Al Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York City to a family of Italian immigrants from a village near Naples. He began his criminal career there as a bookmaker and small-time ganster employed by Francesco Yale, the leader of the Unione Siciliana, a mobbed up insurance company. In a Brooklyn watering hole during the First World War, Capone lewdly insulted the sister of a "made guy." As a result, he was attacked and permanently disfigured on the cheek. He was later dubbed "Scarface" because of the injury. Deeply sensitive about his scars, Capone liked to claim that he was wounded in action while serving with Major Charles W. Whittlesey's Lost Battalion in the Argonne Forest.
In 1919, Capone's assassination was decreed by William Lovett the boss of Brooklyn's Irish Mob. As a result, Yale arranged for him to be sent to Chicago, where he became a trusted lieutenant of the gang boss Johnny Torrio. and in 1923, by bribery and intimidation in municipal elections, the Torrio-Capone organisation took over the Chicago suburban municipality of Cicero, making the district a safe haven for them. Torrio retired in 1925 after an assassination attempt and turned over his crime interests - largely based on the illegal alcohol trade which prospered as a result of Prohibition, but also including gambling and prostitution - to Capone. However, Capone was vulnerable to attacks by his enemies, notably the Chicagoan 'North Side' gangs. In 1929 he turned on these enemies, organising the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in which seven North Side gangsters were murdered by Capone gunmen posing as police, although the main target, George Moran, escaped.
Capone also liked to pose as a public benefactor, organising the distribution of free milk for Chicago schoolchildren and starting free soup kitchens during the Depression years.
He was eventually convicted in 1931 on charges of tax evasion, and sentenced in 1932 to twelve years imprisonment, of which he served six and a half. On his release from prison in 1939 he found it difficult to rebuild his crime empire, and he began to suffer from declining physical and mental health exacerbated by syphilis. He died on 25 January 1947.