Al Capone made his mark dealing in illegal booze (and other vices); brother Vincent made his mark as the enemy of bootleggers – a Prohibition agent.
While Al Capone was making his bloody, meteoric ascent to the top of the crime syndicates, his older brother Vincent was arresting bootleggers and busting up liquor stills.
Escaping the Italian Ghetto
Vincenzo Capone, seven years Al’s senior, was born in Naples, Italy, and was 2 when his parents, Gabriele and Teresina Capone, immigrated to America in 1894. Gabriele earned a modest living as a barber, but Brooklyn held little promise for many young Italians, other than a life of crime. At 16, Vincenzo fled to the Midwest and got a job as a circus roustabout.
He developed into an athletic young man through his labors combined with a circus sidelight occupation, wrestling. He also learned to shoot pistols and rifles—quite well. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Vincenzo enlisted as a foot soldier. By the end of the conflict, he had become a lieutenant and earned a medal for marksmanship.
Lawman Capone, Alias “Hart”
After the war, Vincenzo returned to the Midwest and became a Prohibition agent in Homer, Nebraska. He changed his name to Richard Joseph Hart (reputedly as a nod to silent film star William S. Hart). He was very effective at finding and destroying liquor stills and taking their proprietors into custody. Often operating in disguise, he was known as “Two-Gun” Hart.
Federal and state revenue agents had been apprehending moonshiners since the Civil War. Initially, their objective wasn’t to disrupt bootlegging, only to ensure that the distillers paid taxes on their brew. During Prohibition (1920-33), whiskey making was banned outright.
Hart befriended many Native Americans in the state. He became a local hero after saving several people from drowning in a flash flood. He was a Boy Scout commissioner and a skilled musician on the piano, fiddle and mandolin. A horseback rider and lasso swinger, he embraced Hollywood’s depiction of the “cowboy.”
Hart Reconnects With the Capones
Strong and daring, Hart made headlines in Nebraska as a law enforcement officer. When his younger brothers began making headlines of a different kind, Hart paid them a visit in Chicago in 1924.
It was a pleasant reunion. They introduced him to their cronies, including reporters (some of whom proudly regarded Al Capone as a celebrity and personal friend). A newsman jokingly asked if Hart, as a Prohibition agent, intended to arrest his brothers for violating liquor laws. Sure, he quipped—if they ever showed up in his Nebraska bailiwick.
Hart revisited his Chicago relatives numerous times after that but never told his wife and children. Word of his Chicago connections apparently didn’t reach Homer, Nebraska, until very late in his life. To his family and friends there, he remained a war veteran, Hart by name, born in Oklahoma.
Hart’s Later Life & Death
When President Calvin Coolidge visited the upper Midwest in 1927, Hart, regarded as one of the region’s most capable law enforcement officers, was engaged as a bodyguard. It was the high point of a career that soon began a downward spiral.
Hart was placed on trial twice for slaying men in the line of work, and was acquitted both times. (Laurence Bergreen, an Al Capone biographer, observed that Vincenzo, the law officer, was more violent than his mobster brothers.)
With Prohibition ending and the Depression deepening, Hart lost his job as a government agent. He became the local law enforcement officer in Homer. The role paid so poorly he resorted to odd jobs to support his family. Returning to Chicago to attend the 1933 World’s Fair, he was given badly needed money by a younger brother, Ralph. His hoodlum siblings supplied him with allowances throughout the Depression.
Hart’s true identity was revealed to the world in 1951 when brother Ralph linked him to family property ownership in a tax evasion case. Hart by then was corpulent, diabetic and hard of seeing—barely resembling the hardy lawman of 30 years before. He died of a heart attack the next year.
- Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era. Simon and Schuster (1994).
- Dabney, Joseph Earl. Mountain Spirits. Copple House Books, Inc. (1974).
- Clark, Norman H. “Prohibition” (Microsoft Student 2008 [DVD], 2007).