Al Capone – A Chicago Legend


Alphonse Capone was born in 1899 in Brooklyn, and completed his schooling through sixth grade. Then he joined the street gang led by Johnny Torrio, of which Lucky Luciano was also a member. As a teenager he worked as a bouncer in Torrio’s Brooklyn brothel and saloon, where he was slashed in the face by an irate customer, leaving him with the large scar which gave him the nickname “Scarface”. In 1920 Johnny Torrio moved to Chicago to go to work for his uncle Big Jim Collisimo, and Torrio brought Capone along. With the advent of Prohibition illegal alcohol became the big new mobster industry. In the struggle for control of this profitable business Torrio and Capone murdered Jim Collisimo, and eventually also murdered all of the rest of the opposition standing in the way of their liquor monopoly. In 1924 their murder of Dion O’Banion, the head of Chicago’s North Side Irish mob, led to an all out war which nearly resulted in Torrio’s death. Torrio decided to return east, so he turned his business interests over to Al Capone.

Capone now was 26 years of age, and he controlled an empire of crime worth over thirty million dollars. His chief rackets were illegal liquor, prostitution, and gambling. He had over a hundred employees, with a weekly payroll of $ 300,000. He had a flair for publicity and became a Chicago celebrity, cheered by an admiring public when he attended ball games or concerts. However, he still had enemies. In 1926 survivors of the O’Banion gang sent a machine-gun squad to Capone’s headquarters in the Lexington Hotel and fired over a thousand rounds; yet Scarface managed to escape intact. The infamous 1929 St. Valentine’s Day massacre of rival Bugs Moran’s gang sent corpses to a Chicagoland hospital and caused a public outcry which forced the Federal government to take steps to shut Capone down. This is when Eliot Ness came to Chicago with his squad of Untouchables.

Eventually Capone was sentenced to eleven years in the Federal Prison at Atlanta. In 1934 he was transferred to Alcatraz, the high-security prison in San Francisco Bay, notorious for its holes (tiny cells in which prisoners were beaten). Prisoners were forbidden to speak, whistle, or sing except during three minutes twice a day at morning and afternoon recreation periods. Entering Alcatraz with his usually arrogance, Capone was put in the hole for extended periods three times – twice for breaking silence, and once for trying to bribe one of the guards for information about the outside. Also, other prisoners made attempts on his life, including a stabbing which sent him to the hospital.

The beatings and scares, as well as the advancing syphilis which he had contracted in his youth, eventually snapped Al Capone’s mind. He would crouch in the corner of the cell and babble in baby talk to himself. He would compulsively make up his bunk bed over and over. When he was released from prison in 1939 he retired from public view and, eschewing Chicagoland assisted living, he moved to a mansion located in Miami Beach. The following eight years his mind wavered between lucid and psychotic. He died in 1947 of a brain hemorrhage, and his body was brought back to Chicago, and is today interred in Mt. Carmel Cemetery.