This is complicated and might go on a bit.  To make it simpler it is necessary to divide what happened after the St Valentine’s Day massacre into five separate sources of evidence.  These are one, the police enquiries that followed the massacre, two, the explosion in the garage next to the Circus Cafe, three, the inquest and the arrest of Fred Burke, four, the confession of criminal Byron Bolton which also has shared elements with an article in the Chicago American and a diary written by Georgette Winkler, and five, an explanation based on an alternative confession from Frank T Farrell.  The police and inquest enquiries, the car explosion and the ‘Bolton theory’ are explained in detail in The St Valentine’s Day Massacre by William J Helmer and Arthur J Bilek.  The confession of Frank T Farrell is revealed in Get Capone by Jonathan Eig.  All three authors minimise and perhaps neglect the role and motives of Claude Maddox and his Circus gang in the killings.   

First, the revelations from the police enquiries.  The police initially called the killings the ‘North Clark Street massacre.’  At the scene of the crime, teenager Arthur Brichet noticed a detective squad car, saw two uniformed policemen and heard one of the men call another ‘Jack’.  Police assumed that Jack was Machine ‘Jack’ McGurn.  Major Fred Silloway of the federal Prohibition forces was the first to call a press conference.  Silloway claimed that real policemen were involved.   Within the month Silloway was transferred out of Chicago.  His claims were exposed as flawed.   The police knocked on doors and met Mrs Minnie Arvidson at 2051 North Clark Street.   Arvidson revealed that she had rented two rooms to two men on January 27.  The second man had arrived on the second day but he vacated his room and joined his friend at the front of the house.  The authors Helmer and Bilek identify these two men as Byron Bolton and either James Morand or Jimmy ‘the Swede’ McCrussen.   At 2119 North Clark Street the police interviewed Mrs Michael Doody.  She said that one man rented one of her rooms and two others would arrive at 9.30 in the morning and leave at 3.30 each day.   These lookouts were present from late December but were then replaced by a second team in late January.  Mrs Doody added that one of the men looked Italian.  Her identification of Henry Kewell as one of the three men has been described as ‘partly’ which presumably means tentative and anything but certain.  Bugs Moran went into hiding after the massacre but sent a message to Chief of Detectives Egan.   ‘We don’t know what brought it on.  We’re facing an enemy in the dark.’   Moran was subsequently fed a line by the press and responded by saying, ‘Only Capone kills like that.’  The first reaction reveals the suspicions of Moran.  The second feels like mischief making.  Because of their reputation, Albert Anselmi and John Scalise were charged with the massacre.  Sergeant Fred Valenta admitted in court that he had no grounds for believing that the two men had any connection with the slaying.  After the predictable uproar the two suspects left the court. 

Second, the explosion.  Claude Maddox owned the Circus Cafe which also served as a headquarters for his gang.  Inside a garage, and less than two blocks away from the Circus Cafe, a car exploded.   A scorched Tony Capezio ran from the burning garage and towards North Avenue Hospital.  On reaching the hospital the injured Capezio had second thoughts about being seen by the police.  He absconded.  At the burning garage of 1723 Wood Street, firemen fought the fire and discovered the remains of a 1927 touring Cadillac, identical to the cars used by detective squads.  Inside the car was a Luger pistol and the hat and overcoat of a man, presumably Capezio.  He had been cutting the car apart with a saw and acetylene torch.  The police also established that the garage had been rented by Frank Rogers from February 12.  Rogers gave his address as 1859 West North Avenue which was an annexe to the Circus Cafe at 1857, the property owned by Claude Maddox and Tony Capezio.  At the address of Frank Rogers, the occupants had fled and left behind their overcoats, guns and ammunition, presumably because they had been panicked by the explosion in the nearby garage.  Claude Maddox and his Circus gang had emerged to take control of the West Chicago Avenue police district.  Maddox was bitter about his top man in a cleaner and dyers union being killed by members of the Moran gang.  He also coveted some of the Moran bootlegging operations on the North Side.  Machine ‘Jack’ McGurn was working with the Circus gang.  He wanted revenge against the Gusenberg brothers, the high ranking members of the Moran gang.  The Gusenbergs had attempted to kill McGurn.

Third, the inquest and the arrest of Fred Burke.  The Coroner was Herman Bundeson.  A juror in the inquest knew Major Calvin Goddard who had expertise in identifying the distinctive marks that rifles left on fired bullets.  The juror, called Massee, was willing to pay for the services of Goddard.  Important findings emerged from the forensics applied by Goddard.  Some of the bullets that had been fired into the victims of the St Valentine’s Day massacre matched those found inside Frankie Yale.   The bullets also matched some of the ammunition found after the garage explosion and in the raid at the home of Frank Rogers.  The inquest was also significant because it also established supply chains between arms dealers and the bootleggers.  On December 14 a drunk Fred Burke rammed another car in St Joseph, Illinois.  From in front of the police station, a twenty-four-year-old patrolman called Charles Skelly saw what happened.  As the two colliding cars pursued one another, Skelly jumped on the running board of the second vehicle.  The driver of the first car shot Skelley three times.  Skelley died three hours later in St Joseph Sanatorium hospital.   The first car was located a short distance from the town but the driver was gone.  Papers in the car revealed the name Frederick Dane and an address near Stevensville.   At this address the police met Viola Dane and found machine guns, other firearms, ammunition, bulletproof vests and almost $300,000 in bonds.   Shirts embroidered FRB persuaded the police that the clothes belonged to Fred Burke.  The guns were handed over to Coroner Herman Bundensen.  Forensics expert Major Goddard discovered that these were the guns that fired the bullets discovered inside Frankie Yale and St Valentine’s Day massacre victims, Schwimmer and Kachellic.   The inquest jury ruled that the victims of the massacre died from gunshot wounds and recommended that Fred Burke be apprehended and taken to a grand jury and charged with murder.  Burke was eventually arrested in Green City, Sullivan County, Missouri but not for his part in the St Valentine’s Day massacre.   The murder of patrolman Charles Skelley took precedent.   Burke was sentenced to life imprisonment in Michigan State Penitentiary where he died of a heart attack.  Burke refused to talk about any of his crimes.

Fourth, the article in the Chicago American, the confession of Byron Bolton and the diary of Georgette Winkler.  On January 23 1935, the Chicago American devoted its front page to solving the St Valentine’s Day massacre.  The magazine claimed that Byron Bolton, Claude Maddox and Murray ‘the Camel’ Humphries had been inside the garage and firing the bullets.  The Chicago American claimed that Bolton was the source of the article.  This was denied by Bolton but he had been arrested January 8 1935, fifteen days before the article appeared.  Bolton had been captured in a raid on the Ma Barker gang that was both reduced in numbers and staying in Chicago.  The confession was made to Treasury agents but at the time they were reluctant to reveal the contents to Chicago detectives.  Bolton was transferred from Chicago to St Paul where he faced kidnapping charges.     

This is the Bolton confession.  The planning of the murders occurred in either in October or November 1928 and at a lodge at Cranberry Lake owned by George Zeigler. Present at this meeting were Al Capone, Fred Burke. George Goetz and two crooked politicians, Daniel Serritella and William Pacelli.  The group combined business with pleasure and spent two to three weeks at the lodge.  The plan agreed by the group was that Jimmy ‘the Swede’ Morand and Jimmy McCrussen would reconnoitre the garage from 2119 North Clark Street.  Bolton said that, together with Morand, he took over the watch at 2127 North Clark Street.  (Note, not 2051 North Clark Street, the home of Mrs Michael Doody.)  Detectives had already found in ‘one of the lookouts’ a letter from Capone to Bolton.   The Circus Cafe was to be the centre of the operation.  The objective was to kill Moran.  His death would prevent further hijacking of alcohol deliveries, remove any personal threats to Capone and rupture the alliance between Moran and Joe Aiello who was challenging the Capone nominee for control of the Unione Siciliana.   Bolton added that Capone had returned to Florida after handing the planning to Frank Nitti who delegated the project to Frankie Rio.

Around this time Melvin Purvis forwarded to J Edgar Hoover a letter from Georgette Winkler.  She had requested a secret meeting with Purvis. Georgette Winkler did not meet Purvis but she did talk to other agents.  She also handed over a 180 page manuscript that contained details of how her husband Gus took part in bank robberies, kidnappings, the murder of Frankie Yale and the St Valentine’s Day massacre.   Georgette revealed that she wanted to publish the book to both expose Frank Nitti and to warn young women of the dangers of living with criminals.  Georgette Winkler also said that Bob Carey and her husband Gus had spent time at her home and had discussed the mistakes they had made in their lives.  Her account, like the article in the Chicago American, matched the confession of Bolton.  Author Jonathan Eig has doubts.  Two of the men identified in the killing had airtight alibis.  Eig also believes the killing plans were too complicated.  The easiest way of killing Moran was to use a rifle marksman and fire from one of the windows in North Clark Street.   Eig is also curious as to why the failed attempt on the life of Moran was not followed by more attempts.   All three authors, Helmer, Bilek and Eig, fail to mention that Bolton gave an incorrect address for the lookout that he was supposed to have used.   The alternative Eig explanation for the massacre is based on a letter sent from Frank T Farrell to J Edgar Hoover. 

Five, the letter from Farrell.   This said that a forty-year-old firefighter named William Davern Jr had been shot in November 1928.  Davern was in the kitchen of the C&O restaurant at 509 North Clark Street when a fight erupted.  This led to Davern being shot in the stomach.  Davern was carried to the corner of Rush Street and Austin Avenue and dumped there.   He crawled to a fire station call box and rang for help.  Davern survived for six weeks in hospital but refused to talk to the police.   Davern, though, told his cousin William ‘Three Fingered Jack’ White that his killer was one of the Gusenberg brothers.  The letter from Farrell does not say which brother.  White decided to avenge his cousin.  Farrell contacted Gusenberg and said that he was planning to hold up a factory for its payroll and needed men to assist.  White and the Gusenberg brothers had previously worked on a heist.  One of the robbers had named accomplices.  White had murdered the man.  He was violent and took grievances seriously.   The father of William Davern Jr. was a sergeant in the police.  Eig believes the letter from Farrell explains why high-ranking gunmen in the Moran gang were in the garage, why two of the killers wore police uniforms and why the investigation went nowhere.  William White was also an informant for the FBI.  Eig argues that the need to keep the informant safe was one of the reasons why Hoover did not pursue the investigation.

My view is that little about the massacre makes sense.   After the killings the police reacted with increased raids on stills and speakeasies.  Capone would not have wanted a crackdown and economic damage.  Moran was both tough and defiant.  He walked the Chicago streets.  Eig is talking sense when he argues that Capone would have employed a marksman.  That is what happened with the assassinations of Hymie Weiss and Joe Aiello.  Nor is it credible that Capone would post two sets of men for a month and hope that on the off chance his men would spot Moran visiting a garage he rarely visited.  The headquarters and home of Moran were elsewhere.  More likely is that the men were monitoring the bootlegger traffic of Moran and identifying stolen loads.  The coincidental timing of the diary by Georgette Winker and the confession of Bolton is suspicious.   These accounts emerge six years after the incident and when Georgette Winkler hoped to publish a book and make some money.  The ballistic results like the letter left behind by Bolton only make a tenuous connection with Capone.  Gunmen and their weaponry were at the mercy of shifting responsibilities.  They moved between gangs.  

What is left is intuition.   If we accept that the lookouts had nothing to do with the actual slaying and were monitoring the deliveries to the SMC garage rather than planning an assassination, an explanation becomes possible.  An alternative explanation also entails dismissing the Bolton confession as opportunistic.  The Eig account has much to recommend it and should not be dismissed.  But as what is left is intuition, my own view is that if the aspirational Circus Cafe gang was to establish itself as a force within bootlegging, it needed to weaken the Moran gang.  This explanation does not require Moran to be a target of the attack but it does accept the presence of the lookouts as a coincidence.  Mystery, though, does and should endure.          

Howard Jackson has had thirteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest book BORIS JOHNSON PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES is now available here.