Shotgun George Ziegler

Shotgun George Ziegler
Shotgun George Ziegler

Shotgun George Ziegler was unique—a criminal who flourished in both organized crime and the more colorful world of the public enemy gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s.

Ziegler, whose real name was Fred Goetz, was just about the best-educated member of crimeland, having graduated from the University of Illinois where he had been a celebrated football player and a top golfer. Previously he had served as a second lieutenant and pilot during World War I. Famous FBI agent Melvin H. Purvis once wrote of Ziegler: "His character was one of infinite contradictions; well mannered, always polite, he was capable of generous kindnesses and conscienceless cruelty."

Arraigned as a youth on a rape charge, Ziegler's parents put up bail money before the trial. But, fearing he'd be convicted, Ziegler ran. Feeling guilty because his parents lost their money, he decided to pay them back the quick way. He held up a doctor who made a habit of carrying large sums of money. When the doctor drew a gun, Ziegler blew him away with a shotgun. It was the beginning of the career of Shotgun George Ziegler.

How and when he got there is not known, but Ziegler next turned up as part of the Capone Mob, becoming one of the gang leader's most-prized triggermen. There is considerable evidence that Ziegler became part of a special execution squad—à la Brooklyn's Murder, Inc., troop—that was employed by the Capone syndicate and some of its affiliated units.

The team—Ziegler, Fred "Killer" Burke, Gus Winkler, "Crane Neck" Nugent and Claude Maddox—were said to be paid $2,000 a week (collectively) with expenses for travel and an occasional bonus tossed in. There is some reason to believe this unit, with others, may have handled the St. Valentine's Day massacre—certainly there is no doubt Burke was involved.

Public enemy Creepy Karpis, who was well liked by Capone and later did time with Scarface Al in Alcatraz, insisted that the massacre was masterminded by Ziegler. Others do not accept this version, but agree that Ziegler probably handled at least 10 other killings for the Capones.

Ziegler was never happy being just a mob hit man, craving bigger rewards and, possibly more important, greater excitement. He joined the freelance Keating-Holden Gang of bank robbers. Then, suddenly, Ziegler disappeared from the crime scene and worked at his college-trained profession as an engineer. Then, just as suddenly, he would return to the Capones, go back to engineering, or pull a job with Keating-Holden.

In 1933, Ziegler joined the Barker-Karpis band of public enemies, and his superior intellect soon put him in a position of leading authority. He planned many of the gang's jobs and was the one who selected wealthy Edward George Bremer of St. Paul, Minnesota, as a kidnap target.

Thanks to his foolproof planning, the job netted the gang $200,000. But the ransom money was too hot to dispose of, and the gang decided that Ziegler, whom all trusted implicitly, should take charge of hiding it for the time being.

In March 1934, Ziegler turned up in Cicero, Capone's captive city, where he went frequently to booze it up. Drinking was all fine and well, but Ziegler was talking wildly, bragging about all his crime capers—including the Bremer job.

The Capone gangsters were upset—a man who talked about the exploits of the Barkers and Karpis might just as likely blab about the syndicate mobsters on other counts. In fact, Ziegler was in the process of losing his mind, which, however, in the underworld hardly represents extenuating circumstances.

On March 22, 1934, just two months after the Bremer job, Ziegler came strolling out of his favorite café in Cicero right into the blasts of four shotguns. Ninety percent of his head was blown away. It is not known for certain who was responsible.

Four shotguns generally spelled the Capones, but there is a wider belief that the Barkers had pulled it off. If so, the Barkers had done so without first getting back the ransom money, but they sent Ma Barker to visit Ziegler's grieving widow.

The old lady was able to convince Mrs. Ziegler that her husband had been killed either by the Capone forces or their enemies— and that Mrs. Ziegler should give back the $200,000. It is a matter of record that the Barkers neither lived long enough nor remained free to enjoy the loot.

As for Shotgun George Ziegler, his double career in syndicate and less-organized crime had been a relatively short one.