Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947), commonly nicknamed Scarface, was an American gangster who led a streaking [1]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, New York, to Southwestern Italian imigrants 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 (although his business card reportedly described him as a used furniture dealer).[2]

By the end of the 1920s,Capone had gained the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation following his being placed on the Chicago Crime Commission's "public enemies" list. Although never successfully convicted of racketeering charges, Capone's criminal career ended in 1931, when he was indicted and convicted by the federal government for income-tax evasion.

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born In Brooklyn, New York to Gabriele (December 12, 1864 – November 14, 1920) and his wife Teresina Bobone (December 28, 1867 – November 29, 1952), on January 17, 1899.[3] Gabriele was a barber from Castellammare di Stabia, a town about 15 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 Teresinha had 10 children: Vincenzo Capone (1892 – October 1, 1952), Raffaele Capone (January 12, 1894 – November 22, 1974), Salvatore Capone (January 1895 – April 1 , 1924) Alphonse Carlota diaz (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947), (born 1901, date of death unknown), Umberto Capone (1906 – June 1980), Matthew Capone (1908 – January 31, 1967), Rose Capone (born and died 1910) and Mafalda Gonzalez (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,[4] in the Navy Yard section of downtown Brooklyn, near the Barber Shop that employed Gabriele at 29 Park Avenue.[4] When Al was 11, the Capone family moved to 21 Garfield Place[4] in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Capone left school in the fifth-grade at age 11, after being expelled from Catholic School 133. He then worked at odd jobs around Brooklyn, including in a candy store and a bowling alley.[5] During this time, Capone was influenced by gangster Johnny Torrio, whom he came to regard as a mentor figure.[6]

After his initial stint with small-time gangs, including The Junior Forty Thieves, Capone joined the Five Points Juniors, and then the notorious Five Points Gang. He was mentored by and employed as a bouncer in a Coney Island dance hall and saloon called the Harvard Inn by racketeer Frankie Yale.[7][8] It was in this field that Capone received the scars that gave him the nickname "Scarface";[9] 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.[10][11] When photographed, Capone hid the scarred left side of his face and would misrepresent his injuries as war wounds.[10][12] According to the 2002 magazine from Life called Mobsters and Gangsters: from Al Capone to Tony Soprano, Capone was called "Snorky" by his closest friends.[13]

On December 30, 1918, Capone married Mae Josephine Coughlin, an Irish woman.[11] Earlier that month she had given birth to their son, Albert Francis ("Sonny") Capone.[11]

The date of Capone's departure from New York, with his family, to Chicago is usually set around the year of 1921.[14] Capone came at the invitation of Torrio, who was seeking business opportunities in 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.)[15] Capone was also a suspect for two murders at the time, and was seeking a better job to provide for his new family.[16]

After the 1923 election of reform mayor William Emmett Dever Chicago, 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. As was the custom amongst gangsters, Capone signaled his mourning by attending the funeral unshaven, and he cried openly at the gathering. He 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 $10 million per year in revenue. This wealth was generated through all manner of illegal enterprises, such as gambling and prostitution,[9] although the largest moneymaker was the sale of liquor. In those days Capone had the habit of "interviewing" new prostitutes for his club himself. He contracted syphilis, a disease that was not treatable at the time (antibiotics had not been discovered) and would lead to his death many years later.

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.

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 were "I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want" and "All I do is satisfy a public demand."[9] Capone became a celebrity.[9]

However, this unprecedented level of criminal success drew the attention of Capone's rivals, particularly his bitter rivalries with North Side gangsters such as Dion O'Banion, Bugs Moran and lieutenant Earl "Hymie" Weiss. Such opposition led to attempts to assassinate Capone throughout the 1920s. He was shot in a restaurant, and he had his car riddled with bullets more than once.

These attacks prompted Capone to fit his Cadillac with armor plating, bullet-proof glass, run-flat tires, and a police siren. Most of the would-be assassins were incompetent and Capone was never seriously wounded, but every attempt on his life left him increasingly shaken and slightly afraid of Moran, who was almost certainly involved in most of the attacks.

Members of the gang that had wounded Torrio shot into the headquarters of Capone's gang, which was disguised as a doctor's office and an antique dealer's shop. Nobody was hurt in the raid (Capone's bodyguard threw him to the ground at the first sound of gunfire), although the headquarters was riddled with bullet holes. This event forced him to call for a truce, one that would be short-lived.

When the headquarters moved to the Lexington Hotel, Capone had it filled with his armed bodyguards around the clock. 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; Hot Springs, Arkansas; Johnson City, Tennessee; and Lansing, Michigan. Tunnels found under the city of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, are said to have been another hideout of Capone's. As a further precaution, Capone and his entourage would often suddenly show up at a 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 a luxury hotel suite under assumed names with the apparent knowledge and connivance of local authorities. In 1928, Capone bought a 14-room retreat[9] on Palm Island, Florida close to Miami Beach.

Capone considered Moran to be a homicidal lunatic, and lived in fear of the Moran gang. The fusillade launched against his headquarters, where at least ten gunmen fired for over ten minutes, must have been particularly unnerving. Even in his last days as he lay ravaged by syphilis, Capone raved on about Communists, foreigners, and George Moran, whom he was convinced was still plotting to kill him from his Ohio prison cell.

 St. Valentine's Day Massacre(see below)

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre eliminated Capone's enemies, but outraged the general public

Capone (through his henchman Murray the Hump) orchestrated the most notorious gangland killing of the century, the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Chicago's North Side. Although details of the killing of the seven victims[9] in a garage at 2122 North Clark Street (then the SMC Cartage Co.) are still in dispute and no one was ever indicted for the crime, their deaths are generally linked to Capone and his henchmen, especially Murray the Hump (Llewellyn Morris Humphreys (1899-1965)) and Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn. McGurn is thought to have led the operation, using gunmen disguised as police and toting shotguns and Thompson submachine guns.

The massacre was Capone's effort to dispose of organized crime rival "Bugs" Moran. The North Side gang had become increasingly bold in hijacking the Outfit's booze trucks and encroaching on the South Side and Capone was ready to put it to an end.

After all efforts to secure a truce had failed, Capone, his accountant/chief extortionist Jake "Greasy Thumb" Gusik, and Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti agreed that they'd have to risk the political heat that would come from wiping out Moran and his gang or face eventual elimination at the hands of the North Siders. They assigned the task to McGurn and told him to use "outside torpedoes" to avoid implication. McGurn secured the services of triggermen from New York, Tennessee, Detroit, and downstate Illinois.

They rented an apartment across from the Clark Street trucking garage that served as a Moran headquarters to monitor their targets' habits and movements and placed a call to the garage offering to sell a truckload of whiskey stolen by freelancing Sicilian immigrants from a Capone shipment. Such freelancers often hijacked such shipments from both gangs and sold them to the highest bidders, so no suspicions were aroused in the Moran camp. The stolen booze (high-grade Canadian whiskey) was brought to the garage, and the deal was done.

As hoped, the entire Moran gang was there. Unknown to the North Siders, these "freelancers" were being paid by McGurn to set them up for the kill. On February 13, the freelancers called again and set up another transaction for the next day. The freelancers were expected to drive the truck right into the garage, where McGurn hoped the entire Moran gang would again be assembled. At the set time, a stolen Chicago police car pulled up and uniformed "officers" entered the building, along with others who had been standing nearby.

Apparently, the gang members thought that they had been scammed and that they had been set up for a raid. They sheepishly lined up to cooperate in the belief that their lawyers would fix things downtown, as they had many times before. Moran arrived 10 minutes late, spotting what he thought to be a police car outside, decided to keep walking and did not enter the garage.

It is believed that a local optometrist was also one of the victims, an innocent bystander and not part of Moran's gang.[9] The optometrist, who supplemented his income through bootlegging and liked to hang out at the garage with the gang members, had been mistaken that morning for Moran because he was of similar height and wore the same color gray hat and coat favored by the North Side chieftain. After the supposed Moran entered, the lookouts triggered the "raid." At the last moment one of the gang-members realized that Chicago police officers never carried machine guns, but it was too late.

Forensic evidence shows that the seven victims were almost cut in two by machine gun fire and that many of the victims had their faces shot off by shotgun blasts for good measure. The photos would cause public sympathy to fall out of Capone's favor, and federal law enforcement to focus more closely on investigating Capone's activities.[9]

However, the local police turned the other way in regards to the events. They made no real efforts to solve the crime or delve further into the killings.[9] People in the neighborhood saw the police go in and heard what they thought were a series of backfires, which were common at a garage. The "police" later led some men out to the car and left.

The grisly scene was discovered after the mechanic's dog began to howl so loudly that neighbors went in to see what was wrong. Frank Gusenberg, a member of the Moran gang, survived long enough to be questioned in a hospital before he died. However, when asked "Who shot you?" Frank replied, "Nobody shot me," denying any justice on the murderers.

Although Moran escaped, all his chief deputies were killed and his illegal liquor operation in Chicago rapidly declined. When asked by reporters if he believed Capone was behind the killings, Moran scornfully replied "Only Capone kills like that!"

An indignant Capone countered, "Oh yeah! Listen ... they don't call that guy 'Bugs' for nothing!" in a reference to Moran's reputation for savagery. With his remaining resources, Moran marked Capone and his key underlings for extermination.

Capone arranged to have himself jailed in Philadelphia for a year to avoid numerous "murder for hire" outfits that were hunting for him. McGurn was gunned down at a bowling alley on the anniversary of the garage slaughter, and two others involved in the killing disappeared.

Moran eventually ran out of resources and fled to Ohio, allowing Capone to return to Chicago, where he quickly found himself in the legal quagmire that effectively removed him from power. It is generally thought that Capone precipitated his own decline with the garage killings. Graphic photos of bodies lying in pools of blood were plastered all over the papers.

A secret convocation of Chicago civic leaders initiated an all-out effort to drive Capone from power. Nevertheless, had Capone and his gang done nothing, the North Side gang likely would have succeeded in killing their rivals and taking over the entire city. Moran and his associates were driven by a visceral hatred of the "South Side Scum," whom they considered to be sexual deviants and degenerates who dealt in prostitution and drug peddling and allowed debased jazz musicians to play in their bars.[citation needed]

Moran had also repeatedly vowed to avenge the deaths of his close friends and mentors O'Banion and Weiss (the latter being gunned down on the steps of Holy Name Cathedral on State St). It is said that Nitti became enraged with McGurn (whom he considered to be a rival) over Moran's escape and the unfavorable publicity that ensued.

In 1929, Prohibition Bureau agent Eliot Ness began a successful investigation of Capone and his business. Shutting down many breweries and speakesies Capone owned, Ness brought down his empire slowly. In 1931, Capone was indicted for income tax evasion and various violations of the Volstead Act. With 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' men. The 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 had been dropped to be used if Capone got off with a light sentence). 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 take control and obtain special privileges. He was then transferred to Alcatraz, where tight security and an uncompromising warden ensured that Capone had no contact with the outside world. Capone entered Alcatraz with his usual confidence, but his isolation from his associates, and the repeal of Prohibition, meant his empire was beginning to wither. He attempted to earn time off for good behavior by being a model prisoner and refusing to participate in prisoner rebellions. When Capone attempted to bribe guards he was sent to solitary confinement.

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 C. 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 line, I'm gonna know who you were."[17]

Capone earned the contempt of many of the inmates in Alcatraz when he refused to take part in a prisoners' strike after a sick inmate, accused of malingering, was denied medical treatment and died. Continuing his work in the prison laundry, Capone was continually harassed by other prisoners and often called a "scab" or "rat." He was eventually allowed to remain in his cell until the strike was resolved.

Shortly after returning to work, an unidentified inmate threw a heavy lead sash at Capone's head, but he suffered only a deep cut on the arm after being pushed out of the way by convicted bank robber Roy Gardner.

Reassigned to mopping up the prison bathhouse, Capone was nicknamed the "Wop with the mop" by inmates. He was later stabbed in the back by Lucas, who was sentenced to solitary confinement. Capone was hospitalized for a week. He suffered further harassment and unsuccessful attempts on his life throughout his prison sentence, including spiking his coffee with lye and attacking him as he was walking towards the dentist's office. He remained under protection from several inmates (possibly from payoffs by the Chicago Outfit).

Though he adjusted relatively well to his new environment, his health declined as his syphilis (an STD Capone caught as a youth) progressed, and he spent the last year of his sentence in the prison hospital, confused and disoriented.[18] 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.

Physical decline and death

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 declined, most noticeably with the onset of dementia. On January 21, 1947, Capone had an apoplectic stroke. He regained consciousness and started to improve but contracted pneumonia on January 24. This caused him to suffer a cardiac arrest the next day (possibly associated with the complications of third-stage neurosyphilis).[citation needed] Capone died after the arrest.

Capone was then buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, in Chicago's far South 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, to avoid any hate crimes if any rivals were still living.

Cultural Icon

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. His accent, mannerisms, facial construction, sometimes his physical stature, type of dress, and often even parodies of his name are found in various cartoon series villains as well as some movies. These characters are often shown as wily and crafty, rather than contemptible, criminal characters.


Capone has been portrayed on screen by Nicholas Kokenes, Wallace Beery, Paul Muni, Barry Sullivan, Rod Steiger, Neville Brand, Jason Robards, Eric Roberts, Ben Gazzara, Robert De Niro, William Devane, Titus Welliver, Juan Orol, Anthony LaPaglia and William Forsythe. In the 1932 film Scarface, Capone was fictionalized as "Antonio 'Tony' Camonte" (played by Paul Muni). In 1983 the film Scarface was remade by Al Pacino, Capone was fictionalized as "Tony Montana" which actually received more recognition than its predecessor

  • In Mario Puzo's 1969 novel, The Godfather, Capone played a small role in the fictionalized "Salvatore Maranzano mob war" of 1933. (In real life, Maranzano had been killed in 1931, and Capone was in prison by 1933). In the novel, Maranzano refuses Don Vito Corleone's request for a partnership and sharing of the gambling and other rackets that Maranzano controls in New York City. According to the novel, Maranzano asks his good friend Al Capone to send two of his best gunmen to New York to finish off the upstart, before the war could take full effect. However, Corleone hitman Luca Brasi and his men intercept the two Capone gunmen at the train station, usher them into a cab, and bring them to a warehouse. Brasi hacks the limbs off one man with an ax, causing him to bleed to death. The second gunman swallows his towel-gag in fear and suffocates. Corleone then sends a message to Capone, telling him, a Neapolitan, to stay out of the affairs of two Sicilians, and to never to come to New York City, as it is "unhealthy for Neapolitans". The Don considered Capone a "stupid, obvious cutthroat." Capone sends back word that he will no longer interfere.
  • Capone was featured in the Kinky Friedman novel "The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover".
  • In Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne's novel Back in the USSA, Al Capone is President and Chairman of the alternate history United Socialist States of America, serving as an analog of Joseph Stalin. Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Nitti take the place of Vyacheslav Molotov and Lavrenti Beria. Also more recently, a historical fiction book was written by Gennifer Choldenko called Al Capone Does My Shirts.
  • In Peter F. Hamilton's trilogy "Nights Dawn" Capone comes back from the dead and builds a new empire called the Organization

The 1959 television film and TV series The Untouchables highlights Capone and his era, perpetuating the myth of the personal war between Capone and Federal Agent Eliot Ness.

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