When my wife and I left Baltimore for Chicago in 1928, all I said was, “Judith, I’n1 after a fellow named Curly Brown.” If I’d told her that Curly Brown was an alias of Scarface Al Capone, she’d have turned the car around then and there and made me take up some respectable trade like piano tuning. My assignment was to find clear proof of income-tax evasion by Capone. In previous years he had filed no tax return or had reported insignificant income.
Art Madden, our Chicago agent-in-charge, told me that hanging an income-tax rap on Alphonse Capone would be as easy as hanging a foreclosure sign on the moon. The Grand Panjandrum of the checkered suits and diamond belts had Cook County in the palm of his hand. He did all his business anonymously, through front men. To discourage meddlers, his production department was turning out fifty corpses a year.
For a base of operations the government gave me and my three assistants an overgrown closet in the old Post Office Building, with a cracked glass at the door, no windows, a double flat-topped desk and peeling walls. I spent months in fruitless investigation through banks, credit agencies and newspaper files.
I prowled the crummy streets of Cicero but could get no clue to show that a dollar from the big gambling places, the horse parlors, the brothels or bootleg joints ever reached Scarface Al Capone. Jake Lingle, a Chicago Tribune reporter, had been seen with Capone in Chicago and Miami and, from the tips I got, he wasn’t just writing interviews. So I saw the Tribune boss, Robert R. McCormick, and told him Jake Lingle’s help would be appreciated by the United States government. “I’ll get word to Lingle to go all the way with you,” said the colonel. Lingle was assassinated next day in a subway, right in the busiest part of the city.
One night, in a desperate mood, I decided to check over all the data which my three assistants and I had piled up. By one o’clock in the morning I was bleary-eyed, and while gathering up my papers I accidentally bumped into our filing cabinet. It clicked shut. I couldn’t find the key anywhere. Now where’ll I put this stuff? I wondered. Just outside, in a neighboring storeroom, I found an old filing cabinet full of dusty envelopes. I can lay this old junk on the table, I thought to myself. I’ll put my own stuff in overnight.
In the back of the cabinet was a heavy package tied in brown paper. Just out of curiosity I snipped the string and found three ledgers, one a “special column cashbook.” My eye leaped over the column headings: “Bird cage,” “21,” “Craps,” “Faro,” “Roulette,” “Horse bets.” Here was the diary of a large operation, with a take from $20,000 to $30,000 a day. Net profits were for only eighteen months (the books were dated 1925-26) were over half a million dollars.
“Who could have run a mill that size?” I asked myself. The answer hit me like a baseball bat: only three people-Frankie Lake, Terry Druggan or Al Capone! But I had already cleaned up the Druggan-Lake case. Two from three leaves one.
Scarface must have found out that we were closing in. On the inside of the gang I had planted one of the best undercover men I have ever known, Eddie O’Hare. One afternoon word reached me that Eddie wanted to see me at once. When we met, he was red-faced and excited. “You’ve got to move out of your hotel, Frank. The big fellow has brought in four killers from New York to get you. They know where they keep your automobile and what time you come in and go out. You’ve got to get out this afternoon!”
“Thanks for tipping me off, Eddie,” I replied. So I phoned Judith I had a surprise for her-we were moving to the Palmer House, where she had once said she’d like to live. I left word at my hotel we were going to Kansas and drove to the Union
Station-but right on through and around to Palmer. Judith was completely confused and I hoped AI’s torpedoes were, too.
Later Eddie met me with another report: “The big fellow’s offering $25,000 reward to anybody who bumps you off!” When the story broke in the papers that Capone had put a price on my head, Judith took it with amazing calm. She simply said, “We’re going straight home to Baltimore!” I finally won her over by promising she could be with me as much as possible. Women always think they’re bulletproof.
Meanwhile I was working on the handwriting in the ledgers of The Ship. I think we must have collected handwriting samples of every hoodlum in Chicago-from voting registers, savings accounts, police courts. The painful process of elimination finally left me with a character named Lou Shumway, whose writing on a bank deposit slip was a dead twin to that in the ledgers. I heard from a tipster that Shumway was in Miami, probably working at Hialeah or the dog tracks. All I had to go on was a description: “Shumway is a perfect little gentleman, refined, slight, harmless-not a racetrack sport at all.”
In February 1931, I stood by the rail at Hialeah looking at the man I had been stalking for nearly three years. Scarface Al Capone sat in a box with a jeweled moll on either: side of him, smoking a long cigar, greeting a parade of fawning sycophants who came to shake his hand. I looked upon his pudgy olive face, his thick pursed lips, the rolls of fat descending from his chin-and the scar, like a heavy pencil line across his cheek. When a country constable wants a man, I thought, he just walks up and says, “You’re pinched.” Here I was, with the whole U.S. government behind me, as powerless as a canary.
Two nights later, I spotted the “perfect little gentleman” my tipster had described, working at a dog track. I tailed him home, and picked him up next morning as he was having breakfast with this wife. He turned pale green. When I got him to the Federal Building, I said cold-turkey: “I am investigating the income-tax liability of one Alphonse Capone.”
Gentleman Lou turned greener yet, but he pulled himself together and said, “Oh, you’re mistaken. I don’t know Al Capone.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Lou,” I said, “you have only two choices: If you refuse to play ball with me, I will send a deputy marshal to look for you at the track, ask for you by name and Serve a summons on you. You get the point, Lou. As soon as the gang knows the government has located you, they will probably decide to bump you off so you can’t testify.
“If you don’t like that idea, Lou, come clean. Tell the truth about these ledgers. You were bookkeeper at The Ship. You can identify every entry in these books-and you can tell who your boss was. I’ll guarantee to keep it secret until the day of the trial that you are playing ball with me. Y01J will be guarded day and night, and I’ll guarantee that Mrs. Shumway will not become a widow.” Lou quivered like a harp string but finally gave in. I spirited him out of Miami and hid him in California.
Next morning I went with U.S. Attorney George E.Q Johnson to the chambers of Federal Judge James H. Wilkerson, who was to sit in the Capone trial. The judge was reassuring somehow he seemed like a match for Scarface AI. Sure enough, the ten names Eddie had given me tallied with the judge’s list. But the judge didn’t seem ruffled. He said calmly, “Bring your case into court as planned, gentlemen. Leave the rest to me.”
Judge Wilkerson called his bailiff to the bench. He said in crisp, low tones, “Judge Edwards has another trial commencing today. Go to his courtroom and bring me his panel of jurors.
Take my entire panel to Judge Edwards.” The switch was so smooth, so simple. Capone’s face clouded with the black despair of a gambler who had made his final raise-and lost.
The trial marched-on. My gems, Gentleman Lou Shumway and the bug-bedeviled Ries, stood their ground on the witness stand, though Capone and Phil D’Andrea were staring holes through them the entire time. I kept my eyes on D’Andrea. When he got up to stretch during a recess I could have sworn I saw a bulge in his right hip pocket. But no, I thought, there wasn’t a crumb in the world who would dare to bring a gun into federal court. I saw him stretch again. I had the boys send in word that a reporter wanted to see him. I followed him out of the courtroom. Nels Tesem and Jay Sullivan, my colleagues, led him down the corridor. As we passed Judge Wilkerson’s chamber I shoved him inside. “Give’ me that gun!” I snapped. D’Andrea handed it over. “Give me those bullets!” He ladled out a handful of ammunition.
Judge Wilkerson interrupted the trial to cite D’Andrea for contempt and send him away for six months. Capone growled, “I don’t care what happens to D’Andrea. He’s a damn fool. I don’t care if he gets ten years.” Al was cracking.
The trial wound up in mid-October. As the jury returned I felt sure we had won. “Centlemen,” intoned Judge Wilkerson, “what is your verdict?”
“Guilty!” The courtroom broke up like a circus after the last performance. Reporters ran out of court. Lawyers ran. Mobsters ran. Everybody seemed to be running but Scarface Al Capone. He slumped forward as if a blackjack had hit him.
When I got home, Judith cried, “You did it! I knew you were going to do it all the time!” Then she sighed. “Now can we go back to Baltimore?”
Frank J. Wilson
Former chief, U.S. Service,
As told to Howard Whitman