King of Chicagoland
Few 25-year-olds achieve the power and wealth that Al Capone had at that young age. And few people have to deal with murderous rivals and regular assassination attempts. Such is the price one pays for being King of the Underworld. Capone knocked off opponents, and they in turn were out to get him.
One attempt on his partner Johnny Torrio was almost successful. The volatile hoodlum Bugs Moran pumped several shots into Torrio as he was entering his apartment building, but Torrio survived. Capone stayed with him at the hospital, even sleeping on a cot at the bedside of his friend and mentor.
Torrio got out of the business after being shot. He decided to retire and head for warmer climates, and he turned over his share of the massive empire to Capone. Success spoiled Capone. He moved into the palatial Metropole Hotel and lived a very public life of a media darling and national celebrity. He was a showman gangster, attempting to cultivate a Robin Hood image.
He was a regular Joe who provided a service that the public wanted, a man who was misunderstood and being harassed by the authorities. Capone provided meals for the jobless, even serving up meals at makeshift soup kitchens. He regularly made public appearances, craving the spotlight. After all, he was just a businessman trying to live a good life. Or so he wanted people to believe.
Death of the Party
Capone continued to cement his position as über-thug when he orchestrated a flamboyant hit on an old rival. He was back in New York attending a Christmas party and got wind that an old enemy, Richard “Peg-Leg” Lonergan, was going to crash the bash with some of his boys. The boisterous blowhards did not get very far before the Capone mob wished them a very bloody Christmas.
George “Bugs” Moran, a prominent figure in Chicago's underworld, poses in this circa 1932 photo.
Capone faced another legal dilemma when his men machine-gunned a gang of Irish bootleggers. He did not know that partying with the Irishmen was Billy McSwiggin, the prosecutor who had unsuccessfully tried Capone for murder. Capone had not intended to hit McSwiggin, but nevertheless he took the heat from the otherwise indifferent police force.
Cops, like the Mafia, look out for their own, and Capone had inadvertently broken the Mafia's “we only kill our own” code. His gambling joints and bordellos began to be raided. Capone went into hiding. He surrendered after three months on the lam, but faced no charges. There was not enough evidence for an indictment. The frustrated authorities could not get this slippery gangster.
Al Capone was not averse to being a true “hands-on” murderer. He personally killed many men in his time, and ordered the hits of many more. The notorious scene in the movie The Untouchables when Capone bashes the man to death with a baseball bat is based on a true story. In reality, however, Capone cracked the skulls of three men in the same session.
Capone fancied himself a peacemaker. Since he did not skulk in the shadows and everyone knew who and what he was, he called a public peace conference asking his fellow gangsters to put an end to the violence. Many felt his calls for peace were insincere.
While he spoke publicly for an end to violence, he ordered the murder of dozens of rivals. He sent his armed hoods after Irish, Italian, and Polish competitors, and muscled in on the traditional black neighborhood numbers rackets.