Alphonse Gabriel Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 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 1931 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 at
his estate in Miami, Florida.
Birth and early life
Alphonse Capone was born to Gabriele Capone (1865–1920) and his
wife Teresina "T(h)eresa" Raiola (December 28, 1867–1952)
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
The couple had seven sons and two daughters:
Vincenzo Capone (1892–October 1, 1952). Called James Vincenzo
Capone upon entering the United States. He left the family in 1908
to join a circus operating in the Midwest. Served as a lieutenant in
the U.S. Army during World War I. Apparently changed his name to Richard
Joseph Hart shortly after his discharge. He had a career as a law enforcement
officer, served in the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and later became
Marshal in Homer, Nebraska.
Raffaele Capone (1894–November 22, 1974). Called Ralph upon entering
the United States. Later joined his younger brother in Chicago.
Salvatore Capone (1895–April 1, 1924). Better known as Frank
Capone, he was a representative of his brother in Cicero, Illinois.
Killed by members of the local police reportedly for attempting to
draw a gun while they approached him.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone (January 17, 1899–January 25, 1947).
Erminio Capone (1901–?). Called John or affectionately "Mimi." Served
prison terms for minor offenses such as vagrancy. Changed his last
name to "Martin." Reportedly still alive in 1994.
Umberto Capone (1906–June, 1980). Called Albert. Employee of
the newspaper Cicero Tribune under the ownership of his brother Al.
Changed his last name to Raiola in 1942.
Amedeo Capone (1908–January 31, 1967). Called Matthew. Tavern
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 14 when he fought with a teacher
and worked odd jobs around Brooklyn, 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 seedy Harvard Inn. It was here, at the Harvard Inn,
that Capone would engage in a knife fight with a thug named Frank Gallucio
after Capone had made a bold move on Gallucio's sister. Gallucio had
deeply slashed Capone's right cheek with a switchblade, earning him
the nickname that he would bear for the rest of his life: "Scarface," a
moniker he in fact had deeply detested. Capone had instead preferred
the nickname "Snorky" which meant "well-dressed" in
the slang of the 1920s.
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 homicides,
until being sent to Chicago in 1919. Yale sent his protégé to
Chicago 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.
Severely injured in an assassination attempt in 1925, 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. Capone was reputed to have several other retreats and hideouts
including French Lick, Indiana, Hot Springs, Arkansas and Johnson City,
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 1929 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 led the operation. By staging
the massacre, Capone was trying to dispose of his arch-rival Bugs Moran,
who controlled gang operations on the North Side of Chicago. Moran
himself was late for the meeting and escaped otherwise certain death.
Throughout the 1920s, Capone himself was often the target of attempted
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.
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 eleven 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. At Alcatraz, Capone went in with his cocky
attitude. However, when he attempted to bribe guards, he was sent to
the "hole", or solitary confinement. The same also stood
for socializing, and eventually Capone's mental stability began to
deteriorate. One example of his erratic behavior was that he would
make his bed and then undo it, continuing this pattern for hours. Sometimes,
Capone did not even want to leave his cell at all, crouching in a corner
of his cell and talking to himself in gibberish. He began telling people
that he was being haunted by the ghost of James Clark, a victim in
the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. It was apparent over time that Capone
no longer posed any threat of resuming his previous gangster-related
Death and Aftermath
Sometime in the mid-1930s, and at Alcatraz, Capone began showing signs
of dementia, probably related to a case of untreated syphilis he contracted
as a young man. He spent the last year of his sentence in the prison
hospital, and was released late in 1939. After spending a year of residential
treatment at a hospital in Baltimore, he retired to his estate in Miami,
Capone was now a broken man. He no longer controlled any mafia interests.
On January 21, 1947, Capone died of syphilis, a sexually transmitted
disease, which is very harmful if not treated. In Capone's case, it
resulted in Capone's death.
Al Capone was frowned upon for being the most notorious, and popular
American gangster of the 20th century by many inhabitants of western
countries, the subject of numerous articles, books, and movies. He
has been portrayed in film by Nicholas Kokenes, 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; he was also featured
as an off-screen character in the 2002 film, Road to Perdition, set
during a similar time period as The Untouchables. 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. Capone is also
one of the main characters in Peter F. Hamilton's epic The Night's
Dawn Trilogy novels.
Capone was also the subject of the mostly instrumental Prince Buster
song Al Capone. He is also mentioned in another Buster song Too Hot,
which went on to be covered by The Specials.