How gangster ‘Scarface’ Al Capone was caught, served hard time at Alcatraz, and lived after prison

Alphonse Capone - Al Capone mugshots 1939

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First up here is an article from 1929 about how ‘Scarface’ mobster Al Capone said he was innocent, and pretended to be a gentleman, not a gangster.

Then, find out about his time at the infamous Alcatraz prison, and lots more about his life — and death — after serving time.

Chicago guffaws at Al Capone in guise of gentleman

The Pittsburgh Press (Pennsylvania) February 22, 1929

Chicago, Feb, 22 – Police officers who have watched his domination of gangland for five years smiled broadly yesterday at reports from Florida that Scarface Al Capone was assuming the attitude of the refined and genial American sportsman.

Deputy Commissioner John Stege, himself just back from a vacation in the Southland, reconciled the picture of Capone on his Florida estate with the more unfavorable pictures of Capone, the lord of Chicago vice and beerdom.

“That’s merely the way he operates,” Stege said. “He had made a huge fortune by his unlawful exploits in Chicago, and he has been able to buy some of the trappings of respectability.

“This does not mean that Capone cannot be gracious and hospitable. The Latins are like that, you know. At least the class of Latins we are dealing with in our warfare against crime here in Chicago.

Gangster Al Capone with a hat mugshot

“Dean O’Banion, although an Irishman, learned the way of the high gangster and was first, to practice it. He wore a benevolent smile, referred to all men as ‘swell fellows,’ but he always kept one hand free and near his shooting irons.

“Why, O’Banion even had his clothes tailored so that he could carry three pistols without anyone seeing them.”

READ ABOUT IT: Chicago gang kills 7: Al Capone & the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre (1929)

Stege laughed at Capone’s naive declarations of his innocence.

“If Capone has a clear conscience, that’s merely because he hasn’t any conscience at all,” the deputy said.

Old Al Capone FBI mugshots

Capt. John Shumaker, who has devoted most of his time to studying and combating gang wars from the last five years, went so far as to charge that Capone himself may have ordered the massacre of seven “Bugs” Moran gangsters here a week ago today.

“It is just as good a theory as any other,” said Shumaker, “that Capone men committed these murders in revenge for the slaying last autumn of Tony Lombardo, Capone’s chief Lieutenant. We are not so certain that there was not a falling out between Capone and the Moran gang. Certainly, the killings were worthy of Capone’s tactics.

“Capone is no hero. He’s just a gunman like the rest of them.”

Al Capone’s prison timeline

May 1932: Capone imprisoned at the US Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia
August 1934: Transferred to Alcatraz in San Francisco, California
January 6, 1939: Left Alcatraz for the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island in Southern California
November 16, 1939: Paroled and released from prison
January 25, 1947: Death at age 48

A look at Al Capone’s life in prison at Alcatraz (1936)

Ex-Gang King on spot — Foes swear revenge — ‘Armor’ of canvas worn to ward off knives — Guards alert to keep him alive

San Francisco Examiner (California) February 12, 1936

Al Capone, once the bland and cocksure Chicago “king of crime,” in Alcatraz Prison, today is running a race with death — a race to complete his time on the island before fellow convicts carry out threats to kill Capone.

The real story of Al Capone on Alcatraz Island, heretofore guarded by official silence and censorship as grim as the battlements of “The Rock,” was obtained by The Examiner exclusively yesterday.

Al Capone - Scarface scar

Smuggled out

Written in the prison and smuggled past the censorship, the account gives a first-hand version of the life of Capone and other notorious criminals on Alcatraz, the details of Capone’s fight with another prisoner in the laundry and the reason for Capone’s death-dodging.

Al Capone, in spite of official statements, is not “just another number” on Alcatraz. Prison guards are performing for him now a service amazingly similar to that of his paid bodyguards during his Chicago heyday.

Death forecast

For the job of Warden James A. Johnston and other officials is not go much to keep Capone imprisoned on Alcatraz, as it is to keep him alive!

“If it were possible to get away with it, Capone would never leave here alive,” the Alcatraz informant wrote. “Al Will be fortunate if he is alive six months after leaving here.

“Capone was transferred from the United States penitentiary at Atlanta, Ga. to Alcatraz on August 19, 1934. He was not transferred because he was such a ‘bad’ man, but because he bribed the guards to bring him nearly anything he wanted.

Alphonse Capone - Al Capone fingerprints 1930s

The ‘Grease Ball’

While in Atlanta he was employed in the shoe shop. When he arrived at Alcatraz, he was assigned to the shoe shop, but did a few days’ duty in the laundry first.

“Al missed Atlanta a great deal. At Alcatraz, he did not have men pointing him out or have men following him around as if he was a ‘little tin god.’

“These men (at Alcatraz) know Capone. There are many men here that had friends killed by Capone. Capone here is known and referred to as ‘that Grease Ball.’

Don’t forget

“There are men here who are friends of men who were rubbed out in the St Valentine Day massacre in Chicago (in 1929, when seven ‘Bugs’ Moran gangsters were killed).

“They know that Capone directed that (the massacre). They know Capone hid ‘Killer’ Burke across from Florida in a British possession — a piece of property Capone owns. As soon as things cooled off, Burke returned to the States and married. His wife today receives so much per week (from Capone), even though Burke resides in prison.

“Dutch Louie (apparently Ludwig Schmidt, alias Dutch Lewis, a Touhy gangster and a leader of the January mutiny on Alcatraz) is here on Alcatraz — Capone’s old enemy. Dutch Louie doesn’t forget, neither does he let others forget.”

Vintage Al Capone Alcatraz mugshots

Wears ‘armor’ in prison

Defensive measures of Capone, In his race with death on Alcatraz, were described by the informant. “Is Capone afraid to die?” he asked.

“Capone had canvas wrapped around his body from his heart to his stomach. The several wraps made a thickness of about one-half inch. That was to keep any one from stabbing him.”

Capone on the Federal “Devil’s Island” is threatened by death not only because of gangland battles, but also as a result of new prison feuds, the informant disclosed.

He said, “Capone was asked by same men to furnish sufficient money to buy a boat for them so they could plan an escape. He would not do so and we understand it (the information) went to the deputy warden.

Sent to laundry

“That was the reason for the canvas, and the reason he does not go into the yard with the other prisoners.” From the shoe shop, Capone was transferred to the laundry. There, in February 1935, occurred his fight with another prisoner.

For the first time, the officially guarded secret of the identity of Capone’s opponent was broken by The Examiner’s informant. He was Al Collier, serving a life sentence.

Capone in the laundry worked on a mangle, the informant wrote: “He was one of these industrious workers. He fed through work faster than the ‘catcher’ could catch (the pieces of laundry). He was asked to slow up.

MORE: The Godfather: The gangster movie moves uptown (1972)

Al Capone's criminal record as of 1932

No damage done

“When Capone paid no attention, the ‘catcher,’ Al Collier, threw something at him. That started the fight. There was no damage done.”

Previous versions had said that Capone started the fight, and that he was struck in the face so hard by his opponent that the latter retired with a broken wrist.

“Capone was locked in solitary confinement for five days. He was taken out of the laundry and put to work in the library.”

Bribe attempt

Subsequently, Capone was returned to laundry duty. Convict antipathy toward Capone was carried into the yard where prisoners play baseball during recreation periods.

“The men here could not refuse to let Capone play hall. That is for everyone who can play. They did make it rather unpleasant for him, so he quit. That was exactly what the men wanted.”

Capone was declared by the Alcatraz informant to have attempted to bribe two prison guards. They rejected the offer.

San Francisco prison - Alcatraz in the 1930s

Favor curried

From another source, The San Francisco Examiner learned an Alcatraz group, in contrast to the general convict attitude, has sought Capone’s favor in the belief his wealth can help them when he leaves prison.

This group was held responsible for the slugging of a Negro prisoner, identified as the man who informed the warden’s office that Capone had smuggled $400 into Alcatraz for purposes of bribery. The money never was found.

In addition to enmities dating from Chicago gang war and personal feuds developed in Alcatraz, Capone now must dodge the added danger of wholesale convict threats of retaliation for his refusal to join in the January 20 mutiny.

ALSO SEE: The real Bonnie & Clyde: Texas officers trap and kill notorious duo in shootout (1934)

Al Capone released from penitentiary (1939)

Murphysboro Daily Independent (Illinois) November 16, 1939

Washington, Nov 15 — The Department of Justice announced today that Al Capone, the one-time Chicago gangster chieftain, was released to his family this morning at the Lewisburg, Pa., penitentiary.

Capone has completed his sentence, having done so three days ahead of the scheduled date because of a credit of three days in federal custody in 1931.

The Department of Justice said that Capone had been transferred today from the Federal Correctional Institution at Los Angeles.

Al Capone - Alcatraz 1937

The brief announcement did not explain in what manner Capone was brought from the west coast, but inasmuch as the formal announcement said “today,” it was assumed he was brought eastward by airplane.

The mystery of Capone’s whereabouts and when he was being released was announced by James B Bennett, director of the Bureau of Prisons.

“Bennett announced this morning that Alphonse Capone’s sentence having expired today, he was discharged from the US penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pa, to his relatives,” the announcement said. Capone was transferred today from the Federal Correctional Institution near Los Angeles, Calif, to Lewisburg.

MORE: John Dillinger: When the notorious gangster and most wanted criminal was killed in Chicago (1934)

“Capone began service of a 10-year penitentiary sentence for evasion of income tax on May 4, 1932, and completed this portion of his sentence on Jan 19, 1939, upon which date he began service of the sentence of one year for failure to file an income tax return.

“With allowances for good behavior and credit for the three days he served in jail in Oct 1931, Capone’s sentence expires Nov 16, 1939.”

Al Capone released to his family; being treated for syphillis

Washington, Nov 16 — Director James V Bennett of the Bureau of Prisons revealed that Al Capone was accompanied by three federal officials when he left the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, penitentiary at the end of his federal term today.

He emphasized, however, that Capone was not in federal custody.

Vintage Al Capone Miami mugshots - Florida

Philadelphia, Nov 16 — Al Capone is in suburban Villanova for treatment of paresis, a well-informed police official said today.

The former Chicago gang leader is being guarded by Department of Justice agents pending his release, scheduled for Sunday, on completion of his imprisonment for evasion of income taxes.

Capone was said to have been brought secretly across the country, having been moved from Alcatraz prison, to be placed in a sanitarium for treatment of paresis, a softening of the brain resulting from syphilis.

A relative of the former gang leader was a student at Villanova College several years ago, and Capone and his brother, Ralph, reported bought or leased a house there at that time. Efforts to locate the private sanitarium where he will be treated were unavailing.

MORE: Chicago gang kills 7: Al Capone & the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre (1929)

The life story of Al Capone until the late 1930s (1939)

From the Akron Beacon-Journal (Ohio) January 8, 1939

Alphonse Capone, gangster-in-the-making, born in [1899] near the Brooklyn end of the Brooklyn Bridge. He goes to school in Brooklyn.

He starts a Coney Island cafe, tends the bar where he meets many young toughs. He drifts into minor crimes. The young tough becomes a “punk” in the “Five Points” gang.

Young Capone goes west, to Chicago, on a bid from the late “Big Jim” Colosimo, vice lord, to be assistant to Bodyguard Johnny Torrio. Colosimo is mysteriously slain.

With Torrio, Capone builds up a crime syndicate, dealing in bootleg liquor afid vice. It becomes “big business” and the rivalry is great.

The life story of Al Capone until the late 1930s (3)

Other gangs become envious of the huge profits and fight Capone and Torrio attempting to “muscle in” on the liquor and vice racket. But Capone becomes undisputed ruler of Chicago’s illicit traffic.

He builds a big organization, paying un-dreamed-of dividends. He rules with an iron hand. Many rivals are taken for “one-way” rides.

There are many attempts to kill Capone. His brother Frank is slain in Cicero, Chicago suburb. His ally, Tony Lombardo, is slain.

On St. Valentine’s Day, in 1929, even Bugs Moran gangsters are mowed down by fake policemen in a garage. Capone is in Florida and shudders at press insinuations he is to blame.

The life story of Al Capone until the late 1930s (1)

Capone spends lavishly at his Miami, Florida, estate. He is arrested frequently. Finally, in 1931, he is indicted by the federal grand jury for violation of income tax laws.

He is found guilty, given sentences totaling 11 years. He goes to Atlanta and then in 1934, is taken to the “Rock,” Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay.

At Alcatraz, Capone becomes one of the most hated of all inmates. He gets into an altercation in the prison shoe shop: one prisoner throws a knife at him.

And now, a short time before he is removed from the “Rock,” Capone’s mind becomes unbalanced in this prison of silence and complete isolation. He suffers from paresis.

The life story of Al Capone until the late 1930s (2)

Scarface Al Capone, man who had 500 murdered, dies at Miami Beach estate

Article from the News-Press (Florida) January 26, 1947

“Scarface” Al Capone, 48, a gangland leader who feared a mobster’s death, died tonight amid the luxury of his private villa with his family gathered around.

When death came at 7:25 p.m., of pneumonia and heart failure, complications of an apoplectic stroke, he was in his own bed with expert medical care at hand — and behind him high protective walls that have long protected him from possible revenge.

Death came very suddenly of heart failure, said his physician, Dr. Kenneth S. Phillips. who has treated the prohibition-era gang leader since he emerged from prison on Nov. 16, 1939.

Death story delayed

Capone’s widow, Mae, collapsed upon his death and is herself in serious condition. The necessity of medical attention for Mrs. Capone caused the announcement of the death of the Chicago mobster to be delayed for an hour. The gangster who “took over” in Chicago and built an empire of lawlessness had become a weak individual since he served seven and a half years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons on income tax evasion charges. He was stricken with apoplexy on Tuesday at 4 a.m. The last rites of the Catholic church were administered two hours after his stroke.

Dozens of persons, none of them identified, were admitted to the Capone Estate on subtropical Palm Island, an artificial spot of land dredged up from Biscayne Bay. More callers than the villa have ever had before were admitted. A block-long line of sleek, black limousines were parked outside while their occupants went in.

Casket of Al Capone (1947)

One way ride

As word spread that one of the world’s most despised men had at last gone to face eternal justice, tourists and the curious also flocked to the island. A virtual promenade of rubberneckers strolled by or stood around, chatting, some laughing.

A hearse pulled through the gates and soon afterward bore the body of Capone to a funeral home on Miami Beach. This was the last of a long series of one-way rides with which his name could be connected.

The stroke on Tuesday swept Capone close to death — but he stopped just short of its portal. More than 16 hours later the onetime gang overlord rallied unexpectedly and came out of his coma so quickly that he attempted to talk with his wife, Mae, and son, Alfred. He was out of danger for a time, then pneumonia developed and with this complication his heart weakened.

The one group that will mourn the scar-faced gangster gathered once more to await the end. They included his wife and son, his aged mother, Theresa; his father, Ermio; a sister, Mrs. Mafalda Mariotote, and two brothers, Ralph and Matthew.

Removing dead after the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre

It was a federal prison rather than death that ended Capone’s career as public enemy No. 1. When released he came to his villa on Palm Island and since then, except for brief trips, has lived under the Florida sun. 

His villa is a 25-room structure on a lot 100 feet wide and 300 feet deep. A separate gatehouse, swimming pool, and boat dock decorate it, all surrounded by a high wall through which the only entrance is a bared wooden gate. No visitor is admitted until a guard has looked him over through a peephole. Family members carry their own keys.

Capone born in poverty

Al Capone left the poverty-stricken home of immigrant parents to gravitate into gangdom on the streets of New York.

Capone went to Chicago in 1919 as a bodyguard for “Big Jim” Colosimo, a former street sweeper whom liquor and politics had elevated to control of a southside vice district. When Colosimo was killed in his garish cafe, Johnny Torrio took over and made Capone his lieutenant.

Their power in vice and crime extended into the suburbs of Cicero, Burnham and Stickney. They wrote gangland laws with the hoodlum “typewriter” — the portable machine gun. Their “take” zoomed to an estimated $100,000 a week.

Naturally, the rich swag of Torrio’s tenure created rivals. When Torrio was punctured on his doorstep, he quit and retired to Long Island, NY. Capone, then 24, became boss.

Aerial view of Al Capone's mansion in Florida (1937 - LOC)

“Scarface Al” appears

When he succeeded Torrio in 1925, he was known as “Scarface Al” Brown, having once signed the name “Brown” to a business license application. The appellation “Scarface” came from a jagged mark on his left forehead. He claimed it was a world war wound. Others said it was a souvenir of a gang fight. Capone detested the word “Scarface” and cocked his hat to hide the scar.

Bulky, paunchy, Capone applied well the lessons he learned from Torrio and introduced new methods of his own. Torrio had organized lawlessness. Capone syndicated it. He pushed into new fields — gambling, greyhound racing, politics, and even into the bitter feud for supremacy in the “Unione Siciliana.” 

Capone was a kingpin, but he was constantly in danger. He rode in a steel-reinforced automobile with bullet-proof windows, surrounded constantly by bodyguards. His gang handled an estimated $100,000,000 and some 250-odd gangster death victims from 1925 to 1930 were called either “Capone allies” or “Capone enemies.”

“They’ve blamed everything on me but the Chicago fire,” Capone complained.

Mafia man an income tax ‘victim’

The 230-pound gang chief crushed virtually all who rebelled against him, but he met more than a match in the income tax sleuths and a federal judge who would not countenance a proposed trade of an easy sentence for a plea of guilty. Consequently, he went to Atlanta federal penitentiary on May 5, 1932, where he faced an 11-year “stretch.”

On August 22, 1934, he was transferred to Alcatraz island penitentiary in San Francisco Bay, where he remained until January 7, 1939. Then he was transferred to Terminal Island prison in Los Angeles to finish out his sentence.

Mobster gangster Scarface Al Capone

With time off for good behavior, he served seven years, six months, and two weeks. He was secretly taken to Lewisburg, Pa. federal prison and there released to his family on November 16, 1939. His lawyer had paid his fine.

Ill until death

From then until his death, Al Capone was not a well man. He was taken immediately to a Baltimore hospital for treatment of paresis.

In March 1940, he was brought to his white-walled 2o-room villa on Palm Island in Biscayne bay near Miami Beach. There he sought recovery. He lolled on the sand, paddled in his swimming pool, fished from a pier, and hit a few golf balls at a driving range.

One of Capone’s last public appearances was at St. Patrick’s Catholic church here on December 30, 1941. The occasion was the marriage of his son, Albert Capone.

The bulky, balding gangster once said, sentimentally: “I don’t want to die, shot in the street. There’s business enough for all of us without killing each other like animals. I’ve got a boy. I love that kid.”

ALSO SEE: The Godfather: The gangster movie moves uptown (1972)

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