It happened today - February 14, 2016

Nothing says Valentine’s Day like flowers and chocolate. Except perhaps a burst of automatic weapons fire.

Anyway, that was the view of Al Capone and his associates, who on February 14 1929 had seven members and associates of a rival Chicago gang murdered in a garage on the north side of the city. The “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” has been famous ever since.

It’s curious, looking back, to reflect that the 1920s must have been an innocent time, by our standards, because the scale of the killing shocked people so profoundly even though they knew what gangsters were like. And in important ways they have not changed; one of the victims did not die immediately but was transported to hospital where, as the contemporary phrase has it, he refused to cooperate with police.

Riddled with no fewer than 14 bullet wounds, and clearly dying, Frank Gusenberg defiantly told police questioners “No one shot me.”

No one was ever convicted of doing the killing. Mind you, some pretty strong suspects were identified and one was sent to jail for murdering a police officer in a separate incident while two others were apparently beaten to death by Capone himself. Crime does not pay.

Capone himself, riding as high as high can be in 1929, was indicted for tax evasion in 1931, jailed, and succumbed to syphilis, which led to his death from cardiac arrest after securing early release on the grounds of debility.

A certain perverse glamour attaches to high-rolling criminals including Capone despite their deeds and their fates. And somehow it has given the sordid slaughter in that garage some kind of weird mystique. Perhaps in those more innocent times it seemed especially cold to commit the murder on a day devoted to romantic love, even given the general lack of sentimentality of gangsters. Today it wouldn’t surprise us if they did it on Christmas. But it seems to have ended nearly as badly for those who did the killing as those who were lined up against the wall.

My advice is to go with the flowers and chocolate and forget the Tommy guns.

It happened todayJohn Robson