5

Capone the Lawman

The oldest brother of gangster Al Capone, James Vincenzo Capone, led a life quite different from that of his notorious sibling.  Leaving home at 16 he ultimately settled in Nebraska, losing his New York Italian accent.  He served in the Army both during the Punitive Expedition and World War I, earning a Lieutenant’s commission and being decorated by General Pershing.  Returning from the War he changed his name to Richard James Hart, married and became a Prohibition agent.  Leading raids against bootleggers he acquired the nickname of Two Gun Hart.  Newspapers in the mid 20s discovered his relationship to Al Capone.

In 1926 he embarked on a career as a special agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  During his years as a special agent he is credited with bringing in 20 wanted killers.  He was accused of brutality in the performance of his duties, but from this distance in time it is hard to determine the truth of the charges.  Law enforcement was a fairly rough occupation during that period, and in much of the West, the rough and ready spirit of the Wild West was still a reality.   On the other hand. he was noted for learning tribal languages and having good relationships among the Indians whose tribes he helped protect from gangsters.

He ultimately was fired from his post at the instigation of a superior who was on take from bootleggers. During the subsequent time of financial stress he received a large gift of money from his brother Al, family blood counting for more than the fact that they were lawman and crook.  Hart became a prohibition agent again and ultimately a justice of the peace in Homer Nebraska.  He died in 1952 at age 60 of a heart attack.

2

February 14, 1929: Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre

Ironies abound in the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre by which Chicago gangster Al Capone sought to destroy his competitor gangster Adelard Cunin, known to infamy as George “Bugs” Moran.  Moran had made a failed attempt on Capone’s life, which led to Capone, leading the Italian dominated South Side Gang, to target Moran and Moran’s Irish dominated North Side Gang.  Capone had a false call made to Moran on February 13, 1929 tempting him with a truck load of liquor from Detroit that he could have at a bargain price.  Moran ordered that the truck deliver the liquor the next morning at 10:30 AM at the garage of the S.M.C. Cartage Company on North Clark Street where Moran kept his bootlegging trucks.  Instead, two of Capone’s men, disguised as cops, appeared at the garage and ordered the seven men present to line up against a wall.  Two professional killers then entered the garage with tommy-guns and, with the aid of the two fake cops, murdered the men, only gangster Frank Gusenberg survived long enough to make it to the hospital and honor the gangland code of silence prior to his death, refusing to say anything about who was responsible.  Ironies to take note of in this example of gangland savagery:

  1.  If Moran hadn’t slept in that morning he would have been among the dead.  Albert Weinshank, one of the dead, looked like Moran and probably when he was seen entering the garage caused Capone’s hit squad to go into action.
  2. Two of the seven men killed had the abysmal bad luck to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One was optician Reinhardt Schwimmer who liked to gamble and palled around with members of the gang.  The other was mechanic John May who was working on a car.
  3. Moran was not put out of business by the murders, but kept control of his territory through the end of prohibition.  He would die in prison in 1957.
  4. The two probable Capone hit men involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre did not live to see another Valentine’s day.  The bodies of John Scalise and Albert Anselmi were found in the wee hours of the morning on May 8, 1929 on a lonely road near Hammond, Indiana.  They were joined in death by gangster Joseph Giunta.  The three men had been severely beaten and then shot to death.  It is likely that they had been involved in a plot against Capone.  Capone, ever a fanatic baseball fan, had worked them over with a bat before having his gunmen finish the task.
  5. Public revulsion against the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was so intense that the Federal government made a maximum effort to get Capone.  Capone’s tactical victory in the Massacre led directly to his eventual downfall for income tax evasion.
  6. Both Al Capone and Bugs Moran repented their sins before their deaths and may have stolen Heaven in the tradition established by Saint Dismas.
  7. I sat next to one of the last survivors of Al Capone’s gang back in the eighties during a Chamber of Commerce dinner.  Now a kindly great grandfather, he had gotten out of Chicago decades before and invested in farmland in Livingston County.  I resisted the temptation to ask him if any gangster bodies were buried in said farmland.

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