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This is the tenth and final article of a series on the gangsters of boozedom and what they did to Chicago. In previous installments Mr. Bennett has told the stories of Dean O’Banion, Johnny Torrio, and other notorious hoodlums.
Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1929
BY JAMES O’DONNELL BENNETT
BEHOLD “the Big Shot” of Chicago boozedom. He is Alphonse Capone, alias Al Brown. He is also called, by those who wish to speak respectfully of him, “the Big Fellow.” But those who are not solicitous of his tavor sometimes call him “Scarface Al.” They do not do that in his presence, fir he is a man capable of wild and frightening rushes ot temper.
Note well the ponderous automobile in which he moves rapidly from point to point when business occupies him in Chicago. The ordinary car weighs three tons. The Big Fellow’s weighs seven tons. In effect it is an armor-plated vehicle. Its doors are set with bullet proof glass. When that glass was placed in the doors it imposed such a weight that the original hinges would not sustain it and heavier ones had to be substituted.
All this protective material was built into a car especially designed for Capone atter one ot his old cars, in which he was supposed to be riding, but was not, was riddled with shotgun slugs fired by his rivals in gangdom.
That happened In January, 1926.
Why Capone Bought New Car.
The attempt upon his life was a typical gangdom performance. A black touring car with closely drawn curtains awept along side his car at State and 55th streets and delivered a fusillade. Capone’s chauffeur was wounded in the back. Two other occupants escaped by dropping to the floor of the car.
Nor are armor plate and bullet-proof glass Capone’s sole protection against the murderous rivalries and rancors of boozedom. When he is on the Chicago scene and when the chronic suspicions of boozedom have suddenly flamed into active warfare, as on St. Valentine’s day, 1929, when “Bugs” Moran’S seven gangsters were machine gunned to death, the Big FelloW has a bodyguard which for fidelity and alertness a Balkan monarch might envy_ If, under those disturbed conditions, Capone rides abroad, a car with four “torpedoes” in it precedes his car “Torpedo” is gangdom’s pet name for a quick killer. A car occupied by four more torpedoes follows him.
Al Capone’s “Killer” Car (1933)
1928 Cadillac Model 341A Town Sedan
When Gangdom Seeks Diversion.
When Capone takes a member of his family or a friend to the theater, not two seats, but six or eight, are bought, and the extra seats are occupied by blue jowled, keen eyed members of the bodyguard. They are devoted little men, mostly of Italian or Sicilian origin. They receive about $100 a week each. They do not clutter the air with questions. but they can search out impending trouble when it is in a closed car a block away—with t he cur tains drawn. Their whole philosophy of life and death contains but one clause. It is this:
A Smith & Wesson makes all men equal.
And so Capone lives on.
Alone of all the more notorious and sinister founders of Chicago boozedom, he stil is a commanding figure.
Envying the Violet.
But he lives resentfully, hating his own reputation, hating the notoriety which his evil deeds have built up for him. and craving the privacy which would enable him to enjoy his ill-gotten gains in peace.
As long ago as January, 1927, publicity began to irk him excessively and he met questions as to his activities with a phrase which since has become his refrain. It runs:
I am out of the booze racket and I wish the papers would let me a lone.
One of his early releases of that formula was made on Jan. 23, 1927. at the front door of his apartment at 7244 Prairie avenue, Chicago. He seemed at the moment a harmless and domestic citizen. A pink apron hung over his ample front and he carried a pan of spaghetti which he had been cooking. Silken wool underwear and fancy bedroom slippers were other coverings of a personality that for nearly a decade has been a terror to rival gangsters and a prime menace to law and order.
“I positively have retired,” added Al Capone as he withdrew with the pan of spaghetti.
But Capone’s reputation for being an emcient and implacable punisher of those who build up a power in boozedom which threatens his power, or the power of those who operate with him, continues to stalk him and embitter his privacy .
“Bugs” Sees the Master Hand.
The first comment “Bugs” Moran made when seven of his henchmen were machine gunned to death in the massacre ot last St. Valentine’s day was:
Only one gang kills like that—the Capone gang.
“Bugs” should know. For, from 1924, when his co·criminal, Dean O’Banion, was slain by gangdom, to last St. Valentine’s day, reprisal and counter-eprisal between Moran gangsters and Genna gangsters and Capone gangsters were numerous, deadly, and extremely intricate.
In short, AI Capone remains a power and a suspect, but so adroit is he and so skillfully is he sened by lawyers whom he pays handsomely that he remains a stranger to prison cells.
This bad man, who, had he been a good man, might have made a notable career along legitimate lines, came to Chicago a year or two after the world war, from which he was honorably discharged and in which he learned that the machine gun could, if operated from a rapidly moving automobile, be made as effective a weapon in the adjustment of private feuds as it was in the settlement of international broils.
This discovery and his real gift for organization have been his principal contributions to the rise ot gangdom.
John Torrio, also a gang organizer of parts, sent for Capone to be his henchman, just as the proprietor of bawdy houses and flashy cafés, Jim Colosimo, had sent for Torrio when Colosimo’s rivals became too numerous and too menacing for one man to handle. And, like Torrio, Capone outgrew his boss. The day came when even the capable Torrio could not save Colosimo from the punishments gangdom inflicts on double crossers. So Colosimo fell before gangdom’s guns. And the day came, too, when Torrio could no longer protect himself from bootleggers and beer runners and racketeers from whom he had pitilessly exacted tribute and so he, having been extensively but not fatally riddled by gangdom, fled into exile, where he still is.
Hence Capone—whose name earlier in his career always got into the newspapers as Caponi, which is probably the original Italian spelling—is now the veritable “Big Fellow.”
Another Five Points Product.
He was born in this country about thirty years ago and grew up with the New York Five Points gang, which also bred Tonio in crime. In school he never went above the fourth grade, but he has tried to educate his younger brothers, one of whom is now in a university which it would serve no useful purpose to name.
The scar which gave Capone his nickname ot “Scarface AI” is noticeable but not conspicuous. It is on his lett cheek, along the jawbone, and it Is the result ot a wound he received during his service as plug-ugly for the Five Points gang. The nickname was a reportorial invention and Capone has never been grateful to the reporters for it.
LEFT: “Bugs” Moran, O’Banion’s successor as leader of the north side gang and now Capone’s most dreaded enemy.
RIGHT: Al Capone, who enjoys practical dictatorship in Chicago’s bootleg realm, but whose constant refrain is: “I’m out of the booze racket and wish the papers would let me alone.”
A Rose in His Buttonhole.
The man is of medium height and la developing a paunch. In his circle he is what Is called “a snappy dresser”—garments of rich material, rose in buttonhole, and diamond in scarf.
He wae born in Brooklyn, but comes of Neapolitan stock. He speaks without an accent and his language is heavily laced with profane and obscene words. When newspaper photographers ask him to pose for them his response is likely to be a blast of foul language and a declaration that he has been desperately wronged by a press to which in the days of his strikebreaking activities he had rendered signal service. When the photographers whine, as is their custom under such circumstances, that they are just honest lads trying, like him, to get along in a hard world and that they will be dismissed if they do not get the photograph, he often gives surly consent, assuring them the while that if he did justice he ought to throw them in the tepid waters which wash the shores of his luxurious estate on Palm isle, near Miami, Fla.
Loved for His Gold Alone.
Miami and parts adjacent do not like Capone, but all adore his money, which he tosses about with a thriftless hand. Hence efforts to oust him by those who felt that the presence of such a man as a conspicuous villa resident was no asset to the winter playground came to nothing.
In June, 1928, the campaign to get him to move on was especially active. Capone met it with the announcement that he would fight in the Supreme court of the United States any legal action to drive him from Miami, using, as a basis for his legal action, his constitutional right to live where he pleased.
When he was out of doors in Miami at that time he would hide his face with hat or handkerchief whenever the cry, “Cover up,” was raised by his bodyguards. On one of those occasions the bodyguards caught a glimpse of a camera man nearly concealed by a pillar of the court house, whither Capone was bound. “Cover up,” they shouted. Capone covered, but other camera men stationed opposite the court house snapped him just as he did so. The photograph thus made is an eloquent exhibit in the gallery of roguery, for it shows with a great deal of squalid insistence that easy money buys no ticket to peace of mind.
The house that jack built. The jack was part of millions of dollars vested from the most profitable industry the world has ever known. In this Florida manor Capone repeatedly entertained eighty guests; in other places he has spent as high as $5,000 in one night. He is said to have tossed away $7,500,000 since coming to Chicago eight years ago.
The World Puzzles Capone.
Capone cannot understand the world. He cannot understand why the law should consider him a menace to society nor why even a community so morally flexible as Los Angeles is should have told him in the winter of 1927, when he was having a playtime there, that his room was preferable to his company.
Capone puts it thus:
All I’ve ever done is to supply a public demand.
Laugh this off: When the United States went more or less dry, there were 7,000 saloons in Chicago, and the town and its suburbs spent something like $70,000,000 a year for beer and liquor. And it votes wet five to one.
Well, you can’t cure a thirst by law.
They call Al Capone a bootlegger. Yes, it’s bootleg while it’s on the trucks, but when your host at the club, in the locker room, or on the Gold Coast hands it to you on a silver tray, it’s hospitality.
What’s Al Capone done, then? He’s supplied a legitimate demand. Some call it bootlegging. Some call it racketeering. I call it a business. They say I violate the prohibition law. Who doesn’t?
Capone’s Subtle System.
Capone’s operations have been vast and his gains commensurate. He carried on with increased efficiency Johnny Torrio’s diabolical work of transforming prairie villages around Chicago into vice and booze centers. He did it, not by fighting his way into the home areas, but by bribing home owners. His scouts and spies got the lay of the land for him. They found out whether struggling Mr. A’s bungalow was mortgaged. They noted that Mr. B’s little place would be much improved by a cement sidewalk. They learned somehow that Mr. C’s furnace was burned out. And they observed that Mr. D’s car was a rattle trap.
Through leisurely, neighborly conversations, nice feeling was established between the residents and the interlopers. The new roadhouse which would bring a lot of money into the town was spoken of. Every assurance was given that it would be an orderly, high class place.
“We don’t want any trouble,” the scouts, who were personable men, would say “We want to be good neighbors. By the way, your place is so near ours that we want to send a contractor over and have him lay a cement walk in tront of your house. Don’t mention it. It’s an improvement that will only add to the value of our investment.”
How to Get a New Furnace.
A householder who scented easy money in the wind, and who did not too readily agree to be “a good neighbor,” could get his mortgage paid off. A new furnace, a new roof, or a new car was the price others received for not proteltln&, to the village authorities against the new roadhouse.
Capone’s slogan was, “We don’t want any trouble.” For a few thousand dollars, tactfully spent among worned houaeholders, he turned decent suburbs into bagnio suburbs before the houeeholders realized with how destructive a fire they had been playing.
One village awoke to its infamy and had the gumption to fight fire with fire. In Forestview, which had come to be known as Caponev111e, vigilantes took charge of the situation. In the panic that followed Assistant State’s Attorney McSwiggin’s murder, of which Capone’s gang was suspected, Capone’s Forestview vice resort, which was called the Stockade, was closed until the storm of public indignation should subside. But the residents decided to make the closing permanent, and not to trust to injnnction, for they knew Capone had smarter lawyers than they could hire.
Vigilantes to the Fore.
So, on the morning of May 30, 1926, three automobiles filled with vigilantes drove up to the Stockade, overpowered the only occupant, a colored watchman, and in a few minutes had set fire to all the rooms on both floors of the frame building. The Berwyn fire department was called, but the firemen were not interested. They merely stood by and protected other property from the fiames. As to turning streams on the Stockade, they said there was no water handy. Bar, slot machines, and thirty-flve bed-rooms of the den all went aloft. The police said no attempt would be made to find the vigilantes and that they wished them well in any future effort they might undertake along the same lines
To such anarchic conditions had Al Capone reduced whole areas surrounding Chicago that law abiding people were tbanktul to be proteCted by force. outalde the law.
The Stockade had done a business in view of $100,000 a month, and it was only one of Capone’s vicious enterprises.
Killers Are Expensive Keep.
Although Capone’s prOfits have been enormous, his expenses are heavy. Scores of his henchmen are always looking to him for new ways into easy money and for some way out of trouble. A suspected killer must be gotten out of jail. Another, who has escaped arrest in Chicago, must be transferred to a safe hiding place in another city.
He himself freq uentIy has had to be sidestepping subpoenas and obtaining postponements. The lawyers who wiIl handle the affairs of such a client take every advantage of him. They know he has ready money and that when he Is in difficulties the difficulties are desperate. Hence he pays handsomely for the immunities which legal chicanery is able to obtain for him.
Besides, the man is crazily extravagant. He is paying some attention to the safeguarding of his health now, but in the days-or nights-when he was flying high he would enter a flashy café with his crew and own the place for the night. Sometimes as many as two hundred hoodlums would be in on “the party” and the tabs for the night would come to $5,000.
Capone the Biggest Boob.
“As a matter ot tact,” said an observer who has watched his performances with amused eyes for four years, “Al is really a bigger boob than any small towner who comes from the sticks to do Chicago in one night.”
And once, when he was in a leaden mood of disgust with himself, Capone told his friend and my friend, Al Lingle, that he had fooled away $7,500,000 since he came to Chicago about eight years ago. Mr. Lingle believed him and I belleve Mr. Lingle.
Like most ot his kind, Capone is the complete gull of the bookmakers.
“I have,” he said in 1927, “lost $1,500,000 on the horses and on dice in the last two years. And the funny part of it is, I still like ’em, and if some one handed me another million I’d put it right on the nose of some horse that looked good to me.”
With the Bag Over His Head.
He is said to have won $600,000 within a few days at one race meeting, but he wound up “with the bag over his head,” as the saying is. He could not beat the game and at the finish he owed the bookmakers $200,000, every cent of which he is said to have paid. That is declared to be characteristic of him. in sportdom they call him “a square shooter” and say:
If he gives you his word you can believe him.
Once, when the deadly reprisals of boozedom had reduced the gangsters themselves to abject terror, there was talk of peace. Gangsters who had been fighting Capone said they would agree to a peace if he would first consent to the extermination of two killers whom they denounced as double-crossers. The doomed men were to be “put on the spot”; that is, led into an ambuscade by supposed friends and there shot down.
How Chicago and some of its suburbs were divided up under the rule of various gangs during the bloody years in which Al Capone held sway as the boss criminal.
Here Even Capone Revolted.
It No,” said Capone. “I wouldn’t do that to a yellow dog.”
When, in the bright noonday of Sept. 20, 1926, the front of the Hawthorne hotel in Cicero, where Capone then had his headquarters, was swept by machine gun fire from moving automobiles and a woman was wounded in the eye, Capone is said to have paid specialists $5,000 for her treatment and for her care during recovery. “The Big Fellow,” said one of his henchmen, “never wants any innocent bystanders hurt.”
This attempt on Capone’s life demands particular attention, because it involves killers who fell in the St. Valentine’s day massacre of this year and because it reveals the horrIble inevitableness of the sequences of boozedom’s crimes.
The police theory of the Hawthorne hotel outrage was that it was retaliation for an attempt made more than a month before by the Capone gang on the life of Vincent Druce!, one of the leaders of the old Dean O’Banion gang. It later became the Hymie Weiss gang, and its shattered remnants now are the “Bugs” Moran gang.
Following their speculations on the reason for the Hawthorne hotel attempt the police arrested “Bugs” Moran and Frank Gusenberg. Nothing came of those arrests and there were no prosecutions. But the significant fact is that among the seven slain in the St. Valentine’s day massacre were Frank and Peter Gusenberg. All through the history of the O’Banion gang, whether it was fiourishing under O’Banion himself or under Weiss or under Moran, the Gusenberg brothers were conspicuous figures in it. They and their co-criminals were deadly enemies of Capone. Always they were trying to muscle in on his territory. The police believe they tried more than once to kill him. And so, what is more natural, the police continue, than that Capone gangsters should finally have taken in hand the extermination of the Gusenbergs?
A Gangster’s Fragile Health.
That is why the authorities were anxious to examine Capone immediately after the St. Valentine’s day horror. But that could not be, for Capone, with an airiness as comic in a way as it was exasperating in all ways, said that his delicate health would not permit him to face the March rigors of Chicago. He would come from Florida when the weather moderated. And the courts acquiesced!
How long will these murderous reprisals and counter reprisals go on? Nobody knows.
Moran, now Capone’s most menacing enemy, is actively brutal. Capone, although he has betrayed decent impulses, is icUy pitiless when business is in hand. He is not accustomed to being balked. Once, when hell was popping and Capone was working fast over the nine telephones In hi. steel shuttered headquarters, he said to one of his clerks: “Get me Judge —.”
When the judge responded over the wire, Capone, naming an officer of the law, said: “I thought I told you to dismiss that fellow.”
A Judge Gets His Orders.
There was a click and clatter of reply and then Capone said:
“Forgot it? Well, don’t forget it again!”
There is your super-gangster at work.
How long will he continue to work and to be immune?
Examine, if you will, this brief recapitulation of the multitude of facts which has been given in these ten chapters on the rise and the crimes of gangdom and then make up your own mind:
There are more than 3,000,000 persona in Chicago. Ninety per cent of them break the prohibition law in some way. They make moonshine, or buy it, or drink it. or transport it, or see it used without performing their duty by reportinc such infractions.
They would consider themselves contemptible snoopers it they did report infractions.
Gold! Endless Gold!
Their actions and their attitude create a golden market for a product which is in general demand and very costly, but which is illegal.
It is illegal, but not one person in 10,000 will inform the authorities or otherwise assist in enforcing the law. Then the trade in booze becomes the moat highly competitive the world has ever known, because it is the most highly profitable.
Man always fights to protect his property. Booze proftts have risen to sums almoat unbelievable. Honest men will buy the stuff and maintain the trade, but they w1ll have nothing to do with the traffic as participants in the profits. Thus the trade Is carried on by the most vicious of men.
And these moat vicious of men protect their trade and their profits by the most vicious of methods—by bribery and murder.
Bribes for One and All.
Into this golden market come Johnny Torrio, former New York gangster. He quickly comprehended the possibilities. He gathers about him the key scoundrels of the community. They enter the wholesale alcohol trade. They protect the1r traffic by bribing politicians, prohIbition agents, officials, police—every one who may contribute to the continuance of their business.
That was the beginning. The desperadoes gathered by Torrio became ambitious on their own account. They gathered their own satellites, whom they supported in return for their vassalage.
The structure of gangdom thus became a grim travesty on the feudal system.
The original Torrio gang split up into north side, west side, and south side-Cicero gangs. North side was O’Banlon and his men; west side was Druggan and Lake and the Gennas; south side was Torrio and his successor, Capone.
They are all rich. They give $100 bills to waiters, drive expensive cars, keep women, attend first nights in evening clothes, and coarsely ape the manners of the rich.
They develop insensate jealousies and hatreds. They are all bribing politicians and thus maintain entrée into officialdom.
Gangdom at Daggers Drawn.
But, to be valuable, this prestige must be restricted. Hence each gang loathes the thought that another gang can obtain favors f rom officialdom. Therefore they encroach upon one another’s territory, steal one another’s customers, and lure away one another’s police captains and ward committeemen with higher and higher bribes.
These rivalries and double crossings lead to most foul murders.
At first minor gangsters were murdered at the behest of “the big shots.” In reprisal, the big shots themselves were struck down.
For nearly a decade this has gone on.
Torrio, scarred for life—and scared for life—is supposed to have fled into exile. O’Banion, Weiss, three of the Gennas, Druccl, Esposito, and Lombardo—to name only a few of the big shots—have been killed.
Capone lives on in luxury.
He lives on because—surrounded by Italian gunmen who are little known, since they are kept out ot the limelight—he is scrupulously guarded and because his killen have exterminated most of his rivals.
And Chicago Pays—and Pays.
MeanwhlIe Chicago stands bedraggled and mocked at before the world. As Daniel Defoe wrote long in “The True Born Englishman”:
We have been Europe’s sink, the jakes
Voids all her offal outcast progeny.
James O’Donnell Bennett’s story of gangdom in THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE is, in the Herald’s judgment, the best piece of writing that has appeared in that paper or any Chicago paper for a long time.
Police reporters may have thought the gang war a joke on a none too efficient police department, and women feature writers may have loved to weep over gangsters’ funerals, but not Mr. Bennett. His pen is as scorching as it is bold. He is wasting no sentimentality on murderers and hijackers. He is calling a spade a spade with refreshing candor. Gangsters are. being written down for what they are, selfish, unsocial parasites, and the truth is being told about politicians that shield and encourage them.
Mr. Bennett reveals that Johnny Torrio, once the big boss of liquor running, was something of a coward. In the words of a shrewd policeman, Torrio was “the kind who could dish it up, but couldn’t take it.” He could order other men shot, but when he received half a dozen bullets, it was enough for him. Torrio passed a few months in jail and cleared out of Chicago. He is supposed to be living quietly in Italy.
And now Joe Saltis, one of the great beer barons, announces that he is through with the racket, and is going to Florida and soak up sunshine following a term in jail.
The “sweet doing nothing” of sunny climes appears to have an irresistible attraction for gangsters. Transfer them to Florida or southern Mississippi and they behave themselves. Perhaps Chicago’s weather is responsible in part for their deviltry.
At any rate, evidence is not lacking that some of the bootlegger overlords are finding the pace too swift and the risk too great.—Decatur, Ill., Herald.
MORE ARTICLES ON AL CAPONE
Capone Era, Part 1
Capone Era, Part 2
Capone Era, Part 3
I Was a Capone Juror