A .45-caliber Colt pistol with a wooden handle and elegant carvings won the highest price of 174 objects auctioned last weekend by Al Capone’s three granddaughters. The firearm offered by the house Witherells in Sacramento (California) was sold for more than one million dollars (5.5 million reais), almost a third of the total value obtained by the family of the legendary American mobster. The frayed-handled Colt, described by his heiresses as the favorite pistol of a criminal known for his violence and who allegedly ordered 200 murders in a century-old mafia war, was the most coveted piece at the auction. Also available were family photos, jewelry and the arsenal of the one who was the public enemy number 1 of Chicago.
Kevin Nagle, a Northern California businessman and sports betting aficionado, spoke this weekend of his motivation to purchase an elegant wood-lined cigar humidifier. “It’s part of the history of the United States… And it fits perfectly in a place I have in Montana”, he told the The San Francisco Chronicle. Nagle shelled out over $140,000 for the object, which had a starting price of $5,000.
Auctioneer Brian Witherell, a character known for his appearance on a public channel PBS antiques show, admitted that the event exceeded all expectations. The plan was to raise between $400,000 and $700,000, but ended up with more than $3 million, thanks to a thousand participants from around the world who tried to take home some piece of the life of the most famous gangster in history, who got rich from criminal empire that earned more than a billion dollars a year (in updated values), circumventing the prohibition on the sale of alcohol that was in force in the US between 1920 and 1933.
Capone was a public figure whose real life always trumped various fictional adaptations. O scarface (“scar face”), as he was called, liked to dress well, in suits from the best tailors in town, and to wear luxurious rings and accessories filled with diamonds. In his pockets he carried a large amount of cash that he used to leave as generous tips or gifts for those who fed his ego on the streets of Chicago.
For Witherell, it came as no surprise that the weapon was the most disputed object of the night. In August, when the lots that were part of the auction were announced, the offers for Colt began to arrive. Some of them already had six digits. The Patek Phillipe pocket watch with 90 diamonds forming the initials of the man who ordered the killing on Valentine’s Day, where mobsters dressed as cops murdered rivals, sold for $229,000. His razor, also adorned with diamonds, was close to $80,000.
The objects offered for sale were left by Capone — who died in 1947 of syphilis contracted in his own brothels — to his wife, Mae. The latter, in turn, bequeathed the pieces to Sonny, the couple’s only child. The objects were for years in the Florida mansion, which went on sale in 2014. Another of the highest paid objects was a letter Capone wrote on October 5, 1939 to Sonny, in the famous Alcatraz prison, to which he was taken when the US government has begun a new strategy to head off criminal organizations: accuse the chiefs of tax evasion. In the three-page handwritten text, there is an intimate and affectionate tone of the bloody man who ordered the murder, among several individuals, reporters and his own mentor, in New York.
“My dear son, child of my heart. Here is your dear father, who loves you with all his soul and is proud to have a son as smart as you,” Capone said in the opening lines, written while waiting to be transferred to a Chicago penitentiary. The letter sold for $56,000.
Al Capone’s granddaughters, Sonny’s septuagenarian daughters, tried to explore the more affectionate side of the crime legend. “He was a man very dedicated to his family, very committed to it,” said in August Diane Capone, 77, one of the criminal’s relatives, who along with her sisters leads a discreet life in a small village in northern California. “We decided it was time to let the public have this,” said Diane, who in 2019 published Al Capone: stories my grandmother told me (“stories my grandmother told me”). “It’s hard to believe that some of the things you’ve been told about your public life were done by the same person I knew as a loving grandfather,” Capone told The San Francisco Chronicle.
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