The WOP with the Mop

Al Capone's sphere of influence was large, indeed, but not large enough to matter at Alcatraz, "The Rock." The convicts operated under a different "social order" on who was a supercriminal and who was not. Capone's term in the federal prison was hard, not so much because of the sternness of the penal system and its employees, but rather on account of his fellow inmates.

One day Capone and a number of other convicts were lined up at the barber shop for their monthly haircut. The mighty Capone saw no reason to wait and stepped to the front of the line, making the error of cutting ahead of James Lucas, a mean Texas bank robber doing 30 years.

Lucas knew who Capone was but was not impressed. He snarled, "Hey, lard ass, get back at the end of the line." Capone turned and gave Lucas a withering look that would have chilled many a mobster—on the outside.

"You know who I am, punk?" Capone asked.

Lucas reddened in rage. He grabbed the scissors from the convict doing the haircutting and stuck the point into Capone's fat neck. "Yeah," he said, "I know who you are, greaseball. And if you don't get back to the end of that fucking line, I'm gonna know who you were."

Capone went to the rear of the line and never again tried to pull rank in Alcatraz. Not that this prevented him from further hostility. Capone suffered his first real violent treatment when he failed to join a prisoner strike after the death of a convict to whom the warden had denied medical treatment because he said he was malingering.

Capone ignored the protest and stayed on his prison laundry job. Other prisoners started calling him "scab" and "rat," and finally Capone was allowed to go to his cell until the strike was crushed. When he returned to work, an unknown convict threw a sash weight at his head. Shoved aside by another convict, train robber Roy Gardner, the weight missed, hitting Capone's arm and causing a deep cut.

Capone was transferred to new work mopping up the bathhouse, whereupon the convicts promptly nicknamed him "the wop with the mop." His nemesis, Lucas, one day crept up behind him and stabbed him in the back. Capone was hospitalized for a week, and Lucas was sent to the Hole (solitary confinement).

There were other efforts to maim or kill Capone, but friendly convicts, attracted by Capone's payment of money on the outside, protected him. They frustrated a plot to spike his breakfast coffee with lye. On another occasion Capone was on his way to the dentist when a con jumped him from behind and almost strangled him before Capone broke loose and floored him with a single blow.

Such stories reached the press, which informed its eager readers how far the once powerful King of Chicago had fallen. Capone's wife unsuccessfully petitioned the attorney general to have Capone transferred to another institution, so the persecution of "the wop with the mop" continued.

Later on in his confinement Capone began slipping in and out of lucidity. His paresis, caused by an advanced stage of syphilis, prompted most prisoners to let up on him, extending him the sympathy due any convict going "stir crazy."

In January 1939, Capone was shipped out of Alcatraz for the Federal Correctional Institution on Terminal Island near Los Angeles. He was too sick for the rigors of the Rock. Capone was released from custody in November, destined to become increasingly less coherent during the last eight years of his life.

When he was released, reporters in Chicago asked his longtime faithful aide Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik if Capone was returning to control of the mob. Guzik replied, "Al is nutty as a fruitcake." There can be little doubt that the harassment he endured as "the wop with the mop" had not helped Capone's overall condition.