Kansas City Crime Family and 1933's Union Station Massacre

John "Brother John" Lazia is the first known boss of the Kansas City crime family. He changed his original last name to Lazia from Lazzio.
Founder of Kansas City crime family John Lazia.

Recent media reports have frenzied covering the fact that an "openly gay" NFL player, Michael Sam, had for his lover a man whose father and grandfather were identified as Midwest mobsters. Vito Cammisano, 23, is the grandson of the late Mafia boss William (Willie the Rat) Cammisano.

Vito's father, Gerlarmo (Jerry) Cammisano, also had known mob ties, and once served 14 months in prison. There is no evidence that Cammisano himself has ever been involved with the Civella crime family of Kansas City.

Vito’s dad pleaded guilty in 2011 to federal charges that he ran a $3.5 million illegal sports betting ring; he was sentenced to 14 months in prison. He also was ordered to forfeit $201,137, according to records.

Yes, there was a Kansas city crime family. And as noted on the American Mafia website:

For generations, the local mob was a simple fact of everyday life, something almost as old as the city itself, and something so enmeshed in business and politics that it was taken for granted as an inevitable part of city life. Rare indeed is the senior citizen in Kansas City who doesn’t have some sort of personal, mobster-related anecdote.

The Kansas City crime family, which, like most crime families, formed in the late 19th/early 20th century. 

John "Brother John" Lazia is the first known boss of the Kansas City crime family. Lazia, known as a dapper nightclub owner, had changed his original last name to Lazia from Lazzio. (Similarly to what other Mafia crime family progenitors have been known to do. See James "Jimmy the Hat" Lanza.")

He made his fortune by controlling soft-drink concessions and running a dog track and, during Prohibition, taking control of the North Side Democratic Club. From the club's headquarters he held court and started running gambling, bootlegging and loansharking rackets.

Lazia wielded considerable political power within both the Kansas City PD and the city administration. In 1929, after failing to file a $82,000 federal tax return, Lazia was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to one year. However, ward boss Tom Pendergast, one of the officials in Lazia's pocket "like so many nickles and dimes," prompted Lazia's release pending appeal.

Lazia apparently went too far when he supposedly "organized" the infamous Union Station massacre during which lawmen were viciously blasted away while transporting hoodlum Frank "Jelly" Nash, who also met his demise during the firefight. There is strong evidence that the Chicago Outfit, which was known to control Kansas City, may have used Lazia as a fall guy, and that the massacre was not an attempt to free Nash, but to silence him, permanently.

Vernon Miller

On June 17, 1933, Vernon Miller, reportedly hired by a known member of the Chicago Outfit, and sveral unidentified gunmen ambushed federal agents as they were departing from Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. After a brief violent gunfight that resulted in the deaths of Nash and four law enforcement officers, as well as the wounding of two others, Miller and the other gunmen fled the scene.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, still decades away from finally recognizing "La Causa Nostra" (the FBI's early incorrect version of an informal name of the Mafia, Cosa Nostra), did the mob a favor by keeping the spotlight on the non-Mafia gangsters then-famous in America in the early 1930s. He named Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd and Adam Richetti as members of the gang, though there is strong evidence that suggests that the two were not part of the group.

Miller's fellow gunmen were never officially identified, which probably means they were Mafia.

The massacre lead to Lazia's downfall. All his connections disappeared, his law problems began mounting and he was eventually arrested on tax-related charges. On July 10, 1934, while out on bail, Lazia was blasted with a Tommy gun. The shooter(s) was never charged.

After the massacre, Miller fled to the Northeast to stay with Abner "Longy" Zwillman (July 27, 1904 – February 27, 1959) in Orange, New Jersey. Zwillman was a Jewish-American gangster whose career in organized crime predated early Prohibition days. Zwillman was a founding member of the Combination, an early organized crime group formulated prior to the emergence of Italy's Cosa Nostra. Zwillman also was associated with Murder Incorporated.

While staying with Zwillman, Miller got into an argument with one of Zwillman's gunmen and shot him dead.

On October 23, 1933, Miller fled to Chicago, posing as an optical supply company salesman. He was living with girlfriend Vi Mathias when federal agents raided her apartment on the morning of November 1.

Miller escaped by shooting his way out.

By November 29, 1933, Miller had finally met his demise. His body was found in a roadside ditch outside Detroit. He reportedly had been strangled with a clothesline and beaten to death with a clawhammer.

There is no shortage of motives for Miller's murder, officially unsolved. It probably was retaliation for the murder of Zwillman's gang member one month earlier; punishment for the failure of the Kansas City Massacre, and perhaps retribution for another debacle Miller had been involved in: the Fox Lake Massacre.