Notorious gangster, Alphonse Gabriel Capone better known as, Al Capone was born in New York in the year 1899. He was the son of an immigrant Italian family and gained fame during the prohibition era. The prohibition era peaked organized crime due to poor law enforcement and the ban on alcohol. Between 1920-1933 this ban tried to reduce crime, but it only accelerated it.
After being expelled from school Al Capone got involved in the New York gang lifestyle. Growing up Capone worked a lot of small jobs to make money, but the life of crime brought bigger and better prospects so naturally Capone followed. Capone was notably part of the Brooklyn Rippers and the Five Points Gang of Manhattan. Al Capone had a lot of nicknames throughout his life such as “The Big Fella”, “King Alphonse”, and “Big Al” but when Capone was working as a bouncer for a nightclub where lot of senior gang members attended, he mistakenly insulted the sister of Frank Gallucio and received a slash to the face earning him the infamous “Scarface” name (Al Capone Biography). A year after Capone married Mae Josephine Coughlin, he moved to Chicago where he joined the Colosimo mob. The leader, Johnny Torrio soon became Capone’s crime mentor and once he proved his worth Capone would be promoted as his right-hand man. In 1925 Al Capone became one of Chicago’s most powerful men succeeding Johnny Torrio after he was shot several times and severely wounded. Capone proved to be a top dog in the gang life by expanding his empire through intimidation, bribery and violence. Capone’s empire grew as far as Canada. This was crucial because of the ability to transport illegal alcohol supplies using the railroads. Capone would force bars to buy alcohol through him and whomever refused to do business would coincidentally receive a hit, for lack of better words. Capone’s rise to power created a lot of conflict with the North side gang of Chicago. This gang made it a point to eliminate Capone from the picture but ultimately failed. This event lead to the infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929, where Capone had his people dress as policemen and had members of the North Side Gang gunned down.
Using the monster theories of Jeffrey Cohen, we see a correlation of Al Capone’s character to thesis three, “The monster always escapes because it refuses easy categorization” (6). Capone was a smart man because he cared about his public image. Capone dressed sharply with the iconic pin stripe suit and hat. He involved himself with politics and make charitable donations to promote his image of a modern-day Robin Hood if you will. With his plethora of money, from the sale of alcohol, racketeering and brothels, “Capone [would often pay] law enforcement to turn a blind eye [and slip away from the jaws of justice] (Al Capone Biography). Al Capone was seemingly above the law because of how weak the Bureau’s investigative authority was at the time; however, the Bureau would have a greater hold on Capone. On March 20, 1929, Capone appeared before the federal grand jury in Chicago and… was arrested for contempt of court, an offense for which the penalty could be one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. He posted $5,000 bond and was released (Al Capone). Later that year, Al Capone and his bodyguard were arrested in Philadelphia for carrying concealed deadly weapons…and was sentenced to terms of one year each. Capone served his time and was released in nine months for good behavior. (Al Capone). Nevertheless, this was not the last time Capone has run-ins with law enforcement. The U.S. Treasury Department had been developing evidence on tax evasion charges. Al Capone’s brother, Ralph “Bottles” Capone, along with and other members of the mob were subject to tax evasion charges. After the successful conviction of his brother for tax evasion, Capone tried to fix his tax statues by reporting an income of $100,000 both in 1928 and 1929. However, this gave prosecutors enough evidence to be able to claim that Capone had some undeclared income laying around. On November 24, 1931, Capone was convicted… and sentenced to eleven years in federal prison, fined $50,000 and charged an additional $215,000 plus interest due to back taxes (Al Capone).
Capone’s figure of the Mobster we think of today was so engraved in our heads that it inspired many movies to be about the Italian mafia. One notable movie that arouse from Al Capone’s infamy was the 1983 crime drama, Scarface where Tony Montana, is played by Al Pacino, this character follows a similar rise and fall of Tony Montana’s cocaine empire to that of Al Capone. Tony Montana gets his humble start in the drug trade shortly after receiving his green card for assassinating a Cuban official. Tony quickly rose to power by eliminating everyone who dared step in his path to glory. Tony gained the trust of Colombian Cartel Lord Alejandro Sosa which lead to Tony controlling the vast majority of the cocaine coming into Miami. However, Tony’s love for cocaine soon became his down fall where his paranoia made him irrational. Another Al Capone inspired film was the 1987 crime drama, The Untouchables where agent Eliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner, tried to take down the ruthless Al Capone down, played by Robert De Niro. A more comedic take on the famed Al Capone is the caricature of Marion Anthony “Fat Tony” D’Amico in the hit American sitcom The Simpsons. Fat Tony is portrayed as the stereotypical gangster and is the underboss of the Springfield Mafia.
violent enforcement of alcohol helped turn the public eye against the
prohibition and in 1933, the Volstead Act was repealed. As time goes on,
smuggling has changed and evolved, but the same reasons for doing it in the
first place still remains, wealth and power. After the prohibition, the method
of smuggling didn’t go away, mostly due to the fact that other drugs such as
marijuana and cocaine had taken over the market (The Capone Effect). The method
of smuggling didn’t shrink after Capone, but in fact grew to new levels. With
the art of smuggling continuously
changing we see the advancement of Capone’s techniques still visible
throughout the streets. Today, the U.S drug market is the most wealthy and
powerful one’s in the entire world, and with
the attraction of wealth and power along with technological advancement, shows
how much Capone had impacted life here today.
“Al Capone.” FBI, FBI, 18 May 2016, www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/al-capone.
“Al Capone Biography |.” Biography Online, www.biographyonline.net/business/al-capone-biography.html.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
“The Capone Effect.” The Al Capone Effect, thecaponeeffect.weebly.com/the-capone-effect.html.