Organized Crime

Al Capone's Childhood Was The Stuff Of American Myth  

Melissa Sartore
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It may seem like Alphonse Capone was destined for a life of crime, but Al Capone as a kid was a pretty average child. Before he was a notorious American gangster known for bootlegging and ordering mob hits, Capone lived on the streets of Brooklyn, raised by loving Italian parents in a stable household. Capone's childhood was filled with great challenges and opportunities; he worked and played hard in the days before he went to Chicago, acquiring his famous scarred face during his youth full of conflict, syndicate connections, and commitments to family.

The famous boss and alleged slayer went on to essentially rule the streets of Chicago before being sent to prison for tax evasion when he was in his early 30s. A short time later, Capone's body and mind succumbed to syphilis. He passed in 1947 after having lived his version of the American dream: he was willing to do whatever it took to succeed while never losing sight of his origins.

By The Age Of 14, He Was Invol... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Al Capone's Childhood Was The Stuff Of American Myth
Photo:  Lewis Hine/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
By The Age Of 14, He Was Involved In Underground Activity

During the days of Capone's youth, it was common for young members of immigrant families to leave school; Capone's younger brother, Matthew, was the only Capone boy to attend high school. Similarly, it was typical for groups of immigrants to make a living on the streets. Capone's Brooklyn neighborhood was full of tight-knit, ethnically distinct groups of Irish, Jewish, and Italian kids, as well as young men who brawled and engaged in petty offenses.

Capone spent time with these groups and even formed his own squad of Italian boys at the age of 14. He also tried to make an honest wage after leaving school; he worked in printing, retail, and manufacturing. Everything changed, however, when he got the attention of Johnny Torrio. 

Torrio was a successful numbers runner in New York, and he liked to have neighbor kids run errands for him. He linked his James Street Boys with the infamous Five Points, one of the roughest groups in New York. Capone eventually became a member. 

Torrio had the young Capone doing small tasks, but he slowly gave him more responsibilities. In time, Capone was put in charge of picking up and delivering large amounts of money. Capone proved his loyalty and dependability repeatedly. Soon after Torrio went to Chicago to work more closely with the owner of a call house and fellow syndicate member James Colosimo, Torrio asked Capone to join him. 

He Probably Contracted Syphilis During His Teen Years

Capone never indicated when he got the STI - but perhaps he was sincerely unaware of who gave it to him. He started visiting street workers when he was a teenager and may have contracted it then, but Capone may have alternatively contracted it when he got to Chicago.

It is reasonably certain Capone had it when his son was born. When Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone entered the world in 1918, he had congenital syphilis, unbeknownst to his parents. It was only diagnosed in 1925 when Capone brought his son to the hospital for an ear infection commonly associated with the disease.

He Got His Famous Scarred Face... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Al Capone's Childhood Was The Stuff Of American Myth
Photo: Wide World Photos, Chicago Bureau (Federal Bureau of Investigation)/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
He Got His Famous Scarred Face At 19

While working as a bartender and bouncer at the Harvard Inn on Coney Island, Capone received the mark that earned him the nickname "Scarface." The 19-year-old Capone started talking to a woman who entered the bar. He told her she had a nice derrière and that he "meant that as a compliment," but her companion (who turned out to be her brother - a syndicate named Frank Galluccio) took offense and the two men started fighting. Galluccio pulled a knife and began slashing.

He left a four-inch gash on Capone's left cheek, a two-inch cut on his left jaw, and another cut near his left ear, which scarred Capone's face for the rest of his life. Though it had a lasting effect on his face, the altercation boosted Capone's prestige as a fighter.

Capone wanted to get revenge on the man who had cut him, but Galluccio received protection from his boss Joe Masseria and up-and-coming underworld figure Lucky Luciano. Capone ended up giving Galluccio a public apology.

He Quit School After Getting Into A Fight With A Teacher

Capone was known for his temper from an early age. Frustrations got the better of him one day while he was in the sixth grade, and his hotheadedness ended his educational career. The details of the specific incident vary.

By some accounts, Capone had reached his breaking point with a female teacher who scolded him regularly. After the teacher hit him, Capone allegedly responded in kind. The teacher then took him to the principal and Capone received more physical discipline.

In another telling, Capone sought to punish a young man who had repeatedly taken his lunch, Melville Miller, and one of his teachers tried to intervene. When Capone started going after Miller, Mr. McGuire attempted to pull Capone off the boy. In the chaos, McGuire got struck in the chin, fell backward, and hit his head on the floor. 

Regardless of how it happened, Capone never returned to school after the fight.