What It's Like Growing up in a Mafia family
What It’s Like Growing up in a Mafia family

What It’s Like Growing up in a Mafia family

Larry Holzwarth - October 15, 2021

What It’s Like Growing up in a Mafia family
A young Albert Francis Brown with his mother in the early 1920s. Wikimedia

18. The strange life of Albert Francis Brown

Born in December 1914, the man who lived most of his life as Albert Brown was called Sonny by his father, Alphonse. Alphonse had money, power, and prestige in Chicago, New York, and Miami. He sent his son to the best schools available, among them Saint Patrick’s High School in Miami. There, Sonny befriended a young Cuban expatriate by the name of Desiderio Alberto Arnaz, who later gained lasting fame as Desi Arnaz. Sonny attended the University of Notre Dame, but eventually completed his studies and obtained his degree at the University of Miami. Sonny maintained a simple life after completing his schooling. He worked selling used cars until he learned of his employer manipulating odometer readings on his vehicles. His father died in 1947. Sonny remained close to his mother, including going into a restaurant business together.

In 1959 his old friend Desi Arnaz produced a new television series. Starring Robert Stack, the program was a highly fictionalized account of Elliott Ness and his squad of agents in the pursuit of Al Capone in 1930s Chicago. Called The Untouchables, the program was an immediate and major hit. It drew heavy criticism from Italian-American organizations and celebrities, among them Frank Sinatra, condemning its stereotyping of Italians as gangsters and criminals. Sonny personally called his former schoolmate, Desi Arnaz, though his complaints were of a personal nature. Both Sonny and his mother expressed their displeasure at the depiction of Al Capone on the program. Sonny should know, he was Al Capone’s only legitimate son, a fact of which his friend Desi was well aware. For most of his life Sonny distanced himself from his father’s legacy.

What It’s Like Growing up in a Mafia family
A photo of Al Capone taken in the Chicago detective bureau in 1930. Wikimedia

19. Sonny changed his name to escape his father’s shadow

In 1965 Sonny was arrested for shoplifting, having stolen aspirin in some accounts, flashlight batteries in others, and both in still more. When he stood before the judge under the name of Al Capone he realized the burden caused by just the name. After his court appearance, in which he received probation, he changed his name to Albert Francis Brown. The fact that he did so at the age of 48 made the news, United Press International (UPI) reported the event in newspapers across the nation. He lived the remainder of his life in relative peace and quiet. Following his aspirin/batteries crime wave of 1965 he never again drew the attention of law enforcement. Except for J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, which kept an extensive file on his whereabouts and activities.

If ever anyone was born into the gangster’s life, it would be the only son of Al Capone. But there is extensive evidence that the father did not desire the son to follow in his footsteps. Sonny received a liberal education, though his father dropped out of school at just 14. He did not learn of most of his father’s criminal activities in his youth. When his father was convicted and incarcerated for tax evasion in the 1930s, he maintained a correspondence with him in prison. Sonny Capone died in 2004, in a small town in California, where most of his neighbors and friends were astonished to learn he was the son of an infamous gangster, one who’s name is that of probably the most famous mobster of them all. He never approached the notoriety of his father, and instead went to great lengths to remove himself from his father’s legacy.

What It’s Like Growing up in a Mafia family
Aftere taking over the Profaci crime family, Joe Colombo made its name his own. Wikimedia

20. Joseph Colombo followed his father into the Profaci crime family

At the end of the 20th century, the Five Families dominated organized crime in New York. One of them, the Colombo family, descended from the Profaci crime family, originally a bootlegging and racketeering group founded in the 1920s. Anthony Colombo was an enforcer in the Profaci crime family in the 1920s and 1930s. His son, Joseph, was born in 1923 and spent most of his childhood in Brooklyn. In 1938, Anthony Colombo was murdered along with a mistress, his body found strangled in a car. Joseph attended high school in Brooklyn, dropped out to enlist in the Coast Guard, and received a medical discharge in 1945. He then worked in various jobs, including a ten-year stint as a longshoreman on the docks of New York. Eventually, he joined the Profaci family, encouraged by friends of his late father as well as relatives.

He rose through the criminal ranks quickly. During the early 1960s, Colombo learned of plans for the Profaci family to murder several high-ranking Mafiosi, including the heads of the Lucchese and Gambino families. Colombo maneuvered around the plans deftly, exposing them to the Commission and as a result was rewarded by being made the new head of the Profaci family, Joseph Profaci having died a year earlier. Having learned the business originally at his father’s knee, Joe Colombo became the head of one of the mob’s most notorious families at the age of just 41. Paralyzed after a shooting in 1971, he died in Newburgh, New York, in 1978 after years of being comatose. His business fell to his son, Anthony, and the third generation of Colombo’s. The latter worked to polish his and his father’s images as Italian-American community leaders, rather than participants in organized crime.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Wise Guy: Life in a Mafia Family”. Nicholas Pileggi. 1987

“Gangsters and Goodfellas: The Mob, Witness Protection, and life on the Run”. Henry Hill, Gus Russo. 2007

“On the Run: A Mafia Childhood”. Gregg Hill, Gina Hill. 2004

“Paul Vario”. Biography, The Famous People. Online

“Jimmy Burke – A Goodfella with a Mean Streak”. Article, American Mafia History. March 3, 2014. Online

“Goodfellas: What Happened To The Real Karen Hill After The Movie”. Adrienne Tyler, Screen Rant. August 22, 2020. Online

“Son of a Mob Figure Is Found Shot to Death”. Report, The New York Times. May 19, 1987

“Witness Security Program”. Article, US Marshals Service. Online

“‘The Worst Fix Ever'”. David Purdum, Espn Staff. ESPN. October 3, 2014. Online

“Henry Hill: 7 Things To Know About Infamous ‘Goodfella'”. Luchina Fisher and Eileen Murphy, ABC News. June 13, 2012. Online

“Why wasn’t Goodfellas’ Henry Hill murdered by the mob?”, The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw, Wed 13, Jun 2012

“Growing up in the shadow of the Mafia”. Alan Johnston, BBC News Italy. May 29, 2014. Online

“Al Capone’s Son: What happened to ‘Sonny’ Capone after the death of his notorious gangster father”. George Martin, inews.uk. March 1, 2021

“Florida History: The lives of Al Capone and his son”. Article, Crestview News Bulletin. April 9, 2020. Online

“Colombo: The Unsolved Murder”. Don Capria, Anthony Colombo. 2015