The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

The dominant color at the warehouse on Clark Street on Chicago’s North Side was red that day (Feb.14) in 1929, which should have been fitting since it was Valentine’s Day. But it wasn’t red roses or red hearts that were all over the place — it was red blood.  Seven men, six of them members of gangster George “Bugs” Moran’s mob, had been brutally gunned down in the most spectacular, and famous, gangland hit in American history, the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

Police immediately suspected that Moran’s chief rival, Al “Scarface” Capone, was behind the murders, and most historians agree. Yet to this day Capone’s guilt has never been proven.  For one thing, Capone was in Florida during the hit, and, for another, the killers were never caught, thanks to the fact that the massacre was an extremely clever and meticulously planned operation.

Indeed, Chicago police at first were puzzled that Moran’s gang members — all well-armed, hardened criminals — were so easily disarmed and killed, hardly even putting up a fight.  Police also were puzzled by the fact that, immediately after the shooting, eyewitnesses saw two police officers escorting two men, both with their hands up, out of the warehouse.  According to police records no officers should have been anywhere near the area at that time.

But eventually, the puzzle became clearer.  Two of the four killers who entered the warehouse that day were dressed as policemen, making it relatively easy to fool Moran’s gang members into thinking it was a routine bust.  That explains why they allowed themselves to be disarmed.  What’s more, by leaving the crime scene with the two “policemen” escorting two men they had “captured,” it made the eyewitnesses think the police had the situation under control.  That explains why no one called the police until hours after the killers had escaped — everyone thought the police were already there.

In the end, the St; Valentine’s Day massacre spelled the end of Bugs Moran’s operations in Chicago — he never recovered from the ignominy — but the massacre also contributed to Capone’s own demise.  Although Chicago’s denizens had for years endured mob hits, robberies, beatings and shootouts among rival gangs, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was such an outrage, they finally had had enough. Public pressure and a crusading media — not to mention a police force angered at being impersonated — resulted in a law enforcement crackdown on organized crime.  Moran was even forced to leave Chicago and eventually went to prison for robbery.

As for Capone, he too eventually went to prison, although in an amusing irony, he was not convicted for spilling red blood, but for spilling red ink.  In 1931, Capone was found guilty of income tax evasion.