Alphonse Gabriel Capone, better known as Al “Scarface” Capone, occupies a prominent place in the annals of American crime.
Born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York, Al Capone was the middle child of a large Italian immigrant family. The Capone family frequently moved around Brooklyn, driven by the need to secure affordable housing. This nomadic upbringing played a pivotal role in shaping the young Al Capone, transforming him from a promising student into a mischievous troublemaker. Although he purportedly maintained a B average in school—an accomplishment more impressive in his time—his rebellious tendencies began to manifest early in his life.
At the tender age of fourteen, Capone’s life took a dark turn when he committed an act of violence that would foreshadow his tumultuous future. He assaulted a teacher whom he believed had treated him unfairly, marking the genesis of his legendary temper. Following this incident, Capone, like several of his siblings, chose to discontinue his formal education. He ventured into various legitimate vocations, including a stint as a candy salesman, a bowling alley pinboy, and a bookbinder cutter. However, these forays into the world of employment proved short-lived, paving the way for his eventual entry into a realm that would define him—the world of organized crime.
At the age of fifteen or sixteen, Al Capone became affiliated with the South Brooklyn Rippers, a harbinger of his future criminal career. Shortly thereafter, he was initiated into the Forty Thieves Junior, a lower-tier faction of the infamous Five Points Gang. Unlike the predominantly Irish Five Points gangs portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film “Gangs of New York,” this iteration of the gang was led by an Italian-American named Paul Kelly.
Paul Kelly, originally Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli, possessed charisma and formidable boxing skills. His success in the boxing ring allowed him to establish a plethora of profitable ventures, including brothels and gambling dens. With influential political figures from Tammany Hall frequenting his establishments, Kelly wielded significant power in both the criminal and political spheres. He and his associates were known for “campaigning” for select candidates, ensuring that the right individuals were elected to serve their interests. After a brief nine-month stint in prison for assault and robbery, Kelly emerged as a formidable figure, founding the Paul Kelly Athletic Association, where he imparted martial arts and boxing skills to young enthusiasts. It was through this association that Kelly, alongside his associates, Meyer Lansky, Frankie Yale, Bugsy Siegel, and Al Capone, would expand their influence
Frankie Yale, six years Al Capone’s senior, played a pivotal role in the young gangster’s life. Renowned for his brawling prowess, Yale had his fair share of run-ins with the law during his late teens. However, he possessed a shrewd understanding that success in the criminal world demanded more than mere physical strength—it necessitated business acumen. Yale ventured into the lucrative ice business, extorting icemen and enforcing territorial boundaries—an enterprise that thrived during the era of Prohibition.
One of Yale’s most significant contributions to Capone’s criminal career was recruiting him as a bouncer for the Harvard Inn, a notorious bar located in the heart of Coney Island. The role of a bouncer demanded a delicate balance of tact and authority, qualities that Capone possessed in abundance. His effectiveness at the Harvard Inn not only earned him Yale’s trust but also solidified his position as Yale’s protege and enforcer.
The Harvard Inn and the Profits of Prohibition
In 1917, a scorching heatwave engulfed New York City, driving throngs of people to Coney Island in search of respite from the sweltering heat. Many sought solace on the beaches, creating unprecedented crowds. Amid this tumultuous period, the Harvard Inn, strategically nestled between Surf Avenue and the future Boardwalk, thrived due to its prime location, air conditioning, and an ample supply of ice-cold beverages.
The Harvard Inn’s success was not solely attributed to its location but also impeccable timing. By 1917, the establishment had already garnered a reputation for serving alcohol during the height of Prohibition, capitalizing on the immense demand for illicit liquor. Yale’s diverse portfolio of ventures, including the inn, a mortuary, betting on prizefighters, and even a cigar line, contributed to his growing wealth.
A Fateful Encounter and the Birth of “Scarface”
During the summer of 1917, fate intervened in the form of a stocky troublemaker named Frank Galluccio. Frank, accompanied by his sister, Lena, and another young woman named Maria Tanzo, entered the Harvard Inn. Amid the bustling crowd, Capone, then eighteen years old, fixed his attention on Lena. Despite her alleged rejection of his advances, Capone’s persistence in observing her remained unwavering.
Capone’s relentless pursuit eventually unnerved Lena, leading her to confide in her brother, Frank Galluccio. Lena expressed her discomfort and implored Frank to find a tactful way to discourage Capone’s advances. Unbeknownst to Lena, Frank decided to confront Capone directly, requesting that the women wait for him outside the inn.
However, their encounter took an unexpected and violent turn. Capone, unapologetic and brazen, rebuffed Frank’s request for an apology, igniting a heated exchange. In a moment of escalating tension, Capone made a lewd comment directed at Lena, further exacerbating the situation.
The Infamous Scars
With tempers flaring, Frank Galluccio took offense to Capone’s audacious behavior and demanded an apology once more. Capone, defiant and unyielding, refused to back down. What followed would change the trajectory of both men’s lives inextricably.
In a sudden and violent escalation of events, Frank Galluccio physically confronted Capone. The altercation swiftly spiraled out of control, culminating in a gruesome act of violence. Frank Galluccio, in a desperate bid to defend his sister’s honor, attacked Capone, resulting in a deep laceration to Capone’s left cheek—a defining moment that would earn him the notorious moniker “Scarface.”
This violent encounter left Capone not only physically scarred but also emotionally affected. However, it marked a pivotal juncture in his criminal career, setting in motion a series of events that would thrust him deeper into the criminal underworld. Capone’s scars became a symbol of his resilience, power, and infamy—a visual reminder of his unrelenting pursuit of notoriety and criminal dominance.