Did You Know? – St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Joann Wolwowicz

With Valentine’s Day being just yesterday, it seemed fitting to do this week’s “Did You Know” about something that happened on that day way back in 1929. Known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the shooting took place in a garage in Chicago, Illinois, the one city in the country that had been quickly gaining a reputation for violence. This was largely due to the amount of gang warfare that occurred, primarily led by the man known as the chief crime lord: Al Capone. The violence was between Capone and his rivals. The bloody climax on Valentine’s Day was known as the bloody climax to this gang war, due to the fact that it marked the end of significant opposition to Capone’s rule in Chicago.

Al Capone, also known as Al “Scarface” Capone, took over for his boss Johnny Torrio in 1925, after Torrio retired to Brooklyn after an assassination attempt. During this time, American gangsters earned their money through the illegal manufacturing and selling of alcohol and the operation of illicit drinking establishments known as speakeasies. Gambling and prostitution were also factors in the massive amounts of money these gangsters made during this time of Prohibition. Research states that Capone made a total of $60 million a year, with a net worth of $100 million in 1927 from these activities. This is why Capone was determined to gain control over most of his rivals, eliminating his completion.

By 1924, the authorities stated that there had been at least sixteen gang-related murders, all of which they believed that Capone had been responsible, since he was known to like to gun down his rivals. These murders continued, and in 1929, there was a high of 64 murders in one year. However, the most gruesome murders of all occurred on February 14, 1929, when seven men who were known to be associated with the Irish gangster George Morgan, also known as George “Bugs” Morgan. Morgan was known to be Capone’s longtime enemy and ran his bootlegging operations out of a garage on the North Side of Chicago. In this same garage, the massacre occurred.

Several men dressed as policemen entered the garage and made Morgan’s men line up standing, facing the wall. Around 70 rounds of ammunition were fired at the men. However, when police arrived, one gang member was still alive, but barely. Frank Gusenberg was pressed to reveal what had happened, but he refused to talk before he died. There were only a handful of eyewitnesses, but it was eventually discovered that the med had impersonated policemen. Morgan, who had been on his way to the garage and missed the massacre by minutes, immediately blamed Capone’s gang. Capone, however, claimed to be at home in Florida.

No one was ever brought to trial for the murders. This was one of the first major crimes that the science of ballistics was used to determine who the shooters were and what weapons were used. Machine guns were determined to have been used in the shooting. Though the police never had enough evidence to convict Al Capone, who had the airtight alibi of being in Florida, the public believed that he was responsible. This made Capone a national celebrity and brought him the unwanted attention of the federal government. This is why it is commonly said that though the massacred ended any significant opposition to Capone, it also marked the beginning of his downfall. Dubbed as “Public Enemy No. 1,” federal authorities began investigating Capone.