Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss

St. Valentine's Day

Neither McGurn nor Capone ever thought that the planned assassination of Bugs Moran would be an event that would be notorious for many decades to come.  Capone was lolling so lavishly in Florida, so how could he be held responsible for the murder of a bootlegger.  "Machine Gun" McGurn was given complete control of the hit.

John Scalise & Albert Anselmi
John Scalise & Albert Anselmi

McGurn put together a first rate team of out-of-towners.  Fred "Killer" Burke was the leader and was assisted by a gunman named James Roy.  Two other important members of the team were John Scalise and Albert Anselmi who had been used in the murder of Frankie Yale.  Joseph Lolordo was another player, as were Harry and Phil Keywell from Detroit's Purple Gang.

McGurn's plan was a creative one.  He had a bootlegger lure the Moran gang to a garage to buy some very good whiskey at an extremely attractive price.  The delivery was to be made at 10:30 A.M. on Thursday, February 14.  McGurn's men would be waiting for them, dressed in stolen police uniforms and trench coats as though they were staging a raid.

McGurn, like Capone, wanted to be far away from the scene of the crime so he took his girlfriend and checked into a hotel.  Establishing an airtight alibi was uppermost in his mind.

At the garage, the Keywells spotted a man who looked like Bugs Moran .  The assassination squad got into their police uniforms and drove over to the garage in their stolen police car.  Playing their part as police raiders to the hilt, McGurn's men went into the garage and found seven men, including the Gusenberg brothers who had tried to murder McGurn. 

The bootleggers, caught in the act, did what they were told:  they lined up against the wall obediently.  The four assassins took the bootleggers' guns, and opened fire with two machine guns, a sawed-off shotgun and a .45.  The men slumped to the floor dead, except for Frank Gusenberg who was still breathing.

To further perpetuate this charade, the two "policemen" in trench coats put up their hands and marched out of the garage in front of the two uniformed policemen.  Anyone who watched this show believed that two bootleggers in trench coats had been arrested by two policemen.  The four assassins left in the stolen police car.

St. Valentine's Day Massacre
St. Valentine's Day Massacre

It was a brilliant plan and it was brilliantly executed except for one small detail --the target of the entire plan, Bugs Moran, was not among the men executed.  Moran was late to the meeting, seeing the police car pulling up just as he neared the garage.  Moran took off, not wanting to be caught up in the raid.

Soon, real policemen came to the garage and saw Frank Gusenberg, on the floor, dying from twenty-two bullet wounds.

"Who shot you?" Sergeant Sweeney asked him.

Machine Gun Jack McGurn with Louise Rolfe, the blond alibi
"Machine Gun" Jack McGurn with Louise Rolfe, the "blond alibi"

"No one --nobody shot me," whispered Gusenberg.  His refusal to implicate his executioners continued until his death a short time later.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that the target of the very cleverly organized assassination attempt was Bugs Moran and the most obvious beneficiary, had the attempt been successful, was Al Capone.  Even though Al Capone was conveniently in Florida and Jack McGurn had an airtight alibi, the police, the newspapers, and the people of Chicago knew who was responsible.  The police could hardly arrest Capone with no evidence.  McGurn was smart enough to marry his girlfriend Louise Rolfe, better known as the "blonde alibi," who could not testify against her new husband.  All charges against him were dropped.  No one was ever brought to justice for the spectacular assassination.

The publicity surrounding the St. Valentines Day Massacre was the most that any gang event had ever received.  And it was not only local publicity.  It was a national media event.  Capone ballooned into the national conscious and writers all over the country began books and articles on him.   Bergreen saw the massacre as endowing Capone with a grisly glamour: "There had never been an outlaw quite like Al Capone.  He was elegant, high-class, the berries.   He was remarkably brazen, continuing to live among the swells in Miami and to proclaim love for his family.  Nor did he project the image of a misfit or a loner, he played the part of a self-made millionaire who could show those Wall Street big shots a thing or two about doing business in America.  No one was indifferent to Capone; everyone had an opinion about him..."


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