Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947) was an American gangster who led a Prohibition-era crime syndicate. The Chicago Outfit, which subsequently became known as the "Capones", was dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging liquor, and other illegal activities such as prostitution, in Chicago from the early 1920s to 1931.
Born in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City to Italian immigrants, Capone became involved with gang activity at a young age after being expelled from school at age 14.In his early twenties, he moved to Chicago to take advantage of a new opportunity to make money smuggling illegal alcoholic beverages into the city during Prohibition. He also engaged in various other criminal activities, including bribery of government figures and prostitution. Despite his illegitimate occupation, 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 to be a "modern-day Robin Hood".
Capone's public reputation was damaged in the wake of his supposed involvement in the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, when seven rival gang members were executed. Capone was convicted on federal charges of tax evasion, and sentenced to federal prison. His incarceration included a term at the then-new Alcatraz federal prison. In the final years of Capone's life, he suffered mental and physical deterioration due to late-stage neurosyphilis, which he had contracted in his youth. On January 25, 1947, he died from cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke.
Early life Edit
Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in the borough of Brooklyn in New York on January 17, 1899. His parents, Gabriele (December 12, 1864 – November 14, 1920) and Teresina Capone (December 28, 1867 – November 29, 1952), 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), Raffaele Capone (also known as 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 immigrated to the United States, first immigrating from Italy to Rijeka, Croatia in 1893, traveling on a ship to U.S 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 parochial Catholic school. He dropped out of school 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.
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. Capone received the scars that gave him the nickname "Scarface" in a fight. After he inadvertently insulted a woman while working the door at a Brooklyn night club, Capone was attacked by her brother Frank Gallucio; his face was slashed three times on the left side. Yale insisted that Capone apologize to Gallucio, and later Capone hired him as a bodyguard. When photographed, Capone hid the scarred left side of his face. He said the injuries were war wounds. Capone was called "Snorky" by his closest friends.
Marriage and family Edit
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 career Edit
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 USD $5,500.
Capone was recruited for Chicago by Johnny Torrio, his Five Points Gang mentor. Torrio had gone there to resolve some family problems his cousin's husband was having with the Black Hand. Torrio killed the members of the Black Hand who had given his cousin's husband problems. He saw many business opportunities in Chicago, 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. Yale was a suspect but legal proceedings against him were dropped due to a lack of evidence. Capone was suspected in the murders of Colosimo and two other men. He was seeking a safe haven and a better job to provide for his new family.
The 1924 town council elections in Cicero became known as one of the most crooked elections 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 and 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 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.
Much of Capone's family settled in Cicero as well. In 1930, Capone's sister Mafalda married John J. Maritote at St. Mary of Częstochowa, a massive Neogothic edifice towering over Cicero Avenue in the Polish Cathedral style.
Capone's power grows in Cicero Edit
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 going 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 per year in revenue. This wealth was generated through numerous illegal vice enterprises, such as gambling and prostitution; the highest revenue was generated by the sale of liquor. Al Capone made a stagering 100 million dollars in personal revenue.
His 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," and local production which came from Midwestern moonshine operations and illegal breweries. With the revenues gained by 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; after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, it was nicknamed "Capone's Castle".
The organized corruption included the bribing of Chicago Mayor William "Big Bill" Hale Thompson, and Capone's gang operated largely free from legal intrusion. He 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.
His rivals retaliated for the violence of Capone's enforcement of control. North Side gangsters Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran wanted to bring him down. 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 from 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. The attacks were believed to have been made at Moran's direction and left Capone shaken.
Capone had his Cadillac fitted with bullet-proof glass, run-flat tires and a police siren. In 1932, Treasury agents working on prohibition issues seized the car; it 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 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. Former New York gang member Owney "The Killer" Madden retired to Hot Springs and invited his former colleagues to visit him there; this was also the place that Lucky Luciano was first arrested. 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 such as 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.
Saint Valentine's Day Massacre Edit
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre eliminated some of Capone's enemies, but outraged the general public It is believed that Capone ordered the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Chicago's North Side. Details of the killing of the seven victims in a garage at 2122 North Clark Street (then the SMC Cartage Co.) and the extent of Capone's involvement 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 made three assassination attempts on Jack McGurn, a top enforcer of Capone.
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.
Conviction and imprisonment Edit
In 1929, the 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 deal, but the presiding judge warned he might not follow the sentencing recommendation from the prosecution. Capone withdrew his plea of guilty.
His attempt to bribe and intimidate the potential jurors was discovered by Ness's men, The Untouchables. The venire (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 were filed against his various properties. His appeals of both the conviction and the sentence were denied.
In May 1932, Capone was sent to Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary, 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 transferred to Alcatraz on August 11, 1934, which was newly established as a prison on an island off San Francisco. The warden kept tight security and cut off Capone's contact with colleagues. His isolation and the repeal of Prohibition in December 1933, which reduced a major source of revenue, diminished his power.
Al Capone at Alcatraz Edit
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 at 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 fucking line, I'm gonna know who you were."
Capone was admitted into the prison hospital with a minor wound and released a few days later. In addition, 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 having spent a short time in a hospital, returned to his home in Palm Island, Florida.
Later years and death Edit
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 capability of a 12-year-old child. He often raved about Communists, foreigners, and Bugs Moran, whom 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 fatal cardiac arrest the next day. On January 25, 1947 Al Capone died in his home, surrounded by his family.
In popular culture Edit
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, physical stature, and parodies of his name have been used for numerous gangsters in comics, movies, music, and literature.
Capone is featured in Mario Puzo's The Godfather in a segment in which Luca Brasi kills two henchmen sent by Capone to kill Don Vito Corleone.
Capone is featured in the Kinky Friedman novel, The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover (1997).
Al Capone is referenced in Gennifer Choldenko's 2004 historical fiction book, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and its sequel Al Capone Shines My Shoes.
In a book of photographs titled New York City Gangland (2010), both Capone and his NYC bootlegging ally, Giuseppe Masseria, appear in Prohibition-era "bathing beauty" portraits.
A reincarnated Capone is a major character in science fiction author Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy.
Capone's appearance was the model for the dummy of Batman villain the Ventriloquist, aptly named Scarface.
Capone's niece, Deirdre Marie Capone, wrote a book titled Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story from Inside His Family.
The young Capone is featured extensively in the 2010 HBO production Boardwalk Empire
Al Capone is a central character in the fantasy novel Cosa Nosferatu, which imagines Capone and Eliot Ness entangled with Randolph Carter and other elements of H.P. Lovecraft mythos.
Film and television
Capone has been portrayed on screen by:
Rod Steiger in Al Capone (1959).
Neville Brand in the TV series The Untouchables and again in the movie The George Raft Story (1961).
José Calvo in Due mafiosi contro Al Capone (1966).
Jason Robards in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967).
Ben Gazzara in Capone (1975).
Robert De Niro in The Untouchables (1987).
Ray Sharkey in The Revenge of Al Capone (1989)
Eric Roberts in The Lost Capone (1990)
William Forsythe in The Untouchables (1993–1994)
William Devane as Al Capone in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (13 November 1994)
F. Murray Abraham in Dillinger and Capone (1995).
Anthony LaPaglia in Road to Perdition (2002), in a deleted scene.
Julian Littman in Al's Lads (2002)
Jon Bernthal in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009).
Stephen Graham in Boardwalk Empire (2010)
Actors playing characters based on Capone include:
Wallace Beery as Louis 'Louie' Scorpio in The Secret Six (1931).
Ricardo Cortez as Goldie Gorio in Bad Company (1931).
Paul Lukas as Big Fellow Maskal in City Streets (1931).
Edward Arnold as Duke Morgan in Okay, America! (1932).
Jean Hersholt as Samuel 'Sam' Belmonte in The Beast of the City (1932).
Paul Muni as Antonio 'Tony' Camonte in Scarface (1932).
C. Henry Gordon as Nick Diamond in Gabriel Over the White House (1933).
John Litel as 'Gat' Brady in Alcatraz Island (1937).
Barry Sullivan as Shubunka in The Gangster (1947).
Ralph Volkie as Big Fellow in The Undercover Man (1949).
Edmond O'Brien as Fran McCarg in Pete Kelly's Blues (1955).
Lee J. Cobb as Rico Angelo in Party Girl (1958).
George Raft as Spats Colombo and Nehemiah Persoff as Little Bonaparte in Some Like It Hot (1959).
Frank Ronzio as Litmus in Escape from Alcatraz (1979) introduces himself to newcomer Charlie Butts as "Al Capone". The movie is set in 1962, 15 years after Capone's death.
Al Pacino as Alphonse "Big Boy" Caprice in Dick Tracy (1990).
Prince Buster, Jamaican ska and rocksteady musician, had his first hit in the UK with the single "Al Capone" in 1967.
The Specials, a UK ska revival group, reworked Prince Buster's track into their first single, "Gangsters", which featured the line "Don't call me Scarface!"
Paper Lace, "The Night Chicago Died" is a song by the British group Paper Lace, written by Peter Callander and Mitch Murray. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week in 1974. It is about a fictional shoot-out in Chicago between Al Capone's Gang and the Chicago Police.Quote from the song "When a man named Al Capone Tried to make that town his own And he called his gang to war With the forces of the law"
Al Capone is referenced heavily in Prodigy's track "Al Capone Zone", produced by The Alchemist and featuring Keak Da Sneak.
Al Capone transcribed a love song called Madonna Mia while in prison. In May 2009, his rendition of the song was recorded for the first time in history.
He is referenced in a homonymous song by Brazilian singer Raul Seixas. His name also appears in the (not so well known) song Stone Cold Crazy by Queen. Megadeth's song "Public Enemy No. 1" is about Capone.
Al Capone is referenced in song lyrics by the group: TESLA. (Album: Mechnical Resonance. Year: 1986. Song: Modern Day Cowboy-track 7. "Al Capone and his bad boy Jones...")
Sport Fans of Serbian football club Partizan are using Al Capone's character as a mascot for one of their subgroups called "Alcatraz", named after a prison in which Al Capone served his sentence. Also, in honour of Capone, a graffiti representation of him exists in the center of Belgrade.