Lexington Hotel reveals the secrets of Al Capone

The Lexington Hotel, located on 22nd Street and Michigan Avenue on the south side of Chicago, was the headquarters and nerve center of Al Capone's bootlegging and racket empire. Behind the wardrobes and the uniforms of the innocent-looking hotels were secret doors to the stairs that led to dozens of rooms, like the shooting gallery where Capone and his gangster cronies practiced their goal. Other secret passages led to Capone's medical coffer, and to taverns and brothels connected by hidden tunnels. Other tunnels led to the hatching of the Levee, which provided escape routes for the mafia who were fleeing police and rival gang raids.

The Lexington Hotel was originally built in 1892 to a design by the architect Clinton Warren, who had also designed the Congress Hotel. The Lexington was rather hastily built of brick and terracotta, in order to accommodate the masses who were to visit Chicago for the World's Fair in 1893. President Benjamin Harrison once gave a speech from the balcony to a large audience in the street below. Al Capone moved to Lexington in July 1928 and, officially registered as "George Phillips", occupied the luxurious suite on the 5th floor. Capone's office had a view of Michigan Avenue.

In the lobby, an armed gunman in a hotel uniform was watching carefully all the entrance doors and other machine-armed guards patrolling the upper floors. From here he directed his far-reaching and highly profitable illicit operations until October 1931 when he was escorted from the hotel to the prison. The culmination of Al Capone's success – and also the omen of his downfall – was the 1929 Valentine's Day massacre, which effectively wiped out Capone's last gangster competitor, but also brought the ira of the public and the federal government (which sent Eliot Ness to safety) on his head.

It is said that Al Capone had sometimes to the lower levels of the Lexington Hotel where he had hidden his loot. These times were so well hidden that even Capone's closest associates didn't know where they were. In the 80s, after the glory days of Lexington had long since passed, a women's construction company examined the possibility of restoring the Lexington Hotel. Researchers who explored the crumbling ruins of the hotel identified sealed rooms where Capone's hidden fortune was repositioned.

In 1986 Geraldo Rivera, a well-known TV talk show host, brought a live national television audience to the spot in his immaculate shirt uniform for a modern-day treasure hunt. Also IRS agents were present waiting for their share of the loot. Rivera's crew crossed the 7,000-pound concrete wall that was thought to be the secret hideout of Capone's fortune … but when the smoke died down, only an old sign and some empty bottles were found. If once there had been a fortune there, it had been taken away long ago.