How Al Capone Rose From Brooklyn Street Thug To “Public Enemy No. 1” In 44 Pictures

From his signature cigar to his blood-soaked mob hits, these photos of Al Capone show the legendary Chicago gangster as he really was.

Al Capone Chomping On A Cigar And Smiling

How Al Capone Rose From Brooklyn Street Thug To “Public Enemy No. 1” In 44 Pictures

Al Capone’s name is arguably synonymous with the term “organized crime.” The iconic 1920s gangster ruled the streets of Chicago during Prohibition — and was responsible for countless sales of illegal alcohol.

Along with fame and fortune, the infamous crime boss also encountered plenty of violence. When he was still a low-ranking wise guy, he got a serious knife wound on his cheek that earned him the monicker “Scarface” — a nickname he hated — before becoming head of the Chicago Outfit.

While Capone flaunted his wealth and complemented one home in Chicago with another in Florida, he also graciously gave back to the masses. This was a man who simultaneously had an estimated net worth of $100 million and opened one of the very first soup kitchens during the Great Depression.

Though Al Capone was most certainly a violent mobster whose days were comprised of crime, murder, and corruption, he was also ultimately an ailing grandfather. Having left his syphilis infection untreated for years, he eventually became delusional and largely incompetent in his 40s.

By the end, the big scary kingpin who is still depicted brutally bludgeoning people to death in literature and film had the mentality of a 12-year-old — and spent his days talking to invisible houseguests. The 44 photos above chronicle it all: from his ambitious rise to his inevitable downfall.

Al Capone’s Early Life

Home Of Mae Capone And Al Capone

Wikimedia CommonsThe Capone home in Chicago. 1929.

Born Alphonse Gabriel Capone in Brooklyn, New York on Jan. 17, 1899, the Italian American was raised by a barber from Naples and his wife. His parents, Gabriel and Teresa, arrived in New York in 1894 with thousands of fellow countrymen looking for opportunity.

The Capones ultimately had nine children — with Frank Capone most closely following in his brother’s blood-soaked footsteps. From an early age, Al Capone had no patience for school, and was expelled from the institution after hitting a teacher when he was 14.

He had a short-lived career as a member of several New York gangs and also worked in a box factory at one point. It was after meeting Mary “Mae” Coughlin, a local Irish girl from an educated background, that he made her Mae Capone and accepted a fellow gangster’s invitation to Chicago.

Al Capone: King Of Chicago

It was Johnny Torrio who taught Capone he should keep up appearances while racketeering. Under his tutelage, Capone moved his family to Chicago around 1920 and later colluded with Torrio to help murder his boss — James “Big Jim” Colosimo.

Before becoming Torrio’s right-hand man and rising in the ranks, however, Capone worked as bouncer for Colosimo’s brothel and contracted syphilis from a prostitute. He was too ashamed to seek medical attention, which would later prove fatal. But in the meantime, he built himself an empire.

With Prohibition in full swing and Torrio retiring in 1925, Capone became head of the Chicago crime syndicate and had full reign of its gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging operations. The more bodies he left in his wake, the larger his reputation grew. Soon everyone in Chicago knew his name.

The most infamous incident of all, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, saw Capone’s alleged associates dress up as policemen and gun down the competition during a fake arrest. Though he’d soon be convicted of tax evasion himself, Capone’s net worth was estimated to be around $100 million when he was in his prime.

Unfortunately, not a penny helped him treat the disease rotting his internal organs — nor did it prevent his untimely death.

The Death Of Al Capone

Palm Island Home Of Al Capone

Wikimedia CommonsCapone’s Palm Island home, which he bought in 1928 and lived in from 1940 until his death in 1947.

Capone had deteriorated so severely behind bars that his wife successfully lobbied for an early release due to “good behavior.” At that point, the mobster was so far gone that he had been wearing his coat inside his heated Alcatraz cell. But he only worsened after moving to Florida for peace and quiet.

The mob had accepted his de facto resignation, and agreed to pay him a weekly $600 pittance just to stay quiet. For Mae, it was of the utmost importance to keep him shielded from the press — lest they portray him as a blabbermouth and consequent liability for the Outfit.

In the end, Capone was having delusional chats with friends long dead, which his family often went along with. Though he was one of the first people to receive penicillin treatments, it was too late at that point. His organs, including his brain, had begun to rot. A stroke in January 1947 allowed pneumonia to take hold, and before long his heart was failing.

Mae knew what awaited them next, and asked her parish priest Monsignor Barry Williams to administer her husband’s last rites. In the end, Al Capone died of cardiac arrest on Jan. 25, 1947.


After taking a look at 44 fascinating photos from Al Capone’s reign of terror, check out 20 female gangsters who stole and killed their way into the underworld. Then, learn why Bumpy Johnson was the most fearsome gangster you’ve never heard of.

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