Almost a century after the reign of notorious mob boss Al Capone, all that remains of him are the possessions passed down through his family since he died at his Florida estate in 1947.
Now, many of the Prohibition Era gangster’s belongings are up for grabs.
Nearly 175 of Capone’s personal items will be auctioned off as his granddaughters seek to share the stories behind his knickknacks, photographs and guns. The items to be sold Oct. 8 in Sacramento include family photographs, an 18-karat gold and platinum belt buckle, and Capone’s favorite Colt .45 semiautomatic pistol.
His three living granddaughters have been caring for Capone’s belongings, once housed at his estate on Palm Island in Miami Beach, since their father died in 2004. With the help of Witherell’s auction house, the women are now ready to pass on the items.
That decision was based in part on the desire to distribute the possessions while they’re still alive, said Diane Capone, 77, a daughter of Capone’s only child, Sonny. But she and her sisters also worried that a wildfire, like the 92 burning in the United States, would threaten their Northern California homes and force them to choose which valuables they could take.
“It was a tremendous relief for the memorabilia of my grandparents to be removed because there’s no way we could save it” from a wildfire, Diane Capone told The Washington Post. “We’d lose it all.”
Her town of Auburn has long been prone to wildfires. But as the infernos have worsened in recent years, exacerbated by climate change, she said she and her husband have been preemptively packing bags to grab in case of an evacuation. The smoke at her home is currently so bad that the couple no longer feel comfortable sitting on their porch.
By March, the sisters had decided the time was right to sell the memorabilia and explain each item’s significance.
To the Capones, the memorabilia’s importance derives from its history belonging to a man they knew as affectionate and family-oriented despite his public reputation as a violent mob boss. Diane Capone said she remembers her grandfather resting her in his lap to blow out her birthday candles and holding her hand as he guided her across a bridge in his garden.
On the night Al Capone died, she remembers her mother leading her upstairs to his room and her father lifting her onto the bed. Her grandfather kissed her on the cheek and told her, “I love you, baby girl,” Diane Capone recalled. She was 3 years old.
Of the possessions the family plans to auction off, she said she’s most attached to a poetic three-page letter her grandfather wrote to her father from Alcatraz. In it, she said, Al Capone refers to Sonny Capone as “son of my heart.”
“I can’t imagine that anyone could read this letter without having at least a hint of an awareness about the fact that this man was a very complex person,” Capone said. “His name might be synonymous with Gangland Chicago, but there was another whole side to the man.”
Al Capone may be best known for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, when mobsters disguised as police stormed into a Chicago garage where a gang associated with George “Bugs” Moran was bootlegging liquor. The assailants announced that the men were under arrest, forced them to line up against a wall and let off at least 70 shots.
All seven men were killed.
No one ever stood trial for the carnage. But Capone — who eventually served time not for murder or bootlegging, but for tax evasion — is largely credited with ordering the ghastly hit.
Capone was reportedly at home in Florida on the day of the killings in 1929, and prosecutors were never able to link him to the crime. But the slayings were still commonly attributed to Capone, who became known as “Public Enemy Number One.”
The suspicion aimed at Capone was based on a rivalry between his gang and that of Moran, who had been using the North Clark Street garage where the bootleggers were slain to store his liquor. Considered the biggest obstacle to Capone’s power, Moran’s gang had killed Capone allies, hijacked their liquor shipments and competed in protection rackets. Moran used to mockingly refer to Capone as “The Beast,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Chicago police who arrived at the garage after the assassinations found one gang member, Frank Gusenberg, barely hanging on to life and pressed him to identify his killers. Gusenberg wouldn’t talk.
Witnesses saw the assailants speed off in a black Cadillac with a siren and rifle rack, like the cars police used, the Tribune reported. Inside, the dead included gang members and Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optician who hung out with the gang.
Not present: Moran, who was running late to the garage that day and saw the gunmen’s car parked outside. He later told reporters of the massacre, “Only Capone kills like that.”
Capone offered an alternative view: “The only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran.”
The garage was razed in 1967, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre became a symbol of the mob violence that plagued Prohibition Era Chicago.
Most of the belongings that will be up for auction are home decorations and furnishings, and there is no indication that any of the items have been linked to crimes. Asked about two guns belonging to Capone, Diane Capone said that as far as she knew, her grandfather used them only for self-defense.
She said she doesn’t know how to harmonize her grandfather’s reputation with the man she knew. All she can figure is that he was skilled at compartmentalizing. She also notes that his public life was long over by the time she was born.
“How is it possible that a man who was so loving and so generous and so devoted could have been capable of some of these things that were alleged?” Diane Capone asked. “I don’t know how to reconcile it, but I suppose I’ll have to wait until I get to heaven, and I can find out then.”