The SMC Cartage Company garage at 2122 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park wasn’t exactly a romantic place on February 14, 1929. On this day at roughly 10:30 a.m., enforcers for Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit allegedly executed seven members of George “Bugs” Moran’s North Side Gang. The hit was flawlessly orchestrated because Capone’s shooters dressed like cops when they raided the North Side workplace where Moran conducted many of his illegal business activities. Known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Scarface’s assassins ordered Peter Gusenberg, Frank Gusenberg, Albert Kachellek, Adam Heyer, Reinhardt Schwimmer, Albert Weinshank and John May to line up against a wall before they proceeded to use two Thompson submachine guns and two shotguns to murder Moran’s cronies.
Capone was “vacationing” in Miami when the bloodbath erupted and Moran survived the demonic ruse because he left his Parkway Hotel apartment late. When asked about the butchery, Moran responded that “only Capone kills like that.” Capone retorted, “The only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran.” Dismissing all hearsay, photos of the slaughter outraged locals and prompted President Herbert Hoover to order federal authorities to target Capone.
“These murders went out of the comprehension of a civilized city,” the Tribune editorialized. “The butchering of seven men by open daylight raises this question for Chicago: Is it helpless?”
Capone was never charged with eliminating his rivals and the case remains unsolved. While the majority of investigators, historians and researchers pinned the savagery on Capone, journalist and bestselling author Jonathan Eig contends that Moran’s henchmen were actually shot to death by Billy Daverne’s family. Eig wrote in “Get Capone” that Daverne’s kin perpetrated the mass killing to exact revenge on the Gusenbergs for shooting to death their relative during a bar fight.
“It never made any sense to suspect that Al Capone was involved, because by 1929, Capone didn’t really have a very strong rivalry with the Moran gang,” Eig, a 1986 graduate of Northwestern University, told CBS Chicago. “He had won that fight. He had no reason to take such a huge risk. Just about any time you see seven men dead, there’s a reason that somebody was angry, and in this case, I suspect that it was the family of a young firefighter who was killed by some members of the Moran gang. This firefighter named Billy Daverne was shot by the Gusenberg boys and his family sought retaliation.”
Eig’s statement above is only somewhat accurate. Capone’s bootlegging, prostitution and gambling rackets generated an estimated $100 million in annual revenue and he built the most powerful criminal enterprise in the Midwest. Still, despite such control and authority, Moran never cowered and he endlessly vied with Capone for territory across the city.
Law enforcement officials failed to nab Capone for his wrongdoings as a ruthless Mafia boss. However, the U.S. Government indicted Capone on 22 counts of income-tax evasion and he was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison on June 5, 1931. A 48-year-old Scarface, battling syphilitic dementia, died at his mansion in Palm Island, Florida, on January 25, 1947. Meanwhile, Moran was imprisoned on two separate occasions for robberies that he committed in June 1945 and April 1956. A 63-year-old Moran succumbed to lung cancer in February 1957 a few months into his 10-year sentence at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. The Irish gangster passed away almost penniless.
The SMC Cartage Company garage was demolished in 1967 and the site now serves as a nursing home’s parking lot. Many of the garage’s bullet-riddled bricks are displayed at the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement in downtown Las Vegas.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre remains the nadir of the gang warfare that plagued Chicago throughout the Roaring ’20s.