The Saint Valentine’s Day massacre happened when seven mobsters were gunned down in a war over bootlegged whiskey, right? Nearly right.
The war was between the Italian gangs and the Irish mob, right? Nearly right.
The two rival gangs were headed by an Italian, Al Capone, and an Irishman, George “Bugsy” Moran, right? Wrong.
In reality, only five of the seven men gunned down in a garage at 2122 North Clark Street, Chicago on the 14th February 1929 were gangsters. The other two were innocent men. John May was a mechanic, a father of seven children who maintained the trucks of the Moran gang for $50 a week, while the other, Reinhardt Schwimmmer, was a local optician with an unhealthy interest in mobsters. A groupie.
The murdered gang members were contract killers, brothers Peter and Frank Gusenberg, Mob club-owner Frank Albert Weinshenker, accountant Adam Heyer, who was Moran’s business manager, and Albert Kachellek, aka James Clark. All were of central European or Russian extraction.
Bugsy Moran, was in reality Adelard Cunin, son of a French father and a Canadian mother. He had no Irish connections at all, apart from his friendship with Dean O’Banion, a Northside thug. Along with Hymie Weiss (aka Hymie the Polack) and Vincent Drucci, O’Banion and Moran built up a reputation as a gang of thugs and shakedown artists, eventually moving into whiskey-bootlegging with the introduction of Prohibition in 1920.
O’Banion, the boss, might have been a violent thug, but he was a fervent Catholic who routinely accompanied his lieutenant, Hymie the Polack, to Mass at the Holy Name cathedral. Incongruously, he was also a gifted flower-arranger, which he used to great effect in running Schofield’s, the florist shop which was a front for the gang’s operations, and he had a beautiful tenor voice. He disapproved deeply of the Southside mob’s prostitution rackets and would have nothing to with sharing the profits as part of a settlement when his gang came into conflict with the Southsiders, dominated by Italians. Instead, he chose conflict until eventually the Sicilians ran out of patience when he double-crossed them and stung Southside boss Johnny Torrio for half a million dollars just before a police raid on a jointly-owned brewery. As O’Banion clipped flowers in his shop, Frankie Yale, Johnny The Patch Scalise and Alberto Anselmi walked in. While Yale grasped his hand, Scalise and Anselmi shot him six times.
Al Capone and Johnny Torrio attended the funeral, but the murder led directly to the Valentine’s Day killings.
Bugsy Moran and Hymie Weiss continued bootlegging but Moran became obsessed with Al Capone. As a strong Catholic just like his friend O’Banion, he hated Capone’s prostitution operation and he was determined to get revenge for O’Banion’s killing. He personally tried to murder Capone three times in true Chicago mob style, driving past in fleets of cars firing Tommy-guns into restaurants and raking rival mobsters with gunfire on the streets, until eventually, Hymie Weiss was killed in a shoot-out. After Capone appealed to him again, Moran agreed that the war was bad for business.
When Drucci was shot by the police at the age of 29, Moran assumed sole control of the gang. He was 36. He immediately began harassing Capone, hijacking his whiskey shipments and murdering his associates and his friends. Finally, Capone hatched a plan to kill Moran.
One of Capone’s men working as a double agent in the Moran crew organised a load of Capone’s whiskey to be delivered to Moran’s warehouse. The idea was to get Moran and his men in one place so they could all be killed together, but Capone’s cleverness defeated him.
Two of the killers, dressed as police, were on hand to escort the rest of the shooters from the garage after the murders, but when Moran saw the squad car in the street, he thought the cops were raiding the gang, and fled. It was poor old Frank Weinshenker’s bad luck that he looked a bit like Moran and was murdered instead by gunmen who thought they’d rubbed out their main enemy.
The Clark Street killings didn’t end Moran’s power. His gang struggled on until the end of Prohibition in 1933, but Capone was doomed. Public revulsion forced the Feds to act and eventually they nailed him for tax evasion in 1932. He spent 7 years in prison and was paroled in 1939, but his physical and mental health was shattered due to neurological damage from syphilis. He died in Florida 8 years later, aged 48.
Moran died in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary at the age of 66 in 1957. He was penniless.