Notorious Gangsters of the 1900s

By | December 19, 2018

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UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1931: Al Capone, in court during his trial, Chicago, 1931. Sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and one year in county jail. (Photo by Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Gangsters, especially those in the mafia, did not see themselves as breaking the law. In their eyes, they were just protecting their family and their business. Al Capone, for example, considered himself a businessman just like any other businessman.

Al Capone

Born in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York, Capone was part of a large poor Italian family and one of nine children. Dropping out of school in the sixth grade, he began roaming the streets with street gangs and later took a job as a bouncer on Coney Island. He later relocated to Chicago, which was notably worse of a crime area, especially in the Levee District. During the war (World War I), the government banned drinking and started revoking licenses. By 1920, the government passed the “Prohibition” law which made drinking illegal. With the war ending, things began to shift. There were those who wanted to “enjoy” life again with partying and drinking. Capone and his cohort, Johnny Torrio, were happy to oblige them. With legitimate business owners out of the competition, they were able to corner the market. Expanding their bootlegging “business” to include other cities, they eventually had a connected underground network.

Seeing himself as a big fancy businessman, Capone was totally shocked when he was arrested for tax evasion and received a sentence of 11 years. Other members of his gang had received only two to three years for the same thing. The jury had been handpicked by the judge who wanted to make an example of him, so they “threw the book at him.”  

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Lucky Luciano (Photo from Pinterest)

Lucky Luciano

Lucky Luciano was born in Sicily, Italy in 1897 and was quite instrumental in helping to bring about the national crime Syndicate almost single-handedly. Moving to Manhattan with his family at the age of 10, he was quickly recruited into gang life. Like Capone, he got started around 1920, when he was recruited as a gunman, working for first Masseria and then Arnold Rothstein. With bootlegging profits, he was making millions by the mid-1920s.

When Rothstein was murdered in 1928, Luciano returned to work for Masseria; but when a gang war broke out between Masseria and Maranzano, he was not loyal to Masseria. In fact, he set up his assassination in 1931. With no loyalty in the mafia, Luciano also betrayed Maranzano and assisted in having him “knocked off.” The committee of the Five Families established by Maranzano then fell into Luciano’s waiting hands which was later renamed to "The Genovese Family." A few years later, his leadership came to an end in 1936, when he was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 30 to 50 years. Luciano turned over his leadership to Frank Costello. Sometime later, striking a deal with the government, he was eventually deported back to Italy where he later died in 1962 of a heart attack.