Friday, February 14, 2014


The Return of Jimmy Clark

Capone remained in Florida during the early months of 1929, staying as far away from the trouble in Chicago that had been caused by the massacre as he could. He finally returned in the early days of May, likely against his better judgment. What brought him back, however, was an unsettling rumor that was making the rounds that claimed that Anselmi and Scalise, the two Sicilian gunmen that had previously been fiercely loyal to Capone, had shifted their loyalties to the new head of the Unione Siciliane, Joseph “Hop Toad” Giunta. Giunta, Capone also learned, had formed an alliance with another of his enemies, Joe Aiello. Worse yet, Capone heard that Scalise had taken to boasting, “I am the most powerful man in Chicago.” With the complex mix of blood oaths and loyalties in the Sicilian culture, such words could only be seen as a direct challenge to Capone’s control over the city’s underworld. Capone had always been careful to keep the volatile Unione Siciliane on his side. Any disagreement with the Sicilians had the possibility of being lethal and Scalise and Anselmi were particularly dangerous. Capone would be lucky to survive any attempt they made on his life.

Al Capone

Before Capone acted on what were only rumors at this point, he decided to test the loyalties of his two assassins. He invited the two men to dinner, along with Frank Rio, a Capone captain of unquestioned devotion. At the dinner, Capone and Rio pretended to get into a fierce argument and to the astonishment of Scalise and Anselmi, the shouting turned violent when Rio actually slapped Capone across the face before rushing out of the restaurant. Impressed by his daring, the Sicilians secretly met with Rio the next day, offering to involve him in a plot they had cooked up to kill Capone and seize control of all of his rackets. They had unwittingly taken Capone’s bait.

Rio spent the next three days negotiating with Scalise and Anselmi and then reported their treachery to the boss. Capone didn’t have to think long about how he would dispose of the two gunmen and their associate, Giunta – he would throw a banquet in their honor.

On May 7, Capone, his inner circle and the three traitors gathered for a banquet at a roadhouse called the Plantation in Hammond, Indiana. That Capone wanted to cross state lines for the gathering should have sent up a red flag to the invited guests; anyone who committed a crime, like murder, in Indiana and quickly slipped across the state line into Illinois would be considerably more difficult to arrest. But the guests were compelled to attend since they knew their absence would be a sign they were plotting betrayal.

The guest list that night was large, consisting of nearly one hundred of Capone’s closest allies in Chicago. Capone had planned the evening as an object lesson for anyone else who might consider betraying him. Eating and drinking went on long into the night, until Al’s jovial mood began to darken. As he addressed his guests – playfully holding a baseball bat to illustrate his lecture on team spirit – he suddenly turned on Scalise, Anselmi and Giunta. “This is how we deal with traitors,” he growled and before the men could move, Capone soldiers bound them into their chairs. Capone beat each of the men to within an inch of their lives with the baseball bat. But he didn’t kill them. As he stepped away, gunmen approached with their weapons drawn and began firing. Scalise threw up a hand to cover his face and a bullet severed his little finger and slammed into his eye. Another bullet crashed into his jaw and he fell out of his chair. Anselmi’s right arm was broken by a bullet. Giunta’s chest opened up with the force of the slugs, showering the table in front of him with blood. When the men fell out of their chairs and onto the floor, their assailants stood over them and fired more bullets into their backs.

It was not a subject open for debate – Capone was still the most powerful man in Chicago.
The next morning, the three broken corpses were found on a road along the shore of Wolf Lake, an isolated area of water, grasslands and swamps on Chicago’s Southeast Side, straddling the border of Illinois and Indiana. In the early 1920s, Wolf Lake was dubbed a “gangland graveyard” by the newspapers and by the police, who frequently found the bodies of gangsters dumped there. The desolate and lonely place was a popular spot for hiding corpses and had earned notoriety in 1924 when the body of kidnapped schoolboy Bobby Franks was discovered there. His killers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, had been tried during a sensational court case just five years before.

Police officers at the site near Wolf Lake where the bodies of Scalise, Anselmi and Guinta were found. The coat -- and white "X" -- is where Anselmi's body was discovered on the ground. 
Scalise and Giunta were found in the back of an abandoned car and Anselmi’s body lay nearby. Dr. Francis McNamara, who examined the bodies, stated that never in his thirty years as a jail physician had he seen that much damage done to a human body. Scalise and Anselmi were sent back home to Sicily for burial while Giunta, like so many other Chicago gangsters and their victims, was laid to rest in Mt. Carmel Cemetery.

The question remains whether these men remain peacefully in their graves.

The numerous deaths in the vicinity of Wolf Lake – from swimmers drowning to the gangsters’ “one-way rides” --- seem to have left a vivid impression on the place. There are many tales of haunting cries in the woods, eerie screams and even the ghost of a woman in a blue dress who has been seen wandering the shoreline. But perhaps the strangest story is that of the “walking man” who has been seen along nearby Avenue O. This long stretch of roadway goes through the most secluded and remote areas on the Southeast Side, passing closer to Wolf Lake than any other road. It offers just about the only access to the lake to fisherman and outdoorsmen ---- and to the swamps that came to be dubbed the “gangland cemetery.”

According to the legend, the ghost of a man in a suit and tie, wearing an old-style fedora, walks the edge of the road, apparently trying to flag down cars that pass by him at night. He is described as looking very ordinary and not ghost-like at all. Most people who have seen him assume that he is someone whose car was broken down on this isolated roadway. The stories say that if a driver stops to offer him assistance, he always disappears.

Who is this mysterious man? Despite the number of other slain gangsters that were dumped in this area during the days of Prohibition, many believe that he may be a member of the treacherous trio that Capone killed at the Plantation roadhouse in May 1929. Could the man be Scalise, Anselmi or Giunta? It certainly seems possible. If anyone had a reason to leave a restless ghost behind, it would be one of these traitorous mobsters, each of whom met death much sooner than he planned.

Three days after taking as baseball bat to Scalise, Anselmi and Giunta, Capone left Chicago, supposedly to attend a prizefight in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The fight served as a pretext to Capone’s real mission, which was to attend a meeting between racketeers from all over the country who planned to form a commission to resolve disputes among members in a peaceful, business-like fashion. At least, this was the stated reason for the gathering. As Capone would discover over the course of the next few days, there was hidden agenda – to strip him of his power and profits because of the publicity and heat that had been generated by what newspapers were calling the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano were among those gathered at the Syndicate meeting that took Capone to task for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

The guests at this gathering included Capone, Jake Guzik, Frank Rio and Frank Nitti from Chicago; “Boo-Hoo” Hoff and Nig Rosen from Philadelphia; Abe Bernstein from the Purple Gang in Detroit; Leo Berkowitz and Moe Dalitz from Cleveland; John Lazia from Kansas City; Longy Zwillman from New Jersey; and Daniel Walsh from Rhode Island. The New York contingent was the most formidable and the angriest at Capone. It was made up of Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Louis Buchalter, Ben Siegel, Joe Adonis and Frank Costello. They also brought with them Johnny Torrio. All of them were upset with Capone for killing Frankie Yale without permission – and for having the gall to do it on their home territory.
The delegates talked for three days, often walking on the beach, where they could be far away from prying ears. They adopted a series of resolutions, some designed to cut Capone down to size and others to lay a groundwork for organized crime after Prohibition. The delegates also formed a commission, with retired Torrio as the head, which would deal with all disagreements between members. Capone managed to maintain his power in Chicago. In fact, the smaller North and South Side gangs were to be merged under his leadership. He did have to agree to some concessions, though, namely that there would be no more killing and that the new head of the Chicago Unione Siciliana would be Capone’s enemy, Joe Aiello.

It was also decided that it would be a good idea for Capone to go to jail. Not only would it allow the heat from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to continue to cool, but it might be just the thing to save Capone’s life. George Moran had not attended the Atlantic City conference. He, along with a few scattered remnants of his gang, was still plotting to kill Capone. Also, as Capone knew, a number of Chicago Sicilians had sworn to avenge Scalise, Anselmi and Giunta. Threatened by killers and harassed by other members of the new Syndicate, he decided on the same course that Torrio had taken when he was in fear of his life from O’Banion and his North Side gang – Capone had himself jailed.

Capone had become friendly at the Hialeah racetrack the year before with a Philadelphia detective named James “Shooey” Malone, so as soon as the conference ended on May 16, he telephoned a friend in Philadelphia and asked him to get a message to Malone. He and Frank Rio then drove to the city and decided to go to the movies at a theater on Market Street. When they came out around 9:00 p.m., Malone and another detective, John Creedon, were waiting for them.

“You’re Al Capone, aren’t you?” Malone asked.

“My name’s Al Brown,” Capone replied, “but you can call me Capone if you want to. Who are you?” The detectives flashed their badges. “Oh, bulls, eh? Ah, here’s my gun.” He handed over a .38 caliber revolver, thereby establishing the grounds to arrest and convict him for carrying a concealed weapon. He elbowed Rio, who also handed over a revolver.

The police magistrate before whom they were arraigned shortly after midnight fixed bail at $35,000 each. They only had a few thousand bucks between them and the two lawyers that Capone had sent for, Bernard L. Lemisch and Cornelius Haggerty, Jr., accused the police of railroading their clients into jail. Capone just smiled – railroading was exactly what he wanted.

The judge imposed the maximum sentence of one year. As Capone was led off with the unlucky Frank Rio to Philadelphia’s Holmesburg County Prison, he took a diamond ring from his finger and handed it to his attorney, instructing him to get it to his brother Ralph. Between arrest and imprisonment, only sixteen hours had passed.

Holmesburg, with more than 1,700 prisoners jammed into cells built to hold 600, was one of the country’s worst county jails. A few weeks before Capone entered it, the prisoners, rioting over bad food and brutal guards, set fire to their mattresses. The word went out from Chicago that a $50,000 fee awaited any attorney that could get Capone out of Holmesburg. None succeeded. The same fee was offered to the district attorney in Philadelphia, John Monoghan, as a bribe to procure Capone’s release, but he turned it down.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Luckily for Capone, he was transferred in August to the city’s larger and more orderly Eastern State Penitentiary. There, Warden Herbert B. Smith made him more comfortable, giving him a private cell and letting him furnish it with Oriental rugs, pictures, a chest of drawers, double bed, bookshelf, lamps and a $500 radio console. As his work assignment, he drew the comfortable job of library file clerk. Capone continued to conduct business from prison. He was allowed to make long-distance telephone calls from the warden's office and to meet with his lawyers and his brother, Ralph, along with Frank Nitti and Jake Guzik, all of whom made frequent trips to Philadelphia. For ordinary inmates, visiting hours were limited to Sunday, but Capone’s family and friends could come and see him any day. He also met often with reporters, who kept their readers up to date on Capone’s schedule, daily life and reading habits.

Capone's cell at Eastern State was luxurious in comparison to the rest of the prison, boasting a radio, armchair, writing desk, private meals and a number of amenities.

He bought $1,000 worth of arts and crafts made by his fellow inmates and mailed them to friends as Christmas presents. He also donated $1,200 to a Philadelphia orphanage. Such seemingly good-hearted deeds aroused a great deal of sympathy for Capone. A civil engineer from Chicago, a total stranger to Capone, who was in Philadelphia on business, got permission to visit him. He warmly shook his hand and told him, “Al, we’re with you.”

Shortly after arriving at Eastern State, Capone had to have his tonsils removed. The surgeon who performed the operation, Dr. Herman Goddard of the Pennsylvania State Board of Prison Inspections, could barely contain the admiration that he felt for his infamous patient. “In my seven years experience,” he said, “I have never seen a prisoner so kind, so cheery and accommodating.”

But Capone was not always “cheery and accommodating” at Eastern State, especially at night, after the lights had gone out. It was at Eastern State Penitentiary, during those dark nights while he tossed and turned in the cot in his cell, that a terrifying memory of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre came back to visit Al Capone.

Capone came to believe that James Clark, one of the seven victims of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, haunted him for the rest of his life.  

That memory’s name was James Clark.

It was while he was incarcerated at Eastern State that Capone first began to be haunted by the ghost of James Clark, a member of the North Side gang and one of the men killed during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. While in prison, other inmates reported that they could hear Capone screaming in his cell, begging someone whom he called "Jimmy" to go away and leave him alone. No one had any idea what he was talking about; Capone was alone in his cell. During the daylight hours, he refused to speak about it.

Later, that would change. After his return to Chicago, Capone would speak often about the ghost and about the “curse” that haunted his life. He even went so far as to hire a spirit medium to try and convince the ghost to leave. Was the ghost real? Did Capone imagine the whole thing, or was he already showing signs of the psychosis that would haunt him after his release from Alcatraz years later?

Capone certainly believed the ghost was real and over the course of the next few years, the haunting would become more intense, reaching a point when Capone was not the only person to encounter the vengeful spirit of James Clark.

Want to read the rest of the story – and find out why Capone believed the ghost of James Clark haunted him for the rest of his life? Check out Troy Taylor’s book, Blood, Guns & Valentines: The Haunting of Al Capone and Chicago’s Gangland Ghosts, available autographed as part of the “Dead Men Do Tell Tales” series [Click Here to See the Series and Order Your Copy] and as a Kindle edition from Amazon. 

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