Wilbur E. Rodgers
Brooklyn Daily Eagle/May 26, 1929
No Legal Battery or Alibi in Philadelphia Arrest. Notorious Racket Chief Could Have Prevented His Recognition Easily.
So “Scarface Al” Capone is in Jail?
He has faced a great many different charges, both officially and unofficially, during his turbulent career, but he has never “done time” before. Ordinarily he has fought and fought hard against a “rap.” But he took this sentence of a year in Philadelphia’s penitentiary without a smile, without a battle of any kind, and almost without protest.
Those who know gangs and gang operations wonder. The matter of getting “Scarface Al” Capone into jail was almost too easy. It’s been done before by other men—gangsters who read certain handwriting on the wall and who suddenly discovered that the safest place in the world for them was inside a cell. Could it be possible that “Scarface Al” Capone was afraid?
No Lawyers, No Alibis
He was picked up in New York some years ago on suspicion of murder. A battery of attorneys flocked to his defense. When Frankie Yale was murdered in Brooklyn he made as many as 15 calls each day and night over long distance telephone from Chicago to a certain Brooklyn lawyer. When they suspected Capone’s hand in O’Banion’s death in Chicago he hopped into an armored car and swept out of Cicero. When William McSwiggin, of the state prosecutor’s staff in Chicago, was given a machine gun ride Capone went away via airplane and offered a perfect iron and steel constructed alibi.
Yet they pick him up in a motion picture house on Market St., Philadelphia, a city in which he isn’t very well known, for carrying a gun!
No batteries of attorneys, no alibis, no efforts to escape! Just a smiling Capone, who walks into police headquarters, talks freely, admits he tried to sign a peace pact in the Chicago gang wars and then walks jauntily to jail with his bodyguard in tow.
Death Notice Served?
On Valentine’s Day in the city which has been made famous for its machine guns and automatics, seven men were cornered in a garage and shot down. They were said to be members of the “Bugs” Moran gang. One doesn’t have to go to Chicago to know that “Bugs” and “Scarface Al” never have been playmates. All that’s necessary is a working knowledge of gangs here, and a friendliness with policemen who know their gang leaders.
Could it be possible that “Bugs” Moran or some one of his followers had served notice on Capone that it was war to the death, and that “Scarface” himself would go “bye bye” at the earliest opportunity? Could it be possible that Capone’s continued absence from Chicago has caused his own crowd to disintegrate, so that Al, with all his wealth, found himself more or less alone in an emergency?
If these things are true, by any chance, Capone did just what was to be expected of him. He is a gangster. He once was a Brooklyn gangster. Brooklyn gangsters are brave and daring when their gang is around. They are not so brave and daring when they are alone. And in that they are no different from Manhattan, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago or Boston gangsters. It is part of the breed.
Never Arrested in Chicago
Chicago talked a lot, but never arrested its most notorious citizens. There were several reasons for that, one of which was that it didn’t dare to do it. Another, which, of course, could not be important, was that there was the matter of politics, bootlegging and gangs and their interlocks.
Miami asked him to leave the city, and then, later on, opened up its doors. Detroit sent two detectives to escort Capone to the railroad station. Al gave the detectives the slip, but he went away, by motorcar, so no harm was done. In Brooklyn there is said to be a standing warning. If Capone appears on the streets of this borough he is supposed to be facing a gangster death.
Just in passing, Inspector John J. Sullivan, chief of detectives and the other detectives in Brooklyn, really do not put much faith in the efficiency of whatever gunmen want to shoot down Capone if he comes here. But there is, too, a threat that he will be arrested for murder if he comes to Brooklyn. Since he probably won’t come for a year anyway, that threat doesn’t amount to much now, if it ever did.
Sentence Came Too Easily.
Had Capone been sent to Philadelphia’s hoosegow after a long and bitter legal fight, a lot of the aura of greatness which surrounds him would have been dissipated. Capone in jail is a much different person than Capone free and untrammeled. He has so successfully built about himself the myth that he is above the law that when he falls, by the nature of things, much of his power must fall with him.
This Philadelphia sentence, however, came too easily. It looks as if Capone himself operated the machine which caused it, and that he went to jail for some reason known only to himself.
All of “Scarface Al’s” career is against the action he took in Philadelphia. If there were no reason for wanting to get into jail, he knew too many ways to avoid recognition to fall as easily as he did.
The Philadelphia police did not know him. They were handicapped at the start, but Capone admitted his identity just the minute the detectives stopped him on the street. Besides that the Philadelphia police had no charge of any kind against him. And Capone knew, or he certainly must have known, that one year in jail for being a suspicious character and carrying a gun was all he could get there.
Suspected of Many Things
Since New York has two disorderly conduct charges on the records against Al, he would have been tried as a felon if he had been caught carrying a gun here. Capone doubtless knew that, too.
The remarkable thing about Capone is that he has been suspected of so many things, but officially involved in none. The Grand Jury of Kings County has an open case against him in the Frankie Yale killing. It probably never will bring an indictment, but District Attorney Dodd has frequently amused himself and observers by talking mysteriously about what he’d do to Capone if that gentleman ever touched foot in Kings County.
There are lots or suspicious things in the Yale murder which point toward Capone. There are the guns, which seemed to have been bought for him. There is the fact that Capone’s friends apparently bought the motorcar which became the murder car. Yet there is nothing tangible, and regardless of the fact that Assistant District Attorney Goldstein went to Florida and interviewed Capone himself, Kings County couldn’t try him for Yale’s death as matters stand now.
Made “Racket” a Phrase
It’s the same in Chicago. The officials there are virtually certain that Capone knows of or had a hand in the deaths of Dion O’Banion and of William McSwiggin, and of those seven men in the garage, and of several others, Capone says he didn’t. He says he wasn’t in the murder racket and never had any part in any killings.
Capone is the man responsible for the word “racket.” He brought bootlegging to a scientific basis and showed to the underworlds of American cities that a well-organized gang could be a law unto itself and could come pretty close to enforcing not only its own rules but the rules of rival gangs if it maintained its organization. There never has been an underworld so closely knitted together as that which “Scarface Al” Capone presided over.
It may not be true that Capone was nearly a nation-wide gang ruler, as has been said. It is true, however, that the stout Italian who once ran a fruit stand on Coney Island Ave. had a power that was terrifying. He enforced his orders with guns. In the underworld that is by far the best method, apparently.
Linked to Rothstein Case
Not until he branched out from ruling the lower strata of things did he become so prominent. When McSwiggin went touring through Cicero to try to solve some minor gang killing Capone became a nationally notorious citizen. McSwiggin was covered with a vicious, biting volley of machine gun bullets and his murderer has never been caught.
Capone, beginning as a fruit stand man, branched out into gang work here and then, after being tried for a murder, fled to Chicago. Prohibition came along and he organized bootlegging gangs. His power grew. He took up the labor racket, giving protection, for a price, to strikers or employers in labor disputes. Then he went into strong-armed politics.
He is credited with knowing something about the Rothstein murder, although no one has ever hinted that he participated. He is said to have known F. M. Ferrari, the dead head of the wrecked City Trust Co. He is said to have included dope in his other rackets. He is alleged to be the real operator of at least one of New York’s night clubs, which does not carry a savory reputation.
Tried to Be “Gentleman”
His last word to the general public came from Miami. He had bought himself a beautiful estate and had furnished it magnificently. He had begun to establish a circle of respectable friends. He began to live there quietly and sedately.
“I’m through with gangs. I’m going to be a gentleman,” was the word that came from his retreat.
He took an interest in sporting events and met men interested in sports. He planned to purchase a golf course, and there were reports that he even contemplated giving to Miami a park or two. Capone was doing everything he could to be a dignified gentlemanly citizen of Florida.
And then, just as Capone as a gangster seemed to be a dead issue, he was arrested and took his first “rap.” Possibly it was all an accident. Possibly he didn’t have a reason for going to jail.
However, if he really did meet “Bugs” Moran in Atlantic City, as he said he did, it is hard for anyone who knows gangs and their systems to believe peace really was declared.
The police of Chicago haven’t forgotten that seven of “Bugs” Moran’s men were murdered. The police of New York find it difficult to believe that Moran has forgotten it, either.