Charles Binaggio

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Charles Binaggio
Charles Binaggio's mugshot from the Kansas City Police Department.

Charles Binaggio was a gangster who fought his way to the top of the underworld heap more through politics than crime. A trim, well-dressed "man of lethal calm," as he was once described, Binaggio was a lieutenant in the political machine of Tom Pendergast and had close ties to crime boss Johnny Lazia. When Pendergast fell from power in 1939 and his organization started to unravel, Binaggio emerged as the new leader of the city’s underworld and ran much of Kansas City in the 1940s.

Binaggio stated at several of his arrests that he was born in Texas in 1909. Starting as a precinct worker on the North Side, Binaggio’s power grew until he was recognized as having complete control of 11 precincts in the first ward. By the mid-1940s, he had merged his forces with another faction leader and exerted great influence on statewide elections.

Binaggio wanted to reopen Kansas City to widespread vice, especially gambling, which was a hallmark of the Pendergast era. In 1948, when his candidate for Missouri governor won, Binaggio’s plans to seemed to be coming to fruition. A high-profile murder of a known gambler in Kansas City then caused a crack down on the sport, and a grand jury investigation into organized crime put pressure on Binaggio. This focused a great deal of negative national publicity on him.

On April 6, 1950, in a sensational turn of events, Binaggio and Charles Gargotta, a well-known local crime figure, were found dead inside the First Ward Democratic Club on Truman Road. They had been shot to death at close range in a gangland-style execution. Binaggio’s murder stunned the city, and its shock waves reached Washington, D.C., where Congress appointed a special committee to investigate organized crime.

It is assumed that Binaggio’s execution was carried out by local mobsters on orders from someone in another city higher up in the organized crime syndicate. At the time, it was speculated that he had been killed for failing to deliver on promised gambling profits and then trying to step down from his position as racket boss. Despite investigations by five law enforcement agencies, Binaggio’s murder was never solved.

Acknowledgement: 

A previous version of this article appears on kchistory.org: http://kchistory.org/content/biography-charles-binaggio-1909-1950-politi...

KANSAS CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY | DIGITAL HISTORY
Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
KC History, Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library.