One day, we took a boat to Larsen Bay to visit with Jerry and Elaine Johnson. I knew that Jerry had some interesting stories about his father, who was born in Norway and had been Al Capone’s personal mechanic.
“My dad was a fantastic mechanic, who could tell what was wrong with an engine just by laying his hands on the fender,” Jerry told me. “He only had three years of schooling, but he was a mathematical genius. He couldn’t do figures on paper, but he could solve just about any mathematical problem in his head.”
Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone, a.k.a. Scarface, the notorious Chicago gangster of the 1920s, is probably best remembered for the Valentine’s Day Massacre in which he annihilated members of the O’Bannion gang. “Dad said that he was a good employer. He always paid on time, and he never tried to cheat you.” It was his attention to detail that finally got him arrested. He kept careful records on all his business deals and was convicted for tax evasion.
“Two goons stood guard, 24 hours a day, at the garage. Any time Capone wanted to go somewhere, they called my dad. If a part was needed, the goons could find one within 15 minutes. Capone had good contacts,” said Jerry laughing. “Capone’s cars were tanks. ‘Bulletproof,’ dad said. Whenever Capone came back from a trip, my dad was called in to service the cars. He wasn’t involved in smuggling, prostitution, or murder, of course; he was just the mechanic.”
When Capone went to jail, Jerry’s family moved to Alaska, and his dad got a job as an engineer at the cannery.
“One day he was mugged. The police found him lying on the ground behind the cannery and declared him dead. They called Gravedigger Odell, who also declared him dead, loaded the body in the back of the hearse, and filled out the necessary papers. Inside the hearse, it was warm and dry. Odell jumped in and began to drive to the morgue. Half way there, my dad sat up and asked, ‘Where are we?’ Gravedigger Odell nearly had a heart attack and almost crashed the car. My father survived, however, and lived many more years.”
Excerpt from the book “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear” which can be ordered from Camera Q.
At the Kodiak Scandinavian Culture and Film Fest I will be premiering a new films about the Scandinavian-Sugpiaqs of Kodiak. See festival site for more information.