The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults

The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults

Title screen.
Genre reality
Directed by Bill Foster
Starring Geraldo Rivera
Buddy Rogers
Robert St. John
Producer(s) Allan Grafman
Doug Llewelyn
Running time 120 minutes.
Distributor Tribune 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 one-time only in syndication on April 21, 1986.

Hosted by Geraldo Rivera, the special centered on the opening of a secret vault once owned by noted gangster Al Capone, which turned out to be empty except for debris. The Mystery Of Al Capone's Vault is available in its entirety on Geraldo's website.


Main article: Al Capone

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 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 (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 from ABC in 1985 after criticizing the network 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. 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. 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".[1] 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."

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.

Cultural References

The special was spoofed in "It Ain't Over Till It's Over," an episode of Hill Street Blues.

See also

Eaten Alive, a 2014 Discovery Channel special that drew comparisons and similar criticism when host Paul Rosalie was not eaten alive by an anaconda as hinted at in promotional material.[2]


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