Al Capone is undoubtedly one of the most infamous gangster in American history. Throughout his life, he engaged in countless illegal activities, murder, and violence that inspired hundreds of movies and television shows. He was FBI’s “Public Enemy No. 1.” You would think the man who led such a violent life would have died in some epic shootout, a la Pablo Escobar. But life can be funny sometimes. What finally captured one of America’s most notorious criminals was un-diagnosed syphilis.

Al Capone’s battle with syphilis

Capone contracted syphilis before he ever built his multi-million-dollar Chicago operation in prostitution, gambling, and organized crime. He worked as a bouncer in one of Colosimo’s bordellos and he slept with many of the prostitutes there, eventually contracted syphilis. Considering his image, Capone was embarrassed to seek medical treatment, and his condition went untreated.

Syphilis is a silent killer. Once all the observable symptoms are gone – painless sore in the genital area and rashes – it hides and waits. The infected person would have no symptoms of the disease for many years but when it returns, the syphilis microbes become vicious in attacking various organs of the body, particularly the liver, heart, and brain. At this stage, the damage caused by the disease is practically irreversible.

As with the case of Capone, he managed to dominate the gangster world without a second thought to the disease he once hid. His reign came to a halt when he was imprisoned for tax evasion in 1931. When he was transferred to Alcatraz in 1934, he had no clue that he was nearing the end as his untreated syphilis already destroyed his brain.  

Capone’s neurosyphilis caused him to act irrationally. His wife, Mae, was very concerned about his his erratic behavior and petitioned the warden to release him. Capone was officially diagnosed with syphilis in February 1938 and was freed due to his condition on November 16, 1939.

The once domineering and intimidating gangster turned into a child, catching butterflies with his granddaughters. His physical and mental condition deteriorated rapidly. On January 25, 1947 Big Al died at the age of 48.