Al-Capone

Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947) was an American gangster who led a Prohibition-era crime syndicate known as The Chicago Outfit, which later became known as the “Capones.”

From the early 1920s to 1931, The Outfit was dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging liquor, and other illegal activities in Chicago, such as prostitution.

Despite his criminal enterprises, Capone became a highly visible public figure. He made donations to various charitable endeavors using the money he made from his activities, and was viewed by many as a “modern-day Robin Hood”.

Robert De Niro gave an Oscar-nominated performance as Al Capone in “The Untouchables” (1987).

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That was Hollywood.

This is history:

Capone’s Early Life

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in the borough of Brooklyn in New York, on January 17, 1899.

His parents, Gabriele and Teresina Capone were immigrants from Italy. His father was a barber from Castellammare di Stabia, a town about 16 mi (26 km) south of Naples, and his mother was a seamstress and the daughter of Angelo Raiola from Angri, a town in the Province of Salerno.

Gabriele and Teresa had nine children: Alphonse “Scarface Al” Capone, James Capone (also known as Richard Two-Gun Hart – a lawman!), Raffaele Capone (a.k.a. Ralph “Bottles” Capone, who took charge of his brother’s beverage industry), Salvatore “Frank” Capone, John Capone, Albert Capone, Matthew Capone, Rose Capone, and Mafalda Capone (who married John J. Maritote).

The Capone family emigrated to the United States, and settled at 95 Navy Street, in the Navy Yard section of downtown Brooklyn. Gabriele Capone worked at a nearby barber shop at 29 Park Avenue.

When Al was 11, the Capone family moved to 38 Garfield Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Capone showed promise as a student, but had trouble with the rules at his strict Catholic school. He dropped out, at the age of 14, after being expelled for hitting a female teacher in the face.

He worked at odd jobs around Brooklyn, including a candy store and a bowling alley. During this time, Capone was influenced by gangster Johnny Torrio, whom he came to regard as a mentor.

Gangland Style: Scarface

After his initial stint with small-time gangs that included the Junior Forty Thieves and the Bowery Boys, Capone joined the Brooklyn Rippers, and then the powerful Five Points Gang based in Lower Manhattan.

During this time, he was employed and mentored by fellow racketeer Frankie Yale, a bartender in a Coney Island dance hall and saloon called the Harvard Inn.

After he inadvertently insulted a woman while working the door at a Brooklyn night club, Capone was attacked by her brother, Frank Gallucio, and his face was slashed three times on the left side. These scars gave him the nickname “Scarface.”

Yale insisted that Capone apologize to Gallucio, and Capone later hired him as a bodyguard.

When photographed, Capone hid the scarred left side of his face, saying the injuries were war wounds.

Capone was called “Snorky” by his closest friends.

Marriage

On December 30, 1918, Capone married Mae Josephine Coughlin, who was Irish Catholic and who, earlier that month, had given birth to their first son, Albert Francis (“Sonny”) Capone. As Capone was under the age of 21, his parents had to consent to the marriage in writing.

Chicago

Capone departed New York for Chicago without his new wife and son, who joined him later.

In 1923, he purchased a small house at 7244 South Prairie Avenue in the Park Manor neighborhood on the city’s south side, for $5,500.

Capone was recruited for Chicago by Johnny Torrio, his Five Points Gang mentor. He saw many business opportunities there, especially bootlegging, following the onset of Prohibition. Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan gave access to a vast inland territory, and it was well-served by railroads.

Torrio took over the crime empire of James “Big Jim” Colosimo, after he was murdered. Capone was suspected in the murders of Colosimo and two other men.

City Politics

The 1924 town council elections in Cicero became known as one of the most crooked election campaigns in the Chicago area’s long history of rigged elections, with voters threatened by thugs at polling stations.

Capone’s mayoral candidate won by a huge margin – but weeks later announced that he would run Capone out of town. Capone met with his puppet-mayor, and knocked him down the town hall steps.

For Capone, the election victory was also marred by the death of his younger brother Frank at the hands of the police. Capone cried at his brother’s funeral and ordered the closure of all the speakeasies in Cicero for a day, as a mark of respect.

Cicero Power Base

The Torrio-Capone organization, as well as the Sicilian-American Genna crime family, competed with the North Side Gang of Dean O’Banion.

In May 1924, O’Banion discovered that their Sieben Brewery was about to be raided by federal agents, and sold his share to Torrio. After the raid, both O’Banion and Torrio were arrested.

Torrio’s people murdered O’Banion in revenge on October 10, 1924, provoking a gang war.

In 1925, Torrio was severely injured in an attack by the North Side Gang. He turned over his business to Capone and returned to Italy.

During the Prohibition Era, Capone controlled large portions of the Chicago underworld, which provided The Outfit with an estimated US $100 million a year in revenue. This wealth was generated through numerous illegal enterprises, such as gambling and prostitution; the highest revenue was generated by the sale of liquor.

Bootleg Operations

Capone’s transportation network moved smuggled liquor from the rum-runners of the East Coast – The Purple Gang in Detroit – who brought liquor in from Canada, with help from Belle River native Blaise Diesbourg, also known as “King Canada”.

Local production came from Midwestern moonshine operations and illegal breweries.

With the revenues gained from his bootlegging operation, Capone increased his grip on the political and law-enforcement establishments in Chicago.

He made his headquarters at Chicago’s Lexington Hotel, later nicknamed “Capone’s Castle”.

Capone’s gang operated largely free from legal intrusion, thanks to measures like the bribing of Chicago Mayor William “Big Bill” Hale Thompson.

A High Profile

Capone operated casinos and speakeasies throughout the city.

With his wealth, he indulged in custom suits, cigars, gourmet food and drink (his preferred liquor was Templeton Rye from Iowa), jewelry, and female companionship.

He garnered media attention, to which his favorite responses were “I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want,” and “All I do is satisfy a public demand.”

Capone had become a celebrity.

Backlash

His rivals – most notably North Side gangsters Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran – retaliated for the violence of Capone’s enforcement methods.

More than once, Capone’s car was riddled with bullets.

On September 20, 1926, the North Side gang shot into Capone’s entourage as he was eating lunch in the Hawthorne Hotel restaurant. A motorcade of ten vehicles, using Thompson submachine guns and shotguns, riddled the outside of the Hotel and the restaurant on the first floor of the building.

Capone’s bodyguard, Frankie Rio, threw him to the ground at the first sound of gunfire.

Several bystanders were hurt by flying glass and bullet fragments in the raid. Capone paid for the medical care of a young boy and his mother who would have lost her eyesight otherwise.

This event prompted Capone to call for a truce – but negotiations fell through.

Capone placed armed bodyguards around the clock at his headquarters at the Lexington Hotel.

Retreats and Hideouts

For his trips away from Chicago, Capone was reputed to have had several other retreats and hideouts in places including Couderay, Wisconsin.

Capone’s Couderay hideout (a popular tourist attraction in later years) is a 407-acre property, complete with a 37-acre lake which reputedly was used to land planes filled with illegal liquor for shipment south to Chicago.

As a further precaution, Capone and his entourage would often show up suddenly at one of Chicago’s train depots, and buy up an entire Pullman sleeper car on night trains to places like Cleveland, Omaha, Kansas City, Little Rock or Hot Springs – where they would spend a week in luxury hotel suites under assumed names.

In 1928, Capone bought a 14-room retreat on Palm Island, Florida, close to Miami Beach.

The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre

Details of the killing of seven victims on Saint Valentine’s Day, 1929, in a garage at 2122 North Clark Street (then the SMC Cartage Co.) in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side – and the extent of Capone’s involvement in it – are widely disputed.

No one was ever brought to trial for the crime.

The massacre was thought to be the Outfit’s effort to strike back at Bugs Moran’s North Side gang. They had been increasingly bold in hijacking the Outfit’s booze trucks, assassinating two presidents of the Outfit-controlled Unione Siciliana, and making three assassination attempts on Jack McGurn, one of Capone’s top enforcers.

To monitor their targets’ habits and movements, Capone’s men rented an apartment across from the trucking warehouse that served as a Moran headquarters.

On the morning of Thursday February 14, 1929, Capone’s lookouts allegedly signaled gunmen disguised as police to start a ‘raid’.

The fake policemen lined the seven victims along a wall, then signaled for accomplices with machine guns and shotguns.

Photos of the massacre victims shocked the public, and damaged Capone’s reputation.

Federal law enforcement now took a closer look at his activities.

Federal Investigation of Al Capone

In 1929, Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness began an investigation of Capone and his business, attempting to get a conviction for Prohibition violations.

Frank J. Wilson investigated Capone’s income tax violations – which the government decided was more likely material for a conviction.

In 1931 Capone was indicted for income tax evasion and various violations of the Volstead Act (Prohibition) at the Chicago Federal Building in the courtroom of Judge James Herbert Wilkerson.

His attorneys made a plea bargain, but the presiding judge warned that he might not follow the sentencing recommendation from the prosecution. Capone withdrew his plea of guilty.

Conviction and Imprisonment

Capone’s attempt to bribe and intimidate the potential jurors was discovered by Ness’s men, who were dubbed “The Untouchables”.

The jury pool was switched with one from another case, and Capone was stymied.

Following a long trial, on October 17 the jury returned a mixed verdict, finding Capone guilty of five counts of tax evasion and failing to file tax returns. The Volstead Act violations were dropped.

The judge sentenced him to 11 years imprisonment (at the time, the longest tax evasion sentence ever given), along with heavy fines, and liens (The right to take another’s property if an obligation is not discharged) were filed against his various properties.

Capone’s appeals of both the conviction and the sentence were denied.

One of the Capone properties seized by the federal government was an armored limousine. The car was later used to protect President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In May 1932, Capone was sent to Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary, where he was able to obtain special privileges. Later, for a short period of time, he was transferred to the Lincoln Heights Jail.

He was transferred to Alcatraz on August 11, 1934, which had been newly established as a prison on an island off San Francisco.

Al Capone at Alcatraz

On the island, the warden kept tight security and cut off Capone’s contact with colleagues.

During his early months at Alcatraz, Capone made an enemy by showing his disregard for the prison social order, when he cut in line while prisoners were waiting for a haircut.

James Lucas, a Texas bank robber serving 30 years, reportedly confronted the former syndicate leader and told him to get back to the end of the line. When Capone asked if he knew who he was, Lucas reportedly grabbed a pair of the barber’s scissors and, holding them to Capone’s neck, answered “Yeah, I know who you are, greaseball. And if you don’t get back to the end of that f – ing line, I’m gonna know who you were.”

Capone was admitted to the prison hospital with a minor wound, and released a few days later.

Gradually, his health declined, as the syphilis which he had contracted as a youth progressed. He spent the last year of his sentence in the prison hospital, confused and disoriented.

Capone completed his term in Alcatraz on January 6, 1939, and was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island in California, to serve the one-year contempt of court term he was originally sentenced to serve in Chicago’s Cook County jail.

He was paroled on November 16, 1939, and, after spending a short time in a hospital, returned to his home in Palm Island, Florida.

His Final Years

Capone’s control and interests within organized crime diminished rapidly, after his imprisonment. Additionally, 20 years of high living had seriously ravaged his health. He had lost weight, and his physical and mental health had deteriorated under the effects of neurosyphilis.

In 1946, his physician and a Baltimore psychiatrist performed examinations and concluded that Capone then had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old child. He often raved about Communists, foreigners, and Bugs Moran – who he was convinced was plotting to kill him from his Ohio prison cell.

Unable to resume his criminal career, Capone spent the last years of his life at his mansion in Florida.

On January 21, 1947, Capone had a stroke. He regained consciousness and started to improve, but contracted pneumonia.

He suffered a near-fatal cardiac arrest the next day.

On January 25, 1947 Al Capone died in his home, surrounded by his family, and was buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

And our story ends, here.

Hope I’ll see you, for the next one.

Till then.

Peace.

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