St. Valentine's Day Massacre
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred on February 14, 1929, and was one of the biggest crimes in Chicago history. Seven members of the North Side Gang were killed during an ambush carried out by Bugs Moran's Murder Gang.
Al Capone was suspected of being behind the killings, though he denied it, authorities even offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. However, there is no evidence proving that Capone was directly responsible for the murders.
Al Capone and Chicago
Al Capone ruled Chicago from 1927 to 1931, taking advantage of enacted prohibition laws introduced after World War One. The media and federal government identified Capone as the "public enemy number one." His rule brought about the emergence of organized crime in America.
Massacre on St. Valentine's Day
Few events in American history are as notorious as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. On February 14, 1929, seven men associated with the Chicago Outfit were gunned down in a Clark Street garage on the city's North Side.
Al Capone allegedly organized the massacre as an act of revenge against his rivals in the crime syndicate. Though it has never been officially confirmed, the murder of five of Bugs' gangsters is still considered one of the most infamous crimes in US history.
The murders happened during Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. During that period, alcohol could only be sold legally under government supervision. Gangster Al Capone had been arrested several times over the previous few months, and his associates feared he might go to jail again. They wanted him out of circulation.
Rumors swirled about who was behind the shootings. Some claimed it was organized crime, others said it was political rivals. But no one knew for sure.
The Rise and Fall of Al Capone: Public Enemy No. 1
Capone was born Alphonse Capone in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899. He grew up extremely poor and became involved in petty crime. By 1920, Capone had become one of the most notorious gangsters in Chicago.
Capone owned nightclubs and speakeasies where newly-illegal alcohol flowed freely. He used violence and intimidation to control the city's underworld.
Capone was at the center of northeast Illinois crime and controlled gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, loan sharking, extortion, and murder. His organization was called the Chicago Outfit, responsible for hundreds of murders during Prohibition.
In 1929, Capone was arrested for tax evasion, not the St. Valentine's Day massacre. His conviction led to 11 years in prison. After his release, he continued to run his empire while avoiding federal prosecution. When the government finally caught up with him, he fled to Florida, where he died in 1947.
Prohibition and the Volstead Act
In 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act, commonly referred to as the National Prohibition Act. This act sought to prohibit most forms of alcohol consumption in the United States.
In February of 1920, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Eighteenth Amendment into law. On January 16th, 1920, the amendment went into effect, banning the production, transport, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Prohibition in the United States began in 1920 and ended in 1933. This legislation was enacted in an attempt to control the negative effects of alcohol on people's behavior.
Texas Guinan was a famed nightclub hostess who helped police officers enforce prohibition laws. She gained fame under her nickname "the lady with the big voice." Her popularity grew during the Roaring 20s, and she became one of the most well-known women in America. She died in 1937 at age 66.
Prohibition expected that people would become healthier and crime rates would decrease. Instead, Prohibition led to the rise of organized crime in America, which claimed many lives, most famously the seven killed in the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre served as a wake-up call to the American people about the underworld of organized crime infiltrating the country.
What Led to Prohibition?
Prohibition lasted ten years and ended on December 5, 1933. During this period, it was illegal to drink alcoholic beverages.
This ban was meant to reduce crime and violence. However, people did find ways to get around the law by smuggling alcohol in from Canada or Mexico, where it was legal. Others drank wine coolers and beer mixed with fruit juice. Still, others drank whiskey straight up.
The effects of prohibition included increased violent crime, corruption, and poverty among many Americans.
Bootlegging, Gangsters and Special Agent Eliot Ness
Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933. During this period, there was a surge in organized crime. Bootleggers like Johnny Torrio made millions during prohibition. Eliot Ness, a law enforcement special agent, formed the Untouchables to catch bootleggers.
In 1929, Eliot Ness was assigned to Chicago to investigate Al Capone. He arrested him on tax evasion charges.
Why The Killings Occurred on St. Valentine's Day: The Unfolding of the Massacre
On February 14, 1929, Al Capone's gang members allegedly shot members of a rival gang during a meeting at the Lexington Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. They were there to discuss a planned robbery of the rival city's North Side Gang. At least one of those killed was a Chicago police informant.
The killings occurred on St. Valentine's Day, when lovers traditionally expressed their love for each other. The event became known as the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre because it happened on the second anniversary of the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two anarchists convicted of murder in 1927.
There are conflicting reports about how many people died in the massacre. Some sources say there were six or seven victims; others claim eight. One source says that the number of bullets fired was around 300, mostly from Thompson submachine guns; another claims that the shooters fired about 200 rounds.
Among the wounded was gang member Frank Gusenberg, who survived thanks to his bulletproof vest. He later testified against the killers.
The identities of the victims remain unknown. All of them were Italian Americans except for Gusenberg, who was Jewish. The youngest victim was 24 years old; the oldest was 43.
The Gunmen Fled
The gunmen fled the scene, and no arrests were ever made. Most of the participants in the crime went free.
The event is famous for its grisly black and white photos, including images showing the corpses lying face down on the hotel room floor where the murders occurred. Other pictures show the bloody aftermath of the shooting.
This event is famous for its brutal nature. However, the circumstances surrounding the killing are still shrouded in mystery.
Why Many Wanted to Kill "Bugs" Moran
As the St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred, seven men dressed in police uniforms entered the Lexington Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, opening fire on Al Capone's associates. Five of the seven gunmen died during the attack. One gunman who survived and later testified against the remaining gangsters involved identified himself as "George 'Bugs' Moran."
Capone had been arrested in September 1926 for bootlegging and sent to prison. While serving his sentence, he vowed revenge on Bugs and Moran's men.
On the night of the massacre, Capone went to the hotel to collect money owed to him. When he arrived, he found Bugs and several members of the Moran gang sitting around drinking. Capone shot Moran five times and left him dying on the floor.
After the shooting, the notorious gangster fled the scene. Soon after, the FBI began investigating the murders. They believed that the killings were related to the liquor trade and that the mobster had ties to the alcohol industry.
Al Capone and Tax Evasion During the Prohibition Era
In 1931, Capone was convicted of tax evasion charges and sentenced to 11 years in prison. During his incarceration, he became friends with George "Machine Gun Kelly" Zarkovich. George told Capone about the St. Valentine's Day massacre and how it could be solved.
Zarkovich claimed that the killers were members of the Moran's North Sider faction of the Chicago Outfit. This group included Johnny Torrio, Joe Aiello, Frank Nitti, Sam Giancana, Albert Anselmi, and other gangsters.
However, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) did not believe Zarkovich's claims. Instead, they focused on the involvement of the South Side Gang led by Al Capone.
Federal agents of the US Treasury Department continued investigating the murders even though no one ever faced criminal charges. In 1938, they finally closed the case. Their reasoning was that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone.
Other Possible Culprits of The St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Al Capone was suspected of being involved in the infamous St. Valentine's Day mass murder. But he wasn't the only one. One theory, named the Purple Gang from Detroit, Michigan, had ties to Capone.
There was another potential suspect in the case. John Fecarotta had been arrested earlier that same month for allegedly killing his wife, Anna, and dumping her body into Lake Michigan.
Fecarotta later claimed that his wife had committed suicide. However, he didn't tell authorities about his involvement in the murders because he feared mob reprisals.
Gangsters in Police Uniforms
Moran's men responsible for the massacre wore police uniforms, making it easier for them to escape. They were also able to evade capture thanks to the help of local law enforcement officials, which made the event even more shocking.
Capone was never officially linked with the St. Valentine's Day massacre. He was never formally charged about the incident either.
There are many theories about what happened on Feb. 14, 1929, but none have ever been proven true. Some believe that Capone was behind the shooting. Others think Frank Nitti, head of Chicago's North Side gang, was responsible. Still, others say that Joe "the Boss" Accardo was behind the killings.
Despite the lack of hard evidence, the St. Valentine‘s Day massacre still ranks among the most famous crimes in American criminal history.
Rivalry and Turf Wars
One of Capone's biggest rivals on the streets of Chicago was famous gangster George "Bugs" Moran, leader of the city's North Side Gang. The rival gangs competed as they ran their bootlegging operations, among other sordid activities.
Turf wars with the Irish north siders and Moran's gang were rampant as the organizations distilled alcohol and transported stolen Canadian whiskey with the help of a crooked cop.
Tensions came to a head when the Moran gang started moving in on Capone's territory, and the culmination of this rivalry came with an event that would come to be known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
On the morning of Feb. 14, 1929, a group of men posing as police officers "raided" a Clark Street garage. At that time, witnesses noticed Moran arrived outside, where he spotted a police car. Moran thought the police were raiding the place, turned, and walked away, telling others to avoid the area.
Seven Men Killed by Machine Guns in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Seven members of Moran's men had gathered at the scene and were lined up against a brick wall. Then, the murderers opened fire with submachine guns.
Chicago Police Sergeant Thomas J. Loftus arrived at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre scene at the Clark Street S-M-C Cartage Company garage and found one Bugs Moran gang member, Frank Gusenberg, still alive and whispering, "The cops did it."
Some people theorize that the Gusenberg brothers were the targets of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre after allegedly killing a young firefighter, and Bugs Moran knew his family wanted revenge.
After the St Valentine's Day Massacre
Capone was not in Chicago at the time of the massacre, but he was strongly suspected of having ordered the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. However, nobody was ever jailed for this heinous crime.
Several months later, Capone was arrested for contempt of court after feigning illness to avoid testifying before a grand jury and held at the Cook County Jail. He received a six-month sentence for this crime.
Before this sentence began, Capone was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, which led to another conviction. But it was eventually income tax evasion that was Capone's downfall.
Capone Serves an Eleven-Year Sentence, But Not for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre
He received an 11-year sentence for this crime, which he served in several institutions, including Alcatraz. By the time he was released from prison, he had an advanced case of syphilis, which took his life in 1947.
Meanwhile, Bugs Moran moved away from Chicago after the end of Prohibition. He was arrested in 1946, sentenced to prison as a bank robber, and died of lung cancer in 1957 while serving a sentence in federal prison.
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre drew nationwide attention to the rampant gang violence and corruption connected with organized crime.
Throughout the 1920s, law enforcement seemed incapable of being able to manage the activities of the mobsters, nor were they able to do much to stop those who subverted the alcohol laws, either by exploiting loopholes in the legal statutes, creating their own distilling operations, or buying alcohol on the black market.
Four Years After the St. Valentine's Day Massacre: A Repeal of Prohibition
Ultimately, the 21st Amendment was ratified on Dec. 5, 1933, repealing the 18th Amendment. Instead of leading to better health and prosperity for the nation, Prohibition led to more crime and more money spent on failed enforcement of these laws.
How the St. Valentine's Day Massacre Changed Gun Laws
In the aftermath of the massacre, Illinois passed legislation making possessing loaded firearms illegal within city limits. The National Rifle Association called the law "the worst piece of pro-crime legislation ever enacted."
In 1934, Congress passed the National Firearms Act, requiring the registration of every firearm owned by anyone. And in 1938, President Franklin D Roosevelt signed the Federal Firearms Act, requiring universal background checks for buyers. These laws are still in effect today.
Learn more about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago, Prohibition, Capone, and Moran by visiting these websites:
Learn more about the author, Chicago personal injury lawyer Jonathan Rosenfeld here.