John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre by John William Tuohy

The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.  There is no proof, but if legend is correct, the massacre of the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was planned by Machine Gun Jack McGurn (Vincenzo Gibaldi)

    Several days before the murders, someone from the Capone organization…. someone whose voice Boss George Bugs Moran (1893-1957) would not recognize, placed a call to the Irishman, posing as an independent hijacker with a load of hijacked Old Log Cabin whiskey to sell at a below market price.

Moran leaped at the offer. The caller said he would call back when he had the shipment ready. Two weeks passed before the Capone hood called Moran again. He said he had a shipment that he could deliver on February 14, 1929, Valentine’s Day, at 11 a.m. Moran said he would be there with his crew to help unload the truck on the gang’s garage on 2122 North Clark Street. Moran had called the gang the night before and told them to be at the garage early, he was expecting a shipment of Old Log Cabin Whiskey between 10 and eleven o’clock Temperatures had dipped to zero that Thursday morning, February 14, 1929. The sky was gray and the streets were covered with a blanketed of snow and ice, causing a bad rush hour, worse than usual. More snow was predicted for the end of the day.

     That morning, Al Capone was in Florida at his beachfront mansion. The first to arrive at the brick, one story warehouse of the S-M-C Cartage Company garage at 2122 North Clark Street was John May, who unlocked the front doors at about 8:30 a.m.

He wanted to get an early start on a flatbed requiring a new oil pan. He brought with him his beloved Alastatian named Highball, who, from where he was leashed to the truck’s gate. 

  May, at 35, (1894-1929) was the least dangerous of the group. A $50 a week mechanic, May had joined up with the Moran’s after a failed career as a safecracker. His one arrest, in 1913, for larceny, was stricken from the records. 

      The son of Irish immigrant parents, and the father of seven children, he had promised his wife, Hattie he would stay out of trouble and the day he left for the garage, he carried a case with a saint’s medal in his back pocket. He was working on a truck that morning, with his dog tied to the bumper, while six other men waited for the truck of hijacked whiskey to arrive.

     The always-miserable Gusenberg (Gusenberger) brothers arrived at about 9:30 they were the toughest members of the gang. Frank Gusenberg AKA Hock (1888-1929) was married to Lucille Gusenberg and Ruth Gusenberg at the same time. (Unknown to them)    

     The son of a German immigrant, Frank’s first arrest came in 1911 (under the name Bloom) for disorderly conduct, although from 1909 to 1914 he was held as a suspect in numerous robberies and burglaries. In 1911, he served 90 days in the Bridewell prison for disorderly conduct. In 1924 he was tried, but found not guilty of burglary. Another robbery charge in 1926 was dismissed Peter Gusenberg ((1889-1929) AKA Goosey never explained to his wife Myrtle Coppleman, that he was a gangster. Instead, she was convinced that he was salesman whose last name was Gorman.

     Peter Gusenberg appeared on police blotters in 1902 for larceny, did three years at Joliet prison for burglary in 1906 until 1909, but was returned there in 1911 on a parole violation. 
In 1923 he was sentenced, with Big Tim Murphy, to three years in Leavenworth on a mail robbery charge. Primarily, the Gusenberg’s are enforcers for enforcers for Moran. James Clark (1887-1929) and Adam Heyer (1888-1929) followed the Gusenberg’s into the garage. 

      Clark (Albert Kachellek) was 42 years old, the son of German immigrant parents. His record started in 1905 for confidence games and robbery, robbery in 1910 followed by a term in Pontiac reformatory for burglary. The States Attorney’s struck two charges of robbery and one of murder from the records in 1914. Since he was constantly in trouble, he changed his name to James Clark for his mother’s sake. Clark was primarily an enforcer.

     Adam Heyer, age 40, AKA Adam Hayes, John Snyder, Frank Snyder was the Moran’s business manager and accountant. The warehouse was leased in his name. Seven months before he had married his wife Mame.  Heyer’s record went back to 1908 for armed robbery, for which he served a year in the Bridewell prison. In 1915, he was sent to Joliet prison for running a confidence game. Released a year later, he was locked up again on a parole violation in 1923.

     Albert Weinshank, (Weinshenker, 1903-1929) arrived last. The son of a Russian immigrant father, Weinshank was part of Moran’s Cleaners and Dyers racket. Otherwise, he owned a speakeasy, the Alcazar. From a distance he bore a resemblance to Moran and the Capone look out’s may have mistaken him for Moran on the day of the massacre.

     The last to enter the garage was probably Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer, age 29. (1900-1929) An optometrist by trade. Not a gangster himself, Schwimmer is thrilled to be in the company of real gangsters. He had been around the gang since the days of Dion O’Bannon.

     By 10:30 a.m., there were seven men gathered in the garage. As May worked on the truck, the others drank coffee and warmed themselves near a small iron space heater in the corner. 

     After Weinshank, the man who resembled Moran, entered the garage, two of Capone’s lookout’s who were stationed across the street on the third floor of a Mrs. Doody’s boarding house, (2119 North Clark, still standing) picked up the phone and (probably) called the Circus Café where the killers were waiting in a rented garage at 1722 North Wood, and told them that Moran had arrived.

     The four climbed into a black, 1927 Cadillac, doctored to look like a police car. Two of the assassins were dressed as police officers. The other three wore long trench coats and fedoras. Tucked inside their coats were sawed-off shotguns and Thompson submachine guns.

     If Fred Killer Burke was there, he was probably driving the car, which pulled up outside the SMC Cartage Company a few minutes past 10:30. At the Parkway Hotel, several blocks away from the garage, George Bugs Moran kissed his wife Alice goodbye and took the elevator down to the lobby where he met Ted Newberry waiting. Moran was late getting up that morning. It was already 10:30  

 As he and Newberry were rounding the corner, they spotted the police wagon rolled up. Figuring the police were there for just a routine bust, Moran and Newberry took a left from the alley they were walking on to Clark Street from and had a coffee until the raid was over. 
  At about that same moment, another Moran enforcer, Willie Marks, was approaching the garage from a different angle, spotted the police, and also veered off the path. After a re-enactment of the crime, authorities concluded that the two men dressed as policemen entered the garage and acted as if they were police on a routine investigation. They disarmed the Moran’s and forced them up against the wall.

                                        North Clark Street on the day of the killings 

  As soon as their backs were turned, the two men in plain clothes entered with rifles and machine guns and shot them down. A bullet struck the small metal case that mechanic John May was carrying in his back pocket. Half of May’s face was obliterated by close up shotgun blast.

      Witness saw the two uniformed policemen exit the garage while escorting two plain clothed men who held their hands up in the air, as if they were under arrest.

May’s dog, Highball, inside of the warehouse, was barking and howling and when neighbors went to check and see what was going on... they discovered the murder scene. When the police arrived, they found Frank Gusenberg alive, breathing heavily and choking on his own blood. When he was asked for the identity of the killer, he shook his head “No” and breathed,  “I’m not going to talk,” before he laid his head back and died.

     When a rumor spread that it was actually Chicago policemen, and not gangsters dressed as policemen, who did the killing, a forensic scientist from New York, Calvin Goddard, was called in to test all the machine guns in the police forces possession to rule out the possibility.

     Goddard could not match up any weapon in the police arsenal to the bullets found at the scene.  Some think that two of the killers, the two dressed as policemen, were Capone killers John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, who had been used in almost every Capone hit of any importance during the Twenties. 

Other suspects, Louis Campagna, (1900-1955) Claude “Screwy” Maddox, a member of the Circus Gang, Joey Lolordo, younger brother of the murdered Pasquelino, Tony Accardo, Sam Giancana, Machine Gun McGurn, George ‘Shotgun’ Ziegler, and (1897-1934) Gus Winkler and ‘Crane Neck’ Nugent No one will ever know with exact certainty that the killers were.

     The only person closely identified was Fred “Killer” Burke also known as Fred Dane. Machine guns found in his home were tested and compared to bullets removed from the dead gangsters and were perfect matches.  A woman who noticed the killers flee also described Burke. She identified Burke as the policeman who was wearing round sunglasses and missing tooth.  Burke was never brought to Illinois to be tried for the massacre. Instead he was convicted for the killing of a policeman in Michigan and sentenced to life.

     Willie Marks was lucky that day. He cheated fate, but fate caught up with him in the summer of 1933, when, acting as a bodyguard for Chicago’s Teamster President Pat Burrell, he and Burrell were murdered by the Mob as they fished in a Wisconsin Lake.  Several months later, the Mob caught up with Teddy Newberry too. His sin was to take a stab at power in an ill-fated partnership with Chicago’s Mayor Anton Cermak.

      In the middle of the day, the Boys yanked Newberry off a Northside Street, pulled him into the back seat of car, tied him in barbed wire, beat him savagely, burned his face with cigarettes and finally shot him through the head and dumped in roadside ditch in Indiana.

     By November of 1946, Bugs Moran had fallen on hard times and had turned to pulling off smalltime robberies.  By 1947, the Bugs were serving twenty to life behind bars for a bank robbery in Ansonia, Ohio. He died in a prison hospital, of lung cancer, in February of 1957. The Moran gang executioners didn’t fare much better.

  A hustler named Jimmy “Bozo” Shupe who provided the guns used in the massacre, was stabbed to death. 

 Joe Giunta, John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, all suspected gunman in the massacre, were dead by 1934, all murdered by the Mob. Al Capone beat the latter two to death with a baseball bat.  The Purple Gang, who arranged the fake whisky shipment to bring the gang to the garage, and may have provided the look outs as well, were killed off before the close of the decade, mostly at their own hands.

The Purple Gang

Right after the massacre, police raided the home of Fred “The Killer” Burke, a member of the Egan’s Rats gang, where they found the Tommy Guns used in the massacre. Burke fled Chicago to Michigan, where he shot and killed a patrolman named Charlie Skelly three times, after Skelly tried to stop Burke for his part in a hit and accident. 
Killer Burke

                                                              Burke's weapons

Officer Skelly

Burke's hideout

     The Skelly murder outraged the state of Michigan, and when Burke was finally captured a year later, it refused to honor Chicago’s request to extradite the killer to face trial for his role in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Burke died in the Michigan State prison and never talked about the Valentine’s Day killings. However, according to a jailhouse snitch, Burke’s playmates in the massacre included “Smiling” Gus Winkler and Murray Humphreys. In late 1933, Winkler was murdered outside of a beer plant, owned by Cook County Commissioner Charles Weber, at 1414 Roscoe Street. As Winkler strolled towards Weber’s office, the killers leaped out of a green truck and fired low, into his waist.
 Ezra Milford Jones, left, Gus Winkler and Fred Burke

     In all, 72 pellets and bullets went into Winkler in a matter of seconds; he was literally riddled with gunshot from his neck to his ankles.  It was never clearly established why Winkler was killed or who killed him. It could have been anyone, for any one of a hundred reasons.

     By 1933, Machine Gun Jack McGurn, the number one suspect in the massacre, was broke and out of power. How broke McGurn was came through when newspaper reporters found him in a midtown restaurant and asked him if he had anything to do with the kidnapping of Jake the Barbers son, Jerome Factor. “Boys” McGurn said “I ain’t made a payment on my house, the roof over my head, in 11 months, so’s I guess I’m gonna lose the place to foreclosure. So if I snatched Jake’s kid, believe you me, I would have collected the dough long before this”

    Three years later, Jack McGurn went down to Florida and begged Willie Heeney, a pimp and drug addict under Capone, but a power in the labor extortion business, to set up a meeting between him, the Mobs banker, Jake Guzak and Nitti. In the old days, Heeney would have told the world that one of Capone’s top sluggers was interested in talking to him.
  Now it was different. At the age of 33 McGurn’s world had fallen apart. The Saint Valentine’s Day murders had made him too hot for the syndicate to deal with.  His gorgeous wife, Louis Rolf, “The Blonde Alibi” he had used to keep him from being convicted for his role in the Massacre by testifying they were holed up in a love nest at the time of the shooting, left him years ago when his money ran because of his gambling problem. 

   Now McGurn was reduced to running numbers and selling junk, dope, in the Black neighborhoods. But he wasn’t much good at that either.   McGurn was never an “earner”, a money hustler; he was an enforcer, a pretty boy killer, with a mean streak. But, with Capone gone and the beer wars over, McGurn was of no use to anyone anymore. And a lot of hatred towards him from inside the Mob was personal.

    As McGurn went down the in the ranks, the hoods that had been on the lower end of the chain, like Heeney, were rising up and they delighted in abusing the once arrogant McGurn, now that Capone wasn’t around to protect him. 

   Now, in 1936, when the Mob was on the brink of earning more money than it ever dreamed of, Machine Gun Jack McGurn had to beg for a five-minute appointment to see Heeney, Guzak and Nitti. In the meeting, held on a golf course outside Miami, McGurn said that he needed a job inside Nitti’s loan sharking operation.

 They turned him down. He was high profile and the stigma of the massacre never left him.  In desperation, McGurn launched into a plan he had of running dope from the Caribbean into Chicago to flood the Black neighborhoods. If the bosses would front the money, McGurn swore, his plan would make them all rich.

      That’s how far down the ladder McGurn was. He didn’t know Nitti was already working with Lucky Luciano to establish dope routes in California and Florida.   McGurn was dismissed and told to return to Chicago. He was all done in the rackets as far as they were concerned.

     In 1936, the evening before Saint Valentine’s Day, Machine Gun Jack McGurn went bowling at a second floor alley at 805 Milwaukee Avenue. (Still standing, it has been a warehouse for many decades since the murder) Three men walked in and stood behind his chair. One of them said “Stick em up and stand where you are.” Nobody knows who the three men were.

     Years later, Tony Accardo said he had been in the group, but as Accardo’s power grew, and fewer and fewer people questioned his tales, The Accardo had a tendency to put himself virtually everywhere in Mob history including his claim that he was one of the gunmen at the massacre. While that doesn’t seem likely, there is some evidence that Accardo and other member of his Alma Mata, the Circus Gang, did plan the massacre. One of the three killers whispered to McGurn “This is for you, you son a bitch” and then aimed a pistol carefully just below McGurn’s right ear, and then fired a volley into the McGurn. Then he fired another round into his lower neck.

     The pool hall owner, oddly enough named Tony Accardo, watched the first bullet enter McGurn, and then leaped for the floor and rolled under a pool table, and then watched the men carefully stretch out McGurn’s body on the alley way and leave a card on his chest that showed a man and women without clothes on, staring at a sign that read “House for sale.” 

   The card read
“You lost your job”
“You lost your dough
“Your Jewels and Handsome Houses”
“But things could be much worse you know”
“You could have lost your trousers”

     Before the killers left, one of them turned and walked back to the table where McGurn had been sitting just a minute before, and took the tally sheet which had the names of McGurn’s bowling partners on it, shoved it in his pocket and walked away into the night. The police found $3.85 in his pockets. There was no life insurance policy, but somehow the family managed to have him buried in a $1,000.00 copper coffin. His three younger brothers carried him to his grave, while McGurn’s mother wailed “Why! Why did they kill my boy? He never did anything to anybody!”


McGurn and his stepbrother, Anthony Gebardi in their golf attire after being arrested on the course in Miami in 1930

  Al Capone, jailed at Alcatraz, sent a dozen white roses. Sixteen days later, on March 2, perhaps remembering the families tradition for vengeance, the Mob hunted down McGurn’s younger brother and former bodyguard, Anthony, to a local pool hall where he was playing cards and cut him to pieces with a rifle.    Nobody will ever know who killed McGurn or why. The popular theory was that Bugs Moran had done the deed, but that doesn’t seem likely.

      In June of 1958, Claude Maddox died in his sleep, of natural causes. Maddox had been the boss of the Old Circus gang, and had played a major role in planning the massacre by providing the guns, police car and uniforms.
                                                       Sam Hunt and Claude Maddox

 Unlike everyone else connected to the murders, Maddox had played his cards right over the years, and rose up in syndicate, working under Jake Guzak for a while, and then for Murray Humphreys. He died a rich, powerful man.  It was Maddox who burned and chopped up the car used to carry the killers to Moran’s warehouse, and if the testimony of a hood named Byron Bolton is to be believed, Maddox was also one of the murders at the massacre, although that seems doubtful. The FBI showed up to photograph Maddox’s funeral, and the burial. Tension was high and several hoods in attendance talked about shooting the agents until Boss Tony Accardo’s cooler head prevailed.

     The other primary killers in the massacre were the Purple Gang of Detroit. The gangs undisputed leader was Sammy “Purple” Cohen who joined his gang with the Oakland Sugarhouse gang under the direction of the Bernstein brothers, Abe, Ray and Joe. Together they were transformed from a small time gang of troublesome teens to bootleggers and occasional muscle for other, larger bootleg gangs. Author Paul Kavieff, who has written extensively about the gang said    “The Purples were, for the most part, the sons of recently immigrated Russian Jews, although some of the members were actually born in the old country and brought here as infants, all of them were the sons of the working poor.

 The Purples were really a very loose confederation of mostly, but not exclusively, Jewish gangsters. Well, the gang started as a group of juvenile delinquents on the lower east side of Detroit, a group of about 16 or 17 children from the same neighborhood. Mostly they were involved in the usual petty crime of juveniles, rolling drunks and stealing from hucksters.
It was the advent of prohibition that really got them organized, prohibition started in Michigan on May 1, 1918. Detroit was really the first US City with a population of over 250,000 to have a prohibition law. 

The opportunities provided by that, early prohibition, are what helped to escalate these kids into mobsters. Remember, Detroit is a mile away from Windsor, Canada and beer was easily available there from their export docks. Strangely, Ontario, where Windsor is, had a prohibition law but not a law against exporting liquor to countries that didn’t have prohibition, so just about anybody with a rowboat could go over there, and tell the export people they were picking up a shipment that was to go to Cuba. Nobody asked a lot of questions. 

The money was fantastic, by 1923 the bootleg business in Detroit was estimated to be over $250,000,000 a year, but the Purples weren’t so much involved in bootlegging liquor as they were hijacking liquor and that was really how they made their reputation.  They were a predatory group and they were known for their ruthlessness, I mean they shoot everybody during these hijackings, even the guys who were simply driving the trucks.  

     What resulted was that if you were making a beer delivery and were robbed by the Purples, you fought to the death, because you knew that the Purples were going to haul you out of the truck and kill you anyway. By 1925, the Purples had established themselves as strong-arm guys, bodyguards and the like, for gamblers in Detroit. But what gave them life as a gang was that they had an enormous payroll, they had cops on their payroll, city officials, newspaper people, really they could not have operated the way they did without the official nod.”

      As to the gangs name, Kavieff wrote “There isn’t a lot of available to clearly explain the origins of the name, but it was probably a journalistic adventure because I found no reference to any operation called the Purple Gang until 1928. One story was that when they were kids and were stealing from shopkeepers, one of the shopkeepers said that “those kids are off-colored, they’re purple, purple like the color of bad meat.” Another story is that there had been two brothers, Sam and Ben Purple, who had been associated with the gang when they were juveniles, but had nothing to do with the adult organized crime group. But I don’t believe that has anything to do with it. Again, my best guess is that the name was a media invention.

     The core group of the gang was composed of the Bernstein brothers, Abe and Joe, who were the leaders of the gang. Abe was more or less the diplomat Joe was the mover and shaker on the street.   He later became a legitimate businessman. The core was ten or twelve guys who grew up on the lower east side of Detroit. Sometimes the gang numbered as high as eighteen or slightly more.

    The Purples did sell drugs, actually I should say, what they did was to create a protection racket for the hoods who did sell drugs as a main source of income. So a dealer could operate in the city and make a lot of money selling drugs in so long as they kicked back to the Purple Gang, if they didn’t kick back to the Purples, then the Purples brutally put them out of business.   The same was true for the Handbook industry. Once there was one Handbook operator who refused to pay the Purples so they took him and brought him out to the Lake, cut a hole in it and dunked him in the ice a couple of times, after that, he paid.   

    The so-called Little Jewish Navy was a fraction of the Purple Gang and was led by a hood named One Armed Gelfin. Gelfin and several others in the group were Chicago gangsters who were thrown out of Chicago by the Capone mob, were the core of the group. Again, there were about ten or twelve members in all.   They were bankrolled in this venture by the Purples. The group also did enforcement work for the Purples too. Otherwise, they had about a dozen fast boats and they hauled liquor from Canada into Detroit.

     They came to prominence as labor muscle field during the Cleaners and Dyers war, where the Purples and several Chicago hoods organized the Detroit Cleaners and Dyers by creating trade associations that they controlled and then extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars a year out of the industry, which was a lot of money in those days. The Purples’ brutality in this is what helped them to make their mark in the underworld.

   What distinguished the Purple gang from other gangs of the same size was their ready and willingness to kill. The gang, which never numbered more than 51 members, excelled in extortion, shipment protection, trafficking of narcotics, bootleg liquor, gambling and the occasional hijacking of unprotected liquor shipments. In the mid- 1920s, the Chicago mob under Al Capone made contacts with the gang.

   The Capone organization put the Purples in contact with their other satellite gang, Egan’s rats out of St. Louis.  “There was so much liquor coming through Detroit” Kavieff said “that Al Capone decided he was going to set up a base of operation here; well, in 1927 he came here and had a meeting with the Purples and the Italian mobs and told them what his idea was. Well, they told him, basically, “That river belongs to us” and that he wasn’t moving in here. And Capone, who was an astute businessman, realized that instead of going to war with the Purples, it would just be easier set them up as his agents in Detroit. So the Purples put a label on Canadian Club whisky and called it Old Log Cabin, good quality liquor that they were selling to the Capone’s. 

      One of the people that Capone sold Old Log Cabin to was Bugs Moran. Bug Moran decided that he wasn’t making enough money off his liquor sales and decided to buy from some hijackers who had an inferior product which Moran was actually selling at a high profit. But his distributors started complaining about the quality and when Moran called Capone and said that he wanted to start selling Old Log Cabin again, Capone said that he was sorry, that he had already sold Moran’s consignment to somebody else.
 So Moran started hijacking the Purple Gang supplied trucks, which probably brought the Purples in on the murder as conspirators.

      Three of the Purples rented rooms across the street from Moran’s warehouse in fact and Abe Bernstein, acting as an anonymous hijacker, set up a deal with Moran to sell Moran a load of hijacked Purple gang liquor that he was willing to sell for a very low price and Moran agreed to meet him at his now famous garage.

 The role of the Purples were the spotters, they watched the Moran’s enter the garage and then tipped off a group of hitmen from a gang called Egan’s Rats. That was why Moran lived, the Purples mistook Al Wienshank as Moran.
 The gang became so well known for kidnapping that they were, for a short time, prime suspects in the disappearance of the Lindbergh baby. Their nationwide reputation eventually did them in. 

Although the gang remained a force in the Underworld of prohibition, they started to fall apart in the early 1930s. The 1931 butchering of gangsters Hymie Paul, Izzy Sutker and Joe Leibovitz at 1740 Collingwood Avenue on September 16, 1931 and the convictions that followed, signaled the end of the Purple Gang forever.    

  The remaining members of the gang were eventually murdered or chased out of the underworld by the new mobs and by 1935, the Purple gang was no more. The scene of the crime, Moran’s warehouse, has its own dreary history as well. 

      In 1936, The S. M. C.  Cartage Company, the site of the St. Valentine’s Day murders, was an empty warehouse.    No one wanted to buy it. That changed in 1945, when the Werner family turned it into an antique shop and were besieged by mail and visitors, crime buffs, from all over the world.  The property was demolished in 1967, but a businessman named George Patey purchased the bricks from the infamous wall, and reconstructed them inside a bar room in Vancouver, Canada. 

     In 1997, the bricks were packaged individually and are now for sale over the Internet.   Today, the murder site is a small, pleasant park for senior citizens, nothing else remains of it 


MadSam said...

Nice piece!!

Bloglapedia said...

Glad you liked and good to hear from you again, I hope you are well.