Life and Crimes of Al Capone

Among criminals of the early 20th century, one of the most prominent arose during a time of both prohibition and decadence thanks to the controversial Eighteenth Amendment, banning the manufacturing, selling, and distribution of alcohol (However, drinking, personally possessing it, or making alcohol to be personally consumed, was allowed) (George et al.). With the main source of liquor now from illegal outlets, it was prime time for one Al Capone to make his beginnings as one of America’s most famous gangsters.

Born in 1899 as Alphonse Gabriel Capone to an immigrant family, Capone shared his childhood with seven other siblings seeking a better life in the United States from their home country in Italy. Regardless, though both his father and mother held jobs in barberry and sewing respectively, Capone grew up relatively well off. An earnest elementary student, he began lagging behind in his middle school years, and one day, the young Capone was punished for misbehavior and struck his teacher back.

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His principal proceeded to beat him, and he would never again attend school ( Editors 2009).

His family would then move to the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn. Here, Capone would meet both his future wife and more importantly, his mob mentor and numbers racketeer - Johnny Torrio. He first began his foray into the criminal underworld by doing small errands for Torrio, and despite Torrio’s leave to Chicago, they still stuck close. Though he found legitimate work, he would also dabble in gang life, albeit, not too much at this point in time.

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Not before long, a bar fight would earn him the nickname “Scarface”, a moniker that would stick for years to come ( Editors 2009).

As he turned 19, Capone married weeks after having their first son, with Torrio as his godfather. He found employment in Baltimore, where he became a bookkeeper; but following that, his father passed on from a heart attack. This tragedy prompted Torrio to invite Alphonse over to Chicago, which he accepted just as promptly, and it was around this time that he truly began to enter the world of organized crime ( editors 2009).

Spurred by the advent of the 18th Amendment of the early ’20s, Torrio’s criminal business turned towards the ever more lucrative market of bootlegging liquor. His gang also dabbled in less illegal trades with connections in city politics, labor unions, and employee association (FBI). However, it was their role in the black market that earned them (and Capone’s by extension) their reputation; Torrio remained low profile while Capone had a flair for rousing the crowd and drinking, which landed him his first arrest at the hands of the police when he was caught drunk driving.

Because of Torrio’s connections with the city government, he was quickly released. Their operations would be threatened by a city election in 1923, with a reformist mayor who promised a city free of corruption. To combat this, they moved their headquarters beyond the premises of Chicago. Their trade would then be threatened by another election the following year; but unlike the last one, their effort this time around was violent. On March 31, 1924, they staged an intimidation campaign to ensure a favorable election that resulted in the deaths of several people amidst the fighting. Among the dead included Frank, gunned down in the streets by the Chicago police ( editors 2009).

Torrio soon became the mob boss after the death of Big Jim Colosimo, and not before long, after an attempt on Torrio’s life, Capone succeeded him as crime boss as he retreated to Brooklyn in 1925. Putting things into his own hands rather than following Torrio’s modus operandi of maintaining a low profile, Scarface moved the headquarters of the gang to a hotel in downtown Chicago. There, he lived in luxury and used the 100$ million he gained in annual revenue to maintain a lavish lifestyle. In spite of his wealth, his charismatic and amiable personality gained the sympathy of the public and earned him a place on media headlines. This “Robin Hood” -like reputation would fade as the years passed and he became known for his more violent antics, however.

The public’s view of Capone would only sour as time passed, especially with the murders of two men both sworn enemies to Capone in 1926. One of them, William McSwiggin, otherwise known as the “Hanging Prosecutor”, was with them, adding the casualty count to three. This outraged the citizens of Chicago, but with no evidence that the murders happened, they instead confiscated documents from Capone’s enterprises. These would later go on to provide evidence in his charge of income tax evasion. ( editors 2009).

Thanks to the failure of the 18th Amendment and Capone’s guile, his criminal empire grew and grew. By early 1929, his empire dominated the liquor black market, but still, Capone had competition in other rivaling bootleggers. One of these rivals was a long-running one in “Bugs” Morgan, and both Capone and his top hitman, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn wanted him dead ( editors 2009). On Valentine’s Day, 1929, four men using the iconic Thompson submachine gun, revolvers, and two disguised as police rounded up members of Moran’s Northside Gang.

They were ordered to discard their guns and line up against the wall doing so. Not a moment after, gunfire rang out from the garage as Capone’s gunmen shot six dead, with one dying from his wounds hours later in the hospital. Two were finished off with point-blank shotgun fire. Five of the casualties were directly involved in Moran’s Gang, with two associates; with the only survivor a dog. While the intended target was Moran himself, he survived the massacre by arranging his future plans in a shop rather than the garage the massacre took place (Turner 2019).

This still unresolved (Turner 2019) massacre shocked the nation, and only served to further increase Capone’s notoriety, in spite of him being in Florida at the time. Following the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, he appeared before a grand jury on March 20, 1929, and concluded his testimony a week after. Leaving the courtroom, he was arrested for contempt of court but posted a $5,000 bond to be released. This charge would only be the beginning of a slew of arrests across various crimes (FBI).

On May 17, 1929, he and several others were found with concealed weapons and promptly arrested, sentenced to one year in prison each. For his good behavior, he was released in nine months, rather than an entire year. Subsequently, on February 28, 1931, he was sentenced to six months in Cook County Jail for contempt of court, his appeal denied. After that, Capone was charged guilty on accounts of tax evasion and prohibition and pleaded guilty, boasting to the media that he sought a two-and-a-half year sentence, something that the presiding judge was not bound by. This made Capone change his plea to innocent, and this trial that would culminate in Capone being convicted on October 18, 1931. On November 24 that year, he would be sentenced to eleven years in federal prison, fined $50,000, charged an additional $7,692 in court costs and $215,000 including interest on back taxes. Finally, a six-month sentence of contempt in court would be served alongside eleven years (FBI).

He would serve across three prisons, from Cook County Jail to the Penitentiary in Atlanta, and finally at Alcatraz (FBI) after having been caught bribing guards at Atlanta ( editors 2009). Alcatraz was a federal maximum security prison that housed not only Al Capone, but also “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alvin Karpis, and Arthur “Doc Barker”. Most prisoners there, however, were not famous gangsters, but prisoners that were considered too violent and dangerous for other Federal prisons, or otherwise were known for their talents in escaping.

At any given time, Alcatraz never reached its carrying capacity, and its rigid and monotonous routine was tailored to teach prisoners discipline and obedience. Basic rights were limited only to food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Everything else had to be earned, and after a prisoner was considered safe enough by officials, he could then be moved to another facility to finish his sentence. On average, this took about four to five years. For Capone, it would take seven years, six months, and fifteen days for him to be set free, after having paid his dues in fines and taxes.

It was around this time that his health took a turn for the worse, his syphilis that he contracted as a young man now evolving into neurosyphilis, which caused dementia. He lived for the remainder of his life in a mental hospital in Baltimore, and his final days in Miami with his wife. He suffered a cardiac arrest and died on January 25, 1947. His legacy as a legendary crime boss would go on to forge a lasting impact in films, literature, and video games long after he dies, leaving his mark on American history ( editors 2009).

Updated: Aug 11, 2022
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Life and Crimes of Al Capone. (2021, Dec 13). Retrieved from

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