Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Was Al Capone in Ft. Myers Florida? by Glenn Miller

Al Capone is a mythic American figure, arguably the most famous gangster ever, the personification and epitome of the outlaw.
He may have had a house in Fort Myers, a hideout on the Caloosahatchee east of downtown. Or perhaps he stayed in a Dean Park house or on Fort Myers Beach. Maybe he just gassed up his car in Fort Myers one fine day in 1930 as he drove to Miami Beach and offered snappy comments to folks at the gas station.
“You know who I am,” Capone supposedly told people. “But keep it under your hat.”
Or maybe he never even heard of the town.
I bring this up now for two reasons:
  1. His grandniece, Deirdre Marie Capone, will speak to the Southwest Florida Historical Society on Dec. 11.
  2. I just think it’s a cool story.
The origins of this blog post go back to 2010, when I was working at The Fort Myers News-Press. The Fort Myers Police Department was celebrating its 125th anniversary and published a history of the department.
That book included a page on a house that, according to the book, was “said to be built by Capone.”
Staff photographer Amanda Inscore and I visited the 10,244-square foot house on Van Buren Street. It was owned at the time by an 85-year-old retired literature professor named Aldo Scaglione, who died in 2013.
The police department book didn’t convince me about the house and a Capone connection.
From the book: “Inside the home are several secret passages and hiding places. It is reported that there were gun mounts built in the home and that there was once a bell at the home that had a bullet hole in it.”
I consulted Victor Zarick, a former senior researcher at the Southwest Florida Museum of History.
“The whole thing is a fairy tale,” Victory told me.
But what a fairy tale, one that has legs, as I think they say in the movie business.
Capone supposedly once said, “You can get a lot farther with a smile and a gun than you can with just a smile.”
If the fairy tale is true, he was smiling when he stopped for gas in Fort Myers on March 25, 1930.
I uncovered a Fort Myers Press headline from the next day with this front-page headline: “Was Al Capone Here Tuesday?”
Here’s what the paper reported: “At least two men are willing to swear that they saw the Chicago racketeer and talked with him for several minutes while he gassed up a big sedan at the Royal Palm filling station.”
“Fill ‘er up, boys, I’m headed for Miami,” the man said.
He also sported a facial scar. Capone was known as Scarface.
The stranger added, “I suppose you think I’m Al Capone. Well, I’ve been stopped twice in this state by men who thought I was Al Capone but I talked ‘em out of it.”
As I researched this story I talked to Woody Hanson, who said his father delivered newspapers to Capone on Fort Myers Beach.
I talked to a North Fort Myers resident named Walton “Rusty” Hill,” who said he heard of Capone sitting outside a downtown store.
“And some oldtimer, about half-drunk, went up to shake hands and almost died for it,” Hill said. “Men with guns came from everywhere.”
Fort Myers resident Charles Powell told me that his father worked at the Morgan Hotel and that Capone stayed there in a Dean Park house on Providence Street.
Are these more fairy tales?
Are they all fairy tales?
The big house on the river provided intriguing stories.
I found former owners Carl and Pat Meeks.
“We didn’t find any bodies or anything like that,” Pat told me.
I contacted the then owner, professor Scaglione, who graciously invited me over. He heard the Capone rumors.
“The idea was that this house was for his associates,” the professor told me.
It’s quite a house, a two-story gem with five bathrooms and four bedrooms hidden away between Palm Beach Boulevard and the river. It was built in 1925 in the middle of Prohibition and originally sat on a 400-acre site that it shared with pine trees and an orange grove.
Now, it’s on a two-acre plot of land surrounded by a fence, shrubs and trees and hard to see from any road. The interior trim work is African mahogany.
The professor told me had heard rumors of secret passages but couldn’t find any.
So, was Al Capone here?
Did he have any connection to Fort Myers?
Since I wrote that story a downtown Fort Myers restaurant named Capone’s has opened.
Is that the only local connection?
So, what is true and what is a fairy tale?
I’m inclined to put the Capone-Fort Myers connection in the fairy tale category.
On the evening of Dec. 11, Deirdre Marie Capone, a Bonita Springs resident, will talk at the history museum about her famous great-uncle.
In 2010, I asked her about a possible Capone connection to the area when I wrote the story.
“Like Washington slept here,” Deirdre told me. “He was everywhere. He never owned anything. His name was not on anything. You won’t find anything like that. Did he like being on this side of Florida? I’m sure he did.”
Did he have a house here?
Did he stop for gas in Fort Myers on March 25, 1930?
When Deirdre speaks at the museum I might ask her about this again.

4 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful piece about my friend, Deirdre Marie Capone. Best of everything tomorrow. Amanda

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  2. Thanks for sharing Deirdre , Your stories about your Uncle Al are mind blowing WE enjoy reading about the life Alphonse Capone .. Pete A Olivo

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  3. My wife met a client at work who inspected Al Capone's home in Ft. Myers. During fire inspection he noticed this house was unlike any he had seen before. He said that it had a huge basement which is unusual for a Ft Myers home. It is huge in comparison to the average home that was built during that time. Very conveniently located on the river and near the railroad tracks. A perfect spot to run a whiskey business. He carried that secret to his grave.

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  4. Thank you Dr. Domino. He did not take all his secrets to his grave. I know a lot of them and I will tell them in the movie. I have the screenplay written and it is getting serious consideration. Al Capone is a world known Icon and there has never been a movie about him. What made him laugh? What made him cry? I know the answers and I want the public to know them also.

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