Gabriel Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947), popularly
known as Al "Scarface" Capone, was an infamous Italian-American
gangster in the 1920s and 1930s, although his business card reportedly
described him as a used furniture dealer. A Neapolitan born in New York
City to Gabriele and Teresina Capone, he began his career in Brooklyn
before moving to Chicago and becoming Chicago's most notorious crime
figure. By the end of the 1920s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation
had placed Capone on its "Most Wanted" list. Capone's downfall
occurred in 1931 when he was indicted and convicted by the federal government
for income tax evasion.
Birth and early
Capone was born to Gabriele Capone (1865 – 1920) and his wife
Teresina (“T[h]eresa”) Raiola (28 December 1867 –
1952) in Brooklyn, New York, at the turn of the 20th century. Gabriele
was a barber from Castellammare di Stabia, a village about 15 miles
south of Naples, Italy. Teresina was a seamstress and the daughter of
Angelo Raiola from Angri, a town in the province of Salerno. The Capones
had immigrated to the United States in 1894, and settled in the Williamsburg
neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Gabriele and Teresina had seven
sons and two daughters:
(1892 – 1 October 1952). Called James Vincenzo Capone upon entering
the United States. He left the family in 1908 to join a circus operating
in the Midwest. Served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World
War I. Apparently changed his name to “Richard Joseph Hart”
shortly after his discharge. He had a career as a law enforcement officer,
served in the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and later became Marshal
in Homer, Nebraska.
(1895 – 1 April 1924). Better known as “Frank”, he
was a representative of his brother in Cicero, Illinois. Frank was murdered
on April 1st 1924. Frank was found with a cousin, Charles Fischetti
outside a mayoral polling station for Joseph Z. Klenha who was fighting
against William K. Pflaum. Frank had led an attack on Pflaum's mayoral
headquarters and organized Pflaum supporter abductions. In one case
a supporter was shot in the legs as a deterrant. Frank supposedly drew
a gun on the team of seventy detectives sworn in by Cook County Judge
Edward K. Jarecki and gunned him down. The then pro-Capone Chicago Tribune
noted that a $20,000 funeral was fitting for a "distinguished statesman."
As a mark of respect the all-night saloons in Cicero were closed for
two hours on the night of his burial.
of crime started early: as a teenager he joined two gangs, the Brooklyn
Rippers and the Forty Thieves Juniors, and engaged in petty crime.
Capone quit high
school at the age of 14 when he fought with a teacher. He then worked
odd jobs around Brooklyn, including a candy store and a bowling alley.
After his initial stint with small-time gangs, Capone joined the notorious
Five Points Gang headed by Frankie Yale. It was at this time he began
working as a bartender and bouncer at Yale's establishment, The Seedy
Harvard Inn. It was there that Capone would engage in a knife fight
with a thug, Frank Gallucio, after Capone had made a bold move on Gallucio's
sister. Gallucio had deeply slashed Capone's right cheek with a switchblade,
earning him the nickname that he would bear for the rest of his life,
In 1918 Capone married
Mae Coughlin, an Irish woman, who gave him a son that year, Albert Francis
("Sonny") Capone. The couple lived in Brooklyn for a year.
In 1919 he lived in Amityville, Long Island, to be close to “Rum
Row”. Capone was still working for Frankie Yale and is thought
to have committed at least two homicides before he was sent to Chicago
in 1919. Yale sent his protégé to Chicago after Capone
was involved in a fight with a rival gang. Yale's intention was for
Capone to “cool off” there; the move primed one of the most
notorious crime careers in modern American history.
Capone in Chicago
The Capone family moved to a small, unassuming house at 7244 South Prairie
Avenue in Chicago. Cicero, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, would serve as
Al Capone's first headquarters. Initially, Capone took up grunt work
with Johnny Torrio's outfit, but the elder Torrio immediately recognized
Capone's talents and by 1922 Capone was Torrio's second in command,
responsible for much of the gambling, alcohol, and prostitution rackets
in the city of Chicago.
One of his greatest
triumphs was the seizure of the region of Cicero in 1924. It became
known as one of the most crooked elections in Chicago's long history
with voters threatened at the polling station by thugs. His mayoral
candidate won by a huge majority but it was only weeks later he claimed
he would run Capone out of town. In order to counter this Capone met
with his puppet-mayor and personally knocked him down the town hall
steps. It was a powerful assertion of gangster power and a huge victory
for the Torrio-Capone alliance. The event was marred however by the
death of Frank Capone at the hands of the police. It broke his brother's
heart. Unshaven (a gangster form of mourning), Capone cried openly at
the funeral and ordered the closure of all the speakeasies in Cicero
for a day as a mark of respect.
in an assassination attempt in 1925, the shaken Torrio returned to Italy
and gave the reins of the business to Capone. Capone was notorious during
the Prohibition era for his control of the Chicago underworld and his
bitter rivalries with gangsters such as Bugs Moran and Hymie Weiss.
Raking in vast amounts of money from illegal gambling, prostitution,
and alcohol (some estimates were that between 1925 and 1930 Capone was
making $100 million a year), the Chicago kingpin was largely immune
to prosecution due to witness intimidation and the bribing of city officials,
such as Chicago mayor William "Big Bill" Hale Thompson. Capone
was reputed to have several other retreats and hideouts including French
Lick, Indiana; Dubuque, Iowa; Hot Springs, Arkansas; Johnson City, Tennessee;
and Lansing, Michigan.
In 1928, Capone
bought a retreat on Palm Island, Florida. It was shortly after this
purchase that he orchestrated seven of the most notorious gangland killings
of the century, the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Although details
of the massacre are still in dispute, and no person has ever been charged
or prosecuted for the crime, the killings are generally linked to Capone
and his henchmen, especially Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn, who
is thought to have led the operation. By staging the massacre, Capone
was trying to dispose of his arch-rival Bugs Moran, who controlled gang
operations on the North Side of Chicago. Moran was late for the meeting
and escaped an otherwise certain death.
In 1929, Capone
learned that two of his Sicilian contract killers (Alberto Anselmi and
John Scalise) were plotting to kill him. Capone invited the two would-be
assassins to a grand dinner party, with many senior members of his gang
in attendance. Following a lavish feast, Capone transitioned from gregarious
host to angry mobster, and ordered that the two hitmen be tied to their
chairs with wire. They were then beaten to death with a baseball bat.
Contrary to popular folklore, it may not have been Capone who delivered
the blows. A trusted lieutenant in the Capone gang (and future boss)
Tony Accardo may have been the killer, as evidenced by his freshly coined
nickname "Joe Batters".
Throughout the 1920s,
Capone was often the target of attempted murders, being shot once in
a restaurant and having his car riddled with bullets from nose to tail
on more than one occasion. However the assassins were normally amateurs
and Capone was never seriously wounded.
Al Capone's privileged cell in Eastern State Penitentiary, where he
spent ten months in 1929-1930 for possession of a concealed weapon By
1929 Capone had earned 105 million dollars. 60 million dollars of it
was from alcohol. 
always did his business through front men and had no accounting records
(which are receipts) (his mansion was in his wife's name), Al Alcini
started linking him to his earnings. New laws enacted in 1927 allowed
the federal government to pursue Capone on tax evasion, their best chance
of finally convicting him. Part of the reason Capone was taken to task
in this way was his status as a celebrity. On the advice of his publicist
he did not hide from the media by the mid twenties and began to make
public appearances. When Charles Lindbergh performed his famous trans-atlantic
flight in 1927 Capone was among the first to push forward and shake
his hand upon his arrival in Chicago. He gained a great deal of admiration
from many of the poor in Chicago for his flagrant disregard of the prohibition
law that they all despised.
He was viewed for
a time as a loveable outlaw, partially due to his extravagant generosity
to strangers and often lending a hand to struggling Italian-Americans,
something he once was. His night club, the Cotton Club, became a hot-spot
for hot new acts such as Charlie Parker and Bing Crosby. He was often
cheered in the street and it was only the brutal murders of the St Valentines
day massacre and the 1929 crash that made people view him once again
as a killer and social parasite. This was despite Capone's opening of
soup kitchens in Chicago's poorest suburbs. Contributing to his vilification
in April 1930, Frank J. Loesch, chairman of the Chicago Crime Commission
compiled a list of “Public Enemies” whom he saw as corrupting
the city. The list was published by newspapers nationwide and Capone´s
name was at its head, leading to him earning the nickname “Public
Enemy No. 1”.
were Treasury agent Eliot Ness and his hand picked team of incorruptible
U.S. Treasury agents "The Untouchables" and IRS agent Frank
Wilson, who was able to find receipts linking Capone to illegal gambling
income and evasion of taxes on that income.
Capone after his
release from prison. FBI file photo.The trial and indictment occurred
in 1931. The Alcinis tried to help Capone but he pleaded guilty to the
charges, hoping for a plea bargain. But, after the judge refused his
lawyer's offers and Capone's associates failed to bribe or tamper with
the jury, Al Capone was found guilty on five of twenty-two counts and
sentenced to eleven years in a federal prison.
Capone was first
sent to an Atlanta prison in 1932. However, the mobster was still able
to control most of his interests from this facility. Therefore, he was
soon ordered to be transferred to the infamous California island prison
of Alcatraz in August of 1934. Here, Capone was strictly guarded and
prohibited from any contact with the outside world. His number was AZ-85.
With the repeal of Prohibition and the arrest and confinement of its
leader, the Capone empire soon began to gradually wither. Capone entered
Alcatraz with his usual confidence. Many of his “friends”
who were in fact people who feared him rather than liked him had mostly
gone straight with families and kept away from crime. When Al Capone
returned, these friends tried to avoid him or simply agreed to do as
he asked without following up on the agreement.
Capone beat one
of his “best friends” half to death for defying him. When
Capone attempted to bribe guards, he would find himself sent to the
“hole”, or solitary confinement. Eventually Capone's mental
state began to deteriorate. One example of his erratic behavior was
that he would make his bed and then undo it, continuing this pattern
for hours. At times Capone refused to leave his cell at all, crouching
in a corner and talking to himself in Italian or, according to some,
complete gibberish. He began telling people that he was being haunted
by the ghost of James Clark, a victim in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre,
paranormal investigators were even sent in to observe him and his surroundings,
though they ultimately decided that Capone was simply mentally unhealthy.
It was apparent over time that Capone no longer posed much of a threat
of resuming his previous gangster-related activities.
Once he had been imprisoned, Capone's control and interests within organized
crime immediately ran into rapid decline. It is often argued that Capone's
decline in mental health during his imprisonment was catalysed by the
breakdown of his power and income; both Capone's physical and mental
health was seen to notably decline; most noticeably an onset of dementia
most likely caused by an elongated infection of syphilis, untreated
since it was contracted in his youth, as well as noticeable weight loss.
He spent the final year of his 11 year sentence as a resident of the
Baltimore State Mental Institution before retiring to his estate in
On 21 January 1947,
he had an apoplectic stroke. He regained consciousness and started to
feel better until pneumonia set in on 24 January. The next day he died
from cardiac arrest. Capone was originally 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.
One of the most notorious American gangsters of the 20th century, Capone
has been the subject of numerous articles, books, and films. He has
been portrayed on screen by Nicholas Kokenes, Wallace Beery, Paul Muni,
Barry Sullivan, Rod Steiger, Neville Brand, Jason Robards, Ben Gazzara,
Robert De Niro, William Devane, Titus Welliver and William Forsythe.
The Paper Lace song
entitled "The Night Chicago Died" imagines Capone and his
army of criminals waging war against the Chicago Police force.
Capone and his era
were highlighted in the 1959 television film The Untouchables and its
feature film and television series remakes which has created the popular
myth of the personal war between the crime lord and Eliot Ness.
He was also featured
as an off-screen character (in a deleted scene that was added to the
DVD release) in the 2002 film Road to Perdition; the comic book, Tintin
in America as the only real person to ever appear in The Adventures
of Tintin in character; and as a Possesor in Peter F. Hamilton's The
Night's Dawn Trilogy science fiction novels. Capone also plays a role
in the famous gangster novel "The Godfather," where he figures
into Vito Corleone's past. In the Godfather he is portrayed as a ruthless
man, but one without tact.
In several stories
in the alternative history anthology Back in the USSA by Kim Newman
and Eugene Byrne, Capone is imagined as the brutal dictator of a United
States of America which experienced a communist revolution in 1917 instead
of Russia, and is presented as an obvious analog to Joseph Stalin.
In The Radio Adventures
of Dr. Floyd, Capone was toyed with in a very humorous episode.
Capone is also the
subject of the Prince Buster song Al Capone and is also the namesake
of Rancid's Young Al Capone. Capone also appeared on the album art for
Sufjan Stevens's Illinoise.
He also makes an
appearance as a non-playable character in the video game Shadow Hearts:
From the New World.
Tunnels found under
the city of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan are said to have been another hideout
of Capone's. The anfractuous tunnels are a very popular tourist attraction,
due in part to the alleged link to Capone.
In addition, often
in western world culture, Capone's persona and character have been used
for inspiration and as a model for countless crime lords and criminal
master minds every since his death. His accent, mannerisms, facial construction,
sometimes his physical stature, type of dress, and often even parodies
of his name are found throughout various cartoon series villains as
well as some movies. Usually the portrayals are not slighting or insulting
parodies in their nature, as these said parody characters are generally
shown as wily and crafty criminal characters.
Al Capone is one
of the most historically known mobsters in the Untied States. He was
born in 1899 at Brooklyn, New York. His family had migrated from the
Old Country to have a fresh start with more money and more power in
the United States. They were hoping for a better life. Capone quit school
in the sixth grade. Although he did not get much schooling, he was very
smart. He was friends with a well known gang in the area, of which Johnny
Torrio was the leader. Torrio had invited Capone to join their pack
in 1920 and move with them to Chicago. Capone accepted.
Along with joining
the Torrio’s mob, Capone had connections with Colosimo mob, which
made him a very important key. Due to Capone’s help, the two gangs
joined up on business adventures. A lot of the business was bootlegging
beer and home brewing it. Just five short years after Capone joined
the gang, Torrio got wounded and could not longer lead the gang. Capone
was given the responsibility of taking charge. Soon his mob was greatly
feared and drove out all the competion within the area. People who disagreed
with Capone about whose territory was whose soon ended up dead, thus
causing much fear in the form of respecting Capone’s wishes. The
suburb of Cicero was known as Capone’s territory.
On February 14,
1929 Capone’s gang took out a rival gang, Moran Mob. Capone’s
gang posed as police officers attempting to search them and pulled out
gun fire. Police tried to place Capone himself there, but at the time
he was in Florida, therefore no proof was found of him having any involvement.
The FBI started looking into Capone’s affairs after he failed
to show up in court for a suponea. Capone’s lawyer corresponded
with them, telling the courts Capone was ill and could not make the
date. The trial was pushed back a few months and finally Capone showed
up. There was proof that he was not ill the entire time, taking many
mini-vacations along the way. After he stated in court all he was required,
he was then arrested for contempt of court for not showing up for so
long. He was bailed out with a $5000 bond.
Of May that same
year he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. He went to court
and plead guilty. Capone was sentenced to two years in prison, but only
served nine months for good behavior. During this time the US Treasury
Department began looking into Capone’s finances. He was charged
with tax evasion and plead guilty to tax evasion as well as prohibition
charges, boasting to the press at this time telling them he was cut
a very good deal with no jail time. When entering court however the
judge stated he was not bound to the deal and Capone changed his plea
to not guilty. Convicted at a jury trial he was to serve 11 years in
prison and pay a $50,000 fine, plus court costs and interest. While
in prison, Capone stayed at Atlanta State Penitentiary as well as Alcatraz.
He was released after 7 and a half years. He had gotten seriously ill
while in prison, suffering from paresis caused by syphilis. He went
to have a brain treatment as soon as he was released from prison.
Due to his
health, Capone never publicly went back to Chicago as a gang leader.
He could not mentally handle the challenges of running a mob. In 1946
his doctors stated that Capone had the mentality of a 12 year old child.
He resided in his home in Florida with only his very close family, never
venturing into the public eye after this conclusion. January 25, 1947
Capone died resulting from a stroke and severe pneumonia.