Arguably, the most infamous mobster of all time, the name Al Capone conjures up images of a tough, ruthless Chicago mob boss who made most of his money selling illegal liquor throughout America during Prohibition. Maybe you know him as the mobster who did so many bad things but the government was only ever able to get a conviction for tax fraud.
But what about his personal life? Or to be more specific, his wife, Mae Capone. She’s not brought up much in history or even Capone movies, but she played a very important part in the Capone story.
Although times have changed, back then mobsters kept their family life separate from work. Perhaps because they did not want them to know ‘everything’, but in most cases, the number one reason was to protect them.
Not too much is known about Mae Capone or exactly what happened to her after her husband’s death in 1947.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 11, 1897, Mary Josephine Coughlin, known as Mae throughout her life, was the daughter of Irish immigrants. Her life started out ordinary for the time. Both her parents worked, and she went to school with her siblings. Once Mae graduated, she started working in a shop.
On December 30, 1918, Mae and Alphonse Capone were married in Brooklyn, NY. Just a few weeks earlier on December 4, 1918, Mae and Al welcomed a baby boy into the world, Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone Jr. Thanks to his father, Sonny was born with congenital syphilis, a serious infection requiring emergency brain surgery. Sonny survived the surgery but was left partially deaf. It is believed that Al and Mae tried to have more children but due to Mae contracting Syphilis from Al, this only resulted in stillbirths and miscarriages.
For as little as we know about the first part of Mae’s life, we know even less about her middle years. She was a very private person and there are very few credible sources that can really describe what her life was like married to Al. One thing we know for sure, she definitely was not a pushover.
According to reports in a Chicago magazine, Mae had not been married long, before she finally got fed-up with Al’s cheating. According to the magazine, she bleached her hair the same color as Al made all his mistresses do. The goal was to quietly embarrass Al in front of his family.
FBI reports show that Al was arrested quite a few times throughout the 1920s, but it was the charge of tax evasion that finally got him convicted, and in 1931 he was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.
He served his time at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta and was then moved to Alcatraz, becoming one of the most infamous inmates at one of the most infamous prisons. The last year of his sentence was served at Terminal Island in Los Angeles.
After seven years behind bars, Al was finally released in 1939. Mae took care of Al at their home in Miami and he needed a lot of care. Al’s syphilis had now spread to his brain causing significant damage and reducing him to the faculties of a 12-year-old.
Al never returned to the mafia life and Mae took care of him in every way possible, including shielding him from onlookers, until he died in 1947 after suffering a stroke.
After his death, according to the Miami Herald, Mae sold their mansion and moved away.
Mae was known to staunchly protect and defend her family and its name from their dubious reputation. In 1964, Mae and Sonny Capone sued the production company owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, Desilu Productions. She was not happy with their production of the TV show ‘The Untouchables’ because of the similarities to Al’s real-life story. In the court papers she filed, she alleged that her grandchildren were being bullied because of the provocative show. The federal District Court and Chicago Circuit Court rejected the lawsuit. Mae and Sonny appealed to the U.S. Supreme court but it was rejected there also.
According to the New York Post, Mae burned all her diaries and love letters Al sent her from prison so that no one could read them after her death.
By all accounts, Mae was a strong, powerful woman, living in the shadow of a strong, powerful, and infamous man. Though it seems Al Capone may not have become quite who he was if it wasn’t for his wife Mae.
Mae died in Florida, 1986 at the age of 89.