Nov. 20, 2004 -- Widely recognized as one of the nation's leading experts on organized crime, Ralph Salerno investigated the mafia's link to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
After working in the New York City Police Department for 20 years, Salerno rose to the position of supervisor of detectives. Following his retirement in 1967, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice and to the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
The following is an excerpt of ABCNEWS' interview with Raplh Salerno, who offers his insight regarding the mafia's rumored involvement in the assasination of John F. Kennedy.
ABCNEWS: Did the Mafia kill President Kennedy?
Salerno: I would have given a great deal when I was working with the [House Select] Committee [on Assassinations] to come up with any kind of evidence that would indicate that. I felt that would have been a singular event which would have raised the hackles of the entire nation against organized crime. So I would have loved to have found something. But in the work that I did, and the work that I saw the committee do, I didn't find that. And if you look very carefully at the report of the committee itself, they don't say that.
I reviewed for the Committee the electronic surveillances that the FBI had on organized crime figures all over the country at that time — high-ranking members of organized crime. And there was no indication at all of their involvement. Since that time, since that time, up to the current day, you have had a large number of high-level members of organized crime, have made a deal with the government and testified against their fellows. None of them has ever suggested that they knew of, or even heard of involvement by organized crime in the death of President Kennedy.
ABCNEWS: Robert F. Kennedy's biographer, Evan Thomas, has written that after the assassination, RFK feared that his fight against organized crime as attorney general might have gotten his brother killed.
Salerno: I don't think so. On the electronic surveillances that I reviewed, we even came across a few sympathetic remarks about the president. "No, they killed the wrong one." "They should have shot his brother." "That little SOB." "He's the guy who's giving us a hard time." I listened to thousands of pages of electronic surveillances of organized crime leaders all over the United States. Over 360 volumes. I read more electronic surveillances that the FBI had than anyone who is not in the FBI, and I doubt if there were 10 people in the FBI whose job required them to read as many as I had read.
ABCNEWS: What about the idea that the Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana was behind the Kennedy assassination. What do the surveillance tapes of Giancana suggest about this theory?
Salerno: The FBI had very extensive coverage on the leaders of organized crime in Chicago, with Sam Giancana and others. They tape recorded him in the Armory Lounge, which he sort of made his own personal headquarters. Sam Giancana doesn't show any foreknowledge at all. After the fact, in a discussion, he's talking with one of his accomplices about Oswald, and they said "What kind of guy was he?" And Sam says "I don't know what kind of guy he was, but he was a pretty good marksman." Now that doesn't sound like the comment of a man who had retained the man he was surprised to find was such a good marksman.
ABCNEWS: What about Professor Blakey's theory that Carlos Marcello was behind the assassination?
Salerno: I think Carlos Marcello was too smart to have done something like that. Carlos Marcello, if he engineered a plot to kill the president of the United States, he would know that it would be looked on very unfavorably by his peers throughout the country, who would not agree that it was a very wise thing to do. And he would give that a lot of weight in his own considerations. He would know that he would be running a large risk if his peers and contemporaries ever found that out, and I think that would weigh heavily against his doing that.
The [National] Commission [of La Cosa Nostra] would feel that if such knowledge ever could be made public, that the animosity of the American people would be raised to an unbelievable height, and that if Robert Kennedy had been giving them a hard time up until that point, the public would demand that even more be done by every agency of government to reduce or destroy organized crime. So that would be too much a risk.
Organized crime uses a scale, the same symbol that justice uses. If they're going to do something, they have two sides to a scale. What do we have to gain, and what do we have to lose? If it tips in favor of we have more to gain than to lose, they will do it. If the scales tip the other way, we have too much to lose, as against a gain, they will not do it. So that's the scale of organized crime. [It] would have weighed heavily against it.
ABCNEWS: What do you make of the idea that Oswald's uncle, Dutz Murret, could have been the connection between Marcello and Oswald?
Salerno: Murret would be a bookmaker in [New Orleans]. He wouldn't be working directly for Carlos Marcello, but he would be paying tribute in order for the privilege of doing that. But I don't think that Marcello would have used that uncle to get to his kind of odd nephew. Too dangerous. Too much to lose with this oddball character. You don't deal with people like that.
ABCNEWS: How do you understand Jacky Ruby's shooting of Oswald?
Salerno: Ruby is a character that I think I understand. Ruby was a hanger-on with policemen. They hung out in his strip joint. They drank together. "Can you get me a date with that stripper?" "Sure." And what would they be talking about? They would be talking about cases the policemen were involved in, who the lawyers were, who the prosecutor was. This is a hanging judge. This is an easy judge. That type of thing. That gave him entree into police headquarters.
I worked in the Police Annex in New York City. A block away was a little grocery store run by a man named Tony Rulo. Tony Rulo didn't make money selling groceries. Tony Rulo made money selling sandwiches to policemen at lunchtime from the two headquarters buildings.
If the building I worked in one day was going to be restricted only to people who had police identification, I would have had to show identification getting into work. If Tony Rulo came with bags of sandwiches, the guy on duty would have said, "Go ahead, Tony. Deliver your sandwiches" without asking for any identification. Ruby was like that. He could walk in and out of headquarters, as he did on more than one occasion in the city of Dallas.
I think Jack Ruby shot Oswald to make his place in history. And he did that.
ABCNEWS: Was Jack Ruby a mobster?
Salerno: Jack Ruby was not a mobster. He wasn't a mobster in Dallas and he really had never gotten to be a mobster in the true sense of the word in Chicago. He was a fringe character in Chicago and he was a fringe character in Dallas. I would not hire Jack Ruby to be my hit man if I were involved in organized crime. You got to realize the theory is, Ruby is taking out Oswald so Oswald can't say anything. Somebody has to take out Ruby so he can't say anything. And then somebody has to take out the guy who took Ruby (laughs) out. It becomes an unending dilemma so it doesn't work quite that way.