You’ll Be Surprised by What Gangster Al Capone Went to Prison For and Died From

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Notorious Chicago mobster Al Capone has been memorialized in many films over the decades, the most well-known of which was probably the 1987 Brian de Palma film The Untouchables, where he is portrayed by Oscar winner Robert De Niro, or in the popular 2010-14 HBO series Boardwalk Empire, as portrayed by actor Stephen Graham.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE, Stephen Graham, 'Cuanto', (Season 5, ep. 504, aired Sept. 28, 2014).

Macall B. Polay/HBO/Courtesy: Everett Collection

Why we idolize violent mobsters so much that the grass around their tombstones are worn from so much foot traffic is a story for a different day (he is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery near Oak Park, IL, along with many other gangsters of his time), but Capone is a historically relevant figure nonetheless!

THE UNTOUCHABLES, Robert De Niro as Al Capone, 1987,

Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

Born in 1889 to Italian immigrants, Capone had a rough childhood that turned violent around age 12 when he left school and turned to a life of crime. In 1917, he insulted a female customer in the bar where he worked on Coney Island, and was cut in the face by a razor in response, earning the nickname “Scarface” — not to be confused with the Al Pacino film Scarface, which was also directed by Brian de Palma, but followed a Cuban gangster in Miami.

By the 1920s, Capone was living in Chicago and a well-known gangster, first working as a bouncer at a brothel and then taking advantage of Prohibition by running a string of speakeasies. The most notable of his offenses would turn out to be the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when seven members of a north side gang were killed, as a result of a gang war between Capone and Irish mobster George “Bugs” Moran. While Capone always denied it was his doing it has always been said it was his style of ‘hits,” no one was ever brought in as a suspect and it still remains one of the biggest unsolved crimes.

THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE, l-r: Ron Gans, Rico Cattani, Richard Bakalyan, Dick Miller, 1967, TM and

20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection

But it wasn’t murder that Capone would end up going to prison for: it was tax evasion! Nor was his death a result of his violent lifestyle. That was due to a long untreated battle with Syphilis, which he likely got from his brothel days. He died on January 25, 1947, from a stroke complicated by pneumonia. A cautionary tale in so many ways!

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February 2020

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