Marcy Kennedy Knight is an award-winning writer who has written for television, theater, publications and the web.
William Helmer, recognized Mob expert and author of 10+ books, explained, “I grew up in gangsters, so to speak.” His aunt Meeda was a nurse at Cooks Hospital in Chicago when John Dillinger’s body was brought in, and “My dad, during Prohibition, got the courage up to make one bootleg run from Chicago; he never did it again.” As a youth, he befriended a notorious gun runner, thus starting an appreciation for guns.
Helmer’s first book, The Gun That Made the Twenties Roar, was created after he finished his master’s degree thesis on the Tommy Gun. Additional books followed about Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, gangster molls and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, to name a few.
According to Helmer, “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre killers came from the battlegrounds of St. Louis when that city’s gangs fell apart, and at least four were hired by Capone as a special-assignment crew because they were unknown to both the Chicago police and Bugs Moran.” He made this conclusion after an unexpected discovery.
While researching his book in FBI headquarters about John Dillinger, Helmer found a bound manuscript written by Georgette Winkler (aka Winkeler). This book was about her mobster husband Gus Winkler, formerly of the St. Louis Egan’s Rat’s gang and then a member of the Capone organization. Gus came to Chicago on May 20, 1927, and Georgette soon followed along with one of Gus’ associates Fred “Killer” Burke. Burke, also a former member of Egan’s Rats, was known to wear police uniforms during robberies.
Georgette had written this manuscript in an effort to expose the Chicago Syndicate after her husband’s murder, but the publishing deal was suppressed, and the manuscript was “filed” by the FBI. In it she states that mobster Frankie Yale was killed in New York by Burke, Gus, Fred Goetz and Little New York Louis Campagna – the first murder caused by a Thompson Machine Gun in New York. Georgette also stated that on the morning of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, her husband and Burke were dressed up in police uniforms and went on to take part as the shooters in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Her account of the Massacre, as told to her by Gus, was corroborated by Bryon Bolton, who claimed he too took part in the Massacre. Bolton named the same names. Helmer turned her manuscript into the book, Al Capone and His American Boys: Memoirs of a Mobster’s Wife, by Georgette Winkeler and William J Helmer.
Helmer explained that “a lot of local mobsters were arrested and released due to lack of evidence.” Police went as far as to charge Capone’s top gunmen Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn and John Scalise with the Massacre; but they too were released for lack of evidence. As for Burke and Winkler, they were never arrested following the Massacre.
When asked why he believes people are still captivated by The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, Helmer said, “People are fascinated with the crime because it got so much attention at the time. It was the first gangland crime of the century. Seven people were mowed down. Chicago was so preeminent in Mob control. It was never solved.”
Could Gus Winkler and Fred “Killer” Burke truly be the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shooters? The discovery of the actual Tommy Guns used in the Massacre offers valuable clues.
Photo credits for post on Bill Helmer & Chriss Lyons:
Chicago Herald Examiner – Courtesy of Mario Gomes / MyAlCaponeMuseum.com
Burke fingerprint card – Courtesy of Berrien County Sheriff’s Department
Fred Burke in custody – Courtesy of Chriss Lyon
Fred Burke wanted poster – Courtesy of Berrien County Sheriff’s Department
Weapons Burke House – Courtesy of Berrien County Sheriff’s Department