Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Al Capone and a Valentine’s Day Noir at the Bar

 by Paula Gail Benson

Photo courtesy of Raegan Teller
Phil Lenski, Carla Damron, Warren Moore, Me,
John Starino, Raegan Teller, Bonnie Stanard, Charles Isreal, Jr.

Noir at the Bar events have caught on in our community. I’m delighted that two organizers, Chris Errol Maw and author Raegan Teller (aka Wanda Craig) have continued to arrange the venues and programs for us to hear new stories. I thank them both for including me as one of the readers.

Lately, we’ve been gathering at the British Bulldog Pub, which has a private room and terrific atmosphere. Along with me on this Valentine's Day program were: Carla Damron (award winning author of The Stone Necklace, The Orchid Tattoo, and the Caleb Knowles mystery series); Charles Isreal, Jr. (an Assistant Professor who teaches creative writing at Queens University in Charlotte, N.C.); Phil Lenski (administrative law judge and author of horror and dark mystery short stories); Warren Moore (administrator and Professor of English at Newberry College, author of the novel Broken Glass Waltzes and short fiction that has appeared in many anthologies); Bonnie Stanard (writer of historical fiction, short stories, and poetry); John Starino (performance poet and author); and Raegan Teller (writer of short stories and the Enid Blackwell mystery series).

Al Capone
Source: NPR; Hulton Archive; 2004 Getty Images

Since we were reading on Valentine’s Day, Raegan asked that we include both a crime and love in our work. I asked Phil Lenski what he planned, and he told me he was writing about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. That intrigued me. After some research, I decided I could write a follow up story that dealt with the aftermath of the shootings.

I found out that two landladies had lost tenants who died as victims in the Chicago garage. I knew the killings had been blamed on Al Capone but did not know he claimed innocence and was in Florida when they occurred. Shortly after, Capone was incarcerated in Philadelphia. During that time, he began to say he was haunted by the ghost of one of the victims, Jimmy Clark, the brother-in-law of Bugs Moran, who did not go to the garage, but probably was the intended target of the shootings.

Both landladies made identifications of the killers to the police, then later recanted. One of the landladies was named Mrs. Doody. That gave me the title I needed: “A Duty to Mrs. Doody.”

My next questions were: what was she owed or what did she want? Was it merely compensation for the lost rent or could it be something else?

A little more research introduced me to Frank Rio, one of Capone’s bodyguards who spent time in the Philadelphia prison with him, and Hymie Cornish, Capone’s valet who claimed he also had seen the ghost of Jimmy Clark. Frank and Hymie became characters in my story.

Then, I learned a bit more about Al Capone. His favorite meal was spaghetti with walnut sauce. He had a regular booth at the Green Mill jazz club and liked to dine at the Exchequer, both of which had underground tunnels convenient for escape. Capone also was a good cook. His sister Maffie was rumored to have made money selling one of his tomato-based sauces to Ragu.

In order to create my story, I pieced all these fragments of information together with the fact that one of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre victims was an optician who liked to hang out with gangsters. While the characters are based on real people, what happens in the story comes from my imagination. Figuring it out was great fun.

Do you like to read and write stories based on historical fact?

Courtesy Chris Errol Maw and Raegan Teller


  1. What a great way to mix history and fiction. Can't wait for a chance to hear or read your story.

  2. I love all the background, Paula. And congratulations on your story.

  3. I love historic fiction that is realistic enough to make me feel that I'm in the midst of situations I've heard about.

  4. Great story idea! Yes, I write the occasional historical story--or write a story combining past action with present day consequences.

  5. Fascinating stuff! Sounds like a great story, too!

  6. What a wonderful story and premise. I have a soft spot for Capone stories. When I lived in Miami I attended a party at the Capone house on Palm Island – now demolished. There were still people in Miami who claimed to have hung with Al. From all accounts, until syphilis claimed his mind, he was a wonderfully attentive father and grandfather, an amusing raconteur, and a gentle man. Ya never know!

  7. Debra, Jim, Kathleen, Margaret, Lori, Kait, and Molly, thank you for your kind comments. I had such fun creating the story and even more so hearing the other stories that night. I hope everyone has the opportunity to experience a Noir at the Bar!

  8. Interesting post. The Valentine's Day Massacre always reminds me of the movie "Some Like it Hot."
    Grace Topping

  9. Great notes on the Valentine's Day history. Enough background here for a novel. I'd like to see you write one!

  10. Grace, I love that movie!
    Thanks so much for the encouragement to write a novel!