The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre—Excerpt from ‘Get Capone,’ by Jonathan Eig

THE COLDEST CASE: Since February 14, 1929, when seven men were gunned down inside a Clark Street garage, the mastermind behind the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre has remained a mystery, though suspicions usually point to Al Capone. Now a new biographer has uncovered fresh information implicating a different suspect—a forgotten Chicago felon with a simple and timeless motive: revenge.

The grisly aftermath of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre  

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The day after the massacre, a coroner's jury watched police reenact the killings at the scene of the crime.
The day after the massacre, a coroner’s jury watched police reenact the killings at the scene of the crime. For more photos, see the gallery »




Chicago editor Richard Babcock interviews Jonathan Eig


Images from the 1929 case

Official website

At around 10:30 in the morning on February 14th, a big black Cadillac turned from Webster Avenue onto Clark Street, heading south. It stopped in front of the SMC Cartage Company at 2122 North Clark Street. Four or five men got out of the car (eyewitness accounts varied). One man, the driver, wore a fancy chinchilla topcoat and a gray fedora. Two wore police uniforms. The wind blew snow dust as they stepped across the sidewalk and into the garage through the front door.

Seven men waited inside. Johnny May, dressed in greasy brown coveralls, was lying on his back under a jacked-up truck, repairing a wheel. He was a former safe-blower hired by Moran as an auto mechanic and one of the countless Chicagoans who could thank Prohibition and the bootlegging business for giving him a good, steady, and relatively safe career. May lived with his wife, his seven kids, and a dog named Highball, who was tied by leash to the axle of the truck. The other six men were milling about, trying to stay warm. There were the Gusenberg brothers, Frank and Peter, two of the city’s most troublesome goons; James Clark (real name: Albert Kachellek), a convicted armed robber and a reputed killer; Adam Heyer, a.k.a. Frank Snyder, an accountant and embezzler; Albert Weinshank, a nightclub owner and a newly appointed official of the Central Cleaners and Dyers Association; and an optometrist named Reinhardt H. Schwimmer, who hung around the Moran boys mostly so he could brag to friends about his underworld connections.

If Moran’s gangsters were frightened by the new arrivals, they didn’t show it. Most of the Moran men were armed. But not one reached for his weapon in time to do anything with it. Maybe they had been expecting the company. Maybe they knew their guests. Or maybe, seeing men in police uniforms, they decided to play it cool. If it was money the officers wanted, Moran’s men had plenty of it.

But this wasn’t about money. The intruders raised their weapons—two Tommys and a 12-gauge shotgun—and ordered Moran’s men to move away from the doors and windows. They lined them up shoulder to shoulder against the wall on the garage’s northern side.

They raised their guns.

In a haze of sprayed machine-gun fire, brick dust, and smoke, seven men fell. Bullets tore through flesh and sinew and lodged in the wall. Shells pinged to the ground and spun. Blood dark as motor oil surged across the cold concrete floor and slid thickly down a drain. Some men died instantly, some gasped briefly for air.

Out on Clark Street, neighbors heard popping noises, which some took for the sound of a backfiring engine. Others heard the desperate howling of a dog. A few peered out of their windows in time to see men leaving the garage and getting into the Cadillac. It looked as if two cops were leading two or three other men, possibly at gunpoint. The automobile sped south on Clark Street, zigzagging to avoid a trolley, and disappeared from view somewhere around Armitage Avenue.

Soon one of the neighbors walked over to the garage and pushed open the door. He spotted mutilated bodies on the floor and inhaled the stench of blood. Smoke still hung in the air. The dog Highball continued howling. Six men were dead. The seventh, Frank Gusenberg, was still alive.

Sergeant Thomas J. Loftus, a veteran of the 36th District station, responded first to the call. After moving a bunch of neighbors away from the bodies, he spotted Frank Gusenberg, shot 14 times but hanging on. “Do you know me, Frank?” the sergeant asked.

“Yes, you’re Tom Loftus,” the gangster said between gulps of air. Then Gusenberg added: “I won’t talk,” as if he knew from experience the copper’s next question.

But after sucking more air, Gusenberg (according to some newspaper accounts) did talk, briefly. “Cops did it,” he said.

Loftus pressed for details but got none.

“For God’s sake,” said Gusenberg, “get me to a hospital!”

He got to the hospital and died there without further comment.

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