Al Capone Biography: One of the Most Ruthless Men of All Time
The ultimate symbol of a gangster rule, is a man by the name of
Al Capone, who dominated the Chicago underworld by committing many crimes: such as illegal gambling, extortion, prostitution, and alcohol distribution during prohibition. Capone’s life of gang activity started at a very young age. He created a multi-million dollar empire of crime in Chicago. He has been referred to as one of the most ruthless men of all time (Stockdale 45). He was a smart businessman, good family man, and a generous person, that lived a life full of murders and other crimes.
Gabriele Capone was a barber that lived in Naples, Italy who decided to escape a bleak rural life in the promise of work and success in the New World. He was one of 43,000 Italians who arrived in the U. S. in 1894 (Stockdale 7-8). Gabriele was 30 years old and he brought his 27-year-old wife, Teresina and their three sons. He was planning to start a barbershop when he got to America. On January 17, 1899, Teresina gave birth to their fourth son named Alphonse Capone (Bardsley 2). The Capone family lived a very normal life with no problems or events that would explain why their sons chose a life of crime. In 1907, Gabriel moved his family into an apartment over his barbershop in an Italian district in south Brooklyn. This move exposed Alphonse to a different kind of life on the streets. He became a member of a junior gang called the Forty Thieves Juniors, which taught its members the art of petty vandalism. The gang taught him how to use violence to get what you want. When he was 14 years old, Al got expelled from school and never went back after he got mad at his teacher and hit her. By this time, Al Capone was destined to live a life of crime (Stockdale 9-11).
By the time Al was 14 years old, he was an experienced streetfighter and had learned how to use a knife and gun successfully. He became a good leader of the junior gang and was introduced to the Five Points Gang in Brooklyn by Frankie Yale and John Torrio. He began working for Frankie Yale who was an important figure in the adult gang in Brooklyn. Al was 16 years old and was helping control Yale’s prostitution, gambling, extortion, and protection rackets (Schoenberg 23-25). Al Capone worked at the Harvard Inn as a bartender and a bouncer. One night he tried to pick up a woman that he found attractive, not knowing that her brother was sitting next to her. The brother jumped up and hit Capone in the face. Capone became raged and the other man pulled out a knife and cut Capone’s face 3 times before he ran out of the Harvard Inn with his sister. This is how Capone earned his nickname, Scarface (Bardsley 7-9).
In 1918, Al Capone got married and had a son. His wife’s name was Mae Coughlin. His son was found to have congenital syphilis. Years after his sons birth, Capone admitted that he had syphilis before he got married. Capone got out of the gang life for a little while until his father died of a heart attack on November 14, 1920. After the death of his father, he resumed his relationship with John Torrio (Bergreen 57). Torrio then decided to abandon the congested streets of Brooklyn for the open spaces in Chicago. He moved to Chicago because of the many opportunities for money to be made. Capone had threats out for his life so moved to Chicago to help John Torrio with his new operation (Stockdale 11-13).
John Torrio began to form a new empire in Chicago. After the prohibition laws were passed, Torrio saw an opportunity to make a lot of money so he set up warehouses and breweries to supply bars with illegal alcohol. Al soon became Torrio’s assistant when he took over as manager of the Four Deuces, which was Torrio’s headquarters in the Leevee area. Torrio started an operation in Cicero because he could purchase the entire city government and police departments. He paid off all the officials, political leaders, and even the street cops. This new organization had a guaranteed noninterference of the authorities (Stockdale 15-19). Al Capone began running Cicero when Torrio had to take his mother back to Italy. Capone helped politicians win in elections by kidnapping opponent’s election workers and threatening voters with violence (Bardsley 14-16).
By this time, Al had committed or ordered many murders, but had not been charged for any of them. He avoided investigations and prosecutions for the murders because the witnesses were afraid to speak out for they feared for their lives (Schoenberg 362). Tension was brewing in Chicago and Capone had many attempts on his life, so he ordered a bulletproof, steel armored car that weighed 7 tons. Shortly after Torrio came back from Italy, he was shot and almost died. He recovered from the gunshot in jail because it was safer than being in a hospital. Because of these events, Torrio decided to retire from the gang community. He gave full control of the gang in Chicago and Cicero to Capone (Stockdale 19-21).
Al Capone became a major force in the Chicago underworld. He made his new headquarters at the Metropole Hotel in a 5-room luxury suite cost about 1500 dollars a day (Bardsley 23). Capone was an important celebrity figure in the community; showing up at operas, sports events, and charitable functions, always nicely dressed. He was a celebrity everywhere he went because of the excitement and danger that he added to every occasion (Stockdale 29-31).
In Chicago, there was an intense rivalry between gangs growing. Each gang was trying to eliminate their competition by killing rival gang members. Anytime Capone was suspected of a murder, he went into hiding till the situation died down. Capone succeeded in killing all of his enemies and became the strong force in Chicago. He made peace with what was left of the rival gangs (Bardsley 24-26). Al Capone was a very giving person and did many generous things for his community. He made many contributions for the less fortunate including opening soup kitchens for the poor, and purchasing food and fuel for families in the winter. His bootlegging operations employed thousands of people, which included many poor Italian immigrates. He paid them very well and took care of them. It was reported that his gross income from all his business in 1927 was a 100 million dollars (Schoenburg 281-282). Despite his ruthless business tactics, Capone found time to give back to the community and make public appearances.
In 1927, Al had 10 attempts on his life because a rival gang placed a 50,000-dollar bounty on his head. All 10 attempts failed and Capone’s hit men killed all of the attempted murderers. Capone was undergoing a lot of heat in Chicago, so he purchased a 14-room estate in Palm Beach, Florida, to escape from the city (Bardsley 27-30). Capone devised a plan to take over all of the bootlegging business in Chicago. He set up a trap to kill his bootlegging opponent, Moran, and his men. The plan was to happen on February 14 at Moran’s headquarters. They parked a car that looked like a police car across the street from Moran’s headquarters. Inside the car were two of Capone’s men dressed as policemen and three other men to act as the prisoners. The 5 men walked in to Moran’s place and acted like they were going to arrest them. Moran and his gang surrendered and put their hands in the air. Then the five guys from Capone’s gang pulled out machine guns and killed all of the men. Then the five guys walked out of the building and drove off. This event was called the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” Capone went back to Florida to lay low for a while and avoid an investigation and arrest. It didn’t last very long because the Chicago police called Capone back to Chicago for questioning in the murders and also in a tax status (Bergreen 305-314). Capone got away with the murders once again.
In May 1929, at the national mobsters’ convention in Atlantic City, the leader of a rival gang bought out Capone’s hit men. Capone was deeply hurt by the betrayal of his men and became outraged. Capone beat all of them with a baseball bat, shot them, and then had their bodies dumped several miles away (Stockdale 35-36). After these events, he came up with a plan to get arrested for a minor charge so he could lay low in jail for a couple of months. He purposely got arrested for carrying a gun and carried no money with him to bail himself out. While he was in jail, the Supreme Court ruled that illegally earned income was taxable. After this ruling, the IRS began investigating Capone. When he got released from prison, he could not go anywhere without getting arrested for doing something very minor (Bergreen 515-516).
In June of 1931, Capone was charged with 23 counts of unpaid taxes totaling 200,000 dollars. He pleaded not guilty to the charges when he went to court. The court found him guilty of 5 of the 23 counts on which he was charged. The judge sentenced him to a maximum of 11 years in prison and 80,000 dollars in fines. The most celebrated gang boss and murderer in the country was going to prison for tax evasion (Stockdale 42-43).
While in Prison, he employed bodyguards buy smuggling money into the prison. This didn’t last for very long because in 1934 he was one of the first prisoners to be transferred to Alcatraz in San Francisco. At Alcatraz, prisoners were allowed no contact with the outside world. Capone soon developed symptoms of mental instability. He was seed wandering around the prison in a confused state and was raving and drooling. He was diagnosed as suffering from tertiary syphilis. Capone spent the rest of his prison term in the hospital (Stockdale 44). On January 6, 1939, he was released from Alcatraz and went to a county jail. Then on November 16, he became a free man and he lived permanently in Palm Beach with his wife (Bardsley 34-35). Capone never went back to doing any gang activity because of his illness. Then on January 21, 1948, Al Capone suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. Capone regained consciousness and was able to talk with his family. Then a few days later he caught pneumonia and died of a heart attack on January 25. His body was buried in Chicago on February 4. The site of his grave became a famous tourist attraction so they moved the body to an unpublicized spot in Mount Carmel Cemetery. His tombstone read, “My Jesus Mercy (Bergreen 605-609).”
“Public service is my motto. Ninety percent of the people in Chicago drink and gamble. I’ve tried to serve them decent liquor and square games. But I’m not appreciated. I’m known all over the world as a millionaire gorilla,” said Al Capone (Bergreen 16). Alphonse Capone redefined the concept of crime into an organized endeavor modeled on corporate enterprise (Stockdale 45). He dominated the Chicago underworld through illegal gambling, extortion, prostitution, and alcohol distribution. Capone eliminated all of his opponents and avoided prosecution for the crimes that he committed. He was the ultimate symbol of a gangster rule.
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