Young Al Capone: The Untold Story of Scarface in New York, 1899-1925by William Balsamo, John Balsamo
Many people are familiar with the story of Al Capone, the “untouchable”
Chicago gangster best known for orchestrating the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But few are aware that Capone’s remarkable story began in the Navy Yard section of Brooklyn, New York. Tutored by the likes of infamous mobsters Johnny Torrio and Frankie Yale, young
Many people are familiar with the story of Al Capone, the “untouchable”
Chicago gangster best known for orchestrating the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But few are aware that Capone’s remarkable story began in the Navy Yard section of Brooklyn, New York. Tutored by the likes of infamous mobsters Johnny Torrio and Frankie Yale, young Capone’s disquieting demeanor, combined with the “technical advice” he learned from these insidious pedagogues,
contributed to the molding of a brutal criminal whose pseudonym,
“Scarface,” evoked fascination throughout the world.
Despite the best efforts of previous biographers lacking true insider’s access, details about Capone’s early years have, until now, mostly been shrouded in mystery. With access gained through invaluable familial connections, the authors were able to open the previously sealed mouths of Capone’s known living associates. Collecting information through these interviews and never-before-published documents, the life of young Al Capone at last comes into focus.
Among the many revelations in Young Al Capone are new details about the brutal Halloween Night murder of rival gangster “Wild Bill” Lovett, grisly details on how Capone and his Black Hand crew cleverly planned the shootout and barbaric hatchet slaying of White Hand boss, Richard “Peg Leg” Lonergan, insight into the dramatic incident that forced Capone to leave New York, and much more.
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Young Al Capone
The Untold Story of Scarface in New York, 1899-1925
By William Balsamo, John Balsamo
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2011 William Balsamo and John Balsamo
All rights reserved.
Touch Us If You Dare!
"TOMMASSO, WHERE'SA MYbacile?" muttered the rotund, five foot, four inch tall Maria Adamo as her seventeen-year-old approached. Knowing his mother always did her wash at this time of day, the youngster figured out just what she was looking for.
"I don't know, Mama, I haven't seen the washbasin. Maybe you left it in the yard," he replied, with a sheepish look on his face. He wouldn't dare let on that he'd seen one of his brothers carrying it in the hallway earlier that morning. The thirty-eight-year-old mother of five boys and two small daughters was remarkably youthful-looking despite her many childbirths, but this morning the usually patient, mild-mannered lady was more than a little agitated. She threw her arms in the air and began mumbling a repetitive round of profanity, concluding with putana diavalo (whore of the devil) as she walked outside the doorway and circled the yard once again. Maria, dressed in a loose-fitting beige dress covered with a spotless white apron that she had sewn for herself, was becoming resigned to the fact that someone had stolen her new metal washtub.
"Im'a keep it right here, where it stay alla time," Maria complained, while pointing to a nail protruding from a wooden beam close to the door that led to the yard.
The Adamos' apartment consisted of two separate levels, the basement and the parlor floor of a rented, three-family house at 125 Navy Street where she resided with her large brood and her husband, Francesco, a short, husky dock worker who walked with a limp, his abnormal gait the result of an injury sustained four years prior while toiling on Brooklyn's Pearl Street piers.
Tommasso "Tommy" Adamo left his bewildered mother and took a stroll up the block in search of his younger brothers, thinking they might have taken the rather large basin for one reason or another. Just as he expected, Tommasso found them at the corner of Navy and Tillary Streets. Sixteen-year-old Gerardo, thirteen-year-old Johnny Boy, and the youngest of the Adamo boys, eleven-year-old Francesco — known as Junior — were hanging out with their clique, called the "Navy Street Boys." It was May 12, 1907.
This youthful brotherhood consisted of the previously mentioned Adamo brothers and several other local toughs, including the Capone brothers: Ralph, almost fifteen; twelve-year-old Salvatore (known as Frankie); and the youngest of the group, chubby Alphonse, who was just past the tender age of eight. Alphonse was taller and heavier than most of the other kids his age. He looked like a boy of eleven and the older guys accepted him in the gang as sort of a mascot.
The unchallenged leader of this group of roughnecks was nineteen-year-old Frank Nitto, a tough cookie who was squat (five feet, five inches in height), good with his fists, and much more dangerous when he wielded a weapon. Frank Nitto would gain notoriety later in life as Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti. It was Frank's strong leadership, combined with his boldness during rumbles, that helped make the Navy Street Boys truly feared among other youth gangs of that era. Not only on their own turf but also throughout the borough of Brooklyn, all one had to do was mention "I'm with Navy Street" and that alone caused other youngsters to cower and make tracks. The supercharged fraternity, consisting of mostly Italian Americans, were "cliqued up" with some of the toughest street gangs around and the time for a little teamwork was fast approaching.
Some of the others who were destined to play a role in the impending rumble on the side of the Italians were Frank's brother, Lally, James "Filezee" DeAmato, Rocco "Rocky" Mangano, "Tough" Tony Caputo, and around a dozen others.
"Did any of you see Mama's wash basin?" Tommasso asked as he approached the gang. He directed the question to his youngest brother, Junior, who was seated, cross-legged on the wooden steps of the house where Tony Caputo lived. "She's going nuts looking for it because she wants to wash some of Papa's work clothes."
Junior Adamo bore a blank expression and remained tight-lipped as the hoodlum commander, Frank Nitto, who was leaning against a corner lamppost with his right shoulder, hesitated for a moment, then lit a cigarette, which hung from his lips, and took a drag. Sucking the smoke deep into his lungs, Nitto held it for a moment, and then exhaled the nicotine fog into the gentle breeze.
"She'll get it back in good shape as soon as we finish using it. When the shit's over!" Nitto barked, and then softened his tone reassuringly with, "You have my word on that, Tommy."
Tommasso sighed a little, but his anxiety was allayed when little Alphonse disclosed the fact that Frank told him to hide the basin under the stairs in the hallway of his house and furthermore, young Capone promised that he would protect the tub.
The oldest Adamo brother, arriving late on the scene, was not aware of the "war council" that he had unexpectedly interrupted. The gang was upset because one of the guys in their clique, Rocky Mangano, recently had a family member, an aunt, insulted by some local Irish hooligans. The young Irish toughs thought it was funny to sneak up behind this dark-haired lady, who in this particular neighborhood was undoubtedly Italian, and lift up her skirt to expose her bloomers.
This meant war to Frank Nitto, especially as more stories, real or imagined, were coming forth from the lips of the Navy Street Boys. They continued relating the many insults, some amounting to atrocities, being committed by the Irish.
"I heard that piece of crap Billy Walsh snuck up behind the owner of the Chinese laundry on York Street, Jimmy Lee Fong, and snipped off one of his pigtails — all the way up to his ear," Nitto exclaimed.
"Who's Jimmy Lee Fong?" Tommasso asked, as he brushed past his brother, Gerardo, in order to better hear Nitto's voice above the rattling and clip clopping of a horse-drawn ice wagon that was passing by. "Are you deaf or stupid or both?" Nitto roared, "Jimmy Fong is the owner of the Chinese laundry on York Street. He's also the guy whose father sometimes gives us free cookies and nuts. He's an all right guy, even though he's a chink."
Nitto's eyes grew large as he spoke. Not unlike a general issuing battle orders, he pointed a finger in the direction of his brother, Lally.
"I want you to take the trolley car, go to Third Avenue. See that guy named Vaaha Minelli, the guy we went to bat for that time in Prospect Park, remember him?" Lally nodded as his older brother continued the assignment. "Look for him at the Commodore Social Club and tell him to bring a few of the Garfield Boys along with him." Nitto then turned to address another of his pals saying, "Rocky, I want you to go right now. Take the Columbia Street trolley and get off at Pioneer Street. Go near the movie house and find 'Louie the Beef.' Ask him if he can get the Red Hook Pointers over here in a hurry.
"At about a quarter to seven tonight, we'll all get together near Ralphie's father's barbershop."
The gang's appetite for blood was growing more intense with every new threat that spewed from the mouth of their leader, Nitto, who finalized his inspiring dialogue by slamming one of his big fists into the palm of his open hand while he ordered his young cohorts.
"Bring bats, sticks, rocks, anything you can get your hands on," he urged, as his voice grew louder and the veins on his thick neck protruded to the point that one would think they'd explode.
"We'll march straight up Sand Street and stop right in front of Toomey's, then we'll challenge the bastards by hanging outside the joint and singing to them this tune: We are the boys of Navy Street and touch us if you dare!" Nitto suddenly whooped out a war cry like an Apache chief getting his warriors ready for the massacre, but with just one difference. His weird shriek was in his native tongue, Italian.
"Ammazzola!" (kill) he cried, taking a few steps back from the gathering. He began jabbing his muscular arms in every direction, throwing imaginary punches and kicks at the inescapable enemy.
* * *
TERESINA CAPONE CAME outside to throw away some garbage in the front of their apartment situated above her husband's barbershop. She decided to stay there for a moment to admire the brand-new lettering recently painted on the windows and the shiny barber pole on the sidewalk, which she polished every morning herself. The big, red characters on the glass said simply, BARBER SHOP. Under that, in smaller black lettering it read, HAIRCUTS AND SHAVES. The glass on the door of the tonsorial emporium was also newly inscribed with fancy script that read, " Gabriele Capone — Proprietor."
Teresina strolled to the entrance of the shop and opened the door just enough to pop her head inside to remind her husband of the lateness of the day. Teresina always wore her salt-and-pepper-shaded hair tied up in a bun. She did this to placate Gabriele because he always told her he thought it was too long.
"Gabriele, do you know how late it is?" she asked in gentle Italian. "What time do you want your dinner?" She disliked bothering him when he was at work, but she thought her husband worked a little too hard in his effort to provide for their large brood.
"Teresina, please, can't you see I'm busy now?" The balding, five-foot, ten-inch barber and father of Al Capone (and five others) replied in his native Italian, "Please, cara mia, I want to finish cutting the hair of this young man because I feel he's going to give me a nice tip. Now go upstairs," he said, promising her that this would be the last customer for today. He also assured her that he'd be finished in fifteen minutes.
"Well then, I'm locking this door right now, before somebody else sees the door open and decides he needs a haircut too," she snapped, adding, "Let the young man out from the hallway."
"You wanna shorta haircutta?" Gabrielle asked the man in the barber chair, who appeared to be a sailor out of uniform, probably docked in the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard.
"Not too short, but trim the sides even," the redheaded man with a southern accent replied. "I hate getting haircuts on my ship."
Responding in a thick Italian accent, Gabriele Capone offered, "I always try my besta to make'a the customa happy."
Later that evening, the first ones to assemble in front of the barbershop were the Capone and Nitto brothers, who witnessed the somewhat comical spectacle of young Al Capone in tattered, black cotton pants that were slipping down from his waistline, their cuffs draping over his scruffy shoes. He had found a rope and tied it through one handle of the washbasin, which he thrust squarely against his belly like a bass drum, while using one of his mother's wooden spoons as a drumstick.
The Italian youngsters were now armed with all sorts of weapons as dictated by Nitto and the increasingly large crowd commenced a march once around the block before going south toward Toomey's saloon. They soon picked up a chant initiated by Gerardo Adamo. "Fall in with our parade, get lost if you're afraid," they crooned, repeating this phrase over and over again until their lyrical display of solidarity began drawing youngsters from as far as three blocks away. They managed to recruit another twenty or so kids of various ages as a result. Those who joined the ranks averaged around fifteen years of age. Most were not necessarily looking for a fight, especially with the more mature Irish, but they welcomed the chance to stand up to the bullies, and being part of a parade seemed like fun. Quite a few others saw this as an opportunity to forge friendships with some of the "tough guys" who reigned over the cobblestone streets and alleys that lay in close proximity to the towers of the then twenty-six-year-old Brooklyn Bridge.
Some left the ranks long enough to tear wooden slats from picket fences to be used in the imminent battle as eight-year-old Alphonse Capone led the mob, banging a beat on the metal washbasin borrowed from Mrs. Adamo's backyard. The throng of the like-minded, tough street gangs walked sprightly as they began a new chant, the one suggested by Nitto, "We are the Boys of Navy Street — Touch us if you dare!"
The future "Enforcer" for the Mafia, Frank Nitto, had the gang break up into three separate groups, leaving but a small fraction of the mob to actually stand in front of the dingy joint in order to challenge the beer guzzlers to step outside. The remaining Italians filled the sidewalks on either side of Toomey's while the strange, comedic burlesque continued. Banga-da-banga-boom, boom boom, little Alphonse beat out his monotonous cadence on Mrs. Adamo's washbasin.
The customers inside the bar roared with hysterical laughter at the sight of the ragtag army and the indiscernible serenade they were repeating over and over. It was just too much for the beer drinkers to bear.
"Stupid wops, what are you training for? Coxey's Army? You chickenshit dagos, go home and eat some macaroni!" They shouted, jeered, and giggled at the rather small bunch of dumb Italians who were undoubtedly attempting to goad them.
Now the Italians began a new chant, "One-two-three-four, step outside the fuckin' door!"
The first one to bid the chant's challenge and step outside the entrance to Toomey's was the main troublemaker, Billy Walsh, a brown-haired youth, followed by his close friend, Mickey Daly, who was still carrying his half-empty bottle of beer. "Git the fuck outta here or else we'll break your stinky asses," Walsh shouted.
Frank Nitto's face turned beet red as he stepped in front of the drunken Irish youth, who looked to both sides of the street and suddenly noticed the tremendous crowd of Italians gathered. But Walsh's drunken stupor allowed him a sense of false bravado and his emotions were uncontrollable. His attempt to continue the bitter harangue was swiftly interrupted by Nitto, who hauled off with a table leg he had brought along with him. Swinging the heavy wooden object, he scored a direct hit on Walsh's noggin. Then he swung the thing again, whacking the right side of Mickey Daly's face. Both went down instantly, the blood flowing like Niagara from Walsh's deep head wound.
Meanwhile, Toomey's patrons bolted out from the bar to join the fray. The time of the attack had assured Nitto that the place would be full of potential victims, who now armed themselves with chairs, empty beer bottles, and baseball bats as they emptied the bar and struck back at the Navy Street Boys. But the Irish were terribly outnumbered and within just a few minutes the swarm of Italians swinging their lead pipes, sticks, and belts with bolts and nuts attached to the buckles were winning the day.
Little Alphonse slipped the rope tied from around his neck and bashed the tub into the head of one guy who was attempting to rise from the sidewalk. In all of the confusion and bloodied faces, the fallen man was still recognizable to Alphonse. It was Billy Walsh, the lowlife whose degenerate actions had been the catalyst for the uprising.
"This is for Rocky's aunt," he roared at Walsh, who attempted to roll his body into a ball while pleading for his life as Frank and his brother Lally struggled to separate him from his trousers. Yanking them from his squirming body, they tossed the blue jeans into Toomey's bar, which had already been stormed by the attacking force, causing tremendous damage to the interior and the loss of hundreds of dollars in beer and liquor.
Not a single beat cop was summoned to the early evening riot. If a policeman were in the vicinity, you could be certain he'd have hesitated before going anywhere near the scene of the carnage.
When the dust cleared, the emergency rooms of nearby Cumberland, Brooklyn, and Long Island College Hospitals were filled with the injured. Most of the Irish were being delivered to the overwhelmed Cumberland and Brooklyn Hospitals, while the Italians, who suffered far fewer casualties, were driven to the Long Island College Hospital in two private horse-drawn wagons driven by Mangano's uncle, Joe, and a friend. This was done in order to avoid further violence. Luckily no one was killed in the melee, but the main concerns of the medical attendants were patients with broken limbs and the many who required stitches. A few had to spend the night under close supervision, one of these being Billy "Kid" Walsh. Besides twenty-seven stitches to his head and a broken kneecap, this patient also needed something to repair his shattered ego.
The subsequent police investigation into the incident was stymied because all the participants in the skirmish declined comment.
Maria Adamo was happily surprised the next morning when she found her lost washbasin hanging in the hallway, near the yard in its usual place with only one small dent noticeable on it, and the ladies in the neighborhood never feared embarrassment on the street again. From that day forward, whenever Mr. Fong walked past Toomey's restored tavern, he was greeted with, "Good afternoon, Mr. Fong."
Excerpted from Young Al Capone by William Balsamo, John Balsamo. Copyright © 2011 William Balsamo and John Balsamo. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Bill Balsamo, considered by many to be one of the premier Capone historians, is the author of Crime,
Inc. and Young Al Capone. Mr. Balsamo’s many television appearances include the Sally Jesse Raphael Show, The Geraldo Rivera Show, and various documentary features.
John Balsamo is the chief executive of SUPERDON INC., a company that markets board games. Prior to that, John worked on the Brooklyn waterfront for more than thirty years while compiling extensive material regarding the life of young Al Capone.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I bought the book expecting the story behind Al Capone and up to a point that is what it covered but then the story just stops. It says nothing about when he was tried for various crimes, the gun charge that got him one year in prison or the tax problems that landed him in prison. There was not even the mention of the VD that killed him. The book was ok but this was only part of the life of Al Capone. The author did a good job but it was far from finished. It was like reading 15 chapters of a 25 chapter book and then stopping.
A great read from begining to end . Mr.Balsamo did a fantastic job with this book.It was very hard to put it down.
At last a book that tells the story of Al Capone before he went west. Chuck full of previously untold facts and stories that helped contribute to molding the most infamous gangster of the 20th Century. Especially interesting to anyone who grew up in Brooklyn and can relate to the locales mentioned in the book. Highly recommended.
Great read with a new story on an old topic
I grew up in a house in which I was the only person that didn't read for pleasure. To encourage me to read more, it was suggested that I find a topic that interested me and to read whatever I wanted about it. The readng avenue I chose to go down that worked to turn me into the avid reader I am today was the Mafia; and I began reading a series of biographies and non-fictional accounts on this subject. While my reading tastes have become more diversified over the years, I still, to this day, enjoy reading books on this topic. So. I was quick to get a copy of Young Al Capone as soon as it hit the stores. While I have read several books about Al Capone, most focused on his career after he was already the leader of the Chicago Mob. What differentiates this book from other books about Capone is that it focuses primarily on his early years growing up in the Navy Yard section of Brooklyn, New York. Tutored by mobsters Johnny Torrio and Frankie Yale, the book goes on to describe in an interesting, fast-reading manner Capone's being molded into the brutal criminal he later became. Among the interesting but little known facts brought out by the authors, William Balsamo and John Balsamo, are new details about the brutal Halloween Night murder of rival gangster of "Wild Bill' Lovett, how Capone and his Black Hand crew planned the slaying of White Hand boss Richard "Peg Leg" Lonegan, insight into the incident that forced Capone to leave New York for Chicago, and how he got the scars on his face that led to his legendary nickname, Scarface. In addition to the book's providing many new details and insights, what helps to make it as fast-moving as it is, is the authors' frequent use of dialogue between Capone and his associates. The authors explain that the dialogue is to serve as a means to provide a plausible discourse to the events as defined by the historical record. It is not intended to come off as the actual conversations that Capone had. All in all, I enjoyed reading Young Al Capone both for the interesting new things I learned and for the authors' writing style. While the authors report that they have done extensive research on Capone's early years and on the Mafia in general, I would have liked for them to have included a bibliography and/or historical notes section that showed details of the specific research and interviews that were conducted. I am not doubting that what they describe in the book is true but I would liked to have more than just "blind faith" for the book's accuracy.
Iz it good