The Roaring Twenties

The St Valentine's Day Massacre


On St Valentine’s Day, 1929, seven men sat talking in the SMC Cartage Company garage in North Clark Street, Chicago.   Five of them were gangsters.   They were members of George ‘Bugs’ Moran’s gangland outfit.   With them were Reinhardt Schwimmer, a wealthy optician who liked to be seen with gangsters, and John May, the garage mechanic.   Two men, dressed as policemen, went into the garage.   They lined the seven men up against the wall and took their guns.


Suddenly, two hit-men - ‘torpedoes’, as they were called - burst into the garage.   One carried a sawn-off shotgun, the other had a machine gun.   They blazed away at the helpless men.   Twenty seconds later, it was all over.   One man’s head had been blown open.   Another man was slumped over a chair; shreds of skin dangled between his splintered bones and shattered teeth.   Four corpses, riddled with machine gun bullets, stared lifelessly at the ceiling.   ‘My God!’ gasped Sergeant Fred O’Neill, 5 the first real policeman to arrive on the scene, ‘What a massacre!’





In 1929, the most powerful Chicago gang leader was Al Capone.   Since 1920 it had been against the law in America to sell alcohol.   This was known as ‘Prohibition’.   Gangsters like Capone made a fortune from ‘bootlegging’ - making and smuggling booze for the ‘speakeasies’ (the illegal bars where you could still get a drink).   Capone’s speakeasies were places of luxury, with a bar and dance hall, gambling tables at the back and rooms upstairs for prostitutes.


Capone was king of Chicago.   He bribed Chicago’s politicians and judges.   Corrupt policemen guarded his gambling joints.   He controlled most of the other gangsters in Chicago.   Moran was one of the few who hadn’t fallen into line.   So although Capone had spent St Valentine’s Day in his Florida mansion, there was no doubt who had killed Moran’s men in that North Side garage.


Amazingly, one of the gangsters had survived the shooting.   Frank Gusenberg was one of Moran’s top advisers.   In hospital, Sergeant O’Neill begged him to reveal who had shot him.   ‘I’m not gonna talk,’ was all he could get out of the hardened criminal.


Then, at last, Gusenberg motioned to the officer.   ‘I’m cold,’ he whispered, ‘get me another blanket.’   But Gusenberg was already covered with blankets.   The cold he felt was the cold of death.   As it swept over him, it carried away the only witness to Chicago’s biggest gangland massacre.