Crime In History
For many people, Valentine’s Day is one spent in deep contemplation of champagne, flowers, chocolate and all things related to romance and love. It’s not a stretch to say, it was also love that drove the shattering event that took place in Chicago on February 14, 1929 - the love of money and power.
On that morning, residents were yanked away from their candy hearts and lacy Valentine greetings, forced to face the harsh reality of the most bewildering and bloodiest development in gangster wars, an event fueled by prohibition, one which would be studied for centuries to come.
At 10:30 AM that cold morning in a crime so cleverly orchestrated that no one ever was convicted for it, mobsters indulged in the execution of seven unsuspecting men in suits and ties at an unheated, brick-walled Clark Street garage. The victims may have been unsuspecting but they were far from innocent. All but two or three of them belonged to the Bugs Moran gang, rivals of Al “Scarface” Capone.
In a contest that lasted years, Moran repeatedly provoked Capone by threatening to steal his bootlegging territories. While the law offered little significant interference to the Italian’s business, Moran and his Irish gang did. And they were more than just an inconvenience. Moran became a serious thorn in Capone’s side. On Scarface’s clear playing field, the Irishman was a huge hurdle that seemingly could not be disposed of with usual, simple gangster tactics.
Although never legally implicated in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, it appears to be nearly universally accepted that Capone hired the master-mind behind the coup. Every detail was planned with the intention of finally ridding the windy city of Moran and clearing the way for Capone's total control of every type of corruption plaguing Chicago.
Capone's motivation was certainly clear but his plan was later questioned. One report claims Capone was not after Moran himself but the key players in his gang. The thinking was Moran’s operation would crumble without the accomplices who helped his rise into power.
But evidence points to the more favored story that Capone’s focus was to take down Moran himself, and anyone who was unlucky enough to be present at the time. Gunmen from outside Chicago were chosen for the job to ensure that if there were any survivors, they would not be able to recognize the killers as a member of Capone's gang.
Arrangements were made to lure Moran and his gang into receiving a shipment of whiskey from a hijacker at an unheard of price, an offer they couldn’t refuse. On February 14 at 10:30 AM the shipment was to arrive. Moran’s men were ready and waiting to receive it.
The delivery turned into a cunning plan, which played out with four of Capone’s men arriving in something resembling a police car, and two of the men dressed as uniformed cops. Moran’s men could have defended themselves from the assault because they had a generous supply of weapons, but they believed it was just another police sting to confiscate booze, a routine they had no doubt experienced more than once. Without resistance they discarded their weapons as requested by the police and were immediately gunned down with a variety of weapons and a relentless hail of bullets.
Exiting the garage, the uniformed men held the plainly dressed men at gunpoint and forced them into the car. They escaped onto the streets of Chicago without even the slightest threat of pursuit. Nearby residents did not phone police. After hearing the gunshots neighbors fell into a false sense of security when they looked out their windows to see what looked like the law catching would-be criminals. When the authorities were finally alerted of the event, they were puzzled by why they had no reports of police involvement that matched witness accounts.
In the aftermath, seven bodies were found riddled. One look at the scene convinced nearly everyone that surviving such a brutal attack would be impossible. It was almost a foregone conclusion that the seven were dead until one victim was heard choking. Wounded by 15 bullets, Frank “Tightlips” Gusenberg clung to life against all odds. At the hospital investigators asked who shot him. Living up to his moniker, he replied “Nobody shot me.” His death followed quickly and authorities were never able to get the details they desperately needed from him.
Irony and Timing
Irony knows no boundaries. Capone allegedly was the man who approved the plot to bring down Moran yet on that Valentine’s Day, neither man was present at the garage on Clark Street.
“Bugs” Moran’s intention was to be at the garage for the irresistible deliver of whiskey but he was delayed and arrived later than 10:30. The sight of the police car outside the garage sent him fleeing away from the scene to avoid arrest.
Capone, on the other hand, never showed for the big day. He wasn’t even in Chicago. He denied all claims of his involvement and was able to supply proof of his well-timed vacation in Palm Island, Florida.
One of the victim’s of the massacre who was not a member of the Moran Gang was an optician with an itch to experience the excitement to be had in the company of bootlegging criminals. Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer should have been prescribing glasses to patients instead of hanging out with Moran’s gang.
In a case of strange timing, a truck driver had a brush with the crime car shortly before it arrived at the garage. A short distance from the garage, the driver rounded a corner and the two vehicles brushed against each other. The driver later reported to police that he did the right thing by stopping but the uniformed diver sent him quickly on his way.
The Perfect Crime
There were no trials and no convictions surrounding the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but not for the lack of effort. For the first time in a significant criminal case, ballistics were employed in the investigation. Unfortunately, not enough evidence was gathered.
The brick wall Moran’s gang faced as they were gunned down was removed from the garage and saved for historic purposes by a private party. Over the years it was moved from location to location by the owner and provided him with less than good luck wherever it was situated. Some bricks were removed and sold off over time and the remains of the wall are scheduled to find a home at a museum in Las Vegas.