Al Capone was a low level criminal born in New York to Italian immigrants on this day in 1899. Expelled from school at age 14 for hitting a female teacher in the face, he picked up odd jobs and drifted into crime. He joined an Italian crime gang in the Five Points district of New York, where he was a bouncer in night clubs and brothels.
It was on the door of a nightclub in New York that he insulted the sister of Frank Gallucio who slashed his face. Capone hated the nickname “Scarface” and pretended to people they were war wounds.
It was as a bouncer in the brothels of Chicago that he contracted Syphilis, the disease that stayed with him for his life, and caused him brain damage. He died at age 48 of complications arising from tertiary stage syphilis.
What changed Capone from a low level crook to the flamboyant anti-hero of the roaring ’20’s was Prohibition. 100 years ago this week the USA prohibited the manufacture, distribution and retailing of alcohol. For 13 years the drinks industry was placed in the hands of organised crime, and boy did they have a party.
When his boss in Chicago, Johnny Torio, resigned after being shot in the territorial wars waged between the crime gangs, a 26 year old Capone stepped into the top job in 1925. Noted for his charisma in the press his real tools were bribery, intimidation and brutality.
After numerous attempts to bring him to justice failed he was famously sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1931 for tax evasion and made liable for court costs and back taxes. His party ended just 2 years before the repeal of the Prohibition laws.
Capone was an early indicator of what happened in the crime gangs when alcohol became legal again. When he was processed in the prison he was found to be a cocaine addict. The gangs switched seamlessly from alcohol to drugs as soon as alcohol was legalised.
I wonder what would happen if we decriminalised drugs?