Happy Valentine's Day
To modern society, the scene of a mass murder has unfortunately become an all-too-common event. But back in the 1920s, even through the height of the bootlegging wars, no one was prepared for what has become the most famous “hit” in American Mafia history.
Al Capone was still fuming over Bugs Moran's attempt on Johnny Torrio's life. In addition to almost whacking Torrio, Moran had twice tried to hit another Capone pal with the colorful name “Machine Gun” McGurn. Since Scarface was ruthless and not prone to forgiveness, he set a plan in motion to topple once and for all the pesky Bugs Moran and his gang of irksome rivals.
Capone had bought a lavish estate on Palm Beach in Florida and spent the winters there. He took off for Florida after setting the plan in motion to give himself an airtight alibi. He knew he would be the first suspect when the job was done. He left the details to Machine Gun McGurn.
McGurn hired out-of-town talent and planned to lure Moran to a garage on the morning of February 14. The bait was a stash of quality booze at a good price. The hit team would be dressed as cops. Moran and company would think it was a raid, not an assassination. The phony cops burst into the garage simulating a police bust, made the hoods line up against the wall, and mowed them down.
There was good news and bad news. The good news was that the hit went off without a hitch. The bad news was that Bugs Moran did not show up that day. The target of the hit had a guardian angel on his shoulder that Valentine's Day.
Capone was out of town, and McGurn had checked into a hotel across town with his girlfriend, so he had witnesses who could place him at the hotel and not at the scene of the crime. Everyone knew who ordered the hit but no one could prove it.
Jack McGurn, whose real name was Vincenzo Gebardi, became known as one of the most feared gangsters in Chicago. Though not a major threat to the new leadership of the Chicago mob, McGurn was killed almost seven years to the day after the Valentine's Day Massacre.
The murders captured the fascination of the nation and have become one of the most recognizable events in crime history.
Hoover Takes Notice
In addition to the sensational media attention, the powers-that-be in Washington began to take a closer look at the shenanigans taking place in Chicago. President Herbert Hoover announced that he wanted to see Capone behind bars. He got the U.S. Treasury to set up a task force to go after the crime boss.
Though Capone was the master of a multimillion-dollar empire of vice, graft, and murder, he was taken down by the innocuous-sounding charge of tax evasion. But this seemingly small charge was big trouble for Al. He was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
A crowd gathers as kegs of beer are unloaded in front of a restaurant on Broadway in New York City, the morning of April 7, 1933, when low-alcohol beer is legalized again.
The Last Years
Capone was first sent to a federal prison in Atlanta, where he lived in relative comfort and used his influence to enjoy special privileges.
Unfortunately for Al, he was transferred to the infamous island prison of Alcatraz. Here Capone enjoyed no creature comforts. On Alcatraz he was just another number. He had minimal contact with the outside. All letters were censored, and he was not allowed to read the daily newspapers.
Capone's health deteriorated during his prison stretch. The syphilis he had contracted in his youth grew progressively worse. He only served six and a half years of his sentence. He retired to his Florida estate and continued a slow but steady mental and physical decline until his death in 1947.