5 Massacres Where Almost Nobody Died

St. Valentine's Day Massacre
This re-enactment of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre shows the members of Al Capone's gang pretending to be policemen and lining up George Moran's men against the wall to kill them. © Bettmann/CORBIS

In the 1920s, rival gangs battled for turf in Chicago. Their main operations: bootlegging, gambling and prostitution. Soon it was down to two groups: one led by Al Capone, the other by Irish gangster George "Bugs" Moran, a longtime foe of Capone's. The city of Chicago was shocked at what happened next. On the morning of Feb. 14, 1929, seven men associated with Moran were gunned down on the North Side as they faced a garage wall [source: History].

Two of the men who shot Moran's guys were dressed in police attire, so the assumption was that the "officers" were Capone's men, who fooled Moran's gang into thinking they were merely being raided -- hence their polite cooperation in turning and facing the wall [source: O'Brien]. Yet no one was ever able to link Capone to the murders, so no one was charged. But this victory wasn't the turning point that Capone envisioned. While the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, as it was dubbed, did put Moran out of business and enable Capone to take over the city, the brutal slayings had so enraged Chicagoans that the authorities bore down on Capone. They eventually jailed him for tax fraud, ending his reign of terror [source: History].

Author's Note: 5 Massacres Where Almost Nobody Died

I never pondered the finer points of the meaning of the word "massacre" before researching this piece. In some ways it seems disrespectful to seemingly compare the deaths of five to that of 50,000 or 100,000 by using the same word to describe it. On the other hand, brutally killing a group of people is always horrific, no matter the group's size.

Related Articles


  • Boston Massacre Historical Society. "Boston Massacre." (Aug. 9, 2014) http://www.bostonmassacre.net/
  • Buescher, John. "Boston's Bloody Affray." Teaching History. (Aug. 12, 2014) http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/23472
  • Canada's First Peoples. "The Frog Lake Massacre." (Aug. 12, 2014) http://firstpeoplesofcanada.com/fp_metis/fp_metis_frog_lake.html
  • Chaput, John. "Frog Lake Massacre." The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. (Aug. 12, 2014) http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/frog_lake_massacre.html
  • History. "Boston Massacre." (Aug. 9, 2014) http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/boston-massacre
  • History. "Saint Valentine's Day Massacre." (Aug. 9, 2014) http://www.history.com/topics/saint-valentines-day-massacre
  • Merriam-Webster. "Massacre." (Aug. 9, 2014) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/massacre
  • Nanking Massacre. "1937 Nanking Massacre." (Aug. 12, 2014) http://www.nanking-massacre.com/
  • O'Brien, John. "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre." Chicago Tribune. Feb. 14, 2014. (Aug. 9, 2014) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-14/news/chi-chicagodays-valentinesmassacre-story_1_al-capone-smc-cartage-co-george-bugs-moran
  • PBS. "Marcus Whitman (1802-1847), Narcissa Whitman (1808-1847)." (Aug. 12, 2014) http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/s_z/whitman.htm
  • Pegg, David. "25 Most Horrific Massacres in History." List 25. Aug. 14, 2013. (Aug. 12, 2014) http://list25.com/25-most-horrific-massacres-in-history/
  • Simkin, John. "St. George's Field Riot." Spartacus Educational. August 2014. (Aug. 12, 2014) http://spartacus-educational.com/LONstgeorge.htm
  • Weiser, Kathy. "Whitman Massacre National Historic Site." Legends of America. June 2012. (Aug. 11, 2014) http://www.legendsofamerica.com/wa-whitmanmassacre.html


A Holocaust Survivor's Surprising Message of Hope

A Holocaust Survivor's Surprising Message of Hope

Magda Herzberger is 93 but was long silent about the horrors she witnessed during the Holocaust. HowStuffWorks spoke to her and tells her story.