Al Capone: Mobster or Misunderstood

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By: Chris Schliefert

Al Capone, sometimes known as Scarface (not to be confused with Tony Montana of the movie Scarface), a mobster of ill repute or just a misunderstood guy who got caught up with some troubled people?

Al, or Alphonse (as is his full name), was born in Brooklyn to his Italian immigrant parents. Al was part of a large family; with eight brothers and sisters. With a father who was a barber and a mother who was a seamstress, Al looked set for a boring, albeit stable life. That is, until he got kicked out of his Catholic school at age 14 for slapping a female teacher.

Thus did his descent into crime begin. Capone started his crime career as a member of some small time gangs, including, but not limited to; the Bowery Boys and the Junior 40 Thieves. Eventually coming to join the Five Points Gang that was based in lower Manhattan, it was around this time where he obtained the facial scars that gave him his famous moniker; Scarface. Working as a bouncer at the time for another fellow criminal, Al accidentally insulted a woman while working the door at a nightclub, earning him the ire of her brother, Frank Gallucino. Frank didn’t appreciate Al saying his sister had a nice rear and thus reacted as was (and probably forever shall be) the style when two young men don’t get along, violence. Sometime in the fray a knife was drawn and thus Scarface was born.

At age 19, Capone was a married father – Marrying Mae Coughlin on the 30th of December, 1918. A few years later in 1923, the young family had moved to Chicago alongside Capone’s crime mentor, Johnny Torrio.

Opportunity was in the wind in Chicago. With the onset of the Prohibition Laws preventing the sale, consumption and production of alcohol, there was money to be made in bootlegging. But first there needed to be a change in the seat of power. The then crime boss, Big Jim Colosimo was reluctant to go into the lucrative bootlegging trade out of fear of federal prosecution. This was to be his downfall as it led to Torrio setting him up to be shot. Calling him up about a delivery for Colosimos new cafe, Big Jim was promptly shot when he entered, some say by his new wife, but a murder suspect was never charged.

The way was clear for Torrio to take over now. With Capone by his side, the Chicago Outfit was free to grow and prosper (as it has done so to this day). With a foundation in gambling and prostitution, and now a thriving bootlegging operation, things were good. Right up until their expansion efforts got a little too arrogant. When the Outfit tried to take over the Gold coast territory, it drew the attention and wrath of the North Side Gang and its leader, O’Banion. This evolved into a fragile alliance between the two criminal super powers, right up until O’Banion cheated Torrio out of half a million dollars, leading to Torrio’s arrest.

The line in the sand had been drawn. Torrio ordered O’Banion killed and despite succeeding, an assassination attempt on his own life happened sometime after. Torrio survived and ended up serving a year in jail for prohibition violations. His taste for the mobster life over, Torrio left the Outfit to Capone and moved back to Italy.

Capone took over and crime flourished. From blackmailing politicians to provide protection from the law as well as the other operations he was involved in, Capone was on top of the world. His eventual downfall (funnily enough), was from tax evasion, due to it being the only charge that the government could make stick in order to prosecute him. Sentenced to eleven years in prison, he served two of those in Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary before being moved to Alcatraz for the remainder. However, syphilis contracted while young and years of rich living had ruined his health. Spending the last few years of his life surrounded by family in his mansion, Capone eventually succumbed to a stroke and shortly afterwards pneumonia, bringing an end to the once great crime king.

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