Alphonse Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899. When he was 22 he was recruited by Johnny Torrio, a bootlegger in Chicago. Torrio was one of the many people who had established his business after the passing of the National Prohibition Act in 1920. Capone's job was to persuade speakeasy proprietors to buy Torrio's illegal alcohol.
Within three years Capone had taken over Johnny Torrio's business and controlled 161 illegal drinking establishments. In an attempt to expand his business, Capone developed the policy of killing his competitors.
After the killing of Dion O'Banion in 1926 gang-warfare broke out in Chicago. In one year there were 130 gangsters murdered in just one district of the city. This included the famous St Valentine's Day Massacre when six leading members of the Bugs Moran gang were executed in a garage by gangsters dressed in police uniforms.
Few of the murderers were arrested and convicted of their crimes. Gangsters like Capone were able to use their money to bribe police investigators or intimidate potential witnesses. The police were also hampered by the refusal of any gangster to testify against another gangster.
It is estimated that by 1929, Capone's income from the various aspects of his business was $60,000,000 (illegal alcohol), $25,000,000 (gambling establishments), $10,000,000 (vice) and $10,000,000 from various other rackets. It is claimed that Capone was employing over 600 gangsters to protect this business from rival gangs.
The journalist Claude Cockburn interviewed Capone in 1930. When Cockburn suggested that Capone had become a gangster because of poverty he replied: "Listen, don't get the idea I'm one of these goddam radicals. Don't get the idea I'm knocking the American system.... My rackets are run on strictly American lines and they're going to stay that way... This American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it Capitalism, call it what you like, gives to each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it."
Capone openly admitted how he had obtained his wealth. "I make my money by supplying a public demand. If I break the law, my customers who number hundreds of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as I am. The only difference is that I sell and they buy. Everybody calls me a racketeer. I call myself a businessman."
Unable to obtain the evidence to convict Capone of murder, in 1931 the authorities decided to charge him with tax evasion. Found guilty Capone was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment. When Capone was released in 1939 prohibition had come to an end and he was he was no longer able to make money from selling illegal alcohol. He was also showing signs of the effects of syphilis and no longer had the mental strength to obtain past loyalties.
Alphonse Capone died in 1947.