90 Years Later: Guns of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Guns of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

The two Tommy Guns (courtesy Logan Metesh)

Ninety years ago today, a group of police officers entered a Chicago garage to confront a group of gangster-bootleggers as they unloaded a shipment of illegal hooch. Except the officers weren’t real…they were from a rival gang.

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to get some “hands-on history” time with the guns from that infamous murder. The video below details the storied history of the two actual Thompson submachine guns used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on February 14, 1929.

For those of you who can’t watch the video because you’re at work, here’s some photos to hold you over until you’re able to check it out:

Guns of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

The two Tommy Guns (courtesy Logan Metesh)

 

Guns of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Three of the magazines recovered with the guns (courtesy Logan Metesh)

 

Guns of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Straight-on and angled views of the area where the serial number and model were removed and raised with acid. (courtesy Logan Metesh)

 

Guns of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Yours truly with the historic guns (courtesy Logan Metesh)

 

Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.

comments

  1. avatar PeterZ says:

    Logan, I love your stories here. Keep up the good work. I would love to buy one of those Tommy guns, but not until the NFA is fully invalidated by SCOTUS.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      a lot that is still sketchy about this famous criminal episode…70 shell casings indicate a drum and stick mag were used…that that and the slugs recovered led to the actual guns is remarkable for the time….

      1. avatar 22winmag says:

        Not Sketchy

        Hoax-ey

        1. avatar Ranger Rick says:

          You need to educate yourself on the works of Col. Calvin Goddard before making uninformed comments.

      2. avatar Gadsden says:

        Matching bullets up with barrel was a reality back then, I can’t remember the first instance of it exactly, but I believe it was in the early 20s. Not everything is a conspiracy.

        1. avatar 22winmag says:

          Calvin Goddard was involved in other hoaxes like the Sacco and Vanzetti hoax.

          As if these spooks and fake forensic examiners aren’t bought and paid for enough already.

    2. avatar Logan Metesh says:

      Thanks, Peter!

  2. avatar MrBob says:

    They let us sit Thompsons at work. Fun gun but damn, that barrel gets hot!

  3. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    That was a really cool bit of history. Shot a couple of Thompsons. Heavy, but you can write your name with them.

  4. avatar barnbwt says:

    The gunmen were so obviously actual uniformed police officers on the take it’s not even funny. “Gee, I wonder why the one surviving witness said ‘no one shot me’ in the hospital when questioned by authorities before dying?” “Gee, I wonder how a bunch of thugs could so convincingly portray police officers?” “Gee, I wonder why the murder-victims neither recognized a bunch of their rivals whom they knew by sight, nor were hesitant to go into a basement with gun-toting strangers when they should have been familiar with the officers assigned to their area?” “Gee, I wonder if it’s even possible the cops were on the payroll of the gangster who owned the entire city government & was mopping up the competition?” “Gee, I wonder where they got the guns, considering they were neither inexpensive nor common outside police & natl guard armories?” “I wonder if they thought it was unusual that the officers had so many Thompsons with them?” It’s beyond laughable that “Capone’s boys” were behind this (unless you’re referring to his bought officers). It’s beyond disgusting that a mass-murder likely perpetrated by corrupt authorities was later used as justification to ram-through unprecedented restrictions on American’s civil liberties in the form of the 34 NFA (and the Miller case was even more outrageous than all that!)

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      bit of a stretch…but worth considering….with all those sketchy details and the fact the story seems to change a bit with every retelling people are left to filling in the gaps as best they can….

      1. avatar Hannibal says:

        “Gee, I wonder why the one surviving witness said ‘no one shot me’ in the hospital when questioned by authorities before dying?”

        …because that’s what mobsters do? Well, it’s what they used to do.

    2. avatar strych9 says:

      “Gee, I wonder where they got the guns, considering they were neither inexpensive nor common outside police & natl guard armories?”

      This is only half correct.

      Yes, Thompson subguns were expensive but they were, like the BAR, widely available. To the point that, if you had the scratch, many hardware stores carried them and if they didn’t carry them could and would order them for you provided you gave them a down payment. .

      1. avatar frank speak says:

        believe the military was more protective of the BAR…it was one of the reasons they didn’t show much interest in the thompson…forcing them into civilian sales to survive…a lot of them…around here, at least…were purchased by companies and corporations to equip their “goon squads” during the labor strife at the time…when union contracts forced them to dispose of them they were usually donated to local police dept’s…where many still remain…the federal reserve still had them in the 90’s where i actually got to check one out…a combo of 21’s and 28’s…they were in the process of changing to MP-5’s and actually planned to melt down all of their thompsons to make a sculpture….YIKES!

    3. avatar Southern Cross says:

      I remember a magazine article from Guns and Ammo magazine did a survey of Thompsons being used by criminals in the Prohibition Era, and they conclude that about 40 Thompson sub-machine guns were used by the crooks.

      1. avatar Ing says:

        The few who actually owned them rented them out to other criminals. Baby Face Nelson had a couple of rented automatics when he went into his final shootout with the FBI.

        1. avatar Ing says:

          The few *criminals* who owned them…

    4. avatar James W Crawford says:

      One of the Thompson submachineguns was originally purchased by a Sheriffs Deputy who was known to have ties to organized crime.

    5. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Lotta assumptions here, how about somebody finds out how much a Thompson cost in 1929, I heard it was about $25. Not cheap at the time, but not expensive for a mobster.

      1. avatar barnbwt says:

        Then, as now, the overwhelming choice of firearm was small, cheap, and concealable. Little revolvers, blowbacks, and derringers. There were only several dozen machineguns involved during the *entire* ‘gangland’ period (and a lot of those were ‘stolen’ from the armories of police or guardsmen)

        People today simply don’t realize how corrupted the authorities were in those days. It was like modern day Mexico, where politicians & crooks would routinely do favors for each other, by annihilating common enemies. That’s why Ness’ task force had to be so aloof & unaccountable to get anything done; the entire system was rotted from top to bottom, and only outside forces could check the mob influence (even if that outside force was itself fairly abusive of its own authority)

        1. avatar Phil Wilson says:

          “People today simply don’t realize how corrupted the authorities were in those days.”

          Is it much better in Chicago these days?

      2. avatar JR Pollock says:

        On the contrary, they were VERY expensive. Auto-Ordnance was, like ArmaLite, 30 years later, a design & engineering firm with very limited abilities to produce much more than prototypes, which is why Gen. Thompson and his investors contracted with Colt to mass produce their guns. They paid Colt $44.00+change each, to produce 15,000 guns in order to get the best price possible. That was an outlay of almost $670,000, just to make them

        All of the guns were Model 1921’s, and all of the subsequent modifications, and model number changes, were done by Auto-Ordnance to accommodate prospective buyers. They were still sitting on the last of the original inventory at the outbreak of WWII. When the Army came looking to make a large order, A-O had to contract with Savage to produce the guns, because Colt had more work than they could handle. They later built their own factory in Bridgeport. The Model M1A1 was done with the cooperation of the Army, since they were buying all of them, they were able to dictate design changes(side charging handle, simplified bolt, no vertical foregrip) to lower the manufacturing cost, and thereby reducing the price, but they were still expensive guns.

        From their introduction, through, until the passage of the NFA1934, they retailed for approximately $200.00 w/a 20 round stick mag. That’s a shitload of money when a Ford Model T cost $400, and the average annual salary was about $1900.00.

        Machine guns are very limited in their (lawful) applications, then and still today. Outside of law enforcement, security services, etc., there’s not a lot of uses for a machine gun, other than a trip to the range, while you’re waiting for the government to become tyrannical. On the other hand, if you’re a bootlegger, flush with cash from illegal alcohol production and sales, the price isn’t quite so significant.

        The whole purpose of the NFA was to make expensive guns even more so, and require their registration, and CLEO notificaton, so law enforcement could monitor the purchasers.

  5. avatar Billy Bob says:

    Wow and thank you.

  6. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

  7. avatar Billy Bob says:

    Very good video. I appreciate your work. Please keep it up.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      this is the one gun in my collection I never plan to sell…acquired it in the mid-eighties for less than $600….Ah,….those were the days!……

      1. avatar frank speak says:

        …..by the way,..the current non-firing replica offered by denix…is a virtual clone…both in size, weight and feel…when placed side by side it’s very difficult to tell them apart…for the price [2 to 3 hundred]…it makes a great wall-hangar….

      2. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Last one I handled was a ‘28 (navy model?) had a price of 21k on it.
        You’re sitting on a nice 401K there Frank.

    2. avatar Logan Metesh says:

      Thanks, Billy Bob!

  8. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    Just because a crime was committed with theses guns does not mean we lose our right to own rapid fire guns.

    1. avatar possum says:

      WRONG, the school teacher gets an F- . > )

      1. avatar Phil Wilson says:

        Arguing semantics, I guess, but I’d say he’s not wrong. We didn’t lose those rights, but we did have those rights infringed upon.

  9. avatar Sean G./The Rookie says:

    In case anyone would like to watch a movie tonight/this weekend:

  10. avatar 22winmag says:

    90 Years Later:

    Guns of the HOAXED St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

    There, I fixed your article’s title.

    It was lacking something.

    1. avatar Gadsden says:

      You think everything is a hoax. Have you considered the possibility that your life is a hoax as well?

  11. avatar Ranger Rick says:

    If anyone is interested in the details of the forensics that were used in the investigation this short History Guy episode will lay it out for you:

    https://youtu.be/MmMz8LLxpeQ

  12. avatar possum says:

    Bet a dollar if they was made outta plastic we wouldn’t be looking at em. …. Those guns r purdy steel and wood, yup.

  13. avatar Cruzo1981 says:

    I watched a documentary where people who bought historical artifacts from that shop where the murders happened all died too early from health issues…😱😱😱😱

    1. avatar barnbwt says:

      Lead poisoning?

  14. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    So, violent criminals impersonate police officers and murder several people — and the “solution” is to infringe on the rights of good people. Got it. Or not.

  15. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    uh oh, logan broke the non- smiling gun blogger rule.

  16. avatar James A. "Jim" Farmer says:

    It’s too bad the Model 1921 and 1928 Thompsons confiscated from gangsters and
    mobsters back in the 1920’s and 1930’s couldn’t be put into military storage and
    re-issued for World War II (1939-1945). In the hands of a U.S. Army or Marine Corp.
    infantryman, a British or Canadian commando, or other Allied soldier, these Thompsons
    would have seen their finest hour deployed against the Axis forces. Even in the lockers
    of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard these same Thompsons could have seen yeoman
    service. Afterwards the same for re-issue for the Korean War (1950-1953), and possibly
    the early stages of the Vietnam War (1961-1975). Of course by that time both the M-14,
    and later M-16 rifles, had largely replaced the Thompson sub-machinegun in the U.S. Armed Forces. Even for an Israeli commando the Thompson would have had it’s proper
    place. Not to mention in the arms lockers of police and sheriff’s departments, state
    police and highway patrols, and of course federal agencies: FBI, U.S. Secret Service,
    Customs, Border Patrol, etc. Also, a Model 1921 or 1928 Thompson in the hands of
    a resistance fighter during the Holocaust during World War II against the Nazi SS and
    Gestapo, or against the murderous Soviet NKVD under Stalin, including the Empire of
    Japan until 1945.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      Check some of the above posts. Contrary to Hollywood, the number of Tommy Guns used by crooks was between several dozen to 40, and definitely not over 50.

      The IRA used more Thompsons than the Mafia did.

    2. avatar Gregolas says:

      To give an example of Navy use, a friend of mine (dead now these 10 years) says he shot several Japanese kamikaze swimmers trying to attach sticky mines to his LCI. It was off Okinawa. Got all of them with a Thompson.

  17. avatar 22winmag says:

    Thanks Ranger Rick.

    Now that I know Calvin Goddard was involved in both the Sacco and Vanzetti hoax AND the St. Valentines Massacre hoax, I know who the original forensic firearms and ballistics fraudster was. As if these forensic guys aren’t owned, bought, and paid off in advance.

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