|Bullet-proof vest worn by Al Capone, Collection of
the National Law Enforcement Museum, 2007.139.1.
January marks the birth and death of one of America’s most notorious gangsters. Al Capone was born on January 17, 1899 and became a central focus of federal law enforcement during Prohibition.
Two federal agencies began working to bring Capone to justice. Eliot Ness was a Prohibition Bureau agent charged with the task. His team raided illegal stills and significantly slowed the cash flow of Capone’s boot-legging operations. Meanwhile, I.R.S. Agent Mike Malone went undercover as a wise guy from Philadelphia to infiltrate Capone’s gang, but the actual take-down of Al Capone is credited to a quiet I.R.S agent named Frank Wilson.
Wilson was one of several I.R.S. agents who were investigating Capone’s financial dealings. By some estimates, Capone raked in $60 million in illegal liquor sales during Prohibition. Combined with another $25 million from gambling establishments and $20 million from vice and other illegal activities, Capone, became of the country’s richest gangsters.
Using forensic accounting, Wilson and his team were able to gather sufficient evidence to indict Capone on charges of tax evasion. Capone was convicted and sentenced to eleven years in prison, most of it served in Alcatraz. After eight years, Capone was released from prison in ill health from the effects of syphilis. He suffered a stroke and died January 25, 1947 at the age of 48.
A bullet-proof vest once worn by the notorious gangster is part of the National Law Enforcement Museum’s collection, and will be on display in the History Beat exhibit when the museum opens this fall.