|Born||January 17, 1899
Brooklyn, New York, United States
|Died||January 25, 1947 (aged 48)
Palm Island (Florida), U.S.
|Penalty||10 year sentence in Alcatraz|
|Occupation||Gangster, bootlegger, racketeer|
|Children||Albert Francis Capone|
Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947) was an American gangster who led a crime syndicate dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging of liquor and other illegal activities during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and 1930s.
Born in Brooklyn to Southwestern Italian immigrants Gabriele and Teresina Capone, Capone began his career in Brooklyn before moving to Chicago and becoming the boss of the criminal organization known as the Chicago Outfit – though his business card reportedly described him as a used furniture dealer.
Although he was never successfully convicted of racketeering charges, Capone's mobster career ended in 1931, when he was indicted and convicted by the federal government for income-tax evasion. He was sent to a series of prisons including Alcatraz, which was the longest and most famous of his sentences.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City to Gabriele (December 12, 1864 – November 14, 1920) and Teresina Capone (December 28, 1867 – November 29, 1952), on January 17, 1899. Gabriele was a barber from Castellammare di Stabia, a town about 16 miles (24 km) south of Naples, Italy. Teresina was a seamstress and the daughter of Angelo Raiola from Angri, a town in the province of Salerno.
Gabriele and Teresina had 8 children: James Capone (1892 – October 1, 1952), Raffaele Capone (who was also known as Ralph "Bottles" Capone and later placed in charge of Al Capone's beverage industry; January 12, 1894 – November 22, 1974), Salvatore "Frank" Capone (January 1895 – April 1, 1924), Alphonse "Scarface Al" Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947), John Capone (1901 - 1994), Albert Capone (1906 - June 1980), Matthew Capone (1908 – January 31, 1967), Rose Capone (born and died 1910) and Mafalda Capone (later Mrs. John J. Maritote, January 28, 1912 – March 25, 1988).
The Capone family immigrated to the United States in 1893 and settled at 95 Navy Street, in the Navy Yard section of downtown Brooklyn, near the Barber Shop that employed Gabriele at 29 Park Avenue. When Al was 11, the Capone family moved to 38 Garfield Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Capone dropped out of the New York Public school system at the age of 14, after being expelled from Public School 133. He then worked at odd jobs around Brooklyn, including in 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 figure.
After his initial stint with small-time gangs, including The Junior Forty Thieves, Capone joined the Brooklyn Rippers and then the notorious Five Points Gang. He was mentored and employed by racketeer Frankie Yale and bartender in a Coney Island dance hall and saloon called the Harvard Inn. It was in this field that Capone received the scars that gave him the nickname "Scarface"; he inadvertently insulted a woman while working the door at a Brooklyn night club, provoking a fight with her brother Frank Gallucio. Capone's face was slashed three times on the left side. Capone apologized to Gallucio at Yale's request and would hire his attacker as a bodyguard in later life. When photographed, Capone hid the scarred left side of his face and would misrepresent his injuries as war wounds. According to the 2002 magazine article from Life called Mobsters and Gangsters: from Al Capone to Tony Soprano, Capone was called "Snorky" by his closest friends.
On December 30, 1918, Capone wanted to get married, he was under the age of 21 and his parents were required to sign a Consent Form agreeing to allow their already tough guy son to marry. The consent was executed and Capone married Mae Josephine Coughlin. Earlier that month she had given birth to their son, Albert Francis ("Sonny") Capone. Capone departed New York for Chicago, without his new wife and son, who would join him later. Capone purchased a modest house at 7244 South Prairie Ave. in the Park Manor neighborhood on the City's south side in 1923 for USD $5,500.
Capone came at the invitation of Johnny Torrio, his Five Point Gang mentor who had gone to Chicago to resolve some family problems his cousin's husband was having with the Black Hand. He quickly resolved the issue by killing members of the Black Hand who had given his cousin's husband problems. He saw many business opportunities in Chicago, bootlegging following the onset of prohibition. Torrio had acquired the crime empire of James "Big Jim" Colosimo after the latter refused to enter this new area of business and was subsequently murdered (presumably by Frankie Yale, although legal proceedings against him had to be dropped due to a lack of evidence). Capone was also a suspect for two murders and a rape at the time, and was seeking a safe haven and a better job to provide for his new family. Capone was known to have been brought up in a deeply religious background, his mother a devout Roman Catholic.
After the 1923 election of reform mayor William Emmett Dever, Chicago's city government began to put pressure on the gangster elements inside the city limits. To put its headquarters outside of city jurisdiction and create a safe zone for its operations, the Capone organization muscled its way into Cicero, Illinois. This led to one of Capone's greatest triumphs: the takeover of Cicero's town government in 1924. Cicero gangster Myles O'Donnell and his brother William "Klondike" O'Donnell fought with Capone over their home turf. The war resulted in over 200 deaths, including that of the infamous "Hanging Prosecutor" Bill McSwiggins.
The 1924 town council elections in Cicero became known as one of the most crooked elections in the Chicago area's long history, with voters threatened at polling stations by thugs. Capone's mayoral candidate won by a huge margin but only weeks later announced that he would run Capone out of town. Capone met with his puppet-mayor and personally knocked him down the town hall steps, a powerful assertion of gangster power and a major victory for the Torrio-Capone alliance.
For Capone, this event was marred by the death of his brother Frank at the hands of the police. Capone cried openly at his brother's funeral and ordered the closure of all the speakeasies in Cicero for a day as a mark of respect.
Much of Capone's family put down roots in Cicero as well. In 1930, Capone's sister Mafalda's marriage to John J. Maritote took place at St. Mary of Czestochowa, a massive Neogothic edifice towering over Cicero Avenue in the so-called Polish Cathedral style.
Severely injured in a 1925 assassination attempt by the North Side Gang, the shaken Torrio turned over his business to Capone and returned to Italy. Capone was notorious during the Prohibition Era for his control of large portions of the Chicago underworld, which provided the Outfit with an estimated US $100 million per year in revenue. This wealth was generated through all manner of illegal enterprises, such as gambling and prostitution, although the largest moneymaker was the sale of liquor. In those days Capone had the habit of "interviewing" new prostitutes for his club himself.1
Demand was met by a transportation network that moved smuggled liquor from the rum-runners of the East Coast and The Purple Gang in Detroit and local production in the form of Midwestern moonshine operations and illegal breweries. With the funds generated by his bootlegging operation, Capone's grip on the political and law-enforcement establishments in Chicago grew stronger. He soon established a headquarters at Chicago's Lexington Hotel. This was soon nicknamed "Capone's Castle" after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Through this organized corruption, which included the bribing of Mayor of Chicago William "Big Bill" Hale Thompson, Capone's gang operated largely free from legal intrusion, operating casinos and speakeasies throughout Chicago. Wealth also permitted Capone to indulge in a luxurious lifestyle of 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 was "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.
The violence that led to Capone's unprecedented level of criminal success drew the ire of Capone's rivals, and spurred their retaliation, particularly by bitter rivals, North Side gangsters Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran. More than once, Capone's car was riddled with bullets.
In a particularly unnerving incident on September 20, 1926, the North Side gang shot into Capone's entourage as he was eating lunch in the restaurant of the Hawthorne Hotel. 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 and lay on top of "The Big Fellow", as the headquarters was riddled with bullet holes. Several bystanders were hurt from flying glass and bullet fragmentation in the raid, including a young boy and his mother who would have lost her eyesight had not Capone paid for top-dollar medical care. This event prompted Capone to call for a truce. Negotiations fell through.
These attacks prompted Capone to fit his Cadillac with bullet-proof glass, run-flat tires, and a police siren. Every attempt on his life (by Moran, who was almost certainly involved in most of the attacks) left him increasingly shaken. This car was seized by the Treasury Department in 1932 and was later used as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's limousine.
Capone placed armed bodyguards around the clock at his headquarters at the Lexington Hotel, at 22nd Street (later renamed Cermak Road) and Michigan Avenue. For his trips away from Chicago, Capone was reputed to have had several other retreats and hideouts located in Brookfield, Wisconsin; Saint Paul, Minnesota; Olean, New York; French Lick, as well as Terre Haute, Indiana; Dubuque, Iowa; Jacksonville, Florida; Hot Springs, Arkansas; where former New York Goffer Gang member Owney "The Killer" Madden retired and married the postmaster's daughter. Owney and the old gang never lost contact and were always welcome to visit for a safe peaceful vacation. First time Luciano was arrested was in Hot Springs. Johnson City, Tennessee; Grand Haven, Michigan and Lansing, Michigan. As a further precaution, Capone and his entourage would often suddenly show up 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 and Little Rock/Hot Springs in Arkansas, where they would spend a week in luxury hotel suites under assumed names with the apparent knowledge and connivance of local authorities. In 1928, Capone bought a 14-room retreat on Palm Island, Florida close to Miami Beach.
The bloody events of February 14, 1929 began nearly five years before with the murder of Dion O’Banion, the leader of Chicago’s north side mob. At that time, control of bootleg liquor in the city raged back and forth between the North Siders, run by O’Banion, and the south side Outfit, which was controlled by Johnny Torrio and his henchman, Al Capone. In November 1924, Torrio ordered the assassination of O’Banion and started an all-out war in the city. The North Siders retaliated soon afterward and nearly killed Torrio outside of his home. This brush with death led to him leaving the city and turning over operations to Capone, who was almost killed himself in September 1926. Capone arranged the most notorious gangland killing of the century, the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Chicago's North Side, although details of the killing of the seven victims in a garage at 2122 North Clark Street (then the SMC Cartage Co.) are widely disputed and no one was ever brought to trial for the crime.
The massacre was The Outfit's effort to strike back at Bugs Moran's North Side gang, which had become increasingly bold in hijacking the Outfit's booze trucks, assassinating two presidents of the Outfit-controlled Unione Siciliane, and three assassination attempts on one of Capone's top enforcers, Jack McGurn.
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 signaled gunmen disguised as police to start a 'raid'. The faux police lined the seven victims along a wall without a struggle then signaled for accomplices with machine guns. The seven victims were machine-gunned and shot-gunned, each with fifteen to twenty or more bullets.
Photos of the massacre shocked the public and greatly harmed Capone in the public opinion thereby prompting federal law enforcement to focus more closely on investigating his activities.
In 1929, Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness began a successful investigation of Capone and his business. Shutting down many breweries and speakeasies Capone owned, Ness brought down his empire slowly. To lie low, Capone arranged to have himself jailed in a comfortable cell at Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary for nine months beginning August 1929. Upon his return to Chicago, he quickly found himself in the legal quagmire that effectively removed him from power.
In 1931 Capone was indicted for income tax evasion and various violations of the Volstead Act. Facing overwhelming evidence, his attorneys made a plea deal, but the presiding judge warned he might not follow the sentencing recommendation from the prosecution, so Capone withdrew his plea of guilty. Attempting to bribe and intimidate the potential jurors, his plan was discovered by Ness's men. The venire (jury pool) was then switched with one from another case, and Capone was stymied. Following a long trial, he was found guilty on some income tax evasion counts (the Volstead Act violations were dropped). The judge gave him an eleven-year sentence along with heavy fines, and liens were filed against his various properties. His appeal was denied. In May 1932, Capone was sent to Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary, a tough federal prison, but he was able to obtain special privileges. Later, for a short period of time, he was transferred to the Lincoln Heights Jail. He was then transferred to Alcatraz, where tight security and an uncompromising warden ensured that Capone had no contact with the outside world. His isolation from his associates and the repeal of Prohibition in December, 1933, precipitously diminished his power.
Though he adjusted relatively well to his new environment, his health declined as the syphilis he caught as a youth progressed. Antibiotics to cure the disease (i.e.penicillin) existed, but their use in the treatment of syphillis was not yet known. 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 his one-year misdemeanor sentence. He was paroled on November 16, 1939, spent a short time in a hospital, then returned to his home in Palm Island, Florida.
Capone's control and interests within organized crime diminished rapidly after his imprisonment, and he was no longer able to run the Outfit after his release. He had lost weight, and his physical and mental health had deteriorated under the effects of neurosyphilis. He often raved on about Communists, foreigners, and George Moran, who he was convinced was still plotting to kill him from his Ohio prison cell.
Capone was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, in Chicago's far Southwest Side between the graves of his father, Gabriele, and brother, Frank. However, in March 1950, the remains of all three family members were moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois, west of Chicago.
One of the most notorious American gangsters of the 20th century, Capone has been the subject of numerous articles, books, and films. Capone's personality and character have been used in fiction as a model for crime lords and criminal masterminds ever since his death. The stereotypical image of a mobster wearing a blue pinstriped suit and tilted fedora is based on photos of Capone. His accent, mannerisms, facial construction, sometimes his physical stature, and parodies of his name have been used for numerous gangsters in comics, movies, and literature.
Capone has been portrayed on screen by:
Actors playing characters based on Capone include:
|Chicago Outfit Boss