Criminal Highlight: Famous Gangsters of the 1920′s

Albert Anselmi

A notorious hit man during the prohibition era, Albert Anselmi was born in Marsala, Sicily. He began hanging around with the mob in Italy at a very young age and moved to the United States in 1924 to avoid murder charges. He was 41 years old. He started working for the Genna Brothers when in Chicago, who were a noted gang of bootleggers at the time. Long-time friend John Guinta joined him, and together they became known as “The Murder Twins” for all the hits they committed together. One of their most distinguishable traits is the act of rubbing garlic on their bullets before loading them into the gun. They believed that a garlic infection could kill a man if the bullet failed to. They were well known for their hit on Dean O’Banion, the head of the Chicago East Side gang. Another man with them, Frankie Yale, shook O’Banion’s hand then grasped it along with his other arm, so that Anselmi and Guinta could shoot him many times, killing him. In 1925 he was accused of killing two policemen, but he spent only four months in jail. When he was acquitted for the murder of the second policeman, he appealed the conviction of the first. He won the appeal and was once again a free man. They began working for Al Capone, and did so during the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. His friend was indicted in the murders, but both were discovered dead on the side of the road, beat to death, with a bullet in their heads. Several stories spread about the beating, which took place during a Union meeting. In each of the stories, though, Al Capone was behind the killing, as there was a rumor that the boys were plotting to take over Capone’s gang. This ended the era of the “Murder Twins.”

  • Albert Anselmi and John Scalise: Short biography of the infamous “Murder Twins,” and their rise to influence and power in Chicago in the 1920’s.
  • American Mafia: Historical account of Albert Anselmi and John Scalise, with greater depth of their time after joining Al Capone.
  • The Killer Twins: Significant biography of Anselmi and Scalise, with history going back to their birth and details of their time in Chicago.
  • Find A Grave: A commentary of Albert Anselmi and his influence in the prohibition-era gang wars in Chicago.

Alphonse Capone

Alphonse Gabriel Capone, known by all as Al Capone, was one of the most famous gangsters in 1920’s Chicago. He was born in the United States, dropped out of school at 14 years old, and he rose to power during the bootlegging time of the prohibition, dealing in alcohol, police and government bribery, and prostitution. Though Capone was thought of as a philanthropist to some, and even a Robin Hood, for his many charitable contributions, he was a cold-blooded and clever killer. He had his start in smaller gangs in Manhattan, New York City. He married Mae Coughlin, an Irish Catholic girl, when he was 19 years old, but left her and his young son behind when he was recruited by mobster Johnny Torrio. They joined him later. In 1924, a mayoral candidate hand-chosen and groomed by Capone, won the election and became mayor of Chicago. This started his governmental corruption. In 1925, when Torrio was injured in an attack, he turned the reins over to Capone. Under Capone’s intelligent and ruthless eye, The Outfit, as the Torrio-Capone gang was named, controlled nearly all of the illegal alcohol that found its way into Chicago’s speak-easies. He also ran casinos and prostitution rings throughout the Chicago underworld. He was implicated in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, but no charges were brought against him or any other member of the gang. He was, however, arrested for tax evasion and crimes against prohibition, and he was accused of attempting to bribe and threaten the jurors during the trial. He was given a sentence of 11 years, some of which was served in Alcatraz Prison. In 1939, in poor health, he was released and retired to Palm Island in Florida. He had contracted neurosyphillis, and his physical and mental health could not keep up the duties required to run the Chicago Outfit. He died at the age of 48, in his home in Miami, with the mental capacity of a 12 year old.

  • Cosmic Baseball: Article about Al Capone and his influence on Chicago’s popular culture during the prohibition era.
  • Mr. Al Capone – Outline Bio: Timeline of Capone’s life, from the marriage of his parents, through his time in Chicago and prison, to his death.
  • FBI — Al Capone: In-depth biography of Capone and his reign in Chicago’s gang wars.
  • Al Capone on Alcatraz: Introduces some background on Capone, and gives more details of his time on Alcatraz Island.

 Tony Accardo

Tony Accardo was born in Chicago, and was named Antonio Leonardo at birth. When he was expelled at 14 years old, Accardo began introducing himself to Chicago’s underbelly in pool halls. It was there that the gangs began to take interest in him, and he joined the Circus Café Gangs. This gang recruited younger members to see if they would be fit for adult criminal gangs as they grew. Accardo had more than one nickname in the criminal world. Capone referred to him as “Joe Batters” when he used a baseball bat to bludgeon two enemies during a dinner held by Capone, and the newspapers dubbed him “The Big Tuna” because of a story about a fishing expedition in which he caught a very large tuna. After Capone went to jail for tax evasion, Accardo became a leader within the Chicago Outfit. He became a very profitable member of the gang, keeping profit for himself as well. He and his wife and four children lived in River Forest, Illinois, where the IRS began to question his luxurious lifestyle, and they moved. When new outfit boss Frank Nitti committed suicide, it made way for Accardo to increase his power within the Outfit again, and he became the under boss to Paul Ricca, aka “The Waiter.” When the IRS started cracking down on the gangs, Accardo stepped back from everyday operations of the Outfit but still remained in the shadows of the gang. Burglars entered Accardo’s home in 1978 and were later found strangled. Acaddo was accused of initiating the hit, and members of his gang were convicted in the murders. He spent most of his “retired” life in Palm Springs, California, and later lived in Illinois with his daughter. He died in 1992, at 86 years old, of natural causes.