Member only
Episode
221

Al Capone

Dec 21, 2021
History
-
26
minutes
Crime
True crime
The Great Depression
20th Century
Prison
Alcohol
Corruption

He was the most famous gangster in American history and dominated Prohibition-era Chicago.

In this episode, we look at the criminal mastermind with the nickname "Scarface", and see how he gained control over a billion-dollar illegal empire.

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login
Subtitles will start when you press 'play'
You need to subscribe for the full subtitles
Already a member? Login
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript only available after your trial

Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part two of our four-part mini-series on gangsters and robbers.

[00:00:30] In Part One, we talked about The Real Peaky Blinders and the criminals of late 19th century and early 20th century Birmingham, England.

[00:00:40] In Part Two, today’s episode, we will be talking about Al Capone, the Italian-American prohibition era gangster with the nickname of Scarface.

[00:00:51] In Part Three, we'll talk about the notorious gangster and bank robber John Dillinger, the man called by the FBI “Public Enemy Number One”.

[00:01:02] Then in Part Four we will zoom over to London, perhaps not a city that you automatically associate with gangsters and criminals, and talk about The Kray Twins, a pair of identical twins who terrorised the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s.

[00:01:22] OK then, let’s learn about the real story of Al Capone.

[00:01:28] If you were to ask 100 Americans who the first person they’d think of when they heard the word gangster, there’s little doubt that the name “Al Capone” would be right at the top of the list.

[00:01:42] His name is synonymous with organised crime, violence, and corruption, and the legacy he left behind is a mix of fear and admiration.

[00:01:54] To understand how Al Capone managed to achieve what he did, we must first remind ourselves of what life was like in the US at the turn of the 20th century.

[00:02:07] The American Civil War had ended in 1865. 

[00:02:11] Immigrants were arriving in their droves from Europe, with New York as the first stop for almost all of them.

[00:02:20] These immigrants came from all over Europe, but there were particularly large numbers from Ireland and southern Italy, areas of the continent where economic opportunities were not plentiful.

[00:02:34] Gabriele and Teresa Capone were two such people. 

[00:02:38] They were Italians who had left their home outside Naples, got on a boat and sailed across the Atlantic, in hope of a better life. 

[00:02:47] On arrival in America in 1893, the pronunciation of their surnames would have been Americanised, from Capone to Capone. 

[00:02:59] Gabriele and Teresa settled into American life, living in Brooklyn, New York City. 

[00:03:06] Although they were respectable law-abiding citizens, life certainly wasn’t easy for new Italian immigrants, and they, like the Irish, were treated as second-class citizens.

[00:03:20] They had a large family, with Teresa giving birth to nine children, one of them being the protagonist of today’s story.

[00:03:30] Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in 1899. 

[00:03:35] The Brooklyn he would have been born into was an unruly one, one of street gangs, dock workers, prostitution, crime, gambling, and all sorts of vices.

[00:03:48] It didn’t take Al long to be influenced by his surroundings. He joined small street gangs of young boys that were involved in petty crime, and he was expelled, he was kicked out of school at 14 years old after hitting a female teacher.

[00:04:07] The world that Capone lived in was an unfair one, and the young Al realised this from early on.

[00:04:15] As the child of Italian immigrants, he was treated as a second-class citizen, it was harder for him to get ahead in life than it would be if he wasn’t of Italian heritage.

[00:04:27] He looked to the Americans making fortunes in business, people like JD Rockefeller who lived in grand houses in New York City, and he wanted the same thing. 

[00:04:39] The only problem was that the cards were stacked against him

[00:04:43] It would be very difficult to make his way in the world honestly, given the prejudice against Italian immigrants.

[00:04:52] So, what did Capone do? 

[00:04:54] Well, we both know what route he took.

[00:04:58] Shortly after being kicked out of school he met a man called Johnny Torrio, another Italian immigrant who had become a local mob boss, a local organised crime boss.

[00:05:10] Torrio became a bit of a mentor to Capone, and he showed him the ropes, he taught him how to run an organised crime business.

[00:05:21] Torrio had shown that a life of crime could look like a semi-respectable business. Torrio seemed like a respectable businessman. He owned legitimate businesses–nightclubs, bars, and restaurants–but he would operate illegitimate businesses from inside them. 

[00:05:40] From prostitution to gambling, illegal loans, drug dealing, you name it, Torrio was involved with it, and therefore would make money from it. 

[00:05:50] But from the outside it looked semi-respectable.

[00:05:54] Torrio recognised Capone’s drive and abilities, and introduced Capone to his other business associates, who were inevitably italian-American gangsters

[00:06:06] One such man was Frankie Yale, and Capone’s first semi-legitimate job was working as a bouncer, a person on the door at a nightclub that Yale worked at.

[00:06:20] Capone was a big man, especially for a southern Italian immigrant in the early 20th century. He was 180cm tall and weighed almost 100kg so he wasn’t the sort of person you’d like to pick a fight with.

[00:06:36] When he was working on the door of this nightclub he allegedly shouted out something not particularly nice about the bottom of one of the young ladies visiting the club. 

[00:06:48] What he didn’t know is that this lady was the sister of another gangster, who, when he heard about Capone insulting his sister’s honour, came to find him with a knife and made two very large cuts across Capone’s cheek, earning him the nickname “Scarface”.

[00:07:09] Capone, by the way, reportedly hated this nickname, and hated the scars. 

[00:07:16] You almost never see these scars in photos of Capone, because his face is always turned the other way, and when he was asked about the scars he claimed he got them fighting in World War I, which wasn’t true as he never served in the war.

[00:07:33] And the nickname that he actually liked? 

[00:07:36] “Snorky”, which was Italian-American slang at the time for someone with nice clothes. 

[00:07:43] By the time he had got involved in this criminal underworld, the young Al had also fallen in love, and had a child with his girlfriend, an Irish-Catholic girl two years older than him. 

[00:07:56] After she had their child, they married, and it was reportedly a happy marriage despite the life that Capone would go on to lead.

[00:08:06] Shortly after getting married, his mentor Johnny Torrio offered Capone a job in Chicago, as a bouncer at a business he was involved in, a business that was actually a brothel, a place where men would go to have sex with prostitutes.

[00:08:23] Capone jumped at the opportunity, and in 1919, aged only twenty, moved his wife and young child to Chicago, a city he would forever be associated with.

[00:08:36] Capone worked on the door of the brothel, allowing people in and out, but it seems that he was also a frequent customer himself. 

[00:08:46] It’s thought to be in this brothel where he contracted syphilis, the sexually transmitted infection. 

[00:08:53] Syphilis is now something that is relatively easy to cure, and even when Capone would have first got it it’s thought that he could have been cured of it. 

[00:09:04] But, he never actually got treatment for it, and it was an infection that plagued him for the rest of his life. 

[00:09:12] The relevance of this will become clear later on in our story.

[00:09:17] Now, in Chicago opportunities started to open up both for Torrio and Capone. Torrio’s boss, a Mafia don called Big Jim Colosimo, was murdered in May of 1920, and Torrio took his place. 

[00:09:35] It’s thought that Torrio and Capone could have been involved in his murder, and that Capone might have even arranged for his ex colleague from New York, Frankie Yale, to shoot Colosimo.

[00:09:48] Whether Capone was involved or not, Colosimo being out of the way was very convenient for him.

[00:09:56] Torrio took his place, inheriting Colosimo’s large portfolio of criminal businesses, and Capone, as Torrio’s right hand man, was now in an incredibly powerful position. 

[00:10:10] There was something else that had happened at the start of 1920 though that was to prove to be even more important for the story of Al Capone, and this was actually nothing to do with murders or gangsters, but actually to do with a change in the law.

[00:10:28] On January 17th 1920 the US government passed the Volstead Act, which banned the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol. This period, known as the Prohibition Era, went on from 1920 to 1933.

[00:10:49] The idea behind it was to reduce crime and corruption, solve the problems that had plagued American society and to improve the health of the American population.

[00:11:01] Certainly in terms of reducing crime and corruption, it was not successful, and suddenly there was a huge opportunity for organised criminals to control the production and sale of alcohol.

[00:11:16] Given that Torrio and Capone controlled large parts of the Chicago underworld through their businesses, bars, clubs, and brothels, they were in a unique position to sell and distribute alcohol, making vast profits in the process.

[00:11:33] Business was good, and Torrio and Capone started to grow rich, but they were not the only crime gang in town.

[00:11:41] There were feuds with other Chicago crime gangs, both Italian and Irish, and after several attempts on his life, Torrio decided that he wanted out of the world of crime, he wanted to retire. 

[00:11:56] He didn’t quite manage to retire completely from the criminal world, and he later spent some time in prison, but he left Chicago in late 1925, moving back to Italy to be with his wife and mother, and removing himself from the dangers of the Chicago criminal underworld.

[00:12:15] He knew that Capone would be able to handle it, and reportedly said to him “It’s all yours, Al. Me? I’m quitting. It’s Europe for me”.

[00:12:26] The 26-year-old Capone was handed the reins to a criminal empire, a huge business that made around $70 million dollars a year in 1926, which is the equivalent of over a billion dollars a year in today’s money.

[00:12:43] This business empire was wide and vast

[00:12:47] It involved prostitution, illegal alcohol production, smuggling and sales, gambling, extortion, protection, racketeering, and drugs. 

[00:12:58] To allow all of this to happen without interference from the authorities, Capone and his associates would threaten and bribe local officials, politicians, judges and police officers, they would influence elections, they controlled vast amounts of how the city was actually administered.

[00:13:19] Capone didn’t do much to try to hide what he was up to

[00:13:24] While other criminals shunned the spotlight, they tried to hide from attention, Capone actively sought it, he looked for it. He had his own press agent, he arranged interviews, he wanted to be photographed, he wanted to be known.

[00:13:41] He wasn’t embarrassed in the slightest of how he made money, saying “I’m like any man - I supply a demand”.

[00:13:49] He wanted to be thought of as a businessman and philanthropist, someone who gave back to the community. 

[00:13:57] He financed soup kitchens for the unemployed during the Great Depression, and wanted to be known as someone who supported the poor. 

[00:14:06] Capone certainly did arrange for soup kitchens for the Chicago poor, but there are now question marks about whether he actually paid for this himself - it’s believed by some historians that he would have extorted local restaurants into providing the ingredients, so despite making literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year, he might not even have paid a cent towards these himself.

[00:14:32] He was also a ruthless killer. 

[00:14:35] Although he was never convicted of any murders or violent crimes himself, it’s believed that he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and kill people himself, and he certainly arranged for the murders of hundreds more.

[00:14:50] And it was one particular murder, or mass-murder really, that changed things for Al Capone.

[00:14:58] Capone was in control of the South Side of Chicago, but the lucrative North Side was controlled by another gang, ran by a man called Bugs Moran.

[00:15:09] There had been an ongoing feud between Capone and Moran for several years. They were both involved in the selling of bootlegged alcohol, illegal alcohol, and they hated each other.

[00:15:23] In February of 1929, Capone had a plan to get rid of his rival for good. 

[00:15:30] He had arranged for a contact to offer Moran a truckload of illegal whisky at a very low price. 

[00:15:38] Moran accepted, and ordered for it to be delivered to a warehouse on February 14th, Valentine’s Day.

[00:15:46] When the whisky arrived, men dressed as police officers burst onto the scene, lining up Moran’s men against the wall, telling them that they were being arrested.

[00:15:58] But they weren’t police officers, they were Capone’s guys. 

[00:16:02] They pointed their machine guns at Moran’s men and fired, killing six of Moran’s men immediately, and one would later die of his wounds.

[00:16:13] Crucially though, Moran wasn’t there. He had decided to sleep in that morning.

[00:16:19] Moran was furious, blaming the killing on Capone. 

[00:16:23] He even broke the unwritten criminal code of never speaking to the police, and told them it was Capone who did it. 

[00:16:32] Capone, of course, denied it, but now public opinion was turning against him - there was little doubt that Capone had ordered the hit, which by this time had been given the name “The Valentine’s Day Massacre”.

[00:16:47] This was one step too far. It was one thing making some money through prostitution and gambling, but lining 7 people up against the wall and murdering them in cold blood, with their pictures plastered all over the Chicago newspapers? 

[00:17:04] Capone was called to court to testify, but he said he was in Florida suffering from pneumonia and couldn’t get out of bed. 

[00:17:13] He was in Florida, that was true, and indeed nobody thought that Capone would have pulled the trigger himself.

[00:17:20] But he certainly didn’t seem ill - he had been spotted at a race track and even out in the Bahamas.

[00:17:29] Eventually the authorities did manage to get him to return to Chicago, which he did on March 20th of 1929, just over a month after The Valentine’s Day Massacre. 

[00:17:41] The police weren’t able to charge him with involvement in the massacre, as he denied it and they couldn’t find anyone who would testify that he had anything to do with it, but they did manage to convict him of “contempt of court”, the crime of not appearing in front of a courtroom when asked to.

[00:18:01] The maximum punishment for this was a year and a $1,000 fine, but Capone didn’t serve a day in prison, not for this crime at least.

[00:18:11] Instead, he was arrested a couple of months later, in May of 1929, for carrying a pistol. Capone was given a one year sentence, but only served nine months of it.

[00:18:23] While in prison he lived a luxurious life. 

[00:18:27] He was still in control of the gang from prison, and his associates made sure that the prison guards were sufficiently compensated, that they were paid enough money, for Capone to have anything he wanted in his prison cell.

[00:18:43] When he got out of prison, in March of 1930, he found that the tide had turned, that public opinion was not on his side. 

[00:18:53] What’s more, the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, knew exactly who he was and what he was doing. They knew that he was going to return to exactly what he had been doing all of his life, they just needed to find a crime that they could charge him with.

[00:19:10] He was listed as “Public Enemy Number One”, literally the biggest enemy of the people in the entire country.

[00:19:19] The country was also in the middle of the greatest economic crisis in its short history. People were suffering, and for all Capone’s reportedly philanthropic activities, after the Valentine’s Day Massacre a light had truly been shone on the kind of person he really was.

[00:19:37] If the authorities couldn’t get him on any of the violent criminal charges that they knew he was certainly guilty of, there was another way they thought they could take him off the streets: financial crime.

[00:19:51] Al Capone didn’t try to hide his wealth at all. 

[00:19:54] Quite the opposite - he flaunted it, he showed it to the world.

[00:19:59] He wore a $50,000 diamond ring on his little finger, on his pinkie, he wore suits that would cost today’s equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars, he would travel everywhere in a custom-built armoured Cadillac, he would spare no expense.

[00:20:17] But where did this money come from, at least what did he tell the tax authorities?

[00:20:24] Well, he said he was a businessman engaged in a variety of small businesses, including being a used furniture dealer.

[00:20:32] The problem was that Capone’s reported income, the money that he told the government he had made on his tax returns, was tiny compared to how much he was clearly spending.

[00:20:46] And he was arrested in June 1931 on charges of tax evasion, of failing to pay the required taxes.

[00:20:56] After a lengthy trial, in October of 1931 Capone was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in prison, the longest sentence ever for tax evasion.

[00:21:10] He was initially sent to a state prison in Atlanta, but his men had managed to bribe guards so that Capone lived a pretty privileged life in prison.

[00:21:21] Three years later, in a bid to properly punish Capone and show the country that crime didn’t pay, he was transferred to a new, high-security prison on a rocky island in the bay of San Francisco: Alcatraz.

[00:21:37] The prison at Alcatraz had previously been a military prison, but was converted to a federal prison, a prison for civilians, in the early 1930s. When it opened in August 1934, it welcomed some of the country’s most dangerous and highest-profile criminals. 

[00:21:57] Bank robbers, gangsters, murderers. 

[00:22:00] And Al Capone was one of its first inmates.

[00:22:04] Now, the life of Al Capone after he arrived at Alcatraz was sad and certainly not glorious. 

[00:22:11] His syphilis, which remember he had contracted while working at a brothel after first moving to Chicago with his wife and young child, his syphilis was getting worse, and had progressed to something called neurosyphilis, where the infection affects your mental capacities.

[00:22:31] Syphilis, if left untreated, permanently rots and damages your brain.

[00:22:37] His last years at Alcatraz were spent in the prison hospital, and by the time he was released, which was in November of 1939, doctors reported that he had the mental capabilities of a 12-year-old child. 

[00:22:52] After being released, he spent the rest of his life at his mansion in Florida, before dying of complications from a stroke in 1947.

[00:23:02] Now, after Capone had been put in prison, the Chicago gang he had been the boss of was thrown into disarray. There was no immediate big boss to take his place, unlike when Johnny Torrio had taken the place of Big Jim Colosimo or when Al Capone had taken the place of Johnny Torrio.

[00:23:22] Organised crime certainly didn’t go away, but without Capone at the top it became less violent. 

[00:23:30] What’s more, the Prohibition era ended in 1933, and that put a large dent in the business model of the gang.

[00:23:39] Now, when it comes to the legacy of Al Capone, he is probably the most famous gangster in American history. 

[00:23:47] He was a larger than life character, a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it, and a man who seemed to like the idea of being seen as having achieved The American Dream, of having gone from nothing to being one of the richest men in the country.

[00:24:05] But he was, of course, like everyone else in this mini-series, a violent murderer. 

[00:24:11] There are terrible stories of him brutally murdering rivals with baseball bats, or arranging for hideous assassinations, and he was no doubt responsible directly and indirectly for the deaths of dozens if not hundreds of people.

[00:24:26] And for all of the stories that he put out about him being a generous philanthropist, it appears that these were also complete lies, and he had threatened hardworking shopkeepers and restaurant owners to go into their own pockets.

[00:24:42] He might have claimed to have just been a businessman, giving the people what they wanted. 

[00:24:47] But it’s hard to contest that there have been few people more deserving than Alphonse Gabriel Capone of the title of “Public Enemy Number One”.

[00:24:58] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Al Capone.

[00:25:03] As a reminder, this is part two of our four-part mini-series on famous gangsters. Part one was on the Real Peaky Blinders, the street-gang that terrorised Birmingham in the late 20th century.

[00:25:16] Next up will be the infamous bank robber John Dillinger, and after that we’ll be looking at two identical twins who terrorised the East End of London in the 1960s, Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

[00:25:29] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:33] Did you know much about the life of Al Capone before this? 

[00:25:37] Why do you think we look back on these kinds of criminals and often forget many of their most terrible crimes?

[00:25:44] I would love to know.

[00:25:45] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:54] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:59] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part two of our four-part mini-series on gangsters and robbers.

[00:00:30] In Part One, we talked about The Real Peaky Blinders and the criminals of late 19th century and early 20th century Birmingham, England.

[00:00:40] In Part Two, today’s episode, we will be talking about Al Capone, the Italian-American prohibition era gangster with the nickname of Scarface.

[00:00:51] In Part Three, we'll talk about the notorious gangster and bank robber John Dillinger, the man called by the FBI “Public Enemy Number One”.

[00:01:02] Then in Part Four we will zoom over to London, perhaps not a city that you automatically associate with gangsters and criminals, and talk about The Kray Twins, a pair of identical twins who terrorised the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s.

[00:01:22] OK then, let’s learn about the real story of Al Capone.

[00:01:28] If you were to ask 100 Americans who the first person they’d think of when they heard the word gangster, there’s little doubt that the name “Al Capone” would be right at the top of the list.

[00:01:42] His name is synonymous with organised crime, violence, and corruption, and the legacy he left behind is a mix of fear and admiration.

[00:01:54] To understand how Al Capone managed to achieve what he did, we must first remind ourselves of what life was like in the US at the turn of the 20th century.

[00:02:07] The American Civil War had ended in 1865. 

[00:02:11] Immigrants were arriving in their droves from Europe, with New York as the first stop for almost all of them.

[00:02:20] These immigrants came from all over Europe, but there were particularly large numbers from Ireland and southern Italy, areas of the continent where economic opportunities were not plentiful.

[00:02:34] Gabriele and Teresa Capone were two such people. 

[00:02:38] They were Italians who had left their home outside Naples, got on a boat and sailed across the Atlantic, in hope of a better life. 

[00:02:47] On arrival in America in 1893, the pronunciation of their surnames would have been Americanised, from Capone to Capone. 

[00:02:59] Gabriele and Teresa settled into American life, living in Brooklyn, New York City. 

[00:03:06] Although they were respectable law-abiding citizens, life certainly wasn’t easy for new Italian immigrants, and they, like the Irish, were treated as second-class citizens.

[00:03:20] They had a large family, with Teresa giving birth to nine children, one of them being the protagonist of today’s story.

[00:03:30] Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in 1899. 

[00:03:35] The Brooklyn he would have been born into was an unruly one, one of street gangs, dock workers, prostitution, crime, gambling, and all sorts of vices.

[00:03:48] It didn’t take Al long to be influenced by his surroundings. He joined small street gangs of young boys that were involved in petty crime, and he was expelled, he was kicked out of school at 14 years old after hitting a female teacher.

[00:04:07] The world that Capone lived in was an unfair one, and the young Al realised this from early on.

[00:04:15] As the child of Italian immigrants, he was treated as a second-class citizen, it was harder for him to get ahead in life than it would be if he wasn’t of Italian heritage.

[00:04:27] He looked to the Americans making fortunes in business, people like JD Rockefeller who lived in grand houses in New York City, and he wanted the same thing. 

[00:04:39] The only problem was that the cards were stacked against him

[00:04:43] It would be very difficult to make his way in the world honestly, given the prejudice against Italian immigrants.

[00:04:52] So, what did Capone do? 

[00:04:54] Well, we both know what route he took.

[00:04:58] Shortly after being kicked out of school he met a man called Johnny Torrio, another Italian immigrant who had become a local mob boss, a local organised crime boss.

[00:05:10] Torrio became a bit of a mentor to Capone, and he showed him the ropes, he taught him how to run an organised crime business.

[00:05:21] Torrio had shown that a life of crime could look like a semi-respectable business. Torrio seemed like a respectable businessman. He owned legitimate businesses–nightclubs, bars, and restaurants–but he would operate illegitimate businesses from inside them. 

[00:05:40] From prostitution to gambling, illegal loans, drug dealing, you name it, Torrio was involved with it, and therefore would make money from it. 

[00:05:50] But from the outside it looked semi-respectable.

[00:05:54] Torrio recognised Capone’s drive and abilities, and introduced Capone to his other business associates, who were inevitably italian-American gangsters

[00:06:06] One such man was Frankie Yale, and Capone’s first semi-legitimate job was working as a bouncer, a person on the door at a nightclub that Yale worked at.

[00:06:20] Capone was a big man, especially for a southern Italian immigrant in the early 20th century. He was 180cm tall and weighed almost 100kg so he wasn’t the sort of person you’d like to pick a fight with.

[00:06:36] When he was working on the door of this nightclub he allegedly shouted out something not particularly nice about the bottom of one of the young ladies visiting the club. 

[00:06:48] What he didn’t know is that this lady was the sister of another gangster, who, when he heard about Capone insulting his sister’s honour, came to find him with a knife and made two very large cuts across Capone’s cheek, earning him the nickname “Scarface”.

[00:07:09] Capone, by the way, reportedly hated this nickname, and hated the scars. 

[00:07:16] You almost never see these scars in photos of Capone, because his face is always turned the other way, and when he was asked about the scars he claimed he got them fighting in World War I, which wasn’t true as he never served in the war.

[00:07:33] And the nickname that he actually liked? 

[00:07:36] “Snorky”, which was Italian-American slang at the time for someone with nice clothes. 

[00:07:43] By the time he had got involved in this criminal underworld, the young Al had also fallen in love, and had a child with his girlfriend, an Irish-Catholic girl two years older than him. 

[00:07:56] After she had their child, they married, and it was reportedly a happy marriage despite the life that Capone would go on to lead.

[00:08:06] Shortly after getting married, his mentor Johnny Torrio offered Capone a job in Chicago, as a bouncer at a business he was involved in, a business that was actually a brothel, a place where men would go to have sex with prostitutes.

[00:08:23] Capone jumped at the opportunity, and in 1919, aged only twenty, moved his wife and young child to Chicago, a city he would forever be associated with.

[00:08:36] Capone worked on the door of the brothel, allowing people in and out, but it seems that he was also a frequent customer himself. 

[00:08:46] It’s thought to be in this brothel where he contracted syphilis, the sexually transmitted infection. 

[00:08:53] Syphilis is now something that is relatively easy to cure, and even when Capone would have first got it it’s thought that he could have been cured of it. 

[00:09:04] But, he never actually got treatment for it, and it was an infection that plagued him for the rest of his life. 

[00:09:12] The relevance of this will become clear later on in our story.

[00:09:17] Now, in Chicago opportunities started to open up both for Torrio and Capone. Torrio’s boss, a Mafia don called Big Jim Colosimo, was murdered in May of 1920, and Torrio took his place. 

[00:09:35] It’s thought that Torrio and Capone could have been involved in his murder, and that Capone might have even arranged for his ex colleague from New York, Frankie Yale, to shoot Colosimo.

[00:09:48] Whether Capone was involved or not, Colosimo being out of the way was very convenient for him.

[00:09:56] Torrio took his place, inheriting Colosimo’s large portfolio of criminal businesses, and Capone, as Torrio’s right hand man, was now in an incredibly powerful position. 

[00:10:10] There was something else that had happened at the start of 1920 though that was to prove to be even more important for the story of Al Capone, and this was actually nothing to do with murders or gangsters, but actually to do with a change in the law.

[00:10:28] On January 17th 1920 the US government passed the Volstead Act, which banned the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol. This period, known as the Prohibition Era, went on from 1920 to 1933.

[00:10:49] The idea behind it was to reduce crime and corruption, solve the problems that had plagued American society and to improve the health of the American population.

[00:11:01] Certainly in terms of reducing crime and corruption, it was not successful, and suddenly there was a huge opportunity for organised criminals to control the production and sale of alcohol.

[00:11:16] Given that Torrio and Capone controlled large parts of the Chicago underworld through their businesses, bars, clubs, and brothels, they were in a unique position to sell and distribute alcohol, making vast profits in the process.

[00:11:33] Business was good, and Torrio and Capone started to grow rich, but they were not the only crime gang in town.

[00:11:41] There were feuds with other Chicago crime gangs, both Italian and Irish, and after several attempts on his life, Torrio decided that he wanted out of the world of crime, he wanted to retire. 

[00:11:56] He didn’t quite manage to retire completely from the criminal world, and he later spent some time in prison, but he left Chicago in late 1925, moving back to Italy to be with his wife and mother, and removing himself from the dangers of the Chicago criminal underworld.

[00:12:15] He knew that Capone would be able to handle it, and reportedly said to him “It’s all yours, Al. Me? I’m quitting. It’s Europe for me”.

[00:12:26] The 26-year-old Capone was handed the reins to a criminal empire, a huge business that made around $70 million dollars a year in 1926, which is the equivalent of over a billion dollars a year in today’s money.

[00:12:43] This business empire was wide and vast

[00:12:47] It involved prostitution, illegal alcohol production, smuggling and sales, gambling, extortion, protection, racketeering, and drugs. 

[00:12:58] To allow all of this to happen without interference from the authorities, Capone and his associates would threaten and bribe local officials, politicians, judges and police officers, they would influence elections, they controlled vast amounts of how the city was actually administered.

[00:13:19] Capone didn’t do much to try to hide what he was up to

[00:13:24] While other criminals shunned the spotlight, they tried to hide from attention, Capone actively sought it, he looked for it. He had his own press agent, he arranged interviews, he wanted to be photographed, he wanted to be known.

[00:13:41] He wasn’t embarrassed in the slightest of how he made money, saying “I’m like any man - I supply a demand”.

[00:13:49] He wanted to be thought of as a businessman and philanthropist, someone who gave back to the community. 

[00:13:57] He financed soup kitchens for the unemployed during the Great Depression, and wanted to be known as someone who supported the poor. 

[00:14:06] Capone certainly did arrange for soup kitchens for the Chicago poor, but there are now question marks about whether he actually paid for this himself - it’s believed by some historians that he would have extorted local restaurants into providing the ingredients, so despite making literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year, he might not even have paid a cent towards these himself.

[00:14:32] He was also a ruthless killer. 

[00:14:35] Although he was never convicted of any murders or violent crimes himself, it’s believed that he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and kill people himself, and he certainly arranged for the murders of hundreds more.

[00:14:50] And it was one particular murder, or mass-murder really, that changed things for Al Capone.

[00:14:58] Capone was in control of the South Side of Chicago, but the lucrative North Side was controlled by another gang, ran by a man called Bugs Moran.

[00:15:09] There had been an ongoing feud between Capone and Moran for several years. They were both involved in the selling of bootlegged alcohol, illegal alcohol, and they hated each other.

[00:15:23] In February of 1929, Capone had a plan to get rid of his rival for good. 

[00:15:30] He had arranged for a contact to offer Moran a truckload of illegal whisky at a very low price. 

[00:15:38] Moran accepted, and ordered for it to be delivered to a warehouse on February 14th, Valentine’s Day.

[00:15:46] When the whisky arrived, men dressed as police officers burst onto the scene, lining up Moran’s men against the wall, telling them that they were being arrested.

[00:15:58] But they weren’t police officers, they were Capone’s guys. 

[00:16:02] They pointed their machine guns at Moran’s men and fired, killing six of Moran’s men immediately, and one would later die of his wounds.

[00:16:13] Crucially though, Moran wasn’t there. He had decided to sleep in that morning.

[00:16:19] Moran was furious, blaming the killing on Capone. 

[00:16:23] He even broke the unwritten criminal code of never speaking to the police, and told them it was Capone who did it. 

[00:16:32] Capone, of course, denied it, but now public opinion was turning against him - there was little doubt that Capone had ordered the hit, which by this time had been given the name “The Valentine’s Day Massacre”.

[00:16:47] This was one step too far. It was one thing making some money through prostitution and gambling, but lining 7 people up against the wall and murdering them in cold blood, with their pictures plastered all over the Chicago newspapers? 

[00:17:04] Capone was called to court to testify, but he said he was in Florida suffering from pneumonia and couldn’t get out of bed. 

[00:17:13] He was in Florida, that was true, and indeed nobody thought that Capone would have pulled the trigger himself.

[00:17:20] But he certainly didn’t seem ill - he had been spotted at a race track and even out in the Bahamas.

[00:17:29] Eventually the authorities did manage to get him to return to Chicago, which he did on March 20th of 1929, just over a month after The Valentine’s Day Massacre. 

[00:17:41] The police weren’t able to charge him with involvement in the massacre, as he denied it and they couldn’t find anyone who would testify that he had anything to do with it, but they did manage to convict him of “contempt of court”, the crime of not appearing in front of a courtroom when asked to.

[00:18:01] The maximum punishment for this was a year and a $1,000 fine, but Capone didn’t serve a day in prison, not for this crime at least.

[00:18:11] Instead, he was arrested a couple of months later, in May of 1929, for carrying a pistol. Capone was given a one year sentence, but only served nine months of it.

[00:18:23] While in prison he lived a luxurious life. 

[00:18:27] He was still in control of the gang from prison, and his associates made sure that the prison guards were sufficiently compensated, that they were paid enough money, for Capone to have anything he wanted in his prison cell.

[00:18:43] When he got out of prison, in March of 1930, he found that the tide had turned, that public opinion was not on his side. 

[00:18:53] What’s more, the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, knew exactly who he was and what he was doing. They knew that he was going to return to exactly what he had been doing all of his life, they just needed to find a crime that they could charge him with.

[00:19:10] He was listed as “Public Enemy Number One”, literally the biggest enemy of the people in the entire country.

[00:19:19] The country was also in the middle of the greatest economic crisis in its short history. People were suffering, and for all Capone’s reportedly philanthropic activities, after the Valentine’s Day Massacre a light had truly been shone on the kind of person he really was.

[00:19:37] If the authorities couldn’t get him on any of the violent criminal charges that they knew he was certainly guilty of, there was another way they thought they could take him off the streets: financial crime.

[00:19:51] Al Capone didn’t try to hide his wealth at all. 

[00:19:54] Quite the opposite - he flaunted it, he showed it to the world.

[00:19:59] He wore a $50,000 diamond ring on his little finger, on his pinkie, he wore suits that would cost today’s equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars, he would travel everywhere in a custom-built armoured Cadillac, he would spare no expense.

[00:20:17] But where did this money come from, at least what did he tell the tax authorities?

[00:20:24] Well, he said he was a businessman engaged in a variety of small businesses, including being a used furniture dealer.

[00:20:32] The problem was that Capone’s reported income, the money that he told the government he had made on his tax returns, was tiny compared to how much he was clearly spending.

[00:20:46] And he was arrested in June 1931 on charges of tax evasion, of failing to pay the required taxes.

[00:20:56] After a lengthy trial, in October of 1931 Capone was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in prison, the longest sentence ever for tax evasion.

[00:21:10] He was initially sent to a state prison in Atlanta, but his men had managed to bribe guards so that Capone lived a pretty privileged life in prison.

[00:21:21] Three years later, in a bid to properly punish Capone and show the country that crime didn’t pay, he was transferred to a new, high-security prison on a rocky island in the bay of San Francisco: Alcatraz.

[00:21:37] The prison at Alcatraz had previously been a military prison, but was converted to a federal prison, a prison for civilians, in the early 1930s. When it opened in August 1934, it welcomed some of the country’s most dangerous and highest-profile criminals. 

[00:21:57] Bank robbers, gangsters, murderers. 

[00:22:00] And Al Capone was one of its first inmates.

[00:22:04] Now, the life of Al Capone after he arrived at Alcatraz was sad and certainly not glorious. 

[00:22:11] His syphilis, which remember he had contracted while working at a brothel after first moving to Chicago with his wife and young child, his syphilis was getting worse, and had progressed to something called neurosyphilis, where the infection affects your mental capacities.

[00:22:31] Syphilis, if left untreated, permanently rots and damages your brain.

[00:22:37] His last years at Alcatraz were spent in the prison hospital, and by the time he was released, which was in November of 1939, doctors reported that he had the mental capabilities of a 12-year-old child. 

[00:22:52] After being released, he spent the rest of his life at his mansion in Florida, before dying of complications from a stroke in 1947.

[00:23:02] Now, after Capone had been put in prison, the Chicago gang he had been the boss of was thrown into disarray. There was no immediate big boss to take his place, unlike when Johnny Torrio had taken the place of Big Jim Colosimo or when Al Capone had taken the place of Johnny Torrio.

[00:23:22] Organised crime certainly didn’t go away, but without Capone at the top it became less violent. 

[00:23:30] What’s more, the Prohibition era ended in 1933, and that put a large dent in the business model of the gang.

[00:23:39] Now, when it comes to the legacy of Al Capone, he is probably the most famous gangster in American history. 

[00:23:47] He was a larger than life character, a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it, and a man who seemed to like the idea of being seen as having achieved The American Dream, of having gone from nothing to being one of the richest men in the country.

[00:24:05] But he was, of course, like everyone else in this mini-series, a violent murderer. 

[00:24:11] There are terrible stories of him brutally murdering rivals with baseball bats, or arranging for hideous assassinations, and he was no doubt responsible directly and indirectly for the deaths of dozens if not hundreds of people.

[00:24:26] And for all of the stories that he put out about him being a generous philanthropist, it appears that these were also complete lies, and he had threatened hardworking shopkeepers and restaurant owners to go into their own pockets.

[00:24:42] He might have claimed to have just been a businessman, giving the people what they wanted. 

[00:24:47] But it’s hard to contest that there have been few people more deserving than Alphonse Gabriel Capone of the title of “Public Enemy Number One”.

[00:24:58] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Al Capone.

[00:25:03] As a reminder, this is part two of our four-part mini-series on famous gangsters. Part one was on the Real Peaky Blinders, the street-gang that terrorised Birmingham in the late 20th century.

[00:25:16] Next up will be the infamous bank robber John Dillinger, and after that we’ll be looking at two identical twins who terrorised the East End of London in the 1960s, Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

[00:25:29] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:33] Did you know much about the life of Al Capone before this? 

[00:25:37] Why do you think we look back on these kinds of criminals and often forget many of their most terrible crimes?

[00:25:44] I would love to know.

[00:25:45] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:54] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:59] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part two of our four-part mini-series on gangsters and robbers.

[00:00:30] In Part One, we talked about The Real Peaky Blinders and the criminals of late 19th century and early 20th century Birmingham, England.

[00:00:40] In Part Two, today’s episode, we will be talking about Al Capone, the Italian-American prohibition era gangster with the nickname of Scarface.

[00:00:51] In Part Three, we'll talk about the notorious gangster and bank robber John Dillinger, the man called by the FBI “Public Enemy Number One”.

[00:01:02] Then in Part Four we will zoom over to London, perhaps not a city that you automatically associate with gangsters and criminals, and talk about The Kray Twins, a pair of identical twins who terrorised the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s.

[00:01:22] OK then, let’s learn about the real story of Al Capone.

[00:01:28] If you were to ask 100 Americans who the first person they’d think of when they heard the word gangster, there’s little doubt that the name “Al Capone” would be right at the top of the list.

[00:01:42] His name is synonymous with organised crime, violence, and corruption, and the legacy he left behind is a mix of fear and admiration.

[00:01:54] To understand how Al Capone managed to achieve what he did, we must first remind ourselves of what life was like in the US at the turn of the 20th century.

[00:02:07] The American Civil War had ended in 1865. 

[00:02:11] Immigrants were arriving in their droves from Europe, with New York as the first stop for almost all of them.

[00:02:20] These immigrants came from all over Europe, but there were particularly large numbers from Ireland and southern Italy, areas of the continent where economic opportunities were not plentiful.

[00:02:34] Gabriele and Teresa Capone were two such people. 

[00:02:38] They were Italians who had left their home outside Naples, got on a boat and sailed across the Atlantic, in hope of a better life. 

[00:02:47] On arrival in America in 1893, the pronunciation of their surnames would have been Americanised, from Capone to Capone. 

[00:02:59] Gabriele and Teresa settled into American life, living in Brooklyn, New York City. 

[00:03:06] Although they were respectable law-abiding citizens, life certainly wasn’t easy for new Italian immigrants, and they, like the Irish, were treated as second-class citizens.

[00:03:20] They had a large family, with Teresa giving birth to nine children, one of them being the protagonist of today’s story.

[00:03:30] Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in 1899. 

[00:03:35] The Brooklyn he would have been born into was an unruly one, one of street gangs, dock workers, prostitution, crime, gambling, and all sorts of vices.

[00:03:48] It didn’t take Al long to be influenced by his surroundings. He joined small street gangs of young boys that were involved in petty crime, and he was expelled, he was kicked out of school at 14 years old after hitting a female teacher.

[00:04:07] The world that Capone lived in was an unfair one, and the young Al realised this from early on.

[00:04:15] As the child of Italian immigrants, he was treated as a second-class citizen, it was harder for him to get ahead in life than it would be if he wasn’t of Italian heritage.

[00:04:27] He looked to the Americans making fortunes in business, people like JD Rockefeller who lived in grand houses in New York City, and he wanted the same thing. 

[00:04:39] The only problem was that the cards were stacked against him

[00:04:43] It would be very difficult to make his way in the world honestly, given the prejudice against Italian immigrants.

[00:04:52] So, what did Capone do? 

[00:04:54] Well, we both know what route he took.

[00:04:58] Shortly after being kicked out of school he met a man called Johnny Torrio, another Italian immigrant who had become a local mob boss, a local organised crime boss.

[00:05:10] Torrio became a bit of a mentor to Capone, and he showed him the ropes, he taught him how to run an organised crime business.

[00:05:21] Torrio had shown that a life of crime could look like a semi-respectable business. Torrio seemed like a respectable businessman. He owned legitimate businesses–nightclubs, bars, and restaurants–but he would operate illegitimate businesses from inside them. 

[00:05:40] From prostitution to gambling, illegal loans, drug dealing, you name it, Torrio was involved with it, and therefore would make money from it. 

[00:05:50] But from the outside it looked semi-respectable.

[00:05:54] Torrio recognised Capone’s drive and abilities, and introduced Capone to his other business associates, who were inevitably italian-American gangsters

[00:06:06] One such man was Frankie Yale, and Capone’s first semi-legitimate job was working as a bouncer, a person on the door at a nightclub that Yale worked at.

[00:06:20] Capone was a big man, especially for a southern Italian immigrant in the early 20th century. He was 180cm tall and weighed almost 100kg so he wasn’t the sort of person you’d like to pick a fight with.

[00:06:36] When he was working on the door of this nightclub he allegedly shouted out something not particularly nice about the bottom of one of the young ladies visiting the club. 

[00:06:48] What he didn’t know is that this lady was the sister of another gangster, who, when he heard about Capone insulting his sister’s honour, came to find him with a knife and made two very large cuts across Capone’s cheek, earning him the nickname “Scarface”.

[00:07:09] Capone, by the way, reportedly hated this nickname, and hated the scars. 

[00:07:16] You almost never see these scars in photos of Capone, because his face is always turned the other way, and when he was asked about the scars he claimed he got them fighting in World War I, which wasn’t true as he never served in the war.

[00:07:33] And the nickname that he actually liked? 

[00:07:36] “Snorky”, which was Italian-American slang at the time for someone with nice clothes. 

[00:07:43] By the time he had got involved in this criminal underworld, the young Al had also fallen in love, and had a child with his girlfriend, an Irish-Catholic girl two years older than him. 

[00:07:56] After she had their child, they married, and it was reportedly a happy marriage despite the life that Capone would go on to lead.

[00:08:06] Shortly after getting married, his mentor Johnny Torrio offered Capone a job in Chicago, as a bouncer at a business he was involved in, a business that was actually a brothel, a place where men would go to have sex with prostitutes.

[00:08:23] Capone jumped at the opportunity, and in 1919, aged only twenty, moved his wife and young child to Chicago, a city he would forever be associated with.

[00:08:36] Capone worked on the door of the brothel, allowing people in and out, but it seems that he was also a frequent customer himself. 

[00:08:46] It’s thought to be in this brothel where he contracted syphilis, the sexually transmitted infection. 

[00:08:53] Syphilis is now something that is relatively easy to cure, and even when Capone would have first got it it’s thought that he could have been cured of it. 

[00:09:04] But, he never actually got treatment for it, and it was an infection that plagued him for the rest of his life. 

[00:09:12] The relevance of this will become clear later on in our story.

[00:09:17] Now, in Chicago opportunities started to open up both for Torrio and Capone. Torrio’s boss, a Mafia don called Big Jim Colosimo, was murdered in May of 1920, and Torrio took his place. 

[00:09:35] It’s thought that Torrio and Capone could have been involved in his murder, and that Capone might have even arranged for his ex colleague from New York, Frankie Yale, to shoot Colosimo.

[00:09:48] Whether Capone was involved or not, Colosimo being out of the way was very convenient for him.

[00:09:56] Torrio took his place, inheriting Colosimo’s large portfolio of criminal businesses, and Capone, as Torrio’s right hand man, was now in an incredibly powerful position. 

[00:10:10] There was something else that had happened at the start of 1920 though that was to prove to be even more important for the story of Al Capone, and this was actually nothing to do with murders or gangsters, but actually to do with a change in the law.

[00:10:28] On January 17th 1920 the US government passed the Volstead Act, which banned the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol. This period, known as the Prohibition Era, went on from 1920 to 1933.

[00:10:49] The idea behind it was to reduce crime and corruption, solve the problems that had plagued American society and to improve the health of the American population.

[00:11:01] Certainly in terms of reducing crime and corruption, it was not successful, and suddenly there was a huge opportunity for organised criminals to control the production and sale of alcohol.

[00:11:16] Given that Torrio and Capone controlled large parts of the Chicago underworld through their businesses, bars, clubs, and brothels, they were in a unique position to sell and distribute alcohol, making vast profits in the process.

[00:11:33] Business was good, and Torrio and Capone started to grow rich, but they were not the only crime gang in town.

[00:11:41] There were feuds with other Chicago crime gangs, both Italian and Irish, and after several attempts on his life, Torrio decided that he wanted out of the world of crime, he wanted to retire. 

[00:11:56] He didn’t quite manage to retire completely from the criminal world, and he later spent some time in prison, but he left Chicago in late 1925, moving back to Italy to be with his wife and mother, and removing himself from the dangers of the Chicago criminal underworld.

[00:12:15] He knew that Capone would be able to handle it, and reportedly said to him “It’s all yours, Al. Me? I’m quitting. It’s Europe for me”.

[00:12:26] The 26-year-old Capone was handed the reins to a criminal empire, a huge business that made around $70 million dollars a year in 1926, which is the equivalent of over a billion dollars a year in today’s money.

[00:12:43] This business empire was wide and vast

[00:12:47] It involved prostitution, illegal alcohol production, smuggling and sales, gambling, extortion, protection, racketeering, and drugs. 

[00:12:58] To allow all of this to happen without interference from the authorities, Capone and his associates would threaten and bribe local officials, politicians, judges and police officers, they would influence elections, they controlled vast amounts of how the city was actually administered.

[00:13:19] Capone didn’t do much to try to hide what he was up to

[00:13:24] While other criminals shunned the spotlight, they tried to hide from attention, Capone actively sought it, he looked for it. He had his own press agent, he arranged interviews, he wanted to be photographed, he wanted to be known.

[00:13:41] He wasn’t embarrassed in the slightest of how he made money, saying “I’m like any man - I supply a demand”.

[00:13:49] He wanted to be thought of as a businessman and philanthropist, someone who gave back to the community. 

[00:13:57] He financed soup kitchens for the unemployed during the Great Depression, and wanted to be known as someone who supported the poor. 

[00:14:06] Capone certainly did arrange for soup kitchens for the Chicago poor, but there are now question marks about whether he actually paid for this himself - it’s believed by some historians that he would have extorted local restaurants into providing the ingredients, so despite making literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year, he might not even have paid a cent towards these himself.

[00:14:32] He was also a ruthless killer. 

[00:14:35] Although he was never convicted of any murders or violent crimes himself, it’s believed that he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and kill people himself, and he certainly arranged for the murders of hundreds more.

[00:14:50] And it was one particular murder, or mass-murder really, that changed things for Al Capone.

[00:14:58] Capone was in control of the South Side of Chicago, but the lucrative North Side was controlled by another gang, ran by a man called Bugs Moran.

[00:15:09] There had been an ongoing feud between Capone and Moran for several years. They were both involved in the selling of bootlegged alcohol, illegal alcohol, and they hated each other.

[00:15:23] In February of 1929, Capone had a plan to get rid of his rival for good. 

[00:15:30] He had arranged for a contact to offer Moran a truckload of illegal whisky at a very low price. 

[00:15:38] Moran accepted, and ordered for it to be delivered to a warehouse on February 14th, Valentine’s Day.

[00:15:46] When the whisky arrived, men dressed as police officers burst onto the scene, lining up Moran’s men against the wall, telling them that they were being arrested.

[00:15:58] But they weren’t police officers, they were Capone’s guys. 

[00:16:02] They pointed their machine guns at Moran’s men and fired, killing six of Moran’s men immediately, and one would later die of his wounds.

[00:16:13] Crucially though, Moran wasn’t there. He had decided to sleep in that morning.

[00:16:19] Moran was furious, blaming the killing on Capone. 

[00:16:23] He even broke the unwritten criminal code of never speaking to the police, and told them it was Capone who did it. 

[00:16:32] Capone, of course, denied it, but now public opinion was turning against him - there was little doubt that Capone had ordered the hit, which by this time had been given the name “The Valentine’s Day Massacre”.

[00:16:47] This was one step too far. It was one thing making some money through prostitution and gambling, but lining 7 people up against the wall and murdering them in cold blood, with their pictures plastered all over the Chicago newspapers? 

[00:17:04] Capone was called to court to testify, but he said he was in Florida suffering from pneumonia and couldn’t get out of bed. 

[00:17:13] He was in Florida, that was true, and indeed nobody thought that Capone would have pulled the trigger himself.

[00:17:20] But he certainly didn’t seem ill - he had been spotted at a race track and even out in the Bahamas.

[00:17:29] Eventually the authorities did manage to get him to return to Chicago, which he did on March 20th of 1929, just over a month after The Valentine’s Day Massacre. 

[00:17:41] The police weren’t able to charge him with involvement in the massacre, as he denied it and they couldn’t find anyone who would testify that he had anything to do with it, but they did manage to convict him of “contempt of court”, the crime of not appearing in front of a courtroom when asked to.

[00:18:01] The maximum punishment for this was a year and a $1,000 fine, but Capone didn’t serve a day in prison, not for this crime at least.

[00:18:11] Instead, he was arrested a couple of months later, in May of 1929, for carrying a pistol. Capone was given a one year sentence, but only served nine months of it.

[00:18:23] While in prison he lived a luxurious life. 

[00:18:27] He was still in control of the gang from prison, and his associates made sure that the prison guards were sufficiently compensated, that they were paid enough money, for Capone to have anything he wanted in his prison cell.

[00:18:43] When he got out of prison, in March of 1930, he found that the tide had turned, that public opinion was not on his side. 

[00:18:53] What’s more, the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, knew exactly who he was and what he was doing. They knew that he was going to return to exactly what he had been doing all of his life, they just needed to find a crime that they could charge him with.

[00:19:10] He was listed as “Public Enemy Number One”, literally the biggest enemy of the people in the entire country.

[00:19:19] The country was also in the middle of the greatest economic crisis in its short history. People were suffering, and for all Capone’s reportedly philanthropic activities, after the Valentine’s Day Massacre a light had truly been shone on the kind of person he really was.

[00:19:37] If the authorities couldn’t get him on any of the violent criminal charges that they knew he was certainly guilty of, there was another way they thought they could take him off the streets: financial crime.

[00:19:51] Al Capone didn’t try to hide his wealth at all. 

[00:19:54] Quite the opposite - he flaunted it, he showed it to the world.

[00:19:59] He wore a $50,000 diamond ring on his little finger, on his pinkie, he wore suits that would cost today’s equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars, he would travel everywhere in a custom-built armoured Cadillac, he would spare no expense.

[00:20:17] But where did this money come from, at least what did he tell the tax authorities?

[00:20:24] Well, he said he was a businessman engaged in a variety of small businesses, including being a used furniture dealer.

[00:20:32] The problem was that Capone’s reported income, the money that he told the government he had made on his tax returns, was tiny compared to how much he was clearly spending.

[00:20:46] And he was arrested in June 1931 on charges of tax evasion, of failing to pay the required taxes.

[00:20:56] After a lengthy trial, in October of 1931 Capone was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in prison, the longest sentence ever for tax evasion.

[00:21:10] He was initially sent to a state prison in Atlanta, but his men had managed to bribe guards so that Capone lived a pretty privileged life in prison.

[00:21:21] Three years later, in a bid to properly punish Capone and show the country that crime didn’t pay, he was transferred to a new, high-security prison on a rocky island in the bay of San Francisco: Alcatraz.

[00:21:37] The prison at Alcatraz had previously been a military prison, but was converted to a federal prison, a prison for civilians, in the early 1930s. When it opened in August 1934, it welcomed some of the country’s most dangerous and highest-profile criminals. 

[00:21:57] Bank robbers, gangsters, murderers. 

[00:22:00] And Al Capone was one of its first inmates.

[00:22:04] Now, the life of Al Capone after he arrived at Alcatraz was sad and certainly not glorious. 

[00:22:11] His syphilis, which remember he had contracted while working at a brothel after first moving to Chicago with his wife and young child, his syphilis was getting worse, and had progressed to something called neurosyphilis, where the infection affects your mental capacities.

[00:22:31] Syphilis, if left untreated, permanently rots and damages your brain.

[00:22:37] His last years at Alcatraz were spent in the prison hospital, and by the time he was released, which was in November of 1939, doctors reported that he had the mental capabilities of a 12-year-old child. 

[00:22:52] After being released, he spent the rest of his life at his mansion in Florida, before dying of complications from a stroke in 1947.

[00:23:02] Now, after Capone had been put in prison, the Chicago gang he had been the boss of was thrown into disarray. There was no immediate big boss to take his place, unlike when Johnny Torrio had taken the place of Big Jim Colosimo or when Al Capone had taken the place of Johnny Torrio.

[00:23:22] Organised crime certainly didn’t go away, but without Capone at the top it became less violent. 

[00:23:30] What’s more, the Prohibition era ended in 1933, and that put a large dent in the business model of the gang.

[00:23:39] Now, when it comes to the legacy of Al Capone, he is probably the most famous gangster in American history. 

[00:23:47] He was a larger than life character, a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it, and a man who seemed to like the idea of being seen as having achieved The American Dream, of having gone from nothing to being one of the richest men in the country.

[00:24:05] But he was, of course, like everyone else in this mini-series, a violent murderer. 

[00:24:11] There are terrible stories of him brutally murdering rivals with baseball bats, or arranging for hideous assassinations, and he was no doubt responsible directly and indirectly for the deaths of dozens if not hundreds of people.

[00:24:26] And for all of the stories that he put out about him being a generous philanthropist, it appears that these were also complete lies, and he had threatened hardworking shopkeepers and restaurant owners to go into their own pockets.

[00:24:42] He might have claimed to have just been a businessman, giving the people what they wanted. 

[00:24:47] But it’s hard to contest that there have been few people more deserving than Alphonse Gabriel Capone of the title of “Public Enemy Number One”.

[00:24:58] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Al Capone.

[00:25:03] As a reminder, this is part two of our four-part mini-series on famous gangsters. Part one was on the Real Peaky Blinders, the street-gang that terrorised Birmingham in the late 20th century.

[00:25:16] Next up will be the infamous bank robber John Dillinger, and after that we’ll be looking at two identical twins who terrorised the East End of London in the 1960s, Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

[00:25:29] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:25:33] Did you know much about the life of Al Capone before this? 

[00:25:37] Why do you think we look back on these kinds of criminals and often forget many of their most terrible crimes?

[00:25:44] I would love to know.

[00:25:45] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:54] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:59] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]