Al Capone on Oct. 16,1929.
Santi Visalli / Getty Images
By Lily Rothman
January 25, 2017

When notorious gangster Al Capone died 70 years ago—on Jan. 25, 1947—it was quietly, like little else in his life.

As TIME’s report on Capone‘s death made clear, the scars on his face were the outward symbol of his “hot-tempered, dramatic, sentimental and tough” personality. When he moved to Chicago, during Prohibition, that personality turned into a business asset, as his fame spread within the city’s world of bootlegging and brothels. In 1929, during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, his gunmen put an end to the rival O’Banions. And, as the story explained, winning that war was just one part of the damage he did:

Capone never paused in his drive for power. He bought politicians wholesale and had complete immunity from the law—from 1923 to 1926 Chicago had 135 gang killings, six arrests, one conviction, no executions. He gained control of gambling, prostitution, dance halls, dog tracks and roadhouses as well as the enormous beer and liquor business. The U.S. called him Public Enemy No. 1.

…At the height of his power, in 1927, when he was but 28 years old, he grossed $105 million. He wore expensive clothes, glittered with diamonds, bought whole sections of first-night theater seats for himself and his gunmen. He grew gross and paunchy and wore a bulletproof vest. He traveled in a seven-ton armored car. He gave enormous banquets —at some of which the guests entertained themselves by squirting each other with bottles of vintage champagne. He maintained a big personal bodyguard, watched its members to see that none “went cuckoo” under the strain. If a man looked nervous, he was exposed to a series of pretty girls, then killed if he did not react to their charms. Said Capone: “When a guy don’t fall for a broad, he’s through.”

But, though he successfully managed to foil both enemies who wanted to kill him and those who wanted to try him for murder, he was eventually convicted in 1931 for evading taxes. During his time at Alcatraz, he fell ill—the result of an old syphilis case. Released in 1939, he kept to himself, leading a quiet life until his death.

“He was 48,” the obituary concluded. “Death had beckoned to him for years, as stridently as a Cicero whore calling to a cash customer. But Big Al had not been born to pass out on a sidewalk or a coroner’s slab. He died like a rich Neapolitan, in bed in a quiet room with his family sobbing near him, and a soft wind murmuring in the trees outside.”

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Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Big Al

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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