For very good reason, the gravestone is unremarkable. Not elegant, subtle or in any manner imposing.
Otherwise, it would be more of a target for thieves than it already is.
The simple grave in section 35 of Mt. Carmel Catholic Cemetery, fourteen miles west of downtown Chicago, south of the confluence of Dwight Eisenhower Expressway and Ronald Reagan Tollway, houses the remains of one of America’s most notorious crime figures, Al Capone.
Even though his grave is surrounded by the notable — wealthy, accomplished, and even many high ranking Church officials — Capone’s grave is still the most visited in the cemetery.
In fact, Mt. Carmel was not his original resting place. Following his death on January 25, 1947 at the age of 48, the Philbrick Funeral Home in Miami Beach (a then independent establishment, now part of a large, national chain) drove the body back to the south side of Chicago, where he was interred in the more ostentatious Mt. Olivet Cemetery. A few years later, he was moved to the Mt. Carmel grounds, where he now is near his parents.
Although Capone passed away in 1947, his demise was actually set in motion on a bloody St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1929 — it was a surprisingly quick, grim, and irrevocable fall.
At the time of what would become known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Capone had just turned 31: he was having high times, in his prime as kingpin of an incredibly well organized crime syndicate. Although dealing with a variety of rivals and fending off prosecution with munificently compensated lawyers, bribes, threats and outright murders, Capone was chiefly occupied with overseeing the various nefarious operations that were netting him millions in cash.
This Chicago based empire was suddenly placed in peril when four or five men, two of them dressed as police officers, marched into a Windy City garage at 2122 North Clark at 10:30 am — with two Thompson submachine guns and two twelve-gage shotguns, the visitors lined up the occupants of the garage (seven members of “Bugs” Moran’s gang) against a brick wall and dispatched them with methodical haste. Two minutes later, the fake police officers pretended to usher their companions out to a waiting Cadillac, as if making an arrest.
The car sped south away from the garage, onto nearby Armitage and into the plush Lincoln Park environs. In less time than it would have taken to play the number one hit record of the year (Eddie Cantor singing Makin’ Whoopee), one of the most heinous atrocities in gangland history was perpetrated.
To date, the crime has not been solved. Capone was never convicted of commissioning it, nor is it likely that he was questioned in detail about it.
There were two witnesses: Frank Gusenberg, one of the victims, who died shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital, and a dog named Highball. Gusenberg announced, with criminal bravado, that he would not talk — he then said, “cops did it.” Highball’s contribution was a frenzied howling which caused neighbors to rush to the garage and summon actual police forces.
During the time of the slaughter, Capone’s alibi was bulletproof: he was in Dade County, Florida, meeting with two prosecutors and a county sheriff (during the meeting, he was asked tax questions, an ominous foreshadowing).
But it didn’t take long for law enforcement officials to tie the Capone mob to Clark Street, nor did it take long for the newspapers and the public to do the same. Suddenly a hoodlum, grotesque as he was, lost all elements of modern day Robin Hoodism — Capone had developed a reputation for donating to worthy causes, generating a sprinkling of goodwill to his image. That quickly faded as the vicious, shocking nature of the crime entered the general American ether.
Eighty year old Frank Loesch, President of the Chicago Crime Commission, cinched the noose when he released a brilliantly named “Public Enemies” list shortly thereafter — these were twenty eight gangsters who needed to be relentlessly pursued and prosecuted. Capone’s name was on the list and, eventually, he was broadly labeled Public Enemy Number One.
The FBI, under the direction of J Edgar Hoover, ultimately appropriated the inventory, named it the Ten Most Wanted List, an appellation it still carries.
Capone couldn’t go anywhere without harassment — if he set foot out of his Palm Island mansion in Miami, he soon found himself in jail for some alleged slight.
The final curtain fell in late October of 1931 when he was convicted of multiple counts of income tax evasion. Plagued by a downward spiral of syphilitic symptoms (complicated initially by cocaine withdrawal) Capone served a miserable, incoherent seven year, six month federal confinement which ended in November of 1939.
A stroke, pneumonia and cardiac arrest finally closed in on his life in what could not be described as a peaceful passing.
The remains of the gangster buried in Mt. Carmel, the now demolished garage on Clark Street (the stained bricks of which may be viewed in a Mob Museum in Las Vegas) are episodes in an unforgettable chapter in Chicago history, but only a small part of a sweeping narrative that features outsized Politicians, Nobel Laureates, and infamous sports figures, among many others.
A fitting epitaph can be found at the end of a popular radio program of the time, one Capone, perhaps apocryphally, was said to have enjoyed. “The Shadow,” sometimes played by Orson Welles, closed each show with the following: “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay.”
Simple, unremarkable — much as the legend on his grave.
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