Alphonse “Al” Capone was a mobster hailed as “America’s most notorious gangster” when he rose to power during Prohibition in the 1920s. Here is what you need to know about his life, his death and Capone, the latest movie being made about the mobster, starring Tom Hardy in the title role.
1. Capone Got Into Organized Crime as a Teen
According to the FBI’s official profile on Capone, the future mobster quit school after sixth grade and quickly started running with a Brooklyn, New York, street gang led by Johnny Torrio. Lucky Luciano, who would go on to be a big player in organized crime, was also among the members.
In 1920, when Capone was around 21 years old, he and Torrio set up shop in Chicago with the Colosimo mob. They planned to cash in on the illegal distribution of beer and liquor during Prohibition, but the head of the Colosimo family, Vincenzo “Big Jim” Colosimo, was staunchly against bootlegging.
So Torrio set Colosimo up in an ambush. On May 11, 1920, Torrio called Colosimo about a shipment arriving at Colosimo’s restaurant. When Colosimo arrived, he was shot and killed at the front door, according to the New York Times. Police suspected Frankie Yale, a Brooklyn gangster, of flying to Chicago to shoot Colosimo, but they could never prove it.
Torrio took over as head of the Colosimo family and the bootlegging enterprise began in earnest.
2. Capone Took Over the Colosimo Enterprise in 1925
Torrio headed up the Colosimo family for five years until someone tried to assassinate him. Torrio lived but was seriously wounded and decided to retire back in Brooklyn. Capone took over and started eliminating rival gangs until he had attained a ruthless reputation.
Then in 1929 came one of the most notorious events in Chicago organized crime history — the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, when seven members of Chicago’s North Side Gang, the Moran mob family headed by George “Bugs” Moran, were gunned down in a garage by men dressed as policemen. Authorities could never prove Capone was behind the hit — and he was in Florida at the time, so he didn’t do it himself, even if he ordered it done.
According to History, “Bugs” Moran himself was almost a victim of the massacre. He was supposed to be at the garage with his associates but was late and just missed getting killed by minutes. He later told reporters, “Only Capone kills like that.” What did Capone say when reached for comment? “The only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran.”
3. Capone Was Taken Down for Tax Evasion
Over the years, Capone was charged with minor crimes, like carrying concealed deadly weapons and contempt of court, but it wasn’t until the U.S. Treasury Department went after Capone and other mobsters for tax evasion that he served any real amount of prison time.
During the 1931 trial, the judge learned that bribes were being offered to the jury pool to find in Capone’s favor, so he switched out the prospective jurors. That jury found Capone guilty on five of the more than 20 counts made against him. Capone was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison, which he served in the U.S. penitentiary in Atlanta and Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco after a brief stint in the Cook County Jail while he unsuccessfully appealed his sentence.
He was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and $7,692 for court costs, in addition to $215,000 plus interest due to the Internal Revenue Service for back taxes.
Capone served seven and a half years of his sentence and was released on November 16, 1939. By then, his physical and mental health had deteriorated significantly due to syphilis. He retired to his home on Palm Island near Miami and lived there with his wife and family until he died January 25, 1947. He was buried in Chicago’s Mount Olivet Cemetery, but in 1950, the Capone family moved his remains plus the remains of his father and one of his brothers to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.
4. Capone Became Incapacitated Due to Syphilis
Capone had contracted syphilis, which led to his mental incapacitation and contributed to his eventual death. Syphilis is an infection usually spread by sexual contact. Common symptoms include lesions, lymph node enlargement, fever, sore throat, hair loss, fatigue, weight loss and headaches. Less common symptoms include inflammation of the liver, joints or optic nerve, kidney disease and corneal scarring.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when diagnosed and treated early, syphilis is easy to cure. But untreated syphilis can spread throughout the body and damage the brain, heart and central nervous system — as happened with Capone.
According to the FBI website, Capone developed “paresis derived from syphilis,” which, according to MedlinePlus, is “a problem with mental function due to damage to the brain from untreated syphilis.”
In 1946, a physician and psychiatrist examined Capone and concluded he had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. He died shortly thereafter of stroke and pneumonia.
5. Capone Married Just Once and Had Only One Child
In 1918, Capone married Mae Josephine Coughlin a month after she gave birth to their son, Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone.
After Capone’s death in 1947, Mae never remarried. She and Sonny continued to live in Florida, though they sold Capone’s mansion shortly after his death. Sonny worked various jobs around the Miami area — used car salesman, tire distributor, apprentice printer and even ran a restaurant with his mother, according to the Florida Star.
Sonny Capone married Diane Ruth Casey in 1941 and had four daughters — Veronica, Teresa, Barbara and Patricia. They divorced in 1964 and he remarried twice but never had any more children. He relocated to northern California. Sonny died in 2004, survived by his daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Capone is available now for streaming.