Kansas City does indeed have a rich criminal history. It was called the “Paris of the Plains” in the early 1900s. By the Jazz Age, Kansas City was nicknamed “Tom’s Town” after political boss Tom Pendergast. It had places to drink, to gamble, which was illegal, and over 100 cathouses which are now cultural landmarks. The police department had been under the corrupt political rule of the Pendergast Machine, started by the “King of the First Ward” in 1892. The Volstead Act in 1919, which ushered in the age of Prohibition Act, did not stop the party.
The first organized criminals in the area were the Irish-America gang the Combine, according to the book The Mafia and the Machine: The Story of the Kansas City Mob, by Frank R. Hayde. But Fargo casts its net over the entire Midwest, and what happens on the show in 1920, was happening in Minneapolis at that time. Most of that city’s crime was being done by local gangs of the Irish mob, who rose up in a world run by Jewish gangsters not ready to step down. Isadore “Kid Can” Blumenfeld, a Romanian-Jewish immigrant gangster was an associate of both the Chicago Outfit and the Genovese crime family. He had rival gangs run by David Berman, Thomas W. Banks, and “Big Ed” Morgan. In Kansas City, crime was run by Solomon “Solly” Weissman, according to Americanmafia.com, who was also known as “Slicey Solly,” “The Bully of Twelfth Street” and “the Cutcher-head-off Kid.” They all lived under national commission rules.
The Italian mob was in Kansas City when the series’ history report says there were only two criminal players in town. At the turn of the 20th century the Black Hand terrorized Kansas City’s North Side. By 1919, Little Italy was under its own rule and cops who came looking to enforce laws ended up being ex-cops. Italian-American political figure and future Kansas City mob boss Johnny Lazia beat an agent who was investigating him for tax evasion charges to death. He also kidnapped men from Pendergast’s political machine to make sure they knew he had what it takes to grease the gears.
Lazia couldn’t derail the Union Station Massacre of June 17, 1933, though. Convicted murderer Frank “Jelly” Nash had been caught after escaping from Leavenworth Penitentiary. His partner-in-crime, Verne Miller, asked Lazia to help snatch Nash when he passed through Union Station on the way back to prison. The head of the Kansas City crime family was more of a politician than a gangster, and Lazia allegedly farmed the job out to Adam Richetti and Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, who earned the FBI distinction of being Public Enemy No. 1 after the grab became a bloodbath.
Lazia was shot to death in front of his wife at the Park Central Hotel on July 9, 1934, one week short of the first anniversary of the massacre. His underboss, “Charley the Wop” Carollo took the top spot for a short while but did time for income tax evasion before being deported to Italy. Carollo’s underboss, Charles Binaggio, who was one of Lazia’s North End lieutenants, became the Kansas City mob’s boss in October 1939. Binaggio was arrested for the first time at age 21. He was one of Kansas City’s best earners. Binaggio was also arrested on July 20, 1931, after a shootout that killed a Bureau of Prohibition agent.