St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

At first Al Capone probably regarded the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of February 14, 1929, a monumental success, although the main target, his archenemy Bugs Moran, avoided the slaughter. After all, knocking off six rival members of the Irish North Side Gang in one fell swoop was a noteworthy coup.

However, Capone soon learned a massacre of St. Valentine's proportions really riled up the citizenry; for the first time, all the people of Chicago looked upon him not as their vital bootlegger, but as a savage, coldblooded murderer.

Of course, Capone denied having anything to do with the crime, but there is no doubt it was a Capone operation from start to finish. Capone gunners, dressed up as policemen, carried out the executions not only of the gangsters but also of an innocent man who happened to be around at the time.

The massacre had been part of the long-raging war between the Capone mob and the heirs of the North Side gang headed by Dion O'Banion in the early 1920s. By 1929, a series of leaders, starting with O'Banion, had been shot to death, and only George "Bugs" Moran remained capable of running the North Siders, frustrating Capone's efforts to take over their lucrative racket area.

Capone set up the North Siders by having a Detroit gangster offer Moran a load of hijacked booze. Bugs jumped at the proposition, and agreed to take delivery of the goods at the gang's headquarters, a garage at 2122 North Clark Street. What followed was to shock not only Chicagoans but people throughout the civilized world; no other gangland rubouts ever received the publicity given the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Several Capone gangsters, dressed in policemen's uniforms, rushed into the garage at the appointed time.

They lined up the Moran henchmen—Adam Meyer, Al Weinshank, James Clark, John May and brothers Frank and Pete Gusenberg against the wall, along with Dr. Reinhardt H. Schwimmer, an optometrist and gangster groupie, who just happened to be around. The gangsters offered no resistance, figuring it was nothing other than a routine police bust. Then two of the raiders cut loose with Thompson submachine guns, mowing the seven victims down like rats.

Only one thing was amiss—Moran was not one of the victims. Having overslept, he and two others, Willie Marks and Teddy Newbury, had just rounded a corner near the garage when they saw what appeared to be police officers going inside. Moran figured the raid was a mere police shakedown and decided to remain out of sight until the officers left. When the machine-gunning started, the trio took off. Brought in during the ensuing investigation, Moran moaned, "Only Capone kills like that."

But at first the massacre was not regarded as a Capone hit. Many people actually believed the killers had been real police officers. The Chicago police were held in such low esteem that it seemed entirely possible. Frederick Silloway, the local Prohibition administrator, told reporters:
The murderers were not gangsters. They were Chicago policemen. I believe the killing was the aftermath to the hijacking of 500 cases of whiskey belonging to the Moran gang by five policemen six weeks ago on Indianapolis Boulevard. I expect to have the names of these five policemen in a short time. It is my theory that in trying to recover the liquor the Moran gang threatened to expose the policemen and the massacre was to prevent the exposure.
The next day Silloway was singing a different tune, saying his statements were taken out of context and that he was misquoted. If that were true it was one of the most monumental misquotations there has ever been. Silloway's Washington superiors ordered him transferred from Chicago, in the way of placating local authorities, but a cloud of suspicion continued to hang over the police. More and more, though, public opinion turned against Capone, as people started agreeing only Capone could kill like that.

Major Calvin H. Goddard, a leading expert on forensic ballistics, was imported from New York. After he tested the bullets, he declared that they had not come from any machine gun owned by the Chicago police—or at least all those he examined. About a year after the murders, the police came up with the death weapons. They were found in the home of a professional killer, Fred Burke, who was known to have done jobs for the Capone organization.

In April 1930, Burke was caught in Michigan but was never brought to Illinois to be tried for the massacre. Instead, he was convicted in Michigan for the slaying of a policeman and sentenced to life imprisonment—there was no death penalty in the state. The underworld started whispering that Illinois was afraid to try him because his testimony would prove the guns had been planted in his home.

Despite a flood of accusations over the years, the culprits in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre were never identified. The cast of characters kept changing, and the only one known to a moral certainty to have taken part was Burke. Aiding him, according to one theory, were Shotgun Ziegler, Gus Winkler, Crane Neck Nugent and Claude Maddox. It was generally held that the planning for the job was in the hands of Capone enforcer Machine Gun Jack McGurn.

Capone was severely criticized at the 1929 underworld conference in Atlantic City for the massacre, and he finally agreed that he would go to jail for a brief period on some kind of charge to defuse public opinion. A bust on a gun charge was arranged for in Philadelphia, and the Chicago gang leader did a short stint under rather comfortable surroundings in Pennsylvania. That was the limit of justice exacted for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.