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Mentioning the word ‘Capone’ evokes in the minds of many people the bad memories of the 1920’s gang era. Born in Brooklyn New York in 1899 (Schoenberg 1992, 18), Alphonse Gabriel Capone is arguably one of the most researched individuals of the twentieth century. Studies still revolve around his life, many years after his death, not only for the mark he left in the history of organized crime, but also for his mysterious lifestyle. Bootlegger, gangster and racketeer are all names used to describe Capone.
The life of Al Capone
Al Capone, as was usually referred to, was a man who seemed to escape justice, with his great wealth fueling his way around. He was famous in political circles where his influence extended to the mayor’s office. He measured up to his claims of being a force to reckon with in politics. As a result, he was able to maintain his illegal businesses through blackmail and intimidation of whoever dared crossing his path. He organized his gang activities so well that he escaped arrest for many years.
Capone was smart and aggressive. He was able to manipulate the mayor of Chicago. Prosecutors and jurists soon became his victims. The biggest challenge for law enforcers was getting enough evidence to convict him. Capone was involved in all manner of illegal businesses from running prostitution rings to assassinations. He mastered the art of committing crime and getting away with it only to reappear in public as if nothing had happened.
The public at some point liked him for his philanthropic activities. It was not until the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre occurred that his public image was tarnished. The public saw him in his true colors prompting the law enforcers to double their efforts to bring him down. By surrounding himself with people of his like, he was involved in gang activities and later in life managed his own gang. It was people like Johnny Torrio and Lucky Luciano, one of the greatest gang leaders of the 1930’s, who had a big influence on Capone’s life (Kobler 2003, 26).
Capone earned and maintained most of his wealth through corrupt deals by bribing the Chicago City mayor and other top officials. He had people working for him in the police and press. He had access to all the information on all the happenings in Chicago. Gathering such information enabled him to have a cast iron alibi to every accusation that came up. At one time, Chicago city was famous for impunity practiced by Capone and his rivals who included Dean O’Banion.
O’Banion’s assassination in 1924, which sparked a series of gang wars, gave rise to continuous conflicts between Capone’s gang and their rivals leading to more assassinations (Bergreen 1994, 135). One particular incidence is the infamous Saint Valentine Day massacre, where seven members of a rival group died. This was after an assassination attempt on Capone’s business partner, Torrio, which forced him to escape to Italy leaving Capone to run the businesses they had established.
In retaliation, Capone’s men supposedly lured O’Banion’s gang members into a trap then sprayed them with bullets. The Chicago mayor, after falling out with Capone, decided to get rid of him by appointing a new police chief. This came as a betrayal to Capone as he was a helping hand in the mayor’s rise to power. After his hunt intensified, he fled to Florida where he bought a house in Palm Island; his life from that point became less public.
Capone ran different businesses all of which operated fraudulently. He mesmerized the press who sought his opinion on issues, whether they concerned him or not, helping him to gain power more than most politicians. After his conviction for tax evasion and serving his jail term, Capone later died of complications arising from syphilis. Much of his life up to today remains an enigma to many.
Bergreen, Laurence. 1994. Capone: The Man and the Era. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.
Kobler, John. 2003. Capone: The Life and Times of Al Capone. New York: Da Capo Press.
Schoenberg, Robert. 1992. Mr. Capone. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.