Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss

Made In America

Al Capone's mugshot, with his fedora hat
Al Capone's mugshot, with his
fedora hat

Quite a lot has been written and said about Al Capone in newspaper and magazine articles, books, and movies that is completely false. One of the most common fictions is that like many gangsters of that era, he was born in Italy. Absolutely not true. This amazing crime czar was strictly domestic -- taking the feudal Italian criminal society and fashioning it into a modern American criminal enterprise.

Certainly many Italian immigrants, like immigrants of all nationalities, frequently came to the New World with very few assets. Many of them were peasants escaping the lack of opportunity in rural Italy. When they came to the large American port cities they often ended up as laborers because of the inability to speak and write English and lack of professional skills. This was not the case with Al Capone's family.

Gabriele Capone (not Caponi as often claimed) was one of 43,000 Italians who arrived in the U.S. in 1894. He was a barber by trade and could read and write his native language. He was from the village of Castellmarre di Stabia, sixteen miles south of Naples.

Al Capone's Mother, Teresina Capone
Al Capone's Mother, Teresina
Capone

Gabriele, who was thirty years old, brought with him his pregnant twenty-seven-year-old wife Teresina (called Teresa), his two-year-old son Vincenzo and his infant son Raffaele. Unlike many Italian immigrants he did not owe anyone for his passage over. His plan was to do whatever work was necessary until he could open his own barber shop.

Along with thousands of other Italians, the Capone family moved to Brooklyn near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was a stark beginning in the New World. 95 Navy Street was a cold-water tenement flat that had no indoor toilet or furnishings. The neighborhood was virtually a slum, given its proximity to the noisy Navy Yard, its many sailors and the vices that sailors seek when they're off duty.

Gabriele's ability to read and write allowed him to get a job in a grocery store until he was able to open his barber shop. Teresina, in spite of her duties as a mother of a growing brood of boys, took in sewing piecework to add to the family coffers. Her third child, Salvatore Capone was born in 1895. Her fourth son and the first to be born and conceived in the New World was born January 17, 1899. His name was Alphonse Capone.

 

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