Gabriele Capone was one of the 43,000 Italians who arrived in the U.S. in 1894. He was a barber by trade and could read and write his native language. He was from Casstellamare di Stabia, near Naples.
Gabriele was 30 years old and he brought with him his pregnant 27 years old wife Teresina (called Teresa), and his two years old son Vincenzo.
Along with thousands of other Italians, the Capone family moved to Brooklyn near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was a stark beginning in the new world.
Grabiele's ability to read and write allowed him to get a job in a grocery store until he was able to open his barber shop.
Teresina took in sewing piecework to add to the family coffers. Her third child, Salvatore was born in 1895. Her fourth son, most famous one, was born in January 17, 1899. His name was Alphonse.
In May of 1906, Gabriele became an American citizen. Within the family, his children would be always known by their Italian names, but in the outside world, the boys would be known by the American names they adopted. Vincenzo became James; Raffaele became Ralph; Salvatore became Frank; Alphonse became Al. Later children were Amedeo Ermino (later John and nicknamed Mimi), Umberto (later Albert John), Matthew Nicholas, Rose and Mafalda.
Shortly after Al was born, Gabriele moved the family to better lodgings in an apartment over his barber shop at 69 Park Avenue in Brooklyn This move would expose Al to cultural influences well beyond what was supplied by the Italian immigrant community. Most of the people living around Park Avenue were Irish, although Germans, Swedes and Chinese were also in the neighborhood.
Moving into a broader ethnic universe allowed Al to escape the insularity of the solidly Italian neighborhood. There is no question that this exposure would help him in his future role as the head of a criminal empire.
A block from Al's home was the parish church, St Michael's, where the Reverend Garofalo baptized him several months after his birth. John Kobler captures the atmosphere of the neighborhood in The Life and World of Al Capone:
At the age of five in 1904, he went to Public School 7 on Adams Street. Educational prospects for Italian children were very poor. The school system was deeply prejudiced against them and did little to encourage any interest in higher education, while the immigrant parents expected their children to leave school as soon as they were old enough to work.
A few blocks away from the Capone house on Garfield Place was a small unobtrusive building that was the headquarters of one of the most successful gangsters on the East Coast. Johnny Torrio was a new breed of gangster, a pioneer in the development of a modern criminal enterprise. Torrio's administrative and organizational talents transformed crude racketeering into a kind of corporate structure, allowing his businesses to expand as opportunities emerged. From Torrio, a young Capone learned invaluable lessons that were the foundation of the criminal empire he built later in Chicago.
He was a role model for many boys in the community. Capone, like many other boys his age, earned pocket money by running errands for Johnny Torrio. Over time, Torrio came to trust the young Capone and gave him more to do.
Capone was a tough, scrappy kid and belonged to the South Brooklyn Rippers and then later to the Forty Thieves Juniors and the Five Point
Despite Al's relationship with the street gangs and Johnny Torrio, there was no indication that Al would choose someday to lead a life of crime. He still lived at home and did what he as expected to do when he quit school: go to work and help support the family. The family was actually doing quite well under Gabriele's guidance. He now owned his own barbershop. Teresa continued to produce children --several boys and then two girls, one of whom died in infancy. The only significant disruption in Al's tranquil family life was in 1908 when his oldest brother Vincenzo (James) justify the family and went out west.
At this point in his life, nobody would ever have believed that Al would go on to be the criminal czar that he ultimately became. For approximately six years he worked faithfully at exceptionally boring jobs, first at a munitions factory and then as a paper cutter. He was a good boy, well behaved and sociable.
How did the soft-spoken dutiful Al Capone metamorphose into the spectacularly successful and violent super gangster? One clear catalyst was the menacing presence of Frankie Yale. Originally from Calabria, Francesco Ioele (called "Yale") was a both feared and respected. At the opposite end of the spectrum from the peace-loving, "respectable" Johnny Torrio, Frankie
Yale built his turf on muscle and aggression. Yale opened a bar on Coney Island called the Harvard Inn and hired, at the recommendation of Johnny Torrio, the eighteen-year-old Al Capone to be his bartender.
Capone's job at the Harvard Inn was to be the bartender and bouncer and, when necessary, to wait on tables. In his first year, Capone became popular with his boss and the customers. Then his luck turned suddenly when he waited on the table of a young couple. The girl was beautiful and the young Capone was entranced. He leaned over her and said, "Honey, you have a nice ass and I mean that as a compliment."
The man with her was her brother Frank Gallucio. He jumped to his feet and punched the man who insulted his sister. Capone flew into a rage and Gallucio pulled out a knife to defend himself. He cut Capone's face three times before he grabbed his sister and ran out of the place. While the wounds healed well, the long ugly scars would haunt him forever.
Capone's insult caused a bit of an uproar. Gallucio went to Lucky Luciano with his grievance and Luciano went to Frankie Yale. When it came to Yale's attention, all four men came together and dispensed justice. Capone was forced to apologize to Gallucio. Capone learned something from the experience --to restrain his temper when it was necessary.
Yale took Capone under his wing and impressed upon the younger man how business can be built up through brutality. Yale was resourceful and violent man who prospered by strong-arm tactics. Schoenberg characterized Yale as specializing in extortion; loansharking, exacting tribute from pimps and bookmakers, and offering "protection" to local businesses. "Yale needed a stable of strongarms who could not only break arms and heads but would kill."
As powerful as Yale's influence would be on Capone's eventual development, other influences had a very moderating effect on Al.
At the age of nineteen, he met a pretty blond Irish girl named Mae Coughlin, who was two years older than he was. Her family was comfortable and solidly middle class. It's hard to imagine that Mae's family embraced her relationship with Capone and it was not until after their baby was born that they married.
Albert Francis Capone was born December 4, 1918. His godfather was Johnny Torrio. While Sonny, as he was known all his life, seemed okay at birth, he was in fact a victim of congenital syphilis. Years later, Al confessed to doctors that he had been infected before he was married, but he believed that the infection had gone away.
With a beautiful respectable wife and a "ball" to support.
Al focused on a legitimate career. He stopped working for Frankie Yale and moved to Baltimore where he worked as capable bookkeeper for Peter Aiello's construction firm. Al did very well. He was smart, had a good head for figures and was very reliable.
Quite suddenly, Al did another about face when his father died November 14, 1920, of heart disease at the age of fifty-five. Bergreen saw the event as marking the end of Capone's legitimate career. "It is possible that the sudden absence of parental authority made the young Capone feel free to abandon his bookkeeping job and his carefully acquired aura of respectability ....
He resumed his relationship with Johnny Torrio, who had during the intervening years expanded his racketeering empire with the quiet cunning of a visionary. Torrio had abandoned the hotly contested streets of Brookyn for the comparatively open spaces of Chicago. The opportunities were enormous: gambling, brothels, and ...illegal alcohol."
Torrio beckoned from Chicago and early in 1921 Al accepted. Armed with his knowledge of business and his experience with the brutal Frankie Yale, Capone had a good resume for a career in crime.
Capone's power increased immensely in 2 years, it was an amazing legacy: nightclubs, whorehouses, gambling joints, breweries and speakeasies.
After the conference, Capone went to a movie in Philadelphia. When the movie was over, two detectives were waiting for him. In less than 24 hours Capone was arrested and imprisoned for carrying a concealed weapon.
In mid-March of 1930, Capone was released from jail, a few months early because of good behavior.
On June 5, 1931, the grand jury met again and returned an indictment against Capone with twenty-two counts of tax evasion totalling over $200,000.
Capone was facing a possible 34 years in jail if the government completely won its case. Capone's lawyers presented U.S. Attorney Johnson with a deal. Capone would plead guilty for a relatively light sentence. Johnson, after discussing the offer with Irey and the new Treasury Secretary Ogden Mills, accepted the deal and agreed to recommend a sentence between 2 and 5 years.
Why would the government after all its efforts take accept such a light sentence? First of all, despite the government's extraordinary efforts to hide Shumway and Reis, there were very real concerns about them living to testify. Capone had put a bounty of $50,000 on each of the bookkeeper's heads. There was also some doubt that the six-year statute of limitations would be upheld by the Supreme Court.
Capone went into the courtroom on June 16 a fairly happy man. When Capone pleaded guilty, Judge Wilkerson adjourned the hearing until June 30. Capone told the press he was entertaining offers from the movie studios to make a film of his life. He was in excellent spirits when he appeared for sentencing in front of Wilkerson at the end of the month.
Judge Wilkerson had a little surprise for Al. "The parties to a criminal case may not stipulate as to the judgment to be entered," Wilkerson said firmly. He made it quite clear that while he would listen to Johnson's recommendation, he was not bound to go along with it. "It is time for somebody to impress upon the defendant that it is utterly impossible to bargain with a federal court." It was a shock to Capone. The deal, the plea bargain was kaput and Al was clearly worried. Capone was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and a trial was scheduled for October 6.
On October 6, 1931, fourteen detectives escorted Capone to the Federal Court Building. Security was very, very tight. Capone was brought in through a tunnel to a freight elevator.
The crime czar was well dressed in a conservative blue serge suit. No pinkie rings or any other gaudy gangster jewelry this time. Every major newspaper had dispatched its top talent. It was the "Who's Who" of newspaper journalism. The question was posed to Al repeatedly, "Are you worried?"
"Worried?" Capone answered with a smile, "Well, who wouldn't be?"
Late Saturday night, October 17, 1931, after nine hours of discussion, the jury completed its deliberation and found Capone guilty of some counts, but not all counts of tax evasion. The following Saturday, Judge Wilkerson sentenced Capone to eleven years, $50,000 in fines and court costs of another $30,000.
Initially, Al was a prisoner at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta and quickly became its most famous prisoner. There were charges almost immediately that he was living "like a king." While that was certainly an exaggeration, he clearly lived better than the rest of the prisoners. He had more socks, underwear, sets of sheets, etc. than anyone else. He maintained these extravagances by virtue of a hollow handle in his tennis racket in which he secreted several thousand dollars in cash.
In 1934, Attorney General Homer Cummings took over the prison on Alcatraz Island to warehouse dangerous, intractable criminals. In a radio address, Cummings explained that "here may be isolated the criminals of the vicious and irredeemable type so that their evil influence may not be extended to other prisoners."
In August of 1934, Capone was sent to Alcatraz. His days of living like a king in prison were gone. Capone would run nothing on or from Alcatraz; he wouldn't even know what was happening outside. There would be no smuggled letters or messages.
Al spent the last year of his sentence, which had been reduced to six years and five months for a combination of good behavior and work credits, in the hospital section being treated for syphilis. He was released in November of 1939. Mae took him to a hospital in Baltimore where he was treated until March of 1940.
Sonny Capone seemed to be a remarkably friendly and well-adjusted young man, despite his very unusual background. In 1940, he married an Irish girl and settled in Miami. Sonny and Diana provided Al and Mae with four granddaughters, which were treated with lavish attention.
For his remaining years, Al slowly deteriorated in the quiet splendor of his Palm Island palace. Mae stuck by him until January 25, 1947 when he died of cardiac arrest, his grieving family surrounding him. A week before, Andrew Volstead, author of the Volstead Act that ushered in the era of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, died at the age of 87.