Anyone who's ever seen a gangster or mafia movie knows of Al Capone — the tough-talking Chicago mob head who pushed illegal liquor through America during Prohibition. And if you don't, may we direct you to this new movie Capone, starring Tom Hardy as the infamous gangster. The person we don't hear much about, in history and in the film, is Capone's wife, Mae. Maybe it's because mobsters kept their family and work life separate. Maybe it's because so much of what was written in the newspapers of the early 20th century has been lost. Either way, not much is known about Mae Capone and what happened to her following Al's death in 1947.
Here's what we do know: According to Laurence Bergreen's Capone: The Man and the Era, Mary Josephine Coughlin, called Mae throughout her life, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 11, 1897 to Irish immigrant parents. Mae's life seemed pretty ordinary for the time — her parents worked, she went to school with her siblings, she worked once she graduated, and she started working in a shop, per Bergreen. On December 30, 1918, Mae married Alphonse Capone in Brooklyn. Mae and Al reportedly had a son, Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone, three weeks before their wedding. The two had no other children, as it was claimed that Al gave Mae syphilis, which she then passed onto any more subsequent offspring, resulting in stillbirths or miscarriages.
It's in the middle years of her life that Mae becomes a mystery. She was private, it seems, and there aren't many credible sources left that can describe what Mae's life was with Al. She definitely wasn't a pushover — Chicago magazine reports that a short time into her marriage, Mae, fed up with Al cheating on her, bleached her hair the same color as Al's mistress, because he had a pattern of asking his lovers to change their 'dos. What a way to quietly embarrass a man in front of his family.
According to the FBI, Al was arrested on and off throughout the 1920s, but it was the charge of tax evasion that finally stuck, and in 1931, he was convicted to 11 years in federal prison. He served his sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta and at the famous Alcatraz. He was released in 1939 after seven years back into Mae's care at their home in Miami — at this point, Al's syphilis had spread to his brain, rendering him with the faculties of a 12-year old. Al didn't return to his mafia dealings, and Mae took care of her husband and shielded him from onlookers until he passed from a stroke in 1947. According to the Miami Herald, Mae sold their mansion soon after his death and moved away.
Per the New York Post, Mae died at 89 in 1986 in Florida, but not before doing her best to protect and defend her family from their longstanding reputation. In 1964, Mae and Sonny Capone sued Desilu Productions because of their production of the TV show The Untouchables and the similarities to Al's story. Mae's complaint said that her grandchildren were being bullied because of the incendiary show. The New York Post also reported that Mae burned her diaries and the love letters Capone sent her from prison so that no one could read them after her death.
Mae was powerful, but a victim of the time in which she lived — in the shadow of an infamous man — but it seems like she was the glue keeping a lot of her family together.