The paper discusses the life of Alphonse Gabriel Capone a famous and powerful crime mob operating in Chicago. His nicknames were Al Capone or Scarface his influence began in 1925 after the demise of his mentor James Torrio. He gained power through selling of illegal liquor and from there he ventured into other operations like prostitution, gambling, and racketeering to expand his influence. He also bribed politicians and legal authorities to enable him carry out operations without legal interference. However, after the valentine day massacre, which he is thought to be behind, he was pursued by the authorities who caught up with him in charges such as tax evasion, and ignoring court subpoenas. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1931 but he served seven years because of poor mental health that was caused by syphilis. He died in 1947 from Pneumonia in palm Island, Florida in the presence of his family.
Key Words: Al Capone, James Torrio, mental health, pneumonia, and Chicago
In America, the 1920’s was an era where liquor was prohibited leading to gang wars and bootlegging. The most famous and notorious mobster in this era was Alphonse Gabriel Capone, nicknamed as Scarface. Al Capone born in 1899 in the streets of New York in the borough of Brooklyn, he controlled organized crime between 1925 and 1931. In his twenties, he moved to Chicago city where he built up an empire founded on mob crime. His incarceration into Alcatraz prison in 1931 marked the beginning of his downfall, which ultimately came in 1947. However, he had managed to amass wealth worth $100 million and a reputation as the leading mob criminal in the twentieth century.
This research paper highlights the early life, career, and later years of Al Capone. It will also analyse the model of organized crime Al Capone participated in and the theoretical background that facilitated its existence.
Early Life and career
Al Capone was born on 17th January 1899 to Italian immigrants—Gabrielle and Teresina Capone (Lunde 2006). The Capone family settled in Brooklyn, New York and it is from here that Al Capone grew with his eight siblings him being the fourth born. Despite having a potential of being a good scholar Capone dropped out of school in the sixth grade after being expelled from punching a female teacher (Beshears, 2010). He joined James Torrio’s street gang and it is recorded by Beshears (2010) that Torrio was his mentor. The gang later on changed its name to the Five Point Gang. While in the gang, he earned the nickname ‘Scarface’ when he fought in a saloon brothel with a young mobster who slashed his face with a knife across his left cheek (FBI). On the side, the gang participated in legal businesses such as those in cleaning and dyeing industries. Furthermore, they nurtured influences with approachable labour unions, employee unions, and public officials.
According to Silverman (2011), Capone moved to Chicago under the request of Torrio to help him run the giant brothel businesses. Capone advanced his networks through Torrio’s trades. At the time, Capone was Torrio’s right hand man and in their partnership they began selling illegal alcohol in Chicago city (Silverman, 2011). The business had an impact on US citizens as it provided people with beverages when the need arose. Capone further took advantage of the business by obtaining contacts that would supply him with imported liquor from New York, Detroit, and Miami (Silverman, 2011).
The purchases and distribution gave Al Capone both power and wealth since he was able to supply the entire Chicago. In 1925, when Capone was 26 years, Torrio was shot and severely injured by a rival gang. This incidence forced him to retire from organized crime paving the way for Capone to run the organization alone (Capone, 2005). At this time Capone was the sole leader and was in charge of approximately 1000 workers with a budget of $300,000 per week (FBI). He only required loyalty from his employees and it was during this time that he became so rich that he offered free food to the poor; hence very influential. In the underworld, he run bootlegging rackets, prostitution, gambling syndicates, and eliminating rivals and gangs all which enabled him to expand his territorial influence.
In 1927, the wealth of Al Capone was around $ 100,000,000 while his influence was also sky rocketing. However, violence in the streets was on the rise with assassinations and murder crimes increasing on a daily rate. His power increased into political and law establishments in the city. Organized corruption was also witnessed when the mayor William Hale Thompson was bribed to allow the Capone gang to operate freely without legal interruptions (Beshears, 2011). Furthermore, he owned many casinos and clubs in the city, adorned himself with custom suits and jewellery, smoked Cuban cigars, and ate gourmet food and drink. His mantra to the media that “I am just a businessman, giving people what they want” showed that he had become a celebrity (Lunde, 2006, p. 34).
The growth of Capone in Chicago made several mobs rival him for power and control. The most notable one was the Bugs Moran whose seven members were murdered in the North side of Chicago. The incident was referred to as the ‘Valentine Day Massacre’ and was feared that it was called by Al Capone (Beshears, 2010). The massacre is considered to be the onset of Al Capone’s downfall as the Federal Bureau of Investigation started looking at his movements. In the 20’s, the jurisdiction of FBI was limited and so gang warfare and the racketeering at the time were out of their field (Capone, 2005). However, they managed to step in when Al Capone refused to attend a hearing in 1929 after being subpoenaed. Successive trials on charges of carrying a concealed weapon, tax evasion and prohibition charges finally resulted in him being sentenced in 1931 to eleven years in prison. Al Capone served in the Atlanta prisons and Alcatraz
In 1939, after serving seven years he was released. This was also accompanied with the condition that he had to pay taxes and fines that he owed. His health had deteriorated considerably in prison mainly because of paresis that is attributed to late stage of syphilis (FBI). After his release he had to check in to a mental hospital—Baltimore hospital—where he was diagnosed with having the mentality of a child in early puberty. This meant that he could not return to gang politics. In1947, despite showing signs of recovery he contracted pneumonia and died because of cardiac arrest. He died in his home—palm Island, Florida—in the presence of family members.
Model of Al Capone’s Organized crime
The Capone mob was a highly centralized system run by criminals who carry out both legal and illegal activities for the benefit of profits. The demand for illegal liquor nurtured the emergence of the centralized and dominant Capone mob. The nucleus of the mob was found in Cicero and had spread its web into legal and public offices. “Through bribing the mayor William Thompson, the mob had succeeded in undermining public morals, neutralizing law enforcement, and infiltrated the legal economy” (Lunde, 2006, p. 56).
The organizational of the mob was a combination of the patrol-client networks that is characterised by operations in small networks within an overall network, and the corporate operations network (Lunde, 2006). Corporate networks are characterised by a focus on making the operation succeed, sustain, and avoid retribution. That is why he spent a lot of money on bodyguards, bulletproof vehicles, and defence systems at his home. Therefore, in analysing his life and the mob, the characteristics that can be brought out, which are consistent with corporate operations are: Responsibilities carried out in an organized manner; ‘Top-down’ communication that has mechanisms that are rule enforced. Patrol-client attributes that are consistent with Capone’s mob are: personalized activities that include territorial disputes; and nepotistic value systems where Al Capone’s siblings occupied key positions in the mob.
Influence of Al Capone in modern culture
He is considered one of the most influential American gangsters in the 20th century. His influence is felt in literature, films, music, and sport. The aspects of his life that have been adopted are his attire which are blue pinned striped suit coupled with a tipped hat (fedora), his accent, facial appearance, physical build, and gesticulation (Lunde, 2006).
It is evident that Al Capone was an influential and wealthy criminal heading the Capone crime mob in Chicago during the 1920’s. He was a mastermind in his operations in selling illegal liquor, running bootleg rackets, prostitution, gambling syndicates, and eliminating rivals and gangs all which enabled him to expand his territorial influence. By 1927 he was worth $100,000,000 and had the support of many people. Rivalry with the Bugs Moran mob led to the valentine day massacre where seven of Bugs Moran mob were shot and killed in broad day light. This marked the beginning of police scrutiny of Capone that led him to conviction in 1931 for eleven years. He served seven years due to poor mental health that was caused by syphilis and was released. He was unable to continue his life and so retired to his home in Palm Island, Florida. He succumbed to Pneumonia in 1947 in the presence of his family.
Beshears, L. (2010). Honorable Style in Dishonorable Times: American Gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s. Journal Of American Culture,33(3), 197-206. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2010.00743.x
Capone, Alphonse, a.k.a. “Big Al,” “Snorky,” and “Scarface” (1899–1947). (2005).
FBI. Famous Cases and Criminals. Available at:
Lunde, P. (2006). Organized Crime. New Jersey: Pearson Education. Pp. 23-78
Silverman, K. (2011). Al Capone and His American Boys: Memoirs of a Mobster’s Wife. Library Journal, 136(9), 95-96.
Young Al Capone: The Untold Story of Scarface in New York 1899-1925. (2011). Publishers Weekly, 258(2), 44.