When Giacomo “Black Jack” Tocco died in 2014, it was an end of an era for the Mob. At the time of his death, he’d been the longest serving Mafia leader in the history of American organized crime. He presided over an outfit that had prospered in the greater Detroit area for decades. While he’d been heavily involved in racketeering and other illegal activities throughout that time, Tocco had also developed several successful legitimate businesses as well. Despite having kept a notoriously low profile over his tenure as a Godfather, Black Jack was alleged to have been involved in one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th Century: the disappearance of corrupt union leader Jimmy Hoffa. If Tocco knew the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, or any other big Mafia secrets, he took them with him when he died in 2014.
Early Years: Born to Royalty
Jack Tocco was born in 1927 in Grosse Pointe Park Michigan, a middle class suburb of Detroit. It was no surprise that Tocco found his way so readily into the Mafia: his family was considered Mafia royalty in the Motor City. Tocco’s father, William “Black Bill” Tocco was a founding member of the Detroit Mob, along with his cousin, Joseph “Joe Uno” Zerrilli.
Zerrilli had a son the same age as Jack named Anthony “Tony Z” Zerrilli, who also was active in the Detroit Mob. When the younger Tocco and Zerrilli graduated college together in 1949, their fathers gave them ownership of a racetrack as a joint graduation present.
Throughout his life as a gangster, Black Jack also cemented his relationship with his Grosse Point neighborhood and the people there. A devoted family man, he married and raised eight children there. Additionally, as he rose through the ranks of the mob, he frequently contributed to charities and benevolent organizations in the area and was well-regarded in the community. He also ran several legitimate businesses completely unconnected to his illegal activities as well. However, despite his low key style, Black Jack kept a firm grip on extortion and other rackets as he rose to the top of the Detroit underworld.
The Boss of Detroit, Hoffa, and a Brush with the Law
Jack Tocco took the reins of the Detroit Mafia in 1979, after the death of his elder cousin, Joseph Zerrilli. At the time, the Detroit mob had definitely seen better days. Many of the founding members of La Cosa Nostra had died, aged out, or were incarcerated. Tony Zerrilli, Tocco’s cousin, added to Tocco’s headaches when the FBI recorded him bragging about the Family’s holdings in Las Vegas casinos, triggering yet another investigation. Over the decades that followed their relationship would deteriorate and years later an incarcerated Zerrilli would unsuccessfully finger Tocco for the Hoffa disappearance.
The Detroit Mafia has long been implicated in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa went missing on July 30, 1975, after he never returned from a meeting at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township Michigan with alleged mobsters from the Detroit area. In 2013, Black Jack’s cousin Tony Zerrilli, now estranged from the family, alleged that Hoffa had been killed on Tocco’s orders and was buried on a rural farm property Black Jack had previously owned; the police excavated and searched the site thoroughly, but found nothing. If Tocco or other members of the Detroit Mafia were behind Hoffa’s disappearance, no corroborating evidence has yet been uncovered.
Unlike John Gotti and other east coast mobsters, Jack Tocco was low key and stayed behind the scenes. Throughout his life he frequently denied that he was in the mafia, and at times denied that La Cosa Nostra existed at all. His involvement in the community, coupled with his successful legitimate businesses and real estate holdings, helped to insulate him from the constant public scrutiny many other mobsters faced throughout the late 20th century.
However, in the late 1990s, the FBI agents dedicated to taking down the Detroit mob finally, moved in on Black Jack Tocco and his organization. In 1996 Tocco, nearing 70 years old, was indicted along with several of his alleged associates on numerous racketeering charges. Although he successfully defended himself against many of the charges, Tocco was ultimately convicted of two felonies, and ultimately spent eleven months in prison. It is the only significant time behind bars that the gangster ever served after decades in the Detroit Mob.
The trial and convictions nonetheless took their toll on Tocco’s aging Detroit organization. The arrests had created some irreparable rifts between Black Jack and key lieutenants in his organization and Tocco himself was in his early seventies by the time he had been released from prison. Despite decades of FBI scrutiny, Tocco avoided additional entanglements throughout the rest of his life and died of natural causes on July 14, 2014.
The End of the Golden Age of Gangsters
Black Jack Tocco was a gangster during the true glory days of the American Mafia. He was born into a Mafia family and led it successfully for over four decades. While he was a convicted felon who had served time in prison, Tocco had spent most of his life outside the reach of the law, despite their best efforts. However, while he was a low key gangster and shrewd underworld leader, he did not leave a significant legacy behind in the Motor City. Today, the Detroit mafia is a shadow of what it once was under the leadership of Black Jack Tocco.
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