Lazia, Johnny (1895-1934)

Born Brooklyn, NY, Sept. 28, 1895.

Killed Kansas City, MO, July 10, 1934.


Lazia likely started his underworld career as a thug for the Tom Pendergast political machine in Kansas City. By 1928, he had graduated to leader of the North Side Democratic Club and controlled much of the organized criminal activity in the region.

Lazia was born in Brooklyn, NY (the family name was Lazio) to immigrant parents Giuseppe and Frances. His birth year is generally recorded as 1896, which appears on his gravestone. A date of Sept. 28, 1895, appears on Lazia's World War I draft registration. The family relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, shortly after his birth and settled on Campbell Street.

Lazia was arrested in 1915. He was charged with armed robbery and with firing a weapon at a local police captain. His conviction resulted in a prison sentence of 15 years. The local political machine had an interest in Lazia, however, and he was paroled after serving just eight months behind bars.

As he matured, Lazia's underworld specialty became gambling. He operated a dog racing track and the swank Cuban Gardens club. Other business ventures included a night club and soft drink concessions. He appears to have coordinated bootlegging operations in the region during and following the Prohibition Era.

Lazia served as mentor for Charles "Mad Dog" Gargotta and Anthony Gizzo. Gargotta later allied with Lazia successor Charles Binaggio. (Gargotta and Binaggio were both killed in the Jackson County Democratic Club headquarters on April 5, 1950. Gizzo briefly served as top boss of the Kansas City Mob in the early 1950s.)

The influence of the Pendergast machine kept local law enforcement off Lazia's back. However, federal tax agents managed to nab the North Side gangster in 1930. He was tried and convicted of tax evasion. Though he was sentenced to a year in prison, he remained free during appeals.




While the appeal process dragged on, Lazia was believed to be involved in the Union Station Massacre and a gang shootout on Armour Boulevard.

Underworld rivals caught up with Lazia before the law did. Early on July 10, 1934, two men - one carrying a machine gun and the other carrying a shotgun - attacked and mortally wounded the Kansas City gang boss as he stepped from his car at his apartment house. With him at the time of the shooting were his wife and their trusted friends Mr. and Mrs. Charles Carolla. (Charlie "the Wop" Carolla served as Lazia's bodyguard.) Lazia was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital where surgery was performed. He lingered for eight hours before succumbing to his wounds.

Lazia's funeral cortege stretched for several miles. A dozen motorcycle police officers served as escort. Ceremonies began at the home of his older sister Mary Antonello (she married Joseph Antonello in January 1910). They continued at Holy Rosary Church. Burial took place at St. Mary's Cemetery. Lazia was laid to rest beside his parents.

Lazia's pall bearers included his longtime friends James Balestrere, Joseph Gallucci and Charles Gargotta.

Local police rounded up more than two dozen suspects. Rumors indicated that hours before the Lazia shooting, Lazia had argued with operators of a South Side beer tavern. There was wide speculation that his murder was related to alcohol rackets.

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