“THE (UNSOLVED?) ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE” #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: After more than 90 years, the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago still intrigues lovers of unsolved true crime stories. But is it really an unsolved case? We’ll look at the true story of the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” as told by the evidence and witnesses that we’ve always been told never existed.
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“The Unsolved St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” by Steve Shukis from Chicago True Crime (link no longer available)
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When the bodies of seven men were found slaughtered by machine-gun fire in a garage on North Clark St. in Chicago in 1929, the entire nation took pause. Even Chicagoans, calloused by the routine of gang violence, were stunned. It was the bloodiest and deadliest assault in American organized crime annals, and would forever mark Chicago in the minds of the world as the home of gangland murder.
While almost everyone has heard of the crime that would be known as “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” and is familiar with some basic facts, there remains an aura of mystery as to who carried it out, why, and how. As a casual observer, I always felt that, other than “knowing” that Al Capone was the power behind it, all the rest of what happened was more or less speculation. After all, no one was ever tried, let alone convicted, for the murders.
Too bad there weren’t eye witnesses, I thought; or physical evidence, like the murder weapons, or the car(s) that the killers drove– something that could have been traced and scientifically examined. But it turns out there were witnesses; and they did find cars, and guns, and bullets, which yielded genuine forensic evidence. But wouldn’t it be much clearer if somebody had come forward to tell authorities what happened? There had to be at least dozen people involved in planning and carrying out the crime – even more who knew who the killers were. You’d think that someone would have said something. Well, several people did. One even admitted his own involvement, and I don’t mean to his girlfriend or bar buddies, but to the FBI!
Yes, all of these things did happen. And if one can avoid getting sidetracked by the countless dead ends and impossible suspects that investigators pursued, a surprisingly clear picture of what took place and who was responsible is right in front of us.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode… after more than nine decades, the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago still intrigues lovers of unsolved true crime stories. But is it really an unsolved case? We’ll look at the true story of the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” as told by the evidence and witnesses that we’ve always been told never existed.
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, my newsletter, enter contests, to connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE=====
Just after 10:30 on the morning of February 14, 1929, Chicago Police were called to the SMC Cartage Company at 2122 N. Clark St. Sergeant Thomas Loftus was the first to arrive. He wandered into the smoky haze of the dimly lit garage. The acrid stench of gunfire still filled the air. A dog chained to the bumper of a truck barked wildly. After chasing out a curious passerby who had wandered in to the scene,[i] Loftus continued into the garage. Towards the front office area, he found the bloody bodies of seven men lying on the floor near a wall, one partially slumped over a chair. Each had been riddled by gunshots – flesh and clothing ripped to shreds. A few had been shot in the head, with particularly gruesome wounds. As Loftus surveyed the horror, one of the bodies moved. He heard a sound. Amazingly, one of them was still alive.
Loftus recognized Frank Gusenberg as a member of George “Bugs” Moran’s North Side Gang of bootleggers and racketeers. Loftus asked him what happened. “I won’t talk,” was Gusenberg’s famous reply. But he did offer one bit of information. “Cops did it,” he told the perplexed sergeant.[ii] Gusenberg was rushed to Alexian Brothers Hospital. Despite the best efforts of Loftus and other officers, Gusenberg refused to say another word, posthumously earning him the nick-name “Tight-Lips.” He managed to hold on for a few more hours before dying from his injuries.
The bodies of the six other men were taken to the morgue. They were all eventually identified as members and associates of the Moran gang. The seven victims were:
Albert Kachellek; Aka James Clark, Frank Meyer[iii]
Albert Kachellek, who went by the name “James Clark,” was a feared enforcer for the North Siders and had a reputation as a hardened killer.[iv] Born in Krojenke, Germany (now Poland) on approximately February 25, 1887,[v] Kachellek came to the U.S. as a child in 1893.[vi] His family settled on Chicago’s north side, and he grew up around Ashland and Division.[vii]
In 1905 Kachellek was sentenced to four years in prison at Pontiac for burglary. He followed that by serving four years (1910-14) at Joliet for robbery. He was charged with numerous other crimes over the years, including murder in 1914, but none resulted in conviction.[viii] For some reason he was constantly referred to in the press as “Bugs Moran’s brother-in-law,” though both his sister[ix] and his family tree have indicated he was not. Police found $681 on Kachellek’s body.[x]
Peter and Frank Gusenberg
Aside from Kachellek, the muscle of the Moran gang came from brothers Frank and Pete Gusenberg. They had fearsome reputations and were prime suspects in numerous high-profile hits, including the murders of successive Unione Siciliana heads Tony Lombardo and Patsy Lolordo, and several attempts on the life of “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn. They were also believed to have taken part in the North Sider’s infamous machinegun attack on Al Capone as he ate lunch at the Hawthorne Hotel in Cicero in September 1926.
Their name was originally “Gusenberger.” Their father, Peter Sr., was a cabinet-maker from Germany who immigrated in 1882. He and his wife Anna (Fridolin) Gusenberg had three sons, all born in Chicago: Peter Jr., Henry, and Frank. The family lived on Chicago’s north side, near Clybourn, between North and Division.[xi] Pete and Frank were both murdered in the massacre. Their brother Henry claimed no part in his brothers’ criminal activities.
Peter Gusenberg; Aka Peter Gusenberger, Jr., Peter Gorman
Peter Gusenberg was born on September 22, 1888.[xii] He served three years in Joliet for burglary from 1906 to 1909; was sent back for a parole violation the following year, and released again in 1911. In 1923 he was sentenced to three years in Leavenworth for his part in the Dearborn Station mail robbery.[xiii] Since his release, Gusenberg was a leading member of the Moran gang, frequently taken into custody by police in their round-ups of the “usual suspects.”[xiv] Pete’s widow, Myrtle, said she only knew her husband as “Peter Gorman,” a real estate salesman, and was unaware of any illicit activity he might have been involved in.[xv]
Frank Gusenberg; Aka Frank Gusenberger, Franz Gusenberger, Carl Bloom, Fred Gusenberg, Howard Morgan, Frank Gould
Frank Gusenberg was Pete’s youngest brother. He was born in 1892, on either October 9[xvii] or November 22.[xviii] Frank was suspected in numerous robberies and burglaries between 1909 and 1914, but was never charged.[xix] He was charged with burglary in 1924, but was found “not guilty.” He was also charged with robbery in 1926, but that case was dropped by the State’s Attorney.[xx] Two different women stepped forward claiming to be Frank Gusenberg’s widow. Neither Lucille nor Ruth Gusenberg was aware that their husband had another wife, nor a secret life as a gangster.[xxi]
Clad in brown overalls,[xxii] John May was the Moran gang mechanic and an occasional driver of contraband.[xxiii] He kept the trucks that the gang used in long distance alcohol runs in working order. May was born in Chicago on September 28, 1894 (or possibly 1893, or 1895).[xxiv] He grew up on the West Side,[xxv] where he still lived (his home address was given alternately as either 1249 W. Madison[xxvi] or 1447 W. Madison).[xxvii]
John was the second of eight children born to Michael and Mary (Riley) May. His mother was from Ireland. His father was born in Toronto, but was also of Irish descent. While many people think of the North Siders as being an “Irish gang,” that was never really true. May, the unlucky mechanic, was the only Irishman killed in the massacre.
May was said to have been a safe-blower before working for the Moran gang. He had only a few arrests on his record, for larceny and robbery, and apparently no convictions.[xxviii] His widow and wife of ten years, Hattie (Holden) May, became hysterical when told of his death. Police found only a few dollars in May’s pockets, along with a St. Christopher medal in a case that was dented by machinegun fire.[xxix]
Adam Heyer; Aka Frank Snyder, John Snyder, Arthur Hayes
Adam Heyer, using the name “Frank Snyder,” had rented the garage at 2122 N. Clark St., and was the nominal owner of the SMC Cartage Company. Heyer was something of a business manager for the gang, and was seen as the brains of the organization. Most recently, he was running Fairview Kennels, the Moran gang’s dog racing track, which rivaled Capone’s Hawthorne Kennel Club.[xxx]
Heyer was born in Chicago on October 17, 1887 to Adam and Catherine (Scheffers) Heyer.[xxxi] His father was born in Germany; his mother was born in Illinois to German parents. Adam Heyer had three brothers and a sister. He was sentenced to a year at the Bridewell in 1908 for robbery, and sent to Joliet in 1916 for running a confidence game. From there, he was in and out of prison for parole violations until finally being discharged in February 1923.[xxxii] Heyer was married twice. He had a college-aged son with his first wife Helen. Neither she, nor his second wife, Mayme, knew much about their husband’s work, or seemed to even be aware that he had spent time in prison. Heyer had almost $1,400 in cash on him, and was living at 2024 W. Faragut at the time of his murder.[xxxiii]
Albert Weinshank; Aka Albert R. Weinshenker, A. R. Shanks, Alexander Weinshenker
Albert Weinshank was an official of the Central Cleaners and Dyers Co., 2705 W. Fullerton, and also the owner of the Alcazar Club at 4207 N. Broadway.[xxxiv] He was Moran’s man in the gang’s foray into controlling the lucrative cleaning and dyeing industry in Chicago. Police believed Weinshank had joined the gang only months earlier, around the time of the murder of a Teamster business agent named John Clay.[xxxv] Weinshank had $18 in his pockets and was wearing a diamond ring.[xxxvi]
He was born Albert Richard Weinshenker in Chicago on December 23, 1892,[xxxvii] the third of five children born to Russian immigrants Edward and Sophie Weinshenker. In 1900 the family lived near Division and Damen on the north side,[xxxviii] but later moved to the Logan Square neighborhood, around Fullerton and California.[xxxix]
Reinhart Harry Schwimmer was a young optician who was seen as somewhat of a hanger-on of the gang. He had no known criminal record, though he reportedly liked to boast that he was involved in bootlegging, and could have anyone he wanted “taken for a ride.”[xl] He was born in Chicago on December 1, 1898[xli] to German immigrants Michael and Josephine (Herman) Schwimmer. His parents divorced when he was a child. His father was an optician and young Reinhart eventually took over his business on North Ave., but it failed. He married in December of 1922, but that too ended in failure when his wife Fae (nee Johnston) divorced him after less than a year of marriage.[xlii]
With the assistance of his mother, Schwimmer took up residence at the Parkway Hotel, home to many North Side gangsters over the years, including Bugs Moran. Schwimmer had hung out with the gang for several years, and seemed to be fairly close with Pete Gusenberg, whom his mother referred to as “Mr. Pete.” Schwimmer’s body was first recognized by a surgeon who had performed an appendectomy on Pete Gusenberg. The doctor remembered Schwimmer coming to visit and tending to him while he was hospitalized.[xliii]
Schwimmer’s elderly mother Josephine lamented the loss of her only child, and said that she repeatedly warned her son to quit hanging out with gangsters.[xliv] While he clearly wasn’t a hard-core gang member, neither was Reinhart Schwimmer the “innocent eye doctor” that so many have made him out to be, as evidenced by the gun police found in his apartment after the murders.[xlv] He was an acquaintance, if not an accomplice, of the North Siders, trusted enough to be present at an important meeting of the gang’s upper echelon.
A crowd gathered quickly outside the garage on Clark Street. Police immediately started interviewing witnesses, who were not really hard to find. Several people said they heard what sounded like rapid gunfire, though most initially attributed it to something else. Others watched police officers walk out of the garage with prisoners held at gunpoint.[i]
Mrs. Josephine Morin, who lived at 2125 N. Clark, across the street from the murder scene, said she heard the shooting. She looked out the window and saw men leaving the garage. “Two men in uniforms had rifles or shotguns as they came out the door,” she explained. “And there were two or three men walking ahead of them with their hands up in the air. It looked as though the police were making an arrest, and they all got into an automobile and drove away.” She said that the car looked like those used by the detective bureau.[ii] Samuel Schneider owned a tailor shop at 2124 N. Clark, right next door to the garage. He also described seeing a detective-style car that the killers used in their get-away.[iii] He said that at one point, he saw two men standing in front of his shop looking towards the garage and three men getting into the car to leave.[iv] Mrs. Jeanette Landesman, who lived above Schneider’s tailor shop, was the first to call police.[v] She also heard the gunfire and watched the assassins make their escape.[vi] Her elderly mother Pauline said that a few minutes before the barrage of gunfire, she happened to be looking out the window and noticed a second detective squad stop briefly in front of the garage.[vii]
Detectives surmised that the men who were dressed as police entered the garage first. They lined up the victims and disarmed them, then let in the other gunmen. They all left together, making it appear as if some were prisoners under arrest.[viii] The “police raid” scenario made sense, as it would explain why seasoned killers like the Gusenbergs and James Clark would apparently line up against a wall to be shot without offering resistance. A revolver lying on the ground, and marks showing where it had slid along the greasy floor, suggested that one victim may have tried to draw a gun[ix] (either from a nearby desk drawer, or hidden on his person), after realizing what was happening. Whether this move triggered the machine gun fire, or the shooting had already begun, we will never know. The gun, which was eventually determined to be Frank Gusenberg’s, was still loaded.[x] He never got off a shot.
Two days after the murders, letters addressed to Mrs. Morin and Mrs. Landesman were received in the mail at Mrs. Morin’s address. The letter to Morin read: “To whom it may concern. That’s the best piece of work committed here for a long time. Lots more to follow.” It was signed. “The Gang.” A postscript read: “S.P. [sic?] You better shut your mouth.”[xi] The other letter read: “Mrs. Landsman: Please keep your mouth shut or you know what will happen to both of you; keep out of our troubles; don’t forget. Chi. Boys.” Mrs. Morin reportedly fled the state after reading the notes.
Police continued canvassing the area, and found more valuable witnesses. Mrs. Minnie Arvidson ran a rooming house at 2125-39 N. Clark. Mrs. Michael Doody ran another at 2119 N. Clark. Both told similar stories of recently renting out rooms to suspicious men. Both apartments were across the street from the SMC garage, and were now considered by investigators to have been lookout posts for the killers.[xiii] Mrs. Arvidson said that two men insisting on a front room rented from her starting January 27. They claimed to be taxi drivers who worked nights. They paid their rent and hadn’t been seen by anyone since February 14.[xiv] Mrs. Doody told a similar tale of renting a front room facing Clark Street to a man who drove a taxi at night and sat in the apartment all day with one or two other men. Her roomer left back in December, suggesting that the lookouts moved from Mrs. Doody’s building to Mrs. Arvidson’s.
George Arthur Brichetti (usually referred to as “Brichet”) was a young man who just happened to be walking down the alley behind Clark St. on the morning of the massacre. He reported seeing a detective squad car parked in a lot across the alley from the garage. He said that when the back doors of the garage were opened to admit a truck, three men, two in uniform and one in a topcoat, entered behind the truck, guns drawn. He figured a raid was in progress, so he ran around the block to the front to watch. There, he witnessed two “police officers” with guns, marching two men in overcoats to a second detective car. The men got in and sped south on Clark St.[xvi] Brichetti’s story was arguably the most important of all, as it resolved conflicting details from other witnesses regarding the number of men seen entering / leaving the garage, and whether or not they were dressed as police officers.
Up next, we piece together these eyewitness accounts and put together a story of what actually happened… when Weird Darkness returns.
Piecing together these eyewitness accounts, this is what happened: One or two lookouts posted across the street gave a signal to the killers (presumably by telephone) when they thought that Moran had arrived. The killers pulled up to the front of the garage in two detective cars. Possibly realizing that the doors were locked, three of the men got back into one of the cars and drove around to the back. This would explain Mrs. Landesman’s mother seeing a second car stop briefly, as well as Schneider’s story of seeing two men standing in front of his shop, while three others drove off.
The second car pulled up in the back and parked in the lot across the alley. Upon seeing a truck entering the back doors, they seized the opportunity and slipped into the garage behind the truck. The uniformed men rounded up the victims, lined them up against the wall and disarmed them, while the third man likely opened the front door to let the two men waiting out in front inside.
After mowing down the victims with machine guns (and a shotgun blast for good measure), one of the killers must have left from the back and driven off in the car that was parked across the alley. The other four walked out the front, acting as if an arrest was taking place, and made their escape in the second car. The theory that the killers used two cars is painstakingly laid out in William Helmer and Arthur Bilek’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (Cumberland House, 2004), and is far and away the most likely scenario.
Because the killers used detective cars and police uniforms, investigators had to rule out the possibility that actual police officers carried out the murders. Less than two years earlier, a police officer shot and killed the previous head of the North Side gang, Vincent “Schemer” Drucci, while he was unarmed (and probably handcuffed) in police custody, so the idea of police as massacre murderers was not all that far-fetched in Chicago. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office decided to proceed with its’ own investigation, separate from the detective bureau. They couldn’t trust the police to get to the truth if their own men were involved.
Meanwhile, Cook County Coroner Herman Bundesen was keenly aware of the scrutiny such a high-profile case would bring, particularly with Chicago’s sadly deserved reputation for corruption. He immediately decided to empanel a special jury to examine the case. It would be composed of six prominent and respected citizens, including Burt A. Massee, Vice-President of the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Company, and Dr. John McCormick, Dean of Loyola University Law School.[xviii] There were now three separate “official” investigations into the murders. Needless to say, this created friction and mistrust that would forever hinder their efforts.
Missing from the list of the dead was the presumed target of the slaughter, George “Bugs” Moran, as was his top lieutenant, Willie Marks. Police wanted to question them, but they were nowhere to be found. At first, many suspected that Moran was one of the “prisoners” seen being led from the garage. It was later learned that Moran had been en route to SMC Cartage when the shooting took place. Distraught after learning of the murders, and looking for a safe place to hide, he then checked himself in to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston and stayed there from Feb. 14 – 18 (though he was reportedly seen outside on the 15th).
There are many theories as to why Moran was spared. It’s assumed that the lookouts mistook one of the other men (possibly Weinshank) for him and signaled the hit team prematurely. Moran lived at the Parkway Hotel, which was barely a block from the SMC garage. According to biographer Rose Keefe, Moran himself told authorities at Leavenworth Prison upon his admission there years later, that he was simply getting a haircut at the Parkway barber that morning and his appointment ran late.
There has also been speculation as to who was with Moran that morning. Willie Marks, Teddy Newberry, and even Terry Druggan have all been named as having accompanied Moran. Keefe claims that a relative of Moran’s named G.J. Moran told her that “Bugs” was with Willie Marks that morning – that he and Marks had just rounded the corner at Clark St., only to see police marching men out of the garage at gunpoint. He said that what really unnerved him was not that a raid was taking place, but that he didn’t recognize the “prisoners” who were being led out the door.
After leaving the hospital, Moran and a few of his remaining lieutenants, including Willie Marks, Frank Foster, and Israel Adelman,[xxii] left for Windsor, Canada to catch their breath and plan their next move. Moran eventually went on to Montreal and boarded a ship for Europe. He said he wanted to go to Paris to wait for the storm to pass and his nerves to settle.
A Hot Cadillac The first really big break in the case came on February 21, just a week after the murders. Firemen were called to 1723 N. Wood St. when neighbors saw smoke and flames pouring out of a small garage. The door had been barricaded from the inside with crowbars. Once inside and able to douse the flames, firefighters discovered the charred remnants of a 1927 Cadillac touring car, which fit the description of the detective bureau squad car seen at the SMC garage the morning of the massacre. Someone was trying to get rid of it piece by piece. It had been cut and hacked apart by a saw, an axe, and possibly an acetylene torch. The top, and other combustible parts, appeared to have been burned piecemeal. Knowing this could be big, police were notified immediately. Once the smoke cleared, detectives found a police siren that had been removed from the Cadillac. A hat and coat left behind by whoever was dismantling the car (and inadvertently started the blaze), suggested that someone might have been badly burned.
The hurried effort to dismantle the car likely stemmed from a recent police order for officers to investigate and inspect every garage, shack, etc, in the city looking for liquor violations.[ii] The killers likely feared that agents looking for stills might find the car instead. Police interviewed the owner of the garage, Leo Jopett. He said that he rented it out on Feb. 12, just two days before the murders, to a man named Frank Rogers, who gave his address as 1859 W. North Ave.[iii] “Rogers” said he wanted to use the garage for a month and gave Jopett $20 in advance.
Police raced to 1859 W. North Ave., just a few blocks away. It was deserted, but officers were familiar with the place next door: 1857 W. North Ave. was the Circus Café. The Circus was the hangout for a group of hoods who would become known, appropriately, as “the Circus Gang.” With transplanted St. Louis gangster and labor racketeer Claude “Screwy” Maddox as their unofficial leader, the group was closely allied with the Capone organization, and included Jack McGurn, and a young Tony Accardo, who would eventually rule the Chicago Outfit. On January 26, police had raided the Circus Café. Hiding in a back room annex, they found Claude Maddox, along with a dozen overcoats (whose owners undoubtedly made a hasty retreat minutes earlier), and a 100-round sub machine gun drum.
Despite there being little more than a burnt out chassis remaining, investigators quickly traced ownership of the Cadillac. After changing hands a few times, it ended up at the used car department of a Cadillac dealer at 23rd and Michigan. There it was purchased for $850 by a man who identified himself as “James Morton” of Los Angeles, California.
Within a few days, it was clear that this was the car. “There is no doubt in our minds,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Harry Ditchburne. “It was the car used by the murderers of the Moran gang.” Ditchburne even suggested a route of less than two miles that the killers likely followed from the massacre scene to the garage on Wood St.: south on Clark St. to Ogden, then southwest to either North Ave. or Cortland.
Detectives discovered that the garage at 1723 Wood had previously been used as a miniature brewery. Its’ operator worked for a man named Dominick Capezio. Dominick was the brother of Anthony “Tough Tony” Capezio, who just happened to be co-owner of the Circus Café.[viii] Witnesses said that three days before the fire, Tony Capezio and a man named Raymond Schulte (and possibly Maddox himself[ix]) were seen around the garage wearing overalls covered in grease, as if they had been working on a car. The pieces were starting to fall into place.
Mrs. Myrtle Engles, a nurse at North Avenue Hospital, a block from the Wood St. garage, said that on the night of the fire, an Italian man came in saying he was burned in a still explosion. He wouldn’t wait for the doctor to finish with another patient and left, apparently fearful that a police report would be made. She described the man as about 5’ 2” 140 lbs. Police said that matched the description of a “Tony Florentino,” allegedly one of the Circus Café crowd. Some historians believe that it was actually Tony Capezio who was burned in the fire. Perhaps “Florentino” was an alias of his, but it’s not clear.
Investigators had an obvious starting point to look for suspects, in the Circus Café. From their interviews there, they generated a list of 17 men they wanted for questioning.[xii] They also raided Claude Maddox’ office at 1134 N. Ashland and found evidence that Maddox may have brought in killers from St. Louis.[xiii] Whatever they uncovered, it was enough to spur Assistant State’s Attorney Walker Butler and Lieut. William Cusack to travel to St. Louis to meet with the chief of police there. When he heard that the killers wore police uniforms, the chief suggested two likely suspects: Fred Burke and “James Ray” (presumed to be an alias of Gus Winkeler).
Both men had served time in prison and were wanted for murder. Burke was wanted for a long series of robberies and murders all over the Midwest, and had been a fugitive since about 1925. Gus Winkeler was Burke’s friend and, quite literally, his partner in crime. Winkeler got his start with St. Louis’ “Cuckoo Gang,” while Burke was for a time a member of the notorious Egan Gang, or “Egan’s Rats.” Raymond Schulte (aka Shocker), who had been seen working around the Wood St. garage just before the Cadillac was found burning, had also been associated with Egan’s Rats.
Numerous witnesses on St. Valentine’s Day, including the chauffeur of the President of the Chicago Board of Education, noted one very recognizable physical characteristic of one of the men they saw that morning. “The witnesses to the slaying stressed the fact that one of the killers in police uniform had two front teeth missing,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Butler.” Fred Burke was missing two teeth. Butler and Cusack returned to Chicago confident enough in what they had learned to publicly name Burke and “Ray” as two of the killers. This was less than three weeks after the murders.
On February 27, 1929 an explosion rocked suburban Maywood just west of Chicago. When police responded to the scene near First Ave. and Harvard, they found a 1926 Peerless touring car, the same as used by Chicago detectives. The explosion did some damage to the car, but appeared to have gone off prematurely. Among the items scattered around the vehicle were stolen license plates, a police style “gong,” and a small notebook that appeared to have belonged to massacre victim Albert Weinshank. Because most everything was still intact, Chicago Police immediately dismissed the car as a “plant,” intended to confuse investigators. Deputy Commissioner Stege said that he imagined more such cars would be popping up all over. They traced ownership of the car to a “Patrick Gleason,” but his address turned out to be a vacant lot. The discovery of the car (and Weinshank’s datebook) got very little press attention and was virtually ignored, but it now seems probable that this was the second car used in the massacre.
On December 14, 1929 the small town of St. Joseph, Michigan would become the center of a manhunt for the nation’s most wanted fugitive. On that Saturday evening, 22 year old Forrest Kool[xx] of Buchanon was driving between Stevensville and St. Joseph, Michigan when he got into a minor accident with a Hudson coupe. There wasn’t much damage, only a scraped fender, but Kool was upset. The other driver offered him cash to settle things on the spot, but he refused. Some reports say that Kool demanded more than the other driver was willing to pay. More likely, he simply insisted on filing a report with the police. Whichever the case, the driver of the Hudson motored off towards St. Joseph. Kool followed him into the city.
Downtown was crowded with Christmas shoppers. At Broad and State Streets, Kool noticed Patrolman Charles Skelly (original name “Skalay”) directing traffic and waived him over to help. Skelly stepped onto the running board of Kool’s car and they followed after the Hudson down Broad St. They caught up to it a block away when the driver stopped at a light. There, Skelly stepped from Kool’s car onto the running board of the Hudson[xxi] and ordered the driver to the nearby station where they could sort things out. As the light turned green, the driver of the Hudson pulled a .45 automatic and fired three times on the stunned Skelly. The officer staggered and tried to draw his gun as the Hudson turned wildly and sped off down Main St., narrowly missing a crowd of frightened pedestrians who scurried out of his way.
The 25 year old Skelly had only been on the force for six months. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died later that evening. Other officers chased after the Hudson. Barely a mile away, where the road made a sharp turn, they found the car in a ditch. Two of the wheels were ripped off, the car apparently having skidded into a telephone pole before crashing. There was no sign of the driver. Police inspected the vehicle and found papers indicating that it belonged to “Fred Dane” of Stevensville. They went to Dane’s address, but he wasn’t there. They searched the home trying to find some clue as to why he would murder a police officer over a minor traffic incident. When they forced open an upstairs bedroom closet, they had their answer. Inside was a cache of weapons that could have outfitted a small militia: two sawed-off shotguns, a high powered automatic rifle, revolvers, tear gas,[xxii] and two Thompson submachine guns. In the basement they discovered 900 rounds of machine gun fire and two sacks of pistol and shotgun cartridges. Their search also yielded three bullet-proof vests from the corner of a dusty closet, and dozens of disguises.
Neighbors of Dane said that he and his “wife” Viola had moved to Stevensville only a few months earlier. They seemed to be a respectable couple. Some believed him to be a rich oil man; others thought he was an agent for a feed company. Perhaps the most useful clues to his true identity were found in the laundry: new shirts initialed “FWD”, and older ones initialed “FRB” and “RB.” They assumed “FWD” was Fred Dane, but what about the others? Could the initials stand for “Fred R. Burke,” who occasionally went by “Ray Burke?” “Dane’s” abandoned Hudson was traced to a Cicero auto dealer. It had been sold in August of 1928 to a man named “Van Clark,” who, it was discovered, was really Fred Goetz, a fugitive from murder charges who was being hidden by the Capone gang. Goetz was wanted for numerous crimes, the most noteworthy being the robbery of an American Express Co. truck in Toledo, Ohio in April 1928, which resulted in the machinegun murder of police officer George Zientara. The car used in that robbery was also traced to its purchase by Goetz in Cicero, this time using the name “Van Ness.” Fred Burke’s photo was identified by witnesses as one of the Toledo robbers.[xxv] Also wanted for the Toledo heist were Gus Winkeler, Robert Carey, and Ray Nugent.
Fingerprints later confirmed what everyone already suspected: “Fred Dane” and “Fred Burke” were one and the same. Found among Burke’s possessions at the Stevensville house, were approximately $319,000 in bonds. Of that, $112,000 worth was identified by serial numbers as having been taken in a holdup of the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Jefferson, Wisconsin. That heist was carried out on Nov. 7, 1929 by five men. A total of $352,000 in cash and securities were taken.[xxvi] Warrants had been issued in that case for a now-familiar group that included Fred Burke, Gus Winkeler, Robert Carey, and Fred Goetz.
Police frantically interviewed area residents trying to retrace Burke’s escape route. After crashing the Hudson, he took off on foot. He then commandeered an auto at gunpoint and had the driver take him to Jericho Road near Stevensville. There, a man named Albert Wishart, who knew “Dane,” offered him a ride, unaware of what was going on. Eventually, Wishart realized something was terribly wrong. When Burke hopped out of the car to go into a drugstore in Stevensville, Wishart sped off, stranding him. The fugitive now started off towards his home on foot. As he neared his house on Lake Shore Drive, just south of Glenlord Road, he saw that officers were already there. At that moment, Berrien County Sheriff Deputy Erwin Kubath was in the process of concealing his squad car. He saw a shadowy figure along the road but when he turned on his lights the figure disappeared into the woods.
Investigators determined that from there Burke ran to neighbor Steve Kunay’s house, told him his car had broken down and asked for a ride to Coloma, about 20miles away. Kunay agreed, but became suspicious when Burke suggested a rather indirect route to their destination. Kunay made up a story about needing gas and left Burke somewhere near Coloma. Police tracked Burke from Coloma to nearby Paw Paw, where someone at a dance hall there matching Burke’s description had just left 10 minutes before police arrived, having hired a young man to drive him to an undisclosed location.[xxix] That would be as close as police would get to Fred Burke for some time.
When Weird Darkness returns – we look at the evidence left behind for scientists… the gun ballistics!
The two machine guns, along with other weapons discovered at Burke’s Michigan home, were driven straight to Chicago. There, Cook County Coroner Bundesen’s Jury had heard about the new science of forensic ballistics, in which a bullet could be positively matched to the weapon from which it was fired. Major Calvin Goddard, working from a private lab in New York, was the pioneer in this field.
Convinced that it might be the key to solving the massacre mystery, jury foreman Burt Massee asked Bundesen to bring Goddard and his specialized equipment in on the case. When told that there was no funding for such an effort, Massee and another juror agreed to foot the bill. Goddard and his equipment moved to Chicago. He examined the bullets and shells found at the murder scene and determined that one shotgun and two submachine guns were used. The two machine guns fired a total of 70 rounds: one unloaded a fifty round drum and the other a twenty round magazine. He tested virtually every machine gun he could get his hands (including all of those owned by the Chicago Police Department) hoping to match one to the bullets. Thus far, he had no luck.
But just days after receiving Burke’s arsenal, Goddard had amazing news. He determined that both machine guns found at Burke’s house had been used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. He performed microscopic comparisons of bullets found in the victim’s bodies and those fired from Burke’s weapons. He showed jurors that markings made by the extractor, firing pin, rifling, and ejector of one of Burke’s guns were identical to marks on one set of bullets from the murders. The markings from the second gun perfectly matched those on the second set of bullets. Goddard likened the markings to fingerprints, with no two guns ever making the same markings.
Goddard further disclosed that one of the guns had also been used in the murder of Brooklyn mob boss Frankie Yale in New York in July of 1928. Capone had been suspected of ordering the hit on his one-time mentor. Now there was evidence to back that up. Early on, investigators had tracked down the buyers and sellers of a multitude of machine guns sold in the Chicago area. Among those questioned was Peter Von Frantzius, considered the “armorer” of Chicago gangland. There were frighteningly few regulations regarding the sale of submachine guns, which Coroner Bundesen compared to a fisherman buying tackle, with few questions asked, and virtually no check of identity or address. Among his many customers, Von Frantzius had sold eleven machine guns to a man named Russell Thompson, who had identified himself as “Frank Thompson.” He claimed to be a sporting goods dealer from Kirkland, Illinois, a tiny town with an apparently large appetite for submachine guns.
Thompson gave Bundesen the sales records for each of the guns. One, serial #7580, was among several that Thompson sold to an ex-con from the West Side named James “Bozo” Shupe. That same gun was found in Fred Burke’s home in Michigan, and was now identified by Goddard as having fired twenty rounds during the massacre. Shupe was questioned back in April. He denied purchasing guns from Thompson or anyone else. At the time, Shupe wasn’t considered a suspect in the murders, and was thought to be on good terms with the Moran gang. Any notion of re-interviewing him, however, would have to be scratched. Shupe was killed in a shootout with one of his own gang at Madison and Aberdeen on July 31, 1929. Shupe did manage to kill his killer, Thomas McNichols, and both men perished in the duel.
The second murder weapon identified by Goddard, serial #2347, fired fifty rounds. That gun was originally sold to Marion Deputy Sheriff Leslie Farmer of downstate Herrin, Illinois. Farmer later disappeared, and was said to have been associated with Egan’s Rats.
In July of 1930, about seven months after Skelly’s killing, a man named Thomas Bonner was murdered in his home at 74th and Yale on the South Side of Chicago. Mrs. Bonner identified Fred Burke as one of his killers. She said that her husband had dabbled in various illegal rackets, and knew Burke for years. Lately, times weren’t so good for Bonner and he was desperate for cash. He heard about the enormous bounty being offered for Burke’s capture, and thought he might be able to cash in. So he made a trip up to the Hess Lake region in Michigan, where he suspected his old pal Burke was hiding.
According to his wife, immediately after Bonner returned home to Chicago, just after midnight, there was a knock at the door. She heard her husband let the men in. They talked for a while, then began to argue. Mrs. Bonner said she heard two gunshots, then ran to the living room. She found her husband on the floor shot in the head, as the two men fled. She said the killers were Fred Burke and a “sandy haired man,” whom her husband also knew.[xii] Police raided a cottage at Hess Lake, but came up empty. It was thought that Burke had fled just a half hour before police surrounded the place. The search for Burke stepped up. Heavily armed officers in bullet proof vests searched every train and boat leaving Muskegon, 40 miles from Hess Lake. But once again, Fred Burke was one step ahead of them.
Wanted for murder in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio, and the prime suspect in Frankie Yale’s murder in New York, he was now being referred to as “Killer” Burke in the press. Rewards totaling $100,000 were offered for his capture. True detective magazines covered Burke’s exploits as a member of Egan’s Rats in St. Louis; a jewel thief, kidnapper, and extortionist in Detroit; and massacre murderer in Chicago. There was nowhere for him to hide. A former member of Egan’s Rats named Ray Renard speculated in a story in True Detective Mysteries magazine that Burke probably settled down in another quiet area, and was “exploring new fields for future jobs.”
Joseph Hunsaker, a truck driver and gas station attendant from Green City, Missouri, was a big fan of those detective magazines. After reading one such story that included photos of Fred Burke, he started thinking about a local fellow named Richard White. Hunsaker was always a little suspicious of White’s apparent affluence. After seeing the photos of Burke, he thought he was on to something. He started practically stalking Richard White, hoping to uncover some clue that he was Fred Burke. He went to local authorities several times before they finally listened to him. They learned that White was due to return from an out of town trip. When he did, they made their move. Shortly before dawn on March 26, 1931, St. Joseph, Missouri Police surrounded a farmhouse outside of Milan, Missouri (near Green City). Barney Porter answered the door and police rushed in. They found a startled Richard White just getting up in bed. A loaded pistol was on a chair next to him, but he never had a chance to draw. For a while he insisted that he was Richard Franklin White, but eventually admitted his true identity. Fred “Killer” Burke was a fugitive no more.
It turned out that Burke had married again, this time to a young girl named Bonnie Porter. She and “Mr. White” had been living with her father (Barney). Bonnie wasn’t home, but was later taken into custody in Kansas City and questioned. She denied any knowledge of her husband’s criminal life and was let go. Numerous states wanted to extradite Burke for trial, but Illinois and Michigan were the most obvious choices. Michigan was eventually decided upon, as they had a practically air-tight case against Burke for killing a police officer. Luckily for Burke, Michigan had no death penalty. With much fanfare, Burke was taken back to Michigan by a convoy of heavily armed men. On April 27, 1931, he pleaded guilty to the second degree murder of Officer Skelly, and was sentenced to life in prison at the Marquette State Penitentiary.
After Burke’s sentencing, it seemed unlikely that anyone would ever stand trial for the massacre murders. Later that year, in November of 1931 the Cook County Coroner officially closed its’ inquest. In one of the most anticlimactic announcements ever, after almost three years of hearings, the coroner’s verdict stated that the seven men came to their deaths “at the hands of a person, or persons, unknown.”[xviii] The jurors recommended that the police “seek the slayers.” It looked like a very cold case indeed. But a few years later, there would be new hope that it might be solved once and for all.
Sadly, the biggest break in the entire case has been disregarded by some researchers as faked, flawed, or otherwise untrustworthy. Many still question its existence at all. Let’s review the facts concerning the “confession” of Byron Bolton.
On January 8, 1935, federal agents raided an apartment at 3920 N. Pine Grove on Chicago’s North Side. They were hunting members of the infamous Barker – Karpis Gang of interstate robbers and kidnappers. The gang was suspected in numerous holdups and murders, as well as the high-profile kidnappings of two wealthy St. Paul, Minn. businessmen: William Hamm, executive of Hamm’s Brewery, in June 1933; and bank president Edward Bremer in January 1934. A shootout at the Pine Grove apartment ended with gang member Russell Gibson dead and the rest of the occupants under arrest. Among those taken into custody was 36 year old William Bryan “Byron” Bolton.
Bolton grew up on a farm between Virden and Thayer in downstate Illinois, about 85 miles from St. Louis. He served in the Navy during WWI, but within a few years of his return, was running stills and bootlegging operations in the East St. Louis area with a Chicago desperado named Fred Goetz (known at the time as “George Zeigler”). Goetz was on the run from the law in Chicago, and seemed to have connections within all of the darkest depths of the underworld. Bolton was described in FBI files as Goetz’s “stooge.” Goetz introduced Bolton to the Barker – Karpis gang, and brought him in on both the Hamm and Bremer kidnappings. Goetz had been shot-gunned to death on a Cicero street ten months before Bolton’s capture, and it appeared that, absent his mentor and boss, Bolton was ready to give up the criminal life. He had a wife and children, and wasn’t eager to spend the rest of his life in prison. He let authorities know that he was willing to tell them what he knew. It was much more than they bargained for.
A few weeks later, on January 23, 1935, the Chicago American ran an exclusive story, boldly claiming that the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre had been solved. They reported that Byron Bolton had issued a complete and detailed “confession” to the FBI, naming the shooters, get-away drivers, lookouts, and planners of the bloody rampage.
The Department of Justice vehemently denied that Bolton had made any such statement. D.M. Ladd, agent in charge of the Chicago Division of Investigation said, “Federal agents have not questioned Bolton about the massacre.” Even U.S. Attorney General Homer Cummings weighed in on the matter, describing the reports of Bolton’s massacre confession as “completely erroneous.” And no one was more adamant in denying the story than FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. “There’s not a word of truth in it,” he told reporters. While publicly denying that Bolton had said anything at all, privately, Hoover was fuming. He was convinced that the phone lines of the bureau’s Chicago office had been compromised. It was a clear indication that there was some truth behind the American’s story. After being assured that the lines had been checked numerous times, and were in fact secure, Hoover began fearing that one of his own men was feeding the story to the press. He went so far as to instruct agents to pretend that they had captured Alvin Karpis (the nation’s most wanted fugitive at the time) to see if the “news” would be leaked. It was not.
The Chicago American claimed that their information came from “friends of [Bolton] to whom he previously had told the story.” Everyone anxiously awaited the release of Bolton’s confession, or statement, or whatever it was, but the government kept denying that there was anything to make public. Second and third-hand versions of Bolton’s supposed story were published, in various garbled versions, by newspapers all over the country. Misinformation and pure speculation were added into the mix at nearly every turn. People who Bolton never mentioned were brought into the story by reporters eager to “scoop” their competitors, making a constructive evaluation of it nearly impossible. Because of this, many still come away believing that Bolton’s tale was simply made up, if it was even told at all.
Luckily, we don’t need to rely on those mangled, third-hand news accounts of Bolton’s “confession.” F.B.I. documents, which have since been declassified, indicate that on August 27, 1936, after more than a year and a half of fervid denials that Bolton had said anything, J. Edgar Hoover wrote a memo to Joseph Keenan, Acting-Attorney General of the United States. In it, Hoover not only admitted that Bolton had been questioned regarding the massacre, but he provided a summary of that interview. Two months later, Hoover issued a slightly more detailed report, and ordered that it be forwarded to Chicago Police Commissioner James Allman. This was to more or less wash the FBI’s hands of the case, one which Hoover clearly did not want to take on.
What did Bolton actually say?
According to J. Edgar Hoover, this is what Bolton told federal agents:
Bolton said that the massacre was carried out by the Capone organization to eliminate Bugs Moran. It was first planned at Fred Goetz’s resort on Cranberry Lake, near Couderay, Wisconsin in October or November of 1928. Those present at the resort during that time included Al Capone, Gus Winkler, Fred Goetz, Fred Burke, Louis Campagna, Bill Pacelli (who would later become an Illinois State Senator), and Dan Seritella (the City Sealer, and Capone confidante). Bolton said that Goetz had him bring a pot of spaghetti and other food to the resort, and that the men were there two or three weeks hunting and fishing.
Capone then headed for Florida, leaving Frank Nitti in charge of the operation, assisted by Capone bodyguard Frank Rio. Bolton said that he personally purchased the Cadillac car from a dealer on south Michigan Ave., believing it was to be used for hauling alcohol. He thought that he used the name “James Martin” when buying it. He said he was taken to the car dealer by a man named Louis Lipschultz, who also gave him the money for the car.
Bolton said that on the day of the massacre, operations were carried out from the Circus Café. He identified the actual killers as Fred Goetz, Gus Winkler, Fred Burke, Ray Nugent, and Bob Carey. He claimed that none of the men wore police uniforms, but that they did wear police badges. He said that the killers didn’t know the men inside the garage, so they killed them all rather than let Moran get away. Bolton said that Claude Maddox and Tony Capezio, along with a man named “Shocker” from St. Louis, burned the Cadillac after the murders.
It is worth noting that Bolton did not actually render a “confession,” at least not to the actual murders. In fact, Hoover stated that Bolton “consistently denied that he personally participated in the massacre.”[xiii] He said that the look-outs posted at 2127 N. Clark St., across the street from the garage, were James “Jimmy the Swede” Morand and Jimmy McCrussen.
The level of detail and sheer number of people implicated by Bolton open his statement up to a lot of scrutiny. In spite of that, there is very little that is suspect. The general narrative and names he provided all make sense, and fit with the known facts. The five men he identified as the actual killers had known ties to each other, both before and after the massacre. All five were already fugitives from murder charges and had little to lose.
Some details can be verified, such as where Bolton purchased the Cadillac, and the alias he used to purchase it (Bolton thought he used the name “James Martin” – the car dealer said “James Morton”). Bolton correctly named Maddox, Capezio, and Shocker (called by his alias “Schulte” in press accounts) as the men who dismantled the car and burned it. There was also independent evidence pointing to Bolton’s involvement. Police actually believed early on that he was one of the lookouts watching from across Clark St. Though it was somehow kept from the press, numerous officials later revealed that a letter addressed to Bolton was found in one of the lookout apartments. It was postmarked from either Thayer, Illinois or nearby Virden, depending on which account you believe. Police went to Virden and interviewed Bolton’s parents, who provided them with a photo of their son (“Byron”). The photo was then identified by at least one of the landladies as her roomer.
The letter may have actually been addressed to “John Bolton,” causing some confusion. Police apparently sought “John Bolton” initially. Officer Morrell, who worked on the case, believed that “John” was Byron’s brother, and that they were both lookouts. That’s very unlikely. Byron did have several brothers (Fredrick, Charles, George, and Henry), but there is no evidence of their involvement. Virden isn’t far from St. Louis, where most of the alleged massacre participants were from. Bolton knew Fred Goetz for several years, and was rumored to have once been a driver for Fred Burke. Police even found photos of Burke and Al Capone in the Bolton family home.
Nonetheless, there are parts of Bolton’s story that appear questionable. The first is his assertion that the killers did not wear police uniforms, but only badges. If Bolton were acting as a lookout across the street, and the likely scenario has the uniformed men entering from the rear of the building, it’s quite possible that Bolton never saw men in uniforms (he presumably would have been making his own getaway by the time the killers marched out the front door), and was only aware of one or two men wearing overcoats with badges. It’s also possible that witnesses saw men in overcoats that resembled standard police garb with badges affixed, stepping out of or into a detective squad car, leaving them the impression that they saw “uniformed” officers. Whether or not any of the killers wore actual police uniforms, it seems almost certain that if Bolton were faking a confession he would have said that two or more men wore uniforms, as that was one of the most widely reported, well-known “facts” of the entire case.
Perhaps Bolton’s most surprising disclosure was that at the time of the massacre, Chief of Detectives John Stege “was on the payroll of the Capone syndicate, receiving $5,000 a week, and kept the members of the syndicate informed as to the whereabouts of Bugs Moran.” If true, it might explain how the investigation got sidetracked so many times, even when detectives continued to uncover evidence pointing to the same men that Bolton identified. The claim is somewhat problematic, however. Like few men on the Chicago Police force, John Stege had an unblemished reputation as an honest cop. Curiously though, at the time of the massacre, Stege was on vacation in Miami (where Al Capone was also “vacationing”) – and had to be called back to Chicago to take charge of the investigation.
The amount Bolton suggested as Stege’s payoff ($5,000 per week) was an enormous amount of money at that time, even for the Capone organization. That figure might have been cited in error (either by Bolton or the agents taking his statement). It’s also possible that Stege was paid just for a few weeks, specifically to give up certain information about Moran’s movements. Of course Bolton could have mistaken Stege for another official on Capone’s payroll, or simply repeated a boast he overheard from one of the massacre’s planners.
The most questionable part of the story is Bolton’s assertion that he played no part in the actual murders. Since he was identified by one of the landladies, and the letter found in the apartment implicated him, it seems almost certain that he was one of the lookouts. We can assume therefore that either he wasn’t there when the actual call was made to signal the killers or, more likely, he simply lied to hide the extent of his own participation.
It should be remembered that most of what Bolton provided to the FBI had nothing to do with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. At the time of his arrest, the FBI was sharply focused on chasing down the Barker Gang and solving the Bremer kidnapping. Bolton’s information and testimony on those matters was reliable enough to result in numerous arrests and convictions in both the Hamm and Bremer cases. Bolton also likely helped authorities locate the hideout of Fred Barker and Kate “Ma” Barker, who were killed in a shootout at Lake Weir, Florida just eight days after Bolton’s capture.
What did investigators have to say about Bolton’s story?
Assistant State’s Attorneys Harry Ditchburne and Walker Butler (who headed the investigation) both thought that Bolton’s story not only sounded true, but was supported by the facts. Butler said that after the massacre, they raided Bolton’s home downstate after following a trunk that was shipped there by Capone from Cicero. They found photos of Capone and Burke in Bolton’s home.
Sgt. Thomas Loftus, the first police officer to enter garage, had this to say: “Every detail that Bolton outlined is true to my personal knowledge. I lived that case and as a matter of fact I am still working on it.”
Capt. Daniel Gilbert, at the time in charge of the District where the killings occurred: “Bolton entered into the picture then as a likely bird. The Maddox angle is not only possible but I believe that it is the answer to the puzzle of his alibi. We knew Maddox was there but couldn’t prove it.”
Lieut. Otto Erlanson, a veteran head of the police homicide squad, who worked on the case from the start, believed Bolton’s story “true in every line.” Erlanson related, “When Bolton was arrested in the raid… by federal men, I recalled at once that he was constantly mentioned in our investigation.” Erlanson cited the letter addressed to Bolton that was found in the lookout room across from the Clark Street garage.
Chief of Detectives Sullivan: “It sounds like the truth. It’s the same dope that stool pigeons from the Capone gang brought us after the massacre. But we could never prove it.” Sullivan said that the landlady of one of the look-out rooms saw Bolton’s photo and called him, “My nice young man roomer.”
Former Chief of Detectives William Shoemaker said the story “Has all the earmarks of the truth.”
Did anyone corroborate Bolton’s claims? We’ll find out up next on Weird Darkness.
Did Anyone Corroborate Bolton’s Claims?
Irene Dorsey of Wilmington, Illinois was “married” to Fred Goetz and accompanied him for seven or eight years while he was on the run, up until his murder on March 21, 1934. Irene told the FBI that from 1925 to 1926 Goetz and Bolton operated a still in Springfield. They moved operations to Chicago in 1927 and joined up with the Capone syndicate. [Ms. Dorsey] said that she believed the actual killers were her husband (Fred Goetz), Gus Winkeler, Fred Burke, and “Ted Newberry.” She said that when police learned Bolton had rented the lookout apartment across the street from the murders, Bolton went “on the lam” and started going by the name “O.B. Carter.”
Her identification of “Ted Newberry” is likely a misnomer. Robert Carey was known to use the alias “Robert Newberry,” and that’s almost certainly to whom she was referring. Ted Newberry was a member of the Moran gang at the time of the murders and would have been instantly recognized by the victims, making it extremely unlikely that he would have taken part in such an attack (though his quick switch of allegiance to Capone following the murders is definitely food for thought).
Mrs. Georgette Marsh had been married to Gus Winkeler until his murder in October 1933. She told federal agents that the massacre murders were carried out on orders from Al Capone. When it was learned that the Moran gang held meetings at the Clark St. garage, Georgette said Byron Bolton and Jimmy “Swede” Morand rented an apartment across the street. Bob Carey (whom Georgette called “Gimpy”) occasionally helped them conduct surveillance. When Moran arrived, they were supposed to call Rocky DeGrazia’s house in Melrose Park, where Goetz, Burke, Winkeler, and Ray Nugent were waiting.
On February 14, 1929, Bolton and Morand saw the men gathering at the SMC garage. They thought Bugs Moran was among them, and made the call to DeGrazia’s house. The hit team then headed out, with Winkeler driving. Georgette said that Goetz and Burke wore police uniforms, courtesy of a Chicago police officer who was a friend of theirs. She even claimed that in the latter part of January 1929, she saw Fred Goetz in her apartment wearing a police uniform. According to Georgette, Burke and Goetz did the shooting with the machine guns while the rest acted as lookouts [the ballistic examination showed that a shotgun was also fired at the victims, so there were probably three shooters].
After the massacre, Georgette said her husband and Bob Carey sat in their house peering out the window all day. She overheard some of their conversation, which indicated that Bolton and Jimmy Morand had been the lookouts. She later found bullet proof vests and a police uniform in her closet. She said that as soon as Gus heard he was a suspect, they fled Chicago and went into hiding, as did Burke. Georgette said that when Capone learned that Bugs Moran wasn’t among the dead, he ordered that Bolton and Morand be killed for their blunder. Fred Goetz intervened repeatedly and somehow convinced Capone to spare them. When the letter addressed to Bolton [Georgette thought it was a prescription] was found by police in the lookout apartment, Bolton became the focus of a nation-wide manhunt. He went on the run with some help from Fred Goetz, who apparently felt responsible for his situation.
Despite Bolton’s claims to the contrary, Georgette was very clear that Bolton was one of the lookouts. Her story also differed from Bolton’s in that she said the hit team gathered at Rocky DeGrazia’s house in Melrose Park. Bolton didn’t say who the lookouts were supposed to call, but implied that the killers were waiting at the Circus Cafe. If the men did start out from DeGrazia’s, they would have then driven to the Wood St. garage to get the second car (probably stopping at the Circus Café) on their way to 2122 N. Clark.
Georgette inadvertently helped to answer one of the most hotly debated questions surrounding the massacre: How did anyone know that Moran and his men were having a meeting that particular morning? A spy? A lucky guess? The consensus (which makes no sense), is that Moran was offered a great price on some hijacked whiskey and went to the garage to accept the shipment. The men who assembled that morning, with the exception of Schwimmer and May, were leaders of the North Side gang – positively not the ones called upon to routinely unload trucks of whiskey. So, how did the killers know about the meeting? Because they rented an apartment across the street and watched the place for weeks! Georgette said that they (somehow) discovered that the gang held meetings at SMC. So they watched, waiting for their chance to strike. If it was a quick set-up like some believe, there would have been no need for an intricate system of surveillance and signals.
Georgette would later pen her memoirs detailing her life with Gus Winkeler in an effort to expose the Chicago syndicate, whom she blamed for her husband’s murder. Publishers were afraid to print it, so she delivered her manuscript to the FBI, who did little more than file it away. Gangland historian William Helmer published the manuscript in 2011 as part of his book Al Capone and His American Boys (Indiana University Press). Aside from providing loads of details about the Capone syndicate and the killers’ time on the run, she discussed other crimes that the men carried out. She said that Fred Goetz was the one who pulled the trigger on Officer Zientara in the Toledo robbery. She also said that it was Goetz and “Lefty” Louis Campagna, along with her husband Gus (not Fred Burke) who carried out the hit on Frankie Yale in New York. She said Burke was assumed to have been involved simply because he had possession of the machinegun.
So who were these men, mostly out-of-towners, who carried out the heinous murders that would mark one of the truly low points in Chicago’s history? Were they really the kind of men who could commit such a diabolical crime?
Fred Burke was originally from rural Kansas. By 1917 he was in Kansas City running a real estate sales scam. He did short stints in prison in Missouri and Michigan, and a year or so in the Army, fighting in France during WWI. He finally ended up in St. Louis. There, he joined up with the murderous gang known as “Egan’s Rats” (who he may have known as early as 1915). Car theft, robbery, political “muscle,” extortion, and bootlegging were their main pastimes. Through the Egan gang, Burke got to know St. Louis native Bob Carey. The two worked together on numerous robberies and burglaries, including some in Detroit. Carey introduced Burke to a reckless robber from Cincinnati named Ray Nugent. Like both Burke and Carey, Nugent served in World War I. It’s not clear if Carey met Nugent in the Army, through the Egan and / or Detroit’s Purple gang, or somewhere else entirely, but they became good friends. Both were reputed to enjoy boozing it up, sometimes a bit too much.
They met another war veteran named Gus Winkeler, who had been in St. Louis’ “Cuckoo” gang. Winkeler would hang out at the Maxwelton Club and the Sharpshooters Club, notorious underworld spots, which also attracted Egan gangsters Carey, Nugent, and Burke. The four would form the nucleus of a gang of robbers, kidnappers, and killers that would leave a trail of empty bank vaults and dead bodies across the country – a group that Detroit police Inspector Henry Garvin would call “the most desperate band of outlaws in the country,” adding, “not one of them, I believe, will be taken alive.”
By May of 1927, the group had moved on from St. Louis and was kidnapping wealthy underworld figures in Detroit and holding them for ransom in a Chicago apartment.[ix] They made good money for a while, but when they abducted a gambler who turned out to be a friend of Al Capone, they were in over their heads. According to Georgette Winkeler, Capone learned who was involved and summoned Gus Winkeler, Bob Carey, and Ray Nugent to meet with him. They feared the worst. But, rather than kill them, Gus Winkeler said Capone talked to them, “like a Dutch uncle, trying to show [them they] were in the wrong racket.” The big boss convinced the men to quit their kidnapping scheme and work for him.
Winkeler moved to Cicero, and started hanging out at the Greyhound Hotel saloon on 22nd St. There he met Fred Goetz,[xii] another army veteran, who was on Capone’s payroll. Goetz (who went by “George” at the time) was once a promising young college man. He had fled a 1925 murder warrant in Chicago to run stills and bootlegging operations in the Springfield and East St. Louis areas. His partner in that was a young Navy vet from central Illinois named Byron Bolton. Bolton and Goetz moved their operation to Chicago and began working for Capone some time in 1927. Goetz and his wife lived in a lavishly appointed bungalow in Cicero, rumored to have been furnished by Capone. Sharing the home with them was Byron Bolton and his wife Veva.
The next year, 1928, was a wild one. The group carried out the botched heist of an American Express truck in Toledo in April, which resulted in the murder of a police officer and the men having to abandon a safe containing $200,000. A few months later, Goetz and Winkeler headed to New York with Louis Campagna, where they gunned down Frankie Yale with a machine gun on July 1. Capone’s friend Tony Lombardo was murdered in September (possibly in revenge for Yale’s murder, as Yale had taken sides with Joe Aiello and Moran’s North Siders in their war with Capone). Then, according to Byron Bolton, in October or November, they headed up to Goetz’ resort in Wisconsin and planned the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
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“The Unsolved St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” by Steve Shukis
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Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Wicked men are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous stands firm.” — Proverbs 12:7
And a final thought… “Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” — Thomas Mann
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.