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The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault

In what turned out to be sort of a pop culture moment, the infamous television special, The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault, hosted by Geraldo Rivera originally aired live on April 21, 1986.Al Capone

For those who don't know, Al Capone was head of the Chicago mafia beginning in 1925. During his run, 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. He was released from Alcatraz prison in 1939 on humanitarian grounds due to acutely advancing syphilis. He eventually died in January of 1947 in his home on Palm Island, Florida from cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke at the age of 48.

In July 1928, Capone moved his headquarters to a suite at the Lexington Hotel in Chicago. He ran his various enterprises from this hotel until his arrest in 1931. A construction company in the 80s 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. Rumors said Capone had kept a very secret vault beneath the hotel to hold some of his wealth.Geraldo Rivera

The decision was made to open this secret vault on live television. Geraldo Rivera, a relative unknown at the time, hosted The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault. The two hour (including commercials) syndicated event was greatly hyped as potentially revealing great riches or dead bodies on live television. Here is one of the commercials promoting the live television event...

I remember tuning in to watch at least a portion of the special. Rivera in vault areaYou couldn't help but hope to find something gruesome or exciting that had been trapped for over 50 years inside that vault. Rivera had a medical examiner on hand in case bodies or remains were found and agents from the Internal Revenue Service were present to collect any of Capone's money that might be discovered. When the vault was finally opened the only things found inside were dirt, an old stop sign and several empty bottles including one Rivera claimed was for moonshine bathtub gin. No loot, no skeletons, nothing. What a letdown! Rivera concluded, "It seems, at least up to now, that we've struck out with the vault." That was an understatement.

Despite the disappointing and embarrassing ending, the special became the most-watched syndicated television special ever with an estimated audience of 30 million. The show garnered one of the highest ratings in U.S. television history. Nielsen recorded a 34 average rating and 48 average share in eight markets and a 57 rating and 73 share in the Chicago market. It was at least a success from that aspect. The show became a punch line and cautionary tale and Geraldo Rivera was humiliated, but it also garnered him quite a bit of notoriety and would help launch Rivera's career to another level. He would host his own syndicated daytime talk show, Geraldo, beginning in the Fall of 1987 and running for 11 years. He had another infamous moment on that show in November of 1988 when a brawl broke out and he sustained a broken nose during the melee. But I think will always remember him most for hosting The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault. And, yep, it happened in the great decade of the 80s. Here is a video including his account of the special many years later...

Hope you enjoyed that little trip down memory lane. Please find many more on my regular blog Kickin' it Old School. Also, please like our Facebook page ( ) and follow us on Twitter ( 

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raptor Posted on Apr 23, 2013 at 01:53 AM

Didn't catch this myself but I remember all the backlash from not finding anything in there. Plus Geraldo had a big career in showbiz after that so it all worked out. I just remember when he got his nose broken on his show, that was so funny!

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