Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss


A few blocks away from the Capone house on Garfield Place was a small unobtrusive building that was the headquarters of one of the most successful gangsters on the East Coast.  Johnny Torrio was a new breed of gangster, a pioneer in the development of a modern criminal enterprise.  Torrio's administrative and organizational talents transformed crude racketeering into a kind of corporate structure, allowing his businesses to expand as opportunities emerged.  From Torrio, a young Capone learned invaluable lessons that were the foundation of the criminal empire he built later in Chicago.

Johnny Torrio
Johnny Torrio
Torrio was physically small, learning early in life on the street that brains, ingenuity and the ability to make alliances were critical to survival.  Torrio was a gentleman gangster who was very visible as a numbers racketeer and almost invisible as a keeper of whores and brothels.

He was a role model for many boys in the community.  Capone, like many other boys his age, earned pocket money by running errands for Johnny Torrio.  Over time, Torrio came to trust the young Capone and gave him more to do.  Meantime, young Al learned by observing the wealthy successful respected racketeer and the people in his organization.  Bergreen explains that Al learned from Torrio "the importance of leading an outwardly respectable life, to segregate his career from his home life, as if maintaining a peaceful, conventional domestic setting somehow excused or legitimized the venality of working in the rackets.  It was a form of hypocrisy that was second nature to Johnny Torrio and that he taught Capone to honor."  In  1909, Torrio moved to Chicago and young Al fell under other influences.

Kids growing up in immigrant Brooklyn ran in gangs -- Italian gangs, Jewish gangs and Irish gangs.  They were not the vicious urban street gangs of today, but rather groups of territorial neighborhood boys who hung out together.  Capone was a tough, scrappy kid and belonged to the South Brooklyn Rippers and then later to the Forty Thieves Juniors and the Five Point Juniors.  As John Kobler wrote, "the street gang was escape.  The street gang was freedom.  The street gang offered outlets for stifled young energies.  The agencies that might have kept boys off the street, the schools and churches, lacked the means to do so.  Few slum schools had a gym or playground or any kind of after-class recreation program...They formed their own street society, independent of the adult world and antagonistic to it.  Led by some older, forceful boy, they pursued the thrills of shared adventure, of horseplay, exploration, gambling, pilfering, vandalism, sneaking a smoke or alcohol, secret ritual, smut sessions, fighting rival gangs."

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