If you want to know about Chicago’s history, then there is no way to escape it without delving into its mob history, especially the mobster known as Al Capone.
History of Al Capone
Alphonse Capone (a.k.a Al Capone, a.k.a Scarface) was born in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York to poor Italian immigrants. He was originally one of nine children until one of his sisters died at about 12 months old. As Al was repeating 6th grade, he got in trouble for hitting a teacher and never went back to school after that.
The Capones moved to a better neighborhood where Al met his future wife, Mae, and Johnny Torrio, who was considered his mob mentor:
Al Capone was running errands for Torrio until he left for Chicago in 1909. That forced Al to work at various odd jobs, but he continued with a small amount of local gang activity.
How Al Capone Got The Nickname “Scarface”
It was in 1917 that Capone was introduced to another gangster, Frankie Yale, who hired him to be a bartender/bouncer in Coney Island. He made an insulting remark to a lady one night, and her brother hit Al Capone and slashed his face, earning the nickname “Scarface”. He hated that name and always hid the scars whenever his picture was taken.
Al married Mae when he was 19, the same month their son Albert Francis (nicknamed “Sonny”) was born. When Capone was 20, Johnny Torrio invited him to Chicago, after his father died, and he left Brooklyn. He started work as a brothel bouncer and it was there that he contracted syphilis, which he never sought a cure for. His wife and son, mother, and a few siblings all moved to Chicago where Al bought a house in a middle class neighborhood.
Al Capone Becomes Torrio’s Right Hand Man
Torrio had been working for crime boss “Big Jim” Colosimo until his murder in 1920, allowing him to take over Colosimo’s crime empire. Although it was suspected that Capone was involved, he became Torrio’s right-hand. They moved their operation to Cicero, outside the city limits, to get away from a newly elected mayor who wanted to go after corruption in the city.
A Cicero mayoral election became threatening as well in 1924, and both Capone and Torrio orchestrated an intimidation effort so their candidate would be elected. Some of the voters were shot, some killed, including Capon’s brother, Frank, when the cops came and started shooting.
In 1925, Johnny Torrio was shot many times, but recovered and then resigned to give Capone full control. Al was 26 when he was made the new boss of an illegal brewery and transportation network that extended into Canada, having the protection of politicians and law-enforcement. This resulted in Capone being more violent to attain more profits, blowing up establishments if they didn’t order their liquor from him.
Up to 100 people died this way so Capone could raise his revenues.
Scarface’s Luxurious Lifestyle
“Scarface” lived in luxury, wearing fitted suits, smoking the best cigars, eating gourmet foods and drinking his favorite liquor, Templeton Rye. He wore expensive jewelry and had many female companions by his side, all while claiming to be a simple businessman.
Torrio had advised Capone to keep a low profile, but he ignored that and stayed at a plush hotel in downtown Chicago. It was estimated that his operation made $100 million a year, which is worth $1.3 billion today.
Murder Attempt on Al Capone
Capone had his run-ins with the North Side Gang, which was run by Hymie Weiss after the former head of the gang was murdered. Torrio is thought to have arranged the murder, so Weiss and his gang (including Bugs Moran, another well known gangster) wanted revenge. Capone’s driver was murdered after being tortured, and was followed by an attempt on Weiss’s life.
The North Siders then tried to lure Capone to the windows of the hotel he had his headquarters in, firing machine guns at the windows, but Capone was not hurt. A few months after that, Weiss was murdered at the North Sider’s headquarters, followed by Capone’s friend being kidnapped and murdered.
After all of that, Al Capone was suspicious of everyone and increased his security personnel and expressed a desire to leave Chicago in 1928. He would take his whole entourage on a train sleeper car to another state and stay for a week at a time in luxury hotels under different names. He always paid in cash so he could never be traced.
By 1929, after having dominated the illegal liquor trade, Capone realized that Bugs Moran was trying to take a piece of his business and was coming after Capone’s hit man, Jack McGurn (a.k.a “Machine Gun”).
In response, it is thought that they both decided to murder Moran and his men, in what has been known as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. While Capone was in Miami, McGurn had his men dress as policemen to fake a police raid and lined Moran’s men up against the wall of their garage. They then started shooting them, some with machine guns, and some with shotguns. Moran had been alerted to what was about to happen and escaped before the massacre.
The US Government Goes After Al Capone
Al Capone was believed to be involved and the public called for something to be done, so the government went after him for income tax evasion. In 1931, Capone was brought up on 22 counts of tax evasion, and after a plea bargain deal failed, the case went to trial.
Al tried to use bribery and intimidate the jury, but the judge ordered a whole new jury at the last minute, who then found Capone guilty and sentenced him to 11 years. He had already finished a prison sentence at Eastern State Penitentiary of 9 months in 1929 before this trial happened.
In 1932, Capone was doing time in the Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary when he was 33, suffering from syphilis, gonorrhea, and cocaine addiction withdrawal.
He was eventually transferred to Alcatraz, where the syphilis spread to his brain (called neurosyphilis) and slowed his mental functions. He stayed in the prison hospital for the last year of his sentence and was a free man by November, 1939.
The Death of Scarface
After his prison release, Capone was admitted to a hospital in Baltimore for treatment of late-stage syphilis. He left in 1940 to move to Florida, and in 1946, it was concluded by a doctor to have a 12 year old’s mentality.
He had a stroke in 1947 and recovered, but then contracted pneumonia and had cardiac arrest a day later. A few days after that, Capone died, surrounded by family in his home, and was buried in Illinois at the Mount Carmel Cemetery.
The Impact Capone Has Had on Chicago & American History
“Public Enemy No. 1” was 48 when he passed away, and to this day, he is what gangster movie characters are based on. He is mentioned in different books, like Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story From Inside His Family, written by his grandniece. There was also a book by a man who claimed he was Capone’s bodyguard, called Carrying A Gun For Al Capone.
He’s appeared in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, as well as other pieces of literature. He has also been portrayed in various movies and tv shows, as well as in songs by Queen, Michael Jackson, and other bands.