Identifying People in Mobster Photos

By Historian John Binder

Photos of organized crime figures are fascinating historical records. Determining who is in a photo, along with learning the when, where, what, why, and how of it, is very important. However, this can be quite challenging.

With certain types of images, we generally have all the answers. A press photo, taken by a newspaper photographer, will usually have all that information attached to it—or it can be readily inferred based on historical details. However, there can still be errors in the process—some people in a photograph related to organized crime might only be tentatively identified by the photographer or perhaps an erroneous identification was made. A police mug shot, whether it is of one person or of a group of people who were arrested together (a so-called standing mug shot), is generally quite accurate in terms of the identification(s) of the arrestee(s) and the other the information it contains. There are, of course, cases where an arrestee gave the police an alias, but as with press photos this tends to get corrected over time, especially in historically important images.

Sold by RR Auction for $6,158

One extremely interesting group mug shot, which shows a number of people arrested on the same occasion, sold at RR Auction in 2013. It appears above and contains Al Capone and eight other men who were picked up after the Adonis Social Club shootout in Brooklyn on Christmas Eve, 1925. Capone, helping his old mentor Frankie Yale, was involved that night in the murder of three members of Brooklyn’s White Hand gang.

Increasing Interest in “Vernacular Photography”

            Personal/family photos—that is, images that contain hoodlums and other people but were not taken by the newspapers or the authorities—are the most problematic. They have for years generally been in the hands of the relatives of the people in them. However, they are increasingly coming to light because old taboos about sharing and discussing them with others are fading away. Also, the genre of “Vernacular Photography,” such as snapshots and press photos by uncredited or lesser-known photographers, has resulted in new interest in snapshots and press photos of crime figures. In fact, the current owners are often quite interested in learning more because their parents and grandparents often told them very little, if anything, about the photos they had.

As with other underworld collectibles, Al Capone is at the center of the interest in organized crime photos. If Capone can be shown to be in a photo, it becomes much more valuable in the marketplace. And even if the owner does not want to sell it, it is a matter of personal pride to have a photo of their ancestor with a prominent historical figure. People often want a famous mobster to be in there, especially if folklore claims that he had a link to their family or their area.

As a result, people are often quick to “see” Al Capone in an old photo. For example, the Mob Museum receives roughly one inquiry a week from someone who has an old image of a relative which they believe also includes Al Capone. Similarly, Mario Gomes, the owner of the web site My Al Capone Museum, regularly receives such emails. Usually, the person in question looks nothing like the world’s most famous gangster, and the identification is rejected.

Here is one photo that Mario Gomes has been contacted about several times:

It is asserted that this is Alphonse Capone at the age of 16. Not only does it not look like him, but when carefully examined the studio mark in the lower, right hand corner shows that it was taken in Hamilton, Ontario. What would young Al Capone be doing in Canada in 1915?[1]

How can the identities of unknown individuals in old mobster photos be determined to a high degree of certainty? This is especially difficult when there are no clear clues, such as the studio mark in the photo shown just above, that provide major information to historical detectives. Naked eye identification, when done by researchers with large crime photo collections who have examined numerous hoodlum photos over the years, can be quite useful. Especially when it is supported by credible information, such as statements by individuals who knew these people quite well. In addition, the heights and weights of the men under consideration, when they can be compared to the verified heights and weights of known individuals in the photo, are very helpful. This information generally comes from police and genealogical records.

More recently, Matt Luzi and I have augmented traditional methods of photo identification with the use of facial recognition software. Applications of this technology are the main focus of this article. In what follows, I discuss this tool and one famous gangster photo, referred to as the Nine Man Photo, which Luzi and I have studied carefully for some three decades. The wedding photo of Chicago mobster Paul “the Waiter” Ricca, which is less well known but equally fascinating, is also examined.

The Nine Man Photo

            Copies of this image of Al Capone, eight other men, a young girl, and a dog, usually cropped to contain the central group of 10 people, have circulated for years around Chicago.[2]

It has appeared in various documentaries and on the cover of two books dealing with organized crime. The following identifications were attached by an unknown individual to one version of this photo: Paul “The Waiter” Ricca (F1), Little Girl Unidentified (F2), Alphonse Capone (F3), Sam “Golf Bag” Hunt (F4), “Tough Tony” Capezio (F5), “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (B1), Frank Nitti (B2), Charley Fischetti (B3), Ralph Capone (B4), and Rocco Fischetti (B5).

After years of research, which included speaking with relatives of the people in the photo and others who knew them, reading the testimony of Tony Accardo, who was once asked about this picture, and analyzing with the naked eye a number of different photos of known individuals from the world of organized crime, we identified the 10 people in the photo as: Frank LaPorte (F1), Vera Emery (F2), Al Capone (F3), Willie Heeney (F4), Jimmy Emery (F5), Rocco De Grazia (B1), Louis “Little New York” Campagna (B2), Claude Maddox (B3), Nick Circella (B4), and Sam Costello (B5).[3] Historian Mario Gomes was kind enough to put the article entitled “Al Capone and Friends” that we wrote about the photo, which was later published in the academic journal Criminal Organizations, on his web site[4]

 Frank LaPorte 

Vera Emery 

Willie Heeney

Jimmy Emery

Rocco De Grazia

 Louis Campagna

Claude Maddox

Nick Circella

Sam Costello

Using Technology

            Of course, naked eye comparisons of faces are hardly flawless, partly because, as the old saying goes, everyone looks like someone else.[5] Therefore, we recently compared known photos of the nine individuals other than Al Capone to the people in the Nine Man Photo using Biometric Vision’s FaceMatch software. This tool, which is essentially a high-tech version of the measurement system introduced by criminologist Alphonse Bertillon over a century ago, measures a dozen facial characteristics to determine if the same person is in the two photos being compared. If these 12 measurements are highly similar across the two photos, they are determined to be a match. The company advertises that its software is 99.99 per cent accurate.

We examined some other people as well because several questions have been raised about our identifications. For example, a distant relative of Al Capone, who believes that she has expert knowledge on all things related to the Capone family, insists that the little girl is actually Alphonse Capone’s younger sister, Mafalda, and that the person we (and Tony Accardo) identified as Rocco DeGrazia is really Capone’s brother Salvatore (known as Frank).[6] Various other people, based on casual observation, also felt that they recognized someone in the Nine Man Photo. While known photos and other facts generally did not support those claims, there is one photo of Jack McGurn that very much resembles the man labeled as F1. Therefore, we also entertained the idea that McGurn was in the Nine Man Photo.

This led us to conduct 36 tests overall. The 36 photos used for comparison include family photos, mug shots, and press photos. We wrote a second article entitled “Al Capone and Friends: Tests with Facial Recognition Software,” which is also available on Mario Gomes’ web site.

The Results

            In the results summarized below, the figure A/B in parentheses after the names of known individuals indicates that A of the B comparison photos matched the relevant person in the group photo.

F1        Frank LaPorte (4/4)

            Jack McGurn (0/4)

F2        Vera Emery (5/7)

            Mafalda Capone (0/3)

F4        Willie Heeney (1/1)

F5        Jimmy Emery (3/3)

B1       Rocco De Grazia (4/4)

            Frank Capone (0/1)

B2       Louis Campagna (2/2)

B3       Claude Maddox (3/3)

B4       Nick Circella (2/2)

B5       Sam Costello (2/2)

In every single case facial recognition software confirms our earlier identifications of the eight men other than Al Capone. Regarding the young lady, in five cases out of seven a known photo of Vera Emery is found to be a match to the little girl sitting next to Al Capone. While this is less than perfect, it should be noted that three photos of Vera Emery taken around the same time as the Nine Man Photo, when she was very young, were found to be a match. Also, various old-timers in Chicago Heights who knew her their entire lives, and in some cases were related to her or other people in the Nine Man Photo, agreed that she is the little girl. Although Matt Luzi and I were never able to speak with her, while she was alive Vera Emery told various people that she was in the Nine Man photo.

On the other hand, none of the three photos of Mafalda Capone match the little girl in the group photo, and the one known photo of Frank Capone also does not match the man at the far left in the back row. Furthermore, none of the four photos of Jack McGurn are a match for the man sitting at the far left. Therefore, facial recognition software strongly supports our earlier identifications and rejects the possibility that Mafalda Capone, Frank Capone, and/or Jack McGurn are in this famous photo.

Paul Ricca’s Wedding Photo

            The Nine Man Photo is hardly the only one which may contain organized crime figures. Another interesting image is the photo of the wedding party of the gangster known as Paul “the Waiter” Ricca. A fugitive from justice, Ricca came to Chicago in 1920 after he murdered two men in the vicinity of Naples, Italy. He worked for several years around Taylor and Halsted on the city’s near West Side before joining the Capone gang. After a period as a gunman and heavy, he moved to the gang’s business headquarters. By 1935 he was almost certainly the Underboss to Capone’s successor, Frank Nitti. Ricca became the Boss in 1943, and he remained at or near the top of the Chicago Mob until his death in 1972.

Nancy Gigante and Ricca, who anglicized his real name of Felice De Lucia to Paul De Lucia, were married on January 3, 1927. Al Capone was the best man, the only known instance where he honored one of his men in this fashion. When he came into the wedding party he brought (or perhaps forced) his sister Mafalda in with him. She was the maid of honor, displacing a long-time friend of the bride, who became just another bridesmaid. Including the flower girl and the ring bearer, there are 13 people in the photo:

Estimating Heights

An unknown individual has asserted that the three groomsmen other than Al Capone are Frank Nitti (Back 1), Tony Accardo (Back 4), and Ralph Capone (Back 5). There are several problems with these identifications. First, these three men do not, to the naked eye, resemble known photos of Nitti, Accardo, and Ralph Capone from around that time. Second, all the men in the photo are standing and, based on the known heights of Paul Ricca (5’8”) and Al Capone (5’11”), the height of each of the three men can be estimated. The man standing at the back left is roughly 5’9”. Frank Nitti, who it is claimed to be this individual, was only 5’5”. Tony Accardo was 5’9” while the man second from the right who is supposedly him is about 5’6” or 5’7”. The man standing at the far right is about 5’7” while Ralph Capone was 5’11”. Third, I was told by a relative of Paul Ricca that the man at the far left (Back 1) is Jerry Gigante, the brother of the bride. This person did not identify any of the other men, except for Capone and Ricca, as organized crime figures.

The Wedding Certificate[7] 
Using Technology

Given what little evidence there is to support the Nitti, Accardo, and Ralph Capone identifications, normally no further analysis would be necessary. But because this photo appeared recently in a Chicago Crime Commission publication with those identifications attached, further debunking is warranted. To that end, FaceMatch is used to compare known photos of Accardo, Nitti, and Ralph Capone to the three men in the wedding party. The tests use a very high-quality scan of an original of this photo—not the copy shown here—which I was given by a relative of the bride for my personal use.[8]

Separately, a knowledgeable descendant of a top Chicago mobster believes that Back 4 is actually Charlie Fischetti, who was for years an important figure in Chicago organized crime. Initially, I disagreed with him on that point. Because I respect his opinion and his extensive knowledge of this world, photos of Charles Fischetti are also analyzed. Finally, for completeness photos of Al Capone, Paul Ricca, and Mafalda Capone are compared to Back 2, Back 3, and Front 2.

The Results

Regarding the identifications that are not in dispute, all six photos of Al Capone are a match for Back 2. Four of six known photos of Paul Ricca are found to match Back 3, which indicates that this tool, like all tools, is imperfect—or at least less accurate under these conditions than the company claims it to be. Lastly, two photos of Mafalda Capone are found to match the woman labeled Front 2. While there are only 12 rather than 14 matches in total in these tests, it should be remembered that the Ricca identification is, based on other information, the least questionable of any of the people in this photo. Therefore, there is very solid evidence confirming that these three people are Paul Ricca, Al Capone, and Mafalda Capone.

The Remaining People

What of the other three men in question? None of the five comparison photos of Frank Nitti are a match for Back 1. In three of four cases Back 4 is not a match for Tony Accardo, and in one test Ralph Capone is not a match for Back 5. Overall, in nine of 10 cases photos of Accardo, Nitti, and Ralph Capone do not match the men in the wedding photo.

Regarding Charlie Fischetti, all three comparison photos of him are found to match the man labeled Back 4, indicating that it is almost certainly him. Therefore, facial recognition software not only strongly rejects three possible identifications for the men in the Ricca wedding photo, but it also identifies one of the unknown groomsmen and helps to confirm three other identifications.

What of the ladies in the photo? The woman labeled Front 1 was originally slated to be the maid of honor. Beyond that there is no further information about them at this time. One possibility is that Anna Coscioni is one of women on the right side (to the bride’s left). She and her family were obviously close to the Riccas. However, a descendant of Guglielmo and Anna Coscioni firmly believes that they are not in the wedding party.


In sum, interesting personal photos of organized crime figures present the historian with certain challenges. However, a variety of information, from genealogical databases, official sources, and knowledgeable relatives, can reveal important details about an image when it is carefully analyzed. Furthermore, facial recognition software is one of the major instruments in the historian’s toolbox. Together these tools can very accurately identify people in photos where the identities have long been unknown.

[1] Please see (at about the middle of the page):

[2] The scan shown here is probably from a print made from the original negative.

[3] Because he is related to Frank LaPorte, Matt Luzi had unparalleled access to old-time members of the Chicago Heights crew of the Chicago Outfit and also to their relatives.

[4] See Back%20Row%20(Left%20to%20Right,Sam%20Costello%20(Rocco%20Fischetti) for a discussion of various aspects of this photo.

[5] For years we believed that B4 was James “Fur” Sammons. However, I later met with a relative of Nick Circella who provided us with photos of him that were astonishingly similar to the man labeled as B4.

[6] This person has a terrible track record when it comes to identifying people in photographs. For example, she claims that a young car thief who was sent by train with Al Capone to federal prison in 1932, and who is conclusively identified in numerous photos, is in fact crime fighter Eliot Ness!

[7] Anna Coscioni is the wife of Guglielmo (William) Coscioni, who used the last name Coscioni Nicotera when he signed the certificate. Nicotera was his mother’s maiden name. Hugo Coscioni, who appears to be Guglielmo’s half-brother, was later the caretaker of Ricca’s lavish estate in Long Beach, Indiana.

[8] This individual also provided me with a copy of the wedding certificate.

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