Gangster in the Neighborhood

Al “Scarface” Capone was born on January 17, 1899. Both before and after he served hard time for tax evasion, the Chicago gangster resided in an estate on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay.

J. Fritz Gordon, Al Capone, and Julio Morales in Havana, Cuba, 1930

J. Fritz Gordon, Al Capone, and Julio Morales in Havana, Cuba, 1930

Capone first took up residence in Miami Beach in 1928, when he purchased an estate on Palm Island for $20,000. Ostensibly acquired as a winter health retreat, the gangster invested between $40,000 and $70,000 into the home. Palm Island residents, and the city of Miami Beach in general, opposed the presence of the mobster in their midst and wrote numerous letters to the governor of Florida pleading for Capone’s ouster from the state.

Aerial view of the Capone compound on Palm Island, 1930

Aerial view of the Capone compound on Palm Island, 1930

The letter below is one such citizen complaint regarding Capone living on Palm Island (click on thumbnails for a larger image). The letter was sent to Governor Doyle Carlton by Clarence M. Busch in March 1929. Busch lived immediately across the street from Capone and, like other property owners on Palm Island, wanted the gangster booted from the neighborhood.



Governor Carlton shared Busch’s dislike for Capone. Beginning in March 1930, Carlton, who ran for office on an anti-gambling platform, undertook an effort to ban the gangster from the state. Capone and his legal team avoided banishment from Florida, but the mobster faced near constant harassment from Miami Beach police. He was arrested several times on various charges and the local city council even pursued special resolutions aimed at limiting his tenure in the area.

Palm Island residents expressed a sigh of relief in 1931 when Capone was indicted on federal tax evasion charges. The gangster served several years behind bars on Alcatraz Island before returning to Florida in 1939. He lived the remainder of his days on Palm Island, and died in 1947.

To learn more about Al Capone and his legal troubles in Dade County, see William G. Crawford Jr., “Judge Vincent Giblin: The Life and Times of a South Florida Attorney and Judge,” Tequesta 70 (2010): 59-119.

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4 thoughts on “Gangster in the Neighborhood

  1. This was a really interesting story and I had never heard that Al Capone had resided here in sunny florida for a while. The letter from Clarence M. Busch was also really interesting. I can’t imagine pressure the Governor was facing to take action against this crime lord.

  2. A correction to this entry: Clarence M. Busch was not an Anheuser Busch magnate. This is false information created by the supposition of a web author and has been copied and perpetuated through the internet. Clarence M. Busch (b. Nov. 19, 1859, Philadelphia, d. March 24, 1943, Miami) was my grandfather. He began his career as a bookbinder and later became the State Printer of Pennsylvania. In his middle years he became a successful realtor and developer at Atlantic City, NJ and Long Island, NY. He married my grandmother, novelist Bonnie Busch in 1904. In 1911 he built a mansion near Viscaya and next door to William Jennings Bryan’s Miami mansion “Villa Serena.” In 1921 he developed Palm and Hibiscus Islands with Lock T. Highleyman. He built and sold the first ten houses on Palm Island, including Al Capone’s house. Busch’s house was directly across the street. My mother, upon her marriage to Busch’s son Leslie, lived there for a short time and told me several Capone stories. If you would like to know more about Clarence Busch and the Busch family, please contact me. Thank you for sharing this most interesting letter written by my grandfather!

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