Al Capone and ‘El Chapo’ highlight Chicago’s history of gang-fueled drug violence

on Jan13

13 January 2018 | 12:18 am


Chicago has become America’s most notorious city for its gang-fueled drug violence. The crime-plagued metropolis tallied 650 murders in 2017, according to newly released police data. Thus, for the second consecutive year, the nation’s third-largest city registered more slayings than New York City and Los Angeles combined. While Chicago’s current crime epidemic is extremely newsworthy, the Windy City has long been a hotbed for unlawful activities. To combat the wrongdoings of sinister figures, the Chicago Crime Commission created its Public Enemy No. 1 list. Infamous gangster Al Capone was the first person named on the commission’s chart in 1930 and Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman became the second, and last, individual to receive the title in 2013.

“(Guzman’s crimes) need to be addressed at the highest levels of the U.S. government and the highest levels of the Mexican government,” said Jeffrey Johnson, a member of the board of directors for the Chicago Crime Commission. “Don’t kid ourselves, that’s why we have used the label as Public Enemy Number One in this instance, of the havoc of this organization and he as the head leader has wreaked on the streets to the citizens of Chicago.”

In this period of unprecedented levels of local bloodshed, let’s recap the villainous lives of Capone and Guzman.


FILE – This Jan. 19, 1931, file photo shows Chicago mobster Al Capone at a football game. An intimate letter gangster Capone wrote while imprisoned at Alcatraz has sold at auction in Massachusetts. Boston-based RR Auction said the winning bid came Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, at an auction in Cambridge. (AP Photo/File)

Al Capone was born to poor Italian immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, on January 17, 1899. At the age of 20, the 5-foot-10, 250-pound Capone relocated from Gotham to the Windy City to serve as a bodyguard and adviser to Chicago Outfit boss Johnny Torrio on the South Side. Torrio, whose organization prospered in the prohibition era, was nearly assassinated in January 1925 by Dean O’Banion’s North Side henchmen. Shortly after surviving O’Banion’s hit, Torrio retired, returned to Italy, and promoted Capone to run the Chicago Outfit. Capone, whose bootlegging, prostitution and gambling rackets generated an estimated $100 million in annual revenue, helped construct the most powerful criminal enterprise in the Midwest.

However, despite such control and authority, Capone’s feud with the North Siders only escalated and led to one of his critical mistakes. While “vacationing” in Miami, Scarface engineered the slayings of seven of “Bugs” Moran’s lackeys in a North Side garage on February 14, 1929. Known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, photos of the bloodbath outraged locals and prompted President Herbert Hoover to order federal authorities to target Capone.

“These murders went out of the comprehension of a civilized city,” the Tribune editorialized. “The butchering of seven men by open daylight raises this question for Chicago: Is it helpless?”

Although Capone was never nabbed for eliminating his rivals, the U.S. Government indicted him on 22 counts of income-tax evasion. Capone was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison on June 5, 1931. A 48-year-old Scarface, battling syphilitic dementia, died at his mansion in Palm Island, Florida, on January 25, 1947.

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman


The Sinaloa cartel’s headman, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was named by Forbes magazine as the “biggest drug lord of all time.” Guzman reportedly produced, distributed and smuggled roughly 25 percent of all narcotics that entered the U.S. via Mexico since his reign commenced in 1989. Overseeing a business that drug enforcement experts predict exceeded $3 billion annually in revenue, Guzman was ranked as one of the world’s wealthiest individuals from 2009 through 2011.

The 5-foot-6 El Chapo, a derisive nickname that means “Shorty” in Spanish, escaped from prison in 2001 and 2015. Infuriated by Guzman’s Houdini-like disappearances, U.S. officials offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Approximately five months after using a tunnel to flee from Mexico’s top-security prison, Guzman lost a shootout and was apprehended by marines and federal police in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, on January 8, 2016. A year later, El Chapo was flown to the United States District Court in New York to face a 17-count indictment alleging that he committed an array of crimes across multiple American cities. Jack Riley, the head of Chicago’s Drug Enforcement Administration, claims that Guzman’s network especially ravaged the Windy City’s South Side and West Side areas.

“While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in the city that local and federal law enforcement are forced to operate as if they are on the border,” said Riley.

Guzman’s trial date has been rescheduled for this April.

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