Seven men, six dressed in their best clothes, are lined up against a wall in the SMC Cartage Company garage. Most of them are members of “Bugs” Moran’s North Side Gang. Two men in police uniform disarm them.
Two further men stand with the policemen. Their trench coats hiding the sub-machine guns.
With a volley of 70 bullets, they gun down the seven men. Six die instantly, the seventh three hours later. The only survivor–a German Shepherd called Highball–was trapped under a beer truck.
It seems so innocent. You could easily walk past those five trees every day, unaware of the blood spilled on that spot. When it happened here in 1929, the St Valentine’s Day Massacre changed Chicago.
The SMC Cartage Company building was demolished in 1967. Back then it was used by Moran as a distribution center for his illegal liquor. The site now stands at one end of a nursing home. Five trees have been planted where the massacre took place.
If you visit the site, it’s hard to visualize the shape of the garage. It was a thin, low, long building.
The red arrow shows the rough position where the seven men were murdered.
It’s not the spacious parking structure of myth. It was actually very narrow, only a little wider than an average modern car. Here, the silver car is parked against what was once one of the garage’s walls, the left edge of the image is where the other wall stood.
Alphonsine Morin was on the other side of the street at the time of the murders. Shaken by the shooting, she felt relieved when two policemen, guns raised, emerged from the garage leading two men in trench coats. She simply assumed that the police had captured the gangsters after a raid.
However, worried by the sound of gunshots Jeanette Landesman, landlady of a neighboring building, sent one of her tenants to check the garage. Two minutes later he returned. Call the police, he said: the building is full of dead men.
Pretending to be policemen and their captives, the murderers had escaped in broad daylight. They were working for Al Capone.
Across the street you can see the building where members of Al Capone’s South Side gang were keeping watch on the garage. As soon as the seven men were inside, they signaled for the gunmen to enter. Capone wanted payback against Moran and wanted to keep him out of the bootlegging business.
Apparently “Bugs” Moran himself was on his way to SMC Cartage, but he arrived just as the fake police car arrived. Realizing something was awry, he fled unseen.
Initial newspaper reports were confused. Was it really Al Capone? Or had a policeman done it in revenge for Moran stealing $12,000 of his liquor?
Many questions are still unanswered today. Who exactly did the killings? How had Capone lured Moran’s men to the garage? Why were they wearing their best clothes? Were more than four killers? Had there been a second car in the alley round the back as some eyewitnesses reported?
Within a week of the killings, Chicago police had found the getaway car. By the start of March, two of Capone’s gang had been arrested. One of them, Jack McGurn, had probably been the mastermind behind the massacre. He was release, though, when his girlfriend claimed he’d been with her all day.
The massacre crippled Moran’s gang. However, it also severely hurt Capone. The public outcry against the killings coupled with the belated interest of the federal government in Chicago’s problems would lead to Capone’s eventual arrest in 1931.
Despite this, no one has ever been charged with the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. It remains an unsolved case.
When you stand where the SMC Cartage garage once stood you still can’t escape a feeling. Uneasy. Eerie. Unwelcoming. Even though the building is long gone, those five silent trees can’t hide the stain of what happened here over 80 years ago on St Valentines’ Day.
Site of the St Valentine’s Day Massacre
Address: 2122 N. Clark St., Chicago Illinois
Hours: visible 24/7
Parking: There’s usually parking to be found on the back streets west of Clark.