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The most publicized lore on the infamous gang lord surfaced 10 years ago

when Geraldo Rivera and his TV crew, armed with bulldozers, tried to uncover a

so-called cache of valuables from secret compartments at Capone's old

headquarters at the former Lexington Hotel in Chicago.

The hotel, which Capone called home between 1928 and 1932, had a maze of

built-in secret tunnels and staircases.

That futile search disappointed audiences, but fueled speculation on the

possibility that Capone may have stashed loot in other hideaways.

HOBART - The legend of Al "Scarface" Capone has taken on many forms and

faces since his death nearly 50 years ago.

But the notorious crime czar of the 1920s and '30s had a relationship to

Hobart that most agree is more truth than myth.

While Capone and his unlawful operations were firmly entrenched in Chicago,

it was reported that he and his henchmen traveled many times to Northwest

Indiana, not to the bustling steel mill district, but rather to the small rural

area in Hobart.

Richard Lines, a Hobart resident since 1934, says the secluded pastoral

setting nestled between the former Haven Hill and County K roads is probably

what convinced Capone worker Michael Carrozzo and his wife and three children

to move to a home located on what now is the grounds of the Supervisor's Club,

6700 Country Club Road.

Lines' assertion is backed by a report published in 1938.

"One report has it that the Carrozzo empire will be graced by no less a

personage than Al Capone himself when he finishes a one-year term in the county

jail after his release from Alcatraz next year," the article stated.

Lines, now the Supervisor's Club's general manager, said he recalls watching

entourages of long, black limousines, shrouded with smoke-colored windows, wind

around the narrow, two-lane road that led to the black wrought iron gates that

stood in front of the entrance at the Carrozzo house.

Carrozzo purchased his Hobart estate in the '30s. The club took over the

900-acre site in 1972.

"There were neighbors talking about body guards stepping out of the limos,

armed with machine guns, waiting to case the place," Lines said.

The tract was and still is enclosed by 6-foot Cyclone fences, topped with

barbed wire.

Hobart was hardly a metropolis, with a population of only 5,787, but it was

quiet and secluded and likely held an appeal to Capone as well.

"It is said that Capone's friends, recalling the good fortune Dillinger

enjoyed in Lake County, have long-considered that to be the safest possible

haven for the leader in crime," the 1938 published report stated, citing John

Dillinger's escape from Lake County Jail in Crown Point in 1934.

Street boss

"Dago Mike" Carrozzo, a Chicago union chief, was in charge of the 25 unions

of city street sweepers.

He was also a man whose name was familiar on Chicago police blotters.

Carrozzo's criminal track record dated back to 1914 and included numerous

arrests for concealed weapons, and an indictment for murder.

But there were no convictions to put him behind bars.

According to published reports, Carrozzo moved up the ranks of the mob world

under the tutelage of "Big Jim" Colosimo, another Chicago gangster kingpin.

Colosimo may have been his mentor, but it was Capone with whom Carrozzo is

said to have maintained a close camaraderie.

Carrozzo was described as "a Capone henchman and czar of the street

laborers' council in Chicago."

The $250,000 Carrozzo paid the Gruel family gave him rich farmland, several

outbuildings and a spacious two-story frame and stone house that boasted seven

baths, and an in-ground pool that eventually featured a cabana. He called the

site Superior Farms.

Carrozzo reportedly paid the sellers with a stack of crisp $1,000 bills.

Lake County sightings

Lines said it wasn't too long after Carrozzo moved into his home that

reports began to circulate about Capone using the location for weekend retreats.

There were even reports that Carrozzo had plans of offering a haven in

Hobart to his boss after Capone served a one-year sentence at Alcatraz.

Lines said he has little doubt that Capone's underworld links extended to

Lake County. Neither does longtime historian and curator of the Hobart

Historical Museum, Dorothy Ballantyne.

Ballantyne said she first heard about gangsters roaming the Hobart area back

in the '30s when she worked as a reporter for the Hobart Gazette, the city's

weekly newspaper.

"My editor, J.E. Schofield, began doing serious research into the rumors

that were bandied about Carrozzo's move to the area," said Ballantyne. "It

became somewhat of a scandal to think that gangsters like Capone and Carrozzo

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were in the area."

Ballantyne said that despite many reports by residents of armed guards

patrolling the property, the Gazette editor never uncovered any clues in county

records that would indicate Capone had more than a casual interest in the

Calumet Region.

"Still, there were some, even to this day, who like to believe otherwise,"

said Ballantyne, who maintains a file on Superior Farms and Carrozzo in the

library of the Hobart museum.

Lines got his own introduction to the Carrozzo family when he attended

classes with Carrozzo's daughter, Carol, at Ainsworth Elementary School.

He describes his former classmate as rather "ordinary," and remembered that

she never acted affected by the obvious wealth her father obtained through his

underworld connections.

Lines said his brother also became friends with Carrozzo's teen-age sons.

He recalls that they often showed off their father's Austin car, driving the

vehicle around the grounds of the estate.

The large dairy barn on Carrozzo's land housed some 100 cows and also became

a favorite spot for school field trips, Lines said.

"We went there many times to check out the dairy operation," said Lines.

Lines said no one in the Ainsworth area may have suspected that Carrozzo had

any ties with Chicago's biggest mob chieftain.

"I think we all just thought that he was just some millionaire from

Chicago," said Lines.

IRS probes Carrozzo

It wasn't until Carrozzo and his lavish lifestyle came under the scrutiny of

the Internal Revenue Service that Carrozzo's name and reputation were pushed

into the public eye and put under a microscope.

In 1940, the IRS found Carrozzo owed $240,000 in back taxes for 1937 and

1938.

He was indicted for federal antitrust violations, but never went to trial.

Carrozzo beat the rap when the courts ruled that those violations weren't

applicable to unions.

His days as the wealthy land owner of Superior Farms and his trips to Lake

County ended when Carrozzo died of complications on Aug. 4, 1940, following

kidney surgery.

He was 45.

Lines said that Carrozzo's family continued to live in their Hobart home

several years after his untimely death.

No cache stashed

As to whether anything of monetary worth was stashed near the Carrozzo

house, Lines is doubtful.

"Believe me, I've been over every inch of this property with a fine-tooth

comb, and I've never found anything," he added.

Lines said even a water tank, which was a storage place for underground

water wells, never revealed anything of value. It has since been sealed shut.

The huge dairy barn, razed in the mid-1980s, had unique ceramic tile lining

its walls, but nothing more, Lines said.

Unlabeled case of booze

About the only find worth mentioning was the one former Lake County Coroner

Dr. Daniel D. Thomas located on his property, which was part of the Carrozzo

estate.

Now retired, Thomas recently sold the home near County Line Road that he

bought 33 years ago and lived in.

The 80-acre parcel included an air-landing strip, private lake, a half-mile

horse track, and a 16-stall horse barn with a sitting room.

Thomas still owns the barn and stables.

He said the structure is like no other he's ever seen before.

Thomas said the barn has a floor that opens up into lower level. He

speculates that it may have stored bootlegging equipment.

"I never found anything on the property except Carrozzo's family's initials

etched in the concrete and a case of unlabeled booze bottles that were

probably part of a bootleg operation," said Thomas. "I threw the case away."

Any mystery surrounding rumors that Alphonse Capone hid some of his wealth

at his pal's house in Lake County or elsewhere may have gone with him to his

grave when he died of advanced syphilis in 1947 and was buried in Chicago's

Mount Carmel Cemetery.

But like most legends that refuse to die, this one might have yet another

chapter waiting to unfold.

Lines said publications and TV stations from throughout the nation, and as

well as the Chicago area, have been inquiring about the Capone ties to Hobart.

"I'm not sure what the magic about Capone is, but everyone still wants to

hear about the Mafia King," Lines said.

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