Oh, I was one of Al Capone’s gang

Posted by | January 31, 2013

E-d-i-g-i-o R-o-m-a-n-o. He was known as Frenchy LaRue. He was not known by his Italian name, he was known by his name of Frenchy LaRue. One afternoon the finance officer came down to my office, and this little man, he was about my size, very neatly dressed, his clothes were beginning to show wear—

But before I went overseas I had a friend in—From Camp Davis I went to Fort Bragg [North Carolina], and I had a friend in Fort Bragg that I often babysat for him. He had a little boy and I’d go down and babysit for him so he and his wife could have a night out together. And when I found out I was—He had been in Italy, in Caserta, and when I found out that I was going to Caserta I went right straight to see him.

Nina M. Greenlee, WWII WACNina M. Greenlee in uniform, 1943-1945.

And he told me that one time while he was over there they were having trouble with their telephone lines, and he decided one afternoon he was going to—Somebody was cutting the telephone lines. He decided one afternoon he was going to try to find out who it was. So he got a jeep and he went out into the country, and he came to a crossroads, open space, no trees around anywhere. And he was sitting there in his jeep trying to decide whether to go to the right, whether to go to the left, and while he had his head turned, somebody approached from behind and said, “Can I help you ?” in perfect English.

And it was Frenchy LaRue. He had been deported, but he served as a spy for the Allied forces. And Colonel Williams told him what he was after and he said, “Well, you go down here to so-and-so, so far down the road, and you will find out.” Frenchy was correct.

Well, anyway, getting back to the finance officer. He brought this man down to my office and he said, “Sergeant, this man is not a prisoner of war, was not a prisoner of war, but I want you to see if you can help him collect the money that’s coming to him.” The U.S. paid volunteers for their service. While he was spying for the U.S. and British armies, Frenchy received money for food and clothing. What he came to collect was extra. And the man handed me this huge folder and asked me to look at it, and he went over and sat down and was talking to the GIs in the office, and every once in a while I’d catch a word that he was saying.

And there were letters of recommendation from General [Harold R.L.G.] Alexander, who was—I think his name was Alexander—he was the English officer there—General Mark Clark, various officers that he served under, and every one of them praised him highly for the work that he had done for the Allies. And right at the end there were pictures of him in civilian clothes and officer’s uniform, noncom’s [noncommissioned officer] uniform and what have you, hobnobbing with the big brass. And a letter from Mark Clark to the immigration department recommending that Frenchy LaRue be allowed to return to the United States. And when I looked at that I said, “What were you deported for?” And he said, “Oh, I was one of Al Capone’s gang.” [chuckling]

Palazzo di Caserta, ItalyPalazzo di Caserta, north of Naples, where Greenlee worked. Its 1,200 rooms served as the Allied Forces Headquarters from 1944 to the end of WWII.

And about a year later after I got out of service, I was leafing through the newspapers one night and I saw this little article about so long about ‘Al Capone’s Henchman Commits Suicide in Trieste [Italy]‘. And I read it, and it was Frenchy. He had been summoned to appear in court for some minor something or other offense, to appear in Italian court, and rather than face the court he committed suicide.

But after I called around and found out where he should go, I took him down there because telling him how to get there was just almost impossible: “You go through so many doors and you turn right so many doors and you turn right again”—you know, that sort of thing. So I took him down to the—I’ve forgotten now what office it was that I took him to, and he thanked me very profusely. And in about a half-hour or so he came back and thanked me again and said that he would get his money the next morning. So the next morning after he got the money, he came back and thanked me a third time. His manners were impeccable. He was cultured, his English was perfect. He was just an admirable person, to tell you the truth.

I asked him what he was going to do. I meant to tell you, the government was paying people who had volunteered their services. The government was giving them a small stipend of some kind. I never asked him how much he got, but he said he was saving it till the time he got back to the States. But he didn’t make it.

Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nina M. Greenlee (1907-2004)

Greenlee was born and grew up in Old Fort, NC. She served in the United States and Italy with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) from 1943-48. Hermann Trojanowski interviewed her in February 1999 for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full interview online at: http://library.uncg.edu/dp/wv/results5.aspx?i=1199&s=5

Al (“Frenchy”) LaRue (real name: Egidio Romagnoli), ex-triggerman for the Capone mob, was deported from the U.S. to Italy in 1938, and later tagged along with invading G.I.s as a scout (for which he got the Bronze Star). He shot himself at the age of 60 during a police checkup in Trieste, on February 14, 1949.

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