Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Lewisburg, Philadelphia County
Chicago crime boss Al "Scarface" Capone served time in two Pennsylvania prisons.
Alphonse "Al" Caponewas born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 26, Al Capone became the head gangster in Chicago, and was regarded as one of the most successful gangsters in the world. On February 14, 1929, Al Capone orchestrated one of the most famous gang related killings ever, the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre." In May of 1929, Capone was arrested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a concealed weapon charge, and was given a one year sentence at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Capone died on January 25, 1947, in Miami, Florida.
Alphonse "Al" Caponewas born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 17, 1899, where he lived until his teenage years. Capone grew up in the Mulberry Bend district in Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn Bridge. This is where he met a life-long friend, Johnny Torrio, whom would succeed many years later as head vice syndicate of Chicago. Capone liked to be the center of attention and conflict from a young age. One afternoon, when Capone was barely out of his teens, he was bullied by one of his neighbors at a local barber shop, in the Mulberry Bend district. Capone's attacker backed him into a corner and slashed him twice across the face with a razor. The slashes across his left cheek gave him his famous nickname "Scarface." The advent of Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s led to an underground world of bootlegging (sale of alcohol) and the possibility for big money. Al Capone's childhood friend Johnny Torrio took a large interest in bootlegging. In 1910, Torrio left the Mulberry Bend district of Brooklyn to try his luck at bootlegging in Chicago. Once Torrio had planted his roots in Chicago, he needed more men--tough men. Torrio sent an invitation for Capone to come to Chicago, working for $75 a week to help with his bootlegging chain. Capone left Brooklyn, in hopes of finding fortune within the bootlegging business. For the first few years, Capone worked as Torrio's professional killer, and proved to his friend that he was a trustworthy, organized individual. As time went on, Torrio's bootlegging chain became bigger and bigger. However, greed soon overtook Torrio; he wanted a majority of the "take" and began short-changing his men. This resulted in a split between the men within the chain: Dion O'Banion's supporters, who were mostly Irish, and the Italians who continued to supported Torrio. On November 10, 1924, a Capone-led attack opened fire on O'Banion and his men in a local florist shop, killing O'Banion and all of his followers. According to reports, Capone and Torrio attended O'Banion's burial, and sent wreaths in order to mask their guiltiness. In 1925, Torrio relinquished his bootlegging chain to Capone, after Torrio was shot five times by a rival gang. Torrio felt his life was in danger, and that he could no longer control the chain. Capone immediately began a campaign to expand the bootlegging chain. By the end of 1925, Capone had bootlegging connections up and down the east coast, including men in the Bahamas and Canada. Capone and his family were living the "high" life, with a new home on the prestigious Prairie Avenue in Chicago. Reports vary on how much money Capone made annually, but the general consensus was an earning of millions every year. Capone had a secret business plan: first, eliminate the competition by killing them; second, boost employee productivity by threatening them with their lives; third, if a customer buys alcohol, or any other product that Capone offered, from anyone else, the customer would be killed. This business worked well, because everyone was afraid of him--even the police. Al Capone was well-known for paying people off. During the mid 1920's, fifty percent of the Chicago police force from the top down was thought to be on Capone's payroll. Capone's payroll also included judges, public officials and politicians. It was impossible to convict Capone of anything in Chicago, because of his influence on everyone from police officers to jury members. Capone had the local Chicago police at his fingertips, but the federal government was a different story. The federal government wanted him in prison. Capone's bootlegging operation generated so much money that he had a grip on the law-enforcement and political establishments in Chicago. Capone even had the Mayor of Chicago, William "Big Bill" Hale Thompson, on his payroll. Therefore, Capone's gang was able to operate largely free from legal intrusion, operating casinos and other underground operations throughout Chicago. However, this increased level of criminal success drew the attention of Capone's rivals, particularly that of North Side gangster, George "Bugs" Moran. Moran and other rivals of Capone led attempts to assassinate Capone throughout the mid 1920s. According to reports, Capone considered Moran a lunatic and was fearful of him. Capone orchestrated one of the most notorious gang killings of all time on February 14, 1929, known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Capone was fed up with Moran and his crew coming into the South Side of Chicago and intruding on Capone's "turf." The details of the killings are still in dispute, but some details have been found true. Three of Capone's men were instructed to dress in police uniforms and enter the SMC Cartage Company garage, a building owned by Moran. The men directed who they thought was Moran and six of his men to line up against the wall. However, Moran was not in the building. Moran's men believed this to be a normal police raid and let the police bring them down to the station where their lawyers could get them out of trouble. Instead, Capone's men opened fire on Moran's men with Thompson sub machine guns and sawed-off shotguns until all seven men were dead. The St. Valentine's Day massacre is considered one of the dirtiest gang related killings in the history of the United States. Capone was never arrested for the killings of Moran's men, but Moran swore that Capone was behind it all. It was reported that Moran told friends that he would have his revenge on Capone before he died. Capone fled Chicago in fear of his life. In May 1929, Capone was arrested on a concealed weapon charge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Capone was given a one year sentence in the Eastern State Penitentiary. This was Capone's first jail sentence, but not his last. Capone was released from the Eastern State Penitentiary on March 17, 1930. Capone immediately headed south to Miami, where he wanted to "lay low." Over the years, Capone paid off hundreds of police officers, politicians, and everyday citizens. However, one man, Elliot Ness, was driven to take down Capone and his men. Elliot Ness worked for the Justice Department, where he put together a group of eleven highly trained, honest individuals, whose sole objective was to take Al Capone down. Ness was successful in disrupting Capone's operation and was able to put a mole into Capone's gang, but never brought a conviction to Capone in court. Ness went on to write a book about his squad and their stories famously titled The Untouchables. The federal government and Elliot Ness felt the only way to catch Capone was on income tax evasion. On June 5, 1931, Capone was indicted on 22 counts of income tax evasion. Capone was found guilty on five more counts of tax evasions on October 24, 1931. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and fined $50,000. On May 3, 1932, Capone began his sentence at the Atlanta Penitentiary. Fearing a wild attempt to free Capone before he entered the Atlanta Penitentiary, Ness and his men, later known as "The Untouchables," road along to make sure there would be no last minute escape. Capone was transferred to Alcatraz in August of 1934, where he spent the next five years. Capone transferred two more times until his last stop at the Lewisburg Penitentiary, in Pennsylvania, where he was paroled on November 16, 1939. Capone spent the last of his years in Miami, Florida. Capone died on January 25, 1947, of syphilis, which he had contacted through his days within the prostitution business. Capone will always be remembered as one of the most notorious gangsters in the history of the United States.
Associated Press. "Capone Dead at 48; Dry Era Gang Chief." New York Times. 26 Jan. 1947: 7.
Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Iorizzo, Luciano. Al Capone: A Biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.
Lauver, Lauver. "Story 196: Al Capone." 2007. American Story Teller Radio Journal. 2008. 5 Mar. 2008