Back in the Prohibition era, there was an American gangster who quickly rose to fame as one of the founders and the boss of Italian-American crime syndicate, Chicago Outfit. His name? Alphonse Gabriel Capone – better known as infamous American gangster, Al Capone.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899, Capone’s parents were immigrants from Italy, both employed in standard jobs; his mum was a seamstress, born and raised in Angri, and his dad was a barber. Between them, they had nine children – however, only two of Al’s siblings joined him in a life of crime, whilst the rest tried to avoid it.
Al Capone was not always destined for a life of crime, or so it seems. As a pupil, he demonstrated a lot of promise. However, his school was an extremely strict and parochial Catholic school, and Capone had great difficulty following the rules of the institute. Due to this, he dropped out of the school when he turned 14 following his expulsion for hitting his teacher – who was a woman – in the face. This lead to him being forced to take up odd jobs for cash, including working in a sweet shop and a leisure centre’s bowling alley. With all of this going on, Capone stumbled across infamous gangster Johnny Torrio, and became mesmerized with him – at a later date, he even referred to him as a mentor. This was a turning point in Capone’s life – a turning point that lead him to his life of crime.
Initially, he was only involved in a few small gangs, such as the Bowery Boys and Junior Forty Thieves. However, it didn’t take long for him to progress, and soon he had joined Brooklyn Rippers and Five Points Gang, who were significantly more powerful than his first gangs. It was throughout this time that Capone was also employed by a Coney Island bartender, Frankie Yale, for some extra cash. Whilst working for Yale, Capone threw insults at a woman in the bar, leading her brother to slash Capone across the face with a knife. This assault earned Capone his world renowned nickname – a nickname he despised – “Scarface”.
Shortly after this event, Capone took back up with gangster Johnny Torrio, becoming his right-hand man. In 1925, Capone was ambushed and Torrio was shot numerous times by rival gang members. Whilst he pulled through and survived the incident, he resigned from his position as “boss” and passed his crown on to Al Capone, who at just 26, found himself the new boss of a massive organization that dealt with illegal breweries as well as a transportation network that linked as far as Canada and had law enforcement and political protection. Because of this, Capone was able to use violence more regularly in order to increase the organization’s revenue – for example, if somewhere refused to buy alcohol from him, there bar/club etc. was more often than not blown up.
Basing himself in Cicero, violence was not Capone’s only tool of the trade. He also used widespread intimidation and bribery. However, he was seen as a bit of a national celebrity and was always a hot topic of conversation. Not everyone loved him, and in 1926, just one year after his ambush with Torrio, Capone was almost killed with a shotgun fired by a member of the North Side Gang. Capone began to doubt his self-security and wanted desperately to get away from Chicago. He became dubious and doubtful of everyone and everything, frequently going on spontaneous trips away from the city with his gang members under false names. They all would stay in luxurious hotels, despite the fact that Capone did not have a bank account – everything he bought, he did so with the cash from his back pocket.
In 1929, Capone was arrested by the FBI and in May of that year he was sentenced to a term in Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, convicted for carrying a gun on him – however, one week later he was released. The law did not stop there, making Capone their Public Enemy Number One. In April of 1930, he was finally arrested again, this time with charges of vagrancy during a visit to Miami Beach. In his defence, Capone made the claim that Miami police had denied him food and water whilst threatening to arrest his entire family – this lead to him being charged with a further charge, perjury. However, after a three day trial he was acquitted… until February 1931 where he was charged with contempt of court. He was sentenced to six months in prison but remained a free man whilst on appeal. The courts tried again; in 1927, it was ruled that any money earned illegally was still subject to tax and so in 1931, Capone was charged with tax evasion. He was given eleven years in federal prison, as well as a fine of $57, 692, and was also held liable for $215,000 of interest on his taxes. He was denied any appeals.
Illness & Death
Upon Capone’s arrival at prison in 1932, he was diagnosed with gonorrhea and syphilis, as well as suffering from withdrawal symptoms from cocaine addiction. Over time, he began to deteriorate further, with the disease neurosyphillis eroding his mental capabilities. The last year of his prison sentence was spent entirely in the prison hospital, with Capone being very disorientated and confused. As soon as he was released from prison, he was sent to the Johns Hopkins Hospital for help with his late stage syphilis side effect, paresis. The hospital refused to admit such a criminal with a bad reputation, and so he was moved once again to the Union Memorial Hospital. In 1946, it was declared that Capone now had the mental abilities of a 12 year old, and the following year he had a stroke. Whilst he regained consciousness, he then contracted pneumonia and then suffered from a cardiac arrest the following day. Just three days later, he passed away, surrounded by family.