, racism, and speciesism thrived in prerevolutionary Havana.”

In the piece, Stone confesses to sleeping through much of the show, so his account must have come from others who witnessed it he never explicitly states whether live sex occurred. Roberto Gacio, a Havana theater historian, doubts that there were actual live-sex acts at the Shanghai. Instead the show was what he called “a sexual revue.” There was sketch comedy, double entendre, word play. Gacio suspects the live-sex shows occurred in private settings for wealthy viewers.

Feats of strength at the Tropicana Club.

James Brody, another journalist, recounts a trip to Havana in the mid-1950s when a cab driver arranged a meeting with Superman, whom Brody describes as the “indefatigable star of the best of all the sex shows.” They met in an old and empty theater early in the morning. Brody was ushered upstairs to meet “an affable, handsome but sleepy-eyed young Cuban, barefoot but in well-tailored tan gabardine slacks and a white t-shirt draped over his shoulder.” The two men spoke in English about Superman’s “sex appeal and staying power,” and they shook hands before parting ways. “That handshake was the limpest I had ever experienced. Clearly, ‘Superman’ was conserving his strength for the evening’s performances.”

Superman later became a fascination of Graham Greene, who based a character on him in Our Man in Havana . In the book Superman performs at the San Francisco brothel, but Greene saw him at the Shanghai. In 1960, shortly after Castro took power and during the filming of the screen adaption of the book, Greene tried in vain to find Superman, who had by then disappeared.

A fictionalized Superman also appears as a character in The Godfather, part 2, during a pivotal scene in which Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, learns of his brother Fredo’s betrayal of the family. During the scene Superman appears onstage wearing a large red cape. Just as he pulls the cape open to reveal himself, the camera cuts to the gasping audience. Senator Geary: “I don’t believe it. That thing’s gotta be a fake.” Fredo: “That ain’t no fake. That’s real. That’s why they call him Superman.”

Many years after the film was released, the actor Robert Duvall, who starred as Don Corleone’s lawyer in The Godfather , traveled to Havana. Ciro Bianchi Ross, a Cuban journalist who was accompanying Duvall, writes in the Cuban journal Juventud Rebelde that Duvall asked to visit the Teatro Shanghai during his trip. Bianchi Ross told him the club no longer existed, but Duvall said it didn’t matter—he was happy even to see the space where it had once existed.

Among the many nicknames for Superman, a less expected moniker kept popping up: Enrique la Reina (Enrique the Queen). “I interviewed a couple people who performed at Shanghai, and they said categorically that Superman was gay,” Prieto told us. According to Lowinger’s account, Marlon Brando once asked to meet Superman during one of his visits to Havana, arriving at the Shanghai with two showgirls on his arms. After the performance, Brando, who was bisexual, took off with Superman, ditching the dancers.

Roberto Gacio also believes that Superman was gay and that the rumor about the affair with Brando is true. For Gacio, the performer’s sexual orientation suggests an undercurrent of sadness to his story. There could have been no pleasure derived from the performance. It was all an act, all for the entertainment of the audience. “This was his skill. It was his job,” Gacio said. “He earned his living with his body, not his mind. He had a great treasure.”

A Cuban documentary filmmaker that Mike and I had met in New York introduced us to his uncle, Willy, who showed us around. Willy was a 52-year-old gourmand and Lothario, a man about town in Havana who seemed to know everyone. He had an astonishing appetite for women during our 10-day trip, he frequently slipped away for salty rendezvous back at his apartment. A thin man with a well-groomed peppery goatee and an earring, Willy agreed to act as our fixer.

We met Willy in Habana Vieja at El Floridita, a bar famous in 1950s Havana. It was heaving with tourists drinking daiquiris when we arrived after dinner. They posed for photos with a bronze statue of Hemingway, who had been a regular during the bar’s heyday. “I hate this place,” Willy said. “This place is like Times Square.”

Willy said he had some intel on Superman. He knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Superman. “Superman was known as the ‘Queen of Italy.’ But if you called him the Queen, he’d punch you,” Willy said. Why Italy? Willy didn’t know, but he said we could meet the man who passed on that information.

The contact was a journalist named Rolando who had written several books on Havana neighborhoods. Rolando also worked as a podiatrist to supplement his income Willy had arranged a meeting the next morning at this podiatry office. Rolando had also told Willy he knew where Superman once lived—a neighborhood called Barrio de los Sitios, next to a church. It was the same neighborhood Prieto had mentioned. Willy said he thought he knew the block, and he also knew an old lady who lived there. We’d go there tomorrow. Follow la pista .

Rolando, the journalist/podiatrist, lived on a block in Habana Vieja, just off one of the tourist-heavy streets. He was 71 years old and wore a white doctor’s coat over jeans and sandals. He had one of those old-man smiles that completely concealed his front teeth and a bushel of white nose hairs.

His podiatry office was next door to his home. Mike and I sat in the dusty, dimly lit waiting room while Rolando worked in the back room, smoking a cigar, investigating a patient’s bunions.

We were to meet a man named Eduardo, a friend of Superman’s. It was 10 a.m. and we had already been waiting for half an hour. Rolando told us to wait a little longer Eduardo would arrive soon. The air inside the waiting room was stuffy and smelled of mothballs. Outside, the street was alive with morning activity.

After an hour of waiting, Rolando emerged from the bunion treatment to break the bad news: He’d just spoken to Eduardo over the phone, and he wasn’t coming. “He doesn’t want to talk. He doesn’t want a photo. He’s afraid.”

We offered to disguise Eduardo’s identity—to no avail. We’d already hit a wall in la pista .

Thwarted, Willy led us on a trek across town to find Superman’s home. We walked down bustling commercial streets and through crowded parks until we reached an alley where a group of drunks played checkers with bottle caps on a piece of cardboard. Soon we arrived on Via St. Nicolas, across from Judas Tadeo church. There was a small market selling meat, flowers, and liquor. Children played outside the church.

Willy rang a buzzer and hollered up to an old apartment with an overhanging balcony. A few minutes later an elderly black woman wearing a purple scarf over white hair emerged from the second-floor window. She looked confused but then recognized Willy. “ Hola. Hola. ” She invited us upstairs.

Her name was Gladis Castaneda, and she had been a professional classical pianist in Havana during the 1950s. She was a tiny woman in her 80s or 90s. We entered her spacious apartment, and Willy explained what we were doing. She nodded when he mentioned La Reina. Yes, she said, he’d lived in this neighborhood, right next door. Here, in the flesh, was a person who knew the legendary Superman—proof, in fact, that the man actually existed.

Superman, Castaneda said, was tall, strong, respected. “Everyone knew him as the Queen,” she said. “He was gay, but you didn’t mess with him.” She asked me to stand. “He was your height. But strong. Muscular.” He had skin like hers: dark, but not very. “He was a good man. Nobody had a problem with him.” I asked if everybody in the neighborhood knew what he did for a living. “Young man, it was many years ago. He left many years ago.”

Willy asked if she knew what became of him, and she said she thinks he died in Miami. Her energy was waning, and Willy nodded to me to suggest it was time we go.

Gladis Castaneda at her home in Central Havana.

Down on the street, we met an old man leaning against the wall. His name was Elado. He carried a cane and wore a loose green sweater with a Masonic symbol hanging from a chain around his neck. Willy told him we were looking for information on the man they called La Reina.

Sí, sí, ” the old man said. “La Reina—everybody knew him. Mulatto. About your height,” he nodded in my direction. “Everybody respected him. He lived here for 20 years. Of course, everybody knew what he did for a living.” He said Superman left for the U.S. in 1959. “Nobody knew his name. Everybody just called him La Reina.”

We said goodbye, and as we walked away, Elado said: “He was a tremendous mulatto.”

Down the street by the church, roosters crowed. A girl wearing Rollerblades talked on a pay phone. An old man in a leather golf cap smoked a cigar on a backless wooden chair.

We walked through Los Sitios toward Barrio Chino until we arrived at 507 Marquis Street. We stood on the street looking at the entrance to a martial-arts school: Escuela Cubana de Wushu. It had a red and yellow facade with a gold foo dog and a yellow iron gate.

This was once the home of Teatro Shanghai.

The door was open. Inside the front gate was a courtyard with a small cafe and some stationary exercise equipment. The theater once stood where the school’s outdoor courtyard is now. We tried to imagine where the stage might have been. The dressing room where Superman prepared for the show. The balcony where drunken tourists watched the performance.

Mike said, “You can almost smell Superman’s sweat.”

The Shanghai Theater is now a martial arts school.

A few days later we returned to Barrio de los Sitios to canvas for others who might have known Superman. In the apartment building next to Gladis Castaneda’s, we met Superman’s actual neighbor: a former pizza chef named Roberto Cabarero, 82 years old, with a heavily stained and stretched muscle shirt, drooping brown pants with the fly wide open, and black socks with holes in the toes. His hair was white and wild. His skin sagged like a sea turtle’s.

Cabarero’s apartment, where he lived with his wife, was tiny and ramshackle, littered with junk. His wife sat in the middle of the small living room, rocking back and forth in a wooden chair, talking loudly at no one in particular. A radio blared tinny old Spanish songs, and a dog came in and out of the room to eat crumbs off the floor. An alarm clock sounded through the duration of our meeting. No one bothered to turn it off.

Yes, he knew Superman. “ Síííííí! ” He told us Superman’s full name, first name Eve. I looked at Willy, who shook his head and whispered, “ Eve isn’t a Cuban name.” But he was known as Enrique la Reina, Cabarero said. He rattled off facts: Superman was born on April 24, 1920. Everyone knew he was gay. He was more than 6 feet tall.

Cabarero had lived in this apartment since 1952, and he remembered Superman hosting wild parties next door. He said Superman often associated with foreigners and may have practiced Santería, the syncretic religion that grew out of the slave trade in Cuba.

Cabarero spoke as if he were performing a Shakespearean soliloquy, with enthusiastic, swinging hand gestures. The radio blared the alarm clock rang. His wife, in the rocking chair, began telling a story that made no sense whatsoever.

Cabarero went on, speaking over his wife: “This is La Reina’s chair!” He grabbed hold of the top of the rocking chair that his wife was sitting in. He offered no explanation about how he came by the chair.

He then broke into a long and somewhat difficult-to-follow anecdote about his famous neighbor: One night Cabarero and his wife went downstairs to the street with their daughter. There they found a man urinating in the street. A confrontation occurred. Then Superman appeared, wielding a knife, and chased the man away. “You have to respect my neighborhood!” Superman screamed at the man, according to Cabarero’s recollection.

Cabarero wrapped up the story: “I don’t care if you’re writing something good or bad. This guy was a good guy.”

I asked what happened to Superman, and he said he might have seen him once or twice in Havana in the early 1980s, but he didn’t know for sure where he died. As he spoke, his wife shouted in the background, and the alarm clock continued to ring.

There is a sense, to those with an eye for nostalgia, that the 1950s never died in Cuba. In Havana you see young men with greased hair piled into old cars, arms out the wi ndows, like in American Graffiti or West Side Story . You can also see what the city might become if it opens the door to American tourism too eagerly. One day, not far off, tourists on city tours will make stops in Habana Vieja, escorted in 1950s Chevys . Passengers will wear fedoras and chew cigars with an annoying relish. The old hotels will host gangster-themed parties and ironi c beauty pageants and offer discount stays in the Meyer Lansky Suite. Havana will become a Disneyfied version of its former self: glamour, sex, and sin, only without the actual glamour, sex, or sin.

As Cuba continues to open, the country will be forced to reckon with its post-Castro identity. There is the threat of Cancunization, as Prieto mentioned: an economy based on tourism, developed with little concern for the local population or environment. But Cuba’s future is more complicated than that, and it will forever be shaded by the past. In the American imagination, Cuba has always been exoticized as the hot, humid, sexy, torrid whorehouse of the Caribbean. It was an identity imposed upon the people, much like Castro imposed a national identity of brothers-in-arms socialists. In the years to come, how will Cubans get beyond these two notions of itself, both of which are too easy, too simplistic? How will it develop a new identity for the 21st century? Will Cubans be defined on American terms, on Castro’s, or on their own?

Race is a huge part of that question. Prerevolutionary Cuba was a place of deep, systemic racism, which the revolution promised to change. In communist Cuba, all citizens were literate, regardless of race, and employment opportunities improved greatly for people of color, whose main source of employment had been the sugarcane fields. Life expectancy was increased for nonwhites and access to health services, nutrition, and education improved.

But racism remained, concealed mostly because it wasn’t discussed. White Cubans dominated the revolution, and dark skin continued to be associated with negative social and cultural traits. Twice as many blacks were unemployed as whites, and whites dominated positions in Cuba’s top universities. Eighty-five percent of the country’s prisoners were people of color. Today, black and mixed-heritage people make up close to two-thirds of the population, and race remains a complicated issue. The term mulatto is used both in casual conversation and in official government documents. The kind of racially charged sex show that Superman starred in doesn’t exist in Havana today, but it might if Cuba becomes freer and more libertine—and more unrestrainedly racist—in the future.

Similar discussions will be had over sexual orientation. As of 1979, being gay is no longer a crime in Cuba. The country has come a long way since the 1960s and 1970s, when gay people were thrown into labor camps. Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter, is the director of the state-run National Center for Sex Education and a leading voice for LGBT rights. She has been promoting public tolerance for the LGBT community since 2004 and persuaded the government to offer fully paid gender-reassignment surgery and hormone treatment for transgender people. She also voted against a labor code that protected gay men and lesbians but not transgender people, arguing for full equality under the law.

But discrimination persists. Havana does not recognize Pride Week, the international celebration of LGBT rights. “Publicly manifested” homosexuality remains illegal under the country’s penal code, which also forbids “persistently bothering others with homosexual amorous advances.” Same-sex unions continue to be barred in the country.

The ease with which Superman’s prerevolutionary neighborhood seemed to accept his sexuality seems at odds with the revolution’s treatment of gay people. And after the revolution? What kind of life would a man like Superman be able to lead in post-Castro Cuba? What kind of work would he find? Would his life be a “melancholy demonstration,” to borrow Stone’s words, of the return of Cuban inequality?

We continued to follow la pista , only it seemed to be leading nowhere. We met the son of the former mayor of Barrio de los Sitios, a dapper gentleman with slicked-back white hair named Rafael Diaz Valez, who delighted us with tales of his youth in Havana’s glory days but got us no closer to knowing the real Superman. We asked him and everyone we met if they knew of any showgirls, any bar or cabaret workers who might have actually known Superman, and they all said they didn’t. We met historians and musicians and dancers—none of them got us any closer to unraveling the story of Superman.

One day Mike and I went to the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, the resting place of centuries of Havana’s dead. The sky was dark and a storm was about to break. We went to the administration offices and asked if it were possible to search the archives. A woman at the desk told us we might be able to find Superman’s grave but only if we had a full name and date of death. We gave her two names—given to us by Cabarero—but no date of death. The woman disappeared into a room for 10 or 15 minutes, but she found no one with those names.

Our last night in Havana, we bought tickets to the show at the Tropicana, an outdoor theater in the suburb—open air, under the stars and enormous trees. Middle-aged tourists were bused in from the all-inclusives in Varadero or the refurbished hotels in Habana Vieja. The show was the same as it’s always been: beautiful, scantily clad women men in baggy black suits belting old show tunes in Spanish. We drank rum on ice from our table in the front row.

Here it was already: the Havana of yesteryear, the Havana of tomorrow.

Back in New York, we set Superman aside. Every once in a while I would email Alberto Prieto and we would update each other on our respective searches. Mike and I contacted a few more potential sources but always came up empty-handed. The story of Superman—who he was, what became of him—remained elusive.

In the absence of the latticework of a life, Mike and I filled in the blanks ourselves. We pictured Superman as a tragic figure, more freak show than performer. A man whose natural gift doomed him to a life in an unhappy spotlight, in front of the gawking stares of a bunch of drunk, rich Americans. The movie of Superman’s life played in our minds, even if we weren’t exactly sure of the plot.

There was one last lead, one that in the months after our trip had slipped our minds. When we met Prieto in Havana, he told us about an attorney named Frank Ragano who represented many of the mafia elements operating in Cuba in the 1950s. He died in 1998, but in his memoir, Mob Lawyer , Ragano wrote of a night in Havana with Santo Trafficante Jr., the reputed Florida mob boss. Trafficante had hired Superman—referred to as El Toro (the Bull) in the book—for a private sex show. “According to a popular joke,” Ragano writes, Superman “was better known than President Batista.”

The viewing took place in a small room with couches around a platform stage and mirrors. Paintings of nude men and women plastered the walls. A hostess clapped her hand. Then entered Superman and a woman, both naked. Ragano describes El Toro as being in his mid 30s, about 6 feet tall, and “average-looking except for his genitalia.” (Trafficante said it was 14 inches.) The two performers “engaged each other for 30 minutes in every conceivable and contorted position possible and concluded with oral sex.”

Ragano was also a home-video buff and asked if he could film a second performance. Trafficante obtained Superman’s permission, and Ragano then filmed what he believed to be the only known footage of the man. He then chatted with Superman, who told him he was paid $25 a night for his efforts. “You come to Miami,” Ragano told him, “I’ll get you a pair of those loose, short shorts. We’ll walk up and down the beach in front of the hotels. I guarantee you that you’ll end up owning one of the big hotels.”

I found the Tampa law office of Chris Ragano, divorce attorney and the son of Frank Ragano, through a Google search. After a few calls, I was able to get the younger Ragano on the phone. I told him I had a somewhat unusual request: Did he happen to have a copy of his father’s video of El Toro, aka Superman?

Ragano laughed. He said he did have a copy in fact, and he would find a way to get it to me. He also told me that his mother, Nancy, might have an idea about what happened to Superman after the revolution.

Nancy Grandoff was Frank Ragano’s second wife. She was much younger than her husband and though she didn’t accompany Frank on his trips to Cuba, she did meet some of his associates from that time, including the mobster Santo Trafficante Jr., who was an occasional visitor to the couple’s Florida home.

“He and Santo would laugh and talk about Superman,” she told me when I spoke to her on the phone. “They always laughed about it. They still couldn’t believe he was who he was.”

She watched the video once. “I knew my husband had the video, and I had some girlfriends over and I asked my husband to put the video on. He laughed, and we laughed too after a glass or two of wine. It’s an amateur video. You can hear it run. Superman himself, he was a big man. I think that’s the only way to describe him. Santo said Superman wouldn’t allow photos or videos. So this video was a favor to Santo for Frank Ragano.”

Grandoff heard about Superman’s fate around 1966. Rumors had been circulating through the Cubans-in-exile grapevine that Superman—El Toro, La Reina, the Man with the Sleepy Eyes—had died. During one visit, Frank Ragano asked Trafficante if the rumors were true, and Trafficante confirmed them: Superman had fled from Cuba to Mexico, where he was trying to escape to the United States. In Mexico City, Trafficante said, Superman was murdered by a jealous lover. And that’s all anyone knew.

In the years after Cuba fell to Castro, Frank Ragano, Santo Trafficante, and the others often waxed nostalgic about those years in Havana. The good times. An era of movie stars and gangsters, of sex and Superman.

“I remember asking a friend, ‘Was he real?’ And she said, ‘Oh yes, he was very big,’” Grandoff told me. “Every time the Americans would go for the weekend, the first thing they wanted to do was buy a ticket to see the Superman Show.”

A few months later an email from one of Ragano’s associates arrived. “The video is up for your viewing,” the note read.

Mike and I met at his apartment in New York. We poured two glasses of whiskey and watched the strangest historical artifact ever to cross our eyes.

The video is black and white, grainy. Fast-paced, grandiose music plays—like the score of an epic from the 1970s, maybe Lawrence of Arabia . A blond woman stands before the camera. She’s white, naked, with dark pubic hair. She wears a shy smile on her face.

Superman appears to the left of the frame. He’s black, his hair grown out somewhat. There’s barely a glimpse of his face. He’s thin, sinewy, naked except for black socks. His penis is flaccid he pulls at it, trying to get it to perform. Once erect, you can see how the legend was made. It’s large—maybe not 18 inches, but a good 12—and at one point he stands sideways to the camera, hands on his hips, so the audience members can gauge just how large it is.

And then the two have sex. There’s no ceremony to this. No performance. Superman is wearing no cape. Neither of them is exhibiting any joy. This is pornography only, two people getting paid to have intercourse for the entertainment of others. They perform oral sex on one another and engage in a number of different positions. Neither achieves orgasm.

We sit in an odd silence when the video ends, not entirely sure what to make of it all. This grainy video is the end of la pista in the search for Superman. And there at the end we find no legend, no ghost. There we simply find a man. A man with a machete. Nothing more.

Frank Ragano

New Year’s Eve, 1959, Havana, Fidel Castro is about to converge on the city where for years the mob had its way with gambling.

The mob was paying off Castro’s corrupt predecessor, President Batista.

Although all of the mob leaders fled Cuba during the Castro takeover, one mobster, Santo Trafficante, remained in Havana. Castro began executing hundreds of people aligned with the old regime. And, he targeted allies of Batista.

Trafficante was charged with participating in illegal activities under the old Batista regime

Frank Ragano, represented Trafficante (which in Spanish means one who traffics).

Ragano’s Sicilian father ran a small store in Tampa. Won a Bronz Star for valor in Germany. The First Italian American to clerk for the Florida Supreme Court.

Sen. Estes Kefauver was using new subpoena powers to crack down ont he mob. One of his first targets was the Trafficante Crime Organization. Anti-Gambling Campaign targeted and run by a Tampa Sheriff Ed Blackburn. In 1954, Traficante and 34 others were charged in the gambling sweep.

Ragano was offered the job of representing Trafficante. Trafficante was originally convicted, but was released on a technicality. Ragano later admitted he “overlooked” a lot of activities of the Trafficante Crime Organization.

Ragano was one of the first attorneys to tell his mob clients to not hide their face in public, and to walk proudly in front of the media, projecting an image of innocence. Hiding your face projected an image of guilt as perceived by the public.

Nov. 1957, stumbled across a meeting of mob bosses in Appalachia, months after Albert Anastasia had been murdered by Carlo Gambino. Trafficante was among those who participated.

Ragano hid behind the words of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who lied to the public telling them there was no such thing as the Mafia.

In 1961, Ragano represented Teamster Boss Jimmy Hoffa, who was working with Trafficante to rape the Teamster Pension Fund.

Ragano was asked by Hoffa to convey a message to trafficante concerning John F. Kennedy that some believe involved a possible conspiracy to murder the President.

Although Hoover pretended the mob did not exist, President Kennedy’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, targeted the mob and their illegal activities involving drugs and gambling. Before Kennedy became president, Kennedy had accused Hoffa of allowing communists into their union.

Ragano also represented Louisiana Crime Boss Carlo Marcello, a close Trafficante associate. In 1961, Robert Kennedy deported Marcello to Guatemala, without advance notice.

Ragano conveyed messages between Hoffa and the mobsters. In July, 1963, Hoffa told Ragano to tell Trafficante that something has to be done about the Kennedys. Ragano insists Hoffa said “Something has to be done right away. They’ve got to kill John Kennedy.”

Ragano told Trafficante the message the next day in a New Orleans coffee shop.

Trafficante joined Ragano to celebrate the murder on November 23, 1963 the assassination of President Kennedy.

In 1963, the Federal Government targeted Ragano as being a member of the mob, and not just their attorney.

In 1971, Ragano was finally indicted of tax evasion. One of his partners was a Lucchese Crime Family member Sam Rizzo who testified against Ragano. Trafficante refused to help. He waas convicted, given 3 years probation and stripped of his law license.

In 1981, Ragano’s tax conviction was overturned and his law license was reinstated.

Although trafficante had refused to help Ragano, in 1986, Trafficante was targeted in a new federal crackdown and he convinced Ragano to help.

Trafficante died in 1987 after telling Ragano that they had made a mistake in Killing John Kennedy, they should have killed Robert Kennedy.

In August 1990, Ragano was again convicted of tax evasion, and sentenced in 1993 to 10 months in a federal health center.

Legal mystery solved by a question: Where were you when Kennedy was shot?

TAMPA — The answer to a recurring question for people old enough to remember has helped solve a legal mystery in the Tampa courts.

Where were you in November 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot?

Retired Judge E.J. Salcines was just starting his legal career. He had occasion to mention that during a speech one day in October, setting in motion a series of events that gave meaning to an old, brown ledger book that happened to bear his signature and the date.

Stored at the Hillsborough Circuit Court Clerk's Records Center on Falkenburg Road in Brandon, the ledger dates to 1872 and contains 100 well-preserved pages with signatures of many prominent figures in local history who at one time practiced law.

City founders, politicians, civil rights activists and legal giants all signed it. They include West Tampa's founder Hugh Macfarlane the county's first Hispanic lawyer, Francis Robles Tampa's 44th mayor, Robert E. Lee Chancey University of Florida Hall of Fame athlete J. Rex Farrior Sr. Congressman Sam Gibbons and civil rights leader Francisco A. Rodriguez Jr.

The ledger bears a title, Attorney's Registry, Circuit Court. Hillsborough County. But what is it, wondered Pat Frank, circuit court clerk since 2004?

"I'd given up hope of knowing," Frank said.

She even has a personal connection to the ledger: Her late-husband Richard Frank signed it on July 18, 1962. She clearly remembers the address he wrote next to his name — 1212 Florida Ave. "It was real rinky dink."

She added with a laugh, "I was his secretary then."

But Tom Scherberger, director of communications for the clerk's office and formerly with the Tampa Bay Times, was determined to discover the purpose of the ledger.

"I don't like unanswered questions," Scherberger said.

So he reached out to people still alive who had signed the pages. None remembered adding their John Hancock. But a light bulb went off for Scherberger when he heard Salcines at a speaking engagement.

It was the day a statue was unveiled in the judge's honor, Oct. 27. Salcines noted during his keynote speech at the Old Hillsborough County Courthouse that his legal career started the week Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas.

That struck a chord for Scherberger and he retrieved the ledger to find Salcines had signed the ledger on Nov. 22, 1963, the day of the assassination. The link jogged Salcines' memory.

In November 1963, when he passed the Florida Bar Exam, he and 10 other new attorneys were invited to pick the brains of veteran legal minds. When Salcines arrived for that meeting, he learned it had been cancelled because of the assassination.

Before he left, he was asked to sign the book. He still can't remember why exactly, but now he has a theory.

At the time, bar exams were administered county by county, not by the state of Florida. The ledger appears to be a registry proving eligibility to practice law.

The first to sign, in 1872, was Stephen Sparkman, later elected to Congress and the man who spearheaded funding to dredge Tampa Bay's shipping channel.

Beginning in 1925, the State of Law Examiners administered the bar exam, and from 1956 on, it has been done by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.

Still, the ledger continued to accumulate names through Jan., 31, 1989, when Stephen Leon provided the final signature. Leon, who passed the bar in 1989 and now works as a mediator, has no recollection of the ledger.

Salcines guessed "it had become a tradition," with veteran attorneys telling new ones they should head to the clerk's office and put their name in the ledger.

In the final years, just a few names were added each year.

On Wednesday, while flipping through the ledger at the clerk's office in downtown Tampa, Salcines came upon the name of infamous mob lawyer Frank Ragano and was transported back to Nov. 22, 1963.

Ragano was among those in the room that day to advise the legal novices.

After hearing of the assassination, Salcines introduced himself to Ragano and asked if the event would be rescheduled because of the tragedy.

"Why? What happened?" Ragano asked him.

"The president has been killed," replied Salcines.

"I was the one who told him the news," Salcines said.

Years later, Ragano would write in his memoir, Mob Lawyer, that Tampa mafia don Santo Trafficante Jr. admitted to being involved in the assassination.

Watch the video: Mob Lawyer - Frank Ragano Interview 1994 (May 2022).