Al Capone – Before He Was Dead

Before They Were Dead

Al Capone – Before He Was Dead

Before Al Capone planned the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, one of the bloodiest in American history, and was dubbed Public Enemy #1

Before his network of brothels, speakeasies, gambling joints, racetracks, smuggling, and bootlegging would bring in over $100 million a year and he essentially was in control of Chicago.

Before Al Capone’s violent reign as crime boss in Chicago changed the city’s reputation forever, and redefined what it means to be a gangster.

Before Al Capone would be portrayed by many an actor in film and television.

1920s – The Prohibition

Born to poor immigrant parents, Al Capone was one the most infamous gangsters in American history. In 1920 during the height of Prohibition, Al’s multi-million dollar Chicago operation in bootlegging, prostitution and gambling dominated the organized crime scene. Al was a ruthless killer, responsible for many brutal acts of violence, mainly against other gangs. An early scuffle resulted in him getting sliced in the face which would earn for him the nickname of ‘Scarface’.

But he was also had a softer side. He opened one of the nation’s first soup kitchens. He fought for expiration dates on milk. He even wrote love songs to his wife from prison.

My name is Michael MccCudden documenting the life and legacy of the original gangster, Al Capone, here for you on before they were dead.

Al Capone Born in Brooklyn in 1899

Alphonse Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 17 1899. One of nine children of recent Italian immigrants Gabriele [GAB-re-el-eh] and Teresina [TAIR-uh-seen-uh] Capone.


Al’s parents came from the province of Salerno, and were amongst the thousands of Italians who arrived in New York in 1894. At the time, Teresina was pregnant and already bringing up two sons: 2-year-old son Vincenzo [vin-CHEN-zo] and Raffaele [RAFF-i-el-ee]. Gabriele earned a living as a barber, while Teresina was a seamstress.

The Poor Capone Family

A poor family that came to America seeking a better life, the Capones and their nine children lived a in a New York tenement, little more than a slum, near the Navy Yard. The crime-filled neighbourhood was a tough place to raise a family and they moved to Brooklyn when Al was 10.

Al Capone in Kid Gangs – Brooklyn Rippers & Forty Thieves Juniors

Al was initially a good student but struggled with the rules at his strict Catholic school. Eventually he began falling behind and had to repeat the sixth grade. It was around that time that he started playing hooky, hanging out at the Brooklyn docks and joined two “kid gangs”; the Brooklyn Rippers and the Forty Thieves Juniors.

One day, during a rare appearance at school, Al’s teacher hit him when he stepped out of line and 13 year old Al… he hit the lady right back…in the face. The principal gave him a beating, and despite having once been a promising student, he was expelled.

Johnny Torrio at Park Slope

It was in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn that Al would meet both his future wife, Mary (Mae) Coughlin, and his mob mentor, racketeer Johnny Torrio.

Racketeering is essentially when you offer a fraudulent solution to a problem that you cause. Like offering to protect people if they pay you, and then beating the shit out of them if they don’t.

Torrio was running a numbers and gambling operation near Al’s home when he began running small errands for him. He taught Al the importance of business sense in crime and made way for a new dawn in criminal enterprise.

Frankie Yale

Early on, Al stuck to legitimate employment until Torrio introduced him to the gangster Frankie Yale. He gave Al a job as a bartender and bouncer on Coney Island and it was his first real taste of the crooked life.

The Ass Compliment that made him Scarface

One night, Al went up to a woman at the bar and said “Honey, you got a beautiful ass and I mean that as a compliment.” He said it loud enough that her brother at the next table heard him, and defending his little sister’s honour slashed Al across the face with a knife, leaving three scars that inspired the nickname ‘Scarface’. He was ashamed of the scars and usually tried to hide it or be photographed from the other side.

Al Capone’s Wife – Mae Coughlin

When Al was 19, he married Mae Coughlin just weeks after the birth of their child, Albert. Now a husband and a father, Al needed to support his family, and things were about to change.

 In 1920, the Prohibition Act came into effect, banning the sale, production, import, and transportation of alcoholic drinks. Torrio invited Al to come to Chicago, where he had a booming business in gambling and prostitution. But with prohibition in place, he focused on a new, more lucrative opportunity: bootlegging.


That same year Al’s father died of a heart attack and Al brought the rest of his family to Chicago. He supported his sisters and got his brothers into the racket.

Al began to develop a bit of a reputation as a lush drinker who went whoring and partying all the time. After hitting a parked taxicab while driving drunk, he was arrested for the first time. But his boss quickly used his connections to get him off.

He was also an incredible businessman who garnered a lot of respect from the public. Torrio recognized Al’s skills and quickly promoted him to partner when he was only 23 years old.

Reputation = Enemies

As Al’s reputation grew so did the number of enemies. He never went anywhere without at least two bodyguards, even while driving. He also had a beast of a car custom-made just for him: a 1928 Cadillac that was one of the first armoured cars in history. The dark green cadi had reinforced steel and weighed 7 tons. It was painted to look like a police car and had a siren, allowing for a quick getaway and also had 1 inch thick bulletproof glass.

Chicago Mayor and Police

In 1923, when Chicago elected a reformist mayor who announced that he planned to rid the city of corruption, Torrio and Al decided to move their base to the suburb Cicero. The small area of 60,000 was perfect for their organization to flourish and expand. Soon, with the assistance of his brothers, Al infiltrated the government and police departments–but not before his brother Frank had been killed in a shootout with Chicago’s police force.

The Empire

Soon they were running hundreds of brothels, gambling clubs and racetracks. After being shot several times in 1925 by rival mobsters, Torrio decided to leave the business and return to Italy, turning over his legacy to Al. Al moved his headquarters to downtown Chicago where he would give orders to take out anyone who stood in his way.

The Famous Mobster Lifestyle

From there, he began living a luxurious and public lifestyle. He would be seen at places like the opera, and loved verdi [VAIR-dee] in particular. Al indulged in custom suits, cigars, gourmet food, prostitutes, and booze. His favourite liquor was Templeton Rye from Iowa. He was wore flamboyant and expensive jewelry and newspapers of the time estimated Al’s operations generated $100 million in revenue annually. Always smartly dressed, he set out to be viewed as a respectable businessman and pillar of the community.

His new celebrity status and philanthropy had gained him public sympathy. Many even considered him to be a kind of Robin Hood figure. But then he would go and do things that were not so popular…like having jazz legend Fats Waller kidnapped to play at a private gathering. And, in later years, Al’s popularity waned, as his name became increasingly associated with brutal violence.

Valentines Day Massacre – The Bugs Hit

In 1929 Al went to his Florida getaway to mastermind one of the most intricate and famous mob hits in history; the Valentine’s day massacre. Al’s long-time rival “Bugs” Moran ran a gang in the north side of Chicago, and was out to get Al’s top hit man, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn. On February 14, 1929, McGurn’s gunmen posed as policemen and raided the rival gang’s garage. The men faced the wall with their hands up and Al’s men opened fire.

Public Enemy Number One

Although Al had a solid alibi since he was in Miami at the time, the public and the media immediately blamed him for the massacre. He was dubbed “Public Enemy Number One.”

The man wanted the public’s favour back and set out to help the community. Many were feeling the effects of the great depression so Al set up the nation’s first soup kitchens during along with a city-wide program giving free milk to school kids.

Still, there was out-cry over the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and President Herbert Hoover ordered the federal government to step up efforts to put Al Capone behind bars.

Jailtime for Income Tax Evasion

With insufficient evidence to book him on murder charges, they had to get a little creative.

In 1927, the Supreme Court had ruled that income earned on illegal activities was taxable. So, on June 5, 1931 the U.S. government indicted Al on 22 counts of income-tax evasion. Al was found guilty and sent to prison for 11 years.

From Atlanta to Alcatraz

Al spent the first two years of his incarceration in a federal prison in Atlanta. After he was caught bribing guards, however, Al was sent to the notorious island prison that had newly been opened, we are taking Alcatraz in 1934.

Al Capone Health Issues in Jail

Around this time prohibition was passed but poor Al Capone was isolated from the outside world, he could no longer wield his still considerable influence. He was also suffering withdrawal symptoms from his cocaine addiction, and a long untreated case of syphilis, which was slowly infecting his brain. He spent the last year of his sentence in the prison hospital confused and disoriented until they finally released him.

His condition was so bad and had such a degenerative impact on his brain that he was ruled no threat to society and released.

He lived out his last days of his life in his Palm Island mansion in Florida with his wife. An exam by physicians concluded that at the time, he had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old and would fish in his swimming pool. Ya, apparently syphilis could do that to a man. He died of cardiac arrest on January 25, 1947, at the age of 48 surrounded by his family.

And the rest of the story, well it lives on in his legacy because this is before they were dead. Watch the full Before They Were Dead video on Al Capone below.


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