Notorious gangster and criminal Al Capone lived an exciting and fascinating life; his death, on the other hand, was a bit tragic. How did Al Capone die? Capone had syphilis, which ultimately got him out of prison, but it also meant that he was destined to die a weak, confused, delusional man.

Untreated for years, syphilis destroyed Capone like it has brought down world leaders and artists throughout history. As an inmate at Alcatraz in the early 1930s, if not earlier, Capone showed signs of brain deterioration caused by syphilis, and his last years were a mix of mental and physical decline that resulted in his regression to a child-like existence. Capone spent his final days in January 1947 as a feeble-minded man in Florida, having conversations with figments of his imagination while eating dinners with his wife and grandchildren – nothing like the intimidating mob boss he’d once been.

Al Capone Got Syphilis At A Time When STDs Ran Rampant

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Alphonse Capone, later nicknamed “Scarface,” grew up in New York before moving to Chicago in his early twenties. As teenagers, Al and his brother, Ralph, used to frequent dance halls, casinos, and other social clubs, with regular stop-offs to sex workers along the way. Ralph got gonorrhea during this period, an indication of how widespread sexually transmitted diseases were at the time.

It wasn’t until men began joining the military around WWI that public health officials realized how prevalent STDs really were. It’s estimated that as much as 10% of the population of the US had a venereal disease in the mid-1910s.

He Was Embarrassed By It And Refused To Say When Or Where He Got It

Photo: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Capone never admitted where or when he got syphilis. Capone later told a doctor that he experienced fevers and sores for a time, but these symptoms went away, so he figured it was gone. In truth, this meant he had a form of syphilis that retreated into his body and began to attack his brain.

There is still doubt as to whether or not Capone contracted syphilis before he met Mae, the mother of his only child and his wife. Capone must have had the disease by the time his son was born in 1918, however, because Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone was born with congenital syphilis. Sonny was a sickly child due to the affliction and later developed an infection that caused him to lose his hearing in one ear. Whether or not Mae had syphilis remains inconclusive.

During His Jail Time In The Early 1930s, Doctors Diagnosed His Condition, Which Included Syphilis, Gonorrhea, And A Cocaine-Perforated Septum

Al Capone managed to avoid serious jail time until 1931 when he was finally convicted of tax evasion. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison and sent to a federal penitentiary. During the medical exam when he entered prison, Capone was diagnosed with syphilis of the nervous system, along with gonorrhea and a perforated septum from cocaine abuse.

While in Atlanta in prison, Capone was treated incredibly well, given an easy job, tipped guards, and had unlimited access to the warden. Authorities were concerned that Capone would file a writ of habeas corpus and be able to get out of prison for a court appearance. To prevent this, they sent him to a maximum facility institution – Alcatraz – where prisoners were barred from submitting such writs.

While Incarcerated At Alcatraz, Capone Slowly Lost His Mind – And Got In A Feces Fight

By the time Capone got to Alcatraz in 1934, his moods were erratic; he was lonely, and because he was surrounded by the worst criminals the penal system had to offer, he felt as though he was never safe. He may have been right about his safety, however, because at one point, he was stabbed and sent to a local hospital for care.

Mentally, he was increasingly disoriented and delusional. One moment, he thought he could end the depression; the next moment, he thought he was speaking to God. Physically, he had a hard time walking and getting out of bed, and his speech was slurred. After a few years in custody, Capone was put into a psychiatric ward at Alcatraz; but when he got into a feces-throwing fight with another inmate, authorities realized they had to make a choice about his future in prison. He continued to be treated at the prison hospital, but there was no way to stop his decline.

Capone Was Let Out Of Jail Early Because He Was So Sick And Confused

Despite his illness, Capone managed to behave himself as far as prison disciplinarians were concerned. He went to churchsupposedly stayed out of trouble, and earned enough credits for good behavior at Alcatraz to be let out early – at least on paper. The real reason he was released was his health. He was sent to a facility at Terminal Island, CA, in January 1939, where he stayed until November of that year. He was paroled in November and later retired to his estate in Miami Beach, FL.

During his last year at Alcatraz and his time at Terminal Island, Capone underwent medical treatments intended to wipe out the syphilis in his body. He was injected with bismuth and tryparsamide as well as malaria to try to induce fevers that would eliminate the syphilis. None of this worked, and his dementia, technically neurosyphilis, caused him to vacillate between lucidity and confusion.

Capone’s Family Sought Out Help From Syphilis Experts After His Release

Photo: Rockin Brian / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Until his passing in 1947, Al Capone was under the supervision of his wife, Mae, and he spent several weeks in Baltimore under the medical care of Dr. Joseph Moore immediately following his release. Dr. Moore was the leading syphilis expert in the country and affiliated with Johns Hopkins, but the institution refused to treat Capone, so care was given at Union Memorial Hospital. Capone’s brother, son, wife, and mother lived in Baltimore for months while Capone underwent treatment.

Capone left Baltimore with his family in 1940. He retired to Palm Isle in Miami Beach but took several vacations to Chicago, Milwaukee, and other cities around the US. According to Dr. Moore, this wore Capone out tremendously and contributed to his deterioration. By 1941, Dr. Moore wrote a colleague expressing his belief that Capone needed a male nurse to help with his outbursts; Capone should stay away from strangers for fear of a charge of disturbing the peace, and he would be best treated at a psychiatric institution in Florida.

He Lived Out His Days In Miami Chasing Butterflies – With A Mental Age Somewhere Between Seven And 14

Dr. Moore estimated that Capone’s intellectual age was anywhere between seven and 14 years of age. As a result, Capone was childlike at times, and despite false rumors that he watched fish in his pond all day while wearing pajamas, he did like to walk around with his grandchildren and look at butterflies. Al’s wife, Mae, cared for him until his final day, devoted, protective, and aware that her husband was never going to get better.

Outsiders were not allowed. Capone kept irregular hours and, at times, spoke to figments of his imagination. Many of the conversations he had were with hallucinations of former friends and foes.

Capone’s Passing Is Surrounded By Rumors, But His Official Cause Of Death Is Heart Failure

Al Capone passed on January 25, 1947, at the age of 48. He had experienced a stroke six days earlier but regained consciousness and started to show signs of improvement until he came down with pneumonia. It is believed that he died of cardiac arrest.

Capone’s body was taken to Chicago for burial, where a quiet ceremony was held with only friends and family. Rumors later emerged that syphilis killed Capone, either the result of his own reluctance to get treatment or the prison system’s failure to provide care, but the family never addressed them.

One Of The Biggest Reasons Capone Was On Lockdown Before His Death? Fear He Might Talk About The Outfit

Photo: Miami Police Department / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

It wasn’t just Capone’s irregular hours and penchant for hanging out in his pajamas that had his family members keeping him essentially on lockdown at the family compound in Miami. It was also the fear that – in his strange and sometimes incoherent babblings – he might reveal incriminating information about the Chicago Outfit.

Given that he was talking to old comrades, some of whom he himself killed, it isn’t hard to imagine why the Capone family kept him under lock and key in the days before his passing.

Lest You Feel Too Satisfied About Capone’s Gruesome Ending, Remember That Time He Fed Folks At A Soup Kitchen He Created?

Though he’s primarily known for gangster highlights like the bloody Valentine’s Day Massacre – as well as his manner of death – Capone stepped up to the plate and rejuvenated the classic model of the soup kitchen for a more modern customer in response to the devastating impact that the Great Depression was having on poor Americans.