The Remains of Al Capone

Published in: July-August 2008 issue.


Son of ScarfaceSon of Scarface
by Chris W. Knight
New Era Publishing. 291 pages, $18.95


WHEN CHRIS KNIGHT was thirteen years old, his beloved father died. It appears there was no love lost between his parents: as soon as the funeral was safely over, his mother flew through the house, gathering all of her husband’s belongings. She put them in trash bags, hoping to wipe Bill Knight from her own memory and from that of her children.

But Chris rescued one item from the trash: an address book in which his father had scrawled contacts and phone numbers. When he had a safe, private moment away from his frantic, raging mother, young Chris called someone whose name seemed somehow familiar. What he heard shocked him: “Your father was Al Capone’s son.” Six words that Chris Knight never forgot.

In the months following his father’s death, Chris’s mother more or less abandoned her children, leaving them in the care of a mysterious woman who lived hours from the Knight family home in New Jersey, but who somehow knew when Knight and his sister needed help. Chris never questioned this woman’s presence and was grateful for it, since life for him and his sister was easier without their mother’s brutality and mood swings. But Chris was still haunted by the words of his father’s friend.

As an adult, Knight decided he needed to know the truth. He hired a genealogist and a private investigator, and they sorted through clues that took them from New Jersey to Chicago, from Florida to Wisconsin, and from Danville, Kentucky, to Danville, Illinois. Using the Internet, Knight found people with links to his father, but many of those he tried to contact walked away or abruptly hung up the phone, vehemently unwilling to give him any information. Knight didn’t expect much from his mother, whom he believed was disgusted by his homosexuality. Digging further, Knight discovered more about the mysteries surrounding the man he had once worshipped, mysteries that led directly to his infamous grandfather, the gangster who terrorized Chicago and the FBI in the 1920’s, Al Capone.

Still, Bill Knight’s silence about his father’s identity leaves open the question of whether he knew about his own lineage. Was he clueless all his life despite the signs that pointed to his paternity, or was he as adept as his father at lying and deceit? Indeed, the question must be raised, was Chris Knight’s father really the son of one of the world’s most notorious gangsters? The word “logic” pops up frequently in this memoir, but what’s logical can be in the eyes of the beholder. The question is whether the author has made a few leaps of faith in this memoir, which is part Sherlock Holmes, part Mommie Dearest, and part The Sopranos. While it’s interesting to follow the clues that Chris Knight assembles to reconstruct his identity, it seems to me that many of his conclusions could be explained in other ways.

This is not to say that this is a bad book. Son of Scarface is filled with fascinating tales and a mystery that rivals any popular author’s whodunit. And it undoubtedly contains some new facts about an important American figure. There’s even a certain romance still attached to Al Capone, a conundrum of a man who died over two generations ago (in 1947, at the age of 48). Perhaps the best advice would be to take the book with several grains of salt, or simply enjoy it as a good yarn. One thing for GLBT readers to consider is that, while the author comes out as gay in a brief passage—and the book is being marketed to gay readers—Knight does not discuss his sexual orientation or its importance to his quest.