Mingo native writes about life in the mob
How does a young, poor kid from rural Mingo County end up working for the Chicago mob? That is what Charles “Charley” Hager explains in his new book, “Chicago Heights — Little Joe College, The Outfit and the fall of Sam Giancana.”
Not only did Hager end up working for the notorious Chicago syndicate, but he said he was framed for a murder that happened in 1975 at his hometown of Dingess, West Virginia. He ended up spending five years in a Mountain State prison because he said he would not snitch on the alleged murderer.
Hager said he grew up dirt poor in Mingo County in the early 1960s. He began spending summers in Chicago with his uncle Columbus Hager in 1963 when he was just 13 years old. He garnered the nickname “Little Joe College” because he was a thinker and quick to figure things out.
Charley began hanging out and working at the Blue Island Bar where his uncle and the “Outfit” gathered. Soon he learned to hotwire and steal cars, and he worked at the bar, which also had illegal gambling and prostitution. The young West Virginian was learning the ropes of the trade in which his uncle was involved.
For the next few years, young Charley would split his time between Chicago and Dingess, coming home in late August, driving back through the famed Dingess Tunnel to live with his family and go to school.
By 1967 Charley’s frail mother was dying of leukemia, and his alcoholic father was falling deeper into despair. The family had moved to Logan to be near the hospital.
After an incident in a Logan pool hall, Charley was sent back to Dingess to live with an aunt. He started attending Lenore High School, but it wasn’t something he had in mind.
Eventually, he ended up back in Chicago with his uncle and began working full-time for the mob around the age of 16. He started working his way up the ladder at first, tending bar and being a runner, to earn trust.
Charley made the right connections, started a family of his own and got involved in the horse racing business. However, he was still working for the Chicago mob and was basically a gangster. He did what he was asked and kept his mouth shut.
His Appalachian connections brought him back and forth to West Virginia. It’s a rags-to-riches account.
He had dived head-first into the lifestyles that involved hits and the crimes of the underworld in the Midwest. The riveting account takes the reader through those years and working for mob boss Albert Tocco.
Charley says he knew about the murder of notable mob boss Sam Giancana of the criminal Chicago Outfit in 1975. There is speculation that during the John Kennedy administration, the Central Intelligence Agency recruited Giancana and other mobsters to assassinate Fidel Castro. History also knows how important southern W.Va. — especially Logan and Mingo counties — was for Kennedy’s primary election win in 1960.
In his memoir, he mentions former Logan Judge Ned Grubb and Logan political boss and icon Claude Ellis.
He said the mob was very powerful back in the 1960s and 70s. He spent years working in the syndicate and worked his way up through the ranks. Was Giancana killed because he was a snitch? Reading Hager’s book, which he began while serving time in the W.Va. prison, may shed some light on that mystery.
Now 70 years old, Charley Hager believes it is time to share his story.
He said he went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit — the murder of Dick Spry, an old childhood friend from Mingo County. Charley said he entered a plea deal to the killing because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was not a snitch and, yes, he feared for his life.
Charley said he had a decent life. In his book, he reveals his life with the mob and how it changed his existence, coming from the hills of W.Va. wearing a pair of old bibbed overalls and holes in his socks.
Charley said he is a changed man.
His book is available online at Amazon.com. It takes the reader back and forth between the poverty-stricken life he had in Mingo County to his more elaborate lifestyle in Chicago.
Looking back, he said he made money, but wished he had never gotten involved in the lifestyle. However, he got out alive and is now telling his story.
Kyle Lovern is the editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at 304-236-3526 or via email at klovern@HDMediaLLC.com.