|Conviction(s)||Tax evasion (26 U.S.C. § 145) (5 counts)|
|Criminal penalty||11 years imprisonment (1931)|
Alphonse Gabriel Capone (//; January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947), sometimes known by the nickname "Scarface", was an American gangster and businessman who attained notoriety during the Prohibition era as the co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit. His seven-year reign as a crime boss ended when he went to prison at the age of 33.
Capone was born in
Capone apparently reveled in attention, such as the cheers from spectators when he appeared at baseball games. He made donations to various charities and was viewed by many as a "modern-day Robin Hood". However, the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, in which seven gang rivals were murdered in broad daylight, damaged the public image of Chicago and Capone, leading influential citizens to demand government action and newspapers to dub Capone "Public Enemy No. 1".
Federal authorities became intent on jailing Capone and charged him with twenty-two counts of
Al Capone was born in the
Capone's parents had eight other children:
Al Capone showed promise as a student but had trouble with the rules at his strict parochial Catholic school. His schooling ended at the age of 14 after he was expelled for hitting a female teacher in the face. Capone worked at odd jobs around Brooklyn, including a candy store and a bowling alley. From 1916 to 1918 he played semi-professional baseball. Following this, Capone was influenced by gangster Johnny Torrio, whom he came to regard as a mentor.
Capone married Mae Josephine Coughlin at age 19, on December 30, 1918. She was Irish Catholic and earlier that month had given birth to their son Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone (1918–2004). Albert lost most of his hearing in his left ear as a child. Capone was under the age of 21, and his parents had to consent in writing to the marriage. By all accounts, the two had a happy marriage despite his criminal lifestyle.
New York City
Capone initially became involved with small-time gangs that included the Junior Forty Thieves and the Bowery Boys. He then joined the Brooklyn Rippers, and then the powerful
Move to Chicago
In 1919, Capone left New York City for
According to the
Torrio headed an essentially Italian organized crime group that was the biggest in Chicago, with Capone as his right-hand man. Torrio was wary of being drawn into gang wars and tried to negotiate agreements over territory between rival crime groups. The smaller North Side Gang, led by Dean O'Banion, came under pressure from the Genna brothers who were allied with Torrio. O'Banion found that Torrio was unhelpful with the Gennas' encroachment, despite his pretensions to be a settler of disputes. In a fateful step, Torrio arranged the murder of O'Banion at his flower shop on November 10, 1924. This placed Hymie Weiss at the head of the gang, backed by Vincent Drucci and Bugs Moran. Weiss had been a close friend of O'Banion, and the North Siders made it a priority to get revenge on his killers.
During Prohibition, Capone was involved with Canadian bootleggers who helped him smuggle liquor into the U.S. When Capone was asked if he knew Rocco Perri, billed as Canada's "King of the Bootleggers", he replied: "Why, I don't even know which street Canada is on." Other sources, however, claim that Capone had certainly visited Canada, where he maintained some hideaways, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police states that there is no "evidence that he ever set foot on Canadian soil."
An ambush in January 1925 left Capone shaken but unhurt. Twelve days later, Torrio was returning from a shopping trip when he was shot several times. After recovering, he effectively resigned and handed control to Capone, aged 26, who became the new boss of an organization that took in illegal breweries and a transportation network that reached to Canada, with political and law-enforcement protection. In turn, he was able to use more violence to increase revenue. Any establishment that refused to purchase liquor from Capone often got blown up, and as many as 100 people were killed in such bombings during the 1920s. Rivals saw Capone as responsible for the proliferation of brothels in the city.
Capone often enlisted the help of local members of the black community into his operations; jazz musicians Milt Hinton and Lionel Hampton had uncles who worked for Capone on Chicago's South Side. A fan of jazz as well, Capone once asked clarinetist Johnny Dodds to play a number that Dodds did not know; Capone split a $100 bill in half and told Dodds that he would get the other half when he learned it. Capone also sent two bodyguards to accompany jazz pianist Earl Hines on a road trip.
Capone indulged in custom suits, cigars, gourmet food and drink, and female companionship. He was particularly known for his flamboyant and costly jewelry. His favorite responses to questions about his activities were: "I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want"; and, "All I do is satisfy a public demand." Capone had become a national celebrity and talking point.
Capone based himself in Cicero, Illinois, after using bribery and widespread intimidation to take over town council elections, making it difficult for the North Siders to target him. Capone's driver was found tortured and murdered, and there was an attempt on Weiss' life in the Chicago Loop. On September 20, 1926, the North Siders used a ploy outside Capone's headquarters at the Hawthorne Inn aimed at drawing him to the windows. Gunmen in several cars then opened fire with Thompson submachine guns and shotguns at the windows of the first-floor restaurant. Capone was unhurt and called for a truce, but the negotiations fell through. Three weeks later, on October 11, Weiss was killed outside the North Siders' headquarters at O'Banion's former flower shop. The owner of Hawthorne's restaurant was a friend of Capone's, and he was kidnapped and killed by Moran and Drucci in January 1927.
Capone became increasingly security-minded and desirous of getting away from Chicago.
Feud with Aiello
In November 1925, Capone's
Aiello allied himself with several other Capone enemies, including
During the summer and autumn of 1927, a number of hitmen Aiello hired to kill Capone were themselves slain. Among them were Anthony Russo and Vincent Spicuzza, each of whom had been offered $25,000 by Aiello to kill Capone and Lombardo. Aiello eventually offered a $50,000 bounty to anyone who eliminated Capone. At least ten gunmen tried to collect on the bounty but ended up dead. Capone's ally Ralph Sheldon attempted to kill both Capone and Lombardo for Aiello's reward, but Capone henchman Frank Nitti's intelligence network learned of the transaction and had Sheldon shot in front of a West Side hotel, although he survived the incident.
In November 1927, Aiello organized machine-gun ambushes across from Lombardo's home and a cigar store frequented by Capone, but those plans were foiled after an anonymous tip led police to raid several addresses and arrest Milwaukee gunman Angelo La Mantio and four other Aiello gunmen. After the police discovered receipts for the apartments in La Mantio's pockets, he confessed that Aiello had hired him to kill Capone and Lombardo, leading the police to arrest Aiello himself and bring him to the South Clark Street police station. Upon learning of the arrest, Capone dispatched nearly two dozen gunmen to stand guard outside the station and await Aiello's release. The men made no attempt to conceal their purpose there, and reporters and photographers rushed to the scene to observe Aiello's expected murder.
Chicago politicians had long been associated with questionable methods, and even newspaper circulation "wars", but the need for bootleggers to have protection in city hall introduced a far more serious level of violence and graft. Capone is generally seen as having an appreciable effect in bringing about the victory of Republican mayoral candidate William Hale Thompson, who had campaigned on a platform of not enforcing Prohibition and at one time hinted that he'd reopen illegal saloons. Thompson allegedly accepted a contribution of $250,000 from Capone. Thompson beat Democratic candidate William Emmett Dever in the 1927 mayoral race by a relatively slim margin.
On the day of the so-called Pineapple Primary on April 10, 1928, voting booths were targeted by Capone's bomber, James Belcastro, in wards where Thompson's opponents were thought to have support, causing the deaths of at least fifteen people. Belcastro was accused of the murder of lawyer Octavius Granady, an African-American who challenged Thompson's candidate for the Black vote, and was chased through the streets on polling day by cars of gunmen before being shot dead. Four policemen were among those charged along with Belcastro, but all charges were dropped after key witnesses recanted their statements. An indication of the attitude of local law enforcement toward Capone's organization came in 1931 when Belcastro was wounded in a shooting; police suggested to skeptical journalists that Belcastro was an independent operator.
A 1929 report by The New York Times connected Capone to the 1926 murder of Assistant State Attorney William H. McSwiggin, the 1928 murders of chief investigator Ben Newmark and former mentor Frankie Yale.
Saint Valentine's Day Massacre
Capone was widely assumed to have been responsible for ordering the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, despite being at his Florida home at the time of the massacre. The massacre was an attempt to eliminate Bugs Moran, head of the North Side Gang, and the motivation for the plan may have been the fact that some expensive whisky illegally imported from Canada via the Detroit River had been hijacked while it was being transported to Cook County, Illinois.
Moran was the last survivor of the North Side gunmen; his succession had come about because his similarly aggressive predecessors, Weiss and Vincent Drucci, had been killed in the violence that followed the murder of original leader Dean O'Banion.
To monitor their targets' habits and movements, Capone's men rented an apartment across from the trucking warehouse and garage at 2122 North Clark Street, which served as Moran's headquarters. On the morning of Thursday, February 14, 1929, Capone's lookouts signaled four gunmen disguised as police officers to initiate a "police raid". The faux police lined the seven victims along a wall and signaled for accomplices armed with machine guns and shotguns. Moran was not among the victims. Photos of the slain victims shocked the public and damaged Capone's image. Within days, Capone received a summons to testify before a Chicago grand jury on charges of federal Prohibition violations, but he claimed to be too unwell to attend. In an effort to clean up his image, Capone donated to charities and sponsored a soup kitchen in Chicago during the Depression.
The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre led to public disquiet about Thompson's alliance with Capone and was a factor in
Feud with Aiello ends
Capone was primarily known for ordering other men to do his dirty work for him. In May 1929, one of Capone's bodyguards, Frank Rio, uncovered a plot by three of his men, Albert Anselmi, John Scalise and Joseph Giunta, who had been persuaded by Aiello to depose Capone and take over the Chicago Outfit. Capone later beat the men with a baseball bat and then ordered his bodyguards to shoot them, a scene that was included in the 1987 film The Untouchables. Deirdre Bair, along with writers and historians such as William Elliot Hazelgrove, have questioned the veracity of the claim. Bair questioned why "three trained killers could sit quietly and let this happen", while Hazelgrove stated that Capone would have been "hard pressed to beat three men to death with a baseball bat" and that he would have instead let an enforcer perform the murders. However, despite claims that the story was first reported by author Walter Noble Burns in his 1931 book The One-way Ride: The red trail of Chicago gangland from prohibition to Jake Lingle, Capone biographers Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz have found versions of the story in press coverage shortly after the crime. Collins and Schwartz suggest that similarities among reported versions of the story indicate a basis in truth and that the Outfit deliberately spread the tale to enhance Capone's fearsome reputation.: xvi, 209–213, 565 George Meyer, an associate of Capone's, also claimed to have witnessed both the planning of the murders and the event itself.
In 1930, upon learning of Aiello's continued plotting against him, Capone resolved to finally eliminate him. In the weeks before Aiello's death, Capone's men tracked him to Rochester, New York, where he had connections through Buffalo crime family boss Stefano Magaddino, and plotted to kill him there, but Aiello returned to Chicago before the plot could be executed. Aiello, angst-ridden from the constant need to hide out and the killings of several of his men, set up residence in the Chicago apartment of Unione Siciliana treasurer Pasquale "Patsy Presto" Prestogiacomo at 205 N. Kolmar Ave. On October 23, upon exiting Prestogiacomo's building to enter a taxicab, a gunman in a second-floor window across the street started firing at Aiello with a submachine gun. Aiello was said to have been shot at least 13 times before he toppled off the building steps and moved around the corner, attempting to move out of the line of fire. Instead, he moved directly into the range of a second submachine gun positioned on the third floor of another apartment block, and was subsequently gunned down.
In the wake of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, Walter A. Strong, publisher of the Chicago Daily News, decided to ask his friend President Herbert Hoover for federal intervention to stem Chicago's lawlessness. He arranged a secret meeting at the White House, just two weeks after Hoover's inauguration. On March 19, 1929, Strong, joined by Frank Loesch of the Chicago Crime Commission, and Laird Bell, made their case to the President. In Hoover's 1952 Memoir, the former President reported that Strong argued "Chicago was in the hands of the gangsters, that the police and magistrates were completely under their control, …that the Federal government was the only force by which the city's ability to govern itself could be restored. At once I directed that all the Federal agencies concentrate upon Mr. Capone and his allies."
That meeting launched a multi-agency attack on Capone. Treasury and Justice Departments developed plans for income tax prosecutions against Chicago gangsters, and a small, elite squad of Prohibition Bureau agents (whose members included Eliot Ness) were deployed against bootleggers. In a city used to corruption, these lawmen were incorruptible. Charles Schwarz, a writer for the Chicago Daily News, dubbed them Untouchables. To support Federal efforts, Strong secretly used his newspaper's resources to gather and share intelligence on the Capone outfit.
On March 27, 1929, Capone was arrested by FBI agents as he left a Chicago courtroom after testifying to a grand jury that was investigating violations of federal prohibition laws. He was charged with contempt of court for feigning illness to avoid an earlier appearance. On May 16, 1929, Capone was arrested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for carrying a concealed weapon. On May 17, 1929, Capone was indicted by a grand jury and a trial was held before Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge John E Walsh. Following the entering of a guilty plea by his attorney, Capone was sentenced to a prison term of one year. On August 8, 1929, Capone was transferred to Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary. A week after his release in March 1930, Capone was listed as the number one "Public Enemy" on the unofficial Chicago Crime Commission's widely publicized list.
In April 1930, Capone was arrested on vagrancy charges when visiting Miami Beach; the governor had ordered sheriffs to run him out of the state. Capone claimed that Miami police had refused him food and water and threatened to arrest his family. He was charged with perjury for making these statements, but was acquitted after a three-day trial in July. In September, a Chicago judge issued a warrant for Capone's arrest on charges of vagrancy and then used the publicity to run against Thompson in the Republican primary. In February 1931, Capone was tried on the contempt of court charge. In court, Judge James Herbert Wilkerson intervened to reinforce questioning of Capone's doctor by the prosecutor. Wilkerson sentenced Capone to six months, but he remained free while on appeal of the contempt conviction.
Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt is said to have originated the tactic of charging obviously wealthy crime figures with federal tax evasion on the basis of their luxurious lifestyles. In 1927, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Sullivan that the approach was legally sound: illegally earned income was subject to income tax.
The key to Capone's conviction on tax charges was not his spending, but proving his income, and the most valuable evidence in that regard originated in his offer to pay tax. Ralph, his brother and a gangster in his own right, was tried for tax evasion in 1930. Ralph spent the next 18 months in prison after being convicted in a two-week trial over which Wilkerson presided.
On June 16, 1931, at the Chicago Federal Building in the courtroom of Wilkerson, Capone pleaded guilty to income tax evasion and the 5,000 Volstead Act violations as part of a 2+1⁄2-year prison sentence plea bargain. However, on July 30, 1931, Wilkerson refused to honor the plea bargain, and Capone's counsel rescinded the guilty pleas. On the second day of the trial, Wilkerson deemed that the 1930 letter to federal authorities could be admitted into evidence, overruling objections that a lawyer could not confess for his client. Wilkerson later tried Capone only on the income tax evasion charges as he determined they took precedence over the Volstead Act charges.
Much was later made of other evidence, such as witnesses and ledgers, but these strongly implied Capone's control rather than stating it. Capone's lawyers, who had relied on the plea bargain Wilkerson refused to honor and therefore had mere hours to prepare for the trial, ran a weak defense focused on claiming that essentially all his income was lost to gambling. This would have been irrelevant regardless, since gambling losses can only be subtracted from gambling winnings, but it was further undercut by Capone's expenses, which were well beyond what his claimed income could support; Wilkerson allowed Capone's spending to be presented at very great length. The government charged Capone with evasion of $215,000 in taxes on a total income of $1,038,654, during the five-year period. Capone was convicted on five counts of income tax evasion on October 17, 1931, and was sentenced a week later to 11 years in federal prison, fined $50,000 plus $7,692 for court costs, and was held liable for $215,000 plus interest due on his back taxes. The contempt of court sentence was served concurrently. New lawyers hired to represent Capone were Washington-based tax experts. They filed a writ of habeas corpus based on a Supreme Court ruling that tax evasion was not fraud, which apparently meant that Capone had been convicted on charges relating to years that were actually outside the time limit for prosecution. However, a judge interpreted the law so that the time that Capone had spent in Miami was subtracted from the age of the offences, thereby denying the appeal of both Capone's conviction and sentence.
Capone was sent to Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary in May 1932, aged 33. Upon his arrival at Atlanta, Capone was officially diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhoea. He was also experiencing withdrawal symptoms from cocaine addiction, the use of which had perforated his nasal septum. Capone was competent at his prison job of stitching soles on shoes for eight hours a day, but his letters were barely coherent. He was seen as a weak personality, and so out of his depth dealing with bullying at the hands of fellow inmates that his cellmate, seasoned convict Red Rudensky, feared that Capone would have a breakdown. Rudensky was formerly a small-time criminal associated with the Capone gang and found himself becoming a protector for Capone. The conspicuous protection by Rudensky and other prisoners, drew accusations from less friendly inmates and fueled suspicion that Capone was receiving special treatment. No solid evidence ever emerged, but it formed part of the rationale for moving Capone to the recently opened Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary off the coast of San Francisco, in August 1934. On June 23, 1936, Capone was stabbed and superficially wounded by fellow Alcatraz inmate James C. Lucas.
Due to his good behavior, Capone was permitted to play banjo in the Alcatraz prison band, the Rock Islanders, which gave regular Sunday concerts for other inmates. Capone also transcribed the song "Madonna Mia" creating his own arrangement as a tribute to his wife Mae.
At Alcatraz, Capone's decline became increasingly evident, as neurosyphilis progressively eroded his mental faculties; his formal diagnosis of syphilis of the brain was made in February 1938. He spent the last year of his Alcatraz sentence in the hospital section, confused and disoriented. Capone completed his term in Alcatraz on January 6, 1939, and was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island in California to serve out his sentence for contempt of court. He was paroled on November 16, 1939, after his wife Mae appealed to the court, based on his reduced mental capabilities.
The main effect of Capone's conviction was that he ceased to be boss immediately on his imprisonment, but those involved in the jailing of Capone portrayed it as a considerable undermining of the city's organized crime syndicate. Capone's underboss, Frank Nitti, took over as boss of the Outfit after he was released from prison in March 1932, having also been convicted of tax evasion charges. Far from being smashed, the Outfit continued without being troubled by the Chicago police, but at a lower level and without the open violence that had marked Capone's rule. Organized crime in the city had a lower profile once Prohibition was repealed, already wary of attention after seeing Capone's notoriety bring him down, to the extent that there is a lack of consensus among writers about who was actually in control and who was a figurehead "front boss".: 468–469, 517–518, 524–527, 538–541 Prostitution, labor union racketeering, and gambling became moneymakers for organized crime in the city without incurring serious investigation. In the late 1950s, FBI agents discovered an organization led by Capone's former lieutenants reigning supreme over the Chicago underworld.
Some historians have speculated that Capone ordered the 1939 murder of Edward J. O'Hare a week before his release, for helping federal prosecutors convict Capone of tax evasion, though there are other theories for O'Hare's death.
Illness and death
Due to his failing health, Capone was released from prison on November 16, 1939,
In 1946, his physician and a Baltimore psychiatrist examined him and concluded that Capone had the mentality of a 12-year-old child. He spent the last years of his life at his mansion in Palm Island, Florida, spending time with his wife and grandchildren. On January 21, 1947, Capone had a stroke. He regained consciousness and started to improve, but contracted bronchopneumonia. He suffered a cardiac arrest on January 22, and on January 25, surrounded by his family in his home, Capone died after his heart failed as a result of apoplexy. His body was transported back to Chicago a week later and a private funeral was held. He was originally buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago. In 1950, Capone's remains, along with those of his father, Gabriele, and brother, Frank, were moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.
Capone's death certificate January 25, 1947
In popular culture
Capone is one of the most notorious American gangsters of the 20th century and has been the major subject of numerous articles, books, and films. Particularly, from 1925 to 1929, shortly after he relocated to Chicago, he enjoyed status as the most notorious mobster in the country. He cultivated a certain image of himself in the media that made him a subject of fascination.
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