September 23, 2020 – Chris Rock’s Kansas City Black mafia boss character in the new season of the hit FX television show Fargo is partially based on James (Doc) Dearborn, the leading African-American organized crime figure in K.C. until his gangland slaying in 1985 at age 53. The acclaimed high-energy comedian is hoping this is a career-defining role for him as an actor and his more deliberate-paced performance has already begun attracting a buzz.
The highly-anticipated fourth season of Fargo premieres this week and stars Rock as Loy Cannon, the fictional kingfish of Kansas City’s black underworld in the 1950s who goes to war with the Italian mob for power in the city’s rackets. His No. 1 advisor is named “Doctor Senator” and played by seasoned actor Glynn Turman, clearly a nod to Doc Dearborn, even with the creators deciding to play loose with the actual facts.
In reality, Doc Dearborn worked in alliance with Kansas City’s Civella crime family, using mobster Joseph (Shotgun Joe) Centimano as his go-between with Italian mafia don Nick Civella. Dearborn’s crew was called the “Purple Capsule Gang” or “PCG” for the color of the container their heroin came in when it was sold on the street. Centimano worked out of Joe’s Liquors near the city’s Vine Jazz District and looked after affairs for Civella in the area mostly occupied by migrant Blacks relocated from the South.
Dearborn partnered with Shotgun Joe and the Italians on gambling, narcotics, prostitution and shakedown rackets. According to Kansas City Police, they were given the contract for the headline-grabbing 1970 assassination of Leon Jordan, Missouri’s top African-American politician and social activist of the day. Police finally closed the case file nine years ago.
The Kansas City Star newspaper helped break the case open with an investigative piece that ran on the 40-year anniversary of Jordan’s slaying and the KCPD officially declared Doc Dearborn and Shotgun Joe Centimano the culprits, closing the case for good in 2011. KCPD cold-case detectives determined Civella, who died of lung cancer in 1983, ordered Jordan murdered and tasked Dearborn and Centimano with the job.
Jordan was gunned down outside his Green Duck Tavern on July 15, 1970. He had feuded with and physically assaulted mob-friendly state legislator Frank Mazzuca and bumped heads with Dearborn over a series of issues, one of them said to be related to a romance with a woman (Dearborn was charged in state court for the crime in 1971, but had the case against him dropped before trial). The pair also allegedly killed local hood Ricky Hill for a drug theft two years prior.
Centimano died of cancer in 1972. Doc Dearborn was slain in a shooting in front of a Kansas City liquor store across the street from a hotel drug den he used as his headquarters on January 14, 1985.