St. Valentines Day Massacre

Bloody Valentines. Deceased mobsters

FPG/Staff/Getty Images

Around 10:30 a.m. on St. Valentine's Day, February 14, 1929, seven members of Bugs Moran's gang were gunned down in cold blood in a garage in Chicago. The massacre, orchestrated by Al Capone, shocked the nation by its brutality.

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre remains the most notorious gangster killing of the Prohibition era. The massacre not only made Al Capone a national celebrity, but it also brought Capone, the unwanted attention of the federal government.

The Dead

Frank Gusenberg, Pete Gusenberg, John May, Albert Weinshank, James Clark, Adam Heyer, and Dr. Reinhart Schwimmer

Rival Gangs: Capone vs. Moran

During the Prohibition era, gangsters ruled many of the large cities, becoming rich from owning speakeasies, breweries, brothels, and gambling joints. These gangsters would carve up a city between rival gangs, bribe local officials, and become local celebrities.

By the late 1920s, Chicago was split between two rival gangs: one led by Al Capone and the other by George "Bugs" Moran. Capone and Moran vied for power, prestige, and money; plus, both tried for years to kill each other.

In early 1929, Al Capone was living in Miami with his family (to escape Chicago's brutal winter) when his associate Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn visited him. McGurn, who had recently survived an assassination attempt ordered by Moran, wanted to discuss the ongoing problem of Moran's gang.

In an attempt to eliminate the Moran gang entirely, Capone agreed to fund an assassination attempt, and McGurn was placed in charge of organizing it.

The Plan

McGurn planned carefully. He located the Moran gang's headquarters, which was in a large garage behind the offices of S.M.C. Cartage Company at 2122 North Clark Street. He selected gunmen from outside the Chicago area, to ensure that if there were any survivors, they would not be able to recognize the killers as part of Capone's gang.

McGurn hired lookouts and set them up in an apartment near the garage. Also essential to the plan, McGurn acquired a stolen police car and two police uniforms.

Setting Up Moran

With the plan organized and the killers hired, it was time to set the trap. McGurn instructed a local booze hijacker to contact Moran on February 13.

The hijacker was to tell Moran that he had obtained a shipment of Old Log Cabin whiskey (i.e. very good liquor) that he was willing to sell at the very reasonable price of $57 per case. Moran quickly agreed and told the hijacker to meet him at the garage at 10:30 the following morning.

The Ruse Worked

On the morning of February 14, 1929, the lookouts (Harry and Phil Keywell) were watching carefully as the Moran gang assembled at the garage. Around 10:30 a.m., the lookouts recognized a man heading to the garage as Bugs Moran. The lookouts told the gunmen, who then climbed into the stolen police car.

When the stolen police car reached the garage, the four gunmen (Fred "Killer" Burke, John Scalise, Albert Anselmi, and Joseph Lolordo) jumped out. (Some reports say there were five gunmen.)

Two of the gunmen were dressed in police uniforms. When the gunmen rushed into the garage, the seven men inside saw the uniforms and thought it was a routine police raid.

Continuing to believe the gunmen to be police officers, all seven men peacefully did as they were told. They lined up, faced the wall, and allowed the gunmen to remove their weapons.

Opened Fire With Machine Guns

The gunmen then opened fire, using two Tommy guns, a sawed-off shotgun, and a .45. The killing was fast and bloody. Each of the seven victims received at least 15 bullets, mostly in the head and torso.

The gunmen then left the garage. As they exited, neighbors who had heard the rat-tat-tat of the submachine gun, looked out their windows and saw two (or three, depending on reports) policemen walking behind two men dressed in civilian clothes with their hands up.

The neighbors assumed that the police had staged a raid and were arresting two men. After the massacre had been discovered, many continued to believe for several weeks that the police were responsible.

Moran Escaped Harm

Six of the victims died in the garage; Frank Gusenberg was taken to a hospital but died three hours later, refusing to name who was responsible.

Though the plan had been carefully crafted, one major problem occurred. The man that the lookouts had identified as Moran was Albert Weinshank. 

Bugs Moran, the main target for the assassination, was arriving a couple of minutes late to the 10:30 a.m. meeting when he noticed a police car outside the garage. Thinking it was a police raid, Moran stayed away from the building, unknowingly saving his life.

The Blonde Alibi

The massacre that took seven lives that St. Valentine's Day in 1929 made newspaper headlines across the country. The country was shocked at the brutality of the killings. Police tried desperately to determine who was responsible.

Al Capone had an air-tight alibi because he had been called in for questioning by the Dade County solicitor in Miami during the time of the massacre.

Machine Gun McGurn had what became called a "blonde alibi" -- he had been at a hotel with his blonde girlfriend from 9 p.m. on February 13 through 3 p.m. on February 14. 

Fred Burke (one of the gunmen) was arrested by police in March 1931 but was charged with the December 1929 murder of a police officer and sentenced to life in prison for that crime.

The Aftermath of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

This was one of the first major crimes that the science of ballistics was used; however, no one was ever tried or convicted for the murders of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Though the police never had enough evidence to convict Al Capone, the public knew he was responsible. In addition to making Capone a national celebrity, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre brought Capone to the attention of the federal government. Ultimately, Capone was arrested for tax evasion in 1931 and sent to Alcatraz.

With Capone in jail, Machine Gun McGurn was left exposed. On February 15, 1936, nearly seven years to the day of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, McGurn was gunned down at a bowling alley.

Bugs Moran was quite shaken from the entire incident. He stayed in Chicago until the end of Prohibition and then was arrested in 1946 for some small-time bank robberies. He died in prison from lung cancer.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Rosenberg, Jennifer. "St. Valentines Day Massacre." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2023, April 5). St. Valentines Day Massacre. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "St. Valentines Day Massacre." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).