Watch CBS News

On this day 36 years ago: Al Capone's vault is blasted open, nothing of interest is found

CBS 2 Vault: Al Capone's vault blasted open: nothing found 02:34

CHICAGO (CBS) -- On this day 36 years ago, Geraldo Rivera headed into the real vault of Chicago gangster Al Capone.

The vault was located in the old Lexington Hotel, at 2135 S. Michigan Ave. in the South Loop. Tens of millions of people tuned in back on April 21, 1986 to see what, if anything, the gangster left in his vault.

CBS 2's John Drummond was there for the big blast, and reported on it on CBS 2's The 10 O'clock News that night. He called it the biggest excavation since archaeologists dug up King Tut's tomb.

But to use Drummond's own choice of words, there were no bodies, no Capone loot, no Capone swag, and no cases of gin and scotch whiskey under the hotel, which had once served as Capone's headquarters.

Workmen using dynamite blew up the brick-and-concrete wall that was thought to have served as Capone's secret vault. They found plenty of dirt and rubble, and two souvenir hunters found empty bottles of Prohibition-area hooch. Published reports say Rivera's team also found an old sign in the vault.

And that was about it.

Then-Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Robert Stein came along just in case any bodies were discovered in the rubble.

"I had a lot of reservations prior to my coming down here. I think it's an interesting experience. I expected to find nothing, which we found – nothing," Stein said.

The head of the production company that produced the Rivera special took it in stride.

"Disappointment, of course, John," TV producer John Joslyn told Drummond, "but it's been a terrific adventure. I wouldn't have passed it up for anything."

Tossing back to anchors Walter Jacobson and Don Craig, Drummond noted that when plans were announced for Rivera's special on Capone's vault, it evoked memories of a special a couple of years earlier in which the safe from the sunken ocean liner Andrea Doria was blasted open – hosted by George Plimpton.

The Washington Post noted at the time that viewers for that 1984 special had anticipated the Andrea Doria safe might be full of all manner of treasure, but all that ended up being inside the safe were some packets of $20 bills and some Italian lira. Given that, there were doubts from the beginning about the idea that Capone's vault would have anything interesting in it.

"We said at the time that there's a smell of limburger in the air on this one," Drummond said.

The Lexington Hotel had been granted landmark status in 1985. Nonetheless, it was demolished in the fall of 1995, after repeated attempts to renovate it failed.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.