In the age of Prohibition, Al Capone was Public Enemy Number 1. But to Deirdre Marie Capone, who as a child traded "knock-knock jokes" with him while bouncing on his knee, he was kindly "Uncle Al". And now, 65 years after his death in 1947, she wants him pardoned.
"Al Capone was a mobster, but not a monster. He was a victim, not a villain," said Capone, author of Uncle Al Capone...The Untold Story From Inside His Family. Her grandfather, Ralph Capone, was Al's brother and listed as Public Enemy No.3. She is Al's grand niece and the only author of a book about Al Capone by someone who actually knew him, touched him, heard him talk and ate meals with him.
She puts forth a persuasive case to justify her claim for pardoning the most famous inmate at Alcatraz.
"Outrageous, you say? Not entirely," said Capone, who remembers her grand uncle teaching her to swim, ride a bike and play the mandolin.
"Consider this. The American Bar Association conducted a retrial of Al Capone in 1991 with a real jury, and presided over by Chicago Federal District Court Judge Prentice Marshall, an outstanding jurist and professor of trial advocacy at the University of Illinois Law School. The verdict: 'Not Guilty on All Counts!'"
All the evidence presented in the retrial was available at the original trial in 1931, which resulted in a prison sentence of eleven years, said Capone, a frequent guest on TV and radio shows as well as documentaries depicting the Prohibition Era.
Despite the legend of FBI Agent Elliott Ness, she thinks the evidence shows that Al got a raw deal.
"Among the things that came to light in the retrial was the utterly incompetent defense presented by Al Capone's lawyers, and the fact that the Federal Government tortured a witness until he agreed to testify against Al Capone," she said.
Okay, so he may not have been guilty of income tax evasion, but what about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and all the other alleged killings masterminded by Al Capone?
"The key word here is 'alleged.' He was never proved to be responsible for any killing. And we don't convict and sentence people to prison based purely on allegations," she said.
Al Capone's quotes have stood the test of time. He is remembered for saying immortal lines like, "When I sell liquor, it's called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on Lake Shore Drive, it's called hospitality."
"The fact is Al Capone had a price on his head of $50,000 (about one million dollars in today's dollars) placed by rival gang leaders. In one afternoon, he dodged over 1,000 machine gun bullets. He was having lunch in the Hawthorn Cafe in Cicero, Illinois, when seven cars rolled up and a dozen men fired their Tommy guns through the plate glass windows at Al and his bodyguard. They dove to the floor and, amazingly, both survived without a scratch. Unfortunately, innocent people were wounded, and Al came to their aid and paid their medical expenses even though neither he nor his bodyguard fired a single shot," she added.
"There were many other attempts to kill him, including paying his chef to poison him, and a plot to blow up his house on a Sunday afternoon when he and his family were having dinner," she said.
About Deirdre Marie Capone
Deirdre Marie Capone's grandfather was Ralph Capone, listed in 1930 as Public Enemy #3 by the Chicago Crime Commission. That makes her the grand niece of Public Enemy No.1, Al Capone.
As a child, she didn't know he was a notorious gangster. He was just her Uncle Al. But after he died on her seventh birthday she began paying the price of being a Capone.
From age 7 to 13 her classmates were not allowed to play with her. Just before her 11th birthday her father committed suicide due to the burden of the Capone name. At age 18 she was fired from her first full-time job because of her name. These circumstances made Deirdre determined to find out more about her family history and to write this book.
She had countless conversations with her grandfather, Al's brothers and sister, Al's wife, and his only child, Sonny. Each made her promise to not publish anything until all of them were dead and buried. Deirdre is the last member of Al's family born with the name Capone. She is literally the last of the Capones. Finally, after all these years, she can share things about Al Capone that none of his many biographers knew.