Recent research has proven that Al Capone did not willingly leave his hometown of Brooklyn. In fact, he was forced out by a local Irish gang called the White Hand (named in opposition to the “invading” Italian Black Hand).
In 1899, the year Al Capone was born, Brooklyn was a heavily populated industrialized and manufacturing hub. All along the waterfront area there were gigantic sugar refineries, coffee storage houses, weapons manufacturers, soap manufacturers, cardboard box makers and canned food shippers. . . the list goes on and on. Ten years earlier New York City had taken over London as the busiest port city in the world and the longshoremen trade (loading and unloading steamships) employed thousands of rough and tumble men.
The longshoremen trade had been dominated in Brooklyn by the Irish since their arrival in the 1840s due to the Great Hunger (commonly known as the potato famine). 95 Navy Street, where Capone was born, was on the outskirts of a neighborhood known as “Irishtown,” just south of the Navy Yard in an outlying Italian Cammora neighborhood.
But Irishtown dominated. It was the location of the Irish White Hand’s headquarters, the Dock Loaders’ Club at 25 Bridge Street. No one could get a job as a longshoremen without checking in the Dock Loaders’ Club. And most Italians had to go south of the Gowanus Canal to work on the docks at the Bush and Grand Army Terminals where Frankie Yale, a Johnny Torrio protege, held court.
As a teen, Capone worked at the Harvard Inn, a bawdyhouse in South Brooklyn’s burgeoning Coney Island, which is where he got his scar and famous nickname, “Scarface.”
Wanting to muscle in on “tribute racket” in North Brooklyn, (tribute is what the White Hand Gang charged all longshoremen to work) Capone and others started talking to stevedore employees, ship captains and pierhouse managers in the White Hand’s territory.
That did not make the Irish happy. According to family sources, Dinny Meehan, leader of
the White Hand, dispatched his deadliest weapon to deal with the invading Italians in the form of Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan.
Pegleg (19 years old in 1919) had lost a leg to a Brooklyn trolley when he was eight. Renowned in Irishtown as a wildly successful fistfighter and a murderer who could kill without emotion, the war was set. Lonergan vs. Capone.
Torrio had moved to Chicago by this time and when he heard that Lonergan and the powerful White Hand were going to kill his most prized protege, he ordered Frankie Yale to send him to Chicago with his tail in between his legs.
Willie Sutton was born and raised in Irishtown. In fact, the opening words of his biography were “Irishtown made me.” Sutton went on to great fame as an ingenious bank robber and public personality. Having grown up in Irishtown, he got the inside scoop concerning the Lonergan vs. Capone rivalry. Below are his words:
“Scarface Al Capone was a member of the (rival) Italian mob,
and it was common knowledge in later years that he had gone to
Chicago because the Irish mob played too rough.”
The fact that Capone ran from the Irish in Brooklyn haunted him for many years and in Chicago, he was known as a brutalizer of the Irish (he had Dean O’Banion and others murdered). But he simply could not get over the japes about him running out of Brooklyn from Lonergan. He needed revenge.
In 1925, seeking the best doctors in the country for his son’s surgery, Al Capone came back to Brooklyn. On Christmas Eve, he and some buddies were having a drink at a local bawdyhouse called the Adonis Social Club in South Brooklyn (4th Avenue & 20th Street). Guess who walks in? You got it, Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan and some friends.
Whether Pegleg was lured there, or just came by happenstance is up for debate, but the explosive results are not.
Pegleg and his cohorts were demeaning and shaming the Irish prostitutes that worked in the Italian club. They also were casting racial slurs at the Italian patrons. At some point the lights went out and immediately there were gunshots. When the lights came back on, Pegleg and two others were dead (Lonergan still had a toothpick in his mouth), another was badly wounded. When the police showed up, no one saw a thing, of course.
Capone and others were arrested, but were soon released. And so, vengeance achieved.