Chicago’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
By Tom Morrow
One of America’s most infamous crimes was the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre murder of seven members of Chicago’s “North Side Gang.” The men were gathered at a Lincoln Park garage at 10:30 a.m., 2122 Clark Street, on the morning of Feb. 14th. They were lined up against a wall and shot by four unknown assailants, two of whom were dressed as police officers.
The incident resulted from the struggle to control organized crime in the Chicago area during Prohibition between the Irish “North Siders,” headed by George “Bugs” Moran, and their Italian “South Side Gang” rivals led by Al “Scarface” Capone.
The perpetrators have never been conclusively identified, but former members of the “Egan’s Rats” gang working for Capone are suspected of having a role, as were members of the Chicago Police Department who allegedly wanted revenge for the killing of a police officer’s son.
The gang members were shot by the four men using two Thompson submachine guns. Two of the shooters were dressed as uniformed policemen, while the others wore suits, ties, overcoats, and hats. Witnesses saw the fake police leading the other men at gunpoint out of the garage after the shooting.
Later, real Chicago police officers arrived at the scene to find Frank Gusenberg still alive. He was taken to the hospital where police tried to question him. He had sustained 14 bullet wounds. Police asked him who did it, and he replied, “No one shot me.” He died three hours later.
It was widely assumed Capone personally ordered the murders in an attempt to eliminate Moran. Capone’s lookouts likely mistook one of Moran’s men for Moran himself, probably Albert Weinshank, who was the same height and build. The physical similarity between the two men was enhanced by their dress that morning. Both happened to be wearing the same color overcoats and hats. Moran didn’t arrive at the garage until later.
Witnesses outside the garage said they saw a Cadillac sedan pull up to a stop in front of the garage. Four men emerged and walked inside, two of them dressed in police uniform. The two fake police officers carried shotguns and entered the rear portion of the garage, where they found members of Moran’s gang and collaborators. The fake policemen then ordered the men to line up against the wall. They signaled to the pair in civilian clothes who had accompanied them. Two of the killers opened fire with sub-machine guns, one with a 20-round box magazine and the other a 50-round drum. They were thorough, spraying their victims left and right, even continuing to fire after all seven had hit the floor. According to the coroner’s report, two final shotgun blasts all but obliterated the faces of John May and James Clark.
Several factors contributed to the timing of the plan to kill Moran. Earlier in the year, The “North Side Gang” was complicit in the murders of Pasqualino “Patsy” Lolordo and Antonio “The Scourge” Lombardo. Both had been presidents of the Chicago Mafia, and close associates of Capone. Moran and Capone had been vying for control of the lucrative Chicago bootlegging trade. Moran also had been muscling in on a Capone-run dog track and a number saloons in the local suburbs run by Capone, insisting they were in his (Moran’s) territory.
Police officials assumed the North Siders were lured to the garage with the promise of a stolen, cut-rate shipment of whiskey, supplied by Detroit’s Purple Gang which was associated with Capone. The Gusenberg brothers were supposed to drive two empty trucks to Detroit that day to pick up two loads of stolen Canadian whiskey. All of the victims were dressed in their best clothes as was customary for the North Siders and other gangsters at the time.
To give the appearance that everything was under control, the two men in civilian clothes came out with their hands up, prodded by the two uniformed policemen. Inside the garage, the only survivor in the warehouse was Frank Gusenberg and his dog. Despite 14 bullet wounds, Gusenberg was still conscious, but he died three hours later, refusing to utter a word about the identities of the killers. The Valentine’s Day Massacre set off a public outcry which posed a problem for all mob bosses.
Within days, Capone received a summons to testify before a Chicago grand jury on charges of federal Prohibition violations, but he claimed to be too unwell to attend. It was common knowledge that Moran was hijacking Capone’s Detroit-based liquor shipments, and police focused their attention on Detroit’s predominantly Jewish “Purple Gang.”
The garage at 2122 N. Clark St. was demolished in 1967, and the site today is a parking lot for a nursing home. The bricks of the north wall against which the victims were shot were purchased by a Canadian businessman. For many years, they were displayed in various crime-related novelty displays. Many of them were later sold individually, and the remainder are now owned by the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.