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Capone, Al

Al Capone

Born: January 17, 1899
Brooklyn, New York, New York
Died: January 25, 1947
Palm Island, Florida

American gangster and criminal

Al "Scarface" Capone was an American gangster who rose to power during the Prohibition era (192033), when the United States banned the production and sale of liquor. His vicious career illustrated the power and influence of organized crime in the United States.

"Scarface" is born

Alphonso Caponi was born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York. He was one of seven children born to Gabriel and Teresa Caponi, who came to the United States from Italy in 1893. His father was a barber. Capone attended school through the sixth grade, at which point he beat up his teacher one day and was himself beaten by the school's principal afterward.

Like many other American children at the time, Capone was taught that the main purpose of life was to acquire wealth and that the United States was the land of opportunity. He discovered that prejudice (unfair treatment) based on his ethnic background made it difficult to succeed in school and that others looked down on the children of immigrants and members of the working class. Angered by the gap between the American dream and his own reality, Capone began to engage in criminal activities as a way of achieving success in what he saw as an unjust society.

Capone worked at odd jobs for a while but found his calling when a gangster named Johnny Torrio (18821957) hired him to work in a bar owned by Torrio's friend. Torrio knew Capone did not mind violence and often had him beat up people who were unable to repay loans. Over time, Capone learned more and more about the criminal world. During a fight in a bar he received a razor cut on his cheek, which gained him the nickname "Scarface." He then met a woman named Mae Coughlin (18971986), with whom he had a child named Albert Francis Capone (nicknamed Sonny). Capone and Coughlin married a short time later, on December 18, 1918.

Success in Chicago

In 1919 the U.S. government approved the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, a law prohibiting (or preventing) the manufacture, sale, and transport of liquor. The same year, Capone fled Brooklyn for Chicago to avoid a murder charge. In Chicago he joined the Five Points Gang and quickly moved up its ranks. He became the top assistant to the gang's leader, his old friend Johnny Torrio, who had set up operations in the city. Capone worked as a bartender and enforcer for Torrio and was arrested many times for assaulting people, but Torrio's influence saved him from jail.

After Torrio fled the country, Capone found himself in control of part of the bootlegging (illegal supplying of alcohol) in Chicago that had sprung up after Prohibition (preventing by law the production, sale, or transportation of liquor). The citizens of Chicago had not been in favor of Prohibition. Many of them were more than willing to break the law by purchasing alcohol. Capone took advantage of this attitude and conducted his business openly. As he would tell reporter Damon Runyon, "I make money by supplying a public demand. If I break the law, my customers some of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as me."

Capone protected his business interests, which also included gambling houses, by waging war on rival gangs. During the St. Valentine's Day massacre in 1929, seven members of a rival gang led by George "Bugsy" Moran were shot to death in a Chicago garage. Protecting these businesses also often involved either bribing or beating up public officials. As Capone's profits continued to grow, he began to act as if he were a well-to-do businessman rather than a vicious criminal. Many people, including members of the police and city government, admired him. Between 1927 and 1931 he was viewed by many as the real ruler of Chicago.

The truth is that Capone was totally unworthy of admiration. He was a cold-blooded criminal who killed hundreds of people without a second thought. He paid off mayors, governors, and other elected officials to allow his crooked operations to continue. He could even influence elections by having members of his gang intimidate people into voting the way he wanted. Capone's reign of terror gave the city of Chicago a reputation as a gangster-infested place that it would hold for years, even after he was long gone.

Menace to society

Most of the rest of the country (and even some people in Chicago) correctly regarded Capone as a menace. In the late 1920s President Herbert Hoover (18741964) ordered his secretary of the treasury to find a way to put Capone behind bars. Capone had up to this point managed to escape jail time for any of his crimes. The government's decision to crack down on him just added to the problems he was having. His profits from bootlegging had started to decline as a result of the coming of the Great Depression (a period from 1929 to 1939 during which nearly half the industrial workers in the country lost their jobs) and the ending of Prohibition.

After detailed investigations, U.S. Treasury agents were able to arrest Capone for failure to file an income tax return. Forced to defend himself while being tried on a different charge in Chicago, Capone's testimony regarding his taxes did not match previous statements he had made, and he was found guilty of tax fraud. In October 1931 he was sentenced to ten years of hard labor, which he served in a prison in Atlanta, Georgia, and in prison on Alcatraz Island in California's San Francisco Bay.

Capone suffered from syphilis, a disease passed from person to person through sexual contact. The disease can affect the brain if left untreated. Capone became physically weak and started to lose his mind. As a result, his power within the nation's organized crime system ended. Released on parole in 1939, Capone spent the rest of his life at his estate in Palm Island, Florida, where he died on January 25, 1947.

For More Information

Hornung, Rick. Al Capone. New York: Park Lane Press, 1998.

Kobler, John. Capone. New York: Putnam, 1971.

Pasley, Fred D. Al Capone: The Biography of a Self-Made Man. 2nd ed. London, Faber, 1966.

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Al Capone

Al Capone

Al "Scarface" Capone (1899-1947) was a notorious American gangster of the prohibition era. His career illustrated the power and influence of organized crime in the United States.

Al Capone, whose real name was Alphonso Caponi, was born to Italian immigrant parents on Jan. 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York. Like other young Americans from minority backgrounds, Capone was taught that the main purpose of life was to acquire wealth and that the United States was a land of opportunity. But he also discovered that his family background made it impossible to succeed in school and his ethnicity and working-class status resulted in discrimination, both in the business world and socially. Embittered by the gap between the American dream and his own reality, Capone began to engage in illegal activities as a means of achieving success in what he saw as an unjust society.

Capone was a natural leader. He possessed a shrewd business sense, gained the loyalty of those working for him by showing his appreciation for a job well done, and inspired confidence through his sound judgments, diplomacy, and "the diamond-hard nerves of a gambler." He left school at 14, married at 15, and spent the next ten years with the street gangs of his Brooklyn neighborhood. During a barroom brawl, he received a razor cut on his cheek, which gained him the nickname "Scarface."

Finds Success in Chicago

In 1919, the same year the U.S. government ratified the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages, Capone fled Brooklyn for Chicago to avoid a murder charge. In Chicago he joined the notorious Five Points Gang and quickly moved up its ranks to become the right-hand man of boss Johnny Torrio. After Torrio fled the country, Capone found himself in control of part of the bootleg operation in the city that had sprung up after prohibition. Chicago had voted 6 to 1 against passage of the prohibition amendment, and its citizenry—rich and poor, officials included—felt that liquor deprivation had been unfairly imposed. Capone took advantage of the popular willingness to break the law, and openly plied his trade. As he would tell reporter Damon Runyan, "I make money by supplying a public demand. If I break the law, my customers … some of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as me."

Capone protected his business interests by waging war on rival gangs. During the legendary St. Valentine's Day massacre in 1929, seven members of a rival gang led by George "Bugsy" Moran were gunned down in a Chicago garage. Other business strategies included bribing public officials, providing a ready market for the illegal homebrewed liquor produced by poor Italian ghetto residents, and becoming a supply source for the "respectable" customers of city speakeasies. Interacting in Chicago society in the manner of a well-to-do businessman rather than a shady racketeer, Capone gained a fabulously profitable bootleg monopoly, as well as the admiration of a large segment of the community, including members of the police and city government. Between 1927 and 1931 he was viewed by many as the de facto ruler of Chicago.

Seen as Common Thug outside Chicago

However, the rest of the country and certain elements in the Windy City regarded Capone as a menace. In the late 1920s President Herbert Hoover ordered his Secretary of the Treasury to find a way to jail Capone, who up until now had managed to evade being implicated in any illegal act. Perhaps more significantly than the efforts of the U.S. Treasury department, Capone's power had by now begun to wane due to both the coming of the Great Depression and the anticipated repeal of prohibition. Bootlegging was becoming less profitable.

After detailed investigations, U.S. Treasury agents were able to arrest Capone for failure to file an income tax return. Forced to defend himself while being tried for vagrancy in Chicago, Capone contradicted some previous testimony regarding his taxes, and he was successfully prosecuted for tax fraud by the federal government. In October 1931 Capone was sentenced to ten years' hard labor, which he served in a penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, and on Alcatraz. Because of syphilis Capone's mind and health deteriorated, and his power within the nation's organized crime syndicates ended. Released on parole in 1939, he led a reclusive life at his Florida estate, where he died in 1947.

Further Reading

John Kobler, Capone (1971), is the most thorough study of Capone's life. See also Fred D. Pasley, Al Capone: The Biography of a Self-Made Man (1930). For information on his life after imprisonment see James A. Johnston, Alcatraz Island Prison, and the Men Who Live There (1949). An excellent contemporary description of Capone's career and perhaps still the best analysis of the era is John Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, pt. 3 of the Illinois Crime Survey (1929). A reliable historical account is John H. Lyle, The Dry and Lawless Years (1960). Excellent for a sociological perspective is Kenneth Allsop, The Bootleggers and Their Era (1961). □

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Capone, Alphonse

CAPONE, ALPHONSE

al capone was a gangster leader who controlled much of Chicago from 1920 to 1931. Chicago in the 1920s was a city of vice, corruption, and gangland killings, and synonymous with the evildoings of this era is the name of Al Capone.

Capone was born January 17, 1899, in Naples, Italy. His family emigrated from Naples, Italy, to New York and Capone was raised in the Brooklyn slums. During his early years in New York he made strong gangland contacts and in 1920, he became a member of the John Torrio gang. Torrio, originally from New York, relocated his operation to Chicago, with Capone at his side.

The passage of the volstead act in 1919 (41 Stat. 305), which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of liquor, ushered in an era of big business for gangsters. Capone and Torrio were no exception; they operated and organized speakeasies, secret nightclubs that sold the banned liquor. Capone began to gain more power and by the time Torrio retired in 1925, Capone's control had extended to gambling, brothels, and politics. He was responsible for the gangland murders of his rivals and for forcibly controlling election results in certain precincts of Chicago; through these maneuvers, he increased his power and received protection and political favors.

Capone was at the peak of his power in 1931, when he was arrested—ironically—for income tax evasion. The internal revenue service succeeded where other authorities had failed: uncovering concrete evidence against Capone for tax evasion. It investigated Capone's earnings and discovered that—despite his huge income, which was judged to be approximately $105 million in 1927—Capone had never filed an income tax return. In October 1931 Capone was tried in a federal court and found guilty. He was required to pay a penalty of $50,000 and to serve eleven years in jail.

An appeal was pursued and Capone spent his first days of captivity in Chicago's Cook County Jail. There he was still awarded the privileges of an underworld king. Warden David Moneypenny allowed him to visit with his gangland associates, including Salvatore "Lucky" Luciano. Capone had requested and was given an isolated place—the death chamber of the Cook County Jail—to meet and conduct business with fellow mobsters.

The appeal was denied, and Capone was sent to a federal jail in Atlanta, Georgia. There he performed the duties of a shoemaker until 1934, at which time he was transferred to Alcatraz in California.

At Alcatraz Capone was not treated with the respect and fear to which he was accustomed. He spent his days as a laundry worker and was harassed by inmates who took pleasure in persecuting the once powerful mob king. Capone's mental capacities dwindled due to an untreated attack of syphilis and in 1939 he was released to the care of his wife and brother. He died January 25, 1947, in Miami Beach, Florida.

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"Capone, Alphonse." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Capone, Al

Al Capone (Alfonso or Alphonse Capone) (kəpōn´), 1899–1947, American gangster, b. Naples, Italy. Brought up in New York City, he became connected with organized crime and was the subject of murder investigations. In 1920 he moved to Chicago and became a lieutenant to John Torrio, a notorious gang leader. They established numerous speakeasies in Chicago in the Prohibition era. After eliminating his opponents, "Scarface" Capone took over control from Torrio. He was implicated in brutal murders and received tribute from businessmen and politicians. His crime syndicate—which terrorized Chicago in the 1920s and controlled gambling and prostitution there—was estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Internal Revenue to have taken in $105 million in 1927 alone. After many efforts to bring him to justice, Capone was finally indicted (1931) by a federal grand jury for evasion of income tax payments and was sentenced to an 11-year prison term. In 1939, physically and mentally shattered by syphilis, Capone was released.

See biographies by F. D. Pasley (1930, repr. 1971), J. Kobler (1971), R. J. Schoenberg (1992), and L. Bergreen (1994); K. Allsop, The Bootleggers and Their Era (1970); J. Eig, Get Capone (2010).

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"Capone, Al." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Capone, Al." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/capone-al

Capone, Al

Capone, Al ( Alphonse) (1899–1947) US gangster of the Prohibition era, b. Italy. He inherited a vast crime empire from the gang leader Johnny Torio. Capone was suspected of involvement in many brutal crimes, but ironically was only ever convicted and imprisoned for income tax evasion (1931).

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