Growing up Capone: Mobster’s great-niece recalls tenderness, loneliness living among her Mafia elders

Bonita Springs resident Deirdre Capone, the great-niece of Al Capone, has written a book entitled 'Uncle Al Capone.' Lexey Swall/Staff

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Bonita Springs resident Deirdre Capone, the great-niece of Al Capone, has written a book entitled "Uncle Al Capone." Lexey Swall/Staff

— Deirdre Marie Capone was her great-uncle’s bambina.

From learning how to swim, playing the mandolin, making biscotti and cooking spaghetti sauce, Al Capone’s great-niece, Capone, 70, has fond memories of her great-uncle — the most notorious mobster in history — that she shares in a book.

Al Capone’s niece, who is a Bonita Springs resident, has written a memoir, called “Uncle Al Capone (Recap Publishing Co. $17.99)” that’s in stores.

Capone said it’s the first book written by someone who actually knew him.

After being asked by her own children to clear any family misunderstanding, she wrote a 201-page book, which includes 17 chapters of the inside family history; vignettes, along with photos; and more than a dozen Italian family recipes.

“I want them to know that he was a human being,” said Capone, who declined to give her married last name for safety reasons.

“He just wanted to be a family man.”

Capone’s grandfather, Al Capone’s older brother, was also a notorious criminal, Ralph “Bottles” Capone. But Deidre Capone doesn’t really write about the early 20th-century prohibition era in her book, she said. She writes what she says is the “real story,” as told to her about the most infamous gangland slaying ever her family was linked to — the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 and the “baseball bat incident.”

“I want to give my dad’s short life some meaning,” said Capone, who lost her own father, Ralph Gabriel Capone, to suicide. “I’m proud of my heritage and I just want to show people what my heritage is.”

To Capone, a mother of four and grandmother of 14, her great-uncle, Scarface was like a teddy bear.

“He would get down on the ground and play with me,” she said.

As a child, she remembers him blowing smoke rings with his cigar; she would point her finger toward the smoke ring and it would come down her finger.

One of the days that stands out is when she fell out of an apple tree in her great-uncle’s yard, and he picked her up. To soothe her, Al Capone brought her inside and taught her to play the mandolin.

Despite all of the cherished memories, carrying the Capone name had its burden, Deirdre Capone acknowledges.

In 1930, Al Capone was listed No. 1 and his brother, Ralph Capone was listed No. 3 on the Public Enemy list by the Chicago Crime Commission.

For much of her life, she hid her last name. Through childhood, she recalled her classmates being forbidden to play with her and being excluded from friend’s parties because she was a Capone.

Capone recalled using her father’s middle name as her last name in school. Later, she lost a job — her first full-time job — when her boss found out she was Capone’s niece.

Capone doesn’t try to paint an innocent picture of her uncle, she knows about his alleged crimes during the prohibition era, including bootlegging, racketeering, tax evasion and perhaps murder.

“I cannot whitewash anything, but I can let the readers know that there is a man — a family,” she said.

For years, Al Capone dodged prosecution for his criminal activities.

In 1931, Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in prison, including 6½ years at Alcatraz. Ralph Capone was also convicted and sentenced to three years.

“There’s a lot of people in Chicago that have got me pegged for one of those bloodthirsty mobsters you read about in storybooks. The kind that tortures his victims, cut off their ears, puts out their eyes with a red-hot poker and grins while he’s doing it. Now get me right. I’m not posing as a model for youth. I’ve had to do a lot of things I don’t like to do, but I’m not as black as I’m painted. I’m human. I’ve got a heart in me,” Al Capone said according to the book.

“They were products of their time,” Capone said about her family.

Her great-uncle died of cardiac arrest in his Miami home Jan. 25, 1947, on her seventh birthday.

Since then, Al Capone, has been portrayed in TV shows such as “The Untouchables” and “Boardwalk Empire,” and in many movies, including a film version of “The Untouchables.”

Although the character in “Boardwalk” isn’t really her uncle, Capone, who watches the show, said she likes the acting of Stephen Graham, who plays Capone in the new HBO series.

Although her great-uncle enjoyed cooking and singing, she said he hardly ever cooked at home for his family during the ’20s as it’s shown in the series.

When asked which movie best represented her great-uncle, she said “Little Caesar.” The 1930 classic, starring Edward G. Robinson, is said to be loosely based on the life of Al Capone.

Deirdre Capone overcame depression as child and cancer.

Today, she’s a fit golfer and aerobics instructor.

Her husband of 47 years, Bob, said his wife lived a very difficult life.

“I think it’s a success story,” he said.

He added that his entire family has never had any trouble with the law, perhaps only receiving a parking ticket.

Growing up as a Capone, Deirdre Capone said has taught her the following: “Your word is your bond and family is everything.”

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Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/

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