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Al "Scarface" Capone

By

John T. Marck

 



 

Alphonse  Gabriel “Al Scarface” Capone

 He was born Alphonse Gabriel Capone on January 17, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York, to Italian immigrant parents.  In his lifetime, he would become one of America’s most renowned gangsters, organizing crime, killing and embezzling, conducting most of his business from casinos, which he made into his own playgrounds. If you'd like to read more about the connection between mobsters and casinos, click here.

Known to everyone as “Al,” he was originally a good student at Brooklyn Elementary School.  Within a few years, he started falling behind, having to repeat the sixth grade.  About this time, he started playing hooky from school, and hanging out at the Brooklyn docks.  One day in school, he was hit by a female teacher for insolence and Al struck the teacher back, striking her in the face.   Being expelled for his actions, he never returned to school.  

Originally living at 95 Navy Street in the Navy Yard section of downtown Brooklyn, the Capone’s moved out of their tenement home to a better one located at 38 Garfield Place, in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Al worked several odd jobs, one at a barbershop, and other jobs at a candy store and a bowling alley.  It would be here at Park Slope that Al met his future wife, Mary Coughlin, known as Mae, and the man who became his mob mentor, numbers racketeer Johnny Torrio.  

Torrio was running a numbers and gambling operation near Capone’s home and Al started running errands for him.  When Torrio left Brooklyn for Chicago in 1909, the two remained close friends.  Capone spend some time in a few local gangs, such as the Junior Forty Thieves, and the Bowery Boys, then joined the more powerful Five Points Gang based in Lower Manhattan. In 1917, Torrio introduced Al to Frankie Yale, who employed Al as a bartender at the Coney Island dance hall and bar called the Harvard Inn.  Capone, while working the door at a Brooklyn night club, made an indecent remark to a woman. The woman’s brother, Frank Gallucio slashed Capone’s face three times on the left side. These scars gave Capone the nickname, “Scarface.” 

On December 30, 1918, Capone, who was 19 years old, married Mary “Mae” Josephine Coughlin, an Irish Catholic, who one month later gave birth to their son, Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone. As Al was under 21 years old, he had to have written consent by his parents to get married.  Capone made his friend, Johnny Torrio, his son’s godfather.  

Wanting to do the right thing for his family, Al took an honest job as a bookkeeper for a construction company, but when his father died from a heart attack in 1920, Torrio invited him to Chicago and Capone jumped at this opportunity.  

Capone left New York for Chicago without his wife and son, who joined him later in 1923.  Here in Chicago, Torrio was operating a booming business in gambling and prostitution, but the enactment of the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol, Torrio focused on this new more lucrative occupation of bootlegging.  Capone, now possessing skills in street smarts, numbers and the like, which Torrio recognized, so he quickly promoted Capone to partner in his operations.  

Capone soon began his reputation as a drinker, and rabble-rouser, and after hitting a parked taxi while drunk, was arrested for the first time. Torrio however, with his government connections got Capone off.  Soon Capone’s power in Chicago grew.  

The Torrio-Capone organization was competing with the North Side Gang of Dean O’Banion for control. In May 1924, O’Banion was made aware that their Sieben Brewery was going to be raided by the FBI, so he sold his shares to Torrio. Following the raid, both O’Banion and Torrio were arrested. In retaliation, Torrio’s people murdered O’Banion on October 10, 1924, which provoked a gang-war.  

In 1925, Torrio was severely injured in an attack, and he decided to turn over his business to Capone, and he returned to Italy.  During the Prohibition Era, Capone controlled very large portions of the entire Chicago underworld, resulting in his making more than $100 million in revenue.  As a result of his success, the press began following his every move, and soon Capone was considered a modern “Robin Hood,” type figure due in part to his gregarious and generous personality.  However, in time, his reputation by his later years became connected with violence, his public popularity waned.  

In 1926, two of Capone’s sworn enemies were spotted in Cicero, he ordered them killed.  However, with these two was another man, William McSw8iggin, known as the “Hanging Prosecutor,” who had tried to prosecute Capone for a previous murder. Although Capone did not know the third man was with the two marked ones, all three were killed.  The public now fed up with Chicago and Capone’s lawlessness, demanded justice.  The police had no evidence for these murders, but instead raided Capone’s business, taking with them documentation that would later be used to charge him with income tax invasion. To assist with his reputation, Capone called for a “Peace Conference,” among the city’s various criminal elements, to stop the violence, which worked, but only lasted two months.  

By the early months of 1929, Capone enterprise dominated the illegal liquor trade in Chicago, but other criminal elements wanted in. Among those wanting a piece of the action was Capone’s long-time rival “Bugs” Moran. Who had previously tried to assassinate Torrio and Capone and was now after Capone’s top hit man, “Machine Gun” Jack McGum.  To counter this, Capone and McGum decided to kill Moran. On February 14, 1929, posing as police, McGum’s gunmen assassinated seven of Moran’s men in a North Side garage. Alerted by the impending danger that in the garage as he approached, Moran escaped unharmed. Known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Capone, who was in Miami at the time, was blamed for it.  As a result, he was dubbed by the public and the FBI, “Public Enemy Number One.” 

President Hoover, in response to the public outcry for justice, efforts were now stepped up to prosecute Capone for income-tax invasion.  In 1927, the US Supreme Court ruled that income derived from illegal activities was taxable.  On June 5, 1931, the US Government indicted Capone on 22 counts of income-tax invasion. 

Capone, believing that the government had a strong case against him,  and confident that he would receive a minimal sentence, struck a plea bargain in return for  a two-year sentence. However, the judge did not accept nor honor this agreement. Consequently, Capone withdrew his guilty plea, and went to trial.  During the trial, Capone used bribery and intimidation at the jury.  At the last moment of the trial, the judge switched to an entirely new jury, who found Capone guilty and sentenced him to eleven years in prison.   

Capone was sent to a federal prison in Atlanta, where he continued his ways of bribing guards and getting things he wanted. To combat this, Capone was sent to Alcatraz in 1934, where he would become isolated from the outside world, and could no longer use his past considerable influence.  In time he began suffering from poor health.  As a young man he contracted syphilis, and now suffered from neurosyphilis, which caused dementia. After serving 6.5 years of his sentence, he was released to a mental hospital in Baltimore, where he remained for three years.  With his health rapidly declining, Capone lived his last days in Miami with his wife, dying of cardiac arrest on January 25, 1947.  

Although both hated and loved by the media during his lifetime, Al Capone’s image as a crime syndicate leader, killer and mobster has lived on long after his death, and who has inspired many books and movies, as the most notorious gangster in American history.  

Copyright © by John T. Marck.  Grateful appreciation and informational assistance from the History Channel and the history.com website.  Information from this article and its photographs may not be used or reproduced without permission.