The Life and Crimes of the Notorious Al Capone
Salt Lake Community College
Criminal Justice 1010
In the roaring twenties, one man had risen up through a life of crime gained complete control of Chicago. He and his vast empire were in charge of most of the brothels, dance halls, racetracks, gambling establishments, restaurants, speakeasies, breweries and distilleries in the city, as well as striking terror and awe into its citizens. He would literally get away with murder and it seemed the law enforcement could do nothing to stop him. His name was Al Capone, a.k.a Scarface.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn in 1899, he was the fourth of nine children and his parents, Gabriele and Teresina, had emigrated from Italy. His father was a barber and his mother stayed at home. Al Capone’s school life ended abruptly when he beat his female teacher and left school at the age of fourteen following an argument with the principal. It was here that Capone joined a local street gang, called the South Brooklyn Rippers, and later the Five Points Juniors run by Johnny Torrio and Lucky Luciano. The gang itself committed petty crimes like stealing cigarettes. (Rosenberg, n.d., para 6)
It was through the Five Points gang that Capone gained the attention of Frankie Yale, a brutal mobster known for his harsh and violent control over people. In 1917, Capone now aged 18, worked for Yale as a bartender in the Harvard Inn and watched and learnt Yale’s methods of dealing with people. (Rosenberg, n.d., para 7)
Whilst working in the bar, Capone spotted an attractive woman. After his initial advances towards the woman were ignored, Capone then proceeded to walk up to the woman and said ”Honey, you have a nice ass and I mean that as a compliment” (Rosenberg, n.d., para 8). A man sitting next to the woman was her brother, Frank Gallucio who stood up and punched Capone, a fight broke out soon after and Gallucio pulled a knife, slashing Capone three times on his left side, one cut going from his ear to his mouth. It was here that Capone gained the nickname “Scarface”, a name he hated for the rest of his life.
Later, Capone met Mary (Mae) Coughlin, a blonde middle-class girl born from an Irish family. After dating for a few months, they got married on December 30th, 1918. Three weeks later Albert Francis Capone a.k.a Sonny was born. This would be Capone’s only child. Throughout his years, Capone had been noted as always keeping his family and business separate, with his family well looked after and safe. Despite being a very devoted father and husband, he had a number of mistresses, one of which from whom he contracted his syphilis disease which would plague his later life. (Rosenberg, n.d., para 10)
In 1920, Capone moved to Chicago under Torrio’s invitation. Capone worked as a manager of Torrio’s club the Four Deuces, where patrons could drink, gamble and hire prostitutes. It was here that “Torrio saw Capone's potential, his combination of physical strength and intelligence, and encouraged his protégé” ("History files: Al," 1999, para 5). However after a dispute between Torrio and “Big Jim” Colosimo, the head of secretive underground drinking rackets during Prohibition, Torrio ordered Capone to kill Colosimo. Capone killed Colosimo on May 11th, 1920, allowing Torrio to become leader of their criminal organization and Capone to be his right hand man.
In November of 1924, Capone had ordered the murder of Dion O’Banion, an untrustworthy associate. Afterwards, O’Banion’s dangerous friends continually hunted Capone and Torrio, and fearing for his own safety, Capone upgraded his personal security with bodyguards and his famous bulletproof Cadillac sedan. Torrio wasn’t so lucky, and on January 12th 1925, he was brutally attacked and almost killed outside of his home. This encouraged Torrio enough to step down from his position and hand over the organization entirely to Capone. (Rosenberg, n.d., para 17)
At the height of his power, “Capone had city aldermen, mayors, legislators, governors, congressmen and over half the Chicago police force on his payroll.” (Biography, 2003, para 6) He was a very public character, often seen around town in colorful suits and his trademark white fedora. He had an 11.5-carat diamond ring on his pinky finger and would often have rolls of cash on his person.
Capone was known to the public for his generosity, often leaving tips of $100 for waiters or even some of his kinder acts like handing out clothes and coal to the needy in winter or opening some of Chicago’s first soup kitchens. People considered him to be a modern-day Robin Hood. (Rosenberg, n.d., para 22)
Unfortunately, despite his kind exterior, he had a more sinister side. In spring of 1929, three of his associates planned to kill him. Knowing this information, he invited them to dinner and allowed them to eat and drink as much as they wanted. After they were finished, Capone’s bodyguards tied them to their chairs and Capone personally beat them with a baseball bat, inflicting serious harm and breaking several bones. Afterwards, the men were shot and their bodies were dumped outside of town. (Rosenberg, n.d., para 26)
One of his more famous assassinations was on February 14th, 1929 where he allegedly ordered the killing of George “Bugs” Moran, the leader of a rival underground faction. Capone had established a meeting point and Capone’s men, led by henchman “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn shot and killed seven of Moran’s men against a wall outside a garage, Moran, however, was running a few minutes late and avoided the whole incident. The media dubbed this brutal killing as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, and coverage of the incident opened the public’s eyes to the shady underground organizations. President Herbert Hoover personally pushed for Capone’s arrest and after the discovery of several Prohibition violations, proceeded to shut down Capone’s breweries and speakeasies, hurting both Capone’s business and pride. (Alcatraz, 2002, para 8)
Capone thought he was untouchable, and law enforcement struggled to charge him with any crimes on account of his power over the city. However, his financial records were found by an implanted agent at one of his racetracks and at the time the IRS were gathering tax evasion information. Capone had finally been caught and at 32-years old, was bought to trial on October 6th, 1931. He was charged with 22 counts of tax evasion, 7 of which he was found guilty on, and over 5,000 violations of the Volstead Act, the main Prohibition law. The judge gave him 11 years in Federal prison, fined $50,000, charged with $7692 in court costs and had to pay $215,000 in back taxes ("Famous cases & criminals," 1999 para 13).
The government wanted to make an example of him, and was sent to Atlanta Penitentiary on May 4th, 1932. After rumors of special treatment there, he was then transferred to the newly opened Alcatraz, and was prisoner number 85. From his moment of arrival at Alcatraz, he tried to manipulate the system, until eventually confessing to the warden "It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked" ("Alcatraz history: Al," 2002 para 13). After spending four and a half years there, his syphilis took a toll on his health, and started to degrade both mentally and physically. On January 6th, 1939 he was transferred to the hospital in the Federal Correctional Institute of Los Angeles, then later to a penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. On November 16th, 1939 he was paroled after serving seven years and paying all his fines.
He spent the remainder of his life in his estate in Miami, Florida. On January 19th, 1947 he suffered from a stroke and contracted pneumonia, he died shortly afterwards on January 25th of cardiac arrest at age 48. The agent that had discovered his financial records was killed shortly before Capone’s death ("Biography: Al capone," 2003, para 9).
Capone’s reign had ended and although no numbers were ever confirmed, he was believed to have murdered dozens of people and ordered hundreds of killings and only through his money laundering and tax evasion was he able to get caught. Despite this, he was seen as a generous celebrity to some and Scarface to others, he would be remembered as one of the greatest gangsters of all time, and a pioneer of organized crime today.
Rosenberg, J. (n.d.). Al Capone: A biography of the iconic american gangster. Retrieved from http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/a/Al-Capone.htm
Famous cases & criminals. (1999). Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/al-capone
History files: Al Capone. (1999). Retrieved from http://www.chicagohs.org/history/capone/cpn1.html
Biography: Al Capone. (2003). Retrieved from http://www.angelfire.com/co/pscst/capone.html
Alcatraz history: Al Capone on alcatraz. (2002). Retrieved from http://www.alcatrazhistory.com/cap1.htm