The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults

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The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults
The Mystery of Al Capones's Vaults.jpg
Title screen.
Directed byBill Foster
StarringGeraldo Rivera
Buddy Rogers
Robert St. John
ProducersAllan Grafman
Doug Llewelyn
Running time120 minutes
DistributorTribune Entertainment
Original release
  • April 21, 1986 (1986-04-21)

The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults is a two-hour live American television special that was broadcast in syndication on April 21, 1986, and hosted by Geraldo Rivera. It centered on the live opening of a secret vault in the Lexington Hotel in Chicago once owned by noted crime lord Al Capone, which turned out to be empty except for debris. Thirty million viewers watched, making it the "highest rated syndicated special" in history.[1] Rivera had inadvertently launched a "no-news" form of news, where instead of reporting on news, entire programs were about possible and hypothetical news.[1] Included in this was news channels counting down and hyping an upcoming news event, like a presidential briefing.[1]

The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults is available in its entirety on Rivera's website.[2]


Al Capone was born to Italian 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 organized crime syndicate, which he had served as second in command. He was listed on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list, transported and 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 home in Palm Island, Florida from cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke a week after his 48th birthday.[3]


Capone had previously housed his headquarters at the nearby Metropole Hotel in Chicago, but in July 1928 moved to a suite at the Lexington Hotel, also in Chicago. Capone ran his various enterprises from this hotel until his arrest in 1931. A construction company 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.[citation needed]

Geraldo Rivera had been fired from ABC in 1985 after criticizing the network for canceling a report on an alleged relationship between John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.[4] 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 dead 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.[5]

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. After several attempts to dig further into the vault, Geraldo admitted defeat and voiced his disappointment to the viewers, apologizing as he thanked the excavation team for their efforts. Although it gathered criticism and became infamous for its disappointing ending, the program was the most-watched syndicated television special that year with an estimated audience of 30 million.[5] After the show, Rivera was quoted as saying "Seems like we struck out".[6] Geraldo said on the April 20, 2016 edition of the Fox News Channel program The Five that he went right across the street and got "tequila drunk" after the special aired, then went back to his hotel room and put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. 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."

This was not the first time a vault was opened on live TV: in 1984, a safe recovered from the shipwreck SS Andrea Doria was opened. During the broadcast, all that was revealed were a few silver certificates floating at the top of the waterlogged safe. Peter Gimbel, who recovered the safe and arranged the TV event, said the media "felt ripped off because there wasn't a treasure".[7] The program has been parodied in several films and television shows, most famously Bill Paxton's character in the "present time" sequences of the blockbuster Titanic.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Borowitz, Andy (October 8, 2019). "Where Did The News Go?". Retro Report on PBS. 1 (2). PBS News. Archived from the original on October 18, 2019. Retrieved October 15, 2019.
  2. ^ "Geraldo Rivera: Mystery Of Al Capone's Vault". Archived from the original on February 27, 2020. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  3. ^ "Al Capone dies in Florida villa". Chicago Sunday Tribune. Associated Press. January 26, 1947. p. 1. Archived from the original on October 29, 2017. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  4. ^ Grove, Lloyd (December 12, 1997). "Geraldo's Makeover". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 29, 2018. Retrieved July 29, 2018. In 1985, though, he clashed publicly with Arledge over the latter's decision to kill Sylvia Chase's report on (Arledge's friends) the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe. Arledge demanded Rivera's resignation, ...
  5. ^ a b "When Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's vault, he turned nothing into ratings". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on 21 August 2017. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Capone Vault-Cracking An Unrewarding Blast". Toledo Blade. Archived from the original on 2020-09-02. Retrieved 2016-09-26.
  7. ^ Bailey, Moira (January 18, 1986). "Andrea Dorea: Salvaging Profit Recovered Currency Means A Nice Payoff For Filmmakers' Work". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on November 19, 2018. Retrieved November 19, 2018.

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