By Marcy Kennedy Knight
Marcy Kennedy Knight is an award-winning writer who has written for television, theater, publications and the web.
He owns the telephone from Capone’s Miami Beach home – the one that supposedly received the call from Chicago before and after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. He owns one of the bricks from the infamous wall.* He owns a couple of the bullets that went through Massacre victims. Those are only a few of the Al Capone items Mario Gomes owns. The most impressive possession is the website he started 12 years ago, MyAlCaponeMuseum.com. This site has hundreds of pages of information not only on Al Capone, but other colorful personalities of that period such as Frank Nitti, Fred ‘Killer’ Burke, Dean O’Banion, Johnny Torrio, Frankie Yale, Hymie Weiss and Vincent ‘The Schemer’ Drucci. (These names may sound familiar – they are highlighted in the HBO program Boardwalk Empire.)
This Capone expert has been featured on numerous television shows, radio programs and documentaries. He has been interviewed in countless magazines and newspapers due to his research, contacts, expertise and knowledge. And it all started when he watched the 1987 Brian De Palma movie, The Untouchables. “In the movie,” Gomes explains, “Robert De Niro’s parts were few, but when he was on the screen, his presence was so powerful that I wanted to know more about the real Al Capone.” Gomes information about The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is second to none. (Mr. Gomes also has been willing to share two of his photos with The Mob Museum as part of the blog post.)
What do you think actually happened?
“Al Capone left it up to a band called ‘The American Boys.’ These guys were out-of-town killers from St. Louis who found themselves in Chicago under the employ of Al Capone. ‘Machine Gun’ Jack McGurn and Claude Maddox planned the Massacre right after Pasqualino ‘Pasty’ Lolordo’s killing. He was Al Capone’s man picked for the Sicilian union, but he was murdered by the George ‘Bugs’ Moran gang. That’s what led up to the Massacre. Moran was taking pot shots at the Capone gang, shoot-outs in the street, and I think they were hijacking Capone’s booze. It was suggested to Capone that ‘The American Boys’ could take care of it. And Capone would have an iron-clad alibi by being in Miami, meeting with the District Attorney at the very moment the Massacre was happening.”
What evidence is there that the “The American Boys” carried out the Massacre?
“The most important pieces of evidence are the two Massacre guns at the Berrien County Police Department. They were found in ‘Killer’ Burke’s house when he was arrested. The bullets matched the ones found in the Massacre bodies. Who did Burke hang around with? It was Gus Winkeler, Fred Goetz, and all these guys were killed later on because Frank Nitti was paranoid that they would pull their weight around and extort them by saying they would divulge who did the Massacre. So Nitti had them killed, one after another. Guy Winkeler was murdered. Fred Goetz was murdered. ‘Crane Neck’ Nugent was murdered. It was pretty evident that it was them. I know that once Burke was in prison, one of the Capone henchmen went to visit him. So to me they had a deal going on that Burke wouldn’t speak. Nitto could have gone after people that Burke knew and kill them, like family members, because Burke did have family.”
Why are people still fascinated by the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre today?
“Because it hasn’t been solved. It never will be solved. They’re fascinated by how it happened. Why were they at the SMC Garage? I guess also because two innocent people were killed. It was just brazen the way it was done. A Mexican standoff against the wall. Shot in the back. Frank Gusenberg lived for three hours. He wouldn’t talk.
“The Massacre has a number of little side stories. Frank Gusenberg was married to two women at the same time, and they found out only after he’s dead. Both women show up, “I’m his wife.” “No, I’m his wife!” Stuff like that. That’s amazing. The human story of John May; the poor guy. He was with this woman and she had her seven children; they weren’t even his. He took care of them and did the best he could with work to pay the bills, to feed them, and he was murdered. Slaughtered like that for no reason. Just because he was hanging around with that gang. In Chicago the citizens were used to reading in the paper about one gangster getting killed every so often, but seven in one day immediately shocked the world. It is an important event that signaled the beginning of the end for Mr. Capone.
And all of this expertise started with a movie and an actor.
“I want to thank Robert De Niro for that.”
*The Mob Museum has on display the largest collection of St. Valentine’s Day Massacre bricks. The wall, now on the Museum’s 3rd Floor, stands 6 by 10 feet with 323 bricks on display and an additional 7 in storage. Together they make one structure that tells the tangible story of the events of February 14, 1929, every day in The Mob Museum.
Photos courtesy of Mario Gomes