The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults
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Hosted by Geraldo Rivera, the special centered on the opening of a secret vault once owned by noted gangster Al Capone. The program is now perhaps best known for the vault being ultimately empty except for debris. The Mystery Of Al Capone's Vault is available in its entirety on Geraldo's website.
Al Capone was born to immigrant parents on January 17, 1899 in New York City. He moved to Chicago in 1919, and there he became a notable criminal figure and gangster. He played large parts in gambling, alcohol, and prostitution rackets. In 1925, after an assassination attempt on former head Johnny Torrio, Capone took control of the Chicago Outfit, of which he had served as the second in command. He was listed on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list, sold alcohol during the Prohibition era, planned the St. Valentine's Day massacre, and was eventually indicted and convicted of income tax evasion in 1931. In 1939, he was released from Alcatraz prison on humanitarian grounds, due to acutely advancing syphilis. He died on January 25, 1947 in his palatial regalia on Palm Island, Florida from cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke a week after his 48th birthday.
Capone had previously housed his headquarters at the nearby Metropole Hotel, but in July 1928 moved to a suite at the Lexington Hotel. Capone ran his various enterprises from this hotel until his arrest in 1931. A construction company (Sunbow) in the 1980s planned a renovation of the Lexington Hotel and while surveying the building discovered a shooting range and a series of secret tunnels including one hidden behind Capone's medicine cabinet. These tunnels connected taverns and brothels to provide an elaborate potential escape route in case of a police raid. These discoveries led to further investigation of the hotel, notably by researcher Harold Rubin. Rumors said Capone had kept a very secret vault beneath the hotel to hold some of his wealth.
Geraldo Rivera had been fired in 1985 after criticizing ABC for canceling a report on an alleged relationship between John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. He then hosted the special The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults which was broadcast live on April 21, 1986. The two-hour special (including commercials) was greatly hyped as potentially revealing great riches or bodies on live television. This included the presence of a medical examiner should bodies be found and agents from the Internal Revenue Service to collect any of Capone's money that might be discovered.
When the vault was finally opened, the only things found inside were dirt and several empty bottles including one Rivera claimed was for moonshine bathtub gin. Despite the ending, the special became the most-watched syndicated television special with an estimated audience of 30 million. After the show, Rivera was quoted as saying "Seems like we struck out". However, in his 1991 autobiography Exposing Myself, he wrote, regarding the event, "My career was not over, I knew, but had just begun. And all because of a silly, high-concept stunt that failed to deliver on its titillating promise."
- "Capone Vault-Cracking An Unrewarding Blast". Toledo Blade.
- "Eaten Alive's snake stunt bit off more than it could chew". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
- The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults at the Internet Movie Database
- Al Capone's Vault on TV Acres. Retrieved July 8, 2006.
- Geraldo Rivera on the Museum of Broadcast Communications by Susan Murray. Retrieved July 8, 2006.
- The Lexington Hotel on Prairie Ghosts in 2003 by Troy Taylor. Retrieved July 8, 2006.
- Al Capone on the FBI homepage. Retrieved July 8, 2006.