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Two Gun Hart



Al Capone's oldest brother, James Vincenzo Capone, left his home in Brooklyn at at the age of 16 in 1908. Always a strong-minded and independent boy, he wanted to escape the crowded city and go west where the prospects were better. After joining the circus, he traveled all over the Midwest A year after he departed he wrote the family to say that he was fine and not to worry. The letter was postmarked Wichita, Kan. James enjoyed living in the Midwest, moving from town to town, doing his best to hide his Brooklyn accent. He never revealed his Italian ancestry, preferring people to mistake him for Mexican, Indian or a combination of both. He became fascinated with guns and spent hours shooting at empty beer bottles and tin cans, becoming an expert marksman.

During World War I he supposidly enlisted in the infantry and served in France, rising to the rank of lieutenant and he received a sharpshooter's medal from the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, Gen. John J. Pershing. (However, his tales of wartime heroism would later be exposed as a sham when he could provide no proof of military service.)

After the war he returned to the midwest and stayed in the small town of Homer. Here he would further distance himself from his infamous brothers by taking the name Richard Hart in honor of popular silent-movie cowboy of that time, William S. Hart. He set up shop as a painter and a paperhanger, but proved too inexpert to prosper from it. In 1919, he rescued a young woman named Kathleen Winch and her family in a flash flood. He told the Winch family that he came from Oklahoma, left home in his teens and worked on a railroad gang until he accidentally killed a man in a fight and fled to Nebraska. Later the same year, Hart and Kathleen were married and they eventually had four sons.

Hart worked as Homer's town marshall for two years, then as a state sheriff for a year. As his family grew, the adventuresome Hart needed more excitement. Hart saw an opportunity to get a more interesting job where his expert marksmanship would be useful and became a Prohibition enforcement officer. As an agent he led many raids; most of his arrests ended with convictions. Using disguises, he entered towns to do undercover investigating into local bootlegging operations. Several times his raids created sensational headlines in the local newspapers and his terrific ability with guns, plus the pair of pearl-handled pistols he wore, earned him the name "Two Gun Hart".

As his fame as a lawman increased, he was hired by the U.S. Indian Service to try to keep alcohol off the Indian reservations. He had a reputation of brutallity among the Natives and trouble arose when he was arrested for murdering an Indian in a barroom brawl in Sioux City, Ia. in 1923. The man was a bootlegger and all charges against Hart were dropped. Although a formal inquiry cleared Hart of any wrongdoing, the incident tarnished his image and he lost an eye when the dead man's family attempted to even the score.

In 1926 Hart became a special agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He moved to a Cheyenne Indian reservation in South Dakota. Here he and his wife had a fourth son. During the summer of 1927, Hart served as a bodyguard for President Calvin Coolidge when the President and his family vacationed in the Black Hills. Coolidge had not known his protector was the brother of the most infamous gangster of all time. Around this time, Hart had begun to reestablish his relationship with his family. Once a year, without telling his wife where or why he was going, he traveled alone to Chicago, usually during the holidays. He kept his children in the dark about their notorious uncles, although rumors about their father's relationship to them would occasionally surface.

A short time later Hart moved to Idaho, close to the Washington State border, near the Spokane Indian reservation. While there he was involved in the arrests of at least 20 wanted killers. He spent the next four years in the Northwest moving from one Indian reservation to another, chasing bootleggers and outlaws. He got into scrapes with both outlaw Indians and law enforcement. Once again he would go to trial, this time for killing a fugitive Indian. Charges against Hart were again dropped.

In 1931, during the midst of the Depression, Hart returned to Homer, Neb., and his job as a Prohibition agent. When Prohibition ended in December of 1933, Hart accepted a position as Homer's town marshal and was given keys to the town's main-street shops in case he needed to search them during night patrols. This proved the beginning of the end for Hart, who was unable to resist the temptation the opportunity presented. Even his father-in-law's store turned up missing goods, and Richard Hart was relieved of his badge. Next the local Legionnaires asked him for proof of his war record. When he could produce none, he lost his post command and was expelled. Broke and nearly blind, he had to take on several odd jobs to make ends meet. As 1940 approached, Hart could not afford to pay his light bill and the power company was threatening to shut off his electricity.

Eventually, in the early 1940's, he quietly contacted his brothers in Chicago for help and met with Ralph and John Capone in Sioux City. When he got back to Homer he was wearing a brand new suit and had a roll of $100 dollar bills. He would not reveal where the money came from. He then went to Chicago to see his mother, Theresa. This time when he went home, he told Kathleen and his sons that he was in fact Al Capone's brother.

In 1946, Two-Gun allowed his son Harry Hart, who still resides in Homer, to go with him to a Capone family cabin in Wisconsin where he had a chance to meet his famous uncle, Al Capone. Al, who had been released from Alcatraz in 1939, was convalescing from complications from syphilis. In the book Mr. Capone by Robert J. Schoenberg, Hart said it was hard to tell how sick Al was because he "looked healthy and happy; he just didn't have much of a memory."

During the early 1950s Hart was called to testify at an income-tax evasion trial involving Ralph. This was Ralph's second encounter with the IRS. Ralph, without informing Hart, had listed him as the owner of his Mercer home. Hart bailed his brother out by claiming this was true, and rumor has it Hart was involved in other illegal activities with his brothers.

In 1952, Two-Gun Hart suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Homer, Nebraska. Kathleen and Harry were at his side. His oldest son, Richard Hart Jr., had been killed in World War II, while his other two boys had settled in Wisconsin.


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