28 July 2012
1928 Cadillac V-8 "Al Capone" Town Sedan
Sold for $341,000
- Chassis no. 306449
• Continuous history now established since 1932
• Continuous development as one of the first armored cars
• Offered from the Estate of John O’Quinn
New research has shed light on period documentation from newspapers, the IRS, and information from the family of the second known owner, as well as from an eyewitness to the development of this car. While the provenance of the “Al Capone” armored Cadillac has never been questioned, its origins were never confirmed beyond reasonable doubt until now.
Thorough documentation begins with the purchase of this car by Mr. Harry LaBreque in May of 1933 from Mr. Patrick Moore, of 37 Grove Street in Rockville, Connecticut. The RM research team was able to locate Mr. Moore’s only surviving descendant, Mrs. Pat Denning, who recently discussed her parent’s brief ownership of the Cadillac. According to Mrs. Denning, her parents purchased the car from an agent in Chicago, with whom they believed it had been placed by Capone. The Moores worked with a traveling carnival in the summer and owned the car for “about a year,” including a full summer, when they exhibited the car with the carnival. This information dates their purchase from the agent to the spring of 1932.
The Moores intended to use the car as a standalone exhibit to make extra money during the winter off-season. The plan did not work as intended; thus, the car was sold to LaBreque. Mrs. Denning also noted that her parents did not have a permanent address during this time; the given address in Rockville was actually her aunt’s address, and in 1930, they were actually in Peoria, Illinois. She further stated that it is unlikely that the car was ever brought to Connecticut and that it would not have been registered, more likely traveling on a trailer covered up to preserve its condition and to exclude viewing until patrons had paid to see it; this is consistent with a statement later made by LaBreque, stating that he purchased the car in Chicago.
Emil Denemark was a prominent owner of a Cadillac dealership on the south side of Chicago, who was also related to Capone by marriage. Denemark was well connected to the underworld; it is documented that his house and business were bombed in early-1927, in what he called a “political attack.” In 1942, he was charged with selling cars without gas ration stickers and, further establishing his long-term good standing with the mob, his name comes up as late as 1950 in a document titled Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, according to the testimony of one of the investigators:
“I asked him where he got his 1950 Cadillac, and he said ‘Denemark.’ This fellow, Gioe, bought his at Denemark's. Campagna, for the first time in his life, bought one at Joe Bergl's instead of Denemark's, but he always did business with Denemark before...these fellows evidently did business with Denemark when they purchased their cars.”
Among Mr. Denemark’s clients was Alphonse Capone. An article published in The Milwaukee Sentinel on December 22, 1931 headlined that one of Capone’s two V-16s had been used to chauffeur Warden David Moneypenny of the Cook County jail. The headline reads, “Al Capone’s Car Carries Jail Warden” with the skeptical subhead, “Chicago-Springfield Trip Divergently Explained.” In the article, Denemark stated that he sold Capone two V-16s and that the car used to transport Moneypenny no longer belonged to Capone because both had been repossessed for non-payment. Given Denemark’s apparent longstanding good relations with organized crime, and the fact that Capone was one of the most dangerous men in Chicago, it is likely, as the reporter evidently believed, that Denemark was simply trying to save face for Big Al.
The author of an Associated Press story run in The Milwaukee Journal, also on December 22, traced the license plate and found that the car was still registered to Mrs. Mae Capone. In response to a question about this peculiarity, Denemark quite innocently responded, “By accident the license plates had not been removed, so I guess that’s why everybody thought it was still Capone’s car.” Another piece in The Muscatine Journal & News Tribune reads:
“For a time, it looked as though the restrictions the government put on visitors calling to see the gang chief in the county jail would operate to keep his creditors away, but at least one of them got permission from federal authorities to talk to him. He was Emil Denemark, a politician and dealer in high priced motor cars, who said he wanted to speak to Al about the remaining payments due on two expensive automobiles.”
Denemark’s unusual level of access and long involvement with underworld figures suggests that their business involved more than automobile payments.
The timing of these events, as they relate to Capone’s legal issues, is critical. Capone was convicted on October 18, 1931, sentenced in November, and had a rehearing of appeal denied in March of 1932, with his sentence at Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary beginning on May 4, 1932. A lengthy report addressed to the Intelligence Unit Chief of the Bureau of Internal Revenue states that Capone was caught in October 1931 attempting to sell his home in Florida, along with two yachts and other items, for $150,000 cash. One of the sixteens is mentioned among other vehicles; given that these two sixteens had made their way into the headlines and grabbed the attention of the Feds, the older, armored Model 341A sedan was evidently overlooked while it lay quietly tucked away in a Chicago garage. The timing and circumstances strongly suggest that the car was consigned to the agent at the behest of Capone, as Mrs. Denning was led to believe, and that agent was Emil Denemark.
The ownership history after the purchase by LaBreque is well-known and heavily documented. After being shipped to New York and shipped to England, it was displayed at the Southend-On-Sea amusement park and later at the Blackpool Fun Fair in Manchester. Dance hall owner Tony Stuart purchased the car for $510 at an auction in February of 1958 and sold it months later to Harley Nielson, a businessman and car enthusiast from Todmorden, Ontario. Neilson undertook a comprehensive restoration, and in the process, most of the heavy armor plating was removed, but other features, including the bulletproof glass and drop-down rear window, were retained. In a Letter to the Editor of Esquire, Neilson explained that in 1939, the U.S. government asked the British government to intervene and take the car off display because of the “poor public relations it could cause by pointing up American Gangsterism.”
The car was sold to the Niagara Falls Antique Auto Museum in the mid-1960s and then sold in late-1971 and displayed at the Cars of the Greats museum, co-owned by Peter Stranges, of Niagara Falls, Ontario. B.H. Atchley’s Smoky Mountain Car Museum in Tennessee acquired the car in early-1979; Atchley freshened the restoration, and since the original glass was heavily crazed and deeply yellowed, a specialist supplied replacement glass of identical size and thickness. The car then joined the O’Quinn Collection in 2006.
In 2008, Mr. Richard “Cappy” Capstran, currently 93 years old, mentioned in passing to a friend that as a young boy he helped his dad install some of the armor plating on Al Capone’s Cadillac. A short bit of research indicated that the car still existed and had been purchased by O’Quinn. In a recent recorded interview, Mr. Capstran recalled in great detail the circumstances surrounding this unusual job. Ernest Capstran’s auto body shop had performed a high quality repair on another vehicle owned by the Capone syndicate, which prompted delivery of the brand new 1928 Cadillac to the shop shortly thereafter.
Says Capstran, when the scope of the work was explained, “My dad said, ‘we don’t do that kind of work here.’ And they (Capone’s men) said ‘you do now.’” Mr. Capstran recalled the entire process in vivid detail, noting that when the car was dropped off, Capone’s men directed that the car be backed into the shop so that no passersby might see the nature of the work being carried out. He also explained the entire process of cutting the rear of the body open to insert the asbestos-wrapped steel plate, which was delivered to the body shop with pieces of lead embedded from a proving test.
Capone showed up in person to settle the bill and paid Ernest Capstran double the asking price. When he walked around the car, Capone saw ten-year-old Richard and asked who he was. The elder Capstran explained his son had helped with the job and done an excellent job sanding in between layers of lacquer. For this, Richard received from Capone a $10 bill, a small fortune for a young boy. This special job was never discussed outside the family until years later. Recalling his visit to Mr. O’Quinn’s collection and the reunion with the Cadillac after seven decades, Capstran stated, “This is without a doubt the same car that was worked on in my dad’s shop.”
Nefarious connection aside, this is among the earliest surviving bulletproof vehicles, fitted with glass almost an inch thick and lined with nearly 3,000 pounds of armor plating. Heavy spring lifts permitted the side windows to operate, while the rear window was rigged to drop quickly, allowing occupants to fire upon would-be pursuers. The modified windows were also equipped such that the glass could be raised an extra inch or so, revealing a circular cutout large enough to accommodate the muzzle of a machine gun. Mr. Capstran stated that when the Cadillac arrived at his father’s shop in the summer of 1928, the doors and windows had been bulletproofed elsewhere and that they only worked on the rear of the body. Photographs taken in 1933 show the car equipped with a triangular tow bar affixed above the rear bumper, which Capstran stated was not yet installed when the car was in his father’s shop.
With provenance now known since 1932 and strong supporting information, this example is not only a silent witness to the bloodiest era in American organized crime, it also represents the development of the modern armored sedan.
Please contact an RM specialist for a full review of the new research and source documentation.
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