Al Capone’s niece sings like a canaryEntertainment News Thursday, March 1st, 2012
Deirdre Marie Capone is alleged mobster Al Capone’s grand niece. She is singing like a canary about her family and her remembrances of “Uncle Al,” the notorious gangland figure of the 1930s and 1940s, in her new book, Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story from Inside His Family, from Recap Publishing and Ascot Media.
We caught up with Ms. Capone recently and had a lovely conversation and a few laughs about her notorious uncle. No bodyguards from Al’s “outfit” were needed. Most of them had been fitted with cement shoes or given a lead diet.
Deirdre Marie Capone: I love your middle name, James!
San Diego LBGT Weekly: Well, you know, we all have our notorious families!
I know the Colt gun family was notorious.
Perhaps your Uncle Al even used one!
He probably did!
Did you hide your family history from friends?
You know, for most of my life, Jim, I hid who I was. Not even my children knew. I told my husband, of course, but nobody else.
It was said Al Capone was diagnosed in 1939 with syphilitic dementia. Is that true?
That’s false. Everybody back in the Roaring ‘20s (who led a wild life) had some form of venereal disease. Even my mother in her old years was diagnosed with dementia, and there were remnants of syphilis. What happened with Al Capone was that there were a group of businessmen in Chicago who started a vendetta against the Capone boys. It included my grandfather, who was Al’s oldest brother and business partner. They successfully brought them down. The main reason was that the Capone’s were Italians and they wouldn’t play ball with the Irish and Jewish men (both of whom were involved in the rackets and bootlegging).
Continuing that story line, what was it that Capone was brought down by, and what happened?
The only thing they could get each one of them on was income tax evasion. My grandfather was convicted of income tax evasion for the same years and the same amount of money that Al was convicted (not reporting income from the bootlegging business). My grandfather was sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary, but Al got eleven years.
What happened when he went to prison?
Al was in the process of filing for a writ of habeas corpus (essentially restraint of a person’s liberty) while the men in Chicago did not want him to come back to Chicago. Evidence was found that the government had tortured a witness to lie on the witness stand. So, they had arranged to have Capone transferred from Atlanta prison as one of the first inmates at Alcatraz. (It was commissioned as a federal prison in August 1934.)
Wasn’t Alcatraz really for hardened criminals?
Yes, he should never have been there. He had been convicted of a white collar crime. People like Robert Stroud (The Birdman of Alcatraz) belonged out there – crazy, crazy people. (Also Mickey Cohen and Alvin Karpis were inmates).
How did Al Capone act while in Alcatraz?
Al Capone was a model of a good citizen. He was due to get out in about ten months. They had no writ of habeas corpus on Alcatraz, but they did have time off for good behavior. The warden called my grandfather and said they had a new treatment for syphilis and they wanted to try it out on Al.
So Al Capone was essentially a guinea pig for a syphilis treatment?
What they did was take him out of prison and put him into a hospital at Terminal Island outside of Los Angeles. This was in 1939. Jim, they were injecting my uncle with mercury! It was deadly! That’s when you started to see all the reports of his anger, that he was demented. When he got out, he would ask his mother and sister who they were; there was no recognition. He was acting very strangely.
What did the family do about his behavior?
My grandfather knew there was a problem, so he started to make some calls to a psychiatrist in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins. They took him there. What they were doing there was leeching the poisons from his system.
What was your personal impression of Al Capone?
The Al Capone that I knew was great. There’s a very famous picture out there all over the Internet in which he has a big smile on his face, a big cigar in his mouth, a big white straw hat on his head, while wearing sunglasses. That was taken in 1945. I have photographs of him from 1945-1946. One is with the man who started UPS Corporation with money that Al Capone had given him. He was the picture of health. They had needed to leech that mercury out of his system. Al Capone died of a massive stroke Jan. 25, 1947. He died on my 7th birthday.
What did you hear about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre? Was that all a lie?
That was mistakenly reported in the Chicago newspapers. One of the main enemies of Al Capone and the entire Capone family was Rutherford McCormick. He owned the Chicago Tribune. He sensationalized the story. Al Capone was actually not there. He was in Florida meeting with IRS officials to pay his tax debt. He offered them $8,000,000 so that he didn’t have to go stand trial. My family told me that Al had asked Machine Gun Jack McGurn and my younger Uncle Matty to put the fear of God into Bugs Moran. My uncle said Bugs had gotten too big for his hat.
(Note: Jack McGurn was really Italian, nee: Vincenzo Gibaldi. When his father was assassinated by three extortionists, Vincenzo methodically killed all of them. This led to his introduction to Al Capone in 1923. He is also famous for having nearly assassinated famous comic/singer Joe E. Lewis in 1927. He slit his throat for not staying in a nightclub in Bugs Moran’s territory and moving uptown to a swankier club. This incident was included in the movie The Joker’s Wild starring Frank Sinatra).
What did they do then?
My uncle and Jack were in a car in an alley behind Bugs’ warehouse. They were going to pay him a little visit. While they were there, a black touring car with policemen in it was going up and down the alley. My Uncle Matty said he got scared because he thought they would pull them out of the car and put them into jail. So they drove away, and while they were leaving, they could hear the shots! It was the policemen who did it.
There was another twist to this story.
Yes. A quirk of fate happened in my family. My husband’s uncle married the sister of the ‘mechanic’ who was killed in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. His name was Johnny May. He would come home every night and tell his brother that policemen were stealing liquor off the back of Bugs Moran’s trucks. Bugs’ soldiers caught them in the act one day. They threatened to go to their police captain and report them. Of course, the policemen didn’t want to get fired, so the rest is history. (The motive for the killings?)
So why was Al Capone’s name connected to the Massacre?
The newspapers pointed the finger at Al Capone. Al told them, “You’d blame me for the Chicago fire if you could!” They blamed him for everything.
Before you put the story into your book, you needed more proof that he didn’t mastermind it.
Yes, indeed. There were two books released in the past three years that confirm the story. One is Get Capone and the other is Alcatraz: The Gangster Years. The three of us got together and found the proof that it is NOT Al Capone who was responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
What was it like during Prohibition days in the 1930s?
There was an Al Capone type in every major city who supplied alcohol to everybody who wanted it during Prohibition. That was a very unpopular law with the populace in the 1920s. It was a wild time with jazz coming in, the Charleston and bathtub gin all the rage. Everything revolved around alcohol. Everybody relied on someone like Al Capone for their alcohol. Al Capone only controlled part of the city. Bugs Moran was there, O’Donnell was there and there were all kinds of other people providing the same services in different parts of the city. So why is Al Capone the poster child for bootleggers?
Strangely, of all people, there is a connection between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz with the Capone family!
In 1956, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz opened up a production company called Desilu Productions. The very first production they did was The Untouchables. Lucille Ball was a business genius. When my family found out that the show was to be about Al Capone, they brought a suit against Desilu. At the last moment, Lucy changed the main character to Eliot Ness and not Al Capone.
Did your dad and Al look alike?
All the brothers looked alike. There were eight in the family – seven boys and one girl.
Italians are known for their food. Did Al Capone cook?
Oh yes. I remember him many times in the kitchen wearing an apron stirring the sauce. He taught me to make biscotti. We had many happy times around the dinner table.
And we are left with a picture of sweet Uncle Al wearing an apron, cooking spaghetti, and teaching little girls to make Italian pastries.
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