Louis Thomas Fratto (July 17, 1907 – November 24, 1967) also known as "Lew Ferrell" and "Cockeye Louie", was a member of the Chicago Outfit and the boss of the Outfit's Des Moines, Iowa faction. "Cockeyed Louie" Fratto stared down three U.S. Senate committees -- Kefauver, McClellan, and Capehart -- by taking "the Fifth." His 30-year reign as the mob's lead man in Iowa netted him numerous civic honors, but not one day in jail.
Fratto was born Luigi Tomaso Giuseppi Fratto. He and his eight siblings grew up in the vicinity of Chicago's Hull House on the near west side. Fratto's criminal career began in 1926 when he was charged with stealing a $14 coat. In 1932 he was identified as a member of the Fiore Mob led by Ted Virgilio at the time, who was suspected of muscling in on speakeasies and caberets, demanding 50% of the profits. The owners, who illegally operated the places, seldom complained out of fear of being closed, or worse – murdered. By 1933 Fratto was listed as the secretary and treasurer of the Wardrobe Check Washroom Attendant and Doorman's Union. Around this time, Fratto and Virgilio were arrested for questioning in an $800,000 mail robbery. Later that year, in December, Fratto was again sought after, this time for a $250,000 heist pulled in the Loop.
It was at this time that "Little New York" Louis Campagna came to Fratto and asked if he could recruit some boys for organizer jobs. Two of Fratto's childhood buddies, Sam Battaglia and Marshall Caifano, had recently been released from Bridewell, a detention center for boys, and Lou brought them aboard along with his cousin Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio. All four boys would become prominent figures in organized crime. Campagna would later send Fratto (accompanied by Milwaukee Phil) to Milwaukee to control the Outfit's rackets there where he would also befriend John Alioto, the Boss of the Milwaukee crime family.
Boss of Des Moines
Fratto operated primarily as a labor racketeer and organized crime figure in Chicago, Illinois, from the 1930s to 1960s. Fratto allegedly moved to Des Moines, Iowa, at the insistence of Campagna, his mentor, where he would become the top crime boss in about 1939. He apparently replaced "Cherry Nose" Charles Gioe, who went back to Chicago.
According to Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Clark R. Mollenhoff, upon his arrival in Des Moines, Louis Fratto, better known as Lew Farrell, "was not a master criminal. He was no more than a second or third operator from the lower ranks of the Capone mob in Chicago." During the early 1940s, Mollenhoff witnessed, "the tentacles of Lew Farrell reach into the Des Moines Police Department to promote his friends; into the Sheriff's Office for a gun permit; into the Prosecutor's Office to kill a criminal indictment; into the local courts to manipulate decisions on evidence; and into the state political arena."
Mollenhoff described Fratto as "a pleasant fellow with a perpetual smile, a constant line of flattery, and an alert and observing eye. The slight deviation in his eye alignment that resulted in the nickname ‘Cock-eyed Louie’ made him just a bit self-conscious about looking directly at you, but he managed to scrutinize you indirectly just as well."
Fratto's charismatic personality allowed him to make friends with politicians, law enforcement, judges, and newspapermen. He was also active in the community and involved in several civic projects. The Des Moines chamber of commerce even granted him an honorary lifetime membership as well as a plaque for his outstanding service to the community. In addition, Fratto worked as a civilian recruiter for the Navy and helped recruit 75 members, headed a War Bond Drive that sold over a million dollars worth of war bonds, and received an award for his work on behalf of the Italian-American population in Des Moines.
On March 24, 1951 Fratto was called before the Kefauver committee investigating organized crime and questioned about his raising $30,000 bail for two Kansas City gangsters, Gus and Charles Gargotta, in 1947. Fratto was also questioned about his association with Charles Gioe, Tony Accardo, Paul Ricca, Louis Campagna, and illegal activities in Des Moines, taking the fifth each time. Described by the committee as a "former beer distributor and gambling figure," Fratto was also identified as a "labor relations advisor" and very influential with the teamsters union. He further irritated committee members by "taking the Fifth" or remaining mute to questions about his relationship with Jimmy Hoffa and to whether or not he had made contributions to Iowa Governor Herschel Loveless.
Fratto's name made headlines again during the summer of 1954 when on August 18, Charles Gioe- Fratto's friend and one time boss –was murdered in Chicago.
Fratto remained a power in the Des Moines, Iowa area until his death on November 24, 1967 of natural causes. In Madison , WI.
Fratto was the brother of Frankie Fratto, known as "Frankie One Ear", a hitman for the mob and the uncle of current Chicago Outfit capo Rudy Fratto and Gill Vlerio, and a cousin to alleged hitman, bagman, enforcer and short-lived Chicago front boss, "Milwaukee Phil" Felix Alderisio. His older brother, Carmen, was said to be a "west side politician" and was later related by marriage to "Willie Potatoes" William Daddano.
Fratto's son Frank Farrell was a passenger on the flight on which Rocky Marciano was killed. Son Johnny Fratto is a frequent guest on the Howard Stern Show and was also in an episode of Deadliest Warrior as an expert on Al Capone.