The Saint Valentine's Day massacre is the name given to the murder of seven people as part of a Prohibition Era conflict between two powerful criminal gangs in Chicago, Illinois, in the winter of 1929: the South Side Italian gang led by Al Capone and the North Side Irish/German gang led by Bugs Moran. Former members of the Egan's Rats gang were also suspected to have played a large role in the St. Valentine's Day massacre, assisting Capone.
The St. Valentine's Massacre resulted from a plan devised by a member or members of the Capone gang to eliminate Bugs Moran, the boss of the North Side Gang. Jack McGurn is the person most frequently cited by researchers as a suspected planner. The massacre was planned by the Capone mob for a number of reasons; in retaliation for an unsuccessful attempt by Frank and his brother Peter Gusenberg to murder Jack McGurn earlier in the year; the North Side Gang's complicity in the murder of Pasqualino "Patsy" Lolordo as well as Antonio "The Scourge" Lombardo, and Bugs Moran muscling in on a Capone-run dog track in the Chicago suburbs. Also, the rivalry between Moran and Capone for control of the lucrative Chicago bootlegging business led Capone to plan Moran's demise.
The plan was to lure Moran and his men to the SMC Cartage warehouse on North Clark Street. It is assumed usually that the North Side Gang was lured to the garage with the promise of a cut-rate shipment of bootleg whiskey, supplied by Detroit's Purple Gang. However, some recent studies dispute this. All seven victims (with the exception of John May) were dressed in their best clothes, hardly suitable for unloading a large shipment of whiskey crates and driving it away. The real reason for the North Siders gathering in the garage may never be known for certain.
A four-man team would then enter the building, two disguised as police officers, and kill Moran and his men. Before Moran and his men arrived, Capone stationed lookouts in the apartments across the street from the warehouse. Wishing to keep the lookouts inconspicuous, Capone had hired two unrecognizable thugs to stand watch in rented rooms across the street from the garage.
At around 10:30 a.m. on St. Valentine's day, four men arrived at the warehouse in two cars: a Cadillac sedan and a Peerless, both outfitted to look like detective sedans. Two men were dressed in police uniforms and two in street clothes. The Moran Gang had already arrived at the warehouse. However, Moran himself was not inside. One account states that Moran was supposedly approaching the warehouse, spotted the police car, and fled the scene. Another account was that Moran was simply late getting there.
The lookouts allegedly confused one of Moran's men (most likely Albert Weinshank, who was the same height, build and even physically resembled Moran) for Moran himself: he then signaled for the gunmen to enter the warehouse. The two phony police, carrying shotguns, exited the Peerless and entered the warehouse through the two rear doors. Inside they found members of Moran's gang, a sixth man named Reinhart Schwimmer who was not actually a gangster, but more of a gang "hanger-on" and a seventh man, John May, who was a mechanic fixing one of the cars, and technically not a member of the gang, but an occasionally hired mechanic. The killers told the seven men to line up facing the back wall. There was apparently not any resistance, as the Moran men thought their captors were real police, and it was likely a "show" bust merely to garner good press for the police department.
Then the two "police officers" let in two men through the front door facing Clark Street. This pair, riding in the Cadillac, were dressed in civilian clothes. Two of the killers starting shooting with Thompson sub-machine guns. All seven men were killed in a volley of seventy machine-gun bullets and two shotgun blasts according to the coroner's report. To show bystanders that everything was under control, the men in street clothes came out with their hands up, prodded by the two uniformed cops. The only survivor in the warehouse was John May's German Shepherd, Highball. When the real police arrived, they first heard the dog howling. On entering the warehouse, they found the dog trapped under a beer truck and the floor covered with blood, shell casings, and corpses.
The seven men killed that morning were:
The slaughter exceeded anything yet seen in the United States at that time. At first, it was thought that police may have indeed been responsible for the killings, but 255 detectives were soon cleared. Chicago Police scrambled to figure out who had been responsible.
Since it was common knowledge that Moran was hijacking Capone's Detroit-based liquor shipments, police focused their attention on the Purple Gang. Mug shots of Purple members George Lewis, Eddie Fletcher, Phil Keywell and his kid brother Harry, were picked out by the landlady across the street as the phony roomers. Later, the women who identified them wavered, and, Fletcher, Lewis, and Harry Keywell were all questioned and cleared by Chicago Police. Nevertheless, the Keywell brothers (and by extension the Purple Gang) would remain ensnared in the massacre case for all time.
A week after the massacre, a 1927 Cadillac sedan was found disassembled and partially burned in a garage on Wood Street. It was determined that the car was used by the massacre killers. The garage was located two blocks from the Circus Café, which was operated by Claude Maddox, a former St. Louis gangster and member of the Capone mob.
Detectives checking leads in St. Louis discovered that former members of the Egan's Rats mob may have played a part. They soon announced they were seeking Fred “Killer” Burke and James Ray as the two uniformed police officers in the garage. Burke and other members of the mob had been known to use police uniforms to lull victims. Police also proposed that Joseph Lolordo may have been one of the machine gunners, mostly likely because his brother Pasqualino had recently been murdered by the North Side Gang.
Police also announced they suspected Capone gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, as well as Jack McGurn himself, and Frank Rio, a Capone bodyguard. Police eventually charged McGurn and Scalise with the massacre. John Scalise was murdered before he went to trial and the charges against Jack McGurn were downgraded to a violation of the Mann Act, stemming from taking the main witness against him, girlfriend Louise Rolfe (who became known as the "Blonde Alibi"), across state lines to marry.
The case stagnated until December 14, 1929, when Berrien County sheriffs raided the St. Joseph, Michigan bungalow of “Frederick Dane”. Dane had been the registered owner of a vehicle driven by Fred "Killer" Burke. Burke had been drinking and rear-ended another vehicle in front of the police station. Officer Charles Skelly ran outside to investigate. When Burke attempted to drive away, Officer Skelly hopped on the running board and was shot off. He died of his wounds a short time later.
When police raided Burke's bungalow, they found a bulletproof vest, bonds recently stolen from a Wisconsin bank, two Thompson submachine guns, pistols, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Both machine guns were determined to have been used in the massacre. Unfortunately, no further concrete evidence would surface in the massacre case. Burke would be captured over a year later on a Missouri farm. As the case against him in the murder of Officer Skelly was strongest, he was tried in Michigan and would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Fred Burke would die in prison in 1940.
Public outrage over The St. Valentine's Day Massacre marked the beginning of the end to Moran's power. Although Moran suffered a heavy blow, he still managed to keep control of his territory until the early 1930s, when control passed to the Chicago Outfit under Frank Nitti. The massacre also brought the belated attention of the federal government to bear on Capone and his criminal activities.
In 1931, Capone was convicted of income tax evasion and was imprisoned for 11 years. The massacre ultimately affected both Moran and Capone and left the war they had with each other a stalemate. The massacre did severely cripple the North Side gang, a blow from which they never fully recovered. But the primary target of the massacre, Moran, escaped, and the public and police pressure brought to bear on the Capone organization hampered their operation almost as badly.
Though Jack McGurn would beat the massacre charges, he would be murdered himself on February 15, 1936. The two most widely accepted theories credit either Bugs Moran or the Chicago Outfit itself under Frank Nitti with the killing, as McGurn had become a public relations liability to the Outfit.
On January 8, 1935, FBI agents surrounded a Chicago apartment building at 3920 North Pine Grove, looking for the remaining members of the Barker-Karpis Gang. A brief shootout erupted, resulting in the death of bank robber Russell Gibson. Also taken into custody were Doc Barker, Byron Bolton and two women.
When agents began interrogating the two men, they got nothing of value from Dock Barker, but Bolton (a hitherto obscure criminal) proved to be a “geyser of information” as one crime historian put it. A former Navy machine gunner and member of the old Egan’s Rats gang, Bolton had for years been the valet and sidekick of a slick Chicago hit man named Fred Goetz, who was also known as “Shotgun George” Ziegler. Byron had been party to many of the Barker Gang’s crimes, and even pinpointed the Florida hideout of Ma and Freddie Barker (who were killed in a shootout with the FBI a week later). Bolton kept on talking, and to the agents’ surprise, claimed to have taken part in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre with his pal Goetz, Fred Burke, and several others.
The FBI (having no jurisdiction in a state murder case) attempted to keep Bolton’s revelations confidential, until the Chicago American newspaper somehow got their hands on a second-hand version of the bank robber’s confession. The newspaper declared that the crime had been “solved”, despite being stonewalled by J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau, who did not want any part of the massacre case. Garbled versions of Bolton’s story went out in the national media. Pieced together, his tale went like this: Bolton claimed that the murder of Bugs Moran had been plotted in “October or November” 1928 at a Couderay, Wisconsin resort owned by Fred Goetz. Present at this meet were Goetz, Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Fred Burke, Gus Winkeler, Louis Campagna, Daniel Serritella, and William Pacelli. The men stayed two or three weeks, hunting and fishing when they weren’t planning the murder of their rival.
Byron Bolton claimed he and Jimmy Moran (or Morand) were charged with watching the S.M.C. Cartage garage and phoning the signal to the killers at the Circus Café when Moran arrived at the meet. Police had indeed found a letter addressed to Bolton in the lookout nest (and possibly a vial of prescription medicine.) Bolton guessed that the actual killers had been Burke, Winkeler, Goetz, Bob Carey, Raymond Nugent, and Claude Maddox (four shooters and two getaway drivers). Bolton gave an account of the massacre different from the one generally told by historians. He claimed that he saw only “plainclothes” men exit the Cadillac and go into the garage. This indicates that a second car was used by the killers. One witness, George Brichet, claimed to have seen at least two uniformed men exiting a car in the alley and entering the garage through its rear doors. A Peerless sedan had been found near a Maywood house owned by Claude Maddox in the days after the massacre, and in one of the pockets was an address book belonging to victim Albert Weinshank.
Bolton’s mistake was when he mistook one of Moran’s men for the man himself, after which he telephoned the signal to the Circus Café. When the killers (who had expected to kill Moran and maybe two or three of his men) were unexpectedly confronted with seven men, they simply decided to kill them all and get out fast. Bolton claimed that Capone was furious with him for his mistake (and the resulting police pressure) and threatened to kill him, only to be dissuaded by Fred Goetz.
His claims were corroborated by Gus Winkeler’s widow Georgette, in both an official FBI statement and her memoirs, which were published in a four-part series in a true detective magazine during the winter of 1935-36. Mrs. Winkeler revealed that her husband and his pals had formed a special crew used by Capone for high-risk jobs. The mob boss was said to have trusted them implicitly and nicknamed them the “American Boys”. Byron Bolton’s statements were also backed up by William Drury, a maverick Chicago detective who had stayed on the massacre case long after everyone else had given up. Bank robber Alvin Karpis later claimed to have heard second-hand from Ray Nugent about the massacre and that the “American Boys” were paid a collective salary of $2,000 a week plus bonuses. Karpis also claimed that Capone himself told him while they in Alcatraz together that Goetz had been the actual planner of the massacre.
Despite Byron Bolton’s statements, no action was taken by the FBI. All the men he named, with the exceptions of Burke and Maddox, were all dead by 1935. Bank robber Harvey Bailey would later complain in his 1973 autobiography that he and Fred Burke had been drinking beer in Calumet City at the time of the massacre, and the resulting heat forced them to abandon their bank robbing ventures. Claude Maddox was questioned fruitlessly by Chicago Police, and there the matter lay. Crime historians are still divided on whether or not the “American Boys” committed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Over the years, many mobsters, in and out of Chicago, would be named as part of the Valentine's Day hit team. Two prime suspects are Capone hit men John Scalise and Albert Anselmi; both men were lethal killers and are frequently mentioned as possibilities for two of the shooters. In the days after the massacre, Scalise was heard to brag, “I am the most powerful man in Chicago.” He had recently been elevated to the position of vice-president in the Unione Siciliana by its president, Joseph Guinta. Nevertheless, Scalise, Anselmi, and Guinta would be found dead on a lonely road near Hammond, Indiana on May 8, 1929. Gangland lore has it that Al Capone had discovered that the pair was planning on betraying him. At the climax of a dinner party thrown in their honor, Capone produced a baseball bat and beat the trio to death.
One recent addition to the roll of suspects is Tony Accardo, then a twenty-two year old gangster and driver for Jack McGurn. Many years later, Accardo would boast to his fellow gangsters that he had taken part (FBI agent William Roemer overheard him on a wiretap.) Most historians believe that while Accardo may have played a peripheral role in the murders, he was probably not one of the actual shooters. Another suspect was future mob boss Sam Giancana, then a twenty-year old member of the 42 Gang. Giancana was arrested in the days after the massacre on a charge of general investigation, and most familiar with the case don’t believe he played a major role.
New York mob informant Dominick Montiglio would later claim in the book Murder Machine that his uncle Anthony 'Nino' Gaggi, intimated that his uncle Frank Scalise had been one of the killers in the massacre. While not likely, this shows how the massacre continues to capitivate people to this day.
Some people today speculate that perhaps Capone really was innocent after all. Maybe it was a bunch of crooked cops or an internal beef amongst the Moran Gang. One historian suspects a bunch of "hillbilly gangsters." The true identities of the shooters may never be known with certainty.
The two Thompson submachine guns (serial numbers 2347 and 7580) found in Fred Dane’s Michigan bungalow were personally driven to the Chicago coroner’s office by the Berrien County DA. Ballistic expert Calvin Goddard tested the weapons and determined that both had been used in the massacre. One of them had also been used in the murder of Brooklyn mob boss Frankie Yale, which confirmed the NYPD’s long-held theory that Burke, and by extension Al Capone, had been responsible for Yale’s death.
Gun No. 2347 had been originally purchased on November 12, 1924 by Les Farmer, a deputy sheriff in Marion, Illinois, which happened to be the seat of Williamson County. Marion and the surrounding area were then overrun by the warring bootleg factions of the Shelton brothers and Charlie Birger. Deputy Farmer was documented as having ties with the Egan’s Rats gang, based 100 miles away in St. Louis. By the beginning of 1927 at the very latest, the weapon had wound up in Fred Burke’s possession. It’s possible he used this same Tommygun in Detroit’s Milaflores Massacre on March 28, 1927.
Gun No. 7580 had been sold by Chicago sporting goods owner Peter von Frantzius to a Victor Thompson (aka Frank V. Thompson) in the care of the Fox Hotel of Elgin, Illinois. Some time after the purchase the machine gun wound up with James "Bozo" Shupe, a small-time hood from Chicago’s West Side who had ties to various members of Capone’s Outfit.
Both submachine guns are currently in the possession of the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department in St. Joseph, Michigan.
The garage, which stood at 2122 N. Clark Street, was demolished in 1977; the site is now a landscaped parking lot for a nursing home. There is still controversy over the actual bricks used to build the north inside wall of the building where the mobsters were lined up and shot. They were claimed to be responsible, according to stories, for bringing financial ruin, illness, bad luck and death to anyone who bought them.
The bricks from the bullet-marked inside North wall were purchased and saved by Canadian businessman George Patey in 1967. His original intention was to use it in a restaurant that he represented, but the restaurant's owner didn't go for the idea. Patey ended up buying the bricks himself, outbidding three or four others. Patey had the wall painstakingly taken apart and had each of the 414 bricks numbered, then shipped them back to Canada.
There are various different reports about what George Patey did with the bricks after he got them. In 1978, Time Magazine reported that Patey reassembled the wall and put it on display in a wax museum with gun-wielding gangsters shooting each other in front of it to the accompaniment of recorded bangs. The wax museum later went bankrupt. Another source, an independent newspaper in the UK, reported in February 2000 that the wall toured shopping malls and exhibitions in the United States for a couple of decades. In 1968 Patey stopped exhibiting the bricks and put them into retirement.
Patey opened a nightclub called the Banjo Palace in 1971. It had a Roaring Twenties theme. The famous bricks were installed inside the men's washroom with Plexiglas placed right in front of it to shield it, so that patrons could urinate and try to hit the targets painted on the Plexiglas. In a 2001 interview with an Argentinian journalist, Patey said, "I had the most popular club in the city. People came from high society and entertainment, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Mitchum."
The bricks were placed in storage until 1997 when Patey tried to auction them off on a website called Jet Set On The Net. The deal fell through after a hard time with the auction company. In 1999, Patey tried to sell them brick by brick on his own website. The last known substantial offer for the entire wall was made by a Las Vegas casino but Patey refused the $175,000 offer.