Al Capone’s favorite gun, personal items head to auction
Mobster’s Brooklyn beginnings aren’t well known
Al Capone is infamous for having been a ruthless mob boss — a career that started in his native Brooklyn — but one of his granddaughters says his softer side will shine through when the family auctions the Prohibition-era gangster’s personal items — including diamond-encrusted jewelry with his initials, family photographs and his favorite handgun.
Capone’s three granddaughters will also auction a letter he wrote to their father and his only child, Albert “Sonny” Capone, from Alcatraz, where the mobster served an 11-year sentence following his 1934 tax evasion conviction. In the letter written in pencil, Al Capone refers to Sonny as “son of my heart.”
He was called Public Enemy No. 1 after the 1929 “Valentine’s Day Massacre” of seven members of a rival bootlegger gang in Chicago by his associates.
His criminal career began when he was growing up in Brooklyn, first in the Navy Yard area and then on Garfield Place in Carroll Gardens, where his father owned a barber shop. After getting thrown out of school for assaulting a teacher, Al Capone began hanging out with a group of neighborhood toughs headed by Johnny Torrio.
But his real criminal career began one summer when he served as a bodyguard at a Coney Island dive owned by mobster Frankie Yale. When collecting debts from people who owed Yale money, he reportedly shot one person dead.
For a while, Capone tried to maintain some respectability. He married Mae Coughlin at St. Mary Star of the Sea in 1918. He held several jobs, and even played semi-pro ball for a while. But in 1919, Torrio, who had relocated to Chicago, sent for Capone to help him in his prostitution and bootleg beer businesses, and the rest is history.
His granddaughter Diane Capone describes Al Capone differently.
“He was very loving, very devoted to family, very generous, and the letter that we have is such a poignant, beautiful letter from a father to his son. These are things that the public doesn’t know about,” said Diane Capone, 77.
Diane Capone and her two surviving sisters will sell 174 items at the Oct. 8 auction titled “A Century of Notoriety: The Estate of Al Capone” hosted by Witherell’s Auction House in Sacramento, Calif..
Among the pieces are gold-rimmed porcelain fine china, ornate furniture, artwork and Dresden figurines that once decorated the Palm Island, Florida, villa where the Chicago mobster lived after his release from prison and until his death in 1947.
Also up for sale is the Colt .45-caliber pistol Capone always carried with him and used several times to protect himself, Diane Capone said.
“That particular .45 was used in self-defense, and it probably saved his life on a few occasions and so, he referred to it as his favorite,” she said.
Diane Capone said she didn’t know if the gun was used to commit any crimes and said her grandfather, who she called Papa, was never charged with killing anyone.
“He was accused of doing that, but he was never found guilty of shooting anyone,” she said.
The pistol with elaborate etchings and a wooden grip will be the centerpiece of the auction and is valued at up to $150,000, said Brian Witherell, founder of Witherell’s Auction House.
The sisters are also selling a diamond-encrusted pocket watch, an 18k gold and platinum belt buckle, a gold initialed “AC” money clip, and home movies featuring Al Capone with his associates.
Witherell said he had no reservations about helping the Capone sisters and that he expects the auction to draw international attention because of the items’ historical significance.
Sonny Capone’s daughters lived quietly for decades in Northern California after moving here from Florida in 1961 following their parents’ breakup. That changed in 2019 when Diane Capone published a book titled “Al Capone: Stories My Grandmother Told Me” using her maiden name.
The sisters decided to sell their grandfather’s personal belongings because they are all in their 70s, they are the only people who know the stories behind the memorabilia, and they are worried about a wildfire destroying the collection, Diane Capone said.
“We were very fortunate that even after my grandfather died, we were very close to my grandmother and so, for years we’ve heard her talk about my grandfather and about their lives, and about a lot of these items that are going to be auctioned off,” she said.
Nina Salarno, president of the advocacy group Crime Victims United of California, said it is undisputed that Capone headed Chicago’s mob during Prohibition and orchestrated the deaths of many people. She called the sale of his personal belongings an insult to his victims.
“Those victims also have surviving family members, and now we’re glorifying what he did to them by selling his memorabilia,” Salarno said.
She added: “They say it was part of history, I would agree with that so, donate (his belongings) to a museum, but don’t profit off of the back of victims.”
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