Arguably the most famous Alcatraz inmate, Alphonse Capone began as a promising student with a penchant for breaking the rules at his strict Catholic school. At age fourteen he was expelled after hitting his female teacher in the face. Capone started running with small-time gangs but soon enough had worked his way into more powerful organizations, eventually ending up with the Five Points Gang, where Johnny Torrio acted as his mentor. He moved to Chicago to join up with Torrio, primarily working in bootlegging after the onset of Prohibition.
In 1929, Bureau of Prohibition agent Elliot Ness began investigations of Capone, trying to catch him in prohibition violations. Frank Wilson of the Bureau of Internal Revenue went after Capone on tax evasion, which the government believed to be more solid material for a conviction. And they were right. In 1931 Capone was indicted for tax evasion, and on October 17th was found guilty and sentenced to eleven years in prison.
Sent at first to Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary, Capone was transferred in 1934 to Alcatraz prison, where he started things off swimmingly by making an enemy in the waiting line for the prison barber. He cut in front of James Lucas, who reportedly told him to get back at the end of the line. Capone asked if he knew who he was, and Lucas grabbed a pair of the barber’s scissors, holding them to Capone’s neck, and said, “Yeah, I know who you are, greaseball. And if you don’t get back to the end of that f[-]ing line, I’m gonna know who you were.”
Capone spent the last year of his sentence in the hospital as the syphilis he had contracted as a youth progressed, making him confused and disoriented. His parole in 1939 did nothing to restore his interests in the organized crime scene. He had lost weight, and the deterioration of his physical and mental health made him incapable of returning to his gang activity. Five years later, his mental capacity had been reduced to that of a twelve-year-old, and in January 1947, he had a stroke and contracted pneumonia. The next day he passed away, surrounded by his family, after suffering a fatal cardiac arrest.
Find out more about the big-time gangster here.