On This Day

al capone, bugs moran, al capone bugs moran
Library of Congress New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection
Al Capone, left, and Bugs Moran

On This Day: Capone Has Rival Gangsters Killed in St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

February 14, 2012 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Feb. 14, 1929, Al Capone's gang gunned down seven members of rival Bugs Moran’s gang in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which gave Capone control of the Chicago underworld.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Brooklyn-born Al Capone followed gangster Johnny Torrio, a member of Big Jim Colosimo’s criminal organization, to Chicago in 1921, just as the Colosimo mob had begun to exploit the growing bootlegging industry in Chicago. In 1925, Torrio, who had succeeded Colosimo, was seriously wounded; Capone took over as mob boss.

Based out of Cicero, Ill., Capone controlled many speakeasies and casinos in and around Chicago. He “built a fearsome reputation in the ruthless gang rivalries of the period, struggling to acquire and retain ‘racketeering rights’ to several areas of Chicago,” says the FBI. “That reputation grew as rival gangs were eliminated or nullified, and the suburb of Cicero became, in effect, a fiefdom of the Capone mob.”

In 1929, Capone made a move to take control of Chicago, arranging for four men to carry out an attack on George “Bugs” Moran and his North Side gang. On Valentine’s Day, the four men, two of whom were dressed as police officers, went to a Chicago garage that served as a base for Moran’s gang. They ordered the seven men at the garage—six of whom were gangsters and one of whom was a doctor who enjoyed hanging out with gangsters—to line up against a wall, at which point the four men opened fire with machine guns.
Chicago gangland leaders observed Valentine's Day with machine guns and a stream of bullets,” declared The New York Times, “and as a result seven members of the George (Bugs) Moran-Dean O’Banion, North Side Gang are dead in the most cold-blooded gang massacre in the history of this city's underworld.”

Capone was nowhere near the massacre. “Vacationing at his retreat at Palm Island, Fla., he had an alibi for his whereabouts and disclaimed knowledge of the coldblooded killings,” writes the Chicago Tribune. “Few believed him. No one ever went to jail for pulling a trigger.”

Capone intended for Moran to be killed as well, but Moran was not in the garage that day. Nevertheless, the massacre crippled Moran’s gang and made Capone the undisputed king of the Chicago underworld.

The Fall of Al Capone

While the massacre solidified Capone’s position in the Chicago underworld, it also made him a target for federal authorities. In May 1929, he was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison on a weapons charge. He served nine months in a luxurious prison cell and resumed control of the mob upon his release, but his rule would be short-lived.

In 1931, he was indicted for tax evasion. He was found guilty on Oct. 17, 1931. On Nov. 24, he was given an 11-year prison sentence, ordered to pay $215,000 in back taxes, and fined $50,000.

In May 1932, Capone was sent to Atlanta, which at the time hosted America’s most notorious prison. Once there, Capone began to take control of the prison, receiving special privileges from guards and other prisoners. Word spread about his situation in Atlanta and he was eventually transferred to Alcatraz.

In Alcatraz he was completely isolated from the outside world and rendered powerless with no way to buy off guards or cellmates. He also showed signs of syphilitic dementia and spent time in the prison hospital.

After a year in a different California prison, Capone was set free on Nov. 16, 1939, having served just over seven and a half years. Physically and mentally unfit to return to mob life, he returned to his home in Palm Island, Fla., where he lived out the rest of his life in quiet. His body and mind deteriorated due to a stroke and syphilis, and he died of pneumonia on Jan. 25, 1947.

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