Al Capone (Bardsley).
Upon his death, The New York Times said of Al Capone that he was "the symbol of a shameful era, the monstrous symptom of a disease which was eating into the conscience of America. Looking back on it now, this period of Prohibition in full, ugly flower seems fantastically incredible. Capone himself was incredible, the creation of an ugly dream" (Bergreen, 19). As these words suggest, Capone's story seems to provide a near perfect case study in considering the coming of gangsterhood into Chicago in the age of Prohibition. His story illuminates the surrounding issues of immigration and ethnicity, the corruption of both the government and its law enforcement agencies on the one hand, and the gangsters, who thrived on bootleg alcohol sales, racketeering, prostitution, and gambling on the other. With Capone, these ideas have reached mammoth proportions-he has been turned by our culture into the symbol of an evil force thriving through his historical moment of institutional weakness and confusion.

Alfonsi Capone came to America as a young child in 1894 with his family, from Naples, just one of 42,977 Italians to immigrate that year (Bergreen, 23). His family moved to Brooklyn, which Capone eventually made his stomping grounds for the beginning of a life in crime. As a teenager, Capone was recruited by Johnny Torrio, one of the most successful gangsters on the East Coast, for whom Capone did small favors and errands. In his early adolescence, Capone contracted Syphilis, likely from one of a number of the neighborhood prostitutes he slept with (Bergreen, 45). The symptoms disappeared a few weeks after the contraction, and Al assumed the disease had been cured somehow. The disease, however, had merely gone underground, as is the case with Syphilis, and formed a gradually-increasing dementia which is likely one of the causes for Capone's frequent outbursts of violence, for which he became notorious (Bergreen, 85).

Soon after, still a young man, Al secured a position working Frankie Yale at a bar called the Harvard Inn. He was involved in a bar fight with another Italian man, whose sister Al told that she had "a nice ass." The man was furious and sliced across Al's face three times, giving him the large scars for which he was nicknamed "Scarface."

Frankie Yale (Bardsley).

After a short stay in Baltimore, Capone moved to Chicago, where Johnny Torrio had just inherited the throne as crime-king of the city after his boss, "Big Jim" Colosimo, was murdered by Frankie Yale in 1920. Torrio offered Al and his brother positions managing two brothels, and after a year, Al was put in charge of the Four Deuces, Torrio's head of operations. At the Four Deuces, it is said, the basement was used to torture men with information valuable to the Torrio-Capone force, while upstairs prostitutes offered their services to politicians and mobsters alike (

After the election of reformer William Dever to the mayor's office of Chicago, it became increasingly difficult to run rackets in Chicago, and so the Torrio-Capone camp decided to move operations to the suburb of Cicero. In Cicero, Al installed his brothers into positions of power, Frank taking charge of the local government and Ralph opening a brothel. Al opened a gambling joint. The Capones eventually gained control of the city, but his brother Frank was shot and killed by the Chicago Police Department while he was bullying a number of election workers on Election Day.


Torrio (Bardsley).

Dion's Funeral (Bardsley).

Torrio was eventually tricked into capture during a meeting with another mobster, Dion O'Banion, at an illegal brewery to purchase stocks in the building. Torrio went to jail and O'Banion bragged about the deception. O'Banion was assassinated. With him out of the picture, Capone took over his bootlegging territory. After an assassination attempt by O'Banion's men, Torrio went to jail for nine months for bootlegging due to the O'Banion setup, and afterwards abandoned his life of crime. Capone inherited the crime arena Torrio built.

Capone continued to expand his bootlegging empire. In a word, he met the immense demand for alcohol (almost all adults drank bootleg alcohol during Prohibition) with an equally large supply (Bergreen, 529). On a trip to New York to have his son's chronic ear infections treated with surgery, Capone met with his old accomplice Frankie Yale to ensure the purchase of a large quantity of Canadian Scotch whiskey. Throughout the next years, Capone met with increasing pressure from law enforcement agencies and from outside crime operations. He continued to expand his empire outside of the realm of bootlegging to insure that he would have a profit-base if Prohibition was ever rescinded. The violence reached a peak of epic proportions on Valentine's Day, 1924. Capone and his friend Jack McGurn planned an assassination attempt on Bugs Moran, who had tried to murder McGurn twice. The plan seemed to go off without a hitch--Capone's men, dressed as police officers, lined a group of bootleggers they assumed to contain Moran against a wall, as if they were conducting a raid. The two "officers" ran machine guns at the men and led two of Capone's men off the site as if they were captured bootleggers. Unfortunately, Bugs Moran wasn't in the group.

St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Bardsley).

After the St. Valentine's Day massacre, Capone gained unprecedented amount of press hype; he became a national emblem, a celebrity. The attention of Washington was gained, and Andrew Mellon, Hoover's Secretary of the Treasury, conducted an investigation designed to pin income tax evasion and bootlegging on Capone once and for all. He was eventually arrested outside a movie theater in Philadelphia for holding a concealed weapon. He was released from jail early in 1930, and went back later that year, the investigation having sufficient evidence to convict him of income tax evasion. They turned away from any more serious prosecution in large part because they feared the man-- he had placed a $50,000 ransom on each of the betraying bookkeepers' heads ( see He was eventually sentenced to eleven years in prison, which he served at Alcatraz.

Newspaper article announcing the conviction of Capone (Bardsley).


After his release, he stayed at his enormous villa in Palm Springs, his health continually deteriorating. He died of a heart attack in 1947 at the age of 48.
For more on Al Capone, including analysis of Capone's contributions to organized crime, how he changed the city of Chicago, and how he forever changed organized crime, click here.





Capone's Conviction - Police Report (Citation).



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