History Stories


Who was responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?

Was Capone to blame?

Perhaps the most famous unsolved crime in U.S. history took place on February 14, 1929, when police officers called to a garage on the North Side of Chicago found seven men lined up against a bare brick wall and shot to death, execution-style. The victims were associates of the Irish gangster George “Bugs” Moran, who controlled much of the North Side’s illegal alcohol operations, along with most of its brothels and casinos. Moran—and many others—knew just who to blame: his gangland rival, Al “Scarface” Capone, the most notorious gangster in all of Prohibition-era America. Though Capone himself had an alibi (he was in Florida at the time of the murders), police suspected that his henchmen had carried out the killings on his orders. Capone undoubtedly had a strong motive for the crime: The massacre crippled Moran’s operations and allowed Capone to consolidate control over Chicago’s lucrative gambling, prostitution and bootlegging rackets.

The brutality of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shocked the American public—most of which assumed Capone was behind the killings—and shifted federal authorities into high gear in their campaign against organized crime, and especially against the man they called “Public Enemy Number One.” Due to lack of hard evidence, however, no one was ever brought to trial for the murders, and some have continued to cast doubt on whether Capone—who was put away for federal income tax evasion in 1931—was actually responsible. In his 2010 book “Get Capone,” Jonathan Eig builds the case that another notorious Chicago criminal, William White (known as “Three-Fingered Jack”), might have carried out the massacre to avenge the killing of his cousin by members of the Moran gang. Other Capone experts quickly moved to debunk this theory, however, pointing to the fact that White was imprisoned at the time and that the cousin’s murder was actually linked to another gang. Though the truth of what happened that Valentine’s Day might never be fully known, the massacre has rightfully gone down in history as the bloodiest example of the gangland violence that tore America’s cities apart during the Prohibition era.

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