January 17, 1889
Brooklyn, New York


January 25, 1947
Palm Island, Florida


-Big Al
-Big Boy
-Public Enemy No. 1


Al Capone was by far the most famous gangster of the prohibition era and is still one of the most famous American mobsters, long after his death.

Born in the last year of the 1800s, Al “Scarface” Capone lived a short, intense life, where he dominated the Chicago criminal underworld for several years. He briefly became quite wealthy, but his career did not last long, as he was arrested in 1931 and spent most of the rest of his life in prison.

Capone was as famous in his own time as he is today, and only a year after his arrest, he was the subject of the popular film Scarface (1932). Even today, Capone is still a legend and the first person people think of when they think of the prohibition era.

Many people in the 1920s and 1930s saw criminals as heroes, even if they were despised by many people as well. Especially after the 1929 stock market crash, many people loved criminals – some of them, such as bank robbers, stole from the rich, who people were angry at. Capone wanted to be seen as more of a businessman than a criminal – someone who provided the public with alcohol.

Even before the depression, many people admired the criminals of the time – they got rich without having families that gave them a head start at life.

It was not reasonable to love gangsters at the time – they both personally killed people and ordered hits on others, Capone included. Organized criminals were as violent as in any other time. But, many people were impressed by them anyway – they were rich, and they were risk-takers. Even bank robbers, who killed many people, were admired by some Americans at the time.

Capone even gave money away to charities – it did not make up for his murders, but people still saw him as a modern-day robin hood. When Capone went to a ball game, people cheered for him. Corrupt and greedy people in power made the Capone era possible

During the height of Al Capone’s career, everyone knew who Capone was. He did not hide his identity and would be seen in public even though everyone knew he was responsible for many crimes. Capone seemed to love attention and was a criminal for fame as much as money.

He relied on making other people money to avoid time in jail. Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson made money by tolerating Capone’s criminal enterprise, and the police made money by tolerating him also. Eventually, Capone went down on tax evasion charges, as he was no match for federal authorities that took convicting him very seriously.


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Early Life

Capone was born to poor immigrant parents in 1899. He did not come from a criminal family and did not immediately seem destined for a life of crime. His barber father and seamstress mother were law-abiding people.

Initially, he did well in school, but he seemed to be headed for trouble a little before he was a teenager. He had to repeat sixth grade, and around this time, he started skipping class and hanging around at the docks, getting into trouble.

Capone quit school after punching a teacher. A female teacher hit him, and he hit the woman back. The principal beat him, and he quit school and never returned.

While the family had eight children and sometimes had trouble supporting them, they could still move out of their tenement and to a proper home in Brooklyn. Tenements were poor places to raise families – large buildings with many families crowded into them – and it is good that their family was able to move to somewhere better.

While the Capone family was poor, they were not sliding further and further into poverty, so the lack of money on its own does not explain Capone’s descent into crime.

In Capone’s new and better park slope neighborhood, he was able to meet many people, including the woman he would marry in the future and his mentors in crime.

Capone moved from legal to illegal employment early in life

Capone worked as a kid, and his employment was initially mostly legal. He worked in factories and did other small jobs. He also got in fights and joined kid gangs, but he did not immediately seem on his way to being a career criminal.

Johhny Torrio was the man who got him into crime. Torrio was a racketeer and made money from running a gambling house. Capone did small jobs – initially more errands than serious crimes – for Torrio, and the two became closer.

Torrio eventually found Capone a job as a bouncer. He introduced Capone to another gangster, who employed him as a bouncer at a hotel. He still did not seem like a career criminal.

Capone got the name “Scarface” after being slashed in the face during his time as a bouncer. He made a sexual remark to a woman, and her brother, furious, did not stop at punching him. The three slashes left permanent scars.

Capone’s last attempt at a normal life before turning to crime

At 19, Capone had a girlfriend and a baby, and he decided to marry her and find a legitimate job. They remained married until Capone’s death but never had another child. He worked as a Bookkeeper, seemingly still on the path to a normal life.

However, his old friend Torrio invited him to come to Chicago and work for him. He decided to take the opportunity, and from then on, Capone made money in the illegal world. His two brothers, Frank and Ralph, joined him in the criminal world.


Capone’s criminal career’s proper start was 1920 when he moved to Chicago and helped Torrio run the growing gambling and prostitution business in Chicago. The sudden death of Capone’s father may have played a role in Capone’s choice to become a career criminal – he could no longer count on whatever financial support his somewhat poor family may have offered him.

Although it is not known when Capone committed his first murder, it may have been in 1920. Torrio wanted to usurp his boss’s role, and he sent someone, possibly Capone, to kill him.

Prohibition made many gangs a lot of money, and Torrio quickly realized that Bootlegging was now more profitable than gambling or prostitution. The 18th amendment, which heavily restricted and effectively banned the sale of alcohol in the United States, made Capone’s criminal career possible. Working under Torrio, Capone learned everything about making money as a bootlegger, including how to deal with the police and rival gangs.

While still working for Torrio, Capone was instructed to move operations from Chicago, which was going through a heavy police crackdown at the time, to Cierco in Illinois. Capone began making money from gambling, prostitution, and racetracks as well as from Bootlegging in his new area.

In one of his most daring moves, Capone decided to run for public office. He and his brothers planned to reach high positions in the local Cierco government, and they were willing to use violence to get there. This was one of their riskiest moves, and while it worked, it also ended in disaster.

Capone reached a high position in the Cierco city government by terrorizing anyone who tried to get his opponent elected. He threatened voters and even kidnapped people who campaigned for his opponent.

Amazingly, Capone got away with it – but at a terrible cost. His brother was shot and killed by the police. He still in the earlier part of his career, but he was already rich and was too deep into the world of crime to escape.

No one knows how many murders Capone personally committed, but he did murder people himself. When one of his friends was assaulted by a minor criminal, Capone personally killed him.

He got away with it, but everyone knew he did it – and people began to hate and fear him more than ever before. As dangerous as his life now was, he was becoming wealthy and powerful, and he and people close to him were now part of the local government.

During the years between 1925 and 1931, Capone made a fortune as a professional crime boss. By 1925, Torrio was rich, and after surviving an attempt on his life, he decided to call it quits and retire in Italy.

Capone took Torrio’s business over. Capone now had a criminal empire and an enormous income from bootlegging and other illegal businesses.

He stuck with much of what Torrio taught him, but he disregarded much of it as well. He did not keep a low profile.

Capone has a reputation as having been seen often in public, not afraid of being attacked or arrested. This is partly true – he did not keep attention away from him as Torrio advised him to.

He was seen in public often, allowing people to recognize him. He also traveled around unarmed. From his point of view, being unarmed was a mark of his status – he was not a common criminal but a crime lord that no one would dare attack even if he did not carry a gun.

However, he was not as fearless in public as some people imagine him to have been. Capone went around unarmed with guards, not alone. He always had at least two guards with him.

He always had guards with him even if he was driving, not only on foot. He was seen during the day sometimes – he would go to events during daytime hours – but he usually traveled at night. He was not so untouchable that he would go around unarmed and unguarded.

Capone wanted to be seen as a successful businessman that might make much of his money illegally but was still part of the community and not a violent killer. He partly succeeded, and this allowed him to keep his career going for so long. He ran his business from a luxurious hotel, wore the finest clothes, and went to plays and operas.

After becoming rich, Capone turned to more and more violence to defend and expand his business. After initially being driven out of Chicago, he decided to smuggle great quantities of alcohol into it. Since he was against rival gangs, he could not achieve this without violence.

On Christmas 1925, Capone personally led a massacre against his enemies. His old friend Frankie Yale in New York needed help dealing with rivals, and Capone dealt with them violently.

At the Adonis Social Club, Frankie Yale and Al Capone were aware that some rival gangsters were going to crash the party, and they planned to allow them to show up and then kill them.

In the wee hours of the morning, five men showed up at the party and began shouting insults. It was the rival “white handers” that they expected to crash the party.

Expecting the attack, they turned out the lights and began shooting. All but one of the “white handers” were killed, with the last one escaping from the club and ending up in the hospital.

Amazingly, Capone and all of his men got away with it. People were afraid of Capone and refused to talk about him, and this was true even if they witnessed this massacre. Everyone claimed to be unable to remember anything about the terrifying night.

Certainly, the people in the apartments above the club must have heard the massacre – but they pretended that they did not. They told the cops that they didn’t hear any of the shooting going on downstairs.

Capone was infamous enough by 1925 that no one said anything, and Capone’s career lasted for another six years.

One could argue that Capone’s career prevented some killings – not necessarily more than he was responsible for, but some nonetheless. Capone was in charge and did what he could to prevent violence between other gangs.

Violence was bad for business, and sometimes he did what he could to discourage it. Capone was making a fortune – some estimated that it was more than 100 million a year in 1920s dollars. He saw violence as bad for his profits.

Later in his career, Capone committed his most infamous massacre. This was the St.Valentine’s day killing, still famous today. This time, Capone did not participate.

After tricking a rival gang into thinking they were buying whiskey, Capone’s men appeared, dressed as police officers. The men other men believed that the police were looking for liquor.

They lined up against the wall, and Capone’s men opened fire with machine guns. Seven men died, and only one survived. The target of the attack was Moran, a rival gang leader, who was not present. The attackers mistook someone else for Moran.

Once again, Capone got away with it. He was not in the same state when the attack occurred, and while the police knew that Capone was responsible, they could not prosecute him.

Unfortunately, these massacres were the beginning of the end. People had learned to hate him.

He was public enemy number one, wanted by the federal government as well as the city and state police. He had made too many enemies and, unlike Torrio before him, did not manage to retire before it was too late.

Believing that two of his men had betrayed them, he committed his grossest act of personal violence. He invited the two over for a banquet and then beat them to death with a baseball bat.

Many people that are responsible for a lot of violent deaths never kill anyone themselves. Capone was different – he was capable of murders, including unusually violent murders, himself.

Capone soon faced the threat of tax evasion charges. Some of Capone’s businesses were legal or partly legal, but he could not deny that he was rich. He had been refusing to pay taxes on his enormous income for all of his career.

After being arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and then let go in 1929-30, Capone was put on the America’s most wanted list, which he surely didn’t like to be. Capone wanted people to think he was a businessman that supplied people with illegal alcohol, not a violent criminal.

After being released in 1930, Capone would not last long. Many men were after him and wanted to become famous for catching him. Among them was Elliot Ness, who would walk away with the fame.

Ness managed a daring raid on a large liquor shipment, managed to get prohibition-related charges against Capone, and seized and destroyed a huge amount of money worth of brewing equipment.

Eventually, Capone ended up in court on tax evasion charges, and his attempt to bribe the jury failed. His lawyers defended him as a generous man who gave to the poor, as he wanted to be seen, but Capone was very rich and gave away little. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Capone went to jail in 1931 and was sent to Alcatraz prison in 1934. Capone had syphilis before he went to jail, and the disease was slowly weakening him. Due to good behavior and his illness, they decided to let him go in 1939.

Death and Aftermath

From then on, Capone lived a quiet life and never tried to return to crime. He died in 1947 of a heart attack. He lived in luxury after his release from prison, at his estate at palm island.

Capone’s last years were strange and at odds with the rest of his career. While John Dillenger, the most famous bank robber of the age, died to bullets, Capone died slowly and unglamorously long after his career was over.

While Capone died of a heart attack, it was syphilis that weakened him until he died in middle age. He got the disease at around the same time as he got his scar – when he was a young, low-ranking gangster. He got the disease from a prostitute while he was working as a bouncer in a brothel.

Syphilis was becoming a treatable disease in the first half of the 20th century, but Capone was ashamed – too ashamed to seek treatment. Capone died because he left his disease untreated for so many years.

Possibly, his disease explains some of his violence. Untreated syphilis causes insanity, and some of his later murders and massacres may have happened because he was losing control of his thoughts and emotions.

After he went to prison, his health deteriorated further. He became even worse after he was released and went to Florida. He became first irritable and nervous, then childish, and finally quite mentally ill.

The only thing that might have saved him from such an advanced case of syphilis was penicillin, which he eventually received, but by the time he started taking it, the disease was well on the way to killing him. Capone spent his years talking to people who were not there and behaving in other strange and childish ways.

Eventually, Capone has a stroke. Capone had convulsions and was sent to the hospital on January 21, 1947. He drifted in and out of consciousness for a few days before finally dying on January 25, 1947.

Today, he is more famous than infamous, so you can use his name to sell products. No one would buy Al Capone mini-cigars if he did not have a glamorous as well as a violent image. More than one film has been made about his life.

Tragically, his son was born with syphilis, as both Capone’s wife and his boy were infected. He almost died of a brain infection at the age of seven, and he became deaf in his left ear.

Alphonse Capone Juinor managed to live a normal life despite being born with the disease, as it was becoming more and more treatable. His son married in 1942 and had four children. He eventually died in 2004.

How much was Al Capone worth when he was at his height? We do not know exactly what his fortune was. He may have made something like $100 or $85 million per year – far more in today’s dollars if you adjust for inflation.

His total fortune may have “only” been about $1.5 billion if you adjust for inflation. He was very rich, but some gangsters were and are clearly richer.