Al Capone in Miami – Part 3 of 4

Mug Shot of Capone's Arrest in Miami in May of 1930.Mug Shot of Capone's Arrest in Miami in May of 1930.

For the first time in his life, Capone was serving time in jail. His sentence began in May of 1929 and by the spring of 1930 his jail time was approaching its end. After multiple attempts to appeal his year sentence, Capone would serve nearly a full year in jail. As he prepared to leave his jail cell in Pennsylvania, there was world-wide interest on where Capone would go after his release.

Chicago made it very clear that he would be arrested on site if he returned to the windy city. Threats from law enforcement never concerned Capone, but he knew that his enemies would be lurking in Chicago. While the rest of world waited for his release to see where he would end up, Capone chose to embark on a clandestine journey back to the “garden of America” for rest and relaxation.

Capone is released from Pennsylvania Jail

Time Magazine Cover in March of 1930.

Time Magazine Cover in March of 1930.

Al Capone and Frank Rio’s sentence was shortened by two months for good behavior. Both were scheduled for release from Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary at 12:01am on Monday, March 17th in 1930. The day was Saint Patrick’s Day. With great anticipation, several hundred onlookers and reporters began to congregate outside the main gate of the prison beginning at midnight. On the eve of his release, Capone was the big story of the day.

By the time the governor of Pennsylvania signed Capone’s papers at 11:10am on Monday morning, the onlookers began to grow at a staggering rate. It was estimated that there were as many as five hundred waiting outside the prison to get a glimpse of Capone.

However, the warden had pulled a fast one and transferred Capone to another prison the day before his release in order to avoid a mad scene outside of the Eastern State Penitentiary. None of the onlookers or reporters got what they came to see. Another reason for the transfer was to avoid any potential danger that Capone’s release could have attracted. By 2pm on March 17th, Al Capone was a free man.

Al Capone was as popular as ever following his release. A week after he became a free man, Time Magazine featured Capone on the cover of the March 24th issue of the magazine. The attention heightened the concern in Florida that Capone would return and bring a lot of unwanted attention and danger to South Florida.

While there was no definitive confirmation that Capone was intending to return to his Palm Island home, it didn’t take long for the Florida governor, Doyle E. Carlton, to take official action to make it difficult for Capone to return to the state. At the urging of Carl Fisher, the governor issued a statement banishing Capone from returning to Florida on March 19th, 1930.

Governor Carlton instructed law enforcement to detain Capone on site and escort him to the state border with instructions not to return. Governor Carlton’s instructions had set the tone for what Capone could expect from officials in Florida throughout the course of 1930.

Capone’s Palm Island Home Raided

Raid of Capone's Palm Island home on March 21st, 1930.

Raid of Capone’s Palm Island home on March 21st, 1930.

On March 20th, 1930, Al Capone’s home was raided by Dade County Sheriff M.P. Lehman and Miami Beach Chief of Police R.H. Wood, based on information that Ray Nugent, a bond jumper from Ohio was suspected of being at 93 Palm Island. Ray Nugent was wanted in Toledo and Cincinnati on a variety of charges, including second degree murder.

Several months before Al Capone was released from jail, Frank Capone and two women were pulled over in the company of Ray Nugent. Nugent was stopped for speeding and told the arresting officer that he was staying at Capone’s Palm Island home. After Nugent skipped bail, the officers got a warrant to search Capone’s home. The raid took place prior to Al Capone returning to Florida.

The only person that they found in the home was Frankie Newton, the caretaker of the residence. Although they did not find Nugent, they did find three bottles of liquor, a couple bottles of champagne and a bottle of wine. Newton mentioned that the others had left for the beach a short time before the raid. There were six officers left outside the gate to wait for the men.

The officers later arrested two of Al Capone’s brothers, John and Albert Capone, along with three other men, when they arrived back to the home. The men were arrested on vagrancy charges, with John Capone and Frankie Newton also charged with possession of alcohol. One of the three other men was Gunner Jack McGurn, right hand man to Al Capone in Chicago gang activities. He gave his name as John Vincent.

The charges were dismissed on August 1st, 1930, by Dade County Judge W.F. Brown. The ruling was based on the grounds that information filed against the men did not follow the language of the law. Ultimately, McGurn, under the name of John Vincent, confessed to owning the liquor and ended up paying a fine of $500.

Giblin, Gordon and Capone

Prior to finalizing plans to return to Miami Beach, Capone hired a pair of young attorneys to file a federal lawsuit to ultimately let him regain possession of his home. James Francis “Fritz” Gordon was only 27 years old when Capone hired him for local representation. Gordon was partnered with 32 year old Vincent Giblin, a former Broward County Circuit Judge. Giblin and Gordon filed the law suit on March 22nd, 1930.

Just six days after filing the suit, U.S. District Judge Halsted Ritter entered a temporary order forbidding law enforcement from keeping Capone out of Florida. The injunction kept law enforcement of the twenty counties in Florida from “seizing, arresting, kidnapping and abusing” Capone.

After spending all of March and part of April in Chicago, Capone finally arrived back to South Florida on Easter Sunday, April 20th, 1930. He was met by his attorneys, Giblin and Gordon, at the Hollywood train station. They then drove Capone to the community Easter Sunrise Service on Miami Beach. Attendees were very surprised to see Capone in their midst during Easter service.

Two days later, on April 22nd, 1930, the Dade County state’s attorney, N. Vernon Hawthorne, filed a suit to have Capone’s Palm Island home padlocked under the grounds that it was a public nuisance. Hawthorne justified the order because Capone’s home was “a place frequented by common gamblers … habitual loafers, idle and disorderly persons”.

As the lawsuit was processed, Capone would rest and travel. He fished from his yacht, Arrow, reeling in a seventy pound sailfish which was almost eight feet long. He traveled to Havana with the editor of the Chicago American, Harry Read, who later insisted he paid is own way.

On April 25th, Judge Ritter announced that he was making his temporary injunction permanent. Therefore, law enforcement must have legitimate reasons to detain Capone. Judge Ritter stated that there was no law which gave the Governor or Sheriffs the right to apprehend anyone without cause or process. Despite the ruling, law enforcement kept a very close on eye on Capone and had no intention of abiding by Judge Ritter’s injunction.

Capone Arrested in Route to Olympia Theater

On the morning of May 8th, 1930, the manager of the Olympia Theater in downtown Miami called Capone and invited him to the matinee showing of ‘The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu’. Unknown to Capone and his attorneys, Miami’s director of public safety, Sam McCreary, had ordered the police Chief, Guy C Reeve, to station detectives at the entrance into Miami from the County Causeway (later renamed to MacArthur Causeway), any time that he tried to enter Miami.

When Capone, along with his brother John and Chicago alderman Albert J. Prignano, plus bodyguard Nick Circella, proceeded to downtown Miami, they were stopped by two detectives. The group was told they were being arrested for “investigation”. When Al Capone asked to call home so someone could contact his attorney, he was denied. Despite Judge Ritter’s injunction, Al Capone and his party were on their way to jail.

The detectives and the Capone party arrived at police headquarters at two-thirty pm. Sam McCreary was there to greet the party. After being processed, Capone was upset that he was not issued a receipt for his belongings. He also took exception to his accommodations. He was not given the opportunity to call his attorneys and claimed he was denied food and water. Capone was also placed in a cell where there was no windows and no air. He was later given a pitcher of water. Capone’s complaints during his arrest were later the subject of a law suit his attorneys filed against a few of his local adversaries. Statements made by Capone during the trial then led to perjury charges filed by the County Solicitor.

Director McCreary visited Capone while he was still in his cell and made it clear that he would continue to be arrested “anytime, anywhere, in any company, every time that he would set foot in the jurisdiction of the city of Miami”. While no charges were filed against any of the men arrested, the purpose of the detainment was to make sure Capone got the message that he was not welcome.

About two hours after the arrest, Giblin and Gordon rushed into the police station to bail out Capone. The request to search Capone’s lawyers for weapons led to a shoving match between Gordon and an officer. Gordon fled the area and was pursued by several officers, and, when caught, was forcibly searched. Soon, the party moved to the courtroom where Judge Uly O. Thompson ordered the prisoners to be released.

The next day, on May 9th, Judge Ritter refused to rule on a request made by Gordon and Giblin to require a warrant for any future arrests of their client. Ritter stated that he would prefer to wait for a Dade County judge to fail to protect Capone’s constitutional rights before making such a ruling.

Capone Tries to Buy the Miami Daily News

Al Capone was convinced that James Cox of the Miami Daily News was behind the harassment that he had endured. Cox was one of Capone’s biggest adversaries during his time in South Florida.

In his autobiography, James Cox relayed a story of being approached, in his office at the Miami News Tower, by a well-dressed man who made him an offer to buy the paper. The gentleman brought a certified check in the amount of $500,000 that represented a down payment for the paper. The total offer was for $5,000,000 in cash.

The gentleman did not want to reveal his client, but Cox knew that the offer was from Capone. The paper and all of its assets was not worth the amount that was being offered and Cox recognized the intent behind the offer.

James Cox told the gentleman that there was no amount of money that would be tempting to sell the paper to his client. He looked at the sale of the Miami Daily News to Capone as a betrayal to the community. The gentleman sheepishly expressed regret for the offer and departed. Capone’s attempt to quiet one of his biggest critics failed.

Miami Real Estate Agent Bribes a Judge

Early May was a very busy time for judicial proceedings pertaining to Al Capone. While the padlocking suit was still being considered, a real estate agent named Nathan Grebstein decided to insert himself into the judicial circus. Grebstein decided to approach both sides of the suit to ensure the result of the ruling.

According to Dade County Circuit Court Judge Paul Barns, Grebstein originally offered to pay him $5000 to rule in favor of Capone on the padlocking suit Wednesday, May 7th. Grebstein said the offer was to convince Judge Barns to rule “to the letter of the law” on the case. Grebstein figured he would avoid legal trouble if he worded his bribe in the manner he did.

Barns overlooked the offer as an irresponsible act by Grebstein. The act was repeated the next day on Thursday. Barns did not overlook the second offer and on Saturday, March 10th, 1930, ordered Grebstein’s arrest. He was found and arrested at Northwest 17th Avenue and 23rd Street in Miami. Grebstein was later released on a $1000 bond on May 16th, 1930, after a lengthy appeal process.

In attempt to play both sides, Giblin reported that Grebstein had also approached him and stated that he could “fix it with the judge for $5000” to get a ruling in favor of Capone. Giblin told him that he would have him arrested if he attempted to solicit money from Capone to fix the case.

In the end, Gerbstein was held without bond for a month. The supreme court of Florida heard the case and returned it to Judge Barns to impose a definite term of imprisonment. Barns called for the immediate release of Gerbstein and referred to him “as much a fool as a knave” and felt he had served enough time.

It was unclear why Grebstein took such a risk to fix this case. One theory indicated that Grebstein had hoped he would receive a reward from Capone as gratitude for fixing this legal entanglement. While Grebstein’s actions were ill conceived, it did lead to an interesting footnote in Al Capone’s storied history in South Florida.

More Arrests and a New Vagrancy Law

Miami City Commission Adopts a New Vagrancy Law in May of 1930.

Miami City Commission Adopts a New Vagrancy Law in May of 1930.

Al Capone continued to live as normal a life as possible despite local authorities effort to make life uncomfortable for him. On May 13th, 1930, Capone and three of his companions attended a fight at the American Legion Hall, at the southwest corner of Biscayne Blvd and Eighth Street, in downtown Miami.  Ironically, the American Legion Hall was located right next to the Miami News Tower.

While watching the fight, Capone was tapped on his shoulder and asked to speak with a detective. The detective immediately informed Capone that he and his associates were under arrest.

As luck would have it, Vincent Giblin was sitting in Capone’s box when his client and party were arrested. This time no one needed to alert his attorneys. However, despite the advanced notice to this arrest, the four men still spent the night in jail given the late hour. Giblin could not get a judge to rule on the release of his clients until the next day.

Capone missed Joe “Kid” Peck defeat favorite Jimmy Spivey for the lightweight “Dixie Championship”. However, those in attendance would later admit that Capone didn’t miss much of a fight. One sportswriter wrote that “there were slow points in the bout”.

The Miami police arrested Capone again on the night of May 19th. Once again Capone was arrested at the American Legion Hall in downtown Miami while he was attending another fight. However, this time, Capone was released on $100 bond and was able to make it back in time to watch the fight.

Just before noon on May 24th, Capone was stopped by the Miami police for a fourth time. He was on his way to his attorney’s office and Giblin instructed him not to comply except under compulsion. Capone refused to be taken in and the police officers just left.

It was after this fourth stop that Capone and his attorneys had had enough. Capone charged the mayor, Commissioner John Knight, Sam McCreary and Jim Cox with conspiracy, and McCreary with false imprisonment. Justice of the Peace Warren L. Newcomb held a preliminary hearing and heard from both sides in this case. Newcomb’s first instinct was to dismiss the case entirely, but decided to consider the false imprisonment charge against McCreary. Newcomb made it very clear that if police bothered Capone while he considered this case that he would throw McCreary into jail. The city manager got the message and announced that Capone would no longer be arrested on sight. Capone’s account of the false imprisonment charge would be the subject of a perjury case brought against him by County Solicitor McCaskill.

Around the time of Capone’s lawsuit hearing, on May 23rd, 1930, the Miami City Commissioners held a special session to pass a new vagrancy law aimed squarely at Capone. The ordinance declared “anyone having visible means of support acquired in unlawful or illegal manner or persons dangerous to public safety or peace, and persons known to be crooks, gangsters or hijackers to be vagrants”. Giblin and labor leaders tried to fight the new ordinance, but it passed 3 vote to 1. It took effect 30 days later.

Capone Charms Miami

One of Sonny Capone’s teachers provided Al Capone with the opportunity to demonstrate that he was a member of Miami society. The teacher relayed the request that some of Sonny’s classmates would like to swim in the Capone pool. Capone agreed as long as their parents provided written consent. On the day of the event, as many as seventy five kids had shown up. While they swam, servants had put out a spread of chicken, cake and soda. As the guests departed, Sonny gave each a box of candy.

Several days later about fifty adults arrived for a banquet and “musicale”. Each guest had showed up trading their engraved invitations for an American Flag lapel pin. Some of the adults were friends, but as many as thirty-two people were reputable Miamians. According to the Miami Daily News, his guests hailed Capone as a “new businessman of the community” and presented him with a fountain pen.

Those who wanted Capone out of town believed that these events were to build empathy and show that reputable citizens in Miami did not consider him undesirable. Most likely, it was no coincidence that these events occurred shortly before the proceedings of Capone’s nuisance hearing.

Capone Padlock Hearing

Judge Barns resumed the Capone’s nuisance hearing on June 10th, 1930. If State Attorney Hawthorne were successful, Capone’s Palm Island Home would be padlocked and off-limits to Capone. Hawthorne’s presentation of his case established that Capone had extensive associations with dangerous criminals and freely possessed and provided alcohol to guests.

On the first day of the hearing Hawthorne called thirteen witnesses. Many of the witnesses testified to being offered alcohol while at Capone’s home. Thomas Pancoast testified that Capone’s home was a retreat for dangerous and questionable characters and that Capone served liquor on the property. On cross-examination, Pancoast admitted that there were slot machines in the basement of his own Pancoast Hotel on Miami Beach.

The remaining two days of the hearing would include appearances by Carl Fisher and Roddy Burdine. Fisher seemingly engaged in a staring contest with Capone while giving his opinions of the man and his threat to the community. Burdine tried to be diplomatic but was forced to admit that he saw champagne being served when he visited Capone on March 6th, 1929, to solicit a $1000 donation for the Community Chest. This donation was later returned to Capone.

The cross-examination by Giblin and Gordon of all the witnesses, presented by Hawthorne, helped make Judge Barn’s decision easy. Rather than providing any real evidence of illegal activity, Hawthorne’s case boiled down to fear and dislike of Capone, and his friends, as the reason that the Palm Island home needed to be padlocked.

On June 13th, after calling dozens of witnesses, the state rested its case. Without calling a single defense witness, Giblin and Gordon immediately moved for the dismissal of the suit. The next day, on June 14th, Judge Barns granted the dismissal motion, ruling that the state had not proven its allegations that Capone’s Palm Island home represented a “nuisance”.

Capone Accused of Perjury

Miami News Headline on Capone Perjury Arrest.

Miami News Headline on Capone Perjury Arrest.

Within hours of Judge Barn’s decision to dismiss the nuisance suit, Dade County Solicitor George McCaskill filed four charges of perjury against Al Capone. The perjury charges stemmed from statements he made while under oath for his harassment and false imprisonment suit in May. The Miami News headline on June 14th, 1930, read Capone could face up to 80 years in prison if found guilty of perjury.

Given his precarious political standing, McCaskill filed the charges too soon. Squire Newcomb had not ruled on the false imprisonment charge at the time the perjury charges were filed. McCaskill was trying to win political points during what was promising to be a close election runoff following a June 3rd primary for County Solicitor.

Because of McCaskill’s miscalculation, Giblin and Gordon took the opportunity to have Capone recant the statements that were the subject of the perjury charge. Had McCaskill waited until Newcomb had officially ruled on the false imprisonment issue, he would have had a good case against Capone. However, by July 15th, McCaskill would drop all of the perjury charges due to Capone’s recanted testimony.

Capone Buys Land in Deerfield

During the last week of June in 1930, Vincent Giblin bought a large expanse of vacant property in northeast Broward County in the Town of Deerfield. Later the town would be renamed Deerfield Beach.

The property was described by the Palm Beach Post as approximately fifty acres between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Hillsboro Canal. It was considered virtually inaccessible. It was nearly two miles from the nearest road and four miles south of Boca Raton.

At the time of the purchase, Giblin’s client was undisclosed. However, when it became clear that Al Capone was the undisclosed client, the island later became known locally as “Capone Island”. After the treatment he was getting in Miami, Capone was looking for an alternative place to spend time and this property was considered an option.

Capone had planned on building a country estate on the property. The property would have included a swimming pool, a golf course and tennis courts. Even James Gordon confirmed that Capone was considering moving from Miami Beach to Broward County. It was reported that plans were being drawn up by a New York architectural firm at the time. Capone also had his attorney’s looking for land in the Everglades to serve as a hunting lodge. Ultimately, neither project made any progress. The property that was referred to as Capone Island for years, is now known as Deerfield Island Park, a park maintained by Broward County.

Giblin Forces Capone to Pay Fees

Despite all of the services provided by Giblin and Gordon, Capone was very casual about making sure their fees were paid. By the summer of 1931, after repeated attempts at politely requesting payment, Giblin had had enough. One report had him going to Capone’s home and physically intimidating Capone to pay the $50,000 outstanding balance. This may have been more hyperbole than factual. One Capone historian believed that the story was fabricated to help Capone delay hearings for his tax evasion case.

The confrontation story may not have been factual, but it is true that Giblin and Gordon filed a law suit to recover the $50,000 in unpaid fees. On Sunday, June 7th, 1931, Dade County deputy sheriff Coleman told reporters that part of Capone’s furnishings were being removed from his Palm Island Home and that removal of Capone’s furnishings would continue on Monday, June 8th.

A week later, the New York Times reported that on Monday, June 15th, 1931, Giblin filed a creditor’s bill in Dade County Circuit Court asking the court to subject Capone’s home and furnishings to a judgement for the $50,000 suit brought against Capone for unpaid legal services. Capone agreed on a settlement with Giblin and Gordon for $10,000, which gave credibility to the idea that the law suit was merely to delay other legal proceedings. Following the law suit, Giblin and Gordon never represented Al Capone again.

Al Capone Goes to Jail for Income Tax Evasion

Capone on Trial for Income Tax Evasion in October of 1931.

Capone on Trial for Income Tax Evasion in October of 1931.

Al Capone’s oversight in paying his attorneys may have been intentional or may have been due to the distraction of his legal woes pertaining to his income tax issues. While the federal and local governments had trouble putting Capone behind bars for his violent and illegal activities, it was his omission to pay income taxes that landed him in jail.

After a brief trial that began on October 6th, 1931, Capone was convicted of income tax evasion. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on Saturday, October 24th. He would remain in jail until January of 1939, when his health was in a far different state than it was when he began his sentence.

Part 4 of “Capone in Miami” will focus on Al Capone’s time after his release from serving time for tax evasion. Capone would return to Miami Beach to live the final years of his life.

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Resources

  • Book: “Mr. Capone: The Real and Complete Story of Al Capone”, Robert J. Schoenberg
  • Book: “Journey Through My Years”, James Middleton Cox
  • Tequesta: “Judge Vincent Giblin – The Life and Times of a South Florida Attorney and Judge”, William G. Crawford Jr., Number LXX (2010).
  • Miami News: “Miamian Arrested for Try to Bribe Judge Paul Barnes Upon Capone Case Decision”, May 10th, 1930
  • Miami News: “Bond Ordered For Grebstein”, May 16th, 1930
  • Miami News: “City Commission Adopts New Vagrancy Ordinance, 3 to 1, With Labor Still Protesting”, May 23rd, 1930
  • Miami Herald: “More Knave than Fool, Is Comment of Barns”, June 11th, 1930.
  • New York Times: “Giblin letter to Weidling”, June 16th, 1931.

 

6 Comments on "Al Capone in Miami – Part 3 of 4"

  1. Capone BUYS lan, not Capone buy’s land. No apostrophe.

  2. “Fisher seemingly engaged in a starring contest with Capone” should be spelled “staring”.

  3. Sonny Capone was draft deferred and worked along with 2 women for my father at Emery Riddle during World War 2 building B29 engines. My dad went fishing with Al and Sonny many times on his boat and told me that if you didn’t know who he was, he seemed like a regular guy

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