L.A. tells gangster Al Capone to get lost


As freezing weather descended on the Midwest last week, the New York Times characterized Chicago as “a city that shrugs at snow.”

That may well be, but in December 1927, during another frigid period, one Chicagoan said “enough.”

Al Capone, the 28-year-old kingpin of bootlegging, decided to take a vacation in a balmy burg he had never visited: Los Angeles.


Sounding like an unappreciated public servant, he told reporters before leaving, “Let the worthy citizens of Chicago get their liquor the best way they can. I’m sick of the job.”

He complained about his image.

“Today I got a letter from a woman in England,” he disclosed. “Even over there I’m known as a gorilla. She offered to pay my passage to London if I’d kill some neighbors she’s been having a quarrel with.”

Capone announced that he was going to get away from it all in St. Petersburg, Fla. Instead, he boarded a train to Los Angeles with two of his henchmen and his wife.

Checking into the Biltmore Hotel, near Pershing Square, Capone used his favorite alias, Al Brown.

But “he was recognized and his visit blazoned in the newspapers, rousing a storm of public protest,” biographer John Kobler wrote. “Barely 24 hours after the Capones arrived, the Biltmore manager ordered them to leave.”

Los Angeles Police Chief James Davis went the manager one better, giving Capone 12 hours to get out of town. “You’re not wanted here,” the chief explained.


Just to make sure Capone got the message, Davis dispatched several officers, including E.D. “Roughhouse” Brown, to help Capone pack up. Roughhouse was especially handy with his fists and, The Times wrote, “was accustomed to act as an unwelcoming delegate to visiting luminaries of the underworld.”

The cops escorted the out-of-towners to the old Santa Fe train station.

During his brief stay, Capone had managed to squeeze in a visit to a movie studio — “that’s a grand racket,” he commented — and had driven by some homes of movie stars.

But still he was outraged.

“We are tourists, and I thought that you folks liked tourists,” he told The Times. “I have a lot of money to spend that I made in Chicago. Who ever heard of anybody being run out of Los Angeles that had money?”

He vowed to return.

“When I get a little business done in Chicago I am going to send out a lot of money here and have some real estate man buy me a large house,” he said. “Then I will be a taxpayer and they can’t send me away. Anyway, when the real estate men find out that I’ve got money they won’t let me go, even if I want to.”

The train trip back to Chicago was the stuff of melodrama.

The other passengers suspected that half the males “on the train were Capone or his friends,” the Associated Press reported, “and several said they had been pointed out as the gangster and had been avoided studiously during the journey.”

Capone, however, “secluded himself in a stateroom,” the AP said.

When the train stopped in Joliet, Ill., outside Chicago, Capone was greeted by police who jailed him and his men overnight for carrying concealed weapons.


A year after that visit to the City of Angels, Capone was still stewing over the treatment he had received.

He told Louella Parsons, the Hearst gossip columnist, that someone had swiped a jug of wine from his suitcase at the Los Angeles train station.

And, he recalled, he had given a newsman $100 to wire his men directions on where he wished to be met in Chicago. But instead, the newsman had wired the police, leading to the arrests in Joliet.

What was really irritating, he told Parsons, was that the reporter had kept the $100.

“The cheap crook,” Capone called him.

He didn’t know it, but his time as a crime lord was coming to an end.

In 1932, he was convicted of income tax evasion and served a little more than seven years in three federal prisons. By the time he was released, he was ill with syphilis, which had spread to his brain. He spent his last years as a resident of Florida, “deep in delusion, oblivious to the world at large,” biographer Laurence Bergreen wrote. Capone died in 1947 at the age of 48.

It couldn’t have been much of a consolation for him, but he did fulfill one vow. The last several months of his sentence were spent at the federal correctional institution on Terminal Island. So he did return to Los Angeles, even if it was in leg chains.