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A Closer Look at The Life of One of The Most Dangerous American Gangsters: Al Capone

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America’s Gangster

On January 17th, 1899, a baby boy, who would very shortly become the face of organized crime in America, was born to an Italian-American family in Brooklyn, New York. Alphonsus “Al” Capone may have been as publically covered as a well loved celebrity, but, the true nature of the man credited with countless killings still remains a mystery and topic of discussion today, more than sixty years after his death. Capone’s alleged Robin Hood-like mentality was and still is often found contrasting with his less moral actions, which gave him both a following and a dangerous amount of enemies. Capone was not just a ruthless criminal, at least that is not the sole quality that defined him. The behind the scenes look at Capone’s lifestyle and conflicting personality paints him in a somewhat different light, crafting him as a more sympathetic character. Perhaps with this information comes an idea of the man who is our topic, but to truly understand the intricate life of Al Capone, one must start from the beginning.

Al Capone may have been born in the nineteenth century, but the next century, or more specifically era, in which he was raised, can easily be held responsible for the traits and actions of the man nicknamed “Scarface”. At the turn of the nineteenth century alcohol had been on the rise for over a century, sparking its daily consumption after the American Revolution, when Americans sought its “relaxing” qualities post a hard days work. However, many people blamed alcohol for society’s ills, particularly crime and murder, as a result, a number of societies were organized as part of a new Temperance movement. The movement attempted to discourage people from becoming intoxicated, and eventually it focused on complete prohibition of alcohol consumption. In time, the movement’s influence grew, and in 1919 the 18th amendment or rather, “Prohibition” was passed prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol. When loopholes arose from the withdrawal-crazed alcohol consumers, the Volstead Act was passed to enhance the power of the law. Nevertheless, people still wanted their alcohol and even the average citizen broke the law to obtain it. Consequently, this period became responsible for the development of organized crime and with that a new kind of gangster. These business-smart gangsters, based for the most part in New York City and Chicago, profited hugely from the incredibly high level of demand for alcohol and the extremely minimal options for supply. With the help of organized crime, every mainstream activity in the 1920’s, was intertwined with immorality; the young adults of the time lived and breathed “bad behavior”. The goal of those involved was simply to have a good time, a feeling which sparked the popularity of music, dancing, gambling, drinking and lust. Extravagant parties, clubs and bars served as the outlets for which all these activities could co-exist, and whether it was with alcohol, prostitutes or a secured place to gamble, gangsters and those of organized crime were the suppliers.

Capone grew up in a time when immigrants were blamed for high crime rate, economic instability and unemployment. So, as the child of two Italian immigrants, Capone faced and witnessed a great amount of harassment towards people of his nationality. To make it worse, Capone was raised in a rough, gang-populated neighborhood in Brooklyn that served as a ghetto home for many of the immigrants. Consequently, at age fourteen he formed the Navy Street Gang to stop the unfair treatment of Italian women and girls by his Irish neighbors. By this time, Capone had already been noted for the tough and combative qualities he would carry into adulthood, but it was then that he also began to have disciplinary problems. Having been a good student up until the sixth grade, his change in behavior was surprising. Still, Capone had reached an age where many children dropped out of school to work and help support their families, so he ended his formal education for a less conventional one. As a teenager Capone joined a sub-gang of the infamous Five Points Gang in Manhattan. The Five Points gang was one of the first of organized crime, they were located in the area of Manhattan occupied by present-day Chinatown. The Five Points Area, though considered a dangerous destination, was quite popular for it’s numerous gambling dens, bars and brothels. With the gang, Capone learned to use a knife and a gun, and by sixteen he was strong enough to knock anyone out cold with one punch. But, using his combative skills thoughtlessly would only lead to trouble, and when the gang leaders recognized this, he gained his first mentor, Frankie Yale. Yale had also been ushered into the Five Points Gang as a teenager, and since then had opened a bar and brothel on Coney Island known as the Harvard Inn. The Inn was not a quiet place, the crowd was often full of drunks and gangsters and fights often led to killings. Nevertheless, this is where Capone gained the business side of his organized crime training. Yale hired Capone as a collector to insure payments from deadbeats, and as a pimp to keep an eye on the prostitutes1. Capone’s excellent job performance quickly moved him up in the ranks, and shortly he became the main bouncer and bartender for the Inn. It was in this job position that he acquired his three trademark scars on the side of his face and the nickname “Scarface” after being attacked with a bottle opener by a customer whose sister he had insulted. Capone worked for the Inn for two years, but, after Capone married, he took time away from organized crime, moving his family to Baltimore to avoid temptation. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t take long for Capone and organized crime to find their way back to each other.

In November of 1920 Capone’s father passed away, and he was forced to return to Brooklyn for the services. Capones return to Brooklyn caught the attention of the authorities who planned to come down hard on him for various criminal charges from the time of his gang involvement. Lucky Luciano, another highly skilled and respected gangster and member of the Five Points Gang, caught ear of this and immediately alerted Capone to skip town. As fate would have it, six months prior to Capone’s father’s death, Big Jim Colosimo, who had built the criminal empire in Chicago and founded it’s leading gang – the Chicago Outfit – was killed. The Chicago Outfit was inherited by Johnny Torrio, a former member of the Five Points Gang, and a close friend of Frankie Yale. Now, Torrio needed somebody trustworthy to help run his bootlegging business as well as his casinos, bars and brothels. Aware of Capones need to support his family and confident in his abilities, both Yale and Luciano recommended Capone to Torrio. Torrio offered Capone the position, which Capone gratefully accepted, marking his official re-entrance to the world of organized crime. Capone had always been fast to resort to violence over thought when it came to problem solving; so, Torrio, a large advocate for verbal problem solving, was just the right person to teach Capone the importance of valuing brains over physical enforcement. Surprisingly, Capone impressed him; in very little time, Capone was promoted to head bouncer and bartender at the Four Deuces, one of Torrio’s most popular locations. Capone still practiced violence when Torrio’s methods fell through, but he respected his mentor’s ideas and followed them the best that he could. Once again, Torrio acknowledged Capone’s value, and made him a quarter partner and his second in command. Most importantly however, was that Capone was finally included in Torrio’s grand plan.

Torrio is considered one of the smartest criminals in American history, an allegation proved by a his grand scheme that was unfortunately ahead of Chicago’s time. Torrio saw the benefit of replacing gang violence and competition with cooperation and the sharing of profits with rivals, politicians, law enforcement officers, and members of the bench2. So, in attempt to unite the various gangs of Chicago, Torrio offered this idea as well as his protection in exchange for his leadership. During the early 1920’s Torrio and his plan achieved much success, especially with the help of Capone. However when a reform mayor came into power, the peacetime between the gangs came to an end1. The previous authorities had protected the gangs under Torrio’s control in exchange for the profit he promised, but the new mayor refused to partner with bootleggers or anyone involved in criminal activity. Consequently, Torrio could no longer promise protection to his rival gangs. Surprisingly, many of the gangs were content with with the plan as it was, and chose to continue cooperating. Neverless, there was still those who couldn’t accept the role of anything less than leadership. The Dion O’Banion gang was by far Torrio and Capone’s largest obstacle. O’Banion was done with the merger, and though he originally agreed to keep his business on the North Side of Chicago, he quietly changed his mind when his close friends, members of a gang rebelling against Torrio’s plan, were killed off by people he believed to be hired by Capone. The O’Banions began to hijack the liquor Torrio imported from Canada and invade Torrio’s areas outside of Chicago. Despite dozens of meetings where O’Banion agreed to respect Torrio’s territory, O’Banion continued to act in spite of him and violate their decided terms. Capone was outraged by this, he pressured Torrio to use force, but dead-set on his idea for peaceful coexistence, Torrio refused to face reality, stubbornly trusting O’Banion’s word. Shortly thereafter, O’Banion faked retirement offering Torrio all his shares and eventually tricking him out of half a million dollars. At this point Capone convinced Torrio that O’Banion had to be eliminated, and though it took patience and strategy, they did so successfully. But O’Banion’s death did not signify his gangs demise, his men ambushed Torrio at his house, leaving him in critical condition and very near death. As a result, Torrio decided Chicago was not ready for his kind of business, and that it was no longer the place for him, so he turned the operation over to Capone. As said by Luciano Lorizzo, in his biography of Capone, “Torrio’s influence on Capone and the development of organized crime cannot be underestimated”1 but his departure marked the true beginning of Capones control over organized crime.

Although Torrio survived the O’Banion gang’s attack, Capone was outraged, and now without Torrio’s absence he had nobody to hold him back from using more aggressive tactics to problem solve. He sought revenge through violent confrontations, killing most of the men he knew to be behind Torrio’s assault. But, he began to gain public attention after he shot and killed a man who had roughed up one of his partners and called him a “pimp”. Capone was never convicted, but his alias “Al Brown” and picture were now published for the world to see. From there, Capone’s power and publicity soared, he gained control of organized crime in Chicago and every American knew his name and of the activities he involved himself in. Nonetheless, he was untouchable. No other gangster could outsmart him and no authoritative figure could indict him. Whether due to an unrefusable benefit he could offer or to a threat he would come through on, Capone held power in every field. Capones power produced great wealth, many enemies and to his eventual discomfort, fame. Capone was America’s most infamous criminal, he held a certain fascination that drew people to him, yet was unwelcome in their presence. Capone had never been convicted of the serious crimes for which the majority of the world believed him responsible, but he was branded just the same. When visiting Los Angeles with his family in December of 1927, the press exposed his arrival, and the police chief gave him twelve hours to pack up and leave. This upset Capone, “I’m going back to chicago…I got a right to be there…they can’t throw me out…I’ve never done anything wrong. Nobody can say I’ve ever done anything wrong…the only charge they can book against me is disorderly conduct, and…there isn’t any evidence to support it”3 and Capone was right, he could not be exiled based solely on his reputation. However, this was the treatment that Capone received for his entire life. The public desired the resources that Capone and organized crime supplied to them, but they acted appalled at the actions the gangsters had to take to provide those resources. Society found it easy to point their disgusted fingers at gangsters, but it was really their cravings that were responsible for the immoral ways of organized crime. Capone knew he wasn’t going to be awarded man of the year, but he served society’s illegal cravings, he provided financial support for politicians and authoritative figures and he gave money and resources to struggling citizens and families. Capone risked his life every day to maintain the resources to do these things, selfless or not, and he deserved to live his life without the added limitations from the hypocritical disapproval of the people to whom he provided.

Though, Capone faced struggle from the people who despised him, there were many willing to look the other way. Capone made a point of treating people –unless they crossed him– with respect and generosity. In most of his photographs he is grinning ear to ear a smile so genuine and kind, people found it impossible that he could be responsible for the immoral actions through which he made his name. Capone had an ability to make people “overlook his scandalous reputation”, he could “evoke this suspension of disbelief…a skill normally belonging to an expert politician”4 and because of this in many places, he lived the life of a celebrity. Wherever he went people were eager to shake his hand, or just be in his presence, swept up by his charm and charisma. Capone held this intrigue and attraction his demise.

Despite his reputation, the law had been unable to incarcerate Capone for any of the murders or crimes he was deemed responsible, but the government considered him a menace to society, and did all they could to put him away. It was clear that eye-witnesses of Capone’s crimes were either bribed or threatened to stay quiet, and until the government decided to take the same course of action it was a working system. The government was determined to put Capone behind bars, and they saw their best chance at doing so by convicting Capone of income tax evasion. First they had to convince a jury that Capone had earned a taxable revenue which they decided included illegal profits. This process was slow, Capone was smart, he left no paper trail, owning zero property and paying for everything in cash, but Capone had admitted to being a bootlegger and had never filed a federal tax return1. Through manipulation and serious digging, the government finally got what they needed, and on October 24, 1931, Capone was sentenced to eleven years in jail and fined $50,000 plus court costs of $30,000, it was the harshest sentence ever received for tax evasion1.

In Prison, Capone became terribly ill with syphilis, and when he was finally released, he emerged a changed and beaten man. Over the next few years Syphilis took its toll on him, robbing him of his mental and physical strength and creating irreversible damage, eventually his body just gave out. And on January 25th, 1947, at age the young of forty eight, America’s most feared criminal passed away. Capone’s death held no conclusion for the fascination that so many people had with him. But, it is important to separate the man from the myth. Organized crime and bootlegging will always be the first things associated with Al Capone, but his reasons for involvement in organized crime and his conflicting morals will always define him.

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A Closer Look at the Life of One of the Most Dangerous American Gangsters: Al Capone. (2018, December 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from
“A Closer Look at the Life of One of the Most Dangerous American Gangsters: Al Capone.” GradesFixer, 11 Dec. 2018,
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