A popular saying says “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Well, the case of Alphonse “Al” Capone is the exception to the rule.
Born on January 7, 1899 to a pair of Italian immigrants living in the borough of Brooklyn, New York, Capone was an apt student, but struggled with discipline. As a teen, he became involved with amateur street gangs including the Junior Forty Thieves and the Bowery Boys. While working as a bouncer for a small-time racketeer, Capone insulted a woman and was slapped by her brother, a known Mafioso. The smack left Capone with a scar along the left side of his face, leading to the infamous nickname “Scarface.”
In 1918, Capone married a woman and fathered a child. Two years later, he moved to Chicago and began working for Johnny Torrio, who in turn was an enforcer for James "Big Jim" Colosimo, the city’s Italian crime boss. In 1920, Colosimo was murdered, and Torrio took over. “The Chicago Outfit” as the organization came to be know, was centered on prostitution, gambling, and racketeering. At the onset of Prohibition, however, the Outfit began dealing in bootleg alcohol (transporting and manufacturing). Corrupt police and city politicians ensured that the Outfit was virtually safe from legal interference.
In 1925, Torrio was ambushed by members of a rival gang and shot. Cutting his losses, he stepped down and handed the reins of power to Capone, who was 26.
Capone quickly built a reputation as a flamboyant dresser, ladies’ man, and violent thug: When a speakeasy refused to buy Capone’s bootleg hooch, he simply had the place blown up. It is estimated that Outfit bombings killed at least one hundred people during the latter half of the Roaring Twenties.
In 1929, Capone ordered the notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in an attempt to kill Bugs Moran, leader of the predominately Irish North Side Gang, the Outfit’s most bitter enemy (the North Side Gang had made several attempts on Capone’s life). The North Side Gang was based in a warehouse at 2122 North Clark Street, and Capone had several of his men rent an apartment across the street and run surveillance. On February 14, 1929, a team of gangsters dressed in police uniforms raided the warehouse, standing seven men against a wall and spraying them with machine gun fire and shotgun blasts. Moran, who was supposed to be there, was running late, arriving only after the real police had shown up.
The massacre shocked the nation, and Capone’s reputation was tarnished.
In 1931, Capone was tried and convicted of simple tax evasion, as none of the weightier charges ever stuck. He entered prison on October 17; he served some of his sentence at the famous Alcatraz.
Capone, who had been sentenced to 11 years, was released in 1939 due to good behavior. By now, Capone was suffering from advanced syphilis. In 1940, weak and sickly, he moved to Florida, where he died in 1947 at the age of 48.