When we talk about the famous gangsters of the Prohibition Era, Al Capone, the notorious gangster who made millions in the illicit trade of bootlegging, deserves a special mention. In this Buzzle article, we put forth some interesting Al Capone facts that you might have never heard before.
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. ― Al Capone
In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment of the US Constitution prohibited the selling, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol in America. The ban lasted for 13 years, from 1920 to 1933. During this period, bootlegging became a highly profitable business, and many gangsters made windfall gains from the same.
One name that is often associated with the Prohibition Era is that of Al Capone. In Capone, America saw a gangster who ran his illicit business openly, as if it were a legit business. He led a luxurious lifestyle, dressed well, had gun-totting henchmen, and also had politicians and law enforcement officers on his rolls. No wonder Hollywood owes its stereotyped image of a gangster with the signature tilted fedora, to him.
20 Facts About the Famous Gangster Al Capone
❒ Alphonse Capone was born in Brooklyn in New York, on January 17, 1899, to the immigrant couple Gabriele Capone, a barber by profession, and Teresina Raiola, a seasmtress.
❒ He started off by running small errands for the infamous Brooklyn racketeer, Johnny ‘Papa Johnny’ Torrio. He eventually joined Torrio’s business empire in Chicago, and quickly climbed the ranks; first becoming Torrio’s right hand and then his partner.
❒ Johnny Torrio was more than a mentor for Al Capone, which is evident from the fact that Capone chose him to be the godfather to his son, Albert.
❒ Before moving to Chicago, he was employed by gangster Frankie Yale as a bartender and bouncer at the Harvard Inn in Coney Island. It was at this job that Capone insulted a woman, albeit inadvertently, and in turn, her brother slashed his face. The resulting scars on the left side of his face earned him the name Scarface.
❒ He never liked the sobriquet Scarface. He thought it didn’t go with his image. His disdain for it was such that, on March 4, 1931, he actually had it struck off the warrant served to him by Judge James H. Wilkerson. His friends and associates called him Snorky.
❒ Al Capone married an Irish girl, Mary ‘Mae’ Coughlin, on December 30, 1918, about a month after Mae gave birth to their son, Albert ‘Sonny’ Francis.
❒ In 1919, he fled from Brooklyn to avoid being prosecuted on a charge of a murder, and went to Chicago, where he joined the Five Points Gang which was run by Torrio. The following year, the US government passed the Eighteenth Amendment, and the Prohibition Era began.
❒ At 26, Al Capone became the new boss of the organization, when Torrio left the country after an attempt on his life. Unlike Torrio, who preferred to keep a low profile, Capone loved the limelight … especially the attention he got from the media.
❒ Meanwhile, his eldest brother, James, took the name ‘Richard Hart’, and settled down in Nebraska. He first became a town marshal, then a state sheriff, and eventually became a prohibition officer in the state.
❒ In a bizarre accident on September 15, 1928, he shot himself when the gun in his pocket accidentally fired while he was getting into the car. He was lucky to escape with a bullet wound to both legs and groin.
❒ One of the most talked about chapters of his life is the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. On February 14, 1929, Al Capone ordered a hit on the rival gang led by George ‘Bugsy’ Moran. In this attack, Capone’s men, posed as police, and shot to death seven members of the Moran gang in Chicago.
❒ It is said that the Valentine’s Day massacre was what prompted the influential citizens of Chicago to seek intervention from the center. The massacre is also said to have cost the then Mayor and a close friend of Al Capone, William Hale Thompson, his seat in the 1931 mayoral election.
❒ Not everyone hated Al Capone though. The philanthropist in him had his fair share of admirers. In the aftermath of the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression in 1929, he was one of the first people to open soup kitchens for workers.
❒ Citing the threat to his life, he ordered a special bulletproof Cadillac town car to protect himself. It had an inch-thick glass, and several thousand pounds of steel armor. When he was put behind bars, this car was seized by the US Treasury Department.
❒ The US government was finding it increasingly difficult to nab Al Capone on charges of violence, so they took the alternate route. Based on a 1927 Supreme Court ruling, which stated that the income gained on illegal activities was also taxable, President Herbert Hoover set up a team to investigate Capone’s finances and make a strong case for prosecuting him.
❒ On June 5, 1931, the US government indicted Al Capone on 22 counts of income-tax evasion, and sentenced him to eleven years rigorous imprisonment. He was fined $50,000, and charged $7,692 for court costs. He was also made to pay $215,000 plus interest, due on back taxes.
❒ He spent the first two years of his prison term in a federal prison in Atlanta. However, in 1934, when the government realized that he was having his way in the prison by bribing authorities, he was transferred to the newly built Alcatraz Island prison.
❒ Al Capone had contracted syphilis at a young age. His condition further worsened during his time in the prison, as the disease deteriorated his mental health.
❒ He was released on parole in 1939, following which he retired to his estate in Palm Island, Florida, where he suffered a stroke and died on January 25, 1947.
Fun Fact: The specially built bulletproof Cadillac which Capone had ordered to protect himself, was used to transport President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Capitol on the eve of his Infamy Speech.
It’s ironic that Al Capone, the famous gangster of Prohibition Era, who unabashedly indulged in racketeering, gambling, and bootlegging, was brought to justice for income tax evasion. Though the exact figure is not known, he did earn a lot of money from these activities. In the late 1920s, he was earning an estimated $100 million annually. If his wealth is adjusted for inflation, Al Capone’s net worth would be well over $1 billion today.