Three seventh-graders who participated in the first Roland Park Middle School National History Day Fair this month decided to take a look at the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which left seven gangsters shot to death in a Chicago garage and contributed to the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934.
Al Capone and his gang were accused of committing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but no one was ever convicted. The dead were members of rival Bugs Moran’s gang.
Their research led Leah Rivera, Emily Bowden and Isabel Lunken, 12, to Deirdre Marie Capone, Capone’s great-niece, who agreed to be interviewed about the incident and offered her theory on what happened in the SMC Cartage Co. garage at 2122 N. Clark St.
“I was interested in gun rights in general, and I was really interested in Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” said Leah, 12, whose parents are former Baltimore Sun reporters.
She said that while looking for sources for their project, which they titled the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and Perception of Gun Rights,” she discovered several articles about Capone’s great-niece, who had written “Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story from Inside His Family,” published in 2010.
Emily, 13, suggested that they email her. Capone, who is 74 and lives in Bonita Springs, Fla., does not use her married name for security reasons, and agreed that she would answer questions submitted by email.
Her grandfather, Ralph “Bottles” Capone, was Al Capone’s older brother and business partner, and his son, Ralph Gabriel Capone, was her father. Her father committed suicide.
“My grandfather had only one child, my father Ralph. My father only had one child which is me,” she wrote in a Jan. 8 email to Emily.
“You said in an interview that Al Capone was not responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Who do you think was responsible for it?” the students asked Capone.
“I know it was the police that committed the crime and they tried to make it look like my Uncle Al Capone was responsible. I have two sources for that information,” she replied.
“First, the ‘so-called’ mechanic that was killed in the massacre was the brother-in-law of my husband’s aunt. He would come home in the evening and tell his brother the police were stealing the alcohol off the back of Bugs Moran’s trucks and Moran was going to tell the police captain,” she wrote.
“Also, my Uncle Matty, Al Capone’s youngest brother, was in the alley behind the warehouse the day before the massacre and he saw the police driving up and down the alley,” Capone wrote.
In an interview last year with The Los Angeles Times, Capone said that based on talks she had with her grandfather, her uncle was not involved in the mob shooting.
“Anybody who studied Al Capone’s M.O. would know that was not a Capone job,” she said. “If Capone wanted to get Moran, he would have gotten him. There wouldn’t have been that farce.”
“What do you think of Al Capone’s and Bugs Moran’s gangs’ conflict? Do you think the massacre was a legit way to handle it?” asked the students.
“Most people do not know that at one time Al Capone and Bugs Moran were very good friends and they worked together for Johnny Torrio,” Capone wrote. Torrio, a notorious Chicago mobster, was known as “The Fox.”
When they asked if the massacre was the only thing her uncle had been accused of, she replied, “My uncle was quoted at the time as saying, ‘You guys [the media] would blame me for the Chicago Fire if you could get away with it.’”
At the time, The New York Times published an article that ran under the headline: “Killing of 7 laid to Chicago police by dry official.”
In a telephone interview Thursday, Capone said she receives many inquiries from students and that she is “more than happy to give them the actual story from one who knew the story. If I can help them understand the history of those days, I’ll help them.
“It’s been 85 years, and there has never been a conviction in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. If my uncle had been guilty of it, he would have been punished at the time,” she said.
Capone is married and has four children and 14 grandchildren. “Children are very precious to me, and my children and grandchildren know all about Al Capone and my family’s past,” she said.
Alphonse “Scarface” Capone, who had been Public Enemy No. 1, was convicted in 1932 of income tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He was paroled for good behavior after serving six years.
He was 48 when he died on Jan. 25, 1947, at his Miami villa.
“He died on my seventh birthday,” said Capone, who is writing a second book about her uncle and has completed a screenplay about his life.
Leah said that she and her two co-authors “did enjoy the project, and we were very proud of the results.”