Al Capone was born to Gabriele Capone (1865 – 1920) and his
wife Teresina (“Theresa”) 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
Al 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, “Scarface”.
In 1918 Al 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.
The Capone family moved to a small, unassuming house at 7244 South Prairie Avenue in Chicago. Cicero, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, would serve as Capone's first headquarters. Initially, Al 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. Al Capone's 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.
Severely injured in an assassination attempt in 1925, the shaken Torrio returned to Italy and gave the reins of the business to Capone. Al 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. Al 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, Al 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 was ever charged with 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.
Throughout the 1920s, Al 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.
By 1929 Al Capone had earned 105 million dollars. 60 million
dollars of it was from alcohol.
Although Al 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. Al Capone 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”.
Pursuing Al 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.
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 Al'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.
Al 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 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 Al 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 Al
refused to leave his cell at all, crouching in a corner and
talking to himself in Italian or, according to some, complete
gibberish. Al Capone 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 Al Capone had been imprisoned, Capone's control and interests within organized crime immediately ran into rapid decline. It is often argued that Al's decline in mental health during his imprisonment was catalyzed 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. Al Capone spent the final year of his 11 year sentence as a resident of the Baltimore State Mental Institution before retiring to his estate in Miami, Florida.
On 21 January 1947, Al Capone had an apoplectic stroke. He regained consciousness and started to feel better until pneumonia set in on 24 January. The next day Al Capone died from cardiac arrest. Al 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, Al 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.
Al 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.
In several stories in the alternative history anthology Back in the USSA by Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne, Al 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.
A vault of Al Capone's was opened by Geraldo Rivera on live television in 1986 on The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault.
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, Al's persona and character have been used for inspiration and as a model for countless crime lords and criminal master minds ever since his death. Al Capone's 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.
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