Saturday, February 14, 2015

HGB Podcast 28 - St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Moment in Oddity - The Story Behind The Birds

Alfred Hitchcock was an amazing director and one of his most well known films is The Birds. Birds never seemed very frightening until that movie was made, except for perhaps Ravens, which acquired their infamous creepiness from Edgar Allan Poe. In Monterey Bay, California in 1961, thousands of Sooty Shearwaters descended on the city and began acting erratically. They ran into buildings and people, regurgitated fish and finally died. Newspapers reported the story on August 18th and soon one of the papers got a call from Alfred Hitchcock who wanted to know more. Such an event had never been reported before and it seemed isolated. Hitchcock had read the 1952 story by Daphne du Maurier named The Birds, which was about unexplained bird attacks on humans. He decided to go ahead and make the movie because not only was there real life proof of birds acting oddly, but the story was hot because it had made the news. Tippi Hedron was cast as the lead and Hitchcock had Evan Hunter write the screenplay. He instructed Hunter to re-write the entire story, keeping only the name and concept of the original. The movie premiered in 1963. The true story of weird bird activity was not isolated though. Thirty years later, Brown Pelicans went berserk in the same area. Biologists decided to figure out what was going on and they did. They isolated a toxin in the birds called Domoic Acid. The acid is produced by algae that is eaten by zoo-plankton. This toxin can effect humans as well by giving them shellfish poisoning. People have actually died from this. The effects of Domoic Acid not only inspired a great movie, but the behavior it creates certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Bradley Announces the Earth Wobbles

On this day, February 14th, in 1747, Astronomer James Bradley makes a presentation before the Royal Society in London of an incredible discovery he made. Bradley was born in Gloucestershire to an aristocratic family. Bradley was raised mainly by an uncle who was an amateur astronomer and was friends with men like Newton and Halley. Bradley became interested in astronomy as well, but he decided to become a vicar. He continued with astronomy on the side and his love for it grew. With a recommendation from Newton, Bradley got an appointment which allowed him to do astronomy full-time. A rich amateur astronomer named Samuel Molyneux approached Bradley about working together. Molyneux had commissioned the building of a 24-foot zenith sector. With this instrument, Bradley developed a new era in astronomy of high-precision observation. Bradley later changed to a 12-foot sector, which he used to verify a theory that Newton had put forward. Newton claimed that the Earth moved on its axis. The reason why Newton believed this to be true is because stellar positions seemed to change slightly. Bradley was able to prove that the Earth wobbled on its axis by as much as a 9-second arc. This effect was caused by the moon's gravitational pull. Bradley called this nutation. Bradley presented these findings to the Royal Society and he was given the position of 3rd Astronomer Royal.

St. Valentine's Day Massacre

The most notorious gangster shooting in history occurred on a day that was meant for the veneration of a saint and for the commercialization of love: St. Valentine's Day.  This event occurred during the era of Prohibition and tension between rival Mafia families was at an all time high.  The crime was horrific and bloody and forever left its mark.  But this event not only holds a place in history, it seems to hold a place in time and location in the present even though the building in which the massacre took place has been torn down.  This event is haunted.

The S-M-C Cartage Co. building stood along North Clark Street at number 2122.  The building was a
red brick nondescript office building with a garage in the rear.  The sign hanging at the top of the building claimed that the business specialized in packing and shipping.  The only packing and shipping that was going on in this location was in the transportation of bootleg liquor.  In 1929, Prohibition was in full force.  Ten years earlier, the 18th Amendment had been ratified making the production and sale of liquor illegal.  However, people could still consume liquor legally though and so this era became a prime time for illegal activity in regards to alcohol.  The man who owned the S-M-C Cartage building was Adam Heyer.  He was good friends with a man named George Moran, whom everybody called "Bugs."

 Bugs Moran was born in 1893.  Bugs' father was born in a part of the German Empire called Alsace-Lorraine.  His mother was from Canada and both parents were French Catholics.  Bugs was a bad kid from the very beginning.  By the time he was 21 years old, he had been jailed three times.  He ran away from home when he was nineteen and headed for Chicago.  Bugs joined a group of Irish thugs that called itself the "North Side Gang" and this gang was lead by a man named Dion O'Banion.  O'Banion and the North Side Gang were the main rivals to another mobster group in the Chicago area, the Chicago Outfit, which was an Italian mobster group from the south side run by Johnny Torrio.  These two groups fought each other for control of Chicago.  Torrio invited a chap from New York to come to Chicago and help him run the gang and that man was Al Capone, who came to be known as Scarface.

Capone was born in Brooklyn in 1899.  Both of his parents had immigrated from Italy.  Capone did
well academically in school, but he hated the rules at his Catholic school.  He dropped out when he was fourteen years old because he was facing expulsion for hitting a female teacher in the face.  Like Bugs, Capone found trouble early.  He joined several gangs in New York, finally working his way into the powerful Five Points Gang in Lower Manhattan.  Capone's trouble with women would continue and while he was with this gang, he worked as a bouncer at a nightclub and insulted a woman there.  Her brother took a knife to Capone's face, leaving him with the lifelong scar that lead to his nickname "Scarface."  Capone got married when he was nineteen and moved to Chicago at the age of twenty on Johnny Torrio's invite.  There he would work as a bouncer at a brothel where he would contract the Syphilis that would eventually kill him.

Dion O'Banion pioneered bootlegging in Chicago, striking deals with beer makers in Canada and gin and whiskey distributors.  He also hijacked other gang's liquor supplies.  His first hijacking took place in 1921 and within several months, the North Side Gang had eliminated all their competition.  O'Banion was making $1 million a year.  O'Banion bought a flower shop as his front for criminal activity.  It would be in this flower shop that he would meet his end on November 10, 1924.  Shortly after returning from a trip to Colorado where he purchased three Tommy guns, O'Banion had a disagreeable phone conversation with a rival named Angelo Genna.  Genna had earlier dropped a lot of a cash and a large marker, which is a line of credit at a casino, at a casino owned by O'Banion.  Capone wanted the marker to be forgiven as a professional courtesy, but O'Banion refused and called Genna demanding the money.  Genna and his family put out a hit on O'Banion and Frankie Yale, John Scalise and Albert Anselmi carried it out at O'Banion's flower shop on a ruse that they were there to get flowers for another Mob boss' funeral.

The O'Banion murder sparked a five year gang war.  At one point during that war, Bugs ordered a hit
on Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn. McGurn was born in Sicily and his family emigrated to America when he was a year old. The Chicago slums would become his home and he would become a boxer. Now if the surname has you confused, the reason is that Jack changed his last name from Gibaldi to McGurn during his boxing days because Irish boxers got better bookings. McGurn was not a bad kid and he had no interest in gangs. That all changed when his father was assassinated because he had been mistaken as a gang member. McGurn avenged his father's death and killed the three men who had assassinated his father. Capone was impressed and invited McGurn to join the Chicago Outfit. McGurn opened up a club called The Green Mill right in the middle of Bugs' territory. He served Capone's booze there, which probably set Bugs off.

McGurn survived the assassination attempt by Bugs and he flew to Miami to see Capone, who was vacationing there in the winter. He wanted revenge against Bugs and everyone agreed that the trouble with the North Side Gang needed to stop. The two men decided they needed to do something big and that the entire gang needed to be executed. Capone agreed to put up the funds needed and McGurn agreed to plan the hit. McGurn worked the streets and found out that the headquarters for the North Side Gang was at the S-M-C Cartage building. Now he needed to figure out a way to get everybody to be there at the same time, including Bugs. A big shipment of liquor is what McGurn decided to use as bait. McGurn decided to enlist the help of gunmen outside the Chicago area because he worried that if anybody managed to survive, they would recognize members of Capone's gang. McGurn got his hands on police officer uniforms and a police car to help perpetuate the elaborate sham he was planning. He then contacted a booze hijacker and asked him to call Bugs and tell him that he had a shipment of Old Log Cabin Whiskey that he was selling for $57 per case. This bait was perfect because that brand of whiskey was not only good, but very expensive and this was a deal. Bugs agreed to meet the hijacker the following morning, February 14th, at 10:30am.

Lookout nest
Now that we have set the stage, let's get to the event that occurred on February 14th, 1929. It was 10:30am on North Clark Street. Harry and Phil Keywell were at a rented room across the street at 2119 in position as lookouts. These boys were from the infamous Purple Gang of Detroit. Harry Keywell would later tell police he was not there and he supposedly had a solid alibi, but alibis at this time were bought or lied about.

Bugs Moran was running late. At 10:30am, he and one of his men, Ted Newberry, were still on the way to the meeting. The lookouts saw gang member Albert Weinshank come towards the building and enter. Weinshank had the same build as Bugs and looked much like him as well. The lookouts mistook him for Bugs and they gave the signal to the assassins that Bugs had arrived at the garage and it was time to launch the plan. The police car that McGurn had acquired pulled up outside of the garage. Four men, Fred Burke, Joseph Lolordo, John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, exited the vehicle. Two of them were wearing the police uniforms. The men entered the garage and announced they were conducting a police raid. Rather than open fire or try to run, the North Side Gang was compliant and allowed their weapons to be taken from them.

While this is happening, Bugs and Newberry arrive outside the garage and see the police car. They decide to avoid the raid and head to a coffee shop. Bugs has no idea that seven of his men are about to be assassinated. Those seven men were the garage mechanic John May, Adam Heyer who owned the building, Peter Gusenberg and his brother Frank, Albert Weinshank, Reinhardt Schwimmer and Albert Kachellek. All seven men were lined up against a wall of the garage. The assassins opened fire using a .45, two Tommy guns and a sawed off shotgun. The faces of May and Kachellek were so obliterated, they were unrecognizable. Seventy rounds of ammunition were fired.

The assassins continued their ruse as they exited the building. The two men dressed as officers pointed their weapons at the two men dressed in plain clothes, while those men held their hands up. Neighbors who heard the gun shots assumed the police had raided the place and were arresting some gang members. They got in the cop car and drove away. The real police arrived a little later after a neighbor who had walked in on the grisly murder scene called them. The neighbor had heard a dog barking wildly inside the garage. The dog was a German Shepherd named Highball who had been left unscathed, tethered inside the garage. The police found all the men dead except for Frank Gusenberg. He was breathing heavy and choking on his blood. He had been shot fourteen times. He was rushed to the hospital where he died three hours later. The police were unable to get him to talk. An investigation was conducted, but nobody ever was pinned with the crime. Capone was in Miami and Jack McGurn's fiancee gave him what came to be known as the "Blonde Alibi." She claimed that the two had been together while the massacre occurred. And thus ended the most notorious and horrific gang slaying in mob history.

Scene outside the Massacre with curious onlookers
But that is not where our story ends. This kind of violent act has all the ingredients for making a haunting. The location where the massacre occurred is very different today. The building is no longer there. The area where the garage had been located is now a grassy area that is connected to a nursing home. The brick wall that the gang members had faced before they were killed was torn down long ago and a large tree marks the spot in the park. Before the building was torn down, an antique furniture store was set up in the front area. The owners did not realize that a massacre had happened at the location until they figured out that most of the people visiting their store were not there to purchase anything, but rather to see the bullet holes left in the brick wall.

In 1967, the building was torn down and the bricks from the infamous wall were auctioned off to a man named George Patey. He reassembled the brick wall for the men's restroom at a nightclub he was opening. He put plexiglas in front of the wall to protect it. Three nights a week, the ladies at the club were allowed to peek into the restroom to see the wall. When the nightclub closed, the bricks were put into storage and then Patey decided to sell the bricks one by one. Legend claims that the bricks are cursed. Is this true? Well, Patey soon started getting the sold bricks back. People were returning them claiming that after they acquired the brick, their fortunes had turned. Many claimed that the bricks had caused them financial ruin. Some even blamed illness and death on the curse of the bricks. Where are the bricks today? Patey died in 2004 and nobody knows what he did with them. A few still turn up here and there.

The nursing home park area seems to be haunted. People claim to get weird feelings of dread when they walk by and animals that walk by the area whine and cower. Haunting audible noises have been heard in the form of gunshots and screams. Unusual lights and mists have been seen. Male voices have been heard both audibly and as EVPs.

Al Capone himself claimed to be haunted by an entity until he died. He claimed that the spirit was James Clark, who was Bugs Moran's brother-in-law and was also one of the massacre victims. James Clark was the alias of Albert Kachellek. When Capone was incarcerated at Eastern State Penitentiary, fellow inmates said they would hear Capone crying out at night, "Jimmy, please leave me alone!" In Chicago, Capone lived at the Lexington Hotel. He would have his most frequent encounters with Jimmy here. Bodyguards for Capone heard him begging in his room to be left alone. Occasionally they would bust in thinking that someone was trying to hurt Capone, but Capone would be alone. He would tell them that Jimmy's ghost had been there. Keep in mind that syphilis might already have been making him half nuts. Capone enlisted the help of a psychic named Alice Britt to help him get rid of the ghost. It did not help. One of Capone's valets once saw the specter in the parlor and he witnessed it run behind the curtains. He called for the bodyguards, but no one was there.

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre left an indelible mark in American history, but did it also leave that same mark on the land? Was Capone haunted and is that why the authorities pursued him so heavily after the Massacre? This act put Capone on the authorities map and lead him to be proclaimed "Public Enemy Number One." Perhaps someone or something was helping the authorities. Is North Clark Street haunted by the ghosts of gangsters? Is the land cursed? That is for you to decide.

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