Al Capone

FBI  of Capone, 1931
FBI mugshot of Capone, 1931

Alphonse Gabriel Capone (January 17, 1899January 25, 1947), more popularly known as Al "Scarface" Capone, was a famous American gangster in the 1920s and 1930s, although his business card is reported to have said he was a dealer in used furniture. A Neapolitan born in New York, Capone began his career in Brooklyn before moving to Chicago and becoming that city's most notorious crime figure. By the end of the 1920s Al Capone was on the Bureau of Investigation's "Most Wanted" list. His downfall occurred in the 1930s when he was indicted and convicted by the federal government for income tax evasion and sent to the notorious island prison of Alcatraz. He died in 1947 in Miami Beach, Florida.


Birth and early life

Alphonse Capone was born to Gabriele Capone (18651920) and his wife Teresina "T(h)eresa" Raiola (December 28, 18671952) in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, at the turn of the 20th century. Gabriele was a barber from Castellammare di Stabia, a village reportedly situated about fifteen 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 immigrated to the United States in 1894.

The couple had seven sons and two daughters:

Alphonse's life 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 fourteen when he fought with a teacher and worked odd jobs around the New York borough, 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 Harvard Inn. It was here, at the Harvard Inn, that Capone would engage in a knife fight with Frank Gallucio after Capone made a bold move on his sister. Gallucio slashed Capone's face, earning him the nickname that he would bear for the rest of his life: Scarface.

In 1918 Capone married Mae Coughlin, an Irish girl, who gave him a son that year, Albert "Sonny" Francis 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 murders, until being sent to Chicago in 1919. Yale sent his protg to the midwest city after Capone was involved in a fight with a rival gang. Yale's intention was for Capone to "cool off" there; little did he know that this would be the impetus for 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 a Chicago suburb that 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.

Only a few years later, Torrio's rivals in the North Side gangs made an attempt on his life. Severely injured, the shaken Torrio returned to Italy and gave the reins of the business to Capone. Capone was notorious during Prohibition 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.

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 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 been the triggerman. By staging the massacre, Capone was trying to dispose of his arch-rival Bugs Moran. Moran himself was late for the meeting and escaped otherwise certain death.

Throughout the 1920s, Capone himself was often the target of attempted murders.

Fall of Capone

Although Capone always did his business through front men and had no accounting records 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. He was harassed by Prohibition Bureau 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.

Missing image
Capone after his release from prison (FBI file photo)

The trial and indictment occurred in 1931. Initially, Capone pleaded guilty to the charges, hoping to 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-three counts and sentenced to ten 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, and he was 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. With the repeal of Prohibition and the arrest and confinement of its leader, the Capone empire soon began to wither.

Popular culture

Al Capone was perhaps the most notorious, and popular, gangster of the 20th century, the subject of numerous articles, books, and movies. He has been portrayed in film by Wallace Beery, Paul Muni, Barry Sullivan, Rod Steiger, Neville Brand, Jason Robards, Ben Gazzara and Robert De Niro. 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. Capone also featured in the comic book, Tintin in America, the only case of a real person appearing as a character in The Adventures of Tintin.


Brooklyn mobster and Murder, Inc. associate Louis Capone was not related to Al Capone.

External links

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