Al Capone was possibly the largest and most feared mafia boss America has ever seen. This 1920s gangster made his mark on the world through organized crime during the Prohibition era. He is solely credited with Chicago’s reputation as a lawless city.
Alphonsus Capone was born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York. As a child, he was a member of the Brooklyn Rippers and the Forty Thieves Juniors “kid gangs.” Capone quit school at age fourteen, in the sixth grade. He worked a few odd jobs in Manhattan, including in a bowling alley and a candy store. Then Capone took a position as a bouncer at Frankie Yale’s Brooklyn dive and the Harvard Inn. While working at the inn, he was attacked by a man and received the facial scars that would give him the nickname “Scarface.”
Capone met Anne “Mae” Coughlin at a dance in 1918. Later that year, on December 4, 1918, she gave birth to their son, Albert “Sonny” Francis. Less than a month later, they were married.
Capone became a member of the Five Points gang in Manhattan. During this time, he hospitalized a rival gang member after a fight. Feeling the heat from the opposing group, he moved his family to Chicago. He started working for Yale’s old partner and mentor, John Torrio.Capone was soon helping to manage Torrio’s bootlegging business. He quickly gained the respect of Torrio and became his number-two man.
After being shot by an opposing gang member, Torrio left Chicago. Capone became boss of the “outfit.” Torrio’s men respected Capone and trusted his business decisions. They referred to Capone as “the big man.” In the next five years, he expanded his industry of crime. Capone controlled speakeasies, nightclubs, brothels, gambling houses, and much more. His bootlegging provided the city of Chicago with alcohol during prohibition. Capone had a reported income of $100,000,000 a year.
Capone had an intricate spy network throughout Chicago. Crooked policemen let him prepare for liquor raids, and some of his other men made him aware of assassination plots. He would use hotels as his headquarters and front businesses as a hideout. Capone was always good at successfully knocking off his enemies when they became too powerful. Although he killed men himself, it was much safer for his henchmen to do his dirty work. Capone’s men would rent an apartment across the street from their target and gun him down when he stepped outside. These operations were quick and precise, and Capone always had an alibi.
Four of Capone’s associates broke into George “Bugs” Moran’s liquor store on Valentine’s Day, 1929.Two of these men were dressed as police. Moran’s men, thinking this was a police raid, dropped their guns and put their hands against a wall. Using two Thompson machine guns and two shotguns, Capone’s men killed six gang members and an unlucky friend. More than 150 rounds were fired at the gangsters. Moran, who was most likely the real target, was across the street. Capone, as always, had an alibi; he was in Florida.
Eliot Ness was assigned to shut down Capone’s illegal industry. Ness and his men found ways to beat Capone’s spy network. They earned the moniker “Untouchables” because they never accepted bribes.The Untouchables were made up of young, brave officers fresh out of police training school. Ness used these officers because he didn’t know which of the men already on the police force were moles for Capone. Soon they were shutting down breweries and intercepting bootlegged products regularly. Frank Wilson of the IRS, who was assigned to focus on Capone, found a record of Capone’s income. Wilson also discovered that Capone never filed an income tax return or made a declaration of income. Capone owed $215,080.48 in taxes. Now the government had sufficient evidence to indict him of the felony of income tax evasion and other various assessment misdemeanors.
Capone thought he could plea bargain with the judge, but the Honorable Judge James A. Wilkerson made no deals. Although Capone tried to bribe the jury, Wilkerson changed the panel at the last minute. Capone was convicted of only five of the twenty-three charges brought against him. Capone was sentenced to eleven years in prison. He was first sent to the Atlanta federal prison, where he quickly took over. A typewriter, mirror, and desk furnished the luxury cell from which he ran his outfit on the outside. After word of Capone’s easy life in prison got out, he was moved to Alcatraz. Here, he would receive no special treatment.
While incarcerated, he showed signs of syphilitic dementia. After his release, he stayed in a hospital for a short period of time. His mind and body deteriorated to the point where he could no longer run the outfit. Capone later had an apoplectic stroke, which was presumably unrelated to the syphilitic dementia.
Although Capone appeared to be recovering from the stroke, the weakened man fell victim to pneumonia. On January 25, 1947, Alphonsus Capone died of a cardiac arrest. He was laid to rest in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago between his father and brother.
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