Al Capone, also known as "Scarface," is one of the most intriguing gangsters ever. He managed to stand out from many other criminals of his sort with his meteoric rise to the top. Capone is also remembered as a violent and arrogant gangster.
He got his famous nickname, "Scarface," after a hoodlum slashed his face with a knife across his left cheek. This was after Capone made a crude comment about the man's sister. Al Capone hated the nickname, and those close to him called him Big Fellow.
Interestingly, Al Capone's death was just as fascinating as his life as a criminal. Beneath the stylish suits and the confident personality, Al Capone was also battling a serious illness.
The disease that haunted and caused Al Capone's death when he was 48 was contracted when he was still a bouncer at the bordello. His biggest mistake was to ignore the disease, which he considered an embarrassment.
The man who would order murders of powerful criminals at the peak of his career died in a way that added another twist to his notorious record as a gangster.
Here is a look at the circumstances leading to Al Capone's death.
Al Capone's Childhood
Al Capone was born on January 17, 1899, to Teresa Raiola and Gabriel in New York. He was the fourth of nine children.
His parents were hardworking immigrants from Naples.
Al Capone's father was a barber, and he worked incredibly hard to make sure his son had a good life. Unfortunately, his education came to an end when he was just 14 after he hit a female teacher.
After dropping off school, he took odd jobs such as a candy store clerk, a bowling alley pin boy, and a cutter in a book bindery.
When he was 14, he met Johnny Torrio, who had the most significant influence on him as a criminal. Torrio taught him to maintain a respectable facade while running criminal operations behind the scenes.
Al Capone joined James Street Boys, Torrio's gang. Over time, he became part of the Five Points, Gang.
From a young age, he had dreams of becoming a big criminal. Consequently, Capone tried his hand at loansharking, prostitution, and racketeering, among other things.
One of these early jobs as a young criminal resulted in Al Capone's death after years of deteriorating health.
He shot and killed a craps game-winner at one time and robbed him of his winnings. Nobody witnessed the murder, so the case against him did not stand.
With his inadequate schooling, and the rough neighborhood he grew up in, Al Capone was ready to dedicate his life to crime.
He stood out because he did not come from a poor family like most New York gangsters. Al Capone's family was well respected and fairly well off.
That said, Al Capone was raised in Brooklyn Navy Yard, which had an infamous reputation for having many unsavory characters who frequented the nearby bars.
Nevertheless, there were still no signs that Al Capone would one day be considered public enemy number one at this point in his life.
Al Capone's Death Had Nothing To Do With His Criminal Life
Strangely, it was not the dangerous life of crime that caused Al Capone's death, but rather a misadventure he had while he was a bouncer.
Capone worked for Colosimo, who was making up to $50,000 a month from prostitution. While "sampling" his boss's services, he contracted syphilis.
After getting the disease, he was too ashamed to get treatment and opted to occupy his mind with other things. Little did he know that this mistake would cost him his life many years later.
Before Al Capone's death, he was pretty busy as a career criminal. For instance, in 1920, he went to be part of Colosimo's Chicago crew after his long-time partner, Torrio, sent for him. In 1909, Torrio moved to Chicago from New York to run a huge brothel operation for Big Jim Colosimo.
While he was there, Capone made a deal with Torrio to get rid of Colosimo so they could take over his business. On May 11, 1920, Colosimo was killed.
Torrio retired in 1925 after an assassination attempt left him seriously wounded. Al Capone became the top gangster in Chicago. In the next decade, Al Capone expanded his empire greatly.
He was not afraid to shed blood for the sake of business and was infamously responsible for the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, in which seven members of a rival gang were gunned down in cold blood at his behest.
There was a huge public outrage after the massacre, and his Robin Hood image was damaged, with the newspapers dubbing him "Public Enemy No.1." Influential people were also calling for his arrest.
Meanwhile, he would walk around unarmed, although he always had at least two bodyguards with him whenever he went and usually preferred to travel at night.
Al Capone's Imprisonment
Over time, Al Capone managed to accumulate a fortune of $100 million as the head of his criminal sprawling criminal organization. Through his influence, he could even infiltrate the government and police departments.
Al Capone went as far as threatening voters with violence and kidnapping political opponents.
As his status grew, he sought publicity, unlike other criminals of his sort. He would attend the opera and even entertain the press.
Al Capone was always sharply dressed and wanted to portray himself as a businessman and a valuable member of the community, which is why he donated to charities.
Despite his litany of crimes, the authorities had no evidence to arrest and charge him. They settled for harassing him by constantly raiding his brothels and gambling dens for a while.
At one point, he surrendered himself to the police, but they had nothing on him and had to let him go. This was a huge mockery of the justice system and the police, making the authorities even more determined to arrest him.
His fortunes, however, were about to change.
The authorities arrested Capone for tax evasion on October 17, 1931, and the court gave him an 11-year court sentence.
The government claimed that he had a tax liability of $32,488.81 and charged 68 members of his gang with 5,000 separate violations.
Due to the risk of jury tampering, the jury Capone expected to decide his fate was replaced at the last minute. The new jury found him guilty, and he was sent to prison in Atlanta at the age of 33.
Later, he was moved to Alcatraz, where his days of privilege came to an end. During his time in jail, his mental health suffered, and his emotional outbursts got worse.
Due to his declining mental health, he had problems following orders. In total, about eight years of his life were spent at Alcatraz prison.
It wasn't until 1938 that he was officially diagnosed with syphilis of the brain, and he was released on November 16, 1939, for "good behavior" and his medical condition.
His worsening neurosyphilis was the reason his wife Mae tried to have him released from prison.
The rest of his life was spent in Florida, where his health worsened. Al Capone's death was closer than ever by the time he was released from prison.
How Al Capone's Death Happened
Al Capone's brain was undergoing severe inflammation when he was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital. His syphilis was in its late stages.
The hospital rejected him, and he had to be taken to Union Memorial Hospital.
Despite getting treatment with penicillin in 1942, recently discovered, it was already too late for the sick gangster to be cured. He would regularly experience hallucinations and seizures like a person with epilepsy.
The FBI watched him as he was getting treatment at Dade County Medical Society. An agent said that he was babbling gibberish and was quite obese.
His wife, Mae, was also suffering due to her husband's illness. She was tremendously stressed, and Al Capone's primary physician said she was not well.
It was apparent that Al Capone's death was a bigger reality than they wanted to admit.
Months before Al Capone's death, the former gangster's health was quite bad. Still, even though he was pretty sick, he loved fishing and would brighten up in the presence of children.
In 1946, the doctor said that his condition had not improved and that he was still nervous and irritable.
Towards the end of 1946, his regular outbursts went down, and his wife tried to keep the entire affair as private as she could.
Weeks before Al Capone's death, the man would walk around having delusional talks with his dead friends. He was also searching for his treasure and was delighted to go to the drugstore because he loved Dentyne gum.
At this point, the FBI noted that he had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old child.
On January 21, 1947, Al Capone suffered a stroke. When his wife called the doctor, she told him that Al Capone's pupils were dilated and that his eyes and jaws were set. His limbs were also spastic.
After getting medication, he lasted several days without a seizure. He also suffered from bronchial pneumonia, which worsened his already dire health condition.
When he was given medication for his pneumonia, he started to drift in and out of consciousness, and on January 24, Al had a moment of clarity in which he told his family that he would get better.
The next day, on January 25 at 7.25 pm, with no warning, Al Capone's death was confirmed.
Al Capone's Death Raised Many Questions
Although syphilis played a significant role in Al Capone's death, other factors were involved. In addition to having a disease that was slowly eating away at his brain, he also suffered a stroke and pneumonia.
According to his doctor, the primary cause of Al Capone's death was "bronchial pneumonia." Nevertheless, his obituary mentioned that paresis, a chronic brain disease, contributed to Al Capone's death.
It was pretty evident that untreated syphilis had caused a deterioration of his health over many years, although the stroke and pneumonia dealt him a crushing blow.
Recently, he was the subject of a new Netflix series, Capone, which stars Tom Hardy. The biopic shows the health deterioration that eventually led to Al Capone's death.