Al Capone

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Al Capone, around 1935

Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (in English pronunciation kə'pəʊn , Italian Alfonso Capone ; born January 17, 1899 in Brooklyn , New York City ; † January 25, 1947 in Palm Island , Florida ) was an American mobster and one of the America's most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s. As boss of the " Chicago Outfit " , Capone controlled the Chicago underworld and mainly made his business with illegal gambling ,Prostitution , racketeering and, during the Prohibition era , involved in the illegal alcohol trade.

Although the peak of his career only lasted from 1926 to 1931 and Capone basically only used existing criminal structures, he became the archetype of the US crime boss, a symbol of organized crime par excellence. The " Capone myth " is essentially based on his skills as a self-portrayal and his skillful handling of the press. Outwardly, Capone gave the appearance of a serious businessman who was listed in the business directory as an antiques dealer and, according to his business card , was a dealer in used furniture.

Adolescence and early adulthood in New York

Capone and his mother, between 1904 and 1910

Al Capone was born in 1899 as the son of Italian immigrants from Naples in the New York borough of Brooklyn. His father, Gabriel, a barber , and his mother, Theresa, headed a large family. Theresa successively bore her seven sons James Vincenzo , Ralph , Frank , Alphonse, John "Mimi", Albert and Matthew. After that, she had two more daughters, Rose and Mafalda. Capone grew up in Brooklyn in a neighborhood shaped by Irish , Italians and other immigrant groups. This influenced him to the extent that he never showed nationalistic prejudices. As a boy he was intelligent and athletic, but often demonstrated a lack of self-control . Nevertheless, he was hardly noticeable and was considered to be rather reserved. Acquaintances from that time later expressed their astonishment about Capone's career.

He left school in the eighth grade and thereafter worked, among other things, as a salesman, as a skittle boy, in a munitions factory and in a bookbindery . He later worked as a bartender and bouncer at the Havard Inn on Coney Island , but also made a living as a petty criminal in the New York youth gangs . He joined the Brooklyn Rippers and the Forty Thieves Juniors , the youth organization of the Five Points Gang , in Manhattan . In 1914, at the age of fifteen, Capone was taken in by gangster Frankie Yale , from whom he learned a great deal about racketeering , usurious interest rates and the like. Yale was Capone's great role model. He taught him that brutality and ruthlessness alone never lead to a successful "business".


In the summer of 1917, Capone got his nickname Scarface : Capone  had been flirting with mobster Frank Gallucio's sister (other sources claim that Capone made a derogatory comment towards her) in a bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which prompted him who, already drunk, drew a knife across his face. Capone never wanted revenge on him and later even gave him several jobs, including as a bodyguard. From Capone's point of view, his opponent had acted justifiably because he wanted to protect his sister. Capone later claimed that he sustained the injury during World War I while serving with the Lost Battalion , which was isolated by German soldiers in October 1918 in the Argonne Forest after an American attack.

Capone's first murder

When an acquaintance won $ 1,500 by cheating at Frankie Yale 's bar and Capone took it from him at the exit, he said, "I know exactly who you are!" Capone then shot him. Capone and Yale both believed the man was to blame for threatening revenge. As in many other cases, since no witnesses could be found, nothing could be proven against Al Capone.

Reason for leaving New York

Capone was collecting protection money for Yale one night when he ran into Arthur Finnegan, a member of Ireland's White Hand Gang , who liked to abuse Italians and had clashed with them several times in the past. Despite attacking him unarmed, Capone wounded Finnegan so badly that he presumed him dead. Finnegan survived but was hospitalized for about five weeks. Once again, the police could n't prove anything about Capone. But Bill Lovett of the "White Handers", whom even his friends treated with caution, began to search for Capone, who was in danger of being recognized quickly because of his prominent scars. Therefore, in late 1919, Frankie asked Yale Capone to move to Chicago to live with Johnny Torrio .


society and politics

In Chicago, Al Capone gained a relatively large amount of power and influence in a short period of time. In addition to his later takeover of the area from Johnny Torrio, the social conditions in Chicago's "underworld" were particularly decisive. Illegal gambling was already flourishing there in the 1830s, and prostitution as well from the 1870s . The influence of the socio-political interests of the entertainment district was so great that in 1858 Mayor John Wentworth , who had spoken out too clearly in favor of restricting "vice", was voted out. The reformer Charles Edward Merriam claimed around 1920: “Chicago is unique. It's the only city in America that's corrupt through and through .” Chicago's inner-city entertainment district had initially been the First Ward, later the establishments had gradually moved to the infamous “ Levee ”.

When Prohibition finally began in the United States in 1920 , many Chicagoans were uninterested in enforcing the ban on alcohol. It was also met with open rejection in some bourgeois society. Prohibition, originally intended to reduce crime , did the exact opposite: organized crime flourished, and not just in Chicago. Because the ban made it possible to demand higher prices for alcohol, which was mainly sold in illegal bars ( speakeasys ). The approximately 2,300 low-wage Prohibition agents nationwide were unable to fully enforce the ban. Capone's accommodating of citizens' desire for alcohol is considered by some observers to be an important factor in his popularity.

In politics, too, Capone only used existing structures: the company that he was later to take over from Johnny Torrio went back to Jim Colosimo and his brothels . One of Chicago's most powerful men in the 1920s, Colosimo had worked with Councilmen "Bathhouse" John Coughlin and Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna as early as the 1890s. He let his colleagues vote for the two and in return became constituency leader. William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson was mayor from 1915 to 1923 . He changed the district division in favor of Colosimos when the entertainment district threatened to shift out of the sphere of influence of Coughlin and Kenna. Thompson was a wealthy cattle and real estate dealer who ran for election on a $50 bet. His people were almost all corrupt. When he stood for re-election in 1927, Capone supported him massively, since Thompson, unlike his opponent Dever, did not insist on enforcing Prohibition.

Under Torrio

Johnny Torrio was Jim Colosimo's underboss when Capone arrived in Chicago. Again, Capone started out as a little bouncer and pick-up. Like Torrio admired his mentor Paul Kelly, Capone now admired Torrio. This in turn appreciated Capone's skills, which he needed for his criminal plans. Capone was instrumental in planning the murder of Jim Colosimo, which was carried out by Frankie Yale on May 11, 1920. This allowed Torrio to take over his cousin's vast criminal territory and begin smuggling alcohol. Probably around 1922 Capone became Torrio's most important man. He had gained so much confidence in his protégé that he handed over responsibility to him during a vacation in Italy from late 1923 to spring 1924. During this time, in early 1923, the Chicago gangs came to an agreement not to trespass on their assigned territories. Torrio's trust in Capone proved well-founded, as he consolidated the power of the crime syndicate he led and expanded its influence into the then-70,000-strong city of Cicero , outside Chicago.

Taking over Torrio's post

The Genna brothers were important allies and ruled “Little Italy” with their cheap liquor and presumably even west as far as the Chicago Loop . However, they were now beginning to encroach on 'Northside' territory and the Irish Dean O'Banion complained about this to the 'Southside', which was in a sense the actual high command of the city. Torrio didn't move against the Sicilian Gennas, however, so O'Banion took matters into his own hands. This is the actual cause of the coming gang war, which finally culminated in an assassination attempt on Torrio himself. In March 1925, Torrio, anticipating the syndicate's collapse, decided, weakened by this assassination attempt, to drop out and leave power entirely to Capone.

The assassination attempt on Torrio, but especially the murder of Angelo Genna in May 1925, was answered, among other things, with an action on June 13, 1925. That day, John Scalise , Albert Anselmi and Mike Genna ambushed the "Northsiders" George Moran and Vincent Drucci . They fired shotguns at Moran and Drucci's car, injuring the latter. Mike Genna was killed while fleeing the police. With the help of Anselmi and Scalise, whom he took under his command, Capone then moved against the Genna brothers, who had actually been allies of Torrio against the "North Side", in order to prevent their territorial advances. Antonio Genna was assassinated on July 8, 1925, the remaining Genna brothers gave up. By doing so, Capone had gained airflow on both sides and cemented his position as head of Chicago.

In December 1925, Capone traveled to New York - according to his own statements because of an operation on his son. However, he was also involved in a shootout with the White Hands there . As a result, the White Hands gang practically disintegrated, which brought relief to Frankie Yale in particular. The action was probably a " barter deal" for Yale's murders of Colosimo and Dean O'Banion. Due to further gang murders, the alcohol cartel gradually collapsed. Overall, 1925 was a bad year for Capone's ventures, as covering up the murders became very expensive.

gang wars

On April 27, 1926, Jim Doherty, a leading member of Chicago's South Side, Bill McSwiggin, an assistant district attorney, and Red Duffy, a more marginal figure, were assassinated. According to the police, Capone shot himself to encourage his people. Because the murder of Attorney McSwiggin caused a great deal of media attention, Capone had to go into hiding for three months. The result was raids on his bars; the damage to his company is estimated at one million US dollars. In July 1926, Capone surrendered for interrogation; the police could not present any evidence despite the strong suspicion. The actual target of the attack was O'Donnell member Doherty. Despite the stir, Capone's strategy worked: conditions on the South Side calmed down.

On October 11, 1926, Hymie Weiss and Patrick Murray were killed outside Schofield's flower shop, leading to the weakening of the North Side Gang . Weiss was reportedly the only one Capone ever feared. As a result, on October 20, 1926, there was a meeting between Chicago gang leaders Al Capone, Vincent Drucci and George Moran of the North Side, Myles O'Donnell of the South Side, and a few others. They agreed to restore the situation of 1923: territories were staked out again; there was temporary peace between the gangs.

By early 1927, Capone had reached an agreement with Frankie Yale to ship alcohol. But after Yale tried to betray him, Capone had his former mentor killed on July 1, 1928, presumably by Jack McGurn . Capone was most likely also the sponsor of the Valentine's Day massacre on February 14, 1929, in which George Moran was supposed to be eliminated.

In 1929, Scalise , Anselmi and Joseph Giunta planned an attack on Capone, despite the slim chance of success. A waiter or Capone's main bodyguard, Frankie Rio, likely got wind of the plan. Not wanting to believe it at first, Capone set a trap for the assassins. At a meal, Capone and Rio staged what appeared to be an argument. Scalise and Anselmi then offered Rio an alliance and revealed their intentions. Capone saw his pride and loyalty hurt badly. On May 7, 1929 there was a large banquet organized by the organization, at which all guests were previously examined for weapons. Scalise, Anselmi and Giunta were, the autopsy found, already drunk at the feast when Capone hit them with a baseball bat . The three were then shot. George Meyer, a former driver, later said Capone was so incensed that the others believed he had had a heart attack.

First term of imprisonment

Al Capone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary

On May 16, 1929, Frankie Rio and Capone were arrested in Philadelphia for gun possession in what is believed to be a staged arrest and sentenced to one year in prison - although Capone had only expected a maximum of three months. He was first sent to Holmesburg, a notorious prison, but was soon transferred, thanks to influential allies, to Eastern State Penitentiary , where conditions were better. He even continued his business. For other gangs he seemed unassailable. After ten months, he was released on March 17, 1930 for good behavior.

The end of his career

Police photograph of Capone from June 17, 1931

Capone's position becomes unstable

Despite being released from the Philadelphia prison, Capone's troubles continued to grow. Even in Florida, where he had owned a villa since 1928 , they wanted to see him in prison, although he had done little criminal business there. While corruption existed in Florida, activities such as alcohol sales and gambling were more subtle. Above all, people in Florida feared the rise of gang murders.

Law enforcement agencies increasingly harassed Capone, but were initially unable to prosecute. In 1930 he was arrested four times by the police , among other things because complaints from the population were allegedly increasing and he was not a "decent citizen". From 1929, the feared Prohibition agent Eliot Ness also attempted to corner Capone. When his attempts to deal with the problem failed, Ness and his crew were dubbed The Untouchables . Although they could neither stop drinking in Chicago nor stop Capone, they caused considerable financial damage to his syndicate through numerous raids.

As early as 1927, the US tax authority IRS showed initial interest in Capone and his apparently huge but untaxed income. His brother Ralph Capone and his friend and collaborator Jack Guzik were convicted of tax evasion in 1930 . However, Capone did not act recklessly, which is why it was initially difficult for the IRS to find any starting points for an investigation.

On April 17, 1930, Capone, his attorney, and the IRS held a meeting. This led to a misunderstanding by Capone's lawyer : the conversation was recorded and he was also informed that all statements would be used in further investigations. However, the lawyer erroneously assumed that the meeting was not legally binding. Capone's testimony gave the IRS a basis for a net worth method : one of these states, for example, that there must be additional income if someone owns property that they could not afford given their known income.

On April 24, 1930, the Chicago Crime Commission published a list of 28 "public enemies" of Chicago, headed by Al Capone. From this point on, it was customary (especially in the press) to dub him "Public Enemy No. 1".

The tax process

On February 25, 1931, Capone was convicted of a petty crime: he had not accepted a date of a subpoena . The sentence was six months in prison, but Capone was released on bail . Another charge of vagrancy in Florida was dismissed at the request of prosecutors on April 3 for lack of incriminating witnesses. Finally, on June 5, 1931, he was charged with $200,000 in tax evasion. This sum was obviously relatively small. It was only the part that could be proven. As in the earlier meeting with the IRS, Capone again misjudged his position: a supposed agreement that a guilty plea would result in a reduced sentence was later found to be invalid. Prosecutors refused to compromise. When Judge Wilkerson said he wasn't bound by an agreed-upon reduction in sentence, Capone withdrew his confession.

Apparently Capone's defense attorneys were incompetent. Tommy Nash, his experienced attorney, was not involved in the trial for unknown reasons. Instead, he was replaced by Mike Ahern, who usually did more desk work. On October 8, the "secret path to Waterloo" took place, as one observer wrote. Capone's defense attorneys were reluctant to exercise their right to object when prosecutors presented crucial incriminating evidence. The defense lacked strategy, being too committed to the guilty plea deal. Then there was the unconvincing plea .

In June, the expectation was for a prison sentence of between two and four years. The press then reacted with outrage at the judiciary: it was unable to prove anything other than a tax offense and in particular no violation of the Prohibition Act. On October 17, 1931, Capone was found guilty of only five counts of the 23 charges, including three serious offenses, each of which could carry a five-year prison sentence.

Capone finally behind bars

The sentence was announced on October 24, 1931: Al Capone was fined $50,000 for tax evasion in connection with money laundering , plus almost $8,000 in court costs and eleven years in prison.

Al Capone initially served his sentence in federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia , to which he was transferred on May 4, 1932 from the Cook County Jail . Although Atlanta was previously considered the toughest federal institution, he managed to continue his business from there and receive notable visitors - for example his mentor Johnny Torrio or big names in organized crime like Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano . He worked as a shoemaker and was considered a model prisoner. According to the prison warden, he was treated the same as any other prisoner, but fellow inmates claimed he lived like a king. Smuggling cash, possibly with the help of the guards, gave him certain privileges, but these were rather meaningless. Nevertheless, he felt the imprisonment as a burden. "Sleeping is like running away," he once told a guard after the Herald and Examiner newspaper's release.

Authorities viewed Capone's influence as a problem. Therefore, on August 18, 1934, he was moved to Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay - the former fort had previously been converted into a high-security prison. There, Capone was largely cut off from the outside world: newspapers were banned, correspondence was restricted and censored, and visits were also severely restricted. Warden Johnston at the time tried to prevent Capone from gaining influence over his fellow inmates. There was enough food and cigarettes for her to make it impossible to bribe her . Since Capone had received a relatively short sentence in contrast to other criminals, he tried to lead properly. He stayed out of revolts, which, however, drew the ire of other prisoners. There were several attacks on him that went off without a hitch, he lost a lot of his status and suffered greatly from the situation. He was eventually released early on January 6, 1939 for good behavior.

Al Capone's death

Al Capone's grave in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois

Capone probably contracted syphilis in 1928 from one of his prostitutes . During his detention, his physical condition deteriorated, after which treatment was able to alleviate the symptoms. He has spent the last eight years at the family home in Florida. On January 21, 1947, he suffered a stroke . After initial recovery, pneumonia developed . He died on January 25, 1947 at the age of 48 in the presence of his family, as he had wished.

Fearing revenge, the body was initially buried anonymously in Mount Olivet Cemetery and only later transferred to Mount Carmel Cemetery . Compared to the sea of ​​flowers at other funerals, such as that of Dean O'Banion , Capone's funeral was much more modest. Anthony Accardo , an important man in the organization, had ordered that only family and friends should attend.

Capone's character and personal life

On December 30, 1918, Al Capone married Mary "Mae" Josephine Coughlin, born April 4, 1897, of Irish descent. Even before the wedding on December 4, 1918, they had one - the only - son: Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone . Since marriages between Irish and Italian-Americans were rare at the time, his marriage is seen as a sign of Capone's impartiality. Capone was not always faithful to Mae throughout his career, as evidenced by his contraction of syphilis. Nevertheless, Mae stood by him until his death. She survived her husband by almost four decades and died on April 16, 1986 in Hollywood , Florida.

A reporter who interviewed him described him as "intelligent, easygoing, and lovely." Capone was also very interested in music: he loved Italian operas most , but he also enjoyed listening to jazz .

In the gang wars, Capone acted cold-bloodedly and brutally and took up arms himself. Within the gang structure, he had a reputation for being very reliable. He stayed away from drug dealing , apart from alcohol, for fear it would ruin his organization. He showed loyalty to his partners in the years that followed, and his generosity was legendary. He was considered an unlucky gambler : from his arrival in Chicago until 1927, he is said to have lost $7.5 million. He organized exuberant celebrations, which usually ended in huge feasts. The waiters and servants in restaurants could be sure of a generous tip . However, this lavish lifestyle also offered the tax investigators an obvious target for their investigations.

In the history of science is mainly pointed to two factors that established Capone's position of power and distinguished him from most other gangsters of his time. Capone was known for his fairness ; he knew how to reconcile with former opponents and win them over by making concessions: those who accepted his leadership could continue to exercise a certain amount of power within Capone's organization. For example, he later hired Frank Gallucio, the man who had inflicted his distinctive scars, as his bodyguard . Second, he was considered relatively tolerant; unlike the American Cosa Nostra , which was dominated by ethnic Italians, his organization also had Irish and Jewish members. For example, Capone's right-hand man, Jake Guzik , was of Russian / Polish descent . Capone's relationship with Giuseppe Aiello , the head of the Chicago Mafia , was decidedly hostile, since Capone - who was of Neapolitan descent - did not recognize the Sicilians ' claim to power.

Myth Capone

Capone in public

By 1924, Capone realized that being kind to the press paid off, so from then on he was kind to journalists . No alcohol smuggler portrayed himself in public as he did; where other gangsters avoided cameras or threatened journalists, Capone grinned and struck a pose. This made him the darling of newspapermen and contributed significantly to his myth.

After Capone was assassinated in a coffee shop on September 20, 1926, he paid the hospital bills for two uninvolved injured people. He knew how to use such events to buy sympathy. Tax Inspector Elmer Irey reported another anecdote . After that, the newly elected President Herbert C. Hoover received applause in a hotel lobby in 1929 - when the crowd suddenly turned away from him and turned to the just arriving Capone.

Capone in film and music

The "Capone myth" was created during the lifetime of the gangster boss and has been reflected in numerous gangster films since then. In 1959, his life story was filmed , directed by Richard Wilson and starring Rod Steiger , and the 1975 film Capone , produced by Roger Corman . Al Capone is played here by Ben Gazzara . This film also attempts to portray Capone's life, beginning with his arrival in Chicago. Today it is best known for one of the first appearances by Sylvester Stallone , who played Frank Nitti here . In 1967, Jason Robards played the role of Capone in the film adaptation of the Chicago Massacre (St. Valentine's Day Massacre) , also known as the Valentine 's Day Massacre . Also refer, for example, the films Scarface from 1932 (by Howard Hawks ) and 1983 (by Brian De Palma ) and Brian De Palma 's The Untouchables - The Untouchables from 1987 more or less explicitly on Capone's story. He even received a million dollar offer to appear in a gangster film. Stephen Graham portrayed Al Capone in the television series Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014) . In the 2017 film Gangster Land ( In the Absence of Good Men ), Capone is played by Milo Gibson. Tom Hardy took on the role in Capone (2020).

In 1974, the music group Paper Lace wrote the song The night Chicago died . It tells the fictional story of how Al Capone tries to take control of the city and how 100 police officers die in a shootout. Jamaican ska musician Prince Buster named one of his best-known instrumentals "Al Capone"; the song was later covered frequently, including by British ska musician Judge Dread . The Serbian musician Bora Djordjevic sang about him with the song "Al Kapone" on the album "Koza Nostra". Albanian pop rock band Elita 5 released album Vetëm Për Ju in 2002 , which includes a song called Al Kapone . This song is one of the band's most successful tracks. Michael Jackson also wrote a song called Al Capone in the mid '80s that was later released on his album Bad as Smooth Criminal . Al Capone eventually appeared on the 2012 anniversary album Bad 25 .

Al Capone played an important role in the American hip-hop scene in the 1990s. To this day, his person is the epitome and best-known character of mafioso and gangsta rap . Rapper Capone , who was also active in the group Capone-N-Noreaga , took his stage name after him.

Capone's name still stands for the type of American gang leader. Details from his life are often used to enrich films or stories. Capone also has an appearance in the Tintin comics.

Capone as a name for tobacco products

The Swiss tobacco company "Al Capone" named itself after him, it produces cigars, cigarillos and chewing tobacco , among other things . Also, some slogans allude to the mafia, e.g. E.g.: "I would never betray my family, sell it...".


  • Laurence Bergreen: Al Capone. An American Myth . Herbig, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-7766-1967-8 .
  • Neil Elliott: My years with Capone: Jack Woodford and Al Capone . Woodford Memorial Editions, Seattle 1985, ISBN 0-9601574-4-1 .
  • Luciano Iorizzo: Al Capone: A Biography. Greenwood Press, Westport 2003, ISBN 978-0-313-32317-1 .
  • Fred D Pasley: Al Capone. The Biography of a Self-Made Man . Faber/(Kessinger Publishing), 2005, ISBN 1-4179-0878-5 (First edition: 1930).
  • Robert J Schoenberg: Al Capone. The Biography . Albatross, Düsseldorf 2001, ISBN 3-491-96042-8 .

web links

Commons : Al Capone  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Oxford Learners Dictionary ( Memento of 12 April 2012 at the Internet Archive )
  2. David Southwell: History of Organized Crime . Fackelträger Verlag, Cologne, 2007 ISBN 978-3-7716-4344-7 , p. 48ff.
  3. . 7 August 201. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
predecessor government office successor
Johnny Torrio Head of the " Chicago Outfit " of America's Cosa Nostra
Frank Nitti