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Al Capone and Friends: A Well Known but Misidentified Photo
This photo identification has been massacred through the years by everyone, from ebay sellers, to even a Capone relative. I think the persons who would know best are John Binder and Matt Luzi, two who have painstakingly researched the photo and conversed with the actual Chicago Heights family member from whom this photo was found in their personal family album. To me, this is by far the most dead on accurate account of whom is in the photo.
All photos are from the collection of John Binder and Matt Luzi except where noted.
Infamous Capone and friends lawn photo taken at 2606 Chicago Rd. in Chicago Heights. The house no longer stands today.
Picture Caption (incorrect identifications in parentheses). Accurate ones are in underlined white italic.
Back Row (Left to Right): Rocco De Grazia ("Machine Gun" Jack Mc Gurn), Louis "Little New York" Campagna (Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti), Claude Maddox (Charley Fischetti), Nick Circella* previously thought to be James "Fur" Sammons (Ralph "Bottles" Capone), Sam Costello (Rocco Fischetti).
Front Row (Left to Right): Frankie LaPorte (Paul "The Waiter" Ricca), Vera Emery (Little Girl Unidentified), Alphonse Capone, Willie Heeney (Sam "Golf Bag" Hunt), Jimmy Emery (Anthony "Tough Tony" Capezio).
*Sammons was too short for the id and it was recently id'ed as Nick Circella.
This photo was challenged by a Capone relative here. It just goes to show that just because you are related, it does not mean that you know what you are talking about.
Al Capone and Friends
John J. Binder
Matthew J. Luzi
September 25, 1995
The authors are, respectively, President and Treasurer of the Merry Gangsters Literary Society, a group of lawmen, historians and crime experts who study Chicago's Prohibition Era. They would like to acknowledge the assistance of Larry Bergreen, Rio Burke, Dan DuPont, Bob Fuesel, Jim Sammons, Robert Schoenberg and especially Bill Helmer and Mark Levell, who published this picture in their book The Quotable Al Capone, John O'Brien of the Chicago Tribune for use of its valuable archives and the numerous individuals they spoke to who knew the Chicago Heights bootleggers personally but would prefer to receive no attribution.
© John J. Binder & Matthew J. Luzi
This picture of Alphonse Capone, eight tough looking men, a little girl and a dog is in the hands of many people in the Chicago area. It has also been submitted as evidence in hearings before a Senate subcommittee in 1984, published in two major biographies of Al Capone and featured in a cable television series on organized crime. In spite of this, many things about the picture remain a mystery even though it was taken over 60 years ago.
For instance, most versions of the photo in circulation carry identifications for all nine men. However, the usual identifications are, with the exception of Capone, all incorrect. Who are these people? Also, Chicago's Prohibition Era gangsters generally did not like having their pictures taken, individually or (even less so) together. The scowls on several faces are evident. How was it taken? When was it taken? Where? Most important of all, what brought this group together on that day?
After extensive research we have been able to accurately identify almost everyone in the picture. The names, along with the usual, incorrect identifications in parentheses, appear below the picture. Known photos of these nine men are included for the purpose of comparison. We have also been able to fairly definitely answer most of the other questions. Some of the answers are quite surprising. For example, it is quite possible that this group, excluding the little girl, was planning certain details related to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Regarding the identifications, the man seated at the center of the group is, without a doubt, Al Capone. Born in Brooklyn in 1899, his parents were from Naples, Italy. A young street tough, he was brought to Chicago in 1919 by his friend and mentor Johnny Torrio to work for Torrio's uncle, "Big Jim" Colosimo. Starting as a lowly brothel bouncer, Capone became Torrio's trusted lieutenant. When Colosimo, as a solution to his reluctance to expand his criminal empire into bootlegging, was killed in 1920, the 5' 10 1/2" Capone was a prime suspect. Torrio departed Chicago in early 1925, after nearly being killed by North Side gunmen sent by Hymie Weiss, handing the reins of what was Chicago's strongest gang of racketeers over to Capone. After the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, Capone emerged from four years of gang warfare as the undisputed boss of Chicago gangland and Public Enemy Number 1 (on the first list issued by the Chicago Crime Commission (CCC) in 1930).
Frankie La Porte seated complete left of infamous lawn photo.
Reclining at the far right is Jimmy Emery, also known as Jimmy Amaratti, who was born Vincenzo Ammirato in Consenza, Italy on November 2, 1892. Along with his overlord Dominic Roberto, Emery ran the volatile Chicago Heights area beginning in the middle 1920's. Roberto and Emery were trusted Capone lieutenants. Capone rewarded them (and some 28 other intimates) with a Christmas gift of a diamond studded gold belt buckle costing $275 in December 1927. In return they gave Capone the famous high backed, bullet proof chair that he used in his office at the Lexington Hotel. They ran their criminal activities from a hotel they owned, the Monroe, and their families shared a large frame house at 2606 Chicago Road in Chicago Heights.
At Capone's left is Willie Heeney. Starting out with the "Egan's Rats" gang in St. Louis, where he was arrested for larceny on May 13, 1907, Heeney gravitated to Chicago in 1918. He was an expert Capone gang machine gunner and a suspect in the killings of North Side gangster Hymie Weiss and Asst. State's Attorney William McSwiggin, among others.
Willie Heeney sitting next to Al Capone in the infamous lawn photo. (Right side of photo).
Willie Heeney became Capone's "chief of staff" in Cicero, making the arrangements whenever someone wanted to meet with the Big Fellow, and he was also a link between Capone and St. Louis gangsters. Furthermore, Heeney was almost certainly a drug addict. When police raided an address in Berwyn in 1930, one of the officers was bonked on the head by an opium pipe thrown from the window. Inside they found Willie Heeney, along with two chickens cooking on the stove. The little girl bears a facial resemblance to Capone's youngest sister Mafalda, who was born in 1911, but given the probable date of this picture (1928 as discussed below) she is too young to be Mafalda. She is in fact Vera Emery, the youngest child of Jimmy Emery. Born on October 2, 1921, Vera Emery was Mafalda Capone's goddaughter. The little white dog is probably Vera's pet.
The dapper 5' 5 1/2" individual seated at the far left is Frankie LaPorte. Born in San Biose, Italy, on October 7, 1901, as Francesco Liparota, LaPorte was also known as Frank Liperetto and Frank Lipperatti. He entered the United States in 1913 and was naturalized in 1926. A year later he sponsored Jimmy Emery for citizenship. A cousin of Chicago Heights bootlegging chieftain Dominic Roberto, LaPorte was the trusted subordinate of Roberto and Jimmy Emery, serving first as the personal bodyguard of Roberto's wife and then as their principal lieutenant.
Rocco De Grazia standing first at left of infamous lawn photo.
(Right photo Mario Gomes collection)
At the extreme left of the back row is Rocco De Grazia (AKA Rocco or Rocky De Grazio). He was born on August 12, 1897, and stood 5' 8". Based on his later prominence, he was apparently an up-and-comer when the picture was taken. First arrested in 1914, De Grazia was convicted of burglary and larceny, each of which earned him a one year sentence in the Illinois State Reformatory at Pontiac. His early organized criminal activities included gambling and loan sharking and were centered around the western suburb of Melrose Park.
Louis Campagna seen here arrested by police for threatening Aiello at a police station.
He is seen standing second from left in the infamous lawn photo.
Next to De Grazia is Louis "Little New York" Campagna. According to some accounts, Campagna was born in New York City in 1900 and was brought to Chicago in 1927 when Capone increased the size of his corps of bodyguards. He was, based on other information, a participant in the robberies of the Summit (December 20, 1917) and Argo (September 20, 1918) state banks. Campagna served five years in the Illinois State Penitentiary at Pontiac for the latter robbery. Although he stood only 5' 6", Little New York rose to the trusted position of Capone's personal night bodyguard. He slept on a cot in front of the door to Capone's rooms at the Lexington Hotel, guns at the ready, in case any rivals penetrated the phalanx of guards on the lower floors.
In an act of sheer bravado, Campagna along with other Capone gunmen laid siege to the police department's Detective Bureau in November 1927 after officers picked up Capone's archrival, the Sicilian gangster Joe Aiello. Campagna, along with Willie Heeney and Claude Maddox, was suspected in the machine gun slaying of New York mobster Frankie Yale in 1928.
Claude Maddox. He is standing in the center of infamous lawn photo.
He was named Public Enemy Number 3 in 1931.
Standing in the middle of the back row is Claude Maddox (also known as Screwy Moore and John Manning), whose real name was John Edward Moore. Born in Missouri, he was twice sentenced to a year in jail for burglary while a member of Egan's Rats. By 1922 the 5' 9" Maddox had moved to Chicago from St. Louis, where he was wanted for bank robbery. During the 1920's he owned the Circus Cafe, headquarters of the gang by the same name which he led, at 1857 W. North Avenue. The Circus Gang was composed of gunmen, labor racketeers and bootleggers, such as Tony Accardo and "Tough Tony" Capezio. It was allied with Capone and served as a check on his North Side enemies, the O'Banion-Weiss-Moran gang. Maddox, Public Enemy Number 8 in 1931, maintained strong connections to other St. Louis gangsters, including the alumni of Egan's Rats.
First thought to be Fur Sammons in infamous lawn photo it is now accepted as Nick Circella as seen here in left photo with Al Capone and Sonny Capone playing in background. Circella is seen standing second from right in infamous lawn photo.
The man at Maddox's left bears a strong resemblance to James "Fur" Sammons, whose real name was James Sammon. Sammons was a career sociopath. Born on March 19, 1884, in the Back of the Yards area of Chicago, his criminal record dated back to 1899 and included convictions for rape, robbery, burglary and murder. After the accommodating Governor Len Small paroled Sammons from a life sentence for murder in 1923, he hooked up first with Ralph Sheldon's predominantly Irish gang on the South Side and then with the all-Irish West Side O'Donnell gang. When the O'Donnells ceased to be a force in gangland, he (along with some of the other members) joined Capone.
Sammons's nickname stems, according to knowledgeable old-time Chicago police officers, from his robbery of high class drinking establishments. Sammons would threaten to shoot the first person who did not undress and also have another drink. While his accomplices collected the furs and jewelry, he would cheerfully call out "bottoms up" until the drinks were finished. Cited as Public Enemy Number 27 in 1930, Sammons was an expert machine gunner and, after the psychopathic Frank McErlane, probably the most dangerous man in Chicago. According to one account, Capone made sure a guard always accompanied "Fur". Not to protect Sammons, but instead to protect the public from him, since he liked to shoot at pedestrians with a Thompson submachine gun when driving around Chicago.
Sam Costello seen standing at the far right of infamous lawn photo.
Standing at the far right is Sam Costello, a native of Caccomo, Sicily. The 5' 8" Costello was known as a top gunner among the Sicilian gangsters in Chicago Heights. He and his brothers led one of the Sicilian factions in Chicago Heights in the early 1920's. They were active in making and selling cheap bootleg whiskey. Sam Costello later became a key aide of Dominic Roberto and Jimmy Emery. Frequently seen at the infamous "Death Corner" (16th and Lowe) in Chicago Heights, Costello himself was the victim of a failed assassination attempt there in 1928.
Where, when, what, and how were slightly more difficult questions to answer, but we have been able to uncover significant information on each of these points. Before turning to these questions, it will be helpful to provide some background information on organized crime in Chicago Heights, since three of the men in the picture were active in the "Heights" and these facts are important for answering the remaining questions.
Another view of infamous home where Capone and friends lawn photo was taken. The little girl Vera Emery is seen at center.
Located some 23 miles south of downtown Chicago, Chicago Heights first experienced Italian immigration after the turn of century. The Italians were drawn by its heavy industry, which provided many entry level jobs. For the most part the Italians settled in two areas of Chicago Heights, the East Side and the "Hill" neighborhoods. The industrial East Side was dominated by those Italians from the mainland towns of San Benedetto and Monteprandone and Caccomo in Sicily. The Hill neighborhood, anchored by Saint Rocco Church, was dominated by mainland Italians of Amasenese or Calabrian origin. To a lesser extent, some mainland Italians also lived on the more affluent West Side. The East Side and Hill neighborhoods developed into a well established Italian community with a strong political and economic base. With the dawn of prohibition, some politicians and businessmen found the easy money irresistible and joined forces with the established criminal elements.
There were three major gangland factions in Chicago Heights in the early 1920's, two of them Sicilian. The Costello brothers, Sam, Nick, Tony and Charlie, started out in the wholesale candy business through their firm, Costello Brothers Confectioners. During Prohibition they used their business resources to operate a large network of stills. Former Chicago Heights alderman, Antonino "Tony" Sanfilippo, night club operators Phil Piazza and Jim Lamberta, and drug store and pool room operator Joe Martino, led the other, more established Sicilian group. This faction was tied to traditional Sicilian organized crime and the Unione Siciliana. They used their considerable political influence to protect their activities and, for a price, those of others. Both the Costello and Sanfilippo organizations were headquartered on the East Side.
The relative upstarts were non-Sicilians Dominic Roberto and Jimmy Emery. They owned a nightclub and Jimmy Emery was also a fight promoter. In addition to the three major factions, there were also minor gangs in Chicago Heights allied to the majors. All the groups, however, bought their political protection from the Sanfilippo camp.
In April 1924 Tony Sanfilippo was killed by his partners. Philip Piazza emerged as the new leader of the old Sanfilippo gang with Lamberta and Martino as his top lieutenants. Under Piazza's leadership, however, they became overly greedy. Piazza accepted protection payments from the other bootleggers, but allowed them to be raided anyway. This treachery, along with the desire of the others to operate independently, touched off a violent gang war. The Roberto-Emery faction, after forging an alliance with fellow non-Sicilian Al Capone, consolidated forces with the Costellos and other disgruntled gangsters. With Capone's support Roberto, Emery and their allies wiped out the key leaders of the Piazza gang in quick succession in the Summer of 1926. Thus, Roberto became the acknowledged boss of Chicago Heights with Emery and Costello acting as his lieutenants. From then on Chicago Heights gangland was strongly linked to Capone.
This arrangement continued until Roberto, facing an indictment on a liquor charge, fled to Italy in 1928. At that point, Emery succeeded him with Costello and LaPorte as his underbosses. Roberto returned to the U. S. in November 1931, only to be quickly indicted for having previously perjured himself on his naturalization papers. Pleading guilty in March 1932, he was sentenced to Leavenworth for two years and then deported to Italy immediately on his release.
Returning to the questions at hand, we have been able to confirm our suspicion that the picture was taken at Emery's house in Chicago Heights. First, the setting seems more suburban than urban, given the long driveway and the size of the backyards. Also, it is well known that Capone was a frequent visitor to the home the Emery family shared with Dominic Roberto. Capone and gang members often drove out during the weekend and spent the day. This was the equivalent during that period of a leisurely excursion to the country, which they generally mixed with business. In fact, Capone hid there in 1926 for several days when Chicago police wanted him for questioning in the accidental killing of Assistant State's Attorney William McSwiggin. What is most important, however, is that several people we spoke to who knew Emery and where he lived have positively identified this as his house.
Regarding the date, the picture and details of the subjects' criminal careers make it possible to fairly accurately determine when it was taken. There are leaves on the ground already but the bushes and the tree in the background still have most of their foliage. The awnings are also still up on the house, indicating that late Autumn has not arrived yet. But the men are in long sleeves and many have jackets on (and in two instances vests), although in some cases ties have been loosened and jackets removed. The suits (with the exception of Emery's) are of a darker tone than usually worn during Chicago summers. Yet the girl is wearing a sleeveless dress. All together this indicates a warm Autumn day, late in the season but not so late that Winter was imminent. Given Chicago's weather conditions, probably late October or early November.
With respect to the year, because Capone did not succeed Torrio until the Spring of 1925, he would not be the centerpiece of such a picture before that time. But since Al was imprisoned for income tax evasion in October 1931, this limits the date to a six and a half year period. Add to this the fact that Capone spent from May 1929 to March 1930 in a Pennsylvania prison and the time is further restricted to Autumn 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1930 or 1931.
However, Sammons would not have gone over to Capone until after the West Side O'Donnells disintegrated. While this process began in 1926, at the height of the gang wars in April 1927 Sammons was at the wake of North Side gang leader Vincent "Schemer" Drucci, an O'Donnell ally, whose obsequy was largely unattended by rival Capone gangsters. Furthermore, Sammons served two prison terms during this period. First, he was out of circulation for the entire Fall of 1927, having spent from August 12, 1927 to October 15, 1928 in Leavenworth for robbing a bonded government warehouse of liquor. Second, he was returned to prison in Joliet, Illinois when his parole was revoked in November 1930 and was not released again until the middle of 1932. Altogether, this eliminates the Fall of 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1931 from consideration.
Of the two remaining years, Capone's relatively slender appearance -- remember that the good life took its toll over time until he ballooned to 255 pounds in 1931 -- are more consistent with the picture being taken in 1928. Also, Vera Emery appears to be about seven years old, which points to Autumn of 1928. A more significant point is that Dominic Roberto would not have been missing from a photo taken in the Heights of Capone and Chicago Heights gangsters unless he had already left the country. While this last detail is equally consistent with 1928 or 1930, for reasons noted below it is much more likely that the picture was taken right after Roberto returned to Italy in 1928. All things considered, it appears then that this photograph is from Autumn 1928.
What brought this hoodlums' Who's Who together is not known for certain, but can be inferred fairly accurately based on the circumstances surrounding the picture. While it is possible that this was a pleasure outing, the size and nature of the group indicates strongly that it was primarily a business meeting. It is clear that this was a high level gathering of Capone and affiliated gangsters, since heavyweights from the Capone gang and Chicago Heights were present. Rocco De Grazia is apparently the lowest stature racketeer in the picture, but he may have been there as a Capone bodyguard. De Grazia may also have served as the driver/bodyguard for one of the others, such as Campagna who he is next to, since promising junior hoods were often apprenticed in this way.
Why was there a major conclave between Capone and top hoods from Chicago Heights in 1928? The absence of Dominic Roberto is telling. After Roberto left the country, it would have been necessary for Capone to meet with Emery and his subordinates to confirm Emery as the successor. It was probably also necessary to appoint LaPorte as the guardian of Roberto's interests, since it would not have been clear in 1928 that Roberto would never return to Chicago Heights. According to gangland conventions, this would have occurred right after Roberto's departure, reinforcing the argument that the picture was taken in the Fall of 1928.
It is also clear that this was a meeting of the "muscle" end of gangland. There isn't a brewmaster or accountant in sight. In fact, given the presence of Maddox, Heeney, Campagna, Sammons and the top Chicago Heights gangsters this was very heavy muscle. Although the investiture of Emery seems likely to have been the major reason for such a meeting, why such an extensive contingent of Chicago gangsters with this much firepower? It is true that Capone regularly traveled with a retinue of bodyguards, but this does not explain the presence of killers such as Heeney and Sammons or a North Side Capone affiliate like Claude Maddox at Jimmy Emery's confirmation as boss.
If the photo was taken in Fall of 1928, then this gathering has a more sinister aspect to it. According to a statement given to the FBI by Byron Bolton, a St. Louis gangster who almost certainly served as the lookout for the execution team in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the Massacre was planned in October or November of 1928. While Bolton mentions a resort on Cranberry Lake in Wisconsin, the site of Capone's summer home, as the location where the plans were first formulated, there were obviously a variety of logistics in Chicago that needed to be worked out.
In various ways the presence of Capone, Campagna, Heeney and Maddox, as well as the gangsters from the Heights, supports the conjecture that this may have been a planning session for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. An FBI memo to the U. S. Attorney General dated August 27, 1936 which summarizes the Bureau's information notes that (according to Bolton) Campagna and Capone were present at the Cranberry Lake conference. Claude Maddox is linked to the Massacre in several ways. The probable get away car (or one of them) was found in a rented garage not far from Maddox's Circus Cafe. The man who rented it gave his address as 1859 W. North Avenue, the garage behind the Circus Cafe. A second suspected getaway car was found dynamited in west suburban Maywood, where Maddox and his family lived in 1929.
More important, Bolton named Maddox as one of those involved in the Massacre and he was questioned by police as a suspect afterwards. Besides Maddox, who almost certainly planned the event but did not participate in it, Bolton named a team of bank robbers and executioners with strong links to Egan's Rats in St. Louis as the actual killers: Fred "Killer" Burke, Bob Carey, Fred Goetz (also known as George "Shotgun" Ziegler), Ray "Crane Neck" Nugent and Gus Winkler.25 In support of this statement it should be noted that Fred Burke had the two machine guns used in the Massacre in his possession when he killed a policeman in Michigan in December of 1929 and he was identified by several witnesses as one of two men in police uniforms leaving the site of the Massacre.
Regarding Willie Heeney, newspaper stories not long after St. Valentine's Day indicate that the police were seeking him and Fred Burke for questioning based on the belief that they were two of the gunmen.26 In fact, Heeney was described by the Chicago Tribune as a "pal" of Burke's.27 Of equal importance, police learned after the Massacre that a machine gun had been sold to Byron Bolton and Willie Heeney.
But why would the Chicago Heights gangsters be involved in planning the Massacre? We have learned, from someone whose house he stayed at, that when Fred "Killer" Burke was in the Chicago area Capone hid him out in Chicago Heights. Chicago Heights was a natural stopping point between St. Louis and Chicago proper for Burke and his crew. It was also a convenient place to keep them out of sight and out of trouble. Therefore, Capone and Maddox may have arranged to hide Burke's squad of killers in the south suburbs until they were needed. Furthermore, a knowledgeable source informed us that the "word" for years around the south suburbs has been that the Chicago Heights gangsters were involved in some fashion in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. All things considered, it is fairly likely that a secondary item of business that day was to arrange some details related to the St. Valentine's Day killings on North Clark Street.
How the photo was taken is open to conjecture. As already noted, gangster group shots are a rarity. In fact it generally was not healthy to hang around hoods with a camera in your hand. But, the fact that this was very likely the investiture of Jimmy Emery as boss of Chicago Heights provides an important clue. Two of the three other known photos of large groups of Chicago gangsters (when they were willing participants) are almost certainly from just such happy and fraternal underworld occasions. What if after a pleasant day Emery's wife Josie wanted to commemorate the occasion and Capone (who appears quite comfortable in the picture) agreed to pose with his good friend Jimmy and his daughter Vera? How could the others say no?
Finally, the reader might ask what became of everyone in the picture. As is well known, Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion in 1931 and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was incarcerated first at Atlanta and then at Alcatraz when it opened. Capone remained in prison until 1939 when, because his mind had completely deteriorated due to syphilis, he was paroled. He died nearly penniless in Miami in 1947 and was quietly buried in Chicago.
Louis Campagna became a top level Chicago hoodlum. He was an expert in labor racketeering and active in gambling, later operating a casino in Argo (the site of the 1918 bank heist), which allowed him to rob its citizens in a more socially acceptable manner. Convicted of extortion in 1943 for trying to muscle in on the Hollywood studios, his parole after serving only a third of the sentence sent reverberations through the Truman administration. In the 1950's Campagna, along with De Grazia and Emery, was categorized as a member of the Chicago Syndicate's "board of directors". Little New York died on May 30, 1955 while fishing off Miami. His burial, unlike Capone's, was a major underworld event. Gangsters from Detroit, St. Louis, New York, New Orleans, Des Moines and Los Angeles were in attendance or sent flowers. De Grazia, Emery, LaPorte and Maddox were at the funeral or the wake.
Willie Heeney went on to become an important member of the Chicago Mob. He was described in the 1940's as "high in the syndicate councils, a general utility man in all gambling and union racketeering." At one time Heeney operated two gambling joints in Cicero in partnership with Campagna. In 1947 he allegedly delivered $20,000 to certain persons in St. Louis who were in a position to obtain early parole for Campagna and his fellow movie industry extortionists. Willie Heeney was one of the few gangsters to attend the funeral of Al Capone. At the time of his death from cancer in 1951, Heeney was reported to be the gambling boss of Cicero, a cornerstone of organized crime.
After the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, for which no one was ever brought to trial, Maddox's and Emery's operations were integrated into the Chicago crime syndicate run by Capone and his successor Frank Nitti. Both men prospered. Maddox eventually suceeded Heeney as gangland boss of Cicero, controlling its gambling and vice. He was also active in labor racketeering. Later, he devoted a portion of his energies to horse racing. But Maddox apparently remained involved in what he perhaps did best, which was killing people. In several cases Maddox was the chief suspect when troublesome members of the Syndicate met an unnatural end. Maddox died of natural causes on June 21, 1958 and, as a World War I veteran, was buried with military honors.
Emery continued to rule as the de facto boss of the southern suburbs for the Chicago Mob until his death in 1957. His operations, involving sex and gambling, were centered around Chicago Heights, Calumet City, Blue Island, Joliet and Kankakee. At one time he was believed to be the top representative of the Chicago Outfit at thoroughbred race tracks, but was banned from the sport because his horses had a disturbing habit of finishing last when favored and first when rated as long shots.
Frankie LaPorte succeeded Emery as the Mob's guy in the southern suburbs and became the Chicago Syndicate's answer to Howard Hughes. His local activities included interests in Northern Indiana, a partnership with Tony Accardo in the Owl Club in Calumet City, vending and pinball machines, gambling and vice, to name just a few. More unusual for a Chicago gangster, he had trucking operations in the West (with Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno), real estate in Illinois and Wisconsin, gold, silver, tungsten and uranium mines and a gas well in the western United States and some connections to Central America.34 At the peak of his career in the mid-1960's, a California newspaper described LaPorte as "perhaps the biggest man in the Mafia today."35 He was a member of the Chicago Syndicate's board of directors until he died on October 30, 1972.
"Fur" Sammons was returned to Stateville penitentiary on November 26, 1930 to serve the remaining 30 years of his sentence for murder after a review board ruled that his 1923 parole was illegal. He was again released in 1932 when yet another accommodating politician, a McHenry county judge, ruled that he was reimprisoned in 1930 without due process of law. When Sammons was arrested in Indiana in November of 1933 four states and the federal government wanted him for various crimes. An Indiana court, untainted by Chicago corruption, sentenced him to life imprisonment as a habitual felon. He was released from the Indiana state penitentiary in 1943, only to be returned to Joliet, his 1932 parole having been overturned on appeal. Sammons was finally, legally released on parole in 1952. Nearly blind and bedfast, he lived with a brother on Chicago's South Side until his death from arteriosclerosis on May 20, 1960. All told, James "Fur" Sammons spent 40 years of his adult life in prison.
Rocco De Grazia had a lengthy criminal career. Four months before Capone's income tax conviction, he was mentioned as one of the Big Fellow's heirs presumptive. The Chicago Tribune called him the "Little Capone" of Melrose Park, where he controlled the length and breadth of organized crime. Beginning February 9, 1935 he served nearly 14 months at Leavenworth for income tax evasion. Ten year's after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre he was regarded as one of 10 leading figures in organized crime in Chicago. But, after the 1950's he sank into relative obscurity, dealing in narcotics (according to several reports) and operating the Casa Madrid restaurant, a syndicate den of vice and violence. It was there that the famous FBI agent Bill Roemer punched De Grazia silly, in retaliation for De Grazia and other hoods assaulting a fellow agent.
Sam Costello was one of some 20 gangsters from the Heights picked up in a joint raid by federal authorities and Chicago police after the police chief of South Chicago Heights was assassinated in 1929. He remained a top Emery aide until his death in 1938. Suspected of skimming money from gang operations he managed, he was shot and killed on February 9 of that year. At the time of his death, Sam Costello was wearing a diamond studded belt buckle given to him by Al Capone. Following his death, the remaining Costellos went legitimate by forming Chicago Heights Distributing out of their old bootlegging business.
According to long time Chicago Heights residents, Vera Emery enjoyed princess like status in that suburb's Italian community. She later married Joseph Costello, the nephew of Sam Costello, in a move designed to cement alliances among the Chicago Heights gangsters. The couple continued to live in the Emery house until shortly after Jimmy Emery's death, when Joseph committed suicide. Finally, without any further information, we can assume that the little dog lived a quiet and peaceful life.
Tests with Facial Recognition Software
John J. Binder
Matthew J. Luzi
We started to carefully research the well-known photo of Al Capone, eight other men, a little girl, and a dog sitting in a yard, referred to herein as the Nine Man Photo, roughly 30 years ago. John Binder first became aware of it in 1991 right after he joined the Merry Gangsters Literary Society in Chicago. Matt Luzi had known about it for some time because his family was from Chicago Heights, and the photo was related to his family history. While John Binder started working on it from scratch, Matt Luzi had already identified three of the men and the little girl,all of whom were from Chicago Heights, in the picture.
Based on interviews with living individuals who knew the people in the Nine Man Photo, comparisons (admittedly with the naked eye) to known photos, and other information, by 1995 we felt that we had identified almost all the people in it, beyond the easily recognizable Al Capone. At the time we believed that they were, with a high degree of certainty: (sitting in the front row, starting from the left) Frank LaPorte (P1), Vera Emery (P2), Al Capone, Willie Heeney (P3), Jimmy Emery (P4), (standing in the back row, starting from the left) Rocco De Grazia (P5), Louis Campagna (P6), Claude Maddox (P7), James Sammons (P8), and SamCostello (P9). Unfortunately, we were unable to identify the little dog. The identifiers in parentheses label the people in the Nine Man Photo, in regard to the tests we conducted with facial recognition software that are reported below. An article we wrote about the Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why of the Nine Man Photo was published in the academic journal Criminal Organizations in 1996, and Mario Gomes was kind enough to put an updated version of it on his website Myalcaponemuseum.com.
An update was necessary because later we spoke with relatives of Capone gangster Nick Circella. Not only did they believe that the man in the back row was Circella rather than Sammons, but they shared with us several photos of Circella that bore an incredible likeness to the man standing fourth from the left. We have revisited this topic because modern technology, in terms of computer programs designed to recognize faces through a series of distance measurement, can identify the various people with Al Capone in the group photo. Just as DNA analysis ultimately determined that noneof the members of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs, escaped from being murdered while in Soviet captivity in 1917. To that end, we use the facial recognition software designed by the firm Biometric Vision which was recently made available online. Biometric Vision advertises their software as being 99.99 per cent accurate. We compared known photos (from our photo collections) of the individuals that we had previously identified to the people in the Nine Man photo labeled as P1 through P9.
We also examined some other photos because over time there have been severalchallenges to our identifications of the people in the group photo. A distant relative of Al Capone, who believes that she has expert knowledge on anything and everything related to the Capone family, insists that the little girl is actually Alphonse Capone's younger sister, Mafalda, and that the person we identified as Rocco DeGrazia is really Capone's brother Salvatore (known as Frank). Although almost all of her other assertions are contradicted by hard evidence, we compared the relevant images in the group photo to pictures of Mafalda and Frank Capone.
Various other people, based on casual observation, felt that they recognized someone in the Nine Man Photo. Yet naked eye comparisons to known photos and other facts generally did not support those claims. However, there is one photo of Jack McGurn that very much resembles the man sitting at the far left in the Nine Man Photo. Therefore, we also entertained the idea that McGurn was in the photo.
This leads to a battery of 36 tests in total. The results are summarized below. The figure A/B in parentheses after the name of every known individual indicates that A of the B comparison photos matched the relevant person in the Nine Man Photo.
Frank LaPorte (4/4)
Jack McGurn (0/4)
Vera Emery (5/7)
Mafalda Capone (0/3)
Willie Heeney (1/1)
Jimmy Emery (3/3)
Rocco De Grazia (4/4)
Frank Capone (0/1)
Louis Campagna (2/2)
Claude Maddox (3/3)
Nick Circella (2/2)
Sam Costello (2/2)
Regarding the men in the group photo, in every case the comparison photos that are chosen based on our earlier identifications are a match. That is, there are 21 matches in 21 tests.
Regarding the little girl, in five cases out of seven a known photo of Vera Emery is found to be a match to the little girl sitting next to Al Capone. While this is less than perfect, it should be noted that three photos of Vera Emery taken around the same time as the Nine Man Photo, when she was still a little girl, were found to be a match. And she is, of all the people in the group photo, probably the person that we required the least help to identify because various old-timers in Chicago Heights who knew her their entire lives, and in some cases were related to Vera or other people in the Nine Man Photo, agreed that she is the little girl. On the other hand, none of the three photos of Mafalda Capone match the little girl in the group photo, and the one known photo of Frank Capone also does not match the man at the far left in the back row. Furthermore, none of the four photos of Jack McGurn are a match for the man sitting at the far left. Therefore, facial recognition software strongly supports our earlier identifications and rejects the possibility that Mafalda Capone, Frank Capone, and Jack McGurn are in the Nine Man Photo. Without any comparison photos of likely canine candidates, we are still unable to identify the little dog, and it must remain a "Dog Doe" until we have something definite to work with.
1. Similarly, it is clear from known photos that the usual identifications are incorrect.
2. See his petition for naturalization in the Historical Collection of the Chicago Heights Library.
3. There is a strong resemblance between the person at Capone's left (Heeney) and later pictures of Sam "Golf Bag" Hunt. There are several reasons why we believe that the person is Willie Heeney. First, pictures of Sam Hunt from the late 1920's do not closely resemble the person in this photo. Second, Hunt was 5' 10" while the man in the picture is noticeably shorter (around 5' 5") than the almost 5' 11" Al Capone. Willie Heeney was, based on St. Louis Police Department information, a quarter inch below 5' 5". Finally, Hunt had protruding ears, which the man in the picture, and Willie Heeney, do not have.
4. See Chicago Tribune, July 14, 1951.
5. This story is from the Chicago Daily News, December 1, 1930. Other references to Heeney's addiction include those in the New York Times, March 31, 1929 and in an interview of veteran Chicago reporter George Murray by Robert Schoenberg.
6. We have spoken to many individuals who knew Vera Emery personally and with one exception they agree unanimously that she is the little girl in the photograph.
7. See Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1948, Jay Robert Nash, The Encyclopedia of World Crime, p. 591 and Carl Sifakis, The Encyclopedia of American Crime, p. 117 on Capone's importation of Campagna from New York. The Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1943, p. 6 and March 20, 1943, p. 7 discuss Campagna's pre-1927 criminal record in Illinois. It is possible that both of these versions are largely correct. For instance, Campagna may have been born in New York, come to Chicago as a teenager where he committed bank robbery, returned to New York after serving his term and then returned to Chicago with Capone. Sifakis mixes these two stories somewhat, claiming that Campagna robbed a New York bank in 1919.
8. There is a picture of Campagna, taken closer to the time of the photo in question, on the back page of the Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1927 which shows him shortly after being apprehended in the Siege of the Detective Bureau. Although he can be definitely identified from it, since he has his head hung down in that picture we prefer the enclosed one.
9. See, for instance, Edward D. Sullivan, Rattling the Cup on Chicago Crime, p. 181 and Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1943, p. 6.
10. Chicago Sun, August 16, 1946.
11. The presence of De Grazia, Campagna and Maddox (and of course Capone) was confirmed by Tony Accardo when he was shown this picture while testifying (under immunity) before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in June 1984. In response to a direct question, Accardo denied that he appears in the photo, as is sometimes alleged.
12. We are grateful to Jim Sammons (no relation to "Fur") of the Merry Gangsters Literary Society, who's father Sgt. Marty Sammons served with the Chicago Police Department from 1928 to 1965, for this account. "Fur" Sammons's records from Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois in 1917 list his alias as "Furs" Simons. Copies of these records were kindly given to us by Warden Salvador A. Godinez of Stateville.
13. See Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1933 and John H. Lyle, The Dry and Lawless Years.
14. There is another picture of Costello on the back page of the Chicago Tribune, January 7, 1929 which reinforces our identification of him. A further picture appears in the February 2, 1938 edition of the Tribune.
15. Chicago Heights Star, October 12, 1928.
16. Dominic Candelaro, Italians in Chicago Heights: Trends in Occupation, Citizenship and Residence: A Preliminary Description, pp. 17-18.
17. See the naturalization files in the Historical Collection of the Chicago Heights Library and Chicago Heights Star, April 24, 1924.
18. See Chicago Herald and Examiner, January 24, 1927 and Chicago Herald and Examiner, December 1, 1928.
19. See Chicago Heights Star, April 24, 1924.
20. See Chicago Herald and Examiner, July 24, 1926.
21. See Chicago Herald and Examiner, July 24, 1926 and August 21, 1926 and Chicago Heights Star, August 31, 1926.
22. The Emery house is now the site of a gas station.
23. Some copies of this picture in circulation have the year 1926 attached to it along with the standard identifications. This date appears no more reliable than those identifications.
24. Chicago Tribune writer Guy Murchie, in conjunction with a three part feature story he did on Al Capone's gang in February 1936, compiled a list of Capone gangsters. It also contains brief descriptions of many of them. De Grazia is listed as "driver", Campagna as "gunman and booze hustler", Maddox as "west side beer and booze peddler", Sammons as "labor racketeer", Heeney as "machine gunner" and Emery as "big shot". Costello has no designation and LaPorte is not on the list. Al Capone is simply described as "big shot and boss".
25. Bob Carey is one alias of Bob Newberry, who was more commonly known as Bob Conroy. See Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1932, p. 4 on Carey's real name and the preceding day's Tribune, p. 5 for a list of his other aliases. In preliminary newspaper accounts of Bolton's conversations with federal authorities, Murray Humphries is named instead of Ray Nugent. See Chicago Daily News, January 24, 1935, p. 10 and Chicago Tribune, January 24, 1935.
26. See Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1929 and New York Times, March 31, 1929.
27. Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1943, p. 6.
28. Since he was, like Maddox, known to the Moran gangsters by sight, Heeney almost certainly was not one of the gunmen on St. Valentine's Day. The fact that he and Bolton probably procured one of the machine guns would be enough to make the police search for him as a prime suspect.
29. See Robert J. Schoenberg, Mr. Capone, pp. 226-227 for a discussion of Fred Burke's role in the Massacre. This newly discovered link between Capone and Burke conflicts with Schoenberg's conclusion that Burke was probably not a gunman in the Massacre because (p. 228) "Capone would never have had him." Based on this and other evidence, Capone did in fact have ties to him. Also, Guy Murchie's list of Capone gangsters (see footnote 24) includes Burke, whom he describes as a "killer from St. Louis." Furthermore, Maddox was linked to Burke et al. through the Egan's Rats in St. Louis so Capone did not necessarily have to have a direct tie to the gunmen -- he was insulated from them via Maddox, who did the recruiting and planning.
30. The other group photos are the 1931 Comiskey Park picture of Capone, his son and bodyguards, the 1978 "Last Supper" photo of Tony Accardo and the Mob's hierarchy and a picture of some 30 Chicago Heights gangsters from the mid-1920's, which is in the possession of one of the authors. The "Last Supper" celebrated Vince Solano being named to succeed the terminally ill Dominic Di Bella as boss of the North Side. The massive gathering of Chicago Heights gangsters seems to have been arranged to acknowledge Roberto's stature as boss and the consolidation of the various gangs. In some sense the picture at Comiskey Park does not really count, since it was in a public place and photographers came over, when Gabby Hartnett signed a baseball for Sonny Capone, and took pictures without permission.
31. Consistent with the arguments that the photo was taken in Chicago Heights and that three of these individuals operated there, we know that this picture is in the possession of many people in Chicago Heights and the surrounding suburbs who knew the bootleggers from the Heights. We have also seen a picture taken at the same place on the same day, since the people's clothes are identical, which includes just Capone, Costello, and Jimmy and Vera Emery. One reason that the photo examined here is so widely distributed around Chicago is that at one time it was apparently sold at flea markets.
32. Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1943.
33. Chicago Daily News, October 21, 1954.
34. See the Chicago Sun-Times article, November 1, 1972, about LaPorte and Ovid Demaris, The Last Mafioso.
35. See Ovid Demaris, The Last Mafioso, p. 177
36. See Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1931.
37. Chicago Tribune, Feb. 10, 1938.