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Tales of Al Capone’s Jury

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A few weeks ago my mother asked me to research a bit of family lore. Like a good daughter sometimes does, I forgot. But then! Then I saw the exact same question in our “Ask A Librarian” service! (For background, patrons may send a question through the Library of Congress “Ask A Librarian” service. These questions then are compiled into a database where reference librarians can claim questions to answer, which is usually within within 5 days.)

This particular question was from a woman wondering if her grandfather had served on Al Capone’s jury. In my family, my grandmother had always maintained her father was foreman of the jury that indicted Al Capone. She had tales of going on dates with the Secret Service agents following her to make sure she stayed safe and of Al Capone’s gang threatening her nephew. The details were outrageous enough to be believable, but the fact that her family lived in Atlanta during that time made my mother suspicious.

Group portrait of the twelve-man jury selected=A group portrait of the twelve jurors is available from the Library of Congress and is listed in the catalog. While the jurors can be seen, unfortunately the names of the jurors are not listed on the photograph.

Luckily, the National Archives and Records Administration has an exhibit called American Originals. Included in that exhibit is the document where the U.S. district court renders its verdict against gangster Al Capone on October 17, 1931, with a list and signatures of the jurors. NARA also has more information on Capone in that exhibit.

In the end, neither my great-grandfather’s name nor the patron’s grandfather’s name were listed on the jury list. It seems that saying you were on Al Capone’s jury was a very popular boast to make!

Update: Over on our Facebook page, someone asked why the jury was all men. The jury is all male because women were not serving on juries in 1931. “As late as 1942 only twenty-eight state laws allowed women to serve as jurors, but these also gave them the right to claim exemption based on their sex. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 gave women the right to serve on federal juries, but not until 1973 could women serve on juries in all fifty states” as seen on an American Women page from the Library.

Comments (14)

  1. Fascinating post, Christine. I was always under the impression that the identities of jurors are kept secret, or is that just TV crime fiction stuff when their lives are in peril? And in MY family, my grandmother said HER grandfather helped convict John Brown in Harper’s Ferry…

  2. Thanks for the post and the links to the NARA info, Christine.
    Burr Dugan, the farmer on that jury, is my great-grandfather.
    I have a scan of a photo that was published in the Chicago American. It looks very similar to the group protrait at the Library of Congress that you linked to, but this one lists names, occupations and home town for the jurors.

  3. Christine,

    Your grandmother may have been correct. Your great-grandfather may well have been on the jury that “indicted” Al Capone. Understanding the federal criminal courts will help. It is the “Grand Jury” that renders indictments. It is the “Petit Jury” that determines guilt or innocence. Two completely different juries. Grand Juries are secret by their very nature, while petit juries sit in open court. A simple internet search will explain these differences.

  4. Chiristine, understanding a bit about the rules of criminal procedure in the federal court system may be helpful. The “jury” that indicted Capone is a “Grand Jury” which is very different and distinct from the “petit jury” identified in the photograph, and the jury that convicted Capone. The proceedings of the Grand Jury, under the rules, are secret. Their decision, a “true bill” or “no true bill” are the stuff of indictments.

  5. Several weeks ago, an old classmate contacted me on Facebook. We were chatting, and she revealed that both our grandfathers were on that jury. It was never spoken of when I was growing up, and so I got rather intrigued. I looked at the list of juror signatures, and sure enough, there they both were! I’m so glad I found this post!

  6. I was always told that my grandads sister married Stanley Petkus who was on the jury who sent him down but not sure now.

  7. There is a third jury to consider: the compromised jury that Judge Wilkerson dismissed at the last moment as Capone’s trial got underway, exchanging it with another seated jury across the hall. I don’t know if the names of those jury members, some of whom had apparently been bribed by Capone’s men to return a not-guilty verdict, but your ancestors may have been among them.

  8. My great-grandfather, John Adam Walter, was the foreman of the jury who convicted Al Capone. My grandmother would recall going into the city to bring him food and clothes as he was sequestered. John was from DuPage County. The first jury had been bought off so they empaneled a new one from men in DuPage County. John is in the front row on far right.

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