The roaring 20s for many people may bring to mind flappers or changing times of a positive nature. But on the flip side of the coin during that decade were a lot of activity in the crime world as well and in magnitudes no one could predict beforehand. Breweries, smoking, swearing, cheating, gambling, frequenting places called speakeasies which sold alcohol during the Prohibition, brothels and murder were headline news for much of this time for a man by the name of Alphonse (Al) Capone.
Al Capone was born the fourth child to Gabriele Capone and Teresina (called Teresa) Capone on January 17, 1899. A seemingly normal family who was striving in the New World after Gabriele and Teresa arrived in the United States in 1894 with 43,000 Italian immigrants. Als father was a barber by trade and Teresa raised her family and also took in sewing piecework for extra income. Laurence Bergreen wrote in his biography called Capone: The Man and the Era in regards to Capones upbringing that nothing about the Capone family was inherently disturbed, violent or dishonest.
He further stated that the family, as a whole, were law-abiding, unremarkable Italian-American family with conventional patters of behavior and frustration; they displayed no special genius for crime, or anything else, for that matter. One of the main downfalls, in my opinion, was a move Gabriele Capone made for his family to a neighborhood they could afford. Their apartment was above his barbershop he had opened but the neighborhood opened his eyes to a different world other than the seemingly more strict, traditional upbringing of the solidly Italian family.
The schools that he was raised in seemed to be of a lower class of people. Educational goals for Italian children were very poor; the school system didnt help with their prejudices of immigrants. Immigrant families expected their children to quit attending school as soon as they felt they were old enough to bring in money to the home. In elementary school, Al did very well bringing home mostly As and Bs on his report cards. At the age of 12 or so his grades started deteriorating quickly and he started to learn lessons on what the criminal empire could be about and he learned these lessons off the streets of his neighborhood.
Many 12 or 13 year old boys at that time were earning pocket money by running errands for others, Al fell under the wings of a pioneer in the development of the modern criminal world, his name was Johnny Torrio. In Brooklyn at that time, the immigrants mostly ran in gangs (Jewish, Italian, etc. ). John Kobler said it best in his book called The Life and World of Al Capone; he said, the street gang was escape. The street gang was freedom. The street gang offered outlets for stifled young energies. The agencies that might have kept boys off the street, the schools and churches, lacked the means to do so.
Led by some older, forceful boys, they pursued the thrills of shared adventure of horseplay, exploration, gambling, pilfering, vandalism, sneaking a smoke or alcohol, secret ritual, smut sessions, fighting rival gangs. There was absolutely an interest in the world for Al but he was caught for a while in between the parents guidance and the other world. Eventually, as Al turned 18 or so, he turned for the other world. Years after running errands and gaining the trust for Torrio, who seem to be involved discreetly in the criminal world, he met a man who was nothing like that character, his name was Frankie Yale.
Capone eventually went to work as a bartender for a bar Yale opened up, he was given the position because Torrio was a friend of Yales and recommended Capone for the job. He was employed there for a few years where he learned even more lessons on how to build a criminal empire including how to bootleg or gamble for large amounts of money or how to open brothels and promote sexual promiscuity. Al was enthralled with this world and frequented the places as often as possible. I believe, although it is not proven exactly what time frame it was, that young Al contacted a sexually transmitted disease called congenital syphilis.
Al wanted to move towards a different place and chose to move in location to Chicago, Illinois. Chicago, Illinois was known as a flourishing city of organized crime and Al very much was intrigued by it all, he knew he wanted a part of it. When Al came into town, he was drawn to the kingpin of a major part of the criminal world; his name was Jim (Big Jim) Colosimo. Colosimo and his wife, Victoria were highly successful in their brothel business, it was not unusual for the earnings for a single month to be well of $50,000. 00.
Many high profile people were involved in their world that made it all seem to be the exact world that Al seemed to long for. Political corruption was running strong, lawyers, judges, policemen, congressmen and even a reported assistant state attorney were all involved with Colosimos world. To see these people seemingly so successful and being able to make a fantastic financial living was exactly what Al wanted. By 1921, Colosimo turned against Victoria and married another leaving their empire behind. At that point, Frankie Yale took over and Yale actually ended up assassinating Colosimo in his nightclub.
With Colosimo out of the picture, he hired on Torrio to take over many of the brothels, gambling places and speakeasies that Colosimo had started. By 1922, Capone joined Torrios partner instead of one of his employees and Capone took over the brothels, gambling places and speakeasies. Capone was never a prejudice man, he befriended (as much as possible) people from every walk of life. Around this time he married an Irish woman named Mae who bore a son for Capone, named Sonny. At the point in time, he was fairly hidden as Torrio liked to be, his crime participation was not well known.
He lived in a fairly respectable neighborhood and presented himself to the neighbors and associates as something other than what he was truly becoming, a major player in the organized crime world. Eventually, Torrio took his elderly mother back to live in Sicily and he left Capone in charge of all his dealings. Capone made it clear to most that he wanted an all out conquest of the town. He hired his brother, Frank as the front and slowly took control of many different types of brothels and gambling places. He also took control over racetracks.
For the most part, the Capone conquest was nopposed with the exception of Robert St. John, a journalist for the Cicero Tribune in Cicero. Every issue seemed to contain information in hopes to expose the Capones criminal deeds. The editorials were effective enough to threaten Capone-backed corrupt politicians in the 1924 primary election. On election day, people working for and with Capone, kidnapped opponents election workers and even threatened voters with violence for not seeing things their way. As news spread, the Chicago police gathered over sixty policemen and gave them all shotguns.
The policemen rode in plain clothes in unmarked cars to Cicero under the pretense that they were protecting workers at an electrical plant there. Frank Capone, who was negotiating a lease, was walking down the street when the group of policemen approached him, one of the policemen noticed who he was an open fired at Frank, covering his body with bullets. The police claimed it was self-defense since Frank pulled out his own revolver when he saw the group coming towards him. Al was absolutely enraged at this act and made it worse by kidnapping political officials and stealing ballot boxes so things may go in his favor.
An official was even murdered and when it was all over with, Al Capone had absolutely won victory over the territory he was wishing to claim but for a price that would haunt him for the rest of his years to come. He had to put a lot of effort into restraining himself from calling a war upon the police force for what they did to his brother, Frank and kept it together all of five weeks. At that point, Als temper cut loose on a small time thug named Joe Howard who was not very important in the criminal world, at all.
He was a small time player who had severely poor judgment when he called Capone a derogatory name and in turn, Capone shot him in the head inside a bar. No one in that bar was willing to state what they witnessed due to the fear factor Als reputation had already brought forth therefore he walked away from persecution without any recourse to his actions. By 1925, Capone was a rich and powerful man who became a target for not only law officials but of rival gangs as well. Gang related murders and crime were reaching epidemic proportions.
Capone would stop at nothing to get to the people, places and territories that he felt he needed to. If someone were in the way, hed find a way to clear him or her out of the way, no matter what that entailed. The other rival gangs always seem to know who was behind what important murders and for what reasons. Many times they were right on the money for accusing Al Capone and other times he was blamed for issues he didnt have anything to do with, a price he had to pay for living in the criminal world where many things were kept in hiding.
Torrio was eventually assassinated as well and the chaos just continued to happen. After Torrios death, Capone continued to grow in assets since Torrio assigned an amazing legacy of all different parts of the criminal business. He had a seemingly change of heart in many ways after Torrios death and after his only son continued to be in somewhat of bad health but Capone was too far in the organized crime world to pull back, even if he had truly wanted to.
He continued on his normal behavior and continued to take over even more cities, in what is known as The Adonis Club Massacre, Capone planned out carefully an attack on an established rival gang while in New York and allowed him to leave claiming superiority over the city. Alva Johnston, a reporter for the New Yorker wrote Chicago is the imperial city of the gang world, and New York a remote provincial place and there was not too many things in life at that time which would make Al Capone feel more proud, he felt as though he conquered.
After many murders, assassinations, crime sprees and shootouts that will never be forgotten and after dodging the law enforcement agencies who were destined to get Al Capone, even with his disguise of being an upright man who was trying to service his public, he finally met his final downfalls around 1928. Capone made his headquarters in the once highly respected Lexington Hotel. He lived like a royal leader in his six-room suite with a special kitchen for his catered meals.
Secret doors were installed so that Capone could escape without harm if the need arose, he knew down deep inside that the end would have to come soon. he could not run forever. This type of life went on for a long time without him being caught and having enough proof to keep him under lock and key for a long time, he joined forces for another notorious crime when he met with Jack McGurn who wanted a rival antagonist, Bugs Moran out of the crime picture, he was taking too much of their business.
In an outright raid on February the 14th, 1928, a horrible massacre simply known as the St. Valentines Day Massacre. Capone and McGurn had airtight alibis to where they were during the time of this massacre but the law officials and the criminal world knew exactly who was responsible but it could not be proven. No one was ever brought to justice for that massacre but publicity grew in every direction. Capone even brought forth a press agent, Damon Runyon and with that, attracted even the attention of President Herbert Hoover. Knowing many of the things that Capone had been able to get away with, President Hoover stated that all the Federal agencies concentrate on Mr. Capone and his allies.
Although Capone was called for the grand jury in Chicago, he felt he had a more pressing issue that had to come first. Three Sicilian colleagues were causing trouble for Al Capone and he was not pleased. He planned carefully a lavish feast for the three Sicilian men to gather with him, making them to believe he was now seeing eye to eye with them. He accommodated them through dinner and drinks and then picked up a bat slowly as he smashed in the first guest of honors head. According to an internet site regarding Capone, it stated slowly and methodically, he struck again and again, breaking bones in the mans shoulders, arms and chest.
He moved to the next man and, when he had reduced him to mangled flesh and bone, to the third. One of the bodyguards then fetched his revolver from the checkroom and shot each man in the back of the head. There was no more running for Al Capone, he was finally prosecuted for his misdeeds and was eventually sent to the United States penitentiary on Alcatraz Island, known simply as Alcatraz. Al was eventually released from Alcatraz and quietly deteriorated in the quiet splendor for his Palm Island palace he had purchased many years before.
His wife, Mae continually took him for treatment for the disease (later stages of syphilis) that he contacted as a young man that came back to haunt him in his later years. Mae continued to stick by him until he died on January 25, 1947 of a cardiac arrest 8 days after his 48th birthday. So many different things happened during the course of this mans life, many unbelievable to the world that lived during that era most of which may be overlooked as being somewhat normal in our world of chaos and havoc of how we live at current day. His name, although in a negative thought, will live on for years to come.