How much would you pay for a three page handwritten letter by Al Capone? For one anonymous Chicago collector, the price was $62,500—over $10,000 more than expected. Given how rare it was for Al to write things, however, it’s hardly surprising. “It’s an exceedingly rare personal letter showing the softer side of the notorious gangster,” said Robert Livingston in a VOAnews article about the letter. Livingston is the executive vice president of RR Auction, which auctioned off the letter on September 27th, 2016. What’s more surprising, however, is the letter’s content, which many reporters happily claimed showed Al’s softer side.
“Hello son, here is your dear Dad, with a letter for you, and pray to God, it will find you in perfect health,” says Al at the beginning of his letter to his son, Albert “Sonny” Capone. Al goes on to describe the “daily grind in prison,” which for him also included a special treat: playing music. Al was an avid player of the banjo and the mandola, an instrument similar to the mandolin, and he took great pride in his abilities. “There isn’t a song written that I can’t play,” Al brags to Sonny in his letter. Besides playing music, Al was also a big fan of listening to it, and was allowed to play records in his cell as well. He recommends a few songs to his son in the letter as well.
While he was always denied special privileges while in Alcatraz, Al somehow managed to get a band put together for the amusement of the prisoners. According to an article on SFGate.com, “the gangster begged the warden for permission to form a small band. The warden relented, the inmates sent away for instruments and Capone made music behind bars.” According to A History of Alcatraz Island, The Rock Islanders “were a staple on the island until the prison closed,” and Al did play with them regularly during his time there. He even wrote a song! “Madonna Mia,” a song about a man’s undying love for his woman, was written as a gift for his “good friend,” Father Vin Casey, a Jesuit priest who visited prisoners in Alcatraz to offer spiritual guidance. “With your true love to guide me, let whatever betide me, I will never go wrong,” go some of the lyrics. Experts aren’t sure if the song refers to Al’s love for the Virgin Mary (Al was a devout Catholic), or if they were meant for his loving wife, Mae–but either way the song is a “beautiful…tearjerker” according to Rich Larsen, founder of Caponefanclub.com. Larsen supposedly had a recording made of the song back in 2009, but I was unable to find it anywhere.
Al closes his letter with encouragement to his son: “Well Sonny keep up your chin, and don’t worry about your dear Dad, and when again you allowed a vacation, I want you and your dear Mother to come here together, as I sure would love to see you,” he wrote. He signed the letter with “Love & Kisses, Your Dear Dad Alphonse Capone.” While these words might seem surprising to those who think of Al as a cold-blooded, ruthless killer, for anyone who knew him this tenderness was nothing new. Al had always been a devoted family man—and he was human, too. 😉
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If you’re interested, here’s Al’s actual letter, courtesy of Smithsonian.com: