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Al Capone

“I am like any other man. All I do is supply a demand.” – Al Capone

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born on 17 January 1899 in Brooklyn, New York to immigrant parents Gabriele who was a barber and Teresa who was a seamstress, both of whom were from just outside Naples, Italy and had moved to the USA in 1893. He had eight siblings and most went on to join their brother in his criminal exploits except for Vincenzo who changed his name to Richard Hart and ironically became a prohibition agent in Nebraska. 

Alphonse attended a strict Catholic school and although he had the aptitude to be a promising student, he struggled with authority and ultimately he would be kicked out of school at the age of 14 after he hit one of his teachers. He had several jobs afterwards including in a candy store and a bowling alley. He even tried his hand at baseball and found that he was rather good and played semi-professionally for a couple of years until 1918 when on 30 December, at the age of 19 he married Mae Josephine Coughlin shortly after she had given birth to their son Albert Francis Capone, who was known as Sonny.

Alphonse had always been influenced by gang culture and had been involved with various ones in New York including the Bowery Boys, the Brooklyn Rippers and the Five Points Gang. It was during this time that, whilst working the door at a Coney Island dance hall called the Harvard Inn, that he was attacked by Frank Galluccio, the brother of a woman he had inadvertently insulted. He was slashed three times on the left side of his face with a knife and Alphonse from that point forward would be known by the nickname ‘Scarface’, which he despised.

In 1919 Alphonse moved to Chicago and started working as a bouncer in a brothel for mobster Johnny Torrio, who at that time was an enforcer for a mafia crime boss called James Colosimo, otherwise known as Big Jim. It was while he was working at the brothel that Alphonse contracted syphilis and although treatment was available, he never sought it.

The following year, on 11 May, Big Jim Colosimo was murdered, and it was suspected that Capone was involved. Whether he was or he wasn’t, he became right-hand man to Johnny Torrio when he took over Big Jim’s criminal empire, which was known as the Chicago Outfit, and was the biggest in the city.

Early in 1926 both Capone and Johnny Torrio were attacked in separate incidents with Torrio being shot several times, in an attempt at retribution for Torrio’s involvement in the murder of the head of the North Side Gang, Dean O’Banion. Both recovered but the incident prompted Torrio to hand control over to Al Capone who, at the age of only 26 became the new boss of a criminal empire that boasted illegal breweries with protection from law enforcement and politicians.

In the days of Johnny Torrio control and expansion of the Chicago Outfit, was mostly achieved through negotiation with few outbursts of violence. However, now that Al Capone was in charge, the violence increased, and so did revenue, allowing Capone to treat himself to women, custom jewellery, gourmet food and tailored suits.

Capone became increasingly concerned with security though, and it wasn’t unusual for him to turn up unannounced at a Chicago train station and buy up all the seats in one of the Pullman cars so that he could travel to places like Kansas City, Little Rock and Hot Springs where he and his entourage would stay in luxury hotel suites under assumed names.

As well as indulging in a luxurious lifestyle, he also tried to keep a clean image and donated to charities and even sponsored a soup kitchen during the depression.

In 1929, with tensions intensifying between the Chicago Outfit and the North Side Gang, it is widely thought that Al Capone ordered the murder of Bugs Moran, the North Side Gang’s boss, with Capone’s men staging a fake police raid on Moran’s headquarters at 2122 North Clark Street resulting in seven men being lined up against a wall before being cut down with machine guns and shotguns. Bugs Moran was not among them, but the resulting images in the newspaper shocked public opinion and damaged Capone’s reputation. Only a few days after the incident, which became known as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, Capone was ordered to appear in front of a grand jury, but he claimed he was too ill to attend. That wouldn’t be the end of it though, as the publisher of the Chicago Daily News, Walter A. Strong decided to enlist the help of a friend, who just happened to be the newly inaugurated President Herbert Hoover, who agreed to direct all Federal agencies to concentrate on bringing Al Capone to justice since all local agencies in Chicago seemed to be in his pocket.  

Al Capone had been careful though. None of his property was owned in his name, he didn’t even have a bank account. If he needed cash, he used Western Union to transfer it, but never in chunks greater than $1000. Consequently, there were no paper trails that led back to him making it almost impossible for federal authorities to pin anything on him, but that didn’t stop them trying.

Capone was arrested on 27 March 1929 charged with contempt of court and on 16 May the same year, he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. After pleading guilty he served twelve months in  prison and was released on 30 March 1930. He was even arrested for vagrancy during a visit to Miami Beach.

In 1930, Al Capone’s brother Ralph was tried for tax evasion. This prompted Capone’s lawyer to make an offer to pay back taxes for various years. This offer was the evidence of income that the government needed, and Al Capone was arrested and on 13 March 1931, he was charged with income tax evasion for the year 1924. On 5 June, he was indicted by a grand jury and faced 22 counts of income tax evasion for the years 1925 to 1929.

On 17 October 1931 Al Capone was convicted on three counts of income tax evasion and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Following unsuccessful appeals, he arrived at Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary in May 1933 weighing 110kg and suffering from syphilis and gonorrhoea as well as the withdrawal symptoms of cocaine abuse.

After accusations of preferential treatment, arrangements were made in August the following year to move Al Capone to the newly opened Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco. An attempt was made on his life when he was stabbed by a fellow inmate on 23 June 1936 but the wounds were superficial and he made a full recovery. However, he was not recovering mentally and a formal diagnosis of syphilis of the brain was made in February 1938.

He was transferred from Alcatraz to a low-security facility called Terminal Island in California on 6 January 1939 but was paroled after an appeal by his wife Mae on health grounds on 16 November the same year. He was referred to Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment for paresis, but they refused to take him and instead received care at Union Memorial Hospital before heading for his mansion in Palm Island, Florida to spend time with his wife and grandchildren.

In 1942 Al Capone was one of the first civilians to receive penicillin but although the new miracle drug was effective at slowing down the progression of his paresis, it couldn’t reverse its effects and on 25 January 1947 following a stroke and cardiac arrest he died at home surrounded by his family only eight days after his 48th birthday. Over 100 people were likely killed during bombings that were probably ordered by Al Capone of rival breweries that wouldn’t join the Chicago Outfit during his rise to power. On top of this number, a further 33 people have been identified as having met their fate as a result of Al Capone’s orders and are listed in an article by Guy Murchie Jr that was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on 9 February 1936, all of which has led to Al Capone being labelled as one of the most notorious gangsters of the 20th century.

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