Public Enemies Image Gallery
Public Enemies Image Gallery

Al Capone (with an unidentified associate) en route to prison after being sentenced to 11 years for tax evasion. See more pictures of gangsters and public enemies.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Legendary crime boss Alfonse "Scarface" Capone didn't finish sixth grade, but the man was far from stupid. By age 26, he controlled Chicago's criminal underworld with an iron fist. Capone's odd mixture of brutality and charm elevated him to the status of international celebrity. In 1930, he was listed as No. 1 on the Chicago Crime Commission's list of public enemies [source: National Archives].

In the 1920s, Chicago was reminiscent of the Wild West. Drive-by shootings were commonplace, with rival gangs killing one another's members. Regular folks weren't safe, getting caught in the crossfire at times. Nor were public servants: One state attorney, William McSwiggan, was murdered in 1926 outside a Capone speakeasy [source: Gumbel]. Murder characterized Capone's rule of Chicago. The year before he ascended to power over the city's vice in 1925, there were 16 murders linked to gangland activity. At the height of his rule, the yearly gangland murder total reached 64 [source: Treasury Department].

Capone was a native New Yorker but was called out west. In 1920, he began his career in Chicago under the wing of crime boss Johnny Torrio, serving as a bouncer in a rough bar and working his way inside the inner circles of gang activity. When Torrio nearly died after an attempt on his life, he retired, leaving a power vacuum in Chicago. This traditionally leads to bloodshed, with factions attempting to take as much of the pie left up for grabs as possible. But with his ruthless willingness to take lives, Capone rose to the top. He consolidated much of the gambling, prostitution, liquor and extortion rackets in the city and brought them under his control.

He made vast sums of money from his business ventures. In 1927, he brought in an estimated $100 million [source: Britannica]. This is equal to about $1.2 billion in 2008 dollars [source: BLS]. There's no telling how many people died by his hand or his command. But when it came down to it, the federal prosecutors who worked for years to build a case against Scarface could only pin charges of tax evasion on the gangster.

Find out why on the next page.