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Giuseppe Zangara (September 7, 1900 – March 20, 1933) was the assassin of Chicago mayor Anton Cermak, though United States President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt is generally believed to have been his intended target . Roosevelt escaped injury, but five people were shot including Cermak.

Assassination attempt

On February 15, 1933, Roosevelt was giving an impromptu speech from the back of an open car in the Bayfront Parkmarker area of Miami, Floridamarker, where Zangara was living, working the occasional odd job, and living off his savings. Zangara joined the crowd, armed with a .32-caliber pistol he had bought at a local pawn shop. However, being only five feet tall, he was unable to see over other people, and had to stand on a wobbly folding metal chair, peering over the hat of Lillian Cross, the 100-pound wife of a Miami doctor, to get a clear aim at his target. After the first shot, Cross and others grabbed his arm, and he fired four more shots wildly. He missed the president-elect, but five other people were hit, including Chicago mayor Anton Cermak, who was standing on the running board of the car next to Roosevelt. En route to the hospital, Cermak had allegedly told FDR, "I'm glad it was me and not you, Mr. President", words now inscribed on a plaque in Bayfront Park.


In the Dade Countymarker Courthouse jail, Zangara confessed and stated: "I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists." He pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted murder and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. As he was led out of the courtroom, Zangara told the judge: "Four times 20 is 80. Oh, judge, don't be stingy. Give me a hundred years." The judge, aware that Cermak might not survive his wounds, replied: "Maybe there will be more later."

Cermak died of peritonitis 19 days later, on March 6, 1933, two days after Roosevelt's inauguration. Zangara was promptly indicted for first-degree murder in Cermak's death. Because Zangara had intended to commit murder, it was irrelevant that his intended target was not the man he ultimately killed.

Zangara pleaded guilty to the additional murder charge, and was sentenced to die. Zangara said after hearing his sentence: "You give me electric chair. I no afraid of that chair! You one of capitalists. You is crook man too. Put me in electric chair. I no care!" Under Florida law, a convicted murderer could not share cell space with another prisoner before his execution, but another convicted murderer was already awaiting execution at Raiford. Zangara's sentence required prison officials to expand their waiting area, and the "death cell" became "Death Row."


On March 20, 1933, after spending only 10 days on Death Row, Zangara was executed in Old Sparky, the electric chair at Florida State Penitentiarymarker in Raiford, Floridamarker. Zangara became incensed when he learned no newsreel cameras would be filming his final moments.


Raymond Moley, a leading criminologist, interviewed Zangara in depth and concluded he was not part of any larger plot, and that he had intended to kill Roosevelt. All major historians agree with Moley.

However, then and later, alternative conspiracy theories have circulated, especially in Chicago, where there were rumors that Zangara was a hired killer, working for Frank Nitti, who was the head of the Chicago Outfit (Chicago's largest organized-crime syndicate). Allegedly, Mayor Cermak was the real target, because of his pledge to clean up the rampant gang violence in Chicago, though it's unlikely that campaign rhetoric would have provoked such an extreme response. Another speculation is that Cermak was connected to the Outfit's underworld rivals.

Some versions of this story assert that Zangara was a diversion for a second gunman who was to shoot Cermak; but this second gunman (if there was one) did not fire and was never seen.

Another point is that Zangara had been an expert marksman in the Italian Army (though not with a pistol from a great distance), and would presumably hit his target, so perhaps Cermak was the intended victim.

In popular culture

Zangara was played by Eddie Korbich in the original Off-Broadway production of Assassins by Stephen Sondheim. In later productions he was played by Paul Harrhy and Jeffrey Kuhn. Appearing in several songs from the play, he has a major solo in the number, "How I Saved Roosevelt".

Zangara plays a significant role in the background provided for Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. The alternate history novel begins with the premise that Zangara succeeded in assassinating Franklin D. Roosevelt, utilizing this historical event as its point of divergence.



  • Bardhan-Quallen, Sudipta Franklin Delano Roosevelt : a national hero, New York : Sterling Pub. Co., 2007. ISBN 9781402747472
  • Davis, Kenneth S. FDR: The New York Years: 1928-1933 (1994)
  • Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph (1956)
  • McCann, Joseph T. « The Case of Giuseppe Zangara » in Terrorism on American soil : a concise history of plots and perpetrators from the famous to the forgotten, Boulder : Sentient Publications, 2006. ISBN 9781591810490
  • Picchi, Blaise. The Five Weeks of Giuseppe Zangara: The Man Who Would Assassinate FDR (1998)
  • Shappee, Nathan D. "Zangara's Attempted Assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt" Florida Historical Quarterly 1958 37(2): 101-110. argues he was insane
  • "Miami to be retold", Luisa Yanez, The Miami Herald, 2007-09-20. Accessed 2007-09-20
  • Sifakis, Carl (1987). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York City: Facts on File. ISBN 0816018561

See also

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