The Great Depression; Al Capone Criminal Life

The Great Depression; Al Capone Criminal Life


The Great Depression had strong effects on many families in the early 1900s. Many people were left with our jobs or homes to reside in. Most unemployed workers turned to the West, such as California, to search for new jobs to support their families. Realizing once they had gotten there that most opportunities had been taken. (Steinbeck) Then there are the others who took matters in their own hands. Revolting against the government became a new trend. Al Capone was the single greatest leader of illegal scams, which defied the United States government during the 1920’s prohibition era.


Al Capone was born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York. Baptized “Alphonse Capone” by his father Gabriele and his mother Teresina. Capone was the first of his family to be born and conceived in America (Bardsley). He grew up in a rough neighborhood and was a member of two “kid gangs”, the Brooklyn Rippers and the Forty Thieves Juniors (Kobler 11). Capone, at age fourteen, was expelled from school when he physically lost his temper with his teacher. He never went to school again (Bardsley). Between scams, he was a clerk in a candy store, a pin boy in a bowling alley, and a cutter in a bookbindery (Halper 102).

At age 18, Capone became part of the notorious Five Points gang in Manhattan and worked as a bouncer and a bartender in the Harvard Inn, owned by gangster Frankie Yale. While working at the Inn, Capone insulted a beautiful lady and was attacked by her brother. This was where Capone received the infamous facial scars, which lead to his nickname “Scarface” (Bergreen 16).

Capone later went on to work for Frankie Yale’s old mentor, John Torrio. Torrio noticed Capone’s potential, strength, and intelligence. Soon Capone was helping Torrio manage his bootlegging business. Capone was made Torrio’s right-hand man and together they controlled saloons, gambling houses, and brothels (Kobler 13).

It wasn’t until rival gang members shot Torrio, that Capone inherited the “outfit” and became boss (Bergreen 22). To keep the neighbor’s suspicions down Capone posed as a dealer in secondhand furniture. In reality, Capone controlled speakeasies, bookie joints, gambling houses, brothels, and made an income of $100,000,000 a year (Kobler 20).

Though Capone is accused of being a suspect for multiple murder cases, he was never tried for most of his crimes. He was arrested in 1926 for killing three people but spent only one night in jail because there was insufficient evidence to connect him with the murders (Bardsley). The reason Al Capone was finally convicted was illegal gambling and income tax evasion. The popular belief was that illegal gambling earnings were net taxable income. Later, a ruling claimed that illegal profits were in fact taxable. Capone had done all of his business through front men so that he was anonymous when it came to income. The government wanted to indict Capone for income tax evasion, but Capone had never filed an income tax return and never made a declaration of assets or income (Ness 84-86).  Special agent Frank Wilson from the IRS was assigned to the Capone case. Wilson accidentally found a cash receipts ledger of income, with Capone’s name on it (Halper 104-105).

In 1931, Capone was indicted for income tax evasion for the years 1925-29 and failing to file tax returns for the years 1928 and 1929. The government claimed Capone owed $215, 080.48 in taxes. The jury found Capone guilty on eighteen of the twenty-three counts. Capone was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and one year in the country jail (Ness 92). Capone served the first part of his eleven-year sentence in an Atlanta prison. Even in prison, Capone took control, he had special privileges. Therefore Capone was switched to Alcatraz has he had no knowledge of the outside world (Bardsley).

While in Alcatraz, Capone showed signs of syphilitic dementia. He spent the rest of his felony sentence in the hospital. He later returned to his home in Palm Island where his mind and body continued to deteriorate. On January 21, 1947, Capone had an apoplectic stroke. He regained consciousness and began to improve until pneumonia set in on January 24. Capone Died January 25, 1947, from cardiac arrest (Kobler 25).

Capone’s most notorious killing was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. On February 14, 1929, four Capone men entered a garage at 2122 N. Clark Street, in Chicago. The building was the main liquor headquarters of bootlegger George “Bugs” Moran’s North Side Gang (Allsop 51). Capone’s assassination team changed into police uniforms and drove to the garage in a stolen police car. The men raided the garage as though they were the police arresting the gang. The bootleggers did as they were told, and lined up against the wall obediently.

The four men in police uniforms took the bootleggers’ guns and opened fire with two machine guns, a sawed-off shotgun, and a .45 (Bardsley). Capone’s men fired more than 150 bullets into the gang members. Six of the seven killed were members of Moran’s gang and the seventh was an unlucky friend (Allsop 53). The target of the shooting, Bugs Moran, was across the street hiding once he saw the police car. Capone was hiding out in Florida during the mass! acre and the police could not arrest Capone without any evidence (Bardsley).

Al Capone had a strong effect on society. The police had an extensive spy network out looking for Capone. From newspaper boys to policemen, they tried to discover any plots quickly before they occurred. Capone was hard to catch. The operations were quick and complete and Capone always had an alibi (Ness 96). The police and FBI tried hard to convict Capone for multiple crimes. But it wasn’t until Capone was convicted of tax evasion that he was finally caught.


Most common people used Capone’s speakeasies but were afraid of his short temper. Capone was unpopular in much of the country (Ness 101). In 1930, at the peak of his power, Capone was on Chicago’s new list of the twenty-eight worst criminals. Al Capone had become the city’s “Public Enemy Number One” (Bergreen 35).

Throughout Al Capone’s life, he continued to try to rebel against the law by bootlegging, speakeasies, and gambling houses. This easily made himself a multi-millionaire. Using his connections and intelligence, Capone proved himself to be the single greatest leader of illegal scams, which defied the United States government during the 1920’s prohibition era. Because of the harsh times during The Great Depression, many people turned to illegal activities to keep themselves alive. Al Capone was just trying to live the American dream of success.



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