02/14 – The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre

A police reenactment of the shooting in the wake of the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago. (Daily Telegraph)

On this day in 1929, seven men from the Irish North Side Mob gathered in a garage in Lincoln Park, Chicago in order to buy stolen Canadian whiskey. Albert Kachellek, the gang’s second-in-command, was there, as well as the bookkeeper Adam Heyer and the Gusenberg brothers, two “enforcers”. At around 10:30 AM, two police officers and two men in suits walked in. The North Side men had no reason for concern; after all, the illegal whiskey hadn’t arrived yet. They began to worry, however, as the policemen aimed their Thompson Submachine Guns and ordered the men to line up and face the wall. When the deafening gunfire was over and the real police had arrived, only one of the enforcers, Frank Gusenberg, was alive. He had 14 bullet holes in his body. When asked who had fired at him, he replied “no one shot me”. Three hours later, Gusenberg was dead.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill firing a Thompson M1 Submachine Gun, a variant of the weapon used during the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. The two guns owned by “Killer” Burke were equipped with 50 and 20-round magazines. (The Firearm Blog)

At the time, the main rivals of the North Side mob were the Italian South Side outfit run by Al Capone. The North Side Mob had recently begun muscling in on Capone’s business, including a dog track and several bars in South Side territory. North Side leader “Bugs” Moran had publicly insulted Capone too, an unforgivable sleight. In response, Capone contracted the killings out to Egan’s Rats, an Irish/Jewish gang who possessed a number of automatic weapons. Their target at the Lincoln Park garage was “Bugs” Moran, but Moran was late for the meeting. Additionally, one of the North Side men was dressed identically to Moran, so the Egan’s Rats men assumed it to be the North Side leader.

Al Capone’s infamous mugshot. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was just one example of the extreme gang violence that plagued American urban centres during the interwar period. It was, however, somewhat of a tipping point as the public began demanding an end to the killings. Al Capone, labeled “public enemy no. 1”, was targeted by Federal Agents for crimes that were essentially public knowledge. In the end, however, he was only indicted for tax evasion, and served 11 years in Alcatraz Prison.

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