Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss


Shortly after he took over Johnny Torrio's empire, it was clear that his new status had changed Al Capone.  He was a major force now in the Chicago underworld.  To underscore his rise in the world, he moved his headquarters to the Metropole Hotel.  His luxurious suite of five rooms cost $1,500 per day.  He went from near obscurity to cultivated visibility.

His friendship with newspaper editor Harry Read convinced Capone that he should behave like the prominent figure he was.  "Quit hiding," Read told him.   "Be nice to people."  Capone became visible at the opera, at sporting events and charitable functions.  He was an important member of the community:   friendly, generous, successful, supplying a throng of thirsty customers.   In an era where most of the adult population drank bootleg alcohol, the bootlegger seemed almost respectable.

According to Bergreen, "buying favorable publicity was only half the game.   Political influence was the other...Almost every day he drove to the complex that served as both City Hall and the county building. He did all he could to make himself seem available, a man with nothing to fear.  Always beautifully dressed, quiet, another political fixer going about his daily rounds.  Capone's political flair, his urge to be seen in public, was unique among racketeers, who as a rule abhorred publicity."

In December of 1925, Al took his son to New York for surgery to relieve his chronic ear infections.  Al was devoted to his only child and the boy's poor health constantly preyed on his mind.  Capone used the visit to New York to transact some business with his old boss Frankie Yale.  The subject was imported whiskey which was always in short supply since it had to be smuggled over the Canadian border.  It was easier for Yale to get whiskey into New York than it was for Capone to get whiskey into Chicago, so Yale had an oversupply.  They worked out a deal and Capone would figure out how to get the whiskey from New York to Chicago. 

Yale invited Al to a Christmas Day party at the Adonis Social and Athletic Club, a fancy name for a  Brooklyn speakeasy.  Yale was tipped off that rival gangster Richard "Peg-Leg" Lonergan was going to crash the party with a bunch of his thugs.  Yale wanted to cancel the party, but Capone insisted the celebration go forward.

Capone planned a surprise of his own.  When Lonergan's men came to the club around 3 A.M. they were insulting and obnoxious.  Capone gave the signal and all hell broke loose.  Lonergan and his men didn't even have time to draw their guns they were so surprised at the well-orchestrated attack. 

The Adonis Club Massacre was Al flexing his muscle in his old stamping ground.  It was also a way of displaying Chicago's gangland superiority over New York.   "Chicago is the imperial city of the gang world, and New York a remote provincial place," wrote Alva Johnston in the New Yorker.  In Chicago," beer has lifted the gangster from a local leader of roughs and gunmen to a great executive controlling a big interstate and international organization.  Beer, real beer, like water supply or the telephone, is a natural monopoly."  He then created a written portrait of Al Capone, the "greatest gang leader in history."

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