Chicago’s Prohibition era syndicate represents one of the most studied criminal enterprises, and at its core is the mythical Al Capone—the organizational maestro of a massive criminal network that permeated the legitimate and political worlds. To date, most of this research has relied on historical and cultural analyses all of which have reinforced the structural and cultural importance of Al Capone and his associates. This paper re-examines the Capone era mob through a new analytical lens—social network analysis. Using a unique relational dataset created by coding more than 3,000 pages of primary documents, this paper examines the precise ways in which the criminal networks associated with Al Capone overlapped with political and union networks. These new data and the use of social network analysis mark this study as perhaps the first to (quite literally) map the small world of organized crime in Chicago and, in so doing, offer a structural analysis of the expansiveness of criminal, political, and union networks. The findings reveal a series of overlapping social networks of more than 1,200 individuals with more than 3,500 ties among and between them. The majority of these ties and individuals are in a single large network with only a hand full of individuals (less than 100) acting as links between the criminal, political, and union worlds. Findings compare the “structural signatures”—i.e., the various network permutations—of organized crime figures that have been deemed “important” from more traditional historical and cultural analyses with those deemed important from structural analysis. The implications of this research for our understanding of Al Capone as well as its relevance for the study of organized crime are also discussed.
Andrew Papachristos is a Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar at Harvard and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is a researcher and policy analyst of urban neighborhoods, street gangs, violent crime, gun violence, and social networks. His writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The American Journal of Sociology, Criminology & Public Policy, and several edited volumes and peer-reviewed journals. Papachristos received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.