John Joseph Vitale (May 17, 1909 – June 5, 1982) was a Sicilian-American mob boss of the St. Louis crime family. During his lifetime, Vitale was allegedly the boss of the St. Louis crime family on two separate occasions.
John J. Vitale was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1909, the eldest of eight children of Joseph Vitale, Sr. and Mary Theresa Bovacanti. Both of Vitale's parent's were born in Sicily. His father was born in Trapani and his mother was born in Termini Imerese. They immigrated to the United States a few years before John was born. During the Great Depression he worked as an usher at the Ambassador Theater where he met movie actress Ginger Rogers and the two became lifelong friends. He married circa 1929, Fara Marie Sharamitaro, probably the daughter of Giuseppe Sharamitaro (also spelled Ciaramitaro) and Rosaria Bommarito. Together, they had four children.
Vitale's arrest record began around 1920. In 1934, Vitale was a suspect in the death of Mike Palazzolo. According to St. Louis investigative reporter John Auble, Palazzolo allegedly had an on-going quarrel with a man named Walter Mushenick. In May 1934, Mushenick assaulted Palazzolo's girlfriend Delphine, slapping her in the face. After Delphine informed Palazzolo of the assault, Palazzolo stated that, "...he was going to get even with Mushenick..." Witnesses stated that when Palazzolo left his parent's house to visit a friend, Vitale arrived and waited for him to return. After returning home, Palazzolo left with Vitale in Vitale's car. That was the last time Palazzolo was seen alive. The coroner determined that Palozzolo was shot twice with a .38 caliber, a single shot through the head and neck, and another in the chest. Though a warrant was issued for his arrest, Vitale was exonerated of the murder.
St. Louis crime family
Little is known of Vitale's early years in the syndicate, as Vitale was known for keeping a low profile. Vitale's last run in with the law was in 1981 when he was arrested for having US$30,000 in his pocket.
Sonny Liston affair
The St. Louis crime family held financial interests in the career of Sonny Liston, a professional boxer. According to both FBI and newspaper reports, Vitale, in addition to other underworld crime figures, "...reportedly controlled Liston's contract...", with Vitale owning approximately twelve percent of the boxer's contract. However, when a congressional committee inquired into the matter, Vitale refused to answer any questions.
Vitale was sent to federal prison once on a narcotics charge during the 1950s. In 1958, Vitale was charged with the federal crime of transporting firearms across state lines, which he appealed. In February 1959, he was called to testify regarding mafia-controlled coin machine rackets, but invoked the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution against self-incrimination. In 1977, Vitale was charged with assault and sentenced to the St. Louis City workhouse.
Two sources claim that Vitale later became an FBI informant following the death of boss Anthony Giordano. However, no evidence has been provided to substantiate this claim. Further, Vitale remained the boss after Giordano's death, dying of natural causes in St. Louis as an elderly man. Vitale died on June 5, 1982 and was buried on June 9, 1982 in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. He was preceded in death by his wife Fara, who was buried on July 20, 1973 in Calvary Cemetery.