Feature Articles

February 2001

The Last Days Of Al Capone

By John William Tuohy

     In Atlanta prison in 1936, Al Capone told Red Rudensky, a burglar, "Uncle Sam got me on a bookkeeping rap. Ain't that the best!"

     "He would," Rudensky wrote, "roar with a choke and cough with laughter but not for long as reality would strangle his humor."

     Then Capone would say, "Rusty, if I could just go for a walk. If I could just look at buildings again, and smell that Lake Michigan, I'd give a million."

     Capone was resented, even hated in prison. Kidnapper and bank robber Alvin Karpis wrote: "The majority of the population in any prison is made up of losers from the gutter of society. Most of them aren't even wanted at their own homes when they are released. They resent anyone who has had prosperity on the outside."

     Jimmy Lucus was one of those inmates. Surly and mean, Lucas worked at the Alcatraz barbershop with Capone. Lucas wanted to make a name for himself, so one day, while Capone was in the prison shower room, leaning up against a thick cement pillar, practicing his banjo when Lucas slipped up behind him and shoved the shears into Capone's back. Al grunted deeply in pain, stood up with the shears still sticking out of his back, turned and picked Lucas up and smashed him face first into the pillar before he collapsed in pain from the superficial wound.

     Karpis wrote: "In Alcatraz, he's a fish out of water. He knows nothing of prison life. For example, he is allowed to subscribe to various magazines, and, like other prisoners, he is permitted to send magazines to other inmates after he reads them. Ironically, Capone, who gave orders to eliminate hundreds of lives, is now confined to rubbing out names on his magazine list when he becomes displeased or annoyed with fellow cons. It's kind of sad, I conclude."

     Capone had contracted syphilis in or about 1927, something he knew but failed to treat. When prison doctors finally began to treat Capone's syphilis, it really didn't matter. He was a babbling wreck by then, his mind going fast.

     But even before then, Capone was, said other inmates, losing his mind, talking about "connected people in Washington" who would pull strings to get him released. He said that he had paid $20,000 in bribes already. It may not have been all babble.

     In 1939 Gus Winkler's wife told the FBI that some of Capone's friends in the organization were trying to get him released before word went out from Paul Ricca and Frank Nitti to leave well enough alone. It was better for everyone if Capone stayed in jail.

     Whether or not some federal official, or even Capone's own friends were shaking him down with high hopes of a release, is unknown.

     With his mind all but gone Capone was released to the care of his wife on November 7, 1939, and spent his freedom on his estate in Palm Island, Florida "reading newspapers," his brother Ralph reported, "and walking the grounds to get some sunshine."

     Capone and his son, a young man in his twenties by then, often drove around Florida for hours going nowhere, stopping schoolchildren to see if they knew who he was and handing out dimes to them if they knew the answer or not. He spent his summers at a retreat in Mercer, Wisconsin, where brother Ralph had retired and opened a bar room.

     Otherwise, Al kept out of the limelight and enjoyed his freedom. He made a brief appearance in 1941, when his boy Sonny married a Florida society woman. The press, perhaps in a moment of nostalgic bliss, wrote one glowing story after another for Big Al.

     In January of 1942, the ever patriotic Capone offered his services to the war effort "in any capacity to aid the national defense."

     The government never called him back but his famous armored car was helping the British war effort in 1942, being driven around to fairs and carnivals to raise cash for its new owner and the Queen's government.

     Al probably should have left the government people alone because in July of 1942 the Treasury people hauled what was left of Big Al's crazy ass into federal court and demanded payment of back taxes totaling $250,000 which the government claimed Capone made selling 19,984 bottles of beer between 1921 and 1922.

     They were probably wrong about the dates since at that point Capone was still pretty much a pimp and gambler, Torrio was the one who owed the money probably since he oversaw beer sales back then. But the government didn't want to hear about it. They were sure Capone had tucked away at least $25,000,000 of his fortune and they wanted a piece of it. But insiders later said that Capone had maybe $5,000,000 left and before he died most that was spent or given away to his son. Anyway, the tax people settled for $30,000.

     On January 25, 1947, Big Al Capone, the abused kid from a poverty-stricken family in Brooklyn, New York died in his $8,000,000 heavily mortgaged mansion in Florida.

     He had suffered an apoplectic seizure and then contacted pneumonia and died. Almost remarkably, he was only 52 years old. With him at the last moments were his ever-faithful wife Mae, his son, his mother and three of his brothers, Ralph, Matt and John. They took Al's body back to Chicago to bury him in the Mount Olivet cemetery on a bitter cold day.

     When Capone was buried in 1947 his coffin was draped in orchards and there were fifteen car loads of hoods at his funeral. He was buried in an expensive bronze coffin.

     Charles, Rocco and Joe Fischetti, Al's cousin whom he had made rich and powerful were there of course. The DiGrazio brothers were there, Al had given them the gambling rights to Melrose Park, so was Willie Heeney, himself now a mob elder, coke addict and a Cicero gambling boss with Joe Corngold who was also there.

     Joe Auippa, a new kid on the way up was there, so was Claude Maddox, the boss of the old Circus gang who helped out in the Saint Valentine's Day murders by providing the fake cop car.

     Standing next to Jake Guzak was Murray Humpreys and his one time gunner Sam, "Golf Bag" Hunt and "Tough Tony" Capes.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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