When I sell liquor, they call it bootlegging. When my patrons serve it on silver trays on Lake Shore Drive, they call it hospitality.-Al Capone Woog, 25
Al Capone was one of the most notorious gangsters during the 1920s. He was a self-made business man. He had a ready smile and a quick handshake, which if you did not play your cards right, could turn out to be fatal. It took 500 gangland murders to make Capone the boss of Chicago. He was public enemy number one. Capone single handedly gave Chicago the nickname The Lawless City.
Alphonse Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 17, 1899. He grew up in a very rough neighborhood and became a part of two gangs during this time. He was a very bright kid, yet he quit school in the sixth grade at age fourteen. He worked several jobs, such as a clerk at a candy store and a pin boy at a bowling alley, in between scams.
After a while he became part of the well known Five Points gang and worked for the fellow gangsters. While he was working one night as a bouncer at the Harvard Inn, he insulted a patron and her brother attacked Capone leaving him with his infamous facial scars which later gave him his nickname Scarface.
In 1918, Capone met a girl named Mary Coughlin who gave birth to their son Albert “Sonny” Francis. Coughlin and Capone married later that year.
He was first arrested on a disorderly conduct charge while working for fellow gangster Frankie Yale. At this time he also murdered two men to prove his willingness to kill, but he was not tried because of the gangland etiquette of silence. Capone was let off of all charges due to lack of proof. After Capone hospitalized a rival gang member, Yale sent him to Chicago until things blew over. He arrived there in 1919.
When Capone settled into Chicago, Yale sent him to work for his old mentor, John Torrio. Once Torrio realized Capones potential, he took him under his wing and let Capone become his partner in the bootlegging business. By 1922, Capone was Torrios number two man and was his partner in everything. Torrio was shot by rival gang members and forced to leave Chicago, so naturally Capone made himself boss. Capone was well liked and trusted by his men and soon called The Big Fellow. He quickly proved that he was much better at running the show than Torrio when he was reported to be bringing in a $100,000,000 income each year. He had everything to do with anything that involved gambling, sex, or alcohol.
Once Capone had everything he wanted in Chicago, he realized he was highly disliked by the whole country because he began to hear comments on the street and in the newspapers. Although he often did business with Capone, the mayor William Big Bull Hale Thompson, wanted Capone out of Chicago because Capone was bad for Thompsons political image. So the mayor hired a new police chief to run Capone out of the city, and he personally saw Capone out of the city. Capone looked all over for a new location and he decided to move to an estate in Palm Island, Florida in 1928.
Once Capone was out of the city, attempts on Capones life were becoming regular but he had connections with newspapers and policemen so he quickly found out about the plots. He, on the other hand, was very discrete and clever about his murders. He would always have an alibi, because he himself would rarely do the murdering.
His most notorious murder was the St. Valentines Day massacre. On February 14, 1928, four of Capones men entered a garage of the Main Liquor warehouse for bootlegger George Bugs Morans North Side Gang. When the men entered the garage two of Capones men were dressed as police officers and therefore the North Side Gang dropped their weapons. When they did Capones gang murdered them with two shotguns and two machine guns, putting over 150 bullets into the men. As usual after the massacre, Capone had an alibi; he was in Florida the day of the murder.
Although Capone was behind numerous deaths and even killed with his own hands, he treated people fairly and was very generous. He became known for being violent but also loyal and honest towards fellow citizens. He was actually one of the first people to open soup kitchens after the 1929 stock market crash. He also had the merchants give the needy food and clothes at his expense.
Capone was never tried for most of his crimes. He was arrested in 1926 for murdering three people, but only spent one night in jail due to lack of evidence. He first served time in prison in 1929 for carrying a gun.
In 1931 Capone was indicted for income tax evasion for the years 1925-1929. He was also charged with misdemeanor of failing to file tax returns for the years 1928 and 1929. The government said that Capone owed around $215,000 in taxes from gambling profits. Later a third indictment was added which charged him with conspiracy to violate prohibition laws from 1922-1931. At first Capone pleaded guilty to all three charges hoping to get a plea bargain, but the judge, James Wilkerson, would not make any deals. Later Capone pleaded not guilty and was planning to bribe the jury, but Judge Wilkerson changed the jury panel at the last minute.
The jury found Capone not guilty for eighteen of the twenty-three accounts. Judge Wilkerson sentenced him to ten years in a federal prison and also one year in a county jail. His fines totaled up to be around $50,000 and he also had to pay about $8,000 for prosecution costs.
In May of 1932, Capone was sent to Atlanta, considered the toughest federal prison, to begin his eleven year sentence. While Capone was imprisoned here, he began to gain control and had his cell furnished with many things such as a typewriter, rugs, and encyclopedias. Word spread of what was going on in Atlanta, so Capone was sent to Alcatraz. Security was so tight there; Capone did not even have knowledge of the outside world. He was unable to control anything or anyone. Capone did not participate in any strikes or rebellions in an attempt to earn time off for good behavior.
While Capone was at Alcatraz, he began to show signs of syphilis. Capone spent the rest of his felony sentence in the hospital. On January 6, 1939, his prison time expired and he was transferred to Terminal Island, also in California, where he served his last one year term. He was released on November 16, 1939, but he still owed $37,000 in fines to pay.
After Capones release he spent some time in the hospital, but eventually returned to his home in Palm Island where the rest of his life was relaxed and quiet. Since his body and mind were worsening everyday, he could no longer run the outfit. On January 21, 1947, he had an apoplectic stoke that was probably unrelated to his syphilis. He regained consciousness and began to improve until pneumonia set in on January 24. He died the next day from cardiac arrest.
Capone was first buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicagos far south side. He was buried between his father and his brother. Later in 1950, the remains of all three were moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery on the far west side.
In Conclusion, Al Capone was the most notorious gangster in the history of the nation. Capone single-handedly gave Chicago the reputation it has today. Capone was seen as a mindless murderer and public enemy number one, but treated people fairly. He would however, have his way with them if it was needed. Capone is still talked about today because at one time he was considered the king of Chicago. He controlled everything and everyone, even the officials and other people of authority. Capone will always be thought of and remembered as one of the most ruthless and deadliest criminals of all time.
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Woog, Adam. Gangsters. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1953. 25-35
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