Missouri Mobster Sam Palma’s Slaying Still A Heavily-Debated Topic In K.C. A Half-Century Later

The notoriously-unsolved Kansas City mob murder of Sam Palma occurred 50 years ago this month when the body of the 41-year old wiseguy was found face down, a bullet in the back of his head in a Missouri cemetery, eerily less than 25 yards from his father’s grave, in early January 1966. The Palma slaying was the subject of a rivetingly-penned retrospective feature written by Donald Bradley that ran in the historical Kansas City Star this week.

Palma was hours away from being due in federal court in Kansas City to answer for charges of illegal transportation and attempted reception of stolen money and a weapon through the U.S. mail. His two co-defendants had previously pled out of the case – he reportedly didn’t want to do the same, angering his mob superiors. He was last seen alive the night before his execution-style hit meeting with K.C. mafia underboss Carl (Tuffy) DeLuna, Palma’s cousin and a reputed assassin and bookkeeper for the syndicate’s skimming operation in the Las Vegas hotel and casino industry, at a local drugstore and soda fountain.

To this day, the Palma family believes the death was a suicide, despite government authorities’ contentions to the contrary. Palma’s family offered as proof of their suicide theory what they interpret as a suicide note and a distraught phone call to his wife in the hours before he wound up dead.

DeLuna died peacefully in 2008. He was suspected of taking part or helping plan several infamous Missouri mob slayings.

The FBI believes Palma, a restauranteur, K.C. mafia soldier, bookie and loan shark, was kidnapped and killed as he ran away from his assailants in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in the early hours of January 6, 1966, felled with a shot to the back and then finished off with a kill-shot to the back of his skull while he lied helpless and wounded on the cold earth. In addition to DeLuna and other known members of the Civella crime family being called into FBI headquarters for questioning in the matter, then-Chicago mob boss Sam (Teetz) Battaglia was brought in to talk to investigators in the weeks after Palma showed up dead as well.

Battaglia’s arrival at the airport in Kansas City was covered heavily by the local press during the third week of January 1966 and which he was accompanied by his attorney and a bail bondsman, according to the K.C. Star report at the time. Some in Missouri law enforcement thought Battaglia was the Chicago Outfit’s liaison to the Kansas City mafia in the 1950s and 1960s. Teetz Battaglia died behind bars of natural causes in 1973, serving a 10-to-20 year sentence for a Hobbs Act violation.

The case Palma was facing when he was killed stemmed from a grocery store robbery in Houston, Texas months earlier in which police suspect Palma took the money stolen (over 15 k in cash) and weapon used in the crime (a 38 revolver) and sent it back to Missouri in a package addressed to himself. The package was intercepted by authorities, depending who you believe, either after the package ruptured at the post office or after the feds unsealed it themselves to see what was in it.

Palma headquartered his activities at the Pancake Patio, eventually transformed into a lounge called ‘Gino’s.’ He was closely aligned with fellow K.C. mobster Felix (Little Phil) Ferrina, slain himself 20 years later, per his fed rap sheet.

 

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