Eliot Ness, (born April 19, 1903, Chicago—died May 7, 1957), American crime fighter, head of a nine-man team of law officers called the “Untouchables,” who opposed Al Capone’s underworld network in Chicago.
Eliot Ness came from an immigrant family. His parents were Norwegian immigrants Peter Ness and Emma King Ness. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 19, 1903. He studied criminology for 2 years and was accepted as an agent of the Treasury Department’s Chicago branch in 1927. On the recommendation of his brother-in-law, Alexander Jamie, he was transferred to the Chicago Prohibition Bureau in 1928.
Despite Hollywood portrayals of Ness as the ultimate shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later lawman, the real Ness displayed a lifelong aversion to firearms and considered the gangsters who used them to be cowards. Ness carried a gun only when absolutely necessary and was known to wear an empty shoulder holster on duty.
Eliot Ness was earning a reputation in the Bureau as a firm defender of law and order, reliable and honest, who did not tolerate corruption or lawlessness. At the end of 1930 J. Edgar Hoover tasked Eliot Ness with the job of setting up a special, incorruptible squad to take out the gangster and his Chicago crime syndicate.
The lives of the whole squad were in serious jeopardy and they had to move quickly to get Capone out of the way. On November 24, 1931 Al Capone was sentenced to eleven years in jail, fined $50,000 and charged $215,000 (plus interest) due on back taxes. Following Al Capone’s incarceration and the end of Prohibition in 1933, the Untouchables were disbanded. Eliot Ness moved to Cleveland to become chief investigator for the Alcohol Tax Unit and then became the city’s Public Safety Inspector.
A graduate of the University of Chicago, Ness was 26 when, in 1929, he was hired as a special agent of the U.S. Department of Justice to head the Prohibition bureau in Chicago, with the express purpose of investigating and harassing Al Capone. Because the men, all in their 20s, whom he hired to help him were extremely dedicated and unbribable, they were nicknamed the Untouchables. The public learned of them when big raids on breweries, speakeasies, and other places of outlawry attracted newspaper headlines (reporters being invited to the raids). The Untouchables’ infiltration of the underworld secured evidence that helped send Capone to prison for income-tax evasion.