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Al Capone

aka "Scarface", the man responsible for one of the most horrific acts of the Prohibition Era

Al Capone

Alphonsus Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 17, 1899. He quit school after the sixth grade, and his criminal career began soon after. As a teenager, he was working in a saloon when he was slashed across the cheek during a brawl, and gained the nickname "Scarface." His girlfriend, Mary Coughlin, gave birth to Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone on December 4, 1918; Al and Mary were married on December 30, 1918.

Capone spent his teenage years running with street gangs in his neighborhood. His first arrest was for disorderly conduct, and at one time he was questioned about the murders of two men; he was never formally charged with the murders, however, due to a lack of witnesses. He moved to Chicago in 1919 after hospitalizing a rival gang member. In Chicago, he joined Johnny Torrio's gang, and had risen up through the ranks to become Torrio's right-hand man by 1922, and a full partner in Torrio's many "businesses" soon thereafter. When Torrio decided to retire in 1925, he personally named Capone as his successor.

From the day he took over Torrio's operation Capone began expanding his empire. Through intimidation, extortion, and the murder of rivals, he gained control over speakeasies, bookie joints, race tracks, distilleries and breweries, and even the largest cleaning and dyeing plant chain in Chicago. In 1926 he was arrested for killing three people, but only spent one night in jail due to a lack of evidence against him. He ran his empire from the Metropole Hotel (2300 S. Michigan Avenue), with little interference from Chicago police for several years before Mayor William Hale Thompson Jr., who had been doing business with Capone, decided that Capone was bad for the city's image and had his new police chief "encourage" Capone's departure. Capone decided to leave the Metrople, and bought an estate in Palm Island, Florida, in 1928.

Metropole Hotel
Metropole Hotel

Known for being merciless towards enemies and rivals, Capone was also known to be generous towards friends and for helping the poor and downtrodden. He opened soup kitchens after the 1929 stock market crash, and had merchants give food and clothing to the needy at his expense. His public image was seriously tarnished on February 14, 1929, however, when seven men associated with George "Bugs" Moran's gang were gunned down in a Chicago garage. Although Capone was conveniently in Florida at the time, few in Chicago doubted that he had orchestrated what is now known as the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre." Chicagoans had become somewhat accustomed to gang shoot-outs and murders, but the brutality and bloodiness of this one crime was enough to convince most that it was time for Capone to go.

aftermath of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre
aftermath of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

The Internal Revenue Service began investigating Capone and his empire about 1927. The IRS claimed that Capone owed over $200,000 in back taxes, but it was initially unable to prove that Capone had actually earned any income for which taxes were due since he had never put any property in his own name. That changed, however, when chief investigator Frank Wilson accidentally came across a cash receipts ledger from a gambling house that happened to have Capone's name on it. In 1931, Capone was formally charged with several counts of tax evasion and failure to file tax returns, as well as conspiracy to violate Prohibition laws, with the ledger and a letter from his accountant being the principal evidence against him. Capone initially pled guilty to all charges thinking he could plea bargain, but changed his plea when Judge James H. Wilkerson refused to make any deals. He then tried to bribe the jury, but that tactic failed when Wilkerson changed the jury panel at the last minute. The jury ultimately found Capone guilty on 5 of the 23 counts, and he was sentenced to ten years in federal prison plus one year in a county jail, plus six months for an earlier failure to appear charge, fines of $50,000, and court costs of $7,692.29.

Capone began his sentence at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta in May 1932. He quickly gained special privileges from the prison authorities in Atlanta, but was then transferred to Alcatraz, where he got no special treatment. A model prisoner at Alcatraz, he was granted early release on January 6, 1939, because he was by then suffering from syphillis-related ailments. He subsequently served his one-year sentence at Terminal Island, California, and was fully released on November 16, 1939.

Capone retired to his Palm Island, Florida, home upon leaving prison, and died there on January 25, 1947. He was originally buried between his father and brother in Chicago's Mount Olivet Cemetery, but all three sets of remains were removed to Mount Carmel Cemetery in March of 1950.

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This page was last updated on October 15, 2017.