Al Capone


Al Capone was brought to Chicago from Naples, Italy in 1920 by Johnny Torrio. The stocky boy started out as a mere bodyguard but soon was put in charge of the Four Deuces Cafe, a place where Torrio maintained his headquarters. The cafe had a saloon on the first floor, gambling traps on the second and third, and girls-for-hire on the top story. Patrons had to have enough money to visit the very top floor. In no time Al Capone was benefiting from the expansive growth of the Syndicate into neighboring towns. Soon, Capone was wearing Chesterfield overcoats and monogrammed shirts.

Scarface

Al Capone, also known as Scarface, had a flat nose, bull neck, and a scar from his left ear to his lip. He liked to call it a war wound, but it really was a war momento of a knife fight in a Brooklyn dance hall. Al only made the fourth grade in school, but he proved that a hard-working, dedicated man could go far without formal education. He came up the hard way. He was involved in street fights, petty thefts, warehouse heists, rough stuff in New York's Five Points Gang, and two murder raps. All this helped to prepare Al Capone for his years ahead as "Public Enemy No. 1."

Cicero

Cicero was a suburban goldmine for Capone and his men. The Syndicate put up their own candidates for public office and then stationed gunmen at the polling places to see that the candidates got voted into office. The Chicago police interfered in one election there and Frank Capone, Al's brother, died in the ensuing battle. The Syndicate indeed had control, and Capone's rule was obvious. One day police stood amiably by when Capone lost his temper over some small matter. He knocked down Mayor Joseph Z. Klenha on the City Hall steps.

Capone's Headquarters

For much of the major gang activity, Capone stayed out of the papers. But that changed on September 20, 1926, when an armed convoy rode down on him in Cicero. There were eight touring cars in the deadly battalion that fired into the Hawthorne Hotel, Capone's headquarters. Amazingly, no one got killed in the rush of machine gun fire. Capone hugged the hotel floor and got up with only flecks of dust on his suit. "What shooting?" he asked when the ever-friendly local police came by.

A period of some peace followed the Hawthorne Hotel shooting. Scarface Al became the New Power, bigger than the city and bigger than the state. He was the mayor, governor, and machine boss all rolled into one. His power not only controlled Chicago but whatever parts of Illinois that he wanted to control. All this control brought Scarface an estimated $30,000,000 for his own use. That's a huge amount for the time. He also lost money by gambling and playing the horses. That amount was somewhere around $10,000,000.

Extravagant Tastes

Scarface also had extravagant tastes. He had an 11 1/2 carat diamond ring that cost him $50,000, and his custom built 7-ton limousine cost $30,000. It was steel-plated to discourage assassins. He maintained a suitable town house in Chicago's Grand Crossing District, and his Irish wife and son never wanted for anything. That goes for his entire gang as well.

When Capone was vacationing in Florida, the famous St. Valentine's Day massacre occurred. Anti-Capone gang members were no longer willing to let Capone have all the control and all the glory. Coming back from Florida to settle the warring, Capone got arrested in Philadelphia. It looked prearranged. He pleaded guilty on a gun charge and spent a year in prison. "He was running away from a gang which was out to kill him," said Mayor Harry A. Mackey.

Capone's Demise

Capone indeed was tired of gangs, running, killing, and fear. According to Capone, "I haven't had any peace of mind in years. Every minute I was in danger of death." He said he had been trying to quit the mob for years. In 1929 President Hoover began his term as President and vowed to crush Capone and his gang's control. Capone's demise came soon after the President's came into office. Capone was accused of tax evasion for the years 1924 through 1929. In October, 1931, Capone was tried and found guilty in the tax cases, and he was sentenced to eleven years in prison, $50,000 in fines, and $30,000 in costs.

Free from Alcatraz

Scarface hardly seemed upset. He was sent to the Federal Prison at Atlanta where he worked in the overall shop. Later he was transferred to Alcatraz. With time deducted for good behavior, he got off the rock outside of San Francisco in 1939, but by then he was a human wreck. He had spent eight years behind bars in deadly fear of his life. In addition, an old case of syphilis affected his brain. He retired to his Miami Beach estate as other Syndicate leaders shot up the cities. Capone lived until 1947 when he died at the young age of 48. He stomped on the law for ten years and it took the national government to smash his authority. Quite a life story for a simple immigrant from Naples.

Source: The Lawless Decade by Paul Sann, Bonanza Books, New York

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