Only a few criminals have lasting, larger-than-life legacies that truly intrigue us. There's Al Capone, king of prohibition and a man of the people. There's also Pablo Escobar, who had a similar reputation down in Colombia. Sure, we know they were killers and dealers — but there's just something about them that fascinates us. It turns out there are so many fascinating details about these ruthless kingpins that most people don't know. Read on for the most interesting, mind-blowing ones!
Pablo Escobar Was Locally Known as a Robin Hood
While you might assume a mass-murdering madman is not a hero anywhere, that's wrong when it comes to Pablo Escobar. In his neck of the woods, he actually had a few positive nicknames. He was called Robin Hood, Don Pablo, and El Patron by locals. Why were they so enamored with the thug? Well, it turns out that he was a pretty generous donor to things that mattered to them.
From churches and hospitals, Pablo was there with funds. He built 1,000 houses and a sanitation system for the poor. He also established food programs and built parks and stadiums. When he died, 25,000 people came to his funeral.
Capone’s Free Soup Kitchen Was a Godsend During the Depression
The Great Depression was a time that traumatized a whole generation. They starved in America, of all places! In Chicago, many people found relief at a soup kitchen sponsored by none other than Al Capone. The sign out front stated: “Free Soup Coffee & Doughnuts for the Unemployed.” On Thanksgiving in 1930, Al even served a full holiday meal to 5,000 impoverished Chicagoans. What a joy during those dark times!
Al's reputation as a man of the people grew with this charity. Folks also loved that he provided them drinks, no matter the law. What more could they ask for?
Al Capone Was an Early Bloomer
Although nearly everyone thinks of Chicago as Al Capone's home base, he was born a Brooklyn boy. Here, see a little Alphonse with his mama Teresa around 1904. She was a seamstress and an immigrant from Italy. Dad was too and worked as a barber. The family was made up of nine kids, making them pretty poor. Maybe that's why a very young Al was thugging before he was old enough to drive.
After dropping out of school, he joined petty theft gangs. Among his affiliations were the South Brooklyn Rippers, the James Street Boys, and the Forty Thieves Juniors. But as we all know now, those were just a stepping stone.
You Can't Even Imagine How Many Lives Pablo Ended
He's infamous for good reason. Pablo Escobar once mused: “Sometimes I feel like God…when I order someone killed — they die the same day.” If you think he was bragging, consider the hit list left in his wake. Authorities estimate that Pablo was responsible for murdering 4,000 souls in his quest for wealth. That includes civilians who got in the way, 200 judges, and 1,000 journalists, police, and government officials. It's astonishing!
The impact of that reign of terror is certainly still felt today. What was his rationale for all the murder? According to Pablo: “All empires are created of blood and fire.”
Al Capone’s Own Brother Was a Prohibition Agent
While Al was making millions selling alcohol, he had a brother trying to ban it. Richard Capone left home at age 16, changed his last name to Hart, and tried to lose his Brooklyn accent. He became a federal prohibition agent and lived in Nebraska. He busted bootleggers and had a cowboy persona. Back then, there was no social media. Richard only found out about Al's crimes in the national news!
It's incredible that both came from the same family. But if we think about it, we know siblings that are pretty opposite. We wish we could have seen their faces when they found out!
Al Capone Had Very Little Respect for Authority as a Middle-Schooler
Growing up, Al Capone was actually a pretty good student at a strict Catholic school. He showed no signs of becoming a ruthless mob boss. But in middle school, he started hanging out with a rough crowd. Al lost interest in classes and started to show issues with authority. Back then, it was common for teachers to use physical discipline. And it seemed they didn't have a lot of patience for immigrants' kids like him.
One day, he punched his teacher right in the face. Naturally, he was expelled on the spot. Al never continued his formal learning past age 14. Instead, he became street smart.
Al Capone's Unique Relationship With Politicians
Al Capone was well aware of the forces that threatened his business. Politicians were chief among them, and he had to cover his bases. In Chicago, he thought it would be a good thing to own the mayor himself. So for William Hale Thompson’s campaign, Al donated $250,000. This partnership worked out quite nicely for them both. When the mayor died, he had today's equivalent of $27 million hidden away. Where did that come from on a city salary?
Al most certainly knew the answer. In fact, he made sure everyone at city hall stuffed their safe deposit boxes full of cash. The booze business went on, smoother than ever.
This Is Why They Called Al Scarface
Why was Al Capone called Scarface? We can see he did have a noticeable mark. Few know the truth, which is that it is from an incident in a brothel. At the time, he was a bartender at the joint, and he instigated a fight. A felon named Frank Galluccio had entered with his sister, and Al made some spicy comments about the lady. A fight began, and Al was slashed across the face with a knife.
Interestingly, there was no lasting bad blood between the men. Years later, Al even hired Frank as his bodyguard. Apparently, he was impressed. We're surprised it worked out so well.
Pablo Escobar Married a Teenage Girl
As fate would have it, Pablo Escobar met a 12-year-old named Victoria Henao Vellejo. When she was 15, they got married. Her family was not crazy about him from the beginning, and didn't want the union. But it happened anyway, and Victoria soon found herself married to a gangster. Did she know that, though? As a teen girl, we have to believe she didn't know much about his business plans.
Really, she was only worried about affairs. Victoria recounts: "In those first years, I never thought that his activities were particularly dangerous or wrong...The gossip about his affairs was constant and, I must admit, deeply painful for me...I decided not to follow him, track his phone calls, or check his shirts for lipstick. He who seeks shall find — and I preferred not to find anything.”
Pablo Escobar Offered to Pay Colombia's Entire National Debt
Pablo Escobar really, really didn't want to get extradited to the USA to face his crimes. He actually tried to get the laws of his own country changed, when it came to such agreements. Pablo's offer was astounding: He would pay the entire national debt of the nation of Colombia. At the time, that added up to around 10 billion dollars. As a man worth $30 billion, it was doable.
On one hand, there was funding. On the other, there was the fact that Pablo had masterminded around 200 car bombings plus the bombing of a flight that killed 107 civilians. Colombia wisely passed on the offer.
Americans Sort of Worshipped Al Capone
In his heyday, Al Capone was a celebrity. Here he is, on the cover of Time Magazine in 1930. People really liked Al's cheeky quips in the press. He was also well-dressed and charismatic. And of course, he was bringing them the stuff they liked to drink. Whenever this gangster was interviewed about his business, he had a simple reply: “I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want.”
Prohibition was a strange, forgotten time. Groups concerned about morality had changed the U.S. Constitution to make liquor illegal. Although Al claimed to oppose this, it sure did create an opportunity for bootlegging.
Escobar's Lavish Colombian Estate Is Now a Theme Park
After Escobar's death, there was a novel idea about how to use his property. No one wanted to see such lavish grounds go to waste. As a result, a theme park called Hacienda Nápoles was constructed. Giant dinosaur statues and Pablo's very own classic cars are now on display there. But that's not all: There's also a water park, aquariums, a guided safari, and a replica of famous Colombian caves. We think it sounds pretty fun, actually!
Tickets for the theme park run around 42,000 pesos, or 15 U.S. dollars. It's all managed by a private company now. We wonder if visitors are aware of the park's sinister past.
Flying Cargo for Pablo Was Incredibly Lucrative
In the world of illicit trade, there are plenty of players. To come out on the very top is no accident. In the case of Pablo Escobar, we can see a lot of qualities that led him to success: He was ruthless, he was ambitious, and he was pretty creative when it came to finding ways around the law. According to Pablo: “Everyone has a price, the important thing is to find out what it is.”
In a clever move, he put his product into plane tires. If you were a pilot that agreed to be a part of the scheme, you could make up to $500,000 per day. As you might imagine, many did!
Escobar's Estate Had Hippos, Giraffes, and Elephants Roaming Around
When you're a kingpin, you need a lavish estate. That's just how it works, and we see that Pablo understood that. At this home, he constructed a zoo with very wild, exotic animals. He had hippos, giraffes, camels, zebras, ostriches, and even elephants on the grounds. Are these creatures native to Colombia? Not at all. But when you have as many planes as Pablo did, smuggling is not a problem.
After his death, there was a real question about what to do with about 200 beasts. Most went to zoos, but four hippos stayed and began to multiply. By 2016, 40 lived in the area, scaring locals. Since then, many have been neutered.
Capone Had the Brain of a 12-Year-Old When He Died
Al loved the ladies, and he loved them in brothels. As a frequent visitor, it seems that this mobster contracted Syphilis. This festered while he was in prison. By the time Al was examined by doctors, his brain looked like a 12-year old. The STD makes you go crazy, which is why it's important to fight it early. Although they gave him penicillin, it was far too late. Some said he seemed like he had dementia, near the end.
The state released Al from Alcatraz and let him live out his life at home in Miami. He was too brain-damaged to commit any more crimes. But his family guarded him closely. Some think they didn't want him to reveal secrets in his madness. The Chicago gang wouldn't have appreciated it!
The Medellin Cartel Provided 80% of America's Narcotics
In every major U.S. city, the hard stuff is around all the time. If you want it, you can find it. Some might wonder how it gets there since none of it is grown in northern climates. The answer in the 1980s was Pablo Escobar's Medellin cartel. The organization was responsible for around 80 percent of the white powder in America. But how much did that mean, in cold, hard numbers?
At the height of the business, that amounted to 15 tons shipped in per day. The biggest shipment was 51,000 pounds. Interestingly, about 10% was lost to spoilage. But Pablo seemed to do okay, regardless.
Pablo Once Burned Millions of Dollars to Stay Warm
Pablo Escobar clearly didn't care very much about human life. Except, of course, when he did. Pablo once said: “I can replace things, but I could never replace my wife and kids.” That might be why he burned a pile of banknotes worth millions in one night. When he and his family were on the run and staying in a cold, mountainous hideout, Pablo the dad became concerned that his daughter Manuela had hypothermia.
For a man worth $30 billion, we can see the calculation he made. But to us commoners, this sounds pretty wild. Most of us will never touch a million dollars, let alone set it on fire.
Pablo Was Actually a Congressman for a Little Bit
Pablo Escobar already had power over almost everyone through his brutality. But he decided he wanted to formalize it by running for congress in Colombia. In 1982, he was elected as an alternate member as part of the Liberal Alternative movement. While in this role, he started community projects building houses and football fields. This made him popular with the people, no doubt. Would this be enough to make up for mass murder?
No, governments around the world would not be deterred by this cheap trick. Pablo was a highly wanted man, on every list. Soon enough, his megalomania would end. But in the meantime, a whole lot of mayhem continued.
Pablo Escobar Owned a Whole Fleet of Everything
Pablo Escobar had to spend $2500 a month on rubber bands. He needed them to hold all his cash bundles together! He was doing business in the billions, after all. And to transport all his loot, he made heavy investments in transportation. At his peak in the '80s, he had a fleet that included 2 submarines,142 planes, 32 yachts, and 20 choppers. He had plenty of regular old trucks and cars, too.
Today, one of his planes is a diving attraction in the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas. It crashed into the sea decades ago, and it's quite a sight. Here it is, from above!
Capone Definitely Did Some of His Own Dirty Work
In reality, Al Capone did very few of his own killings. Usually, associates would do it on his behalf. But at least sometimes, he did take the lead. When a plot was uncovered that his own bodyguards wanted to take him out, he decided to act first. According to the biography Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone, Al invited them to dinner. After eating, they were all tied to their chairs.
The book recounts a baseball bat was next, and no one came out alive. The lesson was clear: Don't think you can betray Al Capone and profit. You never will!
There Is No Agreement on Pablo Escobar's Death
The short story is, Pablo Escobar was killed with a bullet at the age of 44. But there is speculation that it may have been a suicide, and not a shootout with authorities, as per the official story. Pablo was on the run for a while after his escape from jail. During a raid, he ran to a roof and shots were fired. Why do some people think he ended his own life up there?
According to his brother, it had to be suicide because there was a shot found through his ear. A friend of his explained: "During all the years they went after him, he would say to me every day that if he was really cornered without a way out, he would 'shoot himself through the ear'."
Al Capone Managed Every Dirty Business
Booze was not the only business that Al Capone ran in the city of Chicago. A good portfolio should always be diversified. That's why he was in charge of the majority of speakeasies, brothels, and bookie joints. He also controlled the horse and race tracks. Al even liked to gamble himself. He shared: “I’ve lost a million and a half on the horses and dice in the last two years. And the funny part is, I still like ’em, and if someone handed me another million I’d put it right in the nose of some horse that looked good to me.”
Al ran all the vice in the city, basically. But all the while, he lived in this perfectly ordinary home in the Greater Grand Crossing area. Would you guess that the biggest American mobster was right here, in plain view?
Capone's First Prison Cell Doesn't Look All That Bad
Before Al was at the infamous Alcatraz Island prison, he was locked up in Eastern State Penitentiary. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his family visited him regularly. And it seems he was quite comfortable, as much as one could be in jail. Here, we see his actual cell, and you may notice that it looks pretty stylish. There's a carpet, a plush armchair, and a fringed lamp. The theme is stone, with red and beige accents.
Al even had a radio, which seems like a pretty special privilege. Why was he getting all this fancy treatment? Perhaps he had friends in high places. He usually did!
You'll Never Guess Who Loved Self Help Books
When authorities raided Pablo's mansion, they found a lot of interesting evidence. But something that really stuck out to them was a copy of a popular book translated into Spanish. It was The Power Of Positive Thinking. Advice from the book includes: “The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.”
This self-help classic seems a little out of place on Pablo Escobar's bookshelf. We just can't picture this guy internalizing such wisdom.
Al Orchestrated the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
As you might imagine, the head of a crime syndicate has plenty of threats on his life. Al Capone survived numerous assassination attempts in Chicago as the rivalry between the Irish and Italian gangs heated up. In 1929, Al was running his business in the city from his home in Florida. He wasn't literally there for the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But without a doubt, he was the mastermind behind it.
Al had seven members of the Bugs Moran gang lined up on a wall. He had his own men dress up as police officers to get them to comply. Once they did, the shooting began. He was never convicted for his role in the crime. But he did become notorious.
Pablo Started Out Smuggling Very Different Stock
Born in 1949 to a schoolteacher and a farmer, Pablo Escobar wasn't rich from the start. But as we know now, he was mischievous and devious from the beginning. Pablo falsified report cards and sold phony diplomas for cash. Outside of school, he stole stereo equipment and gravestones. This was all as a teen, believe it or not. What did he move on to next, in his lifelong crime spree?
As he got older he scammed people all the time and routinely stole vehicles. We all know what he moved on to next. These small jobs just didn't pay enough!
Floridians Hated Their Mob Neighbor
Al Capone made millions in his dirty dealings. Then, he purchased a gorgeous mansion in Miami, right on the beach. It was certainly a beautiful place to plot murder and mayhem. And his neighbors certainly knew that's exactly what he was doing. They believed he was bringing crime to their city, and news outlets tried to publicize his unwanted presence. The Miami municipality put him under serious surveillance. Did they all run him out of town?
Not really. According to Al, he was a victim. He shared: “Every time a boy falls off a tricycle, every time a black cat has gray kittens, every time someone stubs a toe, every time there’s a murder or a fire or the marines land in Nicaragua, the police and the newspapers holler ‘get Capone.”
Al Was Only Convicted for Tax Evasion
Despite all the bodies around him, it was hard to pin their demise on Al himself. Federal prosecutors wanted to nail him on something, though, and get him off the street. They devised a way to prove he hadn't paid taxes and went to trial. A jury gave him a sentence of eleven years, a serious sentence, all by itself. Here, we see his 1939 mugshot the day he arrived at Terminal Island in California.
Was this a just outcome? Well, he probably hadn't paid taxes on his millions in cash transactions. But according to Al: “The country wanted booze and I organized it. Why should I be called a public enemy?”
Capone Actually Had Legit Jobs Before the Mob
Some might think that Al Capone went straight into crime. And they're not totally wrong, because he was involved in petty theft even as a teen. But along the way, he had real jobs, too. After dropping out of school, he worked at a candy store and a bowling alley. He also worked at a pool hall and played semi-professional baseball. In the end, he would use a bat for professional purposes. But it was all for murder, not home runs.
In his later years, Al would become a White Sox fan. At times, he was in the front row at the stadium in Chicago. That must have made at least a few players nervous!
This Was Pablo Escobar's Greatest Fear
No matter what happened, Pablo Escobar did not intend to die in an American prison. He insisted: “I prefer to be in the grave in Colombia than in a jail cell in the United States.” Incredibly, the kingpin was allowed to have his own custom prison built to his preferences, just for him, right in Colombia. Under the agreement, he would surrender to authorities and go live there for five years. After, he was not to be sent to America at all.
The facility was called La Catedral. What were the conditions like? Well, there was a casino, a nightclub, and a spa for Pablo to enjoy. Today, you can visit as a tourist!
Al's Chicago Operation Made Spectacular Profits
You might be wondering just how much money alcohol brought in during Prohibition. Al Capone and his gang alone made hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Combined with industries like gambling and racketeering, Al and friends made around $100 million annually in the 1920s. If that sounds like a lot now, just think about how much it meant back then. That's when a loaf of bread was a nickel!
Succeeding in illicit business as he did was very risky. But Al's philosophy was simple. He explained: “I would rather be rich affluent and greedy and go to hell when I die, than live in poverty on this earth.”
Al Capone Got Musical at Alcatraz
After Al went to jail, some might wonder what he did all day. Going from a lavish mansion to a tiny cell must have been quite a shock. How did he cope? As it turns out, Al had a musical side to him no one knew. At Alcatraz, he displayed good behavior. The jail permitted him to join an inmate band called the Rock Islanders. They performed concerts on Sundays. Al played the banjo!
Many thought he wrote a song called “Madonna Mia” about his wife. That turns out to be half-true: Al just played an existing song in a different key. But it sounds like the prisoners enjoyed it!
Gangster Johnny Torrio Was Capone's Mentor
How did Al Capone transition from petty crime to full-blown mafia activity? Some credit Johnny Torrio as an important guide who showed him the ropes. Al used to perform odd jobs for the local gangster, and that led to other business introductions. Eventually, Torrio invited Al to move to a new market: Chicago. At first, he worked as a bouncer and bartender, but soon, Johnny and Al became bootleggers.
The duo invested and it grew the venture for years. In 1925, Johnny was injured by a rival gang. He gave all control to Al, who would soon reach his real potential as public enemy number one.
Scarface Wanted a Career Change
Al Capone once said: “I’m the boss. I’m going to continue to run things. They’ve been putting the roscoe on me for a good many years and I’m still healthy and happy. Don’t let anybody kid you into thinking I can be run out of town. I haven’t run yet and I’m not going to.” But the truth is, he was looking for an exit from the world of crime. Perhaps he knew that the writing was on the wall with public sentiment to end prohibition. What could he do next?
Al wanted a legit investment. He turned to milk, something that would always be in demand. When he got involved, he asked the Chicago City Council to mandate expiration dates on bottles so that kids wouldn’t get ill. Thanks, Al!
Al Argued He Was Persecuted by Hypocrites
Al was hounded by authorities he couldn't bribe for years. He had his own views on the illegality of his passion project. Once, he framed it this way: “When I sell liquor, it's bootlegging. When my patrons serve it on a silver tray on Lakeshore Drive, it's hospitality.” We see what he meant, and it did seem like a lot of government officials themselves were his customers. At the end of the day, everyone wanted a cold refreshing glass.
It seems that violence was required to keep this business going, however. A lot of people didn't like that part. Murder was illegal before beer, and it remains so afterward. Case Closed!