Icons Research Log

My client is Vice and i am writing an article which will be published on VICE.com. The icon i have chosen to focus on is Crime culture particularly crime base events in America 1900’s from Italian Americans such as Al Capone   and i will look at how criminals and gangs have influenced movies and television series have influenced todays media. Firstly i will look at the growth of the mafia and what helped the mafia to progress and gain so much control.

The Black Hand

The first reported traces of Sicilian crime when The New Orleans Times were reporting that the seond district was being overrun by Notorious Sicilian mobsters including muderers, counterfeiters and burglars.  These formed a partnership who disturbed the city due to their criminal based business.

“At the opening of the twentieth century, the influx of Italians in to America began to grow. From 1890 to 1900, 655,888 immigrants arrived in the United States, of whom two-thirds were men. Many Italians arrived in the United States hoping to earn enough money to return home and buy land. Coming especially from the poorer rural villages in Southern Italy, including Sicily and Campania, most arrived with little cash or education; since most had been peasant farmers in Italy, they lacked craft skills and, therefore, generally performed manual labor.

The immigrants populated various US cities, forming ‘Little Italies’, where they could easily establish a familiar cultural presence. Chain and return migration helped subdivide these new Italian communities into regional groupings. Italian neighborhoods typically grew in the older areas of the cities, suffering from overcrowded tenements and poor sanitation.

Living together in such closed communities created little more than a microcosm of the society they had left in Europe. Some criminals exploited this fact, and began to extort the more prosperous Italian’s in their neighbourhood. A crime that would eventually snow-ball into an epidemic known as ‘The Black Hand’.

The extortions were done anonymously by delivering threatening letters demanding money, signed with a crudely drawn symbols, such as a knife or a skull.”



The following are statistics detailing how much worse crime got: 

  • Police funding: INCREASED $11.4 Million
  • Arrests for Prohibition Las Violations: INCREASED 102+%
  • Arrests for Drunkenness and Disorderly Conduct: INCREASED 41%
  • Arrests of Drunken Drivers: INCREASED 81%
  • Thefts and Burglaries: INCREASED 9%
  • Homicides, Assault, and Battery: INCREASED 13%
  • Number of Federal Convicts: INCREASED 561%
  • Federal Prison Population: INCREASED 366%
  • Total Federal Expenditures on Penal Institutions: INCREASED 1,000%


“During the late 19th century and early 20th century, waves of Italians, mostly farmers, craftsmen and unskilled laborers, flocked to America in search of better economic opportunities. In New York City alone, the number of Italians soared from 20,000 to 250,000 between 1880 and 1890, and by 1910, that number had jumped to 500,000 immigrants and first-generation Italian Americans, or one-tenth of the city’s population, according to historian Thomas Repetto. The majority of these immigrants were law-abiding, but, as with most large groups of people, some were criminals who formed neighborhood gangs, often preying on those in their own communities.

During the 1920s Prohibition era, when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcoholic beverages, Italian-American gangs (along with other ethnic gangs) entered the booming bootleg liquor business and transformed themselves into sophisticated criminal enterprises, skilled at smuggling, money laundering and bribing police and other public officials. During this time, the Sicilian Mafia in Italy, which had flourished since at least the mid-19th century, was under attack from the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini (1883-1945). Some Sicilian Mafiosi escaped to the United States, where they got involved in bootlegging and became part of the burgeoning American Mafia.  The Mafia in the U.S. and Sicily were separate entities, although the Americans adopted some Italian traditions, including omerta, an all-important code of conduct and secrecy that forbid any cooperation with government authorities.”


Al Capone

Born of an immigrant family in Brooklyn, New York in 1899, Al Capone quit school after the sixth grade and associated with a notorious street gang, becoming accepted as a member. Johnny Torrio was the street gang leader and among the other members was Lucky Luciano, who would later attain his own notoriety.

About 1920, at Torrio’s invitation, Capone joined Torrio in Chicago where he had become an influential lieutenant in the Colosimo mob. The rackets spawned by enactment of the Prohibition Amendment, illegal brewing, distilling and distribution of beer and liquor, were viewed as “growth industries.” Torrio, abetted by Al Capone, intended to take full advantage of opportunities. The mob also developed interests in legitimate businesses in the cleaning and dyeing field and cultivated influence with receptive public officials, labor unions, and employees’ associations.

In 1925, Capone became boss when Torrio, seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, surrendered control and retired to Brooklyn. Capone had built a fearsome reputation in the ruthless gang rivalries of the period, struggling to acquire and retain “racketeering rights” to several areas of Chicago. That reputation grew as rival gangs were eliminated or nullified, and the suburb of Cicero became, in effect, a fiefdom of the Capone mob.Torrio soon succeeded to full leadership of the gang with the violent demise of Big Jim Colosimo, and Capone gained experience and expertise as his strong right arm.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on February 14, 1929, might be regarded as the culminating violence of the Chicago gang era, as seven members or associates of the “Bugs” Moran mob were machine-gunned against a garage wall by rivals posing as police. The massacre was generally ascribed to the Capone mob, although Al himself was in Florida.

The investigative jurisdiction of the Bureau of Investigation during the 1920s and early 1930s was more limited than it is now, and the gang warfare and depredations of the period were not within the Bureau’s investigative authority.

The Bureau’s investigation of Al Capone arose from his reluctance to appear before a federal grand jury on March 12, 1929 in response to a subpoena. On March 11, his lawyers formally filed for postponement of his appearance, submitting a physician’s affidavit dated March 5, which attested that Capone had been suffering from bronchial pneumonia in Miami, had been confined to bed from January 13 to February 23, and that it would be dangerous to Capone’s health to travel to Chicago. His appearance date before the grand jury was re-set for March 20.

On request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Bureau of Investigation agents obtained statements to the effect that Capone had attended race tracks in the Miami area, that he had made a plane trip to Bimini and a cruise to Nassau, that he had been interviewed at the office of the Dade County Solicitor, and that he had appeared in good health on each of those occasions.

Capone appeared before the federal grand jury in Chicago on March 20, 1929 and completed his testimony on March 27. As he left the courtroom, he was arrested by agents for contempt of court, an offense for which the penalty could be one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. He posted $5,000 bond and was released.

On May 17, 1929, Al Capone and his bodyguard were arrested in Philadelphia for carrying concealed deadly weapons. Within 16 hours they had been sentenced to terms of one year each. Capone served his time and was released in nine months for good behavior on March 17, 1930.

Al Capone’s criminal record and fingerprint card

On February 28, 1931, Capone was found guilty in federal court on the contempt of court charge and was sentenced to six months in Cook County Jail. His appeal on that charge was subsequently dismissed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department had been developing evidence on tax evasion charges—in addition to Al Capone, his brother Ralph “Bottles” Capone, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, Frank Nitti, and other mobsters were subjects of tax evasion charges.

On June 16, 1931, Al Capone pled guilty to tax evasion and prohibition charges. He then boasted to the press that he had struck a deal for a two-and-a-half year sentence, but the presiding judge informed him he, the judge, was not bound by any deal. Capone then changed his plea to not guilty.

On October 18, 1931, Capone was convicted after trial and on November 24, was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison, fined $50,000 and charged $7,692 for court costs, in addition to $215,000 plus interest due on back taxes. The six-month contempt of court sentence was to be served concurrently.

While awaiting the results of appeals, Capone was confined to the Cook County Jail. Upon denial of appeals, he entered the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, serving his sentence there and at Alcatraz.

On November 16, 1939, Al Capone was released after having served seven years, six months and fifteen days, and having paid all fines and back taxes.

Suffering from paresis derived from syphilis, he had deteriorated greatly during his confinement. Immediately on release he entered a Baltimore hospital for brain treatment and then went on to his Florida home, an estate on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay near Miami, which he had purchased in 1928.

Following his release, he never publicly returned to Chicago. He had become mentally incapable of returning to gangland politics. In 1946, his physician and a Baltimore psychiatrist, after examination, both concluded Capone then had the mentality of a 12-year-old child. Capone resided on Palm Island with his wife and immediate family, in a secluded atmosphere, until his death due to a stroke and pneumonia on January 25, 1947.



Web Articles


A look into the origins of the mafia and how it reportedly started. It gives me an idea of how the mafia grew into America and will give me plenty to talk about how the Mafia started to overrun districts in parts of America.


This gives me some facts and figures on how the crime rates etc. changed when Italian criminals were moving into America. The facts clearly state a rise in criminal activity in the country showing the effects these mobsters had on the country.


This web article gives me a lot of information on the Prohibition and how gangsters reacted to it. The article also talks about the appealing options for these Italian immigrants and gives a number of how many Italian immigrants came into the country from 1890 to 1900. It also goes into detail about why these immigrants are moving into the country and talks about the Prohibition law introduced by the Americans at the time which was the main way the Italian Immigrants were making money.


This article is from the FBI talking about the life of Al Capone. The article goes into the background of Capone and shows how he grew up and his introduction of using crime t benefit him financially. It also goes into the reputation that he built for himself and the involvement he played in key events such as the the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.


This briefly describes how the Mafia have influenced many films and TV series which will link in to the iconic side of the Mafia.


This web article shows the way which filmography and TV series has romanticised the mafia and criminal activities. It also talks about characters in these television series in such as Marlon Brando in the godfather and talks about how modern culture is being inspired by these mobster figures when they are a negative role model. This article is very helpful with the main idea which is proving that these Gangsters are seen as an iconic figure.


This website has a few web articles dedicated to Al Capone. The articles talk through the stages of his life and goes into detail about how Capone started to make money in the criminal world. There are 29 chapters to this website and one chapter i am particularly interested in is the way Al Capone was viewed as a celebrity.

Youtube Videos

Prohibition and the mafia:

Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mULf9Y5o7T0

Part 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iz1z-Io4gU4

These youtube videos are of a documentary that talk about America in the Prohibition  period and the mafia’s response to these laws and how they did their business behind these laws.

Have watched films such as The Godfather, Scarface, The Untouchables and television series such as The Sopranos. In terms of getting facts and the stories of Mafia past films are not the best source of gathering research. However, they are useful for looking at how organised crime has effected modern day films and tv series and what makes these popular. This will help me gain links to how the Mafia can be seen as iconic and how people of today will perceive gangsters.


I watched a documentary by Crime and Investigation Network called Behind The Mafia which was specifically about the life of Al Capone. Thos documentary provided me with a lot of information and knowledge about Al Capone which is a vital piece of my article. The documentary was also very visual which gave me a real insight to a Mafia lifestyle which will help when coming to write my piece. I have not used a documentary before and i found it really helped so i would definitely use documentaries as a research source again.



To help me organise my work i used Trello which is a free internet program designed to help keep track of and keep on top of work. I put all of the work which i needed to do into the system and helped as it help me organise my research and also pushed me to do the work. By using Trello i could easily see which parts of the work i needed to work on and showed me which work i had completed. I would definitely use this program again to help me keep on top of my work.

How i Could Improve
A lot of my research for this task was quite visual which i felt worked well and was happy with what i gathered but i feel i could have used books to get even more information. On my next project i aim to use more books and perhaps even use ebooks in order to gain information from more angles to give me more depth into my research.


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