From an early age, Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone struggled under the weight of his father's last name. So he decided to change it — and then he disappeared to California.
When an elderly resident of Auburn Lake Trails, California died in 2004, his neighbors were in for a shock. The 85-year-old that they had known as Albert Francis Brown was actually Albert Francis Capone — Al Capone’s son. He had been living under a different name for decades.
As the son of a notorious mobster, Albert Francis Capone could have easily been a Mafia prince, the early 20th century equivalent of Growing Up Gotti. The reality was not as glamorous. Al Capone’s rise and fall meant that his son led a life defined by his father’s legacy. As he grew older, he tried to distance himself from his family’s infamous name.
This is the story of “Sonny” Capone, Al Capone’s only son.
The Early Life Of Albert Francis Capone
Albert Francis Capone was born on December 4, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Alphonse Gabriel Capone, who went by Al, and Mae Josephine Coughlin, who went by Mae.
Even this basic story is filled with questions, however.
When Al Capone was 20 years old, he contracted syphilis from a sex worker while working a mob job in Chicago. His syphilis would remain untreated for most of his life — and, as a result, Capone was reportedly sterile.
Other reports suggested — but never outright confirmed — that Mae contracted syphilis from her husband, which she then passed on to her son.
And yet still other reports suggest, perhaps most outrageously, that Mae was always sterile and therefore wasn’t Albert Francis Capone’s biological mother.
Regardless of the truth of Sonny’s parentage, Al Capone loved him like a son. “I don’t want to die shot in the street,” the gangster once said. “I’ve got a boy. I love that kid.”
Indeed, Al Capone didn’t hesitate to go above and beyond for his only child. When Sonny Capone got a nasty mastoid infection in his left year — he was prone to infections, possibly due to inheriting syphilis — his father leaped into action.
Because doctors in Chicago said that treating the infection would leave Sonny permanently deaf, Al Capone reached out to a doctor in New York City. Capone offered this doctor $100,000 to treat his son. The doctor charged the customary $1,000. He managed to salvage Sonny Capone’s hearing, although the boy would be partially deaf.
Reassured that his son was in good hands, Al Capone didn’t waste his trip to New York — he set up a meeting with mobster Frank Yale to discuss bootlegging booze.
Al Capone’s Son Forges His Own Path
Despite his father’s shady business dealings, the young Sonny Capone was encouraged to follow the straight and narrow. He attended the prestigious St. Patrick School in Miami Beach, Florida, where he befriended a young Desiderio Arnaz — better known to the world, today, as Desi Arnaz, the co-creator of I Love Lucy and Desilu Productions.
Albert Francis Capone went to college at Notre Dame but finished his studies at the University of Miami. Al Capone, by contrast, dropped out of school at 14 after hitting a teacher.
When he applied to school, Sonny Capone listed his father’s occupation as “retired” — in fact, Al Capone had been sent to prison in 1932 for tax evasion. Whether or not this was the beginning of Albert Francis Capone’s efforts to distance himself from his famous family is up to debate. What’s clear, however, is that father and son maintained a loving relationship, as evidenced by the letter Al Capone wrote Sonny while imprisoned at Alcatraz.
Well heart of mine, sure hope things come our way for next year, then I’ll be there in your arms, and maybe that sure will be a happy feeling for Maggie and You. Well Sonny keep up your chin, and don’t worry about your dear Dad, and when again you allowed a vacation, I want you and your dear Mother to come here together, as I sure would love to see you and Maggie.
Capone’s “heart” led a quiet, humble life, even with the weight of his infamous last name. For a time, Sonny Capone was a used car salesman, but quit the position when he found out his boss was manipulating odometers. He became an apprentice printer, worked in a restaurant with his mother, and even became a tire distributor.
The Shedding Of An Old Identity
Having the “Capone” name came with baggage, however. When Sonny Capone’s former friend Desi Arnaz produced The Untouchables TV series in 1959, Sonny and his mother were outraged at the depiction of Al Capone — who had died 12 years earlier.
“Why you?” Albert asked Arnaz over the phone. “Why did you have to do it?”
The series chronicled lawman Elliott Ness’s quest to take down Al Capone and mobster Frank Nitti. Arnaz was aware of the potential fallout in producing it, as he later explained in his autobiography.
“Having gone to high school and been such good friends with Sonny Capone,” Arnaz wrote. “I knew damn well, even though I hadn’t seen or heard from Sonny in years, that I was going to get a call from him.”
But Arnaz had more than a fractured friendship to worry about. Mae Capone, who was a grandmother at this point, teamed up with her son to file a multimillion-dollar libel and unfair-use-of-image suit against Desilu Productions. Despite alleging that her grandchildren were being bullied due to the production, the District Court and Chicago Circuit Court rejected the lawsuit. The Capones even took it all the way to the Supreme Court, but it was rejected there too.
Then on August 7, 1965, Albert Francis Capone was nabbed by the police for a petty crime. A store clerk caught him pocketing two bottles of aspirin and some batteries. When he went before a judge, he got two years of probation but shrugged off his crime by saying that “everybody has a little larceny in them.”
That’s probably especially true when you have a connection to the mob in your blood. But, aside from the arrest, Sonny Capone never caused as much trouble as his father. (However, he allegedly threatened Ted Kennedy’s life in 1968 during a phone call someone reported to the FBI.)
Following his arrest, he changed his name to Albert Francis Brown. According to his lawyer, Sonny Capone did so because he was “just sick and tired of fighting the name.”
The Death Of Albert Francis Capone
On July 8, 2004, Albert Francis Capone died in the tiny California town of Auburn Lake Trails. His wife, America “Amie” Francis, told a reporter that Albert Francis Capone was much more than his family name.
“Al Capone has been dead a long, long time,” she said. “His son had nothing to do with him. Let him rest in peace, for crying out loud. He suffered enough in his life for being who he was.”
After changing his name, Albert Francis Capone, aka Sonny Capone, aka Albert Francis Brown lived a quiet, law-abiding life. He married three times and is survived by numerous children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
He’s proof that, sometimes, the apple falls far, far from the tree.
After learning about Al Capone’s son Albert Francis Capone, read about the short life of Al Capone’s brother Frank Capone. Then, learn the true story of “Donnie Brasco” and Joe Pistone’s undercover fight against the Mafia.