“People take one little piece of information, twist it around, add a lot of bullshit, and come up with some changes that don’t even resemble the truth.”
— Carlos Marcello
For most of the 20th century, the Little Man loomed large in Louisiana.
His empire stretched from the brackish backwaters and byzantine swamps near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi to the dive bars and seedy motels along forgotten highways of the Cajun prairies to the city of a million dreams, New Orleans, a place that looks ancient in the daylight but technicolor and electric by nightfall.
Carlos Marcello was a Sicilian immigrant, born in an African country during French colonial rule, a man whose earliest memories occurred in an old city at the bottom of a new world.
During his prime, some believed that it was Carlos, not the governor, who pulled the levers behind the curtain of state government.
Many are still convinced that it was Carlos, lurking 500 miles away from the grassy knoll, who ordered the hit on JFK. When the House Select Committee on Assassinations published its final report in 1979, they concluded that only Carlos Marcello and his longtime friend Santo Trafficante, the head of the syndicate in Florida, had “the motive, the means, and the opportunity” to pull it off. Not the Soviets. Not the Cubans. Not the CIA. But Santo and Carlos.
Unlike Santo, however, Carlos’ motive was personal, or so the theory goes. Two years before Dallas, JFK’s brother Bobby had him whisked away- kidnapped- without any notice and forcibly deported to Guatemala. He’d spent days lumbering through the treacherous jungle of the Siera Madre de Chiappas, certain he would either die or be killed, in order to make his way back home. Even now, no one, not even the United States government, knows how, exactly, he’d been able to sneak his way back in.
He built his fortune off of the slot machines that Frank Costello smuggled out of Fiorello LaGuardia’s New York, the legendary one-armed bandits. At first, they simply paid off the cops and the politicians, but they got so rich so fast that eventually it became impossible to look the other way.
For most of his life, Carlos was, at once, the most famous and the most mysterious person in the entire Gulf Coast, and today, nearly three decades after his death, Marcello is still a part of Louisiana’s lore. A bayou rambler, a dope dealer, a racketeer, a wise guy, an undesirable, a working class hero, a laissez les bon temps capitalist, a rapscallion, a desaparecido, and the reputed boss of America’s original Mafia.
But outside of Louisiana, if he is remembered at all, it is as a minor character in a conspiracy theory.
I’ve spent more than a year researching the life and the legacy of Carlos Marcello, and the story I’ve discovered—the real story as told by those who knew him best— is more riveting, more colorful, and more consequential than I ever imagined. For the first time, his only son Joe speaks on the record, sharing his memories of the man behind the myth.
A true believer in the American Dream, in bright lights and big cities, in neon and gold and chrome, in the open road, in Hollywood, in beach vacations and alabaster hotels tall enough to see the curvature of the earth, in domed football stadiums built on top of a doomed Gulf Coast, in Frank Sinatra and every single goddamn word of the song “My Way.”
King Carlos of the Town and Country, Champion of the Fifth Amendment, Immigration Law Pioneer, Villain of Camelot, Representado Officiale, Big Daddy of the Big Easy, Deportable, Just As Much of An American As Levi Strauss or Alexander Hamilton.