This is What Al Capone Did to the Hospital that Treated his Debilitating Syphilis

Al Capone’s Cell in Alcatraz. Flickr

Capone in Prison

At one time, Capone was among the most feared people in America, but in May 1932, he was nothing more than another prisoner in Atlanta. Upon his arrival, Capone was diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhea. In addition, Capone had been a cocaine addict, and the level of his drug abuse was such that he had a deviated septum. The resulting withdrawal symptoms contributed to his early misery in prison.

On the outside, Capone was a gang leader, but in Atlanta, the other inmates saw him as a weak personality. He was fortunate that his cellmate, Red Rudinsky, was associated with the South Side Gang at one time. Rudinsky was worried that Capone would suffer from a breakdown because he was so inept at dealing with the inmates that bullied him. The other inmates were not happy at the supposed special treatment Capone was receiving so he was moved to Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco.

An inmate named James Lucas stabbed Capone in June 1936, but the former gangster only suffered minor wounds. It became increasingly apparent that the effects of neurosyphilis were having a deleterious impact on Capone’s mental faculties. It turned out that Capone contracted syphilis in 1919 when he worked as a bouncer in one of Big Jim Colosimo’s bordellos. Capone was a regular customer himself and got syphilis for his troubles. His acute embarrassment meant that he refused to seek help. Over time, the condition became worse, and by the time the doctors at Alcatraz treated him, the condition was too far gone.

The physicians infected him with malaria in the hope that the fever would kill the syphilis. However, the condition had spread to his brain and rendered him insane. In his later years in prison, Capone exhibited increasingly strange behavior. For example, he believed he was the owner of a large factory with up to 25,000 employees. He also wore a winter coat and gloves in his heated cell because he believed it was winter.

Capone sent the last year of his prison sentence in the hospital where he was reportedly confused and disorientated the entire time. His sentence was reduced by a few years for good behavior, and he was released from Alcatraz on January 6, 1939. Capone was then transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island to serve out the rest of his sentence on a contempt of court conviction. The ex-gang leader was finally paroled on November 16 of that year, but his woes were far from over.