January 25, 1947 marked the death of notorious gangster Al Capone who, due to a particularly vicious illness, was unrecognizable in the last years of his life.
He lived with it for decades without knowing it, and that’s what caused his downfall. If Al Capone, whose real name is Alphonse Capone – or Alfonso in Italian – was especially wary of the enemies all around him, he would never have thought that it was an intrinsic evil that was going to finish him off. Impossible to know when exactly, but it was syphilis that Al Capone contracted during his life, more likely in his youth. This sexually transmitted infection, also known as poxevolves in successive stages over the years, which explains why the death of the gangster born in Brooklyn did not occur until well after his contamination.
A liberating diagnosis
After a world famous career that he forged thanks to Prohibition in the United States, Al Capone ended up being caught up in his crimes and judged then imprisoned in the notorious prison of Alcatraz. It was there, on this desolate island off the coast of San Francisco, that the gangster was stabbed with a pair of scissors by another inmate, on June 23, 1936. This inmate, James Lucas, reproaches the mobster for not be quite involved in the inmate strike. Prone to assassination attempts, Al Capone manages to repel his assailant and is transported to the prison infirmary. The pair of scissors that was planted in his back will then allow the penitentiary doctors to discover that he is actually suffering from a much more dangerous and sneaky disease: syphilis.
Without really effective treatment at the time, theAl Capone’s health deteriorates to the point that he has neurosyphilis, his entire central nervous system infected with syphilis. Doctors then try to treat him with malaria therapy, a controlled infection in which the fever caused by malaria injected into the patient is supposed to stop the development of the bacteria that cause syphilis. In addition to his illness and a first attempted murder, Al Capone is again the victim, in January 1939, of an attack during which he is stabbed in the back by another inmate.
Following this attack, Al Capone was transferred and, shortly after, released under conditions. He leaves prison after seven years of imprisonment, in November 1939, for good behavior but especially because of his health problems, then will settle in Florida for the last years of his life.
The brain of a 12 year old
The last years of Al Capone were much less glorious than his extraordinary career in the midst of gangs and crimes. At his home in Palm Island, the gangster suffers from hallucinations, talks with dead people and is in the throes of seizures similar to those suffered by epileptics. Always followed, he goes regularly to the Dade County Medical Society without knowing that the FBI has put some undercover agents there in order to follow his condition. According to their reports, Al Capone is really not doing well. In 1946, syphilis made him a lost man who spends most of his days in his pajamas and roams his property in search of buried treasure. He also expresses disproportionate enthusiasm for going to the convenience store to buy a certain brand of chewing gum. A FBI file describe : “Capone then had the mindset of a 12-year-old.”
On January 21, 1947, Al Capone was the victim of a stroke following which a good part of his body was paralyzed. Weakened by this attack and by the infection that has been spreading in him for decades, affecting both his body and his brain, the gangster then catches pneumonia which worsens his condition. On January 25, he died following a cardiac arrest. For his obituary, his family will write: “Death had been calling to him for years, as stridently as a Cicero whore hailing a customer full of cash. But Big Al wasn’t born to disappear down a sidewalk or into a medical examiner’s office. He died as a wealthy Neapolitan, in his bed in a quiet bedroom, surrounded by his weeping family, a breeze gently stirring the trees outside.”