The two guns, still held by the Sheriff’s Department that captured them, are usually locked away in this cabinet. Image source.
The Mob Museum, which is appropriately enough in the Mob’s own creation, Las Vegas, is displaying two submachine guns that were part of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre today.
The Massacre answered the 1929 iteration of that perennial underground question, “Who will be the boss?” Seven Bugsy Moran goons were blown away by Thompson-wielding members of Al Capone’s gang. The fate of most of the guns used by the Capon goons is unknown, with two exceptions. The Museum’s press release:
LAS VEGAS (January 2014) – This Valentine’s Day, Friday, Feb. 14, The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, celebrates its second anniversary with two-for-one admission to out-of-town visitors and FREE admission for Nevada residents. In addition, at 9 a.m. that day, the Museum will have the official unveiling of a limited-time-only presentation of two Thompson machine guns used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Lt. Mike Kline from the Berrien County Sheriff’s office in Michigan will deliver presentations about the artifacts. The public presentation schedule follows:
Friday, Feb. 14: 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 15: 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Museum Members also will have a chance to attend an exclusive showing of the two Thompson machine guns on Saturday, Feb. 15 from 9 to 10 a.m.
The artifacts go hand-in-hand with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall that has been part of the Museum’s collection since its opening on February 14, 2012. In Chicago’s infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang were lined up against this wall, shot and killed by Al Capone’s gang.
The two machine guns, numbered #7580 and #2347, were first positively identified by Colonel Calvin Goddard, forensic scientist specializing in ballistics, in December 1929 after investigating many Thompson guns found in the Chicago area. These two guns, on display at the Museum Feb. 14 and 15, are the only guns ever scientifically proven to be part of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Thompson #7580 was marked Exhibit “A” and was determined to have fired one 20-round magazine at the Massacre scene. Thompson #2347 was marked Exhibit “B” and was determined to have fired one 50-round magazine at the Massacre scene.
via THE MOB MUSEUM TO CELEBRATE SECOND ANNIVERSARY FREE ADMISSION FOR LOCALS, LIMITED-TIME-ONLY ARTIFACT DISPLAY, FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14 | Mob Museum.
The Museum has also displayed another artifact, a Colt Detective Special believed to have belonged to Frank Gusenberg, one of the ventilated Moran men. The Museum’s building is a restored former Federal Building and courthouse in which, appropriately enough, historic hearings on organized crime were held by the Kefauver Committee in 1950.
But we’re gun guys, and it’s the Thompsons interest us. Turns out they were seized by the Berrien County, Michigan, Sheriff’s Office from the house of Fred Dane — who police had learned was really a notorious robber and murderer named Fred “Killer” Burke. (That’s rare example of someone nicknamed “Killer” being an actual killer. And he wasn’t born Fred Burke, although that was the name he’s known by now, and the name he’d take to prison. Like Lenin, he made the alias famous. He was born Thomas Camp). “Dane” wasn’t home, but the police grabbed “Mrs. Dane” (Burke’s girlfriend) and a bunch of things. “Dane,” who they now knew was Burke, was wanted for the murder of a Michigan cop who’d pulled him over.
Burke’s house today still stands as a real estate office (BCSD photo).
When they caught up with him, Burke was delighted to be arrested — he thought the cops were other gangsters intent on whacking him, and they were Michigan cops (at the time, Illinois, where Burke had done a lot of business including the Valentine’s Day massacre, enthusiastically applied the death penalty, and “enlightened” Michigan had none). Burke would die of heart disease and diabetes in a Michigan prison in 1940, and never did answer for his out-of-state crimes.
Meanwhile, inside Burke’s house, the Sheriff’s department had found some considerable evidence, including:
Two Thompson machine guns w/ Nine ammunition drums – One gun was assembled, loaded and ready for instant use while the other was in a black suit case
Five 100-shot .45 caliber drums loaded, many other smaller drums
Three 20-shot clips
Two high powered rifles, one was Winchester .350 automatic, other was Savage .303
One sawed off shotgun with pistol grip
Two bags of ammunition estimated at 5,000 shells
½ dozen fruit jars and tin cans filled with misc. ammunition, including smokeless shotgun shells, shells loaded with iron slugs and small shot.
½ dozen tear gas bombs
BCSD Historian Chriss Lyon with one of Burke’s guns.
Both of the Thompsons were Model 1921s, one with Cutts Compensator and one without. The deputies also found money, bulletproof vests, and other artifacts; and one Colt 1911 not listed in the inventory can be seen in photos. The Thompsons posed an identification problem: both had had their serials defaced, as had some of the drum magazines.
Calvin Goddard of the Northwestern University Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory raised the serial numbers with acid, and learned that the Cutts gun was Number 7580 and the other was 2347.
But they could still learn more from these guns. Goddard’s technicians fired the guns into hampers of cotton. Then they examined the rounds and matched them to crime scene bullets. This was routine — for them — and they’d already done it with many Chicago-area recovered Tommy guns, as well as many hundreds of pistols. But the two guns taken from “Killer” Burke’s house were the only two ever ballistically matched to bullets recovered at the scene of the Valentine’s Day massacre. (They already had a pretty good idea that the massacre weapons had been Thompsons, as that and the S&W 1917 were the only .45s at the time with a right-hand twist, and a 1917 wouldn’t have left dozens of cartridge cases behind). They were able to match one gun to 20 bullets — the size of a standard Thompson stick magazine — and the other to 50, indicating that Burke, or somebody, emptied an “L” drum from it at the doomed Moran loyalists.
Goddard examining a .45. Note TSMG in background.
The next question was: where had the guns come from, and how had they gotten into criminal hands? What we learn is that the sources of crime guns even then included diversion from lawful commerce, and acquisition via corrupt law enforcement officers. The coroner’s inquest, via the Berrien County SD again:
Thompson serial #7580 was shipped from Auto-Ordnance Corporation of New Haven, Connecticut on October 19, 1928 as part of a shipment of three Thompson submachine guns, serial #6926, #7580, #7699. This shipment also included three “L” type fifty round drum magazines.
Shipment was received October 23rd by Peter Von Frantzius Sporting Goods of 608 Diversey Parkway, Chicago, Illinois, a noted Sporting Goods dealer in the area. On October 23rd, a “dummy” box was shipped by Railway Express to one Victor Thompson (aka Frank V. Thompson), of Fox Hotel, 100 Douglas Avenue, Elgin, Illinois. This entry in the ledger would account for the destination of the three guns. As agreed the serial numbers were filed off by gunsmith Valentine Guch at a cost of two dollars for each gun.
Frank V. Thompson (aka F. V. Thompson, Victor Thompson, Frank Russell), paid cash and took the guns over the counter on October 23, 1928. These three Thompsons were in turn sold or delivered.
This “dummy” package had been at the Railway Express office about seven months. The package was subpoenaed May 4, 1929 from the American Railway Express Company in Elgin, Illinois by Officer Frank Donahue of the Chicago Police Department. It was kept sealed until brought into the Jury room, then opened in the presence of the Coroner’s Jury. The box alleged to hold three Thompson submachine guns was actually found to contain some excelsior and four bricks but no Thompson submachine guns.
Frank V. Thompson testified in 1929 at the Coroner’s Inquest that Thompson submachine gun #7580, with numbers removed, was sold to a Bozo Shupe of Chicago. When confronted by the Chicago Police Department, Bozo Shupe refused to testify or make a statement. Sometime later, he was found murdered on the west side of Chicago near Cicero. At some point, Thompson #7580 passed from Mr. Bozo Shupe to Fred R. “Killer” Burke (aka Fred Dane) of Stevensville, Michigan.
Von Frantzius appears to have been a crooked dealer who supplied many Chicagoland mobsters with the tools of their trade. Certainly shipping a fake package of guns to rot in an Express office, waiting for someone to call, while delivering the guns over the counter, indicates complicity. We don’t know what happened to him. Today he’d get 10 years for every gun, but there were no Federal gun laws in 1929.
The other Massacre Thompson took a different path to the Massacre. It sold over the counter to a Deputy Sheriff on 12 Nov 1924. The Deputy, Les Farmer, was associated in some way with an organized crime group. More details at myalcaponemuseum.com. (Expect to spend some time there — very cool site and it was very helpful in telling this story).
Both of the guns are today in the possession of Berrien County Sheriff’s Department still, as are many other Burke artifacts including bulletproof vests. (Yes, nothing’s bulletproof, but that’s what it says on the tags. Their technology is probably worth a post sometime).
The St. Valentine’s Day massacre was a watershed event. The shock of a mass killing of seven, even with all the victims being gang members, was spread nationwide by radio, making this arguably the first national mass-murder media exploitation event. This created demands, fanned by the same media, to do something. At least three somethings flowed from this:
- The politicians whose Utopian fantasies had produced Prohibition with all its unintended (but predictable) consequences attempted to extend that prohibition to “gangster” firearms, which they originally defined as MGs, short-barreled long guns, and handguns. They would let handguns drop off their proposal for fear of the National Firearms Act being found unconstitutional.
- Other politicians (and some of the original Prohibition supporters, who were now awake to the real consequences of their airy dreams, now supported Prohibition repeal. It ultimately became a partisan issue (for those of you who see political parties as “our team” versus “their team,” it was the Democrats on the repeal side of this and the Republicans going down with the ship of Prohibition). This decision was the key to ending the Gangster Era, and wise bootleggers and their gangsters (like Joe Kennedy) turned to less violent pursuits. Unwise ones, like Bonnie and Clyde, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and John Dillinger, turned to bank robbery or other violent crimes; they wound up dead or in prison before the end of 1934.
- Law enforcement, especially Federal, grew enormously, and developed its culture during this period, and they were vastly enlarged and emboldened after the massacre. This included such positive developments as Goddard’s Northwestern U Scientific Detection lab, which was taken over whole by the then-forward-looking Chicago Police Department. But there were also lasting troubles that were born here. The Federales’ budgets grew to some $40 million a year in 1932, almost $700 million in 2014 dollars. Today, the Capone gang is as dead as the Moran gang, but the surviving ATF culture of break-the-law-to-enforce-the-law stems directly from this period and has produced such scandals as “testilying” about the accuracy of the NFRTR, the systematic gunwalking of Wide Receiver and Fast & Furious, and the many abuses (including more gunwalking) in the agency’s storefront operations.
So these aren’t just two tommy guns. They’re artifacts of a historical inflection point.
For More Information
Even though his Thompson book is out of print, gun writer Frank Iannimico’s site has some information. He’s a big TSMG fan. His former forums are now at MachineGunBoards.com.
The Thompson Collector’s Association is a gold mine of TSMG expertise.
This shop offers Tommy Gun gunsmithing, including rebuilding semi 1927s to more closely resemble the original M1921, including SBR/removable stock conversions.
There are a lot of books about Al Capone, take your pick, but Chriss Lyon (pictured above) has one coming on the life and times of Fred Burke.