Al Capone and the Chicago Gang Scene

The late 19th and the earlier years of the 20th century in Chicago saw a great divide between street gangs of the South and North Sides, plus the Black Hand groups of Little Italy.

Big Jim Colosimo was the central figure in charge during that time. He was born in 1877 in the Italian town of Calabria and in 1895, he moved to Chicago. By the year 1909, Colosimo had established himself as a highly successful criminal, so much so that he invaded the turf of the Black Hand gangs.

His growing empire needed more muscle. And so he procured Johnny Torrio who hailed from New York. Al Capone was recruited by Torrio in 1919. Eventually Torrio and Colisimo butted heads over Torrio’s plans to move into the business of rum-running. Colisimo was assassinated in 1920 on the order of Torrio by Frankie Yale, a colleague of Torrio’s from New York. One of the suspects of Colosimo’s murder was Al Capone.

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Torrio can be accredited with uniting various sections of criminal activities in Chicago which had an enduring effect on the city’s crime community.

Torrio found himself badly injured in the January of 1925 when there was an attempt on his life, and so the mobster returned to his native Italy at which time he passed over the reins of the operation to Capone. The new leader was proficient in expanding the influence of the mob while raking in great wealth. Estimates on his earnings between the years 1925 and 1930 come in at $100 million per annum. Together with his successor, Frank Nitti, Capone had succeeded in stretching the power of the Outfit in different areas.

Canada, in particular, was a hub of activity, serving as the primary source of imported alcohol for the Outfit to smuggle liquor into the USA. The illegal drink was then spread to the brothels of Chicago. This business was the main source of income for the gang during the era of Prohibition. The success of this operation depended on the trusting relationship that existed between the mobsters and the “boss of bosses”.

The main Boss ran several smaller divisions with the help of a complex system of informants scattered throughout the different ranks of the organization. Those members of the gang who betrayed the organization’s honor would be executed. Some notable members of the Al Capone Outfit included “Happy Memories” DeLuca (with assets in Wisconsin and Illinois), Vince DeLuca, Bob Calandra (Ontario), Tom Ciampelletti (from Montreal) as well as Frank Nitti, the latter serving as the go-between amongst the Boss, Al Capone, and the other mobsters. Others with some clout in the organization included Frankie La Porte as well as Ross Prio by helping Capone turn the organization into a great empire. La Porte, being of Sicilian descent was able to operate in confidence with Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Joe Bonanno, two of the biggest Sicilian-born New York mobsters. These allies were Capone’s link to the Commission.

Capone was very well-respected by the men in the organization – his nickname among the lads being “The Big Fellow”. His reputation soon exceeded that of Torrio, with Capone doing more for the business with his vast expansion in the five years between 1925 and 1930. His business enterprises besides speakeasies, casinos and brothels, further included breweries, distilleries, race and horse tracks. These affiliations garnered in profits in the region of $100 million annually in revenue. The most profitable of all of these avenues was undoubtedly liquor sales.

Capone’s empire stretched to all the way to Canada, where a group known as the Purple Gang from Detroit imported alcohol from the neighboring country via Blaise Diesbourg, also referred to as “King Canada” who originally hailed from Belle River. Due to this increasing success on the bootlegging front, Al Capone managed to infiltrate law enforcement and politics in Chicago. His official headquarters were the Lexington Hotel.

But this execution of control did not sit well with everyone, including gangsters from the North Side, Bugs Moran and Hymie Weiss. Capone was the subject of several attempts on his life. His car was shot at numerous times. On one occasion in September, 1926, Capone was having lunch at the Hawthorne Hotel when his motorcade was shot at by the NorthSiders. An entourage made up of ten cars surrounded the restaurant of the Hawthorne with Thompson shotguns and submachine guns. Frankie Rio, bodyguard to Capone, threw Capone to the ground when the first shots were fired. But while Capone himself was not injured, several innocent bystanders were wounded by shrapnel and flying glass. Capone is said to have paid the medical fees of a boy and his mother whose eyesight was badly affected. This incident caused Capone to instigate a truce but talks fell flat. There were rumors that the attack on Capone’s life had been ordered by Moran.

Armed bodyguards were installed at the Lexington as well as at Michigan Avenue. There was also a far-reaching network of spies all over Chicago, ranging from newspaper boys to police officers. Any plots and schemes were soon uncovered. One area in which Capone excelled was sniffing out his enemies once they reached a certain level of power. Capone’s typical style of murdering his foes was to rent out an apartment across the road from his victim’s home and then shoot him as he exited the house. The process was very quick and Capone ensured that he always had a believable alibi.

Capone also regularly took trips out of Chicago and had hideouts and retreats such as one in Wisconsin’s Couderay, which would, in later years, become a popular and well-visited tourist attraction. This estate is made up of 407 acres and includes a lake of 37 acres, reportedly used in the landing of planes laden with illegal alcohol destined for shipment to Chicago in the south.

One-time gang member from New York, Owney “The Killer” Madden settled into retirement in Hot Springs and invited several of his former co-workers to visit. This was the site of Lucky Luciano’s first arrest. To protect against the same fate, Capone was said to pitch up without notice at one of the train depots in Chicago and hire one of the night train’s whole Pullman sleeper cars, and head to destinations like Hot Springs, Little Rock, Kansas City, Omaha or Cleveland. Once at their destination, the gangsters would assume false identities and spend weeklong vacations in luxury suites. On a trip in 1928, the mobster is known to have rented out 14 rooms at a Florida beach retreat not far from Miami Beach.



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