On this frigid morning, in an unheated brick garage at 2122 N. Clark St., seven men were lined up against a whitewashed wall and pumped with 90 bullets from submachine guns, shotguns and a revolver. It was the most infamous of all gangland slayings in America, and it savagely achieved its purpose--the elimination of the last challenge to Al Capone for the mantle of crime boss in Chicago. By 1929, Capone's only real threat was George "Bugs" Moran, who headed his own gang and what was left of Dion O'Banion's band of bootleggers. Moran had long despised Capone, mockingly referring to him as "The Beast."
At about 10:30 a.m., four men burst into the SMC Cartage Co. garage that Moran used for his illegal business. Two of the men were dressed as police officers. The quartet presumably announced a raid and ordered the seven men inside the garage to line up against a wall. Then they opened fire. Witnesses, alerted by the rat-a-tat staccato of submachine guns, watched as the gunmen sped off in a black Cadillac touring car that looked like the kind police used, complete with siren, gong and rifle rack.The victims, killed outright or left dying in the garage, included Frank "Hock" Gusenberg, Moran's enforcer, and his brother, Peter "Goosy" Gusenberg. Four of the other victims were Moran gangsters, but the seventh dead man was Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optician who cavorted with criminals for thrills. Missing that morning was Capone's prize, Moran, who slept in.
Capone missed the excitement too. Vacationing at his retreat at Palm Island, Fla., he had an alibi for his whereabouts and disclaimed knowledge of the coldblooded killings. Few believed him. No one ever went to jail for pulling a trigger in the Clark Street garage, which was demolished in 1967.
Although Moran survived the massacre, he was finished as a big criminal. For decades to come, only one mob, that of Capone and his successors, would run organized crime in Chicago. But the Valentine's Day Massacre shocked a city that had been numbed by "Roaring '20s" gang warfare over control of illegal beer and whiskey distribution.
"These murders went out of the comprehension of a civilized city," the Tribune editorialized. "The butchering of seven men by open daylight raises this question for Chicago: Is it helpless?"
In the following years, Capone and his henchmen were to become the targets of ambitious prosecutors.