Al Capone's hide-out

Baltimore Glimpses

August 30, 1994|By Gilbert Sandler

STILL ANOTHER biography of the late Alphonse "Scarface" Capone has appeared ("Capone," by L. Bergreen, Simon and Schuster). In it, the author includes the story of Capone's four-month stay in Baltimore. It is a scholarly, well-documented and authentic (including reporting and observations by H.L. Mencken himself) account, and if you want to know Mr. Bergreen's (and the prevailing) version of that story you will have to read the book.

For the insider's story of Capone's time here, there's the version told by the late Menasha ("Menash") Katz, a former flamboyant state police captain and personal aide to six governors. Katz, who had a Runyonesque mentality, began his story this way: "I want to set the record straight," he told The Sun in 1975. "Now it can be told."

His version begins with Capone's release from Lewisburg Penitentiary in Pennsylvania on Nov. 16, 1939, as part of his separation process from Alcatraz. Capone was released several hours ahead of schedule, in the early morning, possibly to avoid any hit men who may have contracted with other gangsters to kill him.

Capone had served 7 1/2 years of an 11-year sentence for income-tax evasion. With one of his brothers, Capone drove to Baltimore, where Capone, some of his family and two bodyguards, spent the night at the old Emerson Hotel (formerly at the northeast corner of Baltimore and Calvert streets).

Katz recalled: "I got a call the next day from a friend, Harry Smart, a private detective who lived at 5708 Pimlico Road [in Mount Washington]. He told me that Capone and his family had moved into the second floor of his house under the name of Rozzi." (Katz never explained the Capone-Smart connection.)

But Capone decided that it would be better if he lived elsewhere -- the house was too near Pimlico Race Course and the race-track element of hangers-on in those days. "Smart and I agreed that Capone and his bodyguards could live on two rooms on the second floor of my home at Pimlico Road at Oswego Avenue," said Katz, who at the time was a state police sergeant. Katz got permission from his supervisors to house the notorious depression-era gangster.

While he didn't receive a pat on the back for housing the gangster, Katz said he got the impression that his supervisors were pleased that Capone would be where a state policeman could keep an eye on him. Katz's house, a rambling old farmhouse (there was still a barn outback) that had a 10-foot hedge around it, was the perfect site for someone seeking seclusion.

Since Katz had a history of boarding jockeys and others from the track, it was not unusual for strangers to be about the property. He said that his three children just assumed that Capone and his bodyguards were race track people.

Capone arrived in a 1932 black, bulletproof Lincoln in the company of two, dark-suited bodyguards. A few days later, Capone checked into Union Memorial Hospital, using the alias Mr. Martini. Capone had an advanced case of syphilis and his family had arranged for him to be treated in Baltimore by Drs. Joseph Moore and Manfred Guttmacher. (Some say he was scheduled to be treated at Johns Hopkins, which declined to accept him.) The doctors would only tell the media that Capone had a nervous system disorder. He was released from the hospital in January 1940, and returned to Katz's house while he remained an outpatient at Union Memorial.

Katz, who saw Capone just a couple of times, dealt mainly with the bodyguards, who paid the rent.

Katz described Capone as "quiet, withdrawn, reserved." Katz's only remembered conversation with Capone:

Katz: "My daughter says you look like Edward G. Robinson."

Capone: "Don't tie me in with that guy!"

Capone's family stayed in Smart's house for the entire four months Capone was here and would come over to visit with Capone often. For dinner he often sent out for Italian food. (Maria of Maria's Restaurant, once among the most popular of Little Italy's restaurants, always claimed he would order exclusively from her.)

Capone remained an outpatient for only a few weeks. "His weight," Katz said, "was only 165 pounds, down from well over 200. You could tell he was a very sick man. One day, they all just packed up and left. It was Friday, March 20, 1940. Later, Capone sent me two expensive silk shirts."

Capone was driven to Palm Island, Fla., where he died on Jan. 25, 1947.

He took with him the memory of four very unpleasant months in Baltimore.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.