Notorious bootlegger, racketeer and gangster Al Capone – also known as ‘Scarface’ – is one of the most famous mobsters to have ever lived. His career as the boss of the infamous Chicago Outfit is well-documented, as is his imprisonment and eventual death as the result of a debilitating case of syphilis.
However, lesser-known are the details of the life of Mae Capone (1897-1986), Al Capone’s wife. One of six children born into an aspirational Irish-American family, Mae was an ambitious and staunchly religious individual who enjoyed a loving relationship with her husband, protected him from press intrusion and nursed him through his illness. Though she never partook in violence herself, she was complicit in her husband’s crimes, and it is widely reported that she never fully recovered after he died.
So who was Mae Capone?
1. She was one of six children
Mary ‘Mae’ Josephine Coughlin was one of six children born to Bridget Gorman and Michael Coughlin in New York. Her parents immigrated to the US from Ireland in the 1890s, and were staunchly religious Catholics. The family lived amongst New York’s Italian community.
2. She was academic
Mae was described as bright and studious, and did well in school. However, after her father died of a heart attack when she was only 16 years old, she took up a job as a sales clerk at a box factory in order to support her family.
3. It is unclear where she met Al Capone
It is unclear how exactly Al Capone and Mae met. It may have been at the factory, or at a party in Carroll Gardens. Others have speculated that Capone’s mother arranged the courtship. The couple met when Al was 18 and Mae was 20, an age difference which Mae went to great lengths to hide over the course of their lives: for instance, she had both of their ages recorded as 20 years old.
4. She gave birth out of wedlock
In spite of Irish-Italian relations in New York, Al quickly charmed Mae’s family, even though it was thought that Mae was ‘marrying down’ and Al was ‘marrying up’, owing to Mae being better-educated and Al’s criminal activity. However, their relationship likely helped to smooth out gang rivalries, and the couple were married at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Brooklyn in 1918.
Just three weeks before, Mae had given birth to their only child, Albert Francis ‘Sonny’ Capone. The couple having a child out of wedlock didn’t seem to bother either family.
5. She probably contracted syphilis from Al
Though Al and Mae were loving towards one another, Al slept with many sex workers while working as a bouncer for mob boss James ‘Big Jim’ Colosimo. It was through this that he contracted syphilis, which he then transmitted to his wife. It is thought that their child Sonny was born with the disease, since he was prone to infections and developed mastoiditis, which eventually led to him losing part of his hearing.
Al and Mae had no more children after their first child; instead, Mae experienced stillbirths and miscarriages that were likely caused by the disease.
6. She protected her husband from the press
After being convicted of tax evasion, in 1931 Al was sent to the infamous prison Alcatraz for 11 years. While there, his physical and mental health severely deteriorated. Mae sent her husband many letters, and travelled 3,000 miles from their Florida home to visit him, and handled his affairs. When questioned by the press about her husband, she stated ‘Yes, he is going to get well. He is suffering from dejection and a broken spirit, aggravated by intense nervousness.’ She never told the press that his organs were decaying as a result of syphilis.
7. She cared for Al after his syphilis worsened
Al was released after seven years in prison. However, the syphilis had eroded his brain and he was left with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. Mae cared for Al. The mob granted Al a weekly allowance of $600 a week to stay quiet about their activities; however, Al was prone to blabbering and speaking to invisible guests, so Mae had to increasingly protect her husband from too much attention lest he be ‘silenced’ by the mob.
Mae ensured he received the best medical treatment possible. On 25 January 1947, Al died.
8. She never recovered after Al’s death
After her husband died, Mae was reportedly deeply lonely. She never ascended to the second floor of their home again, and instead slept on the first floor. She also never ate meals in the dining room. She also burned all of the diaries she’d written and love letters she’d received so that nobody could read them after she died. She passed away in Florida on 6 April 1986, aged 89.