On St. Valentine's Day, 1929, one of America's most atrocious crimes was committed when seven men were lined up against a wall in a bootlegger's garage and machine-gunned to death. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the centerpiece crime of the lawless decade, climaxed ten years of wholesale murder. The mass killing took place in Chicago, America's favorite crime scene, and the man behind the bloodbath was none other than Mr. Death himself, Al Capone.1
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was the straw that broke the camel's back. The killings were so open and savage, they unsettled hardened gangsters. Al Capone had gone too far, and the citizens of Chicago had had enough. The violence would have to stop.
Besides marking the beginning of the end of Capone's career and the gangster era itself, the crime boosted the science of firearms identification to new heights. Calvin Goddard's success in the case would establish firearms identification as a standard investigative inquiry.
It all started when George “Bugs” Moran, the leader of a gang operating in North Chicago, began hijacking shipments of whisky to Capone from Detroit. With his supply of booze endangered, Capone decided to take remedial action.2
An undercover spy working in the Moran camp arranged for a valuable shipment of Capone whisky to be delivered to Moran's warehouse. The shipment was to be offloaded on February 14 at 10:30 in the morning. Capone wanted to get Moran and his men together in one place so they could be eliminated en masse. Capone wanted to know if Moran had taken the bait, so he had three of his men watching the warehouse that morning from boarding rooms across the street. From this vantage point his men watched as members of the Moran gang reported to work.
The first man to appear was Johnny May, a $50 a week auto mechanic. A few minutes later Adam Heyer arrived. Heyer was Moran's accountant who had done time for embezzlement. Heyer was followed by James Clark, Moran's brother-in-law. Clark had served time for burglary and robbery and had beaten a rap for murder. The next to arrive were the Gusenberg brother, Pete and Frank, each with long felony prison records. The sixth man to enter the garage wasn't in the gang. He was Dr. Reinhardt H. Schwimmer, a local optometrist. Schwimmer was a hoodlum worshipper, sort of a groupie, who had stopped by on his way to his office to say hello to his heroes. The seventh man was Albert R. Weinshank, a speakeasy owner and official of Moran's cleaning and dyeing association. The important think about Weinshank was he looked and dressed like Moran. When the Capone men across the street saw the six-foot, broad-shouldered Weinshank in his fedora hat and light gray top coat walk into the warehouse, they were under the false impression that Moran had arrived. When Weinshank was inside, one of the Capone men went to a phone to set things in motion. He reported that Moran and six of his men had taken the bait and were in place for the kill.
Bugs Moran, Ted Newberry, and the third Gusenberg brother, Henry, were still on their way to the warehouse. As they approached their destination, they saw a black Packard pull up in front of the building. It was the kind of car used by the Chicago Detective Bureau. Five men alighted from the vehicle. Two of them were in police uniforms and the other three wore civilian overcoats. Moran thought his warehouse was being raided by the police, so he and his two assistants fled the scene. Their lives had been saved by their tardiness and alertness.
The uniformed men walked through the front office into the warehouse area. With revolvers drawn, they ordered the seven men up against the yellow brick wall. Moran's men protested angrily as they were being disarmed by the phony cops. When this was done, the men in overcoats entered the garage. Two of the men opened their overcoats and pulled out Thompson submachine guns. The gunners then opened fire, sweeping their tommy-guns back and forth three times across the backs of their collapsing victims. The killers were careful to fire their shots between the ears and knees of the dying men. The methodical execution lasted several minutes. After the guns fell silent, one of the shooters noticed that a body was still twitching. This was stopped by a double-barreled blast to the man's face with a saw-off shotgun.
After the massacre, the men in civilian clothes walked out of the warehouse with their hands held above their heads. Marching between them with their revolvers drawn were the phony policemen. It was intended to look like the police had arrested three bootleggers. Back in the warehouse with the dead men was Johnny May's dog, Highball. The animal was tearing at his leash and barking hysterically. The whole thing had taken less than eight minutes.
Several residents of the neighborhood had witnessed the fake raid, and a lodger in a nearby rooming house was asked to check on the barking dog. A few second after entering the warehouse, the man came running out. “They're all dead,” he said.
The police were greeted with a gruesome sight. Four of the victims had fallen backward from the wall and were staring up at the ceiling. Another was face down, stretched along the base of the wall. A sixth man was on his knees slumped forward against a wooden chair. The yellow brick wall was bullet-pocked and blood-splattered, and streams of blood were snaking across the cement floor from the bodies. One of the men, Frank Gusenburg, was still alive when the police arrived. Having been shot fourteen times, with seven bullets still in his body, he had managed to crawl about twenty feet from the wall. When asked by a policeman who had shot him, Gusenburg replied, “Nobody shot me.” He died ninety minutes later without giving the police any leads. Some of the men had been virtually cut into pieces by the swinging Tommy-guns.
Before the bodies were moved and the other evidence disturbed, Chicago's coroner, Dr. Herman N. Bundesen, went to the warehouse to take charge of the crime scene investigation. He had dozens of photographs taken and ordered a careful collection of all the empty shells, bullets, and bullet fragments. The firearms evidence was placed into envelopes that were appropriately marked and sealed.
The bullets that were later taken out of the victims by the coroner's physicians were placed in envelopes labeled with the name of the body that had contained the slugs.
1. Between 1922 and 1926, the gang wars in Chicago alone claimed the lives of 215 hoods. Another 260 were killed by the police. In 1926, 42 were killed in crime feuds while 60 died in battles with law enforcement personnel. The killing continued. Between 1927 and 1930, 227 gangsters died within the city limits of Chicago. (Cashman, Sean Dennis, Prohibition: The Lie of the Land, NY: The Free Press, 1981, p 80).
2. An account of the events leading up to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre can be found in: Allsop, Kenneth, The Bootleggers: The Story of Chicago's Prohibition Era, New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1961.