Forget Flowers and Diamonds:  Jeffrey Gusfeld's "Deadly Valentines" Serves up Romance in Cold-Blooded Chicago Style

Forget Flowers and Diamonds: Jeffrey Gusfeld's "Deadly Valentines" Serves up Romance in Cold-Blooded Chicago Style



Valentine's
Day is for lovers. And in 1929 Chicago, it was also for killers. But to this day no one knows for sure who planned or pulled the triggers in the infamous murder of seven men in what would be known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. 


The story is legend, and most theories hold that the killings were carried out by four hit men hired by Al Capone's South Side mob, forerunner of the Chicago Outfit. The victims were members or affiliates of rival North Side syndicate Boss George ``Bugs": Moran. The assassins -- two dressed as Chicago cops and two adorned in suits, trench coats and fedoras, carried out their deadly errand with cold blooded precision.

At around 10:30 that cold snowy morning, the killer quartet -- armed with Thompson machine guns and shotguns -- pulled up in a Cadillac touring car similar to those used by Chicago police of the day and parked in front of the SMC Cartage Company at 2122 N. Clark Street, an unassuming one-story brick building that housed an office in the front and a truck garage in the rear. The vehicles parked inside the structure were driven through a rear service door that opened to an alley. The garage was believed to be used as a front for Moran's bootlegging operations. The killers entered the building through the front door and it's believed they may have been staging a prohibition raid, catching their prey by surprise. 

What happened next still intrigues. 

The unsuspecting seven occupants were hastily corralled into the rear of the garage and lined up against the north wall, their backs to their captors, who then unceremoniously mowed them down in a hail of bullets. Their deed done, the killers quickly fled in their car, which was later found burning in a garage about two miles away. The gruesome scene was discovered minutes later by a woman who ran a neighboring rooming house. Her screams summoned other neighbors who quickly called the real police. All but one of the victims died instantly. The seventh, about an hour later in a nearby hospital. 

(above, the infamous scene at the SMC Cartage Company Garage on the deadly morning of February 14, 1929)

Before succumbing to his wounds, detectives gathered at the dying hood's hospital bed asked him, "Who shot you?" His reply: "Nobody shot me."  

"Massacre 7 of Moran Gang: Victims Are Lined Against Wall, One Volley Kills All," cried that afternoon's Chicago Daily News.         

But despite the hot type and public outcry, the story soon cooled and no one was ever charged or brought to justice for the murders, though speculation about who was responsible has persisted ever since. Al Capone, who later served time in federal prison for income tax evasion, had a perfect alibi: He was away in Florida at his Miami estate and claimed no knowledge. But many believe Capone signed the death warrants, that the killings were the culmination of a long war between the Capone and Moran gangs for control and dominance of Chicago's lucrative vice rackets.

"Only Capone kills like that," Moran told reporters soon after.  

So if Capone in fact approved what became known as "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre," who designed it? One author among many suggests it was a top Capone lieutenant known as "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn. 

Deadly Valentines (Chicago Review Press), a 2012 nonfiction book by Jeffrey Gusfeld, tells the story of how McGurn, a dapper former prizefighter (his nickname stemmed from his rapid-fire punches and not his shooting savvy) and pro-level golfer, may have set up the hit and was possibly one of the gunmen. Soon after the killings, the Sicilian-born McGurn, whose real name was Vincent Gebardi, was hounded by authorities as a chief suspect, but he too had an alibi -- a "blonde alibi" named Louise Rolfe (pictured right), a glamorous paramour who vouched for him by saying they were holed up together inside a posh Chicago hotel at the same time of the massacre on Valentine's Day. .    
 
McGurn (pictured left) dodged the rap but not the bullet. Ironically he was later shot dead inside a Chicago bowling alley on Valentine's Day in 1936 (Coincidence? Probably not). 
 
Beyond the printed word, evidence of the killings can still be viewed. In 1967, the massacre building was purchased by the City of Chicago and demolished. However, a private collector salvaged portions of the actual brick wall against which the victims were lined up and shot. Today, parts of the reconstructed wall are on display inside the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, with bullet holes still intact. 

Back in Chicago, the site on north Clark Street is today occupied by an unremarkable parking lot used by an adjacent senior citizen residence. There is no historical marker to commemorate what happened there on February 14, 1929. Only an ominous silence and, according to local legend, the occasional popping of phantom machine gun fire. 

Happy Valentine's Day. 

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