The photograph in question was snapped in December 1930, at St. Joseph's Health Resort in Wedron. The four-foot long, 15-inch wide panoramic shot shows several hundred people standing in front of and on top the resort, including Thompson. The occasion was Thompson's stay at the resort recovering from appendix surgery. It was the presence of another man among the other faces that caught the eye of Chicago mob researcher, author and University of Illinois at Chicago professor John Binder.
Binder said he was "99 percent plus positive" the man is Capone. Besides matching the general physical characteristics of the mob legend, the man also sported the well-known accoutrements: vest, overcoat and pearl gray fedora. One of the things that might have made it 100 percent, however, was missing: a Thompson submachine gun. Several of the men near this figure also wore similar clothes, the informal uniform of the mob under Capone.
Binder said the historical significance of the photo is it purportedly shows Big Bill Thompson and Capone together — cementing the tie between Prohibition-era City Hall and hoodlums.
The Times story about Binder and the photograph generated interest from local readers and editors at newspapers across the Midwest, including the Chicago Tribune. Binder said he showed the photo to other experts who agreed the figure was a dead ringer for Capone. Some of these experts said they also saw men in the picture with resemblances to John Torrio, who gave Capone his start in the Chicago rackets, and Capone ally Claude "Screwy" Maddox.
However, several months after the story hit the news, Binder was a bit surprised he hadn't heard from more people, considering there were several hundred people in the Wedron photo, which thinking exponentially means there would be several thousand relatives of the people pictured, a few of whom could be expected to have a copy of the photo or at least to know about it and come forward. But none did. Perhaps it has something to do with the subject matter: the underworld.
One writer challenged Binder's assertion Capone is in the photo. However, Binder described the writer as an "apologist" for Thompson who argues there was little if any link between Capone and the mayor.
However, Binder did hear from a woman apparently related to Capone, specifically the granddaughter of Capone's brother, Ralph. This woman also called The Times. In both cases she complained her family name was being smeared and she did not give approval for the Times story to be published. She further claimed the figure Binder and other researchers point to as Al Capone was instead her grandfather, Ralph. Binder dismissed this claim out of hand.
A few years ago, this grandniece of Al Capone was interviewed on NBC-Television's "Today Show" about her great uncle Al.
Despite a couple of naysayers, Binder rests comfortable the photo shows Uncle Al — so much so, his framed copy of the picture hangs prominently in an office in his home.
La Salle County is Capone crazy.
Ask just about any native and they'll tell you a Capone tale as quick as Big Al would have muscled in on a rival beer baron.
"Capone used to stay next door to my parents' house," or "my uncle was a bodyguard for Capone," or "my grandfather hauled bootleg booze for Capone."
There are too many of these stories for them all to be true, because if they're all true, then Capone must have only recruited henchmen from La Salle County. However, some are likely true, such as the case of the Wedron photo.
Chicago mob researcher John Binder spotted a cropped version of the photo in my book, "Capone's Cornfields: The Mob in the Illinois Valley." He reached out to me for more information about the photo and where he could get a copy.
Eventually getting a copy and looking at the full photo, Binder spotted a man he believes to be Al Capone — making the picture historically significant.
This was one of those stories that reached beyond the local area — and that's what folks love, seeing their part of the world put on the map.
Thanks to Dan Churney