It is the time of Depression-era America, Prohibition is the law, and mobsters ruled the streets and the tabloids. Fascinating black and white photos remain today giving the curious a glimpse at these infamous criminals. There is something dark and eerie about these photos. They give one a window into a past which both repels at the same time it seems to draw the viewer in.
1. One of the most famous American mob bosses of the twentieth century, Al Capone (1899 – 1947). Even when you can’t see the scar on his face which gave him the nickname “Scarface”, he is easily recognized. This looks like a mugshot, but it is curious that he is allowed to have his hat on.
2. Here is Capone front and center in court. He is the epitome of the successful (wealthy) Italian-American mobster, always beautifully dressed. He portrays a relaxed and confident man. In the end he only went to jail after conviction on tax evasion.
3. This smiling rogue is John Dillinger (1903 – 1934). Dillinger was accused of robbing 24 banks and four police stations.
4. Another court house scene. Dillinger in the white shirt and vest is manacled to the deputy sheriff beside him. He was also known as the “Jackrabbit”; he escaped from prison twice.
5. Here is George “Bugs” Moran, a Chicago Prohibition-era gangster (1893 – 1957).
6. Moran became wealthy as a bootlegger during Prohibition. Unfortunately for him, his business rival was Al Capone; seven members of Moran’s gang were gunned down in what became known as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.
7. Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897 – 1962) is considered the engineer of modern organized crime in the United States. Luciano worked his way up, assassinating rivals, to reach the top.
8. Luciano split New York City into five crime families, heading the Genovese crime family himself. He lived the high life at New York’s luxurious Waldorf Towers, dressing impeccably in custom-made suits and silk shirts. His luck ran out in 1936 when he was convicted on extortion and prostitution charges.
9. Arresting “Machine Gun Kelly” (1895 – 1954). Note the officer on the right holding a Thompson submachine gun, Kelly’s weapon of choice. Kelly was a bootlegger and committed armed robbery on a small scale until he became infamous when he kidnapped Oklahoma City resident oil tycoon and businessman Charles F, Urschel in July 1933. He and his gang collected $200,000 in ransom, but he was caught by the FBI in October 1933.
10. This consummate glad-handing politician is Joseph “Diamond Joe” Esposito (1872 – 1928) who became a Republican ward boss of the 19th Ward in Chicago in the early 1920s. He gave political protection to the bootlegging gangs of “Little Italy” and was himself involved in bootlegging, extortion, prostitution and labor racketeering.
11. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (1906 – 1947) was notoriously handsome and charismatic. He became one of the first celebrity gangsters who socialized in the highest circles and befriended stars. With his mob boss associates Siegel formed Murder, Inc. in 1931. This kill-for-hire squad led by Siegel included at least 30 executions which are attributed to Seigel himself.
12. Siegel is forever associated with Las Vegas, and the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. His theft and mismanagement of funds during the building of the hotel enraged his partners and led to his brutal murder in 1947.
13. Meyer Lansky (1902 – 1983) was known as the “Mob’s Accountant”. His associates included “Lucky” Luciano and Bugsy Siegel. He was one of Siegel’s disappointed partners in the Flamingo Hotel.
14. Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd (1904 – 1934) became infamous in the 1930s for his numerous bank robberies and killed several law enforcement police officers. A robbery victim described him as “a pretty boy with apple cheeks”.
15. In a train car we see a relaxed, smiling face. This is Dutch Schultz (1902 – 1935), another notorious New York City mobster. His organized crime-related activities were bootlegging and the numbers racket. He wanted permission to kill his enemy, the U.S.. Attorney Thomas Dewey, but the “Mafia Commission” refused. Instead, they had him killed.