Alphonse “Scarface” Capone was the fourth of nine children of an immigrant family, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1899. He would grow up to be one of, if not the the most, recognized gangsters in American history.
Al attended Catholic schools while growing up in New York, until he was expelled in the sixth grade for hitting a teacher in the face. After being expelled, his school days were over, and young Al started working in his neighborhood, and he soon fell into a life associated with criminal street gangs. Al found a mentor in a local gangster by the name of Johnny Torrio; and he would eventually climb the ranks with Torrio.
Before Al turned 21, he was involved in several violent incidents. Al got his nickname “Scarface” after getting his cheek slashed for making a less than kind remark about another young gangster’s sister, a nickname he hated.
Al would get away with shooting, beating, and killing the winner of a neighborhood craps game. He got away with brutally assaulted a low-level member of the rival gang, leaving for dead; a move that didn’t get him arrested, but it caused Al’s gang leader to relocate him to Chicago. He would do Enforcement work for the gang, never getting arrested.
Enter the years of prohibition; the gang Al was a member of found a lucrative niche. Brewing, distilling and distribution of beer and liquor, established the gang firmly in the Chicago underworld.
Torrio , Al’s mentor, would become a leader in one of Chicago’s largest organized crime groups, and he made Al his right hand man in terms of enforcement. Torrio would soon assume complete command of the gang when the leader, James “Big Jim” Colosimo, was violently killed by a rival.
In 1925, Al himself, became boss when Torrio was seriously injured in an assassination attempt. As a result of his near death experience, he turned control of the gang over to Al.
It’s estimated the his gang made 100 million a year during the prohibition years, the largest portion from bootlegging, followed by gambling, prostitution, racketeering and various theft endeavors.
Al had notoriety as a ruthless and violent leader, and he took control of several areas of Chicago. His reputation for violence grew as rival gangs were systematically killed out by Al’s Gang, which effectively became the “Capone mob”. The gang reigned with almost unheard of fearlessness, and violence. The Capone Mob used violence to increase revenue; the business plan was simple – refuse to purchase liquor from him and your business gets blown up. As many as 100 people were killed in such bombings during the 1920s. Despite it all, he was never charged with any of these, and since he played for the media in Chicago, and even donated money to charity, he became famous instead.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which occurred on February 14, 1929, was the crown jewel in Al’s violent rule, but again, he was never charged with any involvement. In the massacre, seven members of the “Bugs” Moran mob were machine-gunned against a garage wall by rivals posing as police. Al was conveniently out of the state at the time, but the Capone mob was credited with murders.
In the early 20’s and 30s , the FBI had no investigative authority to involve itself in gang violence, they were finally able to get involved in investigation when Al didn’t make a federal grand jury court appearance.
Al later appeared before the federal grand jury in Chicago on March 1929; and he was after arrested for contempt of court right after the hearing. Al posted $5,000 bond after the arrest, and he was released.
On May 17, 1929, Al and his bodyguard were both arrested in Philadelphia for carrying concealed weapons, and both men were convicted and sentenced to one year each in less than 16 hours of the arrest. Al served nine months before receiving credit for good conduct, allowing him to be released early on March 17, 1930.
On February 28, 1931, Capone was found guilty in federal court on the contempt of court charge he was out on bond for, and he was sentenced to six months behind bars.
The U.S. Treasury Department had been developing evidence on tax evasion charges against Al, and they charged him in June 16, 1931. Courts had ruled that even money generated from illegal alcohol sales could be subject to taxation, and they were able to charge him this way, as he showed zero income officially.
Al pled guilty to tax evasion and prohibition charges, and received eleven years in federal prison, and was ordered to pay $215,000, plus interest, in back taxes. Al would subsequently be sent to a U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, then to the fairly new Alcatraz Federal prison .
On November 16, 1939, Al Capone was released after having serving seven years, six months and fifteen days, and having paid all fines and back taxes.
Al had contracted syphilis earlier in life, and his health deteriorated severely while in Alcatraz after having the disease for years without treatment. Al’s health was so poor by then, that his last year there was reportedly spend in a medical ward.
Following his release, he never made a return to Chicago, and because of his syphilis induced brain deterioration , he was rendered mentally incapable of returning to his former life of crime. In 1946, Al’s was evaluated by a psychiatrist, and was found to have the mental capacity of a 12-year-old.
Capone lived out the rest of his life with his wife and family in Florida. At the end stages of life, he had a stroke and pneumonia, and died from a heart attack on January 25, 1947.