Mob Memories: An Interview with Al Capone’s Niece

Al Capone

 Uncle Al Capone:  An interview with his niece

Deirdre Capone

Deirdre Marie Capone (Al Capone’s Niece)

While the Mob is notorious for their monikers, Deirdre Capone (Al Capone’s niece )  needed more than a mere nickname if she were to stand any chance at a normal childhood.   Deirdre Gabriel seemed unsuspecting except for one problem. “Scarface” wasn’t just any old Mobster.  He was “Public Enemy No. 1.”  Deirdre Gabriel’s cover was blown by the time she made her First Communion.  Hell followed by way of disclusion from classmates.  Deirdre Capone’s book titled  Uncle Al Capone – The Untold Story From Inside His Family offers new, untold details of this iconic Mobster through the eyes of the people who knew him best — his family.

Mike: Your uncle died when you were a young girl but from what you recall — tell us something that you remember or something that would surprise us considering the  fascinating with the pop culture of the Mob that is alive and well. 

Deirdre Capone: “Yes, he did die on my 7th birthday.  So, he died on January 25th, 1947.  But my Grandfather was Al’s older brother and business partner.   I had my Grandfather telling me things and teaching me things until I was 34 years old.   We were a very close Italian family — a family of immigrants.  It was mandatory that we got together for every holiday and every Sunday at Grandma’s.  I would go back and forth to church with her.  I inherited a lot of things from Al and my Grandfather that are in the Capone family – -a bunch of Capone memorabilia.   Two memories I recall — one time my Grandfather took me to Miami to visit (Al) and I got into his pool and learned to swim in his pool.  But, what was so funny is I was swimming and got a mouth full of water and it was salty.  The pool —  at that time — it was actual sea water that filled into the pool and there would be little fishes and seaweed — it’s the first time I ever had the taste of salt water in my mouth.  I must have made a really funny face because Al Capone came over, picked me up and put me on the side of the pool.  He was laughing so hard because of the look on my face. Another time, I was in the backyard in Chicago helping my Grandmother pick Dandelions.  I had climbed the Apple tree and I fell out of the tree onto my back and had the wind knocked out of me.  It scared me.   It really frightened me.  Al picked me up, put me over his shoulder and soothed me until I started breathing again.  He also taught me how to play the Mandolin.

Mike Doria: So Al Capone was a musician?

Deirdre Capone: “Oh yes, he loved music.”

Mike Doria: And he played the Mandolin!

Deirdre Capone: “He played the Mandolin, he sang — and that’s one thing a lot of people don’t know about Al Capone.   His son Sonny — his only son and only child also was a singer.

Mike Doria: That is very interesting.  Before Al Capone was in the Mob, he was a bouncer — but most people only really know him as the Mobster.  What was he like as a family guy?

Deirdre Capone: “Remember — that was in the 20’s and things were entirely different back then.  Men wore two rolls — one was their work life and one was their family life.  And, back in those days men never mixed the two.  You never did business at home and you never talked about home while you were out doing business.  Prohibition started in 1920.  1920 is also when woman got to vote.  They were bobbing their hair and shortening their skirts.  Jazz was coming into being and all of these things revolved around a function with alcohol. Also in the 1920’s, the Italians were the low people on the totem pole.  They were last to be hired and first to be fired.  When prohibition began, it opened up this whole cottage industry that Italians could fill.  That’s why Italians are associated with being Mobsters.  All of a sudden, they had the chance to provide for their families.  If we go back a generation in American history; the people who immigrated to the country before the Italians were the Irish.  AT the time the Irish immigrated, we were turning from a rural district to an urban district.  So, it opened up a couple of cottage industries the Irish could fill.  One was police work.  The other was education.  That’s why the Irish are so associated with police work and teaching — those were the jobs available to them.   So when Prohibition began, became available for the Italians to get involved.  When my family was involved in it — and by the way, my Grandfather was Public Enemy Number Three and Al Capone was Public Enemy Number One.  So, Al Caponemy Grandfather was every bit involved as Al Capone. My Grandfather told me that at one time, he was running over 300 different establishments.  My called it business and they called it the “Outfit.”  There was honor among thieves.  I was taught that your word is your bond and your family is everything.  I have four children and 14 grandchildren.  If you poll any of them — they’ll tell you I don’t lie.  I’ve never told a lie.  Family is everything.  So, it was a business back then.  Was there bloodshed?  Of cours!  But, I think there was more bloodshed in the police business than there ever was in the 30’s with the Mob.

Mike Doria:  So my last name is Doria and I’m Italian — Sicilian to be specific.  And, I think my last name is the only last name out of Sicily that somehow isn’t connected to the Mob.  You have a much different last name than most people — a name that is so synonymous with Organized Crime.  How did that affect you growing up? 

Deirdre Capone: “It was very, very difficult growing up.  My father tried to protect me.  So when he enrolled me in school, he used his middle name as my last name.  My father was Ralph Gabriel Capone and he was the first-born of the second generation of Capone’s in the United States.   He was played the role in the Capone family that John Fitzgerald Kennedy played in the Kennedy family.  He was brilliant.  He went through the best schools.  He passed the bar exam in Illinois but Chicago would not allow him to practice because his name was Capone.

Mike Doria:  So having a normal childhood — even after Al Capone’s tenure in the Mob was not easy.

Deirdre Capone: “Well, my Italian family needed something joyous to look forward to.  Catholics make their First Communion in the second grade.  Back then — in 1947, the big Chicago papers always had a local edition that would come out on Mondays.  By the way — the whole Capone family was in attendance for my First Communion and afterward we all went back to Grandma’s house for a big picnic.  So, on Monday — the local edition of the Chicago Tribune and the Herald American ran a story that said the children at my school on Mother’s Day (we always made it on Mother’s Day) and Deirdre Capone made hers with the entire Capone family in attendance.  No one knew me as Deirdre Capone, but how many Deirdre’s do you think were in the City of Chicago in 1947 — let alone at my particular school.  So, all of a sudden — my classmates were aware of who I was.  Two weeks later, every boy and every girl in my class was invited to this one girl’s birthday party but not me.  I went to that school all the way through the 12th grade.  None of those students ever had anything to do with me.  I never had a birthday party because no one would ever come.

Mike Doria: So, the backlash started at a young age.  Did any of the students in your class or at your school ever come up to you to ask about the Mob or your Uncle?

Deirdre Capone: “No.  That was in the 40’s and things were different back then.  People didn’t talk about things or ask questions.  They believed everything they read in the papers which wasn’t true.  When Al died on my seventh birthday, I was  reading and I did read all the accounts of his life in the papers.  70 percent of what I read was not true.

Mike Doria:  So you were seeing one side of Al Capone, but the world was perhaps seeing another.  Do you think that had anything to do with it?

Deirdre Capone: “No.  There was  group of businessmen in Chicago in the 30’s that were out to bring the Capone boys down.  There were a lot of reasons for that.  Number one, my Al and my Grandfather were invited by a group of businessmen to be part of an association called the Trilateral Commission.  What they did was use their money to fund the banks of South American countries.  My Grandfather didn’t like it.  He thought it was a scam and didn’t want any part of it.   But, he was one of the players.  So after that — everything that happened in the City of Chicago — they blamed on Al or Ralph Capone.  The only thing they could get my Grandfather or Al on was income tax evasion.  And, people don’t even understand that.   When the income tax law was put into being, there was a provision in the law that said you didn’t have to declare any income you earned illegally.  That would tend to incriminate a person.   That’s (provision) no longer that case anymore but back then it was.  So my Grandfather and Uncle didn’t know they had to declare income they earned from peddling alcohol.  When they found out — they offered to pay.  But, it was insisted they go to jail so they (Government) could break up the outfit.  My Grandfather was sentenced to three years in the Federal penitentiary.  Al was sentenced to 11 years.

I checked with the IRS to verify this information.  According to Special Agent-in-Charge,  Paul Camacho, this provision was settled in the Supreme Court in 1927.  He says Deirdre Capone is off by 5 years.  According to Camacho, several Mobsters — including Ralph Capone — were taken down after that court decision.    Camacho says the notion of not having to claim illegal income for tax purposes was nothing more than a far-flung defense by a Mobster that somehow made it to the Supreme Court.

Mike Doria:  Both were convicted on Tax Evasion charges so the disparity in sentences is interesting.  Do you think the Feds were trying to send a message with regard to Organized Crime and using Al as the example?

Deirdre Capone: “There was an Al Capone counterpart in every city in the Us.  Rockefeller was bootlegger.  Joe Kennedy was a bootlegger — people wanted alcohol.  The people who lived in the rural areas could make their own.  They had the skill.  But, the people who lived in the Cities needed a purveyor.  They needed someone to bring the alcohol to them.  My grandfather told me that he was really proud of the business that he and Al had because they provided top quality alcohol.  No one’s liver blew up on them.  No one went blind.  They imported good stuff.  In fact, the first alcoholic drink I ever had with my grandfather was rye whiskey formulated just to their liking in Iowa.  That was the good stuff they provided.  My grandfather told me that at one time, he was running over 300 different establishments.  Just think about that Mike — 300 different establishments and he didn’t have a fax machine, a computer or a cell phone.  How did he do that?

From the "Faces of the Mob" exhibit at The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas.

From the “Faces of the Mob” exhibit at The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas.

Mike Doria: It’s funny you bring that up.  I interviewed Carrie Ann Moss who plays the District Attorney on the show Vegas that is set in the Mob area during the Sheriff Ralph Lamb days.  On the show she had to get a note to someone and she was saying that she literally had to get the note to the person — there was no texting like this now.  It is somewhat of a testament to these guys who were able to get an operation like bootlegging going.  These were smart guys who had to have some level of knowledge to carry this out don’t you think?

Deirdre Capone: “Absolutely.  It was different times back them.  Your word was absolutely your bond.  People got into the business knowing full well what was expected.  My grandfather told me that Al Capone had over 1000 machine gun bullets fired at him in a hotel.  He had to retaliate.  It wasn’t like you could go to the police and say ‘oh he didn’t something wrong, put him in jail.’  That’s not the way it worked back then.  The police, judges and Capones all worked together to give people what they wanted.”

Mike Doria: That was Prohibition and one of the big stories born out of that era is the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Some might say that was the bloodiest day in Mob history.  Even though Al Capone wasn’t there, many insist it was his gang that took down George “Bugs” Moran’s gang.  How do you wrap your head around that story?

Bricks -- some with Tommy Gun bullet holes -- from the St. Valentines Day Massacre Wall.

The actual bricks from the wall from the St. Valentines Day Massacre. On display at The Mob Museum in downtown Vegas, visitors will see bullet holes from the gunfire.

Deirdre Capone: “I was told by my family that Al’s younger brother — my Uncle Eddie — you know, he was kind of scouting out the area while Al was in Florida trying to make a deal with the United States Government for the tax issues.   So, they were driving to find out Bugs’ path — what time he went to work, what time he went home — things like that. My Uncle said ‘we’re in the alley and we see this touring car filled with policemen.  It was going up and down the alley. My uncle said he got scared thinking they were going to get arrested. So, they left.  It was the next day the massacre occured.  But, I have a very strange quirk of fate.  My husband’s Uncle married the sister of the so-called mechanic that was killed in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The mechanic told his brother that police were stealing alcohol off the back of Bugs Moran’s trucks and Bugs was going to tell the police Lieutenant about it.   They did the crime but made it to look like it was Capone who was to blame.   If Capone wanted Bugs Moran down, he would’ve taken him down — not like that.  That one incident alone  really sullied the Capone name.

POINT OF INFORMATION:

As the story goes; during the Massacre on February 14th, 1929 — Al Capone’s gang lured members of Bugs Moran’s gang to a warehouse in Chicago.  Dressed in police uniforms to trick Moran’s gang into thinking arrests were coming — Capone’s gang instead lined the men up along a wall and opened fire killing seven  people.  Al Capone was never charged or questioned in the shooting.  

The second thing that happened that made Capone the poster child for Mobsters was that he was in Alcatraz.  The only reason that my Uncle went to Alcatraz was J. Edgar Hoover told the very first warden at Alcatraz that if he wanted worldwide attention as to how horrible the place is to be incarcerated was to transfer Al Capone There.   So, he was moved from Atlanta to Alcatraz.  I go out to Alcatraz to sign books all the time. The very last sign you see  as you get on a ferry boat to go out there is a quote by the First Warden that said “Alcatraz was opened to incarcerate irredeemable men — men who could never return back to society.”  My Uncle Al was released in 1939.  He dies in 1947 — you can’t find one negative thing about him between that time.  Irredeemable — I don’t think so!

Mike Doria: That certainly also begs the question of who’s right it is to decide who can and can’t be rehabilitated.   So, just to be clear — you don’t believe Al Capone was involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre at all — you believe it was solely Bugs Moran’s  gang….

Deirdre Capone:  “And actual members of the police department.”

Mike Doria: I know you were still young at the time, but we in society really only know Al Capone prior to prison.  What was he like from the time he was released in 1939 to the time he died?  Did he lead more of a straight life?

Deirdre Capone: “Correct.  You see I didn’t know Al Capone before he went to prison so I was banking on my Grandfather for details of the earlier years.  Al Capone only had one sister and she was only five years older than my father.  She became like a mother to me and really taught me a lot of things.  So I had her, my grandmother (Al’s mother) and my grandfather telling me things.  So — I’m just telling  you all that I know and it doesn’t get more first-hand than it coming right from my family’s mouth.”

Mike Doria: Why do you think the whole pop culture fascination with the Mob came back.  This country has always been fascinated by it but it seems to have come back with a vengence.  

Deirdre Capone: “I think the show Boardwalk Empire really been instrumental in showing people what things were really like back then.  There was glamour back then.  Back then, men were men.  They could have a temper.  Nowadays they can’t.  I was a woman.  I lived with those people.  I was never afraid a day in my life.  I talked with the women who hung on the arms of Grandfather and my Uncle.  Never once were they frightened.

Mike Doria: I imagine the old telephone game scenario also comes into play where the story starts out one way and ends a whole different way as people pass it on.  I want to ask — is there any anger at all born out of having to live with the name Capone and all the trials and tribulations that came from the Mob connection?

Deirdre Capone: “Yeah.  There is.  As I said, Al Capone is the poster child for Mobsters.  But I look at it this way.  Was Al Capone a Mobster?  Yes, he was.  Was Al Capone a monster?   No, he wasn’t.

Deirdre Capone’s book Uncle Al Capone – The Untold Story From Inside His Family was written for a particular reason.  In the 1980’s when the movie The Untouchables — some of Deirdre Capone’s kids and grand kids were living in their home city of Chicago.  They encouraged her to write a book due to the quote “awful portrayal,” according to her kids and grandchildren,  of him in the movie.  Deirdre Capone does speaking engagements from time to time regarding her book and her family’s history.

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING….

As you might imagine, Deirdre Capone gets a lot of people offering up what they believe are remnants and artifacts belonging to Al Capone. She says owns his diamond pinky ring, stick pin cameo tie clip and various other authentic pieces from Al Capone’s collection that people claim to have in their possession.