Famous Gangsters: Al Capone 1899-1947
Al “Scarface” Capone will forever be linked to one of America’s most notorious crimes, ‘The Valentine’s Day Massacre.’ In fact, the legendary gangster was in Florida on February 14, 1929, when seven members of the rival “Bugs” Moran mob were machine gunned by Capone’s henchmen posing as police officers.
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AL “Scarface” Capone will forever be linked to one of America’s most notorious crimes, ‘The Valentine’s Day Massacre.’
In fact, the legendary gangster was in Florida on February 14, 1929, when seven members of the rival “Bugs” Moran mob were machine gunned by Capone’s henchmen posing as police officers. Capone himself always managed to stay one step ahead of the law as far as his racketeering was concerned. His downfall, when it came, was because he didn’t pay his taxes.
"Scarface" Al Capone is shown here at the Chicago Detective bureau following his arrest on a vagrancy charge as Public Enemy No. 1.
Becoming The Leader Of The Mafia
His swift rise to become the ruthless leader of the Chicago mafia during the Prohibition era made his name synonymous with organized crime and amassed a personal fortune estimated at more than $100 million.
Along the way, he was responsible for countless gangland murders.
His success as a crook owed much to his comparatively comfortable background. While most early 20th century gangsters came from impoverished homes, Capone was from a respectable, hard-working immigrant family.
Leaving A Mark
Born in Brooklyn, New York on January 17, 1899, Alphonse Capone went off the rails at the age of 14 after he was expelled from his Catholic school for striking a female teacher.
His teenage mentor was street gang boss Johnny Torrio, who taught him how to keep up a respectable front to cover his criminal activities. It was a proving ground for the young thug and one that left its mark. A rival hoodlum slashed his left cheek with a razor in a brothel brawl, prompting the later nickname “Scarface.”
Expanding The Business
In 1919, Capone joined Torrio in Chicago where he had become an influential lieutenant in the Colosimo mob, which had a grip on the booming new trade in illicit alcohol and the ages old brothel business. The next year, Capone was prime suspect in the murder of boss Big Jim Colosimo that paved the way for Torrio to take over and further expand the lucrative bootlegging operation.
Growing An Empire
In 1925, Capone assumed control when Torrio was wounded in an assassination attempt and retired back to Brooklyn.
He quickly built a fearsome reputation with mob rivals ruthlessly wiped out as he spread through Chicago claiming “racketeering rights.”
Capone made a show of turning his back on the old life with marriage to a middle-class Irish girl, Mae Coughlin. But it didn’t last long. His crime empire – based at the Four Deuces Speakeasy - continued to grow. To cement his status, Capone was always smartly dressed and never armed, but always traveled with two gun-toting bodyguards, sitting sandwiched between them in the back when he was in his car.
Living Above The Law
With politicians and the police in his pocket, Capone seemed to be above the law, even after going after a hood from another gang and shooting him dead in a Chicago bar.
But if he was able to keep a low profile before the ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’, his veneer of respectability was tarnished afterwards. He was also blamed for ‘The Adonis Club Massacre’, when he supposedly had a friend’s enemies murdered during a Christmas party. Capone’s problems were compounded when President Herbert Hoover told his Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon: “Have you got this Capone fellow yet? I want that man in jail.”
Going After Al Capone
The route the authorities took to eventually snare the gangland boss was unorthodox but hugely effective.
In May 1927, the Supreme Court ruled that a bootlegger had to pay income tax on his illegal bootlegging business. With such a ruling it wasn't long before the small Special Intelligence Unit of the IRS was able to go after Al Capone. With agent Eliot Ness targeting Capone’s Prohibition violations and the IRS squad building a case against Capone for evading taxes, it wasn’t long before the Public Enemy Number 1 was in big trouble.
Mug Shot in Miami, 1930
Sentenced To Jail
In 1931, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Capone, accusing him of 22 counts of tax evasion totaling about $200,000.
Initially, a deal was struck secretly with prosecutors to avoid a trial and the risk of witness tampering and keep Capone’s jail time to less than five years.But there was an outcry when the plea deal was revealed and it was quickly withdrawn.
On October 17, 1931, a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to 11 years in prison, the maximum possible term.
The End Of An Empire
Three years later, he was moved from prison in Atlanta to the infamous Alcatraz in San Francisco and his health quickly deteriorated.
He was released after nearly seven years but he had become confused and disorientated from paresis derived from syphilis and had become mentally incapable of rebuilding his gangland empire.
He died of a stroke and pneumonia with loyal wife Mae at his side at his Palm Island home on January 25, 1947.