On 14 February 1929, the world was shocked by a massacre that took place in Chicago’s North Side. Gang warfare had become part of life in Chicago during the 1920’s as gangs jockeyed for control of the lucrative illegal trades in alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. The massacre that took place would make political leaders realize that Chicago was in serious trouble. And of one the most notorious of them was Al Capone.
Al Capone had risen to power over the years by taking over his rival’s crime rackets by force. In 1924 16 gang related murders were recorded and continued to grow each year. Since the problem was deemed a local and state issue, the U.S. federal government had little jurisdiction to investigate. While the bootlegging was a violation of federal law, none of the other crime operations were. Capone had pretty much bought control of Chicago through bribing police officers, judges, and politicians. Even if someone got elected on the promise to go after him, it was difficult with so many already on his side.
One of Capone’s major rivals was the Irish gangster George “Bugs” Moran who ran the bootlegging operation of a garage at 2122 North Clark Street. Gunmen dressed as police officers entered the garage and pretended to arrest them. The fake cops lined up the seven men facing the wall and opened fire killing them all (one did survive but died afterwards). At least 70 rounds of ammunition were used in the massacre. Moran was not there but he and others quickly blamed Al Capone, but he was conveniently in Florida at the time. No one was ever brought to trial for the murders and to this day remains one of the biggest unsolved crimes in history.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre ended any major opposition to Capone in Chicago. The North Side gang never recovered its power or place though Moran kept some control of it before leaving the city and his gang behind in the 1930’s. Capone was now the undisputed boss of the Chicago syndicate and was dubbed as Public Enemy No. 1 by the press. The massacre got the attention of federal authorities who began a grand jury to look into it. Capone did not appear to testify as ordered in March 1929 but did later resulting in his arrest for contempt of court. He was out on bond when down in Philadelphia he was arrested in May for having concealed weapons. He was sentenced to prison but ran his operation from there until he was released on good behavior nine months later. He would later be convicted of contempt of court in February 1931 and sent to Cook County Jail for six months.
The next phase of the action against Capone was to hit him in his operations and to investigate his sources of money for tax purposes. The famous Eliott Ness and his team tried to strike directly by raiding and shutting down his operations. The other operation was the investigation of the sources of his income. Special Agent Frank Wilson and others in the Internal Revenue Service did what is called forensic accounting to find out exactly how much Capone was earning from his illicit operations. It meant a lot of tracking down information and getting witnesses to provide key information, but it paid off. Wilson was able to show that Capone was failing to report his income as required by law and thus get him indicted and later convicted of tax evasion. To anyone watching, it must have been surreal. While everyone applauds Ness and his Untouchables, it was ultimately Capone’s failure to pay his taxes that got him sent to jail. He never recovered his place with the Chicago outfit and ultimately, because of syphilis, became an invalid. He was released from jail in 1939 and died a recluse in his Florida home in 1947. Public Enemy No I was no more.
“St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – Victims, Evidence and Suspects | HISTORY.” HISTORY, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/crime/saint-valentines-day-massacre.
“Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre | Victims, Al Capone, Bugs Moran, and Prohibition.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 7 Feb. 2024, www.britannica.com/event/Saint-Valentines-Day-Massacre.