St. Valentine's Day

"Keep away from bootleg hooch when you're on a spree,
Take good care of yourself, you belong to me..."

-- Button Up Your Overcoat

Temperatures had dipped to zero that Thursday morning, February 14, 1929. A snow blanketed Chicago and, on the tail of gusty winds whipped tiny, invisible icicle-bullets through the streets, which made walking even a block miserable. Vehicle traffic jammed in many places throughout the city; morning rush hour stood still. Streetcars meandered, nervous at slipping off icy tracks, groaning underneath. By mid-morning, the sky was as gray as it had been at dawn. More snow was predicted on top of the mess that had already fallen. Bleak for what should have been a postcard day. It was the feast of St. Valentine.

Frank Gusenberg

One at a time, the men began to show up at the one-story gray-stoned S-M-C Cartage Company garage at 2122 North Clark Street. John May was the first on the scene, opening up at about 8:30 a.m., wanting to get an early start on a flatbed requiring a new oil pan. He brought with him his beloved Alastatian named Highball, who, from where he was leashed to the truck's gate, watched his master's work with interest. The Gusenberg brothers rolled in about an hour later, grunting a "Mornin'" to May and tickling Highball's pointed ears. Pete Gusenberg felt a draught slipping through the garage's large double doors off the alley and tried to snuff the breeze with an oil rag. "Nevermind that," Frank barked, "help me get the coffee on.

In constant rhythm over the next half hour, James Clark, Adam Heyer and Albert Weinshank, in that order, arrived. Somewhere in between this parade of mobsters walked Reinhardt Schwimmer, an eyeglass fitter who, to impress, called himself an optometrist. Not a gangster, he thrilled to be in their company and had been so since the days of his old friend, O'Banion.

By 10:30 a.m., there were seven men gathered in the garage.

Warming themselves over a small iron space heater in the corner and with a cup of Chase & Sanborn from a pot brewing on a burner plate, they waited for their boss, George Moran. He had called them last night and asked them to be present this morning to help unload a truckload of Old Log Cabin whisky being delivered around eleven o'clock. Plus, he had some gang business he wanted to go over before the start of the weekend.

Pete Gusenberg

Three of the waiting men were forty – Clark, Heyer and Weinshank; Frank Gusenberg was 41 and his brother Pete, 36; May was a tired-looking 35 (he had seven children at home to support); the youngest was Schwimmer at 29. Except for the latter, all had been, at least once, in trouble with the law – some had done time – but they found that since working for Moran life had been comparatively a cinch. The hours were bad, but the boss was a thankful one who paid them handsomely. Toughest of the tribe were the Gusenbergs; they had little sympathy for anything Italian, and no sympathy for anything Italian belonging to Capone. Twice they had opened up their Thompson machine guns on the Behemoth's top triggerman, Jack McGurn (an achievement they were proud of), but missed (a screw-up for which they weren't). The most docile of Moran's regulars was probably May, the mechanic. Promising a grieving wife he would stay out of trouble, he didn't see any harm in earning a few bucks now and then, money sorely needed, by helping his old friend Moran deliver a truckload of alky or by replacing a cracked cylinder.

All were married, and each had promised their wives to see them later in the afternoon; Frank Gusenberg, secretly wed to two women at once, really didn't want to see either.


Across the street, from the third floor of Mrs. Doody's boarding house, a pair of watchful eyes had been surveying Clark Street below, watching who entered the small, nondescript building. After the seventh and last man to arrive, the spy who had rented the room only a couple of days before, ambled to the house phone down the hall, and, when the other party answered spoke two anticipated words, "He's here," and  hung up, smiling. The easiest money he had made in years. Simply look out a window and wait for Bugs Moran to appear.

The only trouble is he had mistaken Albert Weinshank for the Bugs. In appearance, they resembled each other, even dressed alike with similar beige overcoats and brown Stetsons.


At the Parkway Hotel, several blocks away, Moran kissed Alice goodbye and took the elevator down to the lobby where he met Ted Newberry waiting. As a pair, they pulled up their coat collars and the brims of their hats low, and headed on foot, careful not to slip on the icy sidewalk, west towards Clark Street. The gangleader glanced at his wristwatch, saw it was already 10:30, the time he told his boys he'd be there, but figured if the truck arrived they'd start without him. He told Newberry he hoped they'd get the coffee on; after traipsing in this godawful weather, they'd need it.


The words He's here had set into motion the final step of Capone's long-dreamed-of plan to eliminate Bugs Moran and his motley crew forever. The plan's author, "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn – real name Vincenzo Gibaldi, a prizefighter gone foul – had orchestrated the brilliant ruse that began to develop weeks ago. Although to this day, many specifics of the plan remain untold, scholars have been able to piece together elements of the overall scheme.

First, a low-ranking member of Capone's gang – someone whom Moran would not recognize -- breached the Bugs' trust by posing as an independent hijacker with a load of Old Log Cabin to sell at a competitive price. Since hijacking was a common practice among the fringe of gangdom – pirating each other's shipments at random – Moran accepted without question. After all, he had purchased many such shipments in the past and saved a wad. The deal done, the load was delivered to the S-M-C Cartage garage in January. Pleased with the price-per-barrel, Moran told the "hijacker" to keep him in mind for future deliveries. The fellow promised that he would get back to him, soon.

McGurn let two weeks pass before he had the actor call again: "Another load of Old Log Cabin, Mister Moran, at the same price. Interested?" Moran was. It would be delivered on February 14, Valentine's Day, at 11 a.m. The Irisher promised to be there along with some of his crew to help unload.

In the meantime, McGurn assembled four of the Midwest's top hitmen and put them on hold for what he promised would be a big-time hit. With a date finally established, the mechanics of the rub-out went into gear. At the next scheduled delivery (that would never come), the assassins, posed as harassing policemen, would enter the garage, line Moran and whomever was with him – hell, numbers didn't matter – against the wall and blow them to kingdom come.

Scalise & Anselmi 

Two of the fake policemen were almost certainly John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, who had been employed in almost every major Capone hit during the Twenties. Other candidates, among a league of suspects, are Fred Burke, a member of Egan's Rats from St. Louis, Missouri; "Little Louis" Campagna, who had threatened Joey Aiello in his cell; Claude "Screwy" Maddox, a member of the Circus Gang, so-called because they made their headquarters in the nearby Circus Cafι; and Joseph Lolordo, younger brother of the murdered Pasquelino. Recent additions to the list are Tony Accardo and Sam Giancana.

Capone loved the plan for its simplicity and its fatality. Wishing McGurn good luck, he took his family on a winter's holiday to a mansion he had purchased in West Palm Beach, Florida. Realizing he would be immediately blamed for the hit -- "For crying out loud, I've been blamed for everything since the Chicago Fire!" he once told snickering reporters – he made sure he was many, many miles away when Moran went down. And to ensure his innocence, he made a date to entertain a county commissioner at the very time that McGurn was dispatching the North Siders.

The He's here comment sent a relay running to a rented garage at 1722 North Wood where he knuckled its alley door, just once, then walked away. Inside, McGurn's team of four had been waiting for the signal. One of the gunmen opened the door and the others climbed into the black 1927 Cadillac doctored to look like a police car.

"Two of the assassins were dressed as police officers," reports Richard Lindberg's Return to the Scene of the Crime – Chicago. "The other three wore long trench coats and fedoras. Tucked inside their coats were sawed-off shotguns and Thompson submachine guns, the newest and deadliest weapons of choice. The Cadillac eased alongside the curb (outside the S-M-C Cartage Company) a few minutes past 10:30.


Moran and Newberry were a block north of the garage when they spotted Willie Marks alighting from the downtown streetcar on Clark. Waiting to greet him, the three men then turned their heels to their destination,

"Damn it, would ya' look at that!" muttered Newberry, nodding his head toward the police squad edging the curb outside the place. They paused in their tracks, watching the five cops saunter through the front door. "What a time to show up!"

"Let's hope the booze isn't out back," Moran answered. "Come on," he led them into a coffee shop whose door handle was within hand's reach. "Let’s grab a cup of coffee 'till this blows over." Taking a table out of the waitress' earshot, he grumbled, "Willie, if they're arrested, get our attorneys to get my boys outta jail this afternoon, OK?"

"Outta jail and all charges dropped," winked Marks. "They'll be home for dinner."


The seven men in the garage heard the tinkle of the transom bell out front and figured it was Moran. They gawked when, instead, five policemen passed from the foyer into the shop. "Hands up and face the wall!" one of the plainclothesman blurted. And when the Morans didn't move fast enough, screamed, "Move!" The cops fanned out behind them as the seven grouchy, mumbling men leaned palms-flat against a side wall, shoulder to shoulder, staring at brick and mortar, waiting to be frisked.

"Lay a hand on us and there'll be hell to pay in City Hall this afternoon, coppers," Frank Gusenberg threatened. He was surprised none of the bulls answered him back.

The men facing the wall listened. In fact, the silence seemed an omen. There was only minor rustling, someone whispering something, and someone's sole scraping along the oily cement floor.

Then, a boom broke the silence, to be picked up by a staccato of something exploding behind their backs. Their instincts shouted the reality of this as they realized what was happening, but they couldn't move because their bodies were too busy being ripped apart. For seconds there was pain but that faded when they saw the blood from their own heads splatter the wall before them.

Had any of them lived even seconds after the shooting stopped, they would have heard the dog, Highball, whimpering for its master.


Moran noticed that Clark Street, the little he could see through the steaming coffee shop window, had suddenly congested. Vehicles were backed up and passersby seemed to be pausing, despite the cold, to gawk. He figured he knew what was going on: "Something's wrong," he declared. "A dime to a donut they're arresting the guys." Dropping a tip on the table, he left, his associates behind him.

The Cadillac that had been at the curb earlier was gone, but it had been replaced by a small convoy of squads. Two uniformed policemen stood guard at the doorway, while others were scurrying in and out between the garage and the sidewalk talking to obvious plainclothesmen outside. One seemed to be taking notes in a tablet.

"Sonny," Moran stopped a snot-nosed kid tearing by. "Why all the police?"

"Some cops just had a gunfight with some hoods in that building."

Moran's boys knew better than to open up to cops. "You sure?" he asked.

"Ya' bet, mister. Bunches of guys dead inside. It's Bugs Moran and his gang."

Moran didn't believe it until the morgue attendants arrived and they started carrying out his boys, one after another.

Ted Newberry noticed his boss swivel. He took an elbow. "You OK, George?"

But, all Moran said, almost inaudibly, was "Capone...it's Capone..."

Inside the S-M-C garage

1. Chicago's Own

2. Pals

3. Beer Barrel Bonanza

4. Battlefield Chicago

5. Bugs, Himself

6. Quest for the Mafia

7. St. Valentine's Day

8. Goodbye, Chicago

9. Bibliography

10. The Author
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