Prohibition and the Untouchables (Part 2)
Updated: Jan 11, 2020
Continuing from Part One on Prohibition, Part Two will center around Al Capone and the gangs of Chicago. As always, comments are welcome.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born January 17, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York to Italian immigrants. Considered a smart child, Capone quit school when he was fourteen, during the sixth grade. He took part in the gangs Brooklyn Rippers and Forty Thieves Junior (kid gangs), before becoming a Five Points Gang member. Growing up, he worked many jobs from a candy store clerk, bowling alley pin boy, and even did work as a cutter for a book bindery.
As a Five Points member, Capone worked for gangster Frankie Yale's Harvard Inn, a dance hall and saloon. It was here that he received the scars giving him the nickname Scarface, which he detested. The scars were given to him by Frank Gallucio, when he disrespected Gallucio's sister. Forced to apologize by Yale, Capone eventually hired Gallucio as one of his bodyguards.
On December 30th 1918, Capone married Mary Coughlin, an Irish Catholic, who had given birth to his son, Albert Francis, on the fourth of December that same year. Due to his age, his parents had to sign consent papers for the marriage. Around the age of twenty, at the invitation of Johnny Torrio, Capone left New York for Chicago. Starting off as a bouncer for one of the many brothels, it was here that he was suspected of contracting syphilis. Salvarsan could probably have cured him of the infection, but he appears not to have ever sought treatment.
Crime boss, James Colosimo's empire was handed over to Torrio after "Big Jim's" murder on May 11, 1920. It was suspected that Capone was involved in Colosimo's murder. Torrio now headed the biggest Italian organized crime group in the city, with Capone rising has his right-hand man. Wary of being drawn into gang wars, Torrio tried negotiating agreements over territory between the rival crime groups. In October 1924, Torrio set in motion the murder (either by arranging or acquiescing) that would eventually become Al Capone's reign.
The Genna brothers, allied with Torrio, were pressuring the North Side Gang, led by Dean O'Banion. O'Banion murdered at his flower shop in October that year, was replaced by Hymie Weiss as the head of the gang, backed by Vicent Drucci and Bugs Moran. the North Side Gang put revenge on O'Banion's killers as their top priority.
In January 1925, Capone was ambushed. Though shaken by the incident, we was unharmed. Twelve days later, returning from a shopping trip, Torrio was shot several times. Though he recovered, he resigned his position, handing control of the empire to Al Capone at the age of 26. Capone gained a fearsome reputation with rival gangs as he struggled to acquire and retain "racketeering rights" in Chicago, effectively taking over the suburb of Cicero.
Gangland warfare took a frightening turn on February 14, 1929. Called The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Capone allegedly attempted (as he was in Florida at the time) to remove "Bugs" Moran, and members of his North Side mob in a violent takeover. Six members and the garage mechanic were put up against a wall by men posing as police officers, then paid gunmen entered with tommy-guns and sprayed the defenseless men, killing all. Unfortunately for Capone, "Bugs" Moran was not one of them. One of the dead men had been mistaken for Moran.
While finally consolidating his empire, the massacre inevitably caused the downfall of the gangs, due to the high profile violence of the killings. President Herbert Hoover, upon taking office in 1929, charged Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, to bring down Capone. This was accomplished on two fronts. One mounted by the Treasury's Bureau of internal Revenue, and the other under the United States Department of the Treasury.
Capone was convicted of tax evasion and prohibition charges on October 18, 1931, and sentenced to eleven years in a federal prison. While waiting for appeals, he served time at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, and also at Alcatraz, in California. On November 16, 1939, he was released after only serving seven years, six months and fifteen days, though he had paid all his fines and back taxes. Al Capone died of a stroke and pneumonia, brought on by the syphilis he received years before, on January 25, 1947. He was with his wife and immediate family at the Capone residence on Palm Island, Florida.