The Truth About Al Capone's Brother James

It seems like a narrative pulled straight from a gangster movie: Al Capone, Scarface himself, the country's most notorious bootlegger, and his brother, who ended up wrangling flouters of prohibition out West. Born Vincenzo Capone, Al's oldest brother took on the American name James after the family immigrated to New York and settled in Brooklyn. As author Jeff McArthur reveals in his 2015 biography Two Gun Hart: Lawman, Cowboy, and Long-Lost Brother of Al Capone, the Capone brother who took the side of law and order would go on to garner fame for his own daring exploits.

The big city wasn't for James, so at age 16 he went out west and settled in Nebraska, where he let people believe that he was part Native American and rode around like a cowboy who walked off the set of a spaghetti western. Instead of the iconic fedora and long, dark overcoat of his criminal brother, James preferred tight jeans, boots with spurs, and a 10-gallon Stetson atop his head. Oh, and of course: the two ivory-handled pistols he carried at his waist that would inspire his storybook nickname.

In his review of McArthur's book for the Lincoln Journal-Star, writer Francis Moul describes Hart (James joined the military using the name James Richard Hart, and stuck with it after his service) as "a rugged youth, tall and muscular, with natural athletic skills" who became "an expert horseman and relished being a cowboy."

James was as good a cop as Al was a criminal

That athleticism and sense of adventure would help him achieve his most impressive exploits. He made a name for himself enforcing the liquor laws passed during Prohibition. He was said to have "cleaned up the booze problems" on the Indian Reservations in northeast Nebraska, where he took the time to learn the tribal languages and became a friend and hero to the people there. 

In another moment ripped right off the silver screen, James met his wife by saving her and her family from drowning in a flash flood in 1919. According to History Net, 19-year-old Kathleen "was so smitten with her savior that she married him that fall."

James would reunite with his family in the 1940s. His little brother, Al, was now one of the country's most notorious criminals, but James still tried to maintain a few degrees of separation between them in the public eye. He was forced to admit the truth, however, when another brother, Ralph, outed him in a federal income tax trial. James gave his testimony underneath that big, 10-gallon hat he loved so much. Despite the public knowing who his lawbreaking little brother was, James hung onto his chosen name until his death, and his tombstone in Homer, Nebraska, reads Richard J. Hart, not Vincenzo "Jimmy" Capone.