“I am not in no racket. I am not in no organized crime.”
– Carlos Marcello
Featured image: Carlos Marcello testifies at the McClellan Hearings in 1959. Restored in color by the Bayou Brief.

In Part One of the Bayou Brief’s Godfather Trilogy, we introduced an infant who arrived in New Orleans from a country that he had never known long enough to remember, carrying a name that he never wore as his own. Yet Carlos Marcello— the self-described “tomato salesman” who rose to become one of the most fearsome and powerful Mafia bosses in America— could never escape Calogero Minacore of Sicily.

In the second part of the trilogy, we trace Marcello’s meteoric rise to power, his covert connections to a dark web of gangsters and racketeers and a secret society known as Cosa Nostra, and the spectacle of the city that would catapult him into the national spotlight.


How Ya Like Dat?

He was just shooting the shit with a friend.

Everyone who knew him personally could’ve told you that was the way Carlos always talked. Flourishes of bluster and bravado, stitched together with a string of curse words. For the most part, he just wanted to talk about trivial stuff, usually something he’d just read in the morning paper or watched the night before on Johnny Carson. The funny thing was that even if you’d already heard the punchline or read the news, when it came from Carlos, it was like you were being let in on some kind of secret.

Besides, he didn’t seriously believe this fellow from Beverly Hills, Joe Hauser, was a rat. Sure, some of his other friends had their own suspicions, but they were always suspicious.

“Forget about him,” Carlos told them. “He ain’t sayin’ nuthin’.”

After all, Hauser had been introduced to him by way of none other than Santo Trafficante, his friend in Miami. They went way back, Carlos and Santo, at least thirty years, and if it hadn’t been for Castro, the two of them would’ve been partners in the casino business in Cuba.

Irv Davidson also vouched for this guy Hauser, and Irv wasn’t just Carlos’s man up in D.C.; he was Hoffa’s as well. And when Baby Doc in Haiti needed advice about dealing with Congress or the White House, he called Irv.

“The only governor I could ever do business with was Jimmie Davis,” Carlos said in another secretly-recorded meeting, before immediately contradicting himself. “Jimmie Davis and Earl Long.”

But even the great Isaac Irving Davidson had been blindsided, which is why he found himself in a New Orleans courtroom listening to secretly-recorded tapes of an aging Mafia boss prattling about politicians.

“Man, I know better than you, man, ’bout ‘dem politicians,” Carlos told Vincent Marinello on April 2, 1979. “They take your fuckin’ money, man, and then they tell you goodbye. I put $2,000 in (former Louisiana Gov. John) McKeithen’s pocket. I hate the motherfucker. Take my money and don’t do nuthin’ for me. I went with him before, when he wasn’t nuthin’. I had McKeithen for eight years. That sonuvabitch got $168,000 of my money, and then that sonuvabitch too scared to talk to me. How ya like dat shit?”

Former Louisiana Gov. John McKeithen

McKeithen- that’d be John McKeithen, the former governor, Big John they called him- had actually done worse than nothing for Carlos Marcello. After a reporter for Life Magazine started asking questions about the Mafia and began pestering people in Baton Rouge about “The Little Man,” Big John met personally with him, agreeing to be one of his off-the-record sources.

Carlos had been hoping to convince the powers-that-be to build the Superdome out on his land at Churchill Farms, a 4,200-acre spread of swamp ten miles west of downtown New Orleans. No matter how hard he tried- at one point, he offered to just give it away- that was never going to happen.

McKeithen claimed he had never taken a damn penny from that “street thug.” But just because he hadn’t taken money from Carlos did’t mean he hadn’t taken Carlos’s money.

“Everybody knows Mr. Marcello knows Louisiana state politics,” Irv told the Washington Post. “He knows everybody in the state.”

Big John may have been too scared- or too smart- to talk to Carlos, but when his successor, Edwin Edwards, confirmed that he’d taken a meeting with the aging Mafia boss, most people just shrugged. Of course he did. Every smart politician did. At least Edwin was honest about it.

“Edwin and me, we all right. But I can’t see him every day. He’s the strongest sonuvabtich governor ever had,” Carlos said to Marinello, approvingly. “He fuck with women and play dice, but won’t drink. How ya like dat?”

He may have admired Edwin Edwards, but it wouldn’t be accurate to claim the two men were ever all that close.

“The only governor I could ever do business with was Jimmie Davis,” Carlos said in another secretly-recorded meeting, before immediately contradicting himself. “Jimmie Davis and Earl Long.”


In Part One, we traced the origins of the Mafia in New Orleans and the early years of the man who would transform a small ring of Sicilian-Italian bandits and marauders into a billion-dollar empire. We now turn our attention to the rise of Carlos Marcello.

But before we turn our full attention back over to Marcello, it’s important to know there’s an entire, fateful part of his story that had been set into motion without his involvement, by powerful men he’d never even met, and when— from his perspective as an inmate locked up behind the bars of Angola in West Feliciana Parish— it would have seemed impossible to imagine he could ever be so lucky.

Next page: Huey “Pee” Long