Commentary
5:00 am
Tue February 11, 2014

Valentine's Day, Murder And The Rise Of The FBI

Al Capone is a bad Valentine
Al Capone is a bad Valentine
Credit Wikimedia Commons

On February 14th, 1929, Chicago’s North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park erupted into violence, leaving dead seven members of Al Capone’s and Bugs Moran’s rival gangs.

For the next 10 months, newspaper headlines announced leads that directed police to reluctant witnesses, the charred remains of the getaway car, and eventually to the single conviction of Fred Burke.

None of these findings subdued the mounting outcry coming from local authorities and residents of Chicago and Detroit—the two cities most affected by Prohibition-era black market alcohol sales and gang violence. By 1929, these cities understood that something needed to be done to stop the growth of underground criminal networks and related violence, and they began to put pressure on the federal government and law enforcement agencies.

Initially, the FBI and its director, J. Edgar Hoover, believed these events fell under the jurisdiction of municipal and state law enforcement agencies, and declined to get involved. But in the coming years, local authorities, regular citizens, and formerly strong supporters of Prohibition, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr., spoke about these acts of violence not as singular events of urban crime, but instead more broadly as the violent consequence of federal Prohibition.

What had initially seemed like a way to curb violence by eliminating alcohol consumption had ignited a new era of criminal activity.

In the aftermath of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the federal government fell to this pressure and repealed the 18th Amendment in 1933. But it also renegotiated the division of power in state and federal criminal investigations, resulting in future partnerships between municipal and federal law enforcement agencies and the rising role of the FBI in quelling organized crime.