Jan. 25, 1947
Corruption. Bootlegging. Bloodshed. These words are forever linked to Al Scarface Capone, the most violent mob boss in all Prohibition-era Chicago. He commanded his criminal empire with an iron fist.
Al Capone was born January 17th, 1899 in Brooklyn to Italian immigrants, and was one of nine children. His family lived above his father’s barbershop. Kicked out of school at fourteen for brawling with his teacher, he began working odd jobs around Brooklyn. While working in a bowling alley, he met gangster Johnny Torrio. Torrio took the young boy under his wing, introducing him to the Underworld. Through Torrio, Capone joined the brutal Five Points Gang in the Bowery.
One night at a Brooklyn bar in 1917, the up-and-coming gangster crudely insulted a young woman. Her enraged brother lunged at Capone with a knife and slashed his cheek twice, forever scarring him. Capone hated his scars, which he often tried to hide, and his nickname of Scarface, given to him by the newspapers.
In 1921, Johnny Torrio summoned Capone to Chicago in order to help him run Torrio’s expanding bootlegging business. By 1922 Capone had become a full partner with Torrio in his gambling houses, saloons, and brothels. After Torrio was shot five times by his rivals The North Side Gang in 1925, Torrio handed over the reins to his protégé. Capone soon turned Torrio’s business into an empire, raking in about $10 million per year via gambling, racketeering, prostitution, and most of all, bootlegging.
Capone’s grip included many Chicago political and law-enforcement establishments. In 1927, Al Capone’s support of William Hale Thompson for re-election as Mayor of Chicago allowed Capone’s gang to operate casinos and speakeasies without legal interference. The mob boss enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle and basked in the media’s attention.
His criminal success infuriated his rivals. Most bitter of all was George Bugs Moran and his gang, who repeatedly tried to murder Capone throughout the 1920s. Furious, Capone orchestrated his brutal revenge. On February 14, 1929, Capone ordered four of his men, dressed in police uniforms, to enter a garage on North Clark Street on Chicago’s North Side. This was Bugs Moran’s bootleg operations and North Side Gang headquarters. Fooled by the phony cops, the Moran gang dropped their guns and put their hands against the wall. Capone’s men viciously gunned them down. Six Moran gang members, plus a friend of Bugs Moran, were killed. Over seventy rounds of bullets were emptied into the backs of the seven men. Moran, who was the intended target, was across the street at the time. It became known as The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and was the most notorious gangland killing of the century.
The Massacre shocked the public, who had viewed Capone as a folk hero for defying Prohibition, and they began turning against him. After the 1929 stock market crash, the infamous mob boss opened the first soup kitchens in Chicago in 1930. People could get food and clothes, all paid for by Capone. Whether done as a publicity stunt or from remembering his own poverty-stricken childhood, it worked. The public loved him again.
After the Valentine’s Day Massacre, the government had stepped up its scrutiny of Capone. Prohibition Bureau agent Eliot Ness began a successful investigation of Capone and his business in 1929. Ness and his team of Untouchables, so nicknamed for never taking bribes, brought down Capone’s empire. His speakeasies and warehouses were raided and shut down. Capone and his hoodlums were arrested. Al Capone was indicted for income tax evasion on October 17, 1931, and sentenced to eleven years in Alcatraz.
His empire destroyed, his freedom gone, Al Capone himself began to deteriorate. He was slowly dying of syphilis, which he had caught from a prostitute in his youth. He spent the last year of his sentence in the prison hospital, completely confused and disoriented.
Capone was released from Alcatraz on January 6, 1939, spent several months in a hospital before returning to his home in Miami, Florida in November 1939.
His physical and mental health continued to decline. On January 21, 1947, Capone had a massive stroke. He contracted pneumonia on January 24, then went into cardiac arrest, triggered by third-stage syphilis, on January 25 and died a mere shadow of his once powerful self.
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