February 14, 1929: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre










WHAT HAPPENED?


On Valentine's Day of 1929, 7 members and associates of Chicago's North Side Gang were murdered in Lincoln Park, Chicago.


The men were lined up against a wall at a Lincoln Park garage early on the morning of February 14th and shot by 4 unknown killers: 2 wearing police uniforms, and 2 dressed in plain clothes.


The massacre seemed to be a result of the inability to control organized crime in the city during the prohibition era. The Irish North Siders and their Italian South Side rivals were wreaking havoc in the city during this time.


The killers were never identified, but members of many area gangs were heavily suspected. Some believe the police were involved in the killing, given that the gang had murdered the son of one of the police officers.


THE MASSACRE


It appeared that the plan for Al Capone, the leader of the South Side Gang to lure George "Bugs" Moran, the North Side Gang's leader to kill him and a few of his men. They would have been easily lured with stolen whiskey.


Most of the North Side gang arrived at around 10:30 to the garage, but Moran left his hotel late so he didn't arrive with the first group. He was approaching the garage when he saw cop cars, so he turned around and went elsewhere.


Even though Moran didn't arrive, the 4 assailants (likely) assumed he did, because they got out, lined the men up, and shot them. It is assumed that the lookouts mistook one of Moran's men for Moran himself, given their similar build and clothing.


They opened fire, shooting even after all 7 men had hit the floor. According to the coroner's report, 2 of the men's faces were obliterated.


When the real police officers arrived, they found that one victim was still alive. He was taken to the hospital, but when he asked who did this, he replied "no one shot me", despite 14 bullet wounds. He died a few hours later.


The victims included:


Peter Gusenberg, front-line enforcer for all of Moran's organizations

Frank Gusenberg, Peter's brother and enforcer

Albert Kachellek, Moran's second in command

Adam Heyer, the bookkeeper and business manager for the gang

Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optician who abandoned his practice to gamble and be a part of the gang

Albert Weinshank, did cleaning and dyeing operations. This is the man who was likely mistaken for Moran

John May, an occasional car mechanic for the gang


THE INVESTIGATION


Within a few days, Capone was summoned to testify on charges of prohibition violations, but claimed he was ill. Which apparently was enough to get you out of court in 1929.


It was common knowledge that Moran was hijacking Capone's illegal liquor shipments from Detroit, and their investigation then turned to Detroit's Purple Gang. Though they were all cleared of involvement, they "remained ensnared" in the case, as many people believe them to have been responsible.


On February 22, they found a potentially burned car and determined that the car was used by the killers. It was tracked to one James Morton of LA, who had rented the car to Frank Rogers. Frank Rogers gave his address as a cafe operated by Claude Maddox, who had ties to the Capone Gang, the Purple Gang, and another gang called Egan's Rats.


Luckily, the police did have some eyewitness accounts. A truck driver had sideswiped a police car minutes before the killings, but was waved off by a uniformed officer who was missing a tooth. The president of the Board of Education also saw the man and gave a similar description.

The police assumed they were describing Fred Burke, an old member of Egan's Rats. His close companion and he were known for wearing police uniforms during robberies. Burke was a fugitive, wanted for robbery and a murder in Ohio.


Despite believing Burke's involvement, and the involvement of another man who's brother had recently been murdered by the gang, the police announced they suspected 2 of Capone's gunmen and one of his bodyguards. John Scalise, gunman, and Jack McGurn, bodyguard, were charged with the massacre. But then, catching wind that some of his members wanted to kill him, Capone started killing some members of his gang, including Scalise.


The charges against McGurn were dropped soon thereafter, and was charged only with taking his girlfriend across state lines to marry.


The case stalled out until December when the Berrien County, Michigan sheriff's department raided the bungalow of the registered owner of a car driven by Fred Burke. Burke had been drinking and rear ended another car, driving off. An officer pursued him, driving Burke off the road, but Burke shot and killed the officer before abandoning the car and driving off.


They then looked through Burke's bungalow where they found a bulletproof vest, a ton of stolen money, and a crazy amount of guns and ammunition. The guns were tested, and 2 of them were the guns used in the shooting. He was captured over a year later, but there was not enough evidence to charged him with the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, but he was able to be charged with the murder of the officer the night of the hit and run. He was convicted, and died in prison in 1940.


Though Valentine's Day is a day filled with romance and love, 91 years ago, it was a day filled with gang violence and murder. But, because you do not live in prohibition era Chicago and don't need to worry about being killed by Al Capone, enjoy your flowers and chocolates today!


REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Valentine%27s_Day_Massacre

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