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Lot #161
Al Capone Medical Archive

Remarkable private medical archive from Capone's doctor, offering unseen insight into the gangster's battle with neurosyphilis: "He is still silly, childish, and mentally deteriorated"

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Estimate: $50000+
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Remarkable private medical archive from Capone's doctor, offering unseen insight into the gangster's battle with neurosyphilis: "He is still silly, childish, and mentally deteriorated"

Unique and groundbreaking archive spanning Al Capone’s final years from 1939-1947 (his release from prison up until his death), originally belonging to Capone’s Florida doctor Kenneth Phillips. The collection includes an official copy of Capone’s death certificate, nine original funeral photos of Capone's casket and of him lying in state, his medical chart spanning 1940-1943, his detailed medical chart from the final four days of his life, 26 pieces of correspondence related to his neurosyphilis treatment (comprising original letters sent to Dr. Phillips and carbon copies of the doctor's replies), a letter sent to Capone by Dr. John H. Wilson offering to treat his heart condition, two 1940 eye chart exams, one 1944 lab test, carbon copies of press releases, and the Capone estate's bill for his final days of doctor’s care. In overall very good to fine condition.

One highlight is a sub-registrar’s true copy of Capone’s State of Florida death certificate, 8.5 x 7, with a file date of January 28, 1947. The certificate lists all of Capone’s personal and physical information, his cause of death, “Bronchopneumonia due to Apoplexy,” and names Kenneth Phillips as his physician.

Another is Capone’s detailed medical chart, chronicling the final days leading up to his death on January 25, 1947. Though the official typed front identifies the patient as Alphonse Capone, the detailed three pages of handwritten notes inside use his alias, “Mr. Al Brown.” The records begin on January 21, when at “3:30 a.m. the wife was awakened by a loud and sterterous type of breathing,” convulsions and partial paralysis followed. On January 24, the chart reads “Considerable bronchial spasm has ensued…in spite of practically continuous O2, Penicillin in the amount of 6,000,000 units by injection and inhalation, heart support by Digitalis and Coramine the condition steadily grew worse. Dr. Arthur Logie called in consultation confirming both the pneumonia and failing heart. He became sufficiently conscious to recognize attendants several times but at 7:25 p.m. this day with no prewarning whatsoever he expired [date handwritten in border 1/25/47]. Death certificate signed: Primary cause Bronchial Pneumonia 48 hours contributing apoplexy 4 days.”

Further medical records include: a 1944 laboratory slip with results from "Standard Kahn" and "Quantitative Kline" tests; Capone's medical chart for 1940-43, briefly detailing examination results, injections received, and lab results; two "charts of A. Capone's visual fields" from an eye exam conducted in May 1940, sent to Dr. Phillips by Francis E. Denman; and a bill from Dr. Kenneth Phillips to the "Estate of Al Capone," January 27, 1947, for the several emergency house calls made in the days prior to Capone's death.

Additionally includes nine original vintage glossy photos, 10 x 8 and 8 x 5, of Capone lying in his $2000 bronze casket at the Philbrick Funeral Home in Miami Beach and the surrounding funeral parlor, bedecked with large floral displays.

This astoundingly rich correspondence reveals the untold story of the world’s most famous mobster and his debilitating and irreversible mental collapse due to late-stage neurosyphilis. Astonishingly, Capone’s developmental age was pushed as far back as 7 years old, eventually improving to 14, but never moving much beyond that. The once incredibly powerful mafioso was then confined to the home for the remainder of his years, advised to be looked after by a male nurse acting as a companion, and offered the mundane choice of gardening or keeping the books on one of the family businesses. By 1941, there was much talk of moving back to Chicago, since Capone had improved and was getting restless and homesick, but for whatever reason, they never did. The kingpin lived out the remainder of his days in relative reclusiveness at his sprawling Miami estate. Mainly comprised of communications between nationally-recognized syphilis specialist Dr. Joseph Moore of Baltimore and Capone’s attending physician Dr. Kenneth Phillips of Miami, the archive contains 26 letters pertaining to his treatment. At the beginning of the correspondence, there was a palpable power struggle between the more experienced Dr. Moore and Dr. Phillips, a family doctor since 1927. Most of the original letters are from Dr. Moore, but also included are carbon copies of the responses sent by Dr. Phillips. As such we get both sides of the story—eventually the doctors join together and share a common bond in dealing with the trying Capone family.

Immediately upon his official release from his 8-year-long stretch in prison, on November 16, 1939, Capone traveled to Baltimore to receive care from well-respected syphilis specialist Dr. Joseph Moore. For a case that far gone, only extreme heat, then issued in the form of malaria, could slow down the effects of mental decay caused by letting the syphilis he had contracted in his youth go untreated for decades. Capone underwent his second, and most successful version of this therapy thus far (the first ineffectual version occurred in Alcatraz) and stayed in Dr. Moore’s care for four months, until March 19, 1940.

Afterwards, Capone returned to his Palm Beach estate in Miami, Florida, falling under the care of longtime doctor, Kenneth Phillips, who had been with the family all the way back to 1927, when he first began caring for Capone’s wife Mae, who also suffered from the disease. Dr. Phillips was hesitant to take on the case of the newly released mobster, realizing the public attention he would draw and the significant time the case would require, not to mention being responsible for such a daunting patient. Back in 1931, a young doctor at the time, Phillips was coerced into signing a false affidavit during Capone’s February 25 contempt trial, regarding Capone’s illness and additionally lying about his own accolades. The crumbling of his lies in a cross-examination brought his future reliability into question, which is likely why he wanted to be kept out of the limelight entirely.

Neurosyphilis, caused by letting the venereal disease go untreated for decades—anywhere from 10-20 years—is an infection that begins to eat away at the brain. Symptoms include: confusion, dementia, depression, irritability, and visual disturbances. According to several sources, Capone originally contracted syphilis early on in his life. Despite, what one may think, the mob boss was quite young when he went away to prison, being only 33. Given the timeline, it would make sense that the chronic disease finally began to affect his mental state during his time in prison.

On January 15, 1941, Dr. Moore wrote to Dr. Phillips, clearly summarizing his experiences with their common patient, and reiterating much of the good content of their correspondence: “Mr. Capone was first recognized as neurosyphilitic on the basis of Argyll-Robertson pupil [highly specific sign of neurosyphilis characterized by pupils which don’t properly react to light] on his admission to Atlanta Penitentiary in 1932. He was first recognized as paretic [partial loss of voluntary movement] in Alcatraz in February 1938, although there is reason to believe from the records that he had developed general paresis 6 months or longer before that date. He came under my observation first in November 1939…It seemed clear that at that time he had already had a paretic psychosis for at least two years and possibly for several months longer than two years. The treatment which had been given him prior to his admission to the Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore on November 17, 1939, had been inadequate, particularly as concerns fever therapy which was not attempted until August 1938, that is to say 6 months after he had first become recognizably (to the prison physicians) insane. This fever treatment given him in August 1938 was entirely inadequate.

At the time I first saw Mr. Capone in November 1939, his mental condition was characterized by boisterousness, physical and mental over-activity, various grandiose ideas, a marked tendency toward confabulation [unintentional, distorted memories of oneself and the world] and mental deterioration (with a Binet-Simon age of 7 years), euphoria, and lack of insight. From the physical standpoint the only discoverable neurologic abnormalities were in the eyes. The pupils were unequal, the right larger than the left. The right was typically Argyll-Robertson, the left reacted faintly and incompletely to light. The physical examination was otherwise normal except for slight diastolic hypertension, the blood pressure being 136/100. During December and the early part of January, 1939, the patient was treated with induced tertian malaria, in the course of which he was allowed to have 12 paroxysms of fever totaling 122 hours over 101 F. Since that time his treatment has been carried on uninterruptedly, first by myself and subsequently by you, with tryparsamide and bismuth. At the time he left Baltimore about March 30th, he had improved in a number of respects, and particularly his Binet-Simon age had increased from 7 years to 14 years and two months. At the present time he shows from the psychiatric standpoint some degree of continued improvement in the sense that he is now less overactive, the grandiose ideas and the confabulation have disappeared, and he has regained some degree of insight. However, he is still silly, childish, and mentally deteriorated. No accurate Binet-Simon evaluation was made of his mental age on the occasion of his last examination, but it seems quite clear that he has slipped slightly in his ability to calculate and to reason from his status of March 1940. The main psychiatric problem at the moment is one of increasing bouts of irritability directed occasionally against members of the family and occasionally against strangers….Enough time has now gone by with Mr. Capone for us to be quite sure that he will not regain his normal mental condition comparable to his status, let us say, in 1935, or 1936; but that the evidences of mental deterioration will persist. On the other hand, there are at least 4 chances out of 5 that he will remain in his present condition indefinitely.

Mrs. Capone, however, retains an undue amount of hope. She has I think the feeling that still further medical advice is still desirable…on the whole, however, I am inclined to feel that the wisest course to pursue is for us to try and persuade Mrs. Capone on the validity of our diagnosis and prognosis and to conserve the family resources for the long pull which remains ahead of them. The second major problem is that of the social adjustment of the patient to his environment. In the connection it is of prime importance to guard against outbursts of irritability which may affect other persons than members of the family. If, by any chance, Mr. Capone makes an unprovoked attack upon a stranger, he is very likely to find himself in Court for disturbing the peace and, as a result of that, to be recognized insane by the Judge and to be committed to a Florida psychiatric hospital.

To the end of prevention of such a disaster as this, several steps seem desirable: first, and perhaps most important, to avoid as much as possible contact of the patient with the public, and to permit him to appear in public at movies, ect only when he is accompanied by at least two male members of the family; second, to occupy him to an even greater extent than has been accomplished so far with some relatively simple form of work which will help to keep him out of public circulation. Two suggestions have been made in the connection: first, that his brother Ralph permit him to occupy himself with minor details of the local branch of the Waukesha Water Company, as for example an attempt at keeping a set of books; or second, that the family purchase one of the adjoining vacant plots of land and let the patient run it as his personal garden, either flower or vegetable.

Finally, in this same connection, the suggestion was renewed at our conversation in Miami that the patient might be safeguarded against public explosions and might at the same time be definitely helped by occupational therapy if there could be introduced into the household a thoroughly experienced and psychiatrically well trained male nurse. It is realized that the patient would not accept such a person as a nurse. He might, however, be willing to accept him in the guise of a chauffeur or companion…he should be willing to live with the Capone family on a 24 hour a day basis as a member of the household.”

This content-rich letter marked the end of the two doctors’ constant correspondence which had spanned 1940, the first year following his release from prison and in the care of Florida family physician, Dr. Phillips. The most critical time had passed and Capone was now stabilized, albeit confined to the home and forevermore restricted to the mental capacity of a teenager. The likely cause for the abrupt end of in-depth letters discussing Capone’s illness was Dr. Moore’s obtainment of copious amounts of elusive penicillin. According to Robert J. Schoenberg’s book Mr. Capone: The Real—and Complete Story of Al Capone, the mobster was 'one of the first neurosyphilitics to receive the war-scarce new miracle drug. It came too late to perform the miracle of curing Capone, but it prolonged remission of the disease’s more debilitating symptoms.'

Biographer Schoenberg additionally wrote that the final years of the mob boss’s life in Florida were long and lazy, and that 'for much of each day Capone lounged in pajamas and robe, fishing from his pier, playing cards.' He spent his seemingly endless free time golfing, and going on 'demure expositions' to local nightclubs, a far cry from his days of crime in Chicago. He occasionally threw a low-key party, though guests noted his markedly more reserved, quiet nature as opposed to his formally famous gregarious personality. An incredible archive documenting the once-great gangster's long, slow demise.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autograph and Artifacts Featuring Gangsters, Outlaws & Lawmen
  • Dates: #656 - Ended January 11, 2023