Gangster in the Neighborhood

Al “Scarface” Capone was born on January 17, 1899. Both before and after he served hard time for tax evasion, the Chicago gangster resided in an estate on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay.

J. Fritz Gordon, Al Capone, and Julio Morales in Havana, Cuba, 1930

J. Fritz Gordon, Al Capone, and Julio Morales in Havana, Cuba, 1930

Capone first took up residence in Miami Beach in 1928, when he purchased an estate on Palm Island for $20,000. Ostensibly acquired as a winter health retreat, the gangster invested between $40,000 and $70,000 into the home. Palm Island residents, and the city of Miami Beach in general, opposed the presence of the mobster in their midst and wrote numerous letters to the governor of Florida pleading for Capone’s ouster from the state.

Aerial view of the Capone compound on Palm Island, 1930

Aerial view of the Capone compound on Palm Island, 1930

The letter below is one such citizen complaint regarding Capone living on Palm Island (click on thumbnails for a larger image). The letter was sent to Governor Doyle Carlton by Clarence M. Busch in March 1929. Busch lived immediately across the street from Capone and, like other property owners on Palm Island, wanted the gangster booted from the neighborhood.

buschtocarlton1_275

buschtocarlton2_275

Governor Carlton shared Busch’s dislike for Capone. Beginning in March 1930, Carlton, who ran for office on an anti-gambling platform, undertook an effort to ban the gangster from the state. Capone and his legal team avoided banishment from Florida, but the mobster faced near constant harassment from Miami Beach police. He was arrested several times on various charges and the local city council even pursued special resolutions aimed at limiting his tenure in the area.

Palm Island residents expressed a sigh of relief in 1931 when Capone was indicted on federal tax evasion charges. The gangster served several years behind bars on Alcatraz Island before returning to Florida in 1939. He lived the remainder of his days on Palm Island, and died in 1947.

To learn more about Al Capone and his legal troubles in Dade County, see William G. Crawford Jr., “Judge Vincent Giblin: The Life and Times of a South Florida Attorney and Judge,” Tequesta 70 (2010): 59-119.