On a cold snowy February Chicago morning in 1929 seven men were lined up against a garage wall and literally mowed down by four gunmen – two allegedly dressed as police officers. A gruesome execution which shocked a city accustomed to gangland violence and which mobilized the US government to target Chicago’s underworld boss – Al Capone. Happening on February 14th, this was quickly named and has been known since as The St. Valentines’ Day Massacre.
These murders were the culmination of the rivalry between Chicago’s North Side Gang and Capone’s Outfit, dating back five years to the killing of North Sider Dean O’Banion after he had set- up Capone’s mentor Johnny Torrio. The Valentine Day’s plan was hatched the previous autumn with Capone assigning the “hit” to Machine Gun Jack McGurn, who allegedly hired out of town gunmen from the St. Louis gang – Egan’s Rats - to do the job. The targets were Bugs Moran and his North Side henchmen.
It’s unclear what ruse was used to draw the victims to the SMC Cartage Garage in Chicago’s Lincoln Park – the lure of several truckloads of stolen whiskey was initially suspected but the men killed were seemingly too well dressed for unloading trucks. Regardless they were there and not suspicious. Soon after their arrival, witnesses reported that four men arrived, two of them dressed as police officers. Inside the garage, the victims thinking they were caught in a police operation surrendered their weapons and lined up against the wall. The carnage that followed using machine guns and shot guns was quick and deadly.
To complete the ruse that this was a “raid”, the four gunmen then exited the building appearing to witnesses as two cops who had just arrested two men. Ironically the primary target of the hit – Bugs Moran – had arrived late, saw what he thought was a raid in progress; the killers arrived in what looked like police cars – and quickly departed without entering the warehouse. When the real police arrived soon after – it was apparent this was a brutal execution.
The seven men killed that morning were:
Peter and Frank Gusenberg, gunmen for the Moran gang. Frank was miraculously still alive when police arrived on the scene. His only response to questioning - "I won’t talk." He died three hours later.
Albert Kachellek – Moran’s second in command.
Adam Heyer – Moran’s bookkeeper and business manager.
Reinhart Schwimmer - a former optician turned gambler who can best be described as a gangster wannabe.
Albert Weinshank - a manager of several cleaning and dyeing operations for Moran. He resembled Moran in physical build and appearance and was most likely confused for Bugs when he arrived at the SMC Cartage garage.
John May, an occasional car mechanic for the Moran Gang who as the father of seven children couldn’t turn down the ready cash he received for his work.
The only survivor of the Massacre was May’s dog – Highball.
Although Al Capone was suspected to be behind the killings, he was conspicuously out of town and in fact was meeting with the District Attorney in Miami, Florida at the time of the killings.
McGurn was also pulled in for questioning and then charged with killings. The case never went to trial. McGurn’s girlfriend and later wife, Louise Rolfe, was Machine Gun Jack’s “blonde alibi” – she claimed the two had spent Valentines’ Day together – in bed. In a morbid twist of fate McGurn was machine gunned to death on February 15th, 1936 in a Chicago bowling alley.
Although we’ll probably never know for certain the identity of the St. Valentines’ Day killers there is evidence and credible testimony given to the FBI that the plan was concocted by Capone and his men and then hired out to members of the Egan’s Rats gang in St. Louis. Two of the prominent suspects include Fred “Killer” Burke – who died in prison in 1940 after being convicted of killing a police officer – and Fred Goetz, aka “Shotgun” George Ziegler, who, in another morbid twist of fate, was shot-gunned to death outside a Cicero, Il restaurant in 1934. Two other suspects include Gus Winkler, gunned down in 1933 and Robert Carey, who in an alcoholic rage or stupor killed his girlfriend and then himself in 1932.
The public outrage over the massacre also – belatedly – brought national and federal attention on Capone – who ultimately was convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison in 1931.
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