Chicago Remains to Be Seen

Al Capone

When people around the world think of Chicago, one of the first things that come to mind is the Roaring '20s and gangsters. And the best known Chicago gangster was certainly Alphonse "Scarface" Capone.

Born in Brooklyn, Capone started his life of crime as a teenager. He came to Chicago to work for gangster Johnny Torrio. After Torrio was severely injured in a 1925 assassination attempt, he turned the gang leadership over to Capone and returned to Italy.

Although Capone was involved in gambling and prostitution, his greatest revenue came from the sale of alcohol during Prohibition. Capone had tight control on the political and law enforcement establishments. Through this organized corruption, which included the bribing of Chicago Mayor William "Big Bill" Hale Thompson, Capone's gang operated largely free from legal intrusion, operating casinos and speakeasies throughout Chicago. Wealth also permitted Capone to indulge in a luxurious lifestyle of custom suits, cigars, gourmet food and drink, jewelry, and female companionship. He garnered media attention, to which his favorite responses were "I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want" and "All I do is satisfy a public demand." Capone had become a celebrity.

Though he was relatively free from police intervention, Capone was fighting regular battles with other Chicago area mobs, particularly against his bitter rivals, North Side gangsters Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran.

These gang wars reached a climax with the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Chicago's North Side, although details of the killing of the seven victims by gunmen dressed in police uniforms in a garage at 2122 North Clark St. (then the SMC Cartage Co., which served as a Moran headquarters) are widely disputed. Although no one was ever brought to trial for the crime, it is widely believed that the incident was Capone's attempt to strike back at Moran, who had become increasingly bold in hijacking Capone's alcohol delivery trucks, and three assassination attempts on one of Capone's top enforcers, "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn.

Under the leadership of Eliot Ness, law enforcement officials arrested Capone in 1931, charging him with income tax evasion. He was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Capone served much of his sentence at Alcatraz, where his health declined as the syphilis he caught as a youth progressed. He spent the last year of his sentence in the prison hospital, confused and disoriented. Capone completed his term in Alcatraz on Jan. 6, 1939, and was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island in California to serve a one-year sentence on a misdemeanor charge. He was paroled on Nov. 16, 1939, spent a short time in a hospital, then returned to his home in Palm Island, Florida.

By the time Capone was released from prison, Prohibition had been repealed, which essentially eliminated the power and control of the gangs that depended on selling bootleg booze for their revenue. Capone suffered a stroke on Jan. 21, 1947. He regained consciousness and started to improve but contracted pneumonia on Jan. 24. He suffered a fatal heart attack the following day.

Capone was originally buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, on Chicago's far South Side, between the graves of his father, Gabriele, and brother, Frank. However, in March 1950, the remains of all three family members were moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, west of Chicago.

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