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Al Capone and His American Boys: Memoirs of a Mobster's Wife Hardcover – July 7, 2011
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"This is not another Capone book; he is but a tangential figure in this fascinating account.... For true crime and gangster story fans." ―Library Journal
"Deemed too hot by its publisher in 1934, this incredible and revealing story sheds new light on major crimes, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre―the defining moment that cemented Chicago's reputation as a city of criminal mayhem.... A candid look at the era of Capone, Frank Nitti, Georgette’s husband Gus, and a group of Public Enemies who continue to fascinate a new generation of readers." ―Richard C. Lindberg, author of The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago's Democratic Machine
"Al Capone and His American Boys is more than just fascinating history―it's built on the human interest element of living a gangster's life." ―mafialifeblog.com
"Al Capone and his American Boys is highly recommended for those interested in an insider's view of the major criminal events of the Gangster Era." ―Informer
"Helmer delights history buffs once more with his research and inimitable style, bringing us the memoirs of a primo gangster's moll. Hers is a first-hand account of being married to one of Al Capone's travelling psycho-circus of killers called the 'American boys' who moved from St. Louis to Chicago to live the gritty gangland life of the Roaring Twenties." ―Mario Gomes, www.myalcaponemuseum.com
About the Author
William J. Helmer is author (with G. Russell Girardin) of Dillinger: The Untold Story (IUP, 1994) and The Gun That Made the Twenties Roar as well as other books on the gangland era.
Top Customer Reviews
Winkeler's widow, a shattered but nevertheless cogent and credible witness, wrote her rather dynamic manuscript after her husband's murder at the hands of the Nitti-run mob. Helmer, who in 2004 with Art Bilek wrote "The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre - The Untold Story of the Gangland Bloodbath That Brought Down Al Capone," (another must read) has completed the historical deconstruction of the denouement of the Chicago Outfit of the 1920's with this latest treatise. Along with Georgette's recollections, Helmer has basically tied up the post-massacre gangland years with a culminating addendum of all the relevant players who have become household names, including Capone, Frank Nitti, and the rest of the infamous crowd who made Chicago rumble. Of all of the journalists who have taken on this epic, Helmer has added to his forty-years of contributions with his best and most revealing efforts in this book, defining the profile of the true historian.
For those of us who never get enough of the elusive truth and who ourselves research those hypnotic times, this book is, simply put, pure pleasure. Georgette's memory of seeing her husband and the other American Boys parading around in their Chicago Police costumes before mowing down George "Bugs" Moran's men in 1929, is the most scintillating solution imaginable to one of the world-changing crimes of the 20th century. Along with his 1969 history of the machine-gun (The Gun That Made the Twenties Roar) and his almanac of public enemies (co-written with the late, great gangsterologist Rick Mattix), William Helmer has once again proven himself as a premier authority on the Prohibition decade. This is an elegant book (buy it in hardcover - it's beautiful) issued by the University of Indiana Press, with no stone left unturned. I admit to being a great Helmer admirer; however, as a researcher myself, I must also say that he sets the standard for all of us. I give this one an unabashed five stars, but it deserves six. It is more fun than a barrel of booze.
Gus Winkeler's wife, Georgette, repeatedly emphasizes her frustrations with her husband and his gangland activities. Gus vows to terminate his illegalities telling her, "I will make it up to you, honey," but it never turns out that way.
I did find the book very attentive to detail to the extent that I felt it belabored the point. An example would be the various names and spelling of names used by an individual. However, in doing this I appreciate the fact that this was done to emphasize accuracy as much as possible. Even though many of the photos are small I appreciate having a face to connect with a description of a mobster's role in the story. Each of the chapters are short, and the book includes newspaper headlines from the times. If you are looking for a book on mobsters during the Capone era and how they met their demise this book will not disappoint you. I base my rating of four stars on how it held my interest, whereas for accuracy I feel it deserves five stars. To me, the book reads more like a textbook of gangland activities.
Mrs. Winkeler is not a pre-William Holden version of Judy Holiday in _Born Yesterday_. She is able competently to use such words as "querulously," and also words such as "yeggs." It does make one wonder what a nice girl like this is doing in gang like Capone's. The only explanation is Gus, the younger version of whom she describes as "big, fearless, and friendly." She met him in a boarding house she and her sister operated. He gave her a whirlwind romance, including a visit to what he said was "the swellest cabaret in St. Louis County." When she got there, she was frightened: "The plain walls and ceiling were perforated with bullet holes, which Gus said was a result of `target practice.'" Despite this, they were quickly married, and she had the classic wife's goal of reforming her husband, a goal that if you believe her memoir she kept all through their marriage, trying to get him to give up crime and get a real job. It never worked, although it must be said that her husband had the same goal as well, or at least he let her think so. Toward the end of the book, as she reflects on how hard he was working for The Syndicate, she remembers that he was also making plans for his own enterprises. "As I have said before, it was his intention to relinquish the syndicate business as soon as he was sufficiently entrenched in his own interests." One thinks of poor, doomed Michael Corleone who assured his wife Kay, "In five years the Corleone family will be completely legitimate." She really did love him, and gives him credit for years of working hard and trying to improve his grammar, clothes, and gentility. His was nonetheless a career with considerable lows; Gus was a hired hand for Capone, and was involved in such bloodletting as The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (although the killing of the seven members of a rival gang remains officially unsolved). Much of the book finds Mrs. Winkeler scared for her life; she often got an emergency telephone call from her husband saying something like, "Pack everything, and hurry if you ever did in your life."
After Gus's death, Helmer lets us know, Mrs. Winkeler cooperated with the FBI and avoided any repercussions from doing so. She married a preacher and had what sounds like a completely normal life, along with stepchildren who were fond of her. That's not the way things work out for most molls in the movies; think of poor Gladys George over Jimmy Cagney's body in _The Roaring Twenties_, explaining, "He used to be a big shot." For me, it was impossible to read this memoir without finding that it was in true accord with the movies of the period. Someone here actually warns, "Fade, gang, it's the bulls," and it isn't Hollywood overwriting. The screen myths are undying, and Mrs. Winkeler's voice gives them an unexpected authenticity.