“Within thirty seconds, the seven lay dead on the floor while their killers drove away…” (qtd. In “St. Valentine’s” DISCovering). The competition between the North Side Gang and the South side gang to dominate the alcohol business was fierce. Both gangs did more damage than any other during mob rule. What no one knew was that this day would change perspectives on alcohol across the country. The Saint Valentine’s Day massacre was a bloody incident between two rival gangs in Chicago, Illinois in the 1920s.
The earlier lives of Al Capone and George Moran heavily influenced their later life choices and actions. By 1929, two dominant rival gangs had been formed in Chicago, Illinois; Al “Scarface” Capone led the South Side Gang and George “Bugs” Moran led the North Side gang (Benson). Capone gathered a large amount of his wealth mainly through the illegal smuggling of alcohol, which was known as bootlegging, but gambling and prostitution also helped him reach his extreme wealth. By 1927, Capone was making roughly $60 million a year and his net worth reached over $100 million. Capone was known for eliminating his rivals if they were to interfere or act as an obstacle. His murder count in 1924 was sixteen and he killed sixty-four people in 1929 alone (History). Al Capone became one of the main public enemies by this point in time. His main goal was to terminate the North Side gang and its leader, George Moran (Benson). Before Capone and Moran led their gangs, each had a different leader. Dion O’Banion was the original leader of the North Side gang and Johnny Torrio led the South Side gang (Gingold). After O’Banion was shot and killed by four customers inside of his flower shop, Earl J. “Hymie” Weiss took over the North Side gang (Cavendish). Weiss gunned down Torrio, so Torrio left Chicago and put his empire in the hands of Alphonse, or Al, Capone, leaving him in charge of the South Side gang. Weiss made multiple attempts to kill Capone, but Capone was the one to eventually kill him. After Weiss’ murder, the North Side gang was left to George “Bugs” Moran (Gingold). The primary reason these mobs and gangs were so prominent was the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment on January 16, 1919. This banned the sale, transportation, and manufacturing of alcoholic beverages, and this law would become known as Prohibition. The Volstead Act was passed the following October to enforce the law (“St. Valentine’s Day” Funk). Prohibition ideations began with the first European colonists. In the late 1800s, the movement to ban alcohol quickly gained more popularity and movement. Supporters of Prohibition thought consumption of alcohol lead to laziness, contemptuous, and moral decay, which could lead to more crime. Prohibition was an overall failure. Drinking became an act of rebellion and status. Due to the passing of this law, mobsters and gangsters began smuggling and illegally selling alcohol. This became known as bootlegging. Gangs made millions by bootlegging alcohol (Benson). The passing of the Prohibition law increased crime rates in the United States during the 1920s (Cavendish). It was brought into southwest Michigan by Al Capone. This was because Southwest Michigan was the halfway point between Chicago, the primary bootlegging city, and Canada (Sheppard). Although violent, bootlegging gangs were not known for attacking the general public, especially not law enforcement figures. Some police officers were paid off to ride alongside the shipments for the gangs to ensure they arrived where they needed to be (Gingold). Prohibition “was a terrible joke; it made millions out of guys like Capone” (qtd. In Sheppard). In conclusion, both the backgrounds of Al Capone and George Moran had profound effects on their later life decisions.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre itself was a shooting that targeted North Side gang members on February 14, 1929. One day prior to the shooting, George Moran received a phone call about being sold a truck full of whiskey at a heavily discounted price coming from Detroit, Michigan. He ordered the truck to go to the SMC Cartage Company garage on North Clark Street at 10:30 A.M.. This was so he could keep it with all of his other trucks he used for bootlegging (Cavendish). While Moran and his gang were gathered at their garage waiting for the shipment, Capone ordered his main enforcer, Fred “Killer” Burke, to prepare a “surprise” for Moran and his crew (St. Valentine’s DISCovering). “As [Moran’s gang] stood in the winter air, the men were waiting not for an alcohol shipment, as they believed, but their deaths” (qtd. In Sheppard). Four members of the South Side gang, two of whom were dressed as police officers, entered Moran’s garage. The men ordered the North Side gang members to line up against a wall. They shot and killed seven men using at least two Thompson machine guns, a shotgun, and a revolver (Benson). Not only were the victims killed shot, but there were arms, legs, and even heads found that had been severed from the bodies. The machine guns sprayed the victim’s head, chests, and abdomens (Cavendish). Witnesses claimed to see the four South Side members exit and drive off in a detective-like car (Benson). Moran luckily avoided being killed by minutes. He and two of his lieutenants went to the garage that same morning. They spotted a police car, so the trio hid in a nearby coffee shop. Capone’s henchmen mistook one of Moran’s gangsters, Albert Weinshank, as Moran and began the attack. The six men dead on sight were Albert Kachellek, John May, Reinhart H. Schwimmer, Peter Gusenburg, Adam Heyer, and Albert Weinshank. Frank Gusenburg, another one of Moran’s gangsters was found with fourteen bullets in his body, crawling helplessly on the floor, begging for help when the actual police arrived. He refused to reveal any information about what had happened. Gusenberg was transported to a nearby hospital but later died that same day at 1:30 P.M. (Sheppard). Sergeant Clarence Sweeny said to him, “Who shot you, Frank?” and Gusenburg replied with “No one-nobody shot me” (qtd. In Sheppard). The actual execution of the shooting was meticulously thought out. Minimal evidence as to who was guilty was found. The only things the killers left behind were the bullets they shot- mostly from the Thompson machine guns- and the six bodies of the victims (Sheppard). Using updated forensics, it was later discovered the weapons used during the massacre consisted of three Thompson machine guns, one shotgun, and a .45 caliber revolver, making the total five guns. Knives and similar weapons were used to severe body parts from the victims (“St. Valentine’s” DISCovering). The St. Valentine’s Day massacre was a bloody encounter that killed seven North Side gang members.
Sentences and trials for the massacre were limited. Historians believe Capone was responsible for these murders, but it cannot be proved for sure. Some claim a petty bar fight had spiraled out of control and turned into this massacre; others claim Moran ordered the attacks to bring attention to his gang. The Purple Gang, a gang organized in Detroit, was also blamed. Some historians even believe the shooters were actual police officers, not impersonators. Whatever the case may be, the murders remain unsolved (“St. Valentine’s” Funk). Both Capone and Moran were asked for their thoughts on who ordered the attack. Moran told the reporters “Only Capone kills like that” while Capone told them “The only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran” (qtd. In (History). Capone could not be arrested due to him having a sound alibi; he was in his Palm Springs home in Florida when the massacre took place, therefore he could not have killed anyone. But because of his notoriety authorities began to look for other reasons to get a warrant for his arrest (Jones). Because Moran was not present at the time of the murders, he also could not have killed anyone, and because of this, he could not be given a sufficient and fair trial or punishment (Benson). Two of Capone’s gangsters were accused and tried for these murders. One was murdered before he could serve his sentence and the other had an alibi, which was his girlfriend (Cavendish). There were a few eyewitnesses to the incident. From what they told police gunmen went to the garage, some in police uniforms, and pretended to arrest men so they could kill them. Unfortunately for investigators this was not new information and was overall not helpful (History). Capone’s main enforcer Fred Burke became a primary suspect because of the fact he worked with Capone. A warrant was issued for his arrest and a prize of $24,500 was placed on him. Shockingly, Burke was relieved to finally be arrested; he claimed other gangs were out to get him. Four police officers, a sheriff, and a constable surrounded his house. Burke’s father in law answered the door and the six asked to see Richard White, which was Burke’s fake name. His father in law said he did not know anyone by that name. They showed him the warrant and entered the house. Burke was found lying in bed and police arrested him without firing any shots. Burke later died before having a trial or sentencing. Chicago authorities hired Colonel Calvin Goddard to identify the exact weapons used to try to get a lead as to who was guilty. He was known to be an expert on weapons. Goddard tested every Thompson machine gun owned by police in Cook County, but not a single one matched the bullets found at the crime scene. Further testing of forty plus weapons and bullets of seventy-four gang war victims still yielded no results (Sheppard). Special Agent Frank Wilson, along with other members of the Intelligence Unit of the Internal Revenue Service, was responsible for pulling a case together to convict Capone for a separate case because authorities were still certain he was guilty of planning the massacre (History). However, the massacre is still an unsolved case. Despite having multiple suspects rounded up, no one was ever tried or convicted. (Sheppard). Although not solved, the murders on February 14, 1929, remain one of the most notorious crimes to this day.
The later lives of Al Capone and George Moran quickly went downhill. “With his highly effective organization, his impressive income, and his willingness to ruthlessly eliminate his rivals, Capone had become the country’s most notorious gangster, and the newspapers dubbed him ‘Public Enemy Number One’” (qtd. In History). But shortly after the massacre, Capone’s downfall began. He failed to show up to court in March of 1929 for trial and was arrested for contempt of court. He faced charges of carrying concealed weapons two short months later and was sentenced to jail. Capone was released after nine months for well-behaving (History). Because there was not enough evidence to arrest Capone for the massacre, authorities found another reason to arrest him in 1931- for federal tax evasion. He was one of the most wanted criminals at the time. Capone was sentenced to eleven years in prison. After being found guilty, he went to serve his time first in an Atlanta prison then in Alcatraz, a maximum-security federal prison no longer in operation. Capone ended up being released in 1939 (History). He died at home in 1947 in Palm Springs. Moran’s gang was significantly weakened after the murders took place (Cavendish). Moran held his ground but his gang never fully regained morale or status. Eventually, the North Side gang was entirely taken over by the Chicago Outfit, a larger and more powerful gang that is still around today (Cavendish). Capone “died an invalid recluse… in 1947” (qtd. In History). Despite working for his entire career to be a famous gangster, his status was now irrelevant, and more powerful gangs had already replaced his. After the massacre, unlicensed saloons, or speakeasies, stills, and breweries were targeted to be shut down by Chicago law enforcement authorities. This was because the ban on alcohol had created more problems than it had solved; it created these gangs and forced them to smuggle it because it was illegal to sell it (“St. Valentine’s” Funk). Citizens’ stories about crime helped the repealing of the eighteenth amendment. They helped lawmakers realize the amendment was not solving anything, it was only creating more crime (Gingold). The United States government realized how heavily gangs and mobs relied on this law and how they used it to their advantage. Prohibition was finally lifted in 1933 with the passing of the twenty-first amendment (Jones). Furthermore, the unfortunate reality of being a mobster was they were usually either killed or incarcerated. Even when alcohol was relegalized, the gangs and mobs that had formed as a result were still active. The gang leaders realized they greatly benefitted from having such a large group cooperating, so crime rates did not decrease suddenly (Gingold). The massacre itself has gained fame since its occurrence in 1929. Bricks with bullet holes from the killings were sold and some even ended up in The Mob Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada. The building itself was eventually destroyed. Even though it gave them popularity and fame, The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre quickly resulted in disaster for Al Capone and George Moran.
The gang rivalry between Al Capone and George Moran caused the most famous massacre in the 1920s. Both gangs quarreled over ruling the city of Chicago, destroying anything in their path including the other’s gang. Prohibition was the leading cause of crime rates skyrocketing during the 1920s and for decades after that. In conclusion, Prohibition laws, the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, and its participating gangs caused the most notorious incident in mob history.