35 THE OTHER CAPONES
Al Capone had six brothers and one sister. Three of the brothers were older than Al. His sister Mafalda was the last to be born. The six brothers would have had two sisters but Ermenia Capone died in infancy. The mother, Teresa Raiola, carried and gave birth to nine children. She also had a couple of miscarriages. Teresa did not speak English and was not inclined to learn but she contributed to the income of her husband. Teresa sewed and took in boarders. Al bought a decent house in Prairie Avenue, and Teresa and daughter Mafalda joined Al, his wife and son. Teresa was a good cook. She prepared giant Sunday dinners for the whole family and whoever they happened to bring along. Al must have rated her cooking because he persuaded wardens to allow his mother to bring the odd meal into the prison. This, though, happened well before he was sent to Alcatraz. When Al worked away from home he phoned his mother and wife every night. He always spoke to his mother first. The graveside service for Al was permitted because of her loyalty to the Catholic Church. Teresa attended the earliest daily Mass almost always.
Gabriel, the father in the family, died of a massive heart attack when he was fifty-five years old and while son Al was still in legitimate employment. The death of Gabriel precipitated Al reuniting with mobster Frankie Yale. Perhaps the family needed money to compensate for the loss of income from the father or perhaps Al was relishing freedom previously denied. Gabriel was not as sturdy as his wife. He was a quiet man that liked to read the newspaper or play cards and billiards at the local social club. Being able to read and write in English was not common amongst Italian immigrants. The social club is where he had his heart attack. He arrived in the USA as a pasta maker but became a barber. Eventually he owned his own business and he usually employed at least one assistant.
Vincenzo ‘Jimmy’ Capone was the eldest of the sons and, apart from Al, perhaps the most interesting. ‘Jimmy’ idolised Western movie hero William S Hart. As a child, ‘Jimmy’ hung around the stables at the Coney Island funfair. In 1908 and at the age of 16 he joined a circus. His intention might have been to get to Hollywood but he decided to settle in Homer, Nebraska. He married a woman that he saved in a flash flood. Her name was Kathleen Winch, and she had four sons. ‘Jimmy’ worked as a prohibition agent in Homer and he also became a special agent in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He disguised his Brooklyn accent and sometimes dressed as a cowboy. He either created or acquired the nickname ‘Two Gun Hart’. ‘Jimmy’ had changed his name to Richard James Hart. ‘Jimmy’ was a gifted linguist and spoke several Native American languages. He was supportive of Native American rights. He was not quite as principled when he administered the laws of Prohibition although this was not unusual behaviour by prohibition agents. As town sheriff, he was accused of robbing the local stores. The sheriff had keys to all the buildings in Homer. His defenders argue that there is context. A barter system prevailed in Homer, Nebraska. ‘Two Gun Hart’ might have felt he was collecting debts. The incidents also happened in the middle of a severe depression. His family of four kids and a wife were probably starving. Hard times persuaded ‘Jimmy’ in 1940 to return to his family. He also visited Al in Miami. Al was by then suffering from dementia and unable to recognise his brother. Brother Ralph ensured that ‘Jimmy’ and his family had money and lived comfortably. ‘Jimmy’ died when he was sixty-years-old. He has been described by writers as troubled and sad.
Ralph was born in 1894 and two years after ‘Jimmy’. Ralph was the first of the Capones to join the New York street gangs although he worked a variety of jobs before crime provided alternative income. His employment in a bottle factory earned him the nickname ‘Bottles’. He joined the Five Points gang when he was twenty-one-years old. Ralph was supposed to have been a good and dependable worker. If his nature was friendly, the temper was short. Ralph was too ready to use violence to resolve conflict. He would often use unrestrained and uncouth language in front of his son. His wife, Filomena Moscato, deserted Ralph and their son. Teresa cared for the son until he was an adult. Ralph became the number two to Al and he owned the Cotton Club in Cicero. The name of the club suggests that Ralph lacked the imagination of elder brother ‘Jimmy’. The son of Ralph committed suicide. ‘Ralphie’ struggled to achieve in the jobs that his father gave him. He divorced, and a subsequent relationship with Jean Kerin failed. Kerin told journalists that she had been astonished by what she had read in the suicide note. The love and dependency of ‘Ralphie’ had not been mutual. Ralph, the father, spent his final years in Mercer, Pennsylvania. Most of the time he sat on a bar stool in the road house he owned. He was known for being generous to local causes. Subsequent marriages ended in divorce, and domestic violence was cited. Ralph died when he was eighty-years old.
Salvatore ‘Frank’ Capone, the third son, failed to make thirty. ‘Frank’ is regarded as the most intelligent and handsome of the Capone family. Before brother Al met Johnny Torrio and became eminent it was brother ‘Frank’ that made decisions for the family. He was attractive to women. ‘Frank’ wore expensive suits and, unlike Ralph and Al, he never had legitimate employment. At twenty-one-years of age, ‘Frank’ was handling payoffs and bribes for Johnny Torrio. The manner of ‘Frank’ was restrained, and he avoided violence. According to some, this was to protect his good looks. There is a photograph of Mae and her husband Al at the dinner table. Mae is smiling and looks content. ‘Frank’ is standing behind Mae and Al. Mae is turning her head to look at ‘Frank’. He was a casualty of the bloody battles that accompanied the Cicero elections in 1924. Several of the Torrio gang and two ordinary citizens were killed the day that ‘Frank’ died aged twenty-nine. Various policemen claimed the honour of being his killer but ‘Frank’ was caught in the crossfire between police and bootleggers.
Erminio was born two years after Al Capone. He had two alternative nicknames. These were ‘John’ and “Mimi”. He was willing to do jobs for the family that earned him money but he liked to keep a low profile. This fondness for obscurity might have helped him to live until he was eighty-two-years-old. ‘Mimi’ could be belligerent when the homes of the Capone family were raided. He was occasionally arrested but without consequence. ‘Mimi’ was the brother that Al Capone was willing to have remain in jail as his guarantor. This proposal was made when Al offered to step out from prison and investigate the kidnapping of the son of Charles Lindbergh. The offer was refused. ‘Mimi’ drifted between businesses in Miami and Chicago after the death of Al but remained close to Ralph and Mae.
The last two brothers to be born were Umberto ‘Albert’ and Amadoe ‘Matty’. Both appear to have been intimidated by the achievements of the older brothers. The family doctor described the two youngest brothers as ‘nonentities’. The doctor added that ‘they either had nothing to say or were not allowed to say it.’ ‘Albert’ and ‘Matty’ did on occasion perform safe and remunerative tasks for the family. ‘Albert’ has been described as a slow moving and timid child. In 1942, and when he was thirty-six-years old, he changed his surname to Rayola. When invited to appear at a Senate investigation committee ‘Albert’ ripped up the subpoena and claimed he was not a member of the Capone family. He ran a restaurant business and in later life worked as a bartender.
Amadoe ‘Matty’ Capone was ordered to stay in school by brother Al and finish college. Al wanted at least one of the family to be a university graduate. ‘Matty’ attended Villanova University, a Catholic institution outside Philadelphia. He endured most of the academic year until he was arrested for driving without a licence. Rather than graduate he returned to his family to play a minor role. ‘Matty’ had a difficult marriage that produced one son. A heart condition contributed to his death at fifty-five years of age. The son of ‘Matty’ took a different name to Capone and retreated into private life.
Sister Mafalda was born in 1912, twenty years after the birth of the oldest brother ‘Jimmy’. She lived with her mother until she was eighteen-years-old and when she married. The groom was twenty-three-years old. He was a brother of gangster Frankie Diamond and a mid-level member of the Outfit. The family members of ‘Jimmy’ described Mafalda as a ‘little princess’ that needed to be the centre of attention. Yet it was Mafalda more than the brothers that welcomed Jimmy back into the family when he returned. Mafalda graduated from the Lucy Flower Vocational High School but, because she was a woman, that meant the end of her education. Mafalda claimed that she lacked boyfriends because she was the sister of Al Capone. Descendants have claimed that Mafalda had business expertise and was as capable as her brothers of running the family business. The daughter of Mafalda was called Dolores and was born in 1932. Most of her adult life, Mafalda ran a succession of delicatessens and pizza parlours. The husband and wife worked side by side but were rarely seen out together. She retired in the 1960s. Mafalda had a hard edge and could rough up difficult customers. Her daughter graduated from Purdue University and settled for anonymity.
The family tree continues today but the final mention here is for Albert Francis ‘Sonny’. He was the only son and child of Al Capone. ‘Sonny’ was a sickly child and, as a child he had bouts of mastoiditis. The absences from school meant he needed private tutors. Because of the mastoiditis, he had to abandon his piano lessons. The health problems disappeared when he was twelve years old. ‘Sonny’ was born in 1918 and died when he was eighty-four-years old. He lived with his mother until 1952. ‘Sonny’ attended St Patricks, a prestigious private Catholic school in Miami. He achieved good grades and was popular with both his classmates and the nuns that taught him. ‘Sonny’ the man operated various businesses and remained close to his mother. After a divorce and a difficult period in his life he picked up a one-off conviction for petty shoplifting. The manager of the grocery store where the theft occurred described ‘Sonny’ as a ‘real good customer’. The incident did no harm to the relationship that ‘Sonny’ had with the store manager and his community. ‘Sonny’ died a well respected man. Before that he had replaced the Capone surname with his middle name Francis.
Howard Jackson has had thirteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book BORIS JOHNSON PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES is now available here.