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Said Chicago’s Al Capone:“I Give The Public What The Public Wants…”
What the public wanted, it seemed, was a vice and bootleg business netting sixty million dollars a year-and many gangland funerals
February/March 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 2
And the risks were by no means limited to Chicago. According to crime reporter Edward Dean Sullivan, who wrote the following in 1930, “The effort to ‘get’ Capone became virtually nationwide. Killers in every town that Capone might reach were assigned to the job.… When he got to Philadelphia from Atlantic City, having failed to arrange a peace with the Moran outfit on any terms, Capone, charged with having a concealed weapon, was soon in prison and untroubled.”
Released from Eastern Penitentiary in March, 1930, Capone returned to Chicago with a bodyguard, wrote Sullivan, “the size of which indicated his state of mind.” But the climate of the windy city was such that “He left for Florida within ten days and as this is written, six months later, he has just returned to Chicago. Twenty of his enemies died in his absence.”
Sullivan further noted that Capone’s most frequently repeated statement was: “We don’t want no trouble.” As it turned out, he was about to get a large measure of trouble. By 1931 the troubles had piled up on two fronts. There were frequent raids against the Capone breweries and distilleries; G-men with sledgehammers were wrecking the old alky stills and pouring the contraband booze into the gutters. Meanwhile, as if this were not enough for Capone to contend with, agents of the Internal Revenue Service began making discreet inquiries about town as to why, after so many extravagant years of big spending, he had never once filed a tax return. In a kind of dress rehearsal for their biggest act, the IRS agents won tax-evasion indictments against Ralph Capone and Frank Nitti. Then Big Al himself was charged with twenty-two counts of failing to render unto Uncle Sam what was Uncle Sam’s; and in October, 1931, in federal court, he was found guilty by jury trial, fined fifty thousand dollars, and sentenced to eleven years in prison. Capone was stunned. It would never have turned out like this in the good old days.
But the good old days were long gone. Pending an appeal, Capone was held in the Cook County Jail, where the amenable warden David Moneypenny provided his celebrated prisoner with all the comforts of home, including unlimited visitations by the likes of Jake Guzik and Murray Humphreys and Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz. For all such audiences, Capone insisted on absolute privacy; and Moneypenny obliged by allowing Big Al to use the most secure suite in the entire jail—the death chamber.
The appeal was denied. In the spring of 1932, handcuffed to a fellow prisoner, Capone was transferred to the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia. There he was given the identifying number 40,822 and assigned to work eight hours daily cobbling shoes. For the most part he stayed out of trouble; but his old reputation belied to authorities his new good behavior. In the retributive penal spirit of the times, he was considered an “incorrigible.” And by 1934 the government had a special place for people like that. They called it Alcatraz.
Capone was among the first of the incorrigibles confined on the skullcap rock in San Francisco Bay. His new number was 85. He was assigned to Cellblock B and the laundry-room detail. He was conceded no favors. Feisty young inmates, looking for ways to enhance their own reputations for toughness, insulted Capone to his face. They called him “wop with the mop.” A thug from Texas shoved a pair of barber’s scissors into his back. He was jumped in a hallway and almost strangled before he managed to flatten his assailant. Capone somehow endured. But his health was failing. The syphilis which had gone so long untreated was beginning to erode his central nervous system. There were periods when lucidity escaped him. He could respond to treatment, but the disease was too advanced to hope for a cure.
In January, 1939 (with time off the original sentence for good behavior and working credits), Capone left Alcatraz for the less dismal precincts of a federal correctional institution near Los Angeles; and in November, at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, he was released into the custody of his wife Mae and brother Ralph. In Chicago, according to Kobler, “reporters asked Jake Guzik if Capone was likely to return and take command again.” Whereupon Guzik “replied in language harsher than he intended, for his loyalty had never wavered.” Al, said Guzik, was “nutty as a fruitcake.”
Capone lingered on in Miami, his mind confused, his sleep haunted by dreams of assassins. Finally, in January, 1947, he suffered a brain hemorrhage. The hemorrhage was soon followed by pneumonia. The body was taken to Chicago for burial. The funeral was modest; the Church had forbidden a requiem mass.