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Al Capone And the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Updated on February 7, 2012

Infamous bootlegger

Al Capone rose to infamy by smuggling and bootlegging during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s. He played a major role in the criminal activity that led to Chicago's reputation as a lawless city. While still a boy, Capone was influenced by gangster Johnny Torrio, and considered him a mentor. Starting early in his life of crime, Capone belong to two groups of teen thugs known as The Junior Forty Thieves and the Brooklyn Rippers. He later joined the notorious Five Points Gang in Manhattan. Frankie Yale, owner of the Harvard Inn, took Capone under his wing and gave him a job. While working the door as bouncer, Capone received his trademark scars, three slashes on the left side of his face, earning him the nickname, Scarface.

Al Capone
Al Capone

Capone moves to Chicago

Still not yet 21, Capone required his parent's permission to marry Mae Couglin, the mother of his newborn son, in 1918. After murdering two rival gang members and hospitalizing a third, Yale sent Capone to Chicago for a cooling off period. He moved his family into a small house on the south side of Chicago and went to work for John Torrio. It wasn't long before Torrio saw Capone's potential, as he moved rapidly up through the ranks. Soon Capone was managing Torrio's bootlegging business. He was considered number two to Torrio and soon became partner in Torrio's many business operations. When Torrio was shot by rival gang members, he retired to Italy and handed the business over to Capone.

Capone - the new boss

Under Capone's rule, the 'outfit' expanded its criminal hold on the city of Chicago. Between 1925 and 1930 Capone controlled speakeasies, brothel's, gambling houses, bookie joints, breweries, racetracks, and much more, with an estimated income of $1,000,000,000 a year. Even though corrupt mayor William "Big Bill" Hale Thompson, was doing business with Capone, he ran the gangster out of town to preserve his political image. In 1928, Capone bought a home in Florida, finding much of the country didn't want him around.

St Valentine's Day Massacre

With two of them dressed as police officers, Capone's men approached seven members of the George "Bug" Moran Northside gang's headquarters, on February 14, 1929.  Thinking it was a raid, the Northside gang dropped their weapons and put their hands on the wall.  Capone's men fired more than 150 bullets into the unarmed men.  Moran, who escaped the slaughter, was across the street at the time and was probably the intended target.  Capone, though credited with the hit, was never charged, because he was in Florida at the time of the shooting.

St. Valentine's Day Massacre
St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Public Enemy Number One

Even though Capone was responsible for multiple murders along with his widespread criminal activities throughout Chicago, he managed to evade arrest and imprisonment for much of his career. He was arrested in1926 after killing three people, but was released after one night for lack of evidence. He served time in 1929 for carrying a gun and by 1930 he headed Chicago's list of twenty-eight worst criminals and was considered the cities "Public Enemy Number One".

It took Frank Wilson of the IRS to finally bring down Al Capone. Though Capone kept a low profile, and did all his business through front men, Wilson found a ledger listing the net profits from one of Capone's gambling houses. This along with a letter from Capone's tax attorney and the coercion of witnesses, was enough to charge and convict Capone of tax evasion.

Capone was charged with tax evasion, failure to file tax returns and violation of prohibition laws. He at first plead guilty expecting to get a plea bargain. When that wasn't offered to him he changed his plea to not guilty and tried to bribe the jury into finding him not guilty. The judge changed the jury at the last minute and Capone was found guilty on five of the twenty-three counts against him. He was sentenced to ten years in prison and one year in jail.

Capone was first sent to a prison in Atlanta, where he quickly took over control and started receiving favors from the guards. When word of this got out, Capone was sent to Alcatraz. Once there he lost all contact with the outside world and soon became a model prisoner. While at Alcatraz Capone became ill with syphilitic dementia and spent the final years of his sentence in the hospital. After his release, he retired to Florida where his health continued to deteriorate. He died of a stroke in 1947.

Al Capone in the movies

Scarface - 1932

Based on the life of Al Capone, Paul Muni plays ambitious and insanely violent gangster, Antonio "Tony" Camonte.

Scarface - 1983

Al Pacino bases his character on Al Capone - He was Tony Montana. The world will remember him by another name...SCARFACE.

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  • lafenty profile image

    lafenty 7 years ago from California

    I appreciate your comment, Michael.

  • profile image

    Michael E. Horton 7 years ago

    Great hub and information on Al.