KC Mafia and Missouri Politics presented at Red Bridge Library
By Jill Draper
When “The Godfather” debuted in Kansas City in 1972, angry Italian Americans bought up all the tickets in the downtown Empire Theater and left them vacant. A clip of this silent protest—rows of empty seats silhouetted against the big screen where Marlon Brando and Al Pacino plotted their family’s future—was the final segment that night on CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.
You can see that clip on Monday, Jan. 28 at the Red Bridge Library when author and filmmaker Terence O’Malley presents a talk at 7 p.m. on “KC Mafia and Missouri Politics in the 1940s.” O’Malley, a local attorney who lives and works in south Kansas City, spent years researching this topic, resulting in a film and a book titled “Black Hand Strawman.”
He has documented this research in a scrapbook-style work full of old newspaper headlines and clips, police mug shots, political cartoons and photos of both murder scenes and placid neighborhoods where Mafia members lived, including “Little Italy” (now Columbus Park) and a few suburban homes in Brookside and Mission Hills.
While Kansas City has never been one of the nation’s top cities population-wise, it ranked high with La Cosa Nostra. According to O’Malley, “Whether you like it or not, Kansas City had one of the best Mafias in the U.S. From the get-go, it was a major player. That’s the first thing that really blows people away.” The second thing, he says, is its blatant alliance with one of the most successful political machines in U.S. history—so successful, that when boss Tom Pendergast went down, the Mafia did not go with it.
In his talk O’Malley will explore corrupted voter ballots, stolen evidence from blown-open vaults, bloody slayings on street corners and mob-run operations that “sanitized themselves” into professional businesses that are still around today.
It’s a fascinating subject that continues to interest the public, he says. “True crime is a popular genre, but when you systemize it and make it a business, it adds a level of audacity. It becomes outrageous and unbelievable to most people.”
To register for the event online, see mymcpl.org/events, or call the library at 816-942-1780.