Magazine article History Today

The St Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago: Feb 14 1929

Magazine article History Today

The St Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago: Feb 14 1929

Article excerpt

Prohibition in the United States gave a massive boost to crime. In Chicago in the 1920s gangs made fortunes from illegal liquor and the associated protection and vice rackets. The relationships between them were uneasy and there were shifting alliances, disputes over territory and attempts to take complete control by ambitious leaders. In 1924 a storm of violence broke out between the Italian-Sicilian mob led first by Johnny Torrio and then by A1 Capone on the city's South Side and the Irish-Jewish crew under Dion O'Banion on the North Side. The Chicago Sun-Times talked of 'the bootleg battle of the Marne' and an editorial in the Herald and Examiner declared 'This is war' as gang killings and gun battles shook the city.

Incongruously, Dion O'Banion owned a flower shop on North State Street, where he liked to serve customers and arrange attractive bouquets and window displays. He also supplied wreaths and flowers for expensive gangster funerals. He was greeted amiably there one day by four customers who shot him dead, and his was the most lavish funeral yet. Capone sent a basket of roses 'From Al'.

A peace treaty was organised in 1926 by the leading gangsters, but it did not hold. Capone, who was cheered to the echo by crowds at sporting events, drove about in an armoured car and was an exceptionally generous tipper. He was intent on taking control of Chicago and was on his way to becoming the most famous criminal of his time.

O'Banion was eventually succeeded as leader of the North Side gang by George 'Bugs' Moran, an Irish gangster known more for muscle than brain power, who had no intention of submitting to 'them Sicilians'. On February 13th, 1929, a tempting phone call to Moran told him that a truckload of whisky had just arrived from Detroit and he could have it at a bargain price. He ordered the whisky to be delivered at 10.30 the next morning at the garage of the S.M.C. Cartage Company on North Clark Street, where he kept his bootlegging trucks.

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It happened to be St Valentine's Day, the day for delivering tender tokens of affection, when a Cadillac, ostensibly a police car, drove up to the building at around 10.50 am and five men got out. Witness statements varied over details, but it seems that two of the men were in police uniforms and the other three in ordinary civilian clothes. …

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