The Past in Color features the work of colorist Marina Amaral, bringing to life black and white photos with color applied digitally.
On the morning of Valentine’s Day, 1929, a group of men with tommy guns, a 12-gauge and police uniforms stepped out of a black Cadillac. Entering a garage belonging to the SMC Cartage Company at 2212 N. Clark St in Chicago, they lined up against the wall six gangsters and a gambler, blasting them to death, firing squad style.
The newspapers called it a “gang shooting.” A city detective said the men “died like dogs.” The local coroner, Herman N. Bundesen, who had done many things in his life, from educating Chicagoans about syphilis to writing a baby-rearing manual, found himself at the heart of the case.
Working with the police commissioner and state attorney, he empanelled a special jury of six leading businessmen and officials. The evidence they would sift through included bullets embedded in the wall where the men had been shot and the hats that the alleged gangsters had been wearing when they died.
Getting to the bottom of the case was a matter of extreme urgency. To the press and public, the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was a sign that gang violence in Prohibition-era (1920-33) America was spiraling out of control. Far from tempering Americans’ habits, all it had done was put cash in the pockets and blood on the hands of men like the 30-year old mob boss many suspected of having ordered the hit: Alphonse Gabriel ‘Al’ Capone.
This picture shows Bundesen (center, with his hand in his pocket) and his jurors at the scene of the crime, watching police with shotguns re-enact the events of the previous day. It was one of the less gory photographs to appear in the local and national newspapers: frames taken by press-men in the immediate aftermath of the shooting showed corpses lying prostrate on the garage floor with pools of blood leaking around them.
The notorious nature of the crime, and its alleged connection to Capone has meant that many artefacts relating to it have been preserved. The building on N. Clark St was demolished during the 1960s, but bricks from the wall, still bearing bullet-holes, were sold off—and many of them are now kept in The Mob Museum in Las Vegas. These have been used to colorize the backdrop in this photograph as faithfully as possible.
The men who died on February 14, 1929 were members and associates of the North Side gang, run by George ‘Bugs’ Moran. The North Side gang and Capone’s Chicago Outfit had been vying for some time to control the production and distribution of illegal liquor, and the Valentine’s Day Massacre was apparently planned as an attempt to murder Moran.
Capone himself had a watertight alibi: he was in Florida at the moment the killings took place. But his personal notoriety and the widespread belief that his orders and his men lay behind the massacre led federal prosecutors to pursue a different strategy to bring him down. He was jailed for 11 years in 1931 for tax evasion. No one was ever successfully prosecuted for the murders, but Prohibition—the policy that had done so much to enrich mob bosses like Capone by creating a market for bootlegged booze—was ended in 1933 with the passing of the 21st Amendment.
Watch a special about the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre on HISTORY Vault