18 December 2020

Capone-Johnson photo: A new identification

The Atlantic City Al Capone - Nucky Johnson Photo: A New Identification?

Updated January 9, 2021

The Conference

On May 13, 1929, Al Capone and several of his associates - along with several of his gangland enemies - converged on Atlantic City, New Jersey, for a conference with the stated goal of bringing peace between the powerful bootlegging gangs of Chicago. It was at least the third peace conference that we know of. Ever since the photo was published in 1930 there have been questions over the identities of the men with Al Capone and Enoch L. "Nucky" Johnson. After an evaluation of the available evidence it may now possible to narrow down the mystery to one person.

Chicago Gang Conferences Before Atlantic City

On October 8, 1926, the Chicago Daily News reported that the Windy City held its first big gangland peace conference. According to information supplied by "an important official and a policeman" (later identified as a police lieutenant and an official of the Italo-American National Union) who sat in on the grand meeting held at the Hotel, one of the city's premier hotels. The Chicago Daily Tribune adds that Maxie Eisen, a labor racketeer associated with the late Samuel "Nails" Morton (some sources believe the friend of Morton and the labor racketeer were two different people), joined with Antonino "Tony" Lombardo, the rappresentante of the Chicago Mafia, to bring together the leaders of the Cicero-based organization headed by Capone, the North Side gang led by Hymie Weiss, Vincent "the Schemer" Drucci and George "Bugs" Moran, and their second-tier allies.

Preliminary to the meeting, Eisen met with the Mafia boss in Lombardo's office, and ideas were then passed from Eisen to Drucci and Moran, and Lombardo to Capone. They then agreed to send delegates to appear in person for the conference. The Cicero group was represented by Lombardo, Capone, Frank Nitto and Jack Guzik; the North Siders by Drucci, Moran, Eisen, Barney Bertsche and William Skidmore; and the minor racketeers included members of the North Side-friendly Myles O'Donnell and McErlane-Saltis gangs, and the Capone allies Ralph Sheldon and Danny McFall gangs. Sheldon was one of the participants. 

Reportedly both sides agreed to cease killings and beatings, consider past killings and shootings to be closed, disregard malicious gossip, and have leaders responsible for violations by the rank and file. However, a snag hit when Weiss and Drucci insisted that Capone put two of his men "on the spot" in retaliation for an ambush shooting a month prior. Lombardo refused the demand. When the Mafia boss told the Big Fella he supposedly said, "I wouldn't do a thing like that to a yellow dog." One of the two men whose death was demanded by Weiss and Drucci  (and the only one named), Frank Clemente, was reportedly wounded by machine-gun fire in Cicero. A follow-up piece identified the second potential victim as "Mops" - but not Anthony "Mops" Volpe. (This writer is unaware of any other Outfit member with that nickname. Later sources identify the two men as Volpe and Frank Rio, or Albert Anselmi and John Scalise.)

Later, the conference attendees were whittled down to five men sitting around a table: a prominent attorney, a police lieutenant, an official of the Italo-American National Union (known as the Unione Siciliana until 1925), and presumably Eisen and Lombardo. Not long after the conference, on October 11, Hymie Weiss and associate Paddy Murray gunned down in the street. Three others with them were hit by gunfire.

FBI HSCA Subject file LCN, MI 92-262

A second meeting was held in Milwaukee between 1926 and 1927, or maybe even 1928, in a nightclub owned by that city's boss, Pete Guardalabene. According to a member of the Milwaukee borgata (and confidential informant), Chicago Mafia underboss Joseph Aiello, regularly lost large sums of money gambling in Capone-owned joints. Afterward, Aiello sent his men to raid the games to take back what he lost - and more. The peace conference consisted of members of both factions, as well as leaders of other crime families from across the country. "The meeting ended with everybody throwing fruit and vegetables at each other," the source said. Aiello, who led a renegade faction of the Chicago Mafia allegedly over Lombardo's friendliness to Capone, was machine-gunned to death by Outfit killers while hiding out at a friend's home in 1930.

Lead-Up To A Third Conference

The third mobster conference, held in Atlantic City, followed the attempts on the life of top Capone gunman Jack McGurn (born Vincenzo Gibaldi in Licata, Sicily), first on March 7, 1928, and then barely a month later on April 17. The first attempt left McGurn with serious injuries after gang rivals fired off a Tommy gun in a drive-by shooting. The second shooting was also a drive-by using a machine gun. The Gusenberg brothers, James Clark and Billy Davern - all North Siders - were suspected of the brazen attacks.

It followed the assassination of Mafia chief Lombardo on September 7, 1928, and his successor Pasqualino Lolordo on January 8, 1929. Lombardo, who had been an ally of Capone, was reportedly killed either by Aiello or Frankie Yale of Brooklyn. Insider sources, however, gave a different story. Informants Nick Gentile and August Maniaci reported that Capone was actually inducted into the Mafia by Joe "the Boss" Masseria, head of what is now the Genovese crime family, as a capodecina (equivalent to captain or boss of a street crew) in 1928 with the authority to "make" ten men into his crew. Masseria told him that if he eliminated Lombardo he would recognize him as the head of the Chicago borgata. It was Al Capone, not Aiello or Yale, who was responsible for killing Lombardo. 

Mob turncoat Joe Valachi also supports this version. He recalled attending a lecture given by Salvatore Maranzano of what is now the Bonanno crime family in early 1931 after he was made the Capo di Capi (Boss of Bosses). At a large meeting celebrating his victory over Masseria, Maranzano recited the crimes committed by his enemy Masseria, including the murder of a "big boss" named Don Antonio, who was undoubtedly Lombardo.

It followed a national Mafia gathering in Cleveland on December 5, 1928, that featured a large contingent from Chicago. Local police were suspicious of the outsiders entering the swank Hotel Statler early in the morning and soon it was raided. Police arrested 23 men, most of whom were armed. Among those arrested were Tampa Don Ignazio Italiano, future Brooklyn bosses Vincenzo Mangano and Joseph Profaci, and from Chicago came Mafia chief Pasqualino Lolordo, Joseph Giunta, Frank Alo, James Intravia, Sam Oliveri, Giuseppe Sacco, and Phil Bacino (AKA Tony Bello). It was rumored that Al Capone was due to arrive but turned around when he heard of the raid, however, his presence probably wasn't necessary. Lolordo was said to be Capone's "puppet."

Arrested Mafiosi after meeting in Cleveland on December 5, 1928

It followed the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of seven members and associates of the North Side Gang, then headed by Moran after Drucci was slain in a shoot-out with police. Among those killed was Moran's second-in-command Albert Kachellek and his top gunmen Pete and Frank Gusenberg.

It also followed the brutal killings of Joseph "Hop Toad" Giunta - Lolordo's replacement - and mob executioners Anselmi and Scalise by beating and gunfire. Giunta, who attended the Cleveland meeting with Lolordo, allegedly connived with Aiello, Anselmi and Scalise to eliminate Capone until their plot was discovered. Al Capone, who had been staying at his Florida home, returned to the Windy City on May 7, 1929, narrowly avoiding two Moran gunmen who just happened to be picked up by police.

A banquet was held in Capone's honor, and the guests included the aforementioned three Mafiosi. Depending on the source the dinner was either held in a Hammond, Indiana, roadhouse called The Plantation, or the Chicago Heights nightclub Miami Gardens. Jesse George Murray, a columnist for the Chicago American, imagined a ruse concocted by Frank Rio and Capone to expose the plotters. However it happened, they suffered a painful death. An inside source associated with Accardo's original crew told this writer that future Outfit boss Anthony Accardo did indeed earn his moniker "Joe Batters" by beating the men at a dinner before they were shot on May 8, and their bodies left in a vacant section of Hammond, Indiana. (It should be made clear that this triple homicide remains officially unsolved and that the Moran gang was also suspected of the killings.)

Five days after the deaths of the three traitors Al Capone found himself in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The city, which was considered the gambling mecca of the East Coast, thrived under the rule of Republican political boss Enoch "Nucky" Johnson. The two had known each other since 1921, when Capone's mentor John Torrio took him to see the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in Jersey City. They met again for the 1927 Dempsey-Tunney bout at Soldier Field in Chicago, known as the Long Count. Nucky was welcomed by entourages from fellow GOP leaders, such as Illinois States' Attorney Robert E. Crowe. Capone made sure the visiting dignitary had a fleet of limousines at his disposal.

Despite Nucky Johnson's influence his control over the city was not absolute. Capone and his bodyguard were seen at a nightclub and a boxing match, and there was a rumor that he was staying as a guest "who has a palatial home in the [center] of the fashionable Chelsea district." When Director of Public Safety W. S. Cuthbert found out about the gangster's presence he ordered the police "to pick up Al Capone if he is found in the city and arrest him as an undesirable." 

Conference Details

After the Atlantic City conference concluded, Capone and his entourage drove for Philadelphia to board a train bound for Chicago. Unfortunately, their vehicle broke down near Camden and they did not arrive in Philadelphia until the evening. Capone made arrangement for a later train and decided to take in a movie. He and bodyguard Frank Rio were promptly arrested as soon as they exited the theater. They were charged with carrying concealed weapons and rushed before a judge and jury, where they were convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. The speed of the entire process was mind-blowing. Capone and Rio arrived in Philadelphia at approximately 6:30 pm, they were arrested at 8:30 pm, brought before a grand jury at 10:15 am, tried at 12 noon, then pleaded guilty and sentenced at 12:21 pm.

Fortunately for us, however, Capone was interviewed by Philadelphia Director of Public Safety Lemuel B.. Schofield, and the director shared his conversation with the press. Capone, Moran, and several other Chicago gang leaders signed a "peace pact" during his brief stay in Atlantic City. "With the idea in mind of making peace among the gangster in Chicago I spent the week in Atlantic City, and I have the word of each of the men participating that there shall be no more shootings," the crime lord said.

Capone added a few details of the conference. "We stopped at the President Hotel, where I registered under an assumed name. Bugs Moran, the leader of the West Side gang, seven of whose men were killed in the St. Valentine's Day massacre, and three or four other Chicago gang leaders whose names I don't care to mention participated. We talked over our troubles for three days. We all agreed at the end of that time to sign on the dotted line to bury the past and forget warfare in the future for the general good of all concerned," he said. The only names he provided besides his own were Rio and Moran. He also implied that the parley was small with only a handful of attendees.

The local newspaper, the Atlantic City Daily Press, reported that "the past few nights found him making whoopee, boom-boom, or what have you in several of the resort's best known night clubs." Look magazine wrote that Tony Accardo got a blue dove tattoo on the back of his left hand between the thumb and index finger during the trip to Atlantic City when he was acting as one of Capone's bodyguards.

Guesses as to the names of the other conference attendees began immediately. The Tribune believed that Joe Aiello, [Frank] McErlane, Joe Saltis, and John Torrio were there "either in person or by proxy." George Wolf, a criminal defense attorney who represented Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello, claimed in his biography of Costello that the two New York mob leaders organized the conference. Their guest list included Jewish and Italian mobsters from all over the country, such as "Lou Rothkopf and Moe Dalitz from Cleveland, King Solomon from Boston, John Lazia from Kansas City, Joe Bernstein and others from Detroit, Sam Lazar from Philadelphia...and Al Capone and his boys from Chicago." Luciano and Costello brought Joe Adonis, Lepke Buchalter, and Torrio. In this account not only do Torrio and Costello tell Capone to turn himself in for prison, but that they were forming the Commission, which we know from other sources was not created until 1931.

Some journalists, like Robert T. Loughran of the United Press, created an imaginary tale that stretched out the few points of agreement Capone spoke of into a fourteen-point plan. Among the points in Loughran's plan, Aiello was to be the head of the "Unione Siciliano," but subject to Torrio; and Torrio was to be the "king" of the rackets over Chicago. These and other points simply had no basis in reality.

The New York Evening Journal, owned by William Randolph Hearst, an FDR-supporting Democrat who drooled at embarrassing the Republican political boss, was the first to publish the photo. The authenticity of the photo was confirmed in 1941 when Elmer Irey of the IRS Intelligence Unit was targeting Johnson for tax fraud. Irey not only took down Capone in 1931, but his mentor John Torrio in 1939. In July 1941, newspapers all across the country reported Johnson's admission that he was with Capone when a New York photographer grabbed his image.

Arizona Republic, July 13, 1941

The Chicago beer baron admitted that he and all of his mobster guests registered using false names. Rio, for example, gave his name as Frank Cline. In the caption underneath only four of the five men are identified. The man on the far left was the man not ID'd, but next to him was David Palter, then Charles T. "Chuck" Greene, Capone, Johnson, and Lou Irwin. Palter and Greene were said to have been "high pressure" men, a euphemism for gangsters. Greene is also very likely an alias. All three men to Capone's left were underworld figures from Chicago.

New York Evening Journal, January 17, 1930

Mystery Man Number One: David Palter

The man second to the end to the left of Capone (from the viewer's perspective) is identified by the New York Evening Journal as David Palter, who "admitted paying $65,000 to avoid a year vacation in Atlanta, Ga. Federal Penitentiary after being convicted of mail fraud." This matches the David Palter listed as a defendant in a 1927 story from the Associated Press. Twelve individuals and a corporation were convicted of "using the mails to defraud in the sale of stock of the Glass Casket Corporation of Altoona, Pa." On March 7, 1927, the convictions were upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals. Gaston B. Means, an ex-Secret Service agent, and the late attorney Thomas B. Felder had promised to "fix things" for $65,000. In a separate case from 1938, a 46-year-old David Palter was described as a "former associate of 'Jake the Barber' Factor." Jake the Barber was known to be a crony of Capone and Nitto.

David Palter was born in New York on June 12, 1893, and worked as a jewelry salesman before serving in the military. He is probably the same person who in early 1924, along with his wife, was robbed by two armed burglars who forced their maid to lead them to his bedroom in a Manhattan high-rise. They forced Palter, a broker, and his wife, to hand over $5,400 worth of cash and jewelry. In the summer of 1930 a Mr. and Mrs. David L. Palter celebrated their niece's fourth birthday at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood. In 1933 Palter and his partner Martin Lederer, who owned a stock brokerage at 82 Wall Street, were charged with conspiracy and threatened with a permanent injunction for selling worthless gold stock.

David Palter

On January 11, 1938, the Hollywood Citizen-News reported that David Palter, alias David Hunter, 46, who was indicted the previous October in New York for a bait and switch of $14,200 worth of whiskey warehouse receipts, was arrested at his apartment on the Sunset Strip. Another friend of Palter's was J. Richard "Dixie" Davis, mobster Dutch Schultz's former attorney. "In Palter we have one of the cleverest stock racketeers who ever operated in New York," Gang buster John A. Klein said.

Later it was reported that the fraud case was in Reading, Pennsylvania, not New York. On February 10, 1938, the case against him was dismissed for lack of evidence. On March 15 he was exonerated after it was shown that Palter had separated from the warehouse company before the fraud took place. Palter returned to New York and passed away on April 15, 1965.

Mystery Man Number Two: Charles T. Greene

The man to Capone's immediate left (from our viewpoint) is more problematic than Palter. Due to the constant threat of death, Capone did not venture out in public without a bodyguard unless circumstances ruled it out. None of the men in the famous photograph, however, are identified as being one of his bodyguards. If the Chicago mob boss did have a bodyguard he most likely would have been walking next to him, and the person next to him was reportedly one Charles T. Greene. So who was Charles T. Greene? Could he have been a local gangster?

A search of newspapers in that time period using the newspaper databases at Newspapers.com, GenealogyBand.com, and Fulton Post Cards do not make a single reference to a mobster, gangster, or criminal named Charles T. Greene or Charles Greene in either New Jersey nor the East Coast. However, there was one mobster who had an alias of Charles Green (not Greene), and that was Charles Entratter. Entratter was a top lieutenant of Jack "Legs" Diamond who was murdered in New York in 1931. This Charles Green, however, did not resemble the man in the photo.

Charles Entratter (AKA Charles Green)

When Capone was arrested in Philadelphia he readily admitted to registering at an Atlantic City hotel using an alias, as did the other men who attended the conference. So perhaps Charles T. Greene was an alias for one of Capone's other bodyguards. We know that Capone traveled with Frank Rio, who was one of his many bodyguards (who often tended to be high-ranking lieutenants), since they were arrested together in Philadelphia. Yet, Rio does not resemble anyone in the photo.

Frank Rio, 1929

His other bodyguards were well known. Gunmen such as Jack McGurn, Louis Campagna, Willie Heeney, Phil D'Andrea, Mike Spranze, and Tony Accardo were all known bodyguards who accompanied him at various times. Yet none of them resembles the mysterious man in the photo.

Tony Accardo, 1930

Another candidate is Anthony "Mops" Volpe, whose features appear to very closely match the man in the photo. The height of the man in the photo is between the height of the Palter, who stood 5'6," and the nearly 5'11" tall Al Capone. Volpe's height ranges between 5'7" and 5'10," which averages to 5'8.5" and accords with Greene.

Who was Volpe? "Mops" was born in Argentina to Italian parents and worked in Chicago Mafia-affiliated Giuseppe "Diamond Joe" Esposito's Italian restaurant before joining Capone's Outfit. When the press first became aware of his existence back in 1916, he was a gang leader arrested for a shooting that was apparently ruled self-defense. Arrested with him was a gang member nicknamed Nickelodeon, whose real name was Nick Circella. Later known as Nicky Dean, Circella would become a close friend of Capone and involved in extorting the Hollywood studios with labor racketeer Willie Bioff in the 1930s.

Anthony "Mops" Volpe, 1930

In 1921, Volpe was a Cook County deputy sheriff and a secretary to (and brother-in-law of) Diamond Joe, a Republican committeeman in the old Nineteenth Ward. In 1925 Volpe was described as a "notorious gun fighter," and by 1928 he, along with Rio, Nitto and a Joe Kelly, was noted to be one of Capone's bodyguards. In 1930 he joined Capone, Rio, Moran and twenty-four others on the first list of Public Enemies.

On December 15, 1930, the Secretary of Labor had Volpe arrested by immigration agents to deport him to Italy. Several months later it was confirmed that he was born in Santa Fe, Argentina, sometime in October between 1890 and 1892, but his Italian-born parents had taken him back to their home country to be naturalized as a child. He came to the U.S. at age 15 and became a citizen in 1920. Italy and Argentina, however, refused to accept him, asserting that he lost his right to return when he was naturalized in America. Nevertheless the government did not give up its fight to deport him until 1953. As for his mob status, Volpe remained a fixture in Cicero as an old-timer in the crew headed by Joseph Aiuppa until his death in January 1965.

So was Volpe the mysterious Charles T. Greene? John Binder, who teaches at the University of Illinois and has written two books on the Chicago Syndicate, followed-up this question. Using Biometric Vision's FaceMatch software, which claims a success rate of 99.9% accuracy, Binder compared four photos of Volpe taken between 1930 and 1945 with a high quality scan of the Atlantic City photo contributed by researcher Mario Gomes. The result was that the man identified as Greene did not match Anthony "Mops" Volpe. So for now the definitive identification of the man next to Al Capone in the 1929 photo remains an unsolved mystery.

This essay will be updated if new information becomes available.


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Thanks to John Binder for providing photo analysis, David Critchley for additional material, and to Edmond Valin for his editorial comments and suggestions.