Frank Cullotta was born in Chicago on December 14, 1938, the son of Joseph and Josephine Cullotta. He had two siblings, a sister Jean, and a younger brother, Joseph. The family lived in the section of town called the Patch, a working class and mostly Italian neighborhood. His father had a rather unique job: he drove the work car — getaway car — for his crew of burglars and robbers. He exhibited a cold, businesslike demeanor to all, including his family. He also had a violent temper. Any love and warmth the children experienced in the Cullotta household came from Josephine.
Joe Cullotta was killed when the car he was driving crashed during a high-speed police chase when Frank was about nine years old. In addition to his own memories, as Frank grew up relatives and associates of his father told him story after story of Joe’s exploits and expertise as a criminal. The elder Cullotta was considered by friend and foe to have been the best wheel man in Chicago. He was also a very dangerous man, capable of mayhem and murder.
Josephine Cullotta herself never discussed her late husband’s criminal activities with her children, either before or after his death. She limited her comments about him to simply saying that he was a good man. But Frank witnessed his father slap his mother around on more than one occasion. And Joe’s violence toward his family wasn’t limited to his wife; the children were also targets of his wrath when he became angry.
Among the things that set Joe off was if one of the kids got a bad report card. Josephine knew that and made an effort to keep that kind of news from her husband; but if he did find out there was hell to pay. On one of the occasions when Frank was the recipient of a derogatory report, Joe got wind of it and went into a rage. Josephine tried to calm her husband to no avail. Frank dove under his bed as his father headed toward him. At that point his sister intervened on his behalf. “I’m not going to let you hurt him, Dad,” she said, stepping in front of her father to block his path.
Joe Cullotta glared at his daughter in disbelief. “Oh yeah? Here,” he snarled, as he kicked her and sent her sprawling down the stairs. Although she suffered the consequences, Jean’s heroic action saved Frank from a beating,
Joe Cullotta’s ferocity wasn’t limited to his family, and young Frank personally witnessed his father in action in a situation that today might be called road rage. He was with his father driving on North Avenue when a couple of guys in another car got under Joe’s skin. One of them spit out their window and some of it got on the Cullotta vehicle. Joe flew into a maniacal rage. He chased the other car down the street and ran it up on the curb. He then dragged the two occupants out and beat them senseless.
In spite of Joe’s lack of affection and propensity for violence, he was a good provider for his family. He made sure they never wanted for anything. The Cullottas had new furniture every year and the kids had the best toys. Frank didn’t learn until later that virtually everything his father provided was stolen.
In addition to the source of their home furnishings, Frank sometimes saw other things that he later learned were related to his father’s criminal behavior. One of those times was when the family was living on the east side near Grand and Ogden, a few doors from future Outfit boss Tony Accardo.
He came home from school one day and found a man sitting in his house. He’d never seen the guy before and had no idea who he was. His mother didn’t acknowledge the stranger and provided no explanation as to why he was there. That man stayed for several hours and left when another man Frank had never seen before replaced him. This routine continued for several days. To add to the mystery, Joe Cullotta had apparently gone missing. If his wife knew where he was she wasn’t saying.
After about a week the strangers stopped showing up and Joe Cullotta made his appearance shortly afterward. Frank listened in on conversations between his father and his father’s friends who stopped in to visit. Between his eavesdropping at the time and things he was told afterward, Frank discovered that the strangers had been police detectives. His father was a suspect in the robbery of the Chicago Tribune. He and his crew got away before the police arrived, but a witness had identified them. The cops had been waiting for him to come home so they could arrest him. Joe was subsequently charged in that robbery and beat the case in court. He hadn’t been caught at the scene and the witness identification linking him to the crime didn’t hold up. All the charges were dropped.
In spite of Joe Cullotta’s sometimes abusive behavior toward his wife and children, Frank came to idolize him and admired his success as a criminal. That adoration was more than likely a contributing factor in Frank’s decision to follow the same road. And once he started down that path there was no turning back.