Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre Bloodiest and most spectacular of the Prohibition era gangland killings in Chicago. The site where the killings took place is one of Chicago’s most famous haunted locations.
The murders were among many violent gang killings in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s, as warring factions battled for control and territory in lucrative bootlegging, speakeasy, gambling, and prostitution operations. Two dominant figures were ALPHONSE CAPONE, an ambitious gangster who controlled the southside of Chicago, and George “Bugs” Moran, who controlled the northside. Capone decided to make a hit against Moran and his men to eliminate the competition.
Moran’s headquarters were the one-story, red brick S-M-C Cartage Company garage at 2122 North Clark Street. First Capone set up lookouts to put the garage under surveillance for several weeks. Then he used intermediaries to make a call to Moran and tell him that a shipment of highjacked whiskey from Detroit would be delivered to the garage on the morning of February 14, 1929. Moran trusted the caller and agreed.
On the fateful day, seven men were inside the garage: Adam Heyer, John May, Albert R. Weinshank, Albert Kachellek (who went by the alias James Clark and was Moran’s brother-in-law), brothers Frank and Peter Gusenberg, and Reinhart Schwimmer. All but Schwimmer, an optometrist and aspiring gangster, were part of Moran’s gang.
Moran himself intended to be on hand when the shipment arrived, but he and two other men—Willie Marks and Teddie Newbury—were late. It saved their lives. As they neared the garage, they saw what looked like a Chicago police car pull up to the garage. Five men, three in police uniforms and two in plainclothes, got out and went in. Moran and the others took refuge in a nearby coffee shop. (There are other versions of the story: Moran saw the car and left the scene or, he and his men stopped for coffee, unaware of the danger that awaited them.)
The “officers” were not real, but Capone’s thugs. The three in uniform told Moran’s men that they were there on a raid. They ordered the seven men to face a wall with their hands over their heads. The men did as ordered. Capone’s men pulled out Thompson machine guns and shotguns and brutally shot them to death in the heads, chests, and stomachs. The bullets had been wiped with garlic, a superstition to ensure death. Then the “officers” calmly led out the two Capone men in plainclothes, at gunpoint, to give the appearance that they had made arrests in a raid. They escaped.
Inside, May’s German shepherd, Highball, tied to the bumper of a truck, howled pitifully. A man entered the garage to investigate and found the carnage. Frank Gusenberg was barely alive with 14 bullets in him; he had managed to crawl to the middle of the garage. He was taken to Alexian Brothers Hospital. Asked who shot him, Gusenberg was able to reply, “Nobody shot me” and “I ain’t no copper.” He died several hours later, having refused to divulge any information.
Capone was in Florida at the time of the hit. Both he and Moran accused each other of the killings. The identities of Capone’s hitmen were never known for certain, but probably were “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, John Scalise, Albert Anselmi, Frank Diamond, and Frank Nitti. McGurn, Anselmi, and Scalise, along with another hood, Joseph Guinta, were arrested. McGurn had an alibi, and Anselmi, Guinta, and Scalise were killed before they could be tried.
No charges were filed against Capone. The massacre broke the power of Moran’s northside operations, but it also brought a result Capone had not expected: the decline of his own power and crime empire. Public outrage over the massacre resulted in increased efforts by law enforcement to end gang activities. Federal Treasury agents led by Elliott Ness—the Untouchables—arrived in Chicago.
In May 1929, Capone and one of his men Frankie Rio were arrested in Philadelphia on charges of carrying concealed weapons. They were sentenced to a year in prison; when Capone returned to Chicago, he found a much less hospitable crime environment.
In 1945, the front of the garage was turned into an antique shop by a couple who did not know its grisly history. Dismayed by a constant stream of the curious, they soon sold. The bloodstained garage was torn down in 1967 in an urban renewal program. The 417 bricks of the killing wall were acquired by a Canadian businessman, George Patey, who sold them as souvenirs. All that remains at the site today is a grassy area with five trees; the middle tree marks the spot where the killing wall stood.
Visitors to the site, before and since 1967, report hearing screams, sobbing, and moaning sounds. Animals that pass near the site have unexplained behavior, such as sudden barking and snarling. A photograph taken by Dave Black of Supernatural Occurrence Studies in 1998 on the anniversary of the killings shows an anomalous mist. According to lore, possession of the souvenir bricks brings bad luck: marital disasters, financial problems, bankruptcy, and illness.
- Bielski, Ursula. Chicago Haunts: Ghosts of the Windy City. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 1998.
- Kaczmarek, Dale. Windy City Ghosts: The Haunted History of Chicago. Alton, Ill.: White Chapel Press Productions, 2000.
- Taylor, Troy. Haunted Chicago: History & Hauntings of the Windy City. Alton, Ill.: White Chapel Press Productions, 2002.