How Did Al Capone Die: What Really Happened?

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

When you think of the Prohibition era, speakeasies, and gangsters, Al Capone is probably the first name that comes to mind.

Image of the Famous Gangster Al Capone
Image of the Famous Gangster Al Capone by Belgeseli Fullizle

Despite his violent criminal past, Capone’s death was met with a degree of sympathy from the public. He was seen by many as a product of his time, and his death was seen as a sign of the end of an era.

In the years since his death, Capone’s legacy has been debated. Some see him as a ruthless gangster who embodied the worst of the Prohibition era. Others see him as a complex figure who is both a criminal and a victim of his own time.

Whatever one’s opinion of Al Capone is, there’s no doubt that he was a significant figure in American history. His life and death continue to fascinate people today, and he remains one of the most notorious gangsters of all time.

How exactly did Al Capone pass away? Did he die in prison? Did anyone mourn him? Did he return to New York where he grew up?

Let’s take a look at this famous gangster and the cause of his death.

What Was Al Capone’s Cause of Death?

Al Capone died from complications of syphilis. It had advanced to his brain, and he developed dementia, which is well-known among those with untreated syphilis.

Al Capone in 1930
Al Capone in 1930 by Chicago Bureau

Technically, his death certificate says that he died of pneumonia due to apoplexy (internal bleeding). We know that he had a stroke and then a cardiac arrest, which left him bedridden. He succumbed to pneumonia a few days later.

There is no mention of syphilis, but he had been diagnosed with advanced syphilis back in the early 1930s when he was imprisoned.

To be perfectly honest, Al Capone’s death was ultimately caused by embarrassment.

You read that correctly. Embarrassment.

In his teen years, Capone worked for a big-time gangster named Johnny Torrio. Torrio mentored the young Capone and convinced him to work as a bouncer for the brothels run by “Big Jim” Colosimo.

men and women dressed in retro fashion, drinking and laughing at a nightclub

Being a young, heterosexual male, Capone decided to try out the merchandise for himself. Somewhere among the ladies of the evening, he contracted syphilis, but we will never know which one gave it to him, and Capone probably didn’t either.

Before the discovery of penicillin, there was a cure that worked most of the time. However, this would mean that Capone would have to be examined by a doctor and receive Salvarsan injections in his butt at least twice and possibly three times over a period of 6 weeks.

Salvarsan, also known as arsphenamine or compound 606, is a synthetic form of arsenic proved to be quite effective in most cases. However, it seems that Capone was too embarrassed to see a doctor, explain that he had been with prostitutes, have his penis examined, and receive injections in his behind.

Rather than suffer that embarrassment, Capone chose to ignore the problem. Typically, syphilis starts as a sore on the penis, and soon after the sore heals, the infected person will develop a rash. Sometimes the rash is unseen, such as on the bottom of your feet.

These primary symptoms only last a few weeks, and then the disease appears to go dormant before it reappears in a more deadly form, usually in the internal organs or the brain, but not for many years afterward.

Death certificate of Al Capone
Death certificate for mobster Al Capone By C.W. Tomlinson

Chances are that Al Capone thought he beat the disease when all symptoms disappeared. He may never have given it a second thought, and all the while, the disease was growing inside of him, waiting to make itself known in about 25 years.

So while it’s easy to say that Capone died of heart failure or pneumonia, all brought on by his untreated syphilis, the truth here is that he may have lived a long life if he hadn’t been too embarrassed to seek professional help.

What Were Al Capone’s Last Words?

No one is quite sure what his last words were, if any.

Some sources claim that he said, “You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone,” while others say that he simply said “Mama.” It is also possible that he said nothing at all. Al Capone died in his sleep, and since he had dementia, it’s hard to say what his last words were or if they made any sense.

mugshot of Al Capone in Miami, Florida
Mug shot of Capone in Miami, Florida, 1930 by Miami Police Department

The most likely source of the quote about “a kind word and a gun” is a 1930 interview with Capone. However, it is important to note that this quote was not recorded, and it is possible that Capone never said it.

The claim that Capone’s last words were “Mama” comes from his wife, Mae Capone, with whom Capone spent the last years of his life. According to her, he said this as he was dying in his sleep. However, it is also possible that she simply misremembered what he said or that he said something else entirely.

Ultimately, we may never know for sure what Al Capone’s last words were. However, the fact that there are so many different stories about what he said suggests that he was a complex and enigmatic figure, even in death.

Did Al Capone Die at Alcatraz?

No, Al Capone didn’t die in the infamous Alcatraz federal prison in San Francisco.

Al Capone’s wife, Mae, stuck by her man even while he was in prison serving a tax evasion conviction. However, she noticed that he began acting strangely while he was in Alcatraz. He was once wearing all his clothes and a coat, even though his cell was heated. He began talking to people who had died, telling his wife that they were right there with him.

Al Capone's cell at Eastern State penitentiary
Al Capone’s cell at Eastern State Penitentiary with lavish furniture and a music player by Niall Kennedy

Noticing her husband’s physical and mental health deteriorating, Mae Capone petitioned the court to have him released to her care. The court called it a compassionate release. Al Capone served 7 years of an 11-year sentence and had repaid all his back taxes.

Mae took her husband home to their estate in Palm Island, Florida. She was his fulltime caretaker and did her best to prevent the press from invading their privacy.

She sought treatment for Al, and he was one of the first non-military citizens to receive penicillin, but it was too late. While the antibiotic slowed the progression of the disease, syphilis had already caused severe, irreversible damage to the brain.

Al Capone died in his bed in his Florida mansion. He was released from prison in November 1939 and was dead in less than 10 years, dying on January 25th, 1947. He was 48 years old.

What Was Al Capone’s Net Worth at the Time of His Death?

No one can be 100 percent certain of Al Capone’s net worth since money may have been put in other names or hidden in various places, but his estimated net worth when he passed was about $20 million. That would be about $400 million in today’s dollars.

However, it is important to note that this is just an estimate. Capone’s finances were notoriously complex and opaque, and it is likely that he had a great deal of hidden wealth. Some sources have estimated that his true net worth could have been as high as $100 million.

Al Capone's Mansion in Miami, Florida
The entrance of Al Capone’s house in Palm Island, Florida.
By Marine 69-7

Whatever his true wealth, there is no doubt that Capone was one of the richest criminals in American history. He amassed his fortune through a variety of illegal activities, including bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution. He also invested in legitimate businesses, such as nightclubs and hotels.

Capone had very clever accountants who knew how to hide his assets. The Florida mansion, for example, was solely in his wife’s name.

This mansion was built in 1928 and cost $40,000 to build. The average home price in the United States in 1945 was $3,500. So, if we use the average home price as a baseline, we can estimate that Capone’s mansion would have been worth about $600,000 in 1945.

You can bet that before Capone hit prison, he made sure that all cash had been distributed and secured to various individuals, including his family.

Before You Go…..

During the last days before Al Capone’s death, stories were that he walked around the estate wearing a bathrobe and pajamas, searching the property for some long-lost buried treasure, or fishing and engaging in delusional conversations with long-dead friends.

As the dementia progressed, he became more and more childlike. He was overjoyed at drugstore trips as he had developed a childlike glee over Dentyne gum. According to a Baltimore psychiatrist who examined him, he had the mental capacity of a 12-year old child.

FBI agents watched him constantly and even planted agents in the Dade County medical building where Mae took him regularly.

Grave of Al Capone
Grave of Al Capone By Bence27

The most notorious gangster Al Capone, who thumbed his nose at prohibition laws during the roaring twenties and orchestrated the Valentine’s day massacre, died like a babbling child at 48 years of age.

His family created an obituary for the papers that read:

“Death had beckoned to him for years, as stridently as a Cicero whore calling to a cash customer. But Big Al had not been born to pass out on a sidewalk or a coroner’s slab. He died like a rich Neapolitan, in bed in a quiet room with his family sobbing near him, and a soft wind murmuring in the trees outside.”

Take that for what you will.

You might also like to ready my other Al Capone articles here!

How Did Al Capone Die: What Really Happened?
How Did Al Capone Die: What Really Happened?
Al Capone was the baddest gangster ever but there was one little thing that he couldn’t handle: embarrassment. Find out the embarrassing way Al Capone died.
Gatsby Flapper Girl