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Gangsters who faced the rap.

MARION MCMULLEN looks at the most wanted criminals of America's Depression era as we reach the 120th anniversary of the birth of Chicago mafia boss Al Capone 'THEY can't collect legal taxes from illegal money," notorious gangster Al Capone once boasted, but it was tax evasion that finally landed him behind bars.

Alphonse Gabriel Capone, aka Scarface, was born 120 years ago on January 17, 1899, and built his criminal empire during the 1920s Prohibition era in America.

He allegedly earned $60 million a year bootlegging illegal booze in Chicago and was brutal when it came to dealing with rival gangs. The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929 resulted in seven of his rivals being killed in one go in broad daylight.

The end of Prohibition in 1933 saw Capone's organisation move into other areas such as gambling, drugs and prostitution and he admitted: "I have built my organisation upon fear."

Capone became known as Public Enemy Number One, but police struggled to shut down his operation. "Some call it bootlegging. Some call it racketeering. I call it a business," he claimed.

The mobster eventually ended up behind bars after he was sentenced to 11 years in prison following a conviction for income tax evasion. He died in 1947 at the age of 48.

Bootlegger, bank robber and kidnapper George Kelly was known as Machine Gun Kelly. The racketeer's crime career began in the 1920s as a bootlegger, but he turned to bank robbery after meeting bank robbers when he was in jail.

He and his wife Kathryn Thorne were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1933 when he went into kidnapping and snatched wealthy Oklahoma oil tycoon Charles F Urschel and demanded $200,000 in ransom.

Kelly, who gave FBI agents the nickname G-men, ended up dying of a heart attack in prison at Leavenworth in 1954. He was 59.

American criminal Lester J Gillis was known as Baby Face Nelson because of his youthful looks - although few dared to call him that to his face. He was a member of bank robber John Dillinger's notorious outlaw gang and helped him escape from jail.

The American government offered a $5,000 reward in 1934 for his capture following the murder of a special agent and his face was featured on wanted posters up and down the country.

He was described as 25, around 5ft 4ins tall with light chestnut hair and yellow and grey, slate coloured eyes.

Labelled Public Enemy Number One by FBI boss J Edgar Hoover, Baby Face Nelson's life of crime began when he was just 13, and he ended up killing three agents.

He died in a shoot out when FBI agents caught up with him on November 27, 1934.

Arthur "Doc" Barker was the son of Ma Barker, who ran the Barker gang. She became a wanted woman for kidnapping, bank robberies and murder and all four of her sons followed her into crime.

Doc was infamous for his brutal nature and suffered terrible scarring when he and his brother Fred tried to change their appearance by plastic surgery and remove their fingerprints.

He was given a life sentence and ended up in Alcatraz for kidnapping two wealthy businessmen, but was shot by prison guards in 1939 when he tried to escape by water to the San Francisco mainland on a makeshift wooden raft. He sawed through four sets of prison bars during the escape.

Fellow inmate Henri Young, who joined him in the escape attempt, described him as "one of America's most dangerous men". American actor Kevin Bacon played Young in the 1995 film about the escape called Murder In The First.

Texan outlaw couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow became known simply as Bonnie and Clyde during a four-year crime spree during the Depression era.

Their exploits were reported on the radio and made the front pages of newspapers and they posed for their own photos with automatic weapons in front of a stolen car.

Robberies, murder, kidnappings and burglaries led to them being hunted by the FBI and their eventual death marked the beginning of the end of the "Public Enemy" era in America.

They died in hailstorm of bullets on May 23, 1934, when lawmen ambushed their Ford car on a country road in Louisiana.

An arsenal of weapons was later discovered in the car with the haul including sawn-off shotguns, handguns and several thousand rounds of ammunition.

Many people later tried to get grisly souvenirs of the shooting with one man reportedly found trying to cut off the trigger finger on Clyde Barrow's hand.

The car itself was hit by around 130 bullets and undertaker CB Bailey later said he had difficulty embalming the bodies of Bonnie and Clyde because the fluid simply ran out of all the bullet holes.


Public Enemy Number One, Al Capone, was eventually jailed for tax evasion and died in prison 11 years later of a heart attack
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jan 16, 2019
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