Al Capone And Organized Crime In The 1920s


What is the first thing you think of when someone says the 1920s? Do you think about jazz? Prohibition? What about flappers? The 1920s or “The Roaring 20s” was filled with excitement and was truly one of the more interesting decades in an interesting century” . One of the most interesting elements of the 20’s has to be the underlying criminal elements. Many gangsters earned their infamous status during this time….none more infamous and celebritized than Al Capone.  Al Capone was a mobster, serial killer, and bootlegger all in one. He was the kingpin of Chicago gangs and could be argued as the most infamous gangster of the 1900’s 

Capone was born in 1899 to Italian immigrants, Gabriel and Teresina Capone, and  began cutting his criminal teeth at an early age. Around the age of ten, he  and a few  neighborhood kids started committing robbery and petty crimes. In addition, Capone got involved in gang affiliation at an  early age. Those that have studied Capone, and other criminals that started early in life, often ask the question: was it their fault or were they a byproduct of poor parenting?  Psychological research has provided strong evidence  indicating that  personalities are  shaped by the way they were raised. Al Capone's life however, proved to be the exception to the rule.  He had a great mother and father. They always tried their best to give their family a good life.  His mother was devoutly religious, and his father was a respectable barber. “Capone's father worked hard to support the large family, and his mother was devoted to her children” (American).  To further that point, …. “There was nothing in Capone’s childhood or family life that could have predicted his rise to infamy as America’s most notorious gangster” (History). Another question that could be asked is, If his parents were good people, then why would they let him join a gang and drop out of school? In response to this, Al Capone didn't just drop out of school, he was kicked out after striking a teacher. Al Capone also joined his first gang because an elderly woman had something stolen from her and he wanted help to get it back. Capone had a very robinhood-like personality. He liked taking from the rich and giving to the poor. “Some even considered him a kind of Robin Hood figure” (History). This didn't seem like too much of a problem to others because the gang was pretty harmless. This, however, got out of hand later in life as he started beating up the kids who stole things and started getting involved with far more dangerous people.  At that point it would have been too dangerous for Capone's parents to get involved because of the people he was hanging out with.  In a biography written about Al Capone it backs up this claim by saying, “Aside from these school troubles, Al Capone was also involved with some juvenile gangs in Brooklyn, most of which were harmless. At one point, though, he joined the Five Point Juniors, the teen counterpart of the Five Point Gang, which was notorious in Manhattan” (American). 

Al Capone was a leader of one of Chicago's biggest gangs in the 1920s.  He moved to Chicago and helped run a crime group with the boss Johnny Torrio.  Johnny Torrio’s crime group would commit illegal enterprises, which included prosecution, alcohol smuggling, and gambling.  In 1925 Torrio stepped down and retired after an attempt on his life.  Capone was put incharge because of his cunning and brutality.  In a biography about Al Capone written by, ULX Biographies, they say, “On January 24, 1925, Torrio was ambushed by mobsters from the North Side gang. He was shot several times in the stomach, chest, arm, and jaw. Next, George "Bugs" Moran put a gun to his head. The gun jammed and the would-be assassins fled. Critically wounded, Torrio was near death for days. Released from the hospital the following month, Torrio announced his decision to leave Chicago's rackets. Just twenty-six years old at the time, Capone stepped in to take his place” (ULX). Torrio had become impressed with his mentee's cunning and brutal personality and that's why  he had Capone step up in his place as boss. The 1920s was filled with many other dangerous criminals, so why aren't any serial killers like Earle Nelson or Albert Fish the most notorious? Unlike Earle Nelson or Albert Fish, Al Capone was at the top of the FBI's most wanted list by 1930.  Not only was he a mobster, he was also considered a “serial killer” cause of all the people he sent his men to kill.  He also smuggled lots of alcohol into the country when prohibition was going on. He had one of the biggest bootlegging companies in that decade. He was a combination of the two most dangerous criminals, that's why he's on top.  He also began to wipe his competitors.  The St.  Valentine’s Day Massacre raised Al Capone's notoriety to a national level.  Capone’s men killed seven men of their rival gang.  In one of the biographies written about Al Capone the writers explain the event in more detail, it says, “ In the most notorious event of the period, which became known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Capone hired a crew to kill rival Bugs Moran on February 14, 1929. Capone's operatives, posing as police officers, executed all seven men they found in Moran's headquarters. Moran, however, was not among the victims, and the public expressed outrage at the brutal mass murder. By 1930 Capone had effectively eliminated his criminal competitors” (DiMauro). Okay so Al Capone is more dangerous than serial killers but what about Johnny Torrio? He did start the gang afterall.  Torrio was Al Capone’s mentor meaning Al Capone took in Torrios' ways and motives while still having his own.  This made Capone more dangerous because he was Torrio and Capone’s personality combined. On the FBI’s website, they wrote an article on Al Ccapone and how they caught him, one part in the article it says, “Torrio soon succeeded to full leadership of the gang with the violent demise of Big Jim Colosimo, and Capone gained experience and expertise as his strong right arm. In 1925, Capone became boss when Torrio, seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, surrendered control and retired to Brooklyn. Capone had built a fearsome reputation in the ruthless gang rivalries of the period, struggling to acquire and retain “racketeering rights” to several areas of Chicago” (FBI). This quote really explains how Capone succeeded in being more ruthless than Torrio. Torrio ended up coming back and working under Capone. 

On June 5, 1931 Al Capone was arrested for tax evasion.  The government had Al Capone on 22 counts of income tax evasion. In a biography written about Al Capone it says, “ It was estimated that between 1924 and 1929 Capone had failed to pay the government over $200,000 in taxes. In October of 1931, Capone was convicted of these charges and sentenced to $80,000 in fines and 11 years in prison” (American). After the first two years, he was caught bribing some guards and was sent to alcatraz for the rest of his sentence.  He ended up leaving the prison earlier than expected and died on January 25, 1947.   If he was the first on the FBI's most wanted list, then why was he let out early? Al Capone wasn’t originally supposed to be let out early but while in prison he suffered from neurosyphilis, which caused dementia. Medical professionals say, “Neurosyphilis is a bacterial infection of the brain or spinal cord. It usually occurs in people who have had untreated syphilis for many years” (Medicine). He was released only after six years to a mental hospital.  He stayed there for 3 years.  They finally had the chance to lock up Capone, so why wasn't he arrested for the other crimes he committed to get a longer sentence? Capone was really good at hiding things.  All of his hits were well planned and very discreet.  So the police didn’t have any solid evidence for the murders.   The only solid evidence against Al Capone was his tax evasion.  Police ended up searching Capone’s businesses, and that’s where they gathered the evidence and documentation of tax evasion.  In an article on Al Capone it says, “Capone had become a target of the FBI. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies tried to gain enough evidence to arrest Capone and his associates, but Capone’s use of bribes, violence, and intimidation made finding evidence and witnesses difficult. The FBI attempted to charge Capone for bootlegging but never had enough evidence to bring a case against him. Nevertheless, the FBI used bookkeeping records to create a case against Capone on charges of tax evasion” (Gale). This obviously backs up the point on how discrete and planned everything was. 

Who was the most notorious criminal in the 1920s? Al Capone was the most dangerous and notorious gangster of our time.  He started by committing petty crimes at the age of 10.  He grew to become the kingpin of all Chicago gangs. He was a mobster, a serial killer, and a bootlegger all combined into one.  He was cunning and manipulative.  He was a huge part of history and using this information can help the reader know more about the 1920s.  The history of Al Capone will always be used to describe the 1920s and how criminals and gangs worked back then.

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