It was a typically cold Valentine’s Day in Chicago in 1929 and seven men were gathering in the rear garage area of S.M.C. Cartage Co. at 2122 North Clark Street. This would be no ordinary Valentine’s Day and the men had no idea that shortly their names were going to be plastered across the front pages of newspapers across the nation.
The men, in varying degrees, had connections with the North-side criminal organization run by Bugs Moran. The men included brothers Peter and Frank Gusenberg (enforcers for Moran), Adam Heyers (accountant and business manager), Albert Weinshank “Weinshenker” (dry cleaner and alleged money launderer for Moran), Albert Kachellek (Moran’s second-in-command), John May (mechanic and driver), and Reinhart Schwimmer (optician and gang “groupie”)
Around 10:40 a.m. a group of men (at least two dressed as police officers) entered the garage and lined the seven men up at gunpoint along the north side of the garage wall. The men were definitely caught off-guard thinking that this was just another police raid. Seconds later the sound of .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine guns and shotguns pierced through the crisp February air and the seven men were gunned down in cold blood. Frank Gusenberg was the only one not to die at the scene but was pronounced dead roughly three hours later at the hospital.
While different theories were entertained as to who was responsible for the actual shooting of the victims it was widely accepted that Al Capone was the primary instigator even though he was conveniently in Miami at the time of the shootings.
There have been numerous books, articles and movies produced dealing with the events and aftermath of that February morning but I wanted to look at the incident from a fresh perspective. Being that I am a genealogist with a background as a former criminal investigator I thought it would be a great project to attempt to make contact with living relatives of the victims. There could be family stories, legends and photos that might help to shed a different light on the subject and there could even be relatives that may have no idea that they are related to one of the victims. Therefore, I am hoping that this is only the first of hopefully many articles in a series dealing with this subject.
I decided that I would start the project with the victim who according to many accounts had the least amount of involvement in the criminal activities of the gang, Reinhart Schwimmer.
Reinhart was born on December 1, 1898 (although his death certificate states 1899), in Chicago, Illinois. He was the son of Michael Schwimmer and Josephine Herman who had immigrated to the United States from Germany the year of Michael’s birth. They had been married for about 8 years at the time Michael was born and were renting at 3113 Wentworth Avenue in Chicago. Michael was an eye surgeon and would later start a successful practice on Lake Shore Drive. Reinhart would later join the family business as an optician (not a medical doctor like his father).
In 1908, Michael and Josephine divorced and Michael went on to marry another German gal by the name of Ida P. Aschenback. They were married on November 30, 1908 in Lake County Indiana and had a baby girl named Margaret Schwimmer late in 1909. Unfortunately for Margaret, her father died unexpectedly of a blood clot on April 12, 1919 when whe was only 9 years old. Her older half-brother, Reinhart, did not have much luck in the marriage department. Reinhart was married twice before unsuccessfully. He was married in 1922 for two weeks to a Fay Johnson. Fay filed for divorce after Reinhart struck her for being 20 minutes late for an appointment. His second wife was named Georgia Rich and he divorced her in 1928. He had no children from either marriage so I know that I needed to concentrate on his sister Margaret.
After about two days of research I was able to make contact with Lynnie Michelle Heaver Savering in Berwyn, PA. She is a great granddaughter of Michael Schwimmer. She later put me in touch with her mother, Gail Parker of Radnor, PA and also involved her mother’s sister, Lynn who lives in Lake Forest, Illinois. I won’t bore you with the details of how I found them in this article but if you are interested in a more detailed version of this story you can visit my website at www.HistoryCop.com (It will be a work in progress so you will be able to check back often for updates to the Schwimmers as well as the other victims).
Gail and Lynn are the daughters of Reinhart’s half-sister Margaret and Lynnie is Gail’s daughter. Lynn had written a paper on her family for a college class and recalls from family history that her grandmother, Ida Aschenbeck was raised in a large home outside of Oldenberg in northern Germany. Her family owned a horse farm that originally raised horses for the Kaiser. She was visiting cousins in Charleston, South Carolina, where she met Michael Von Schwimmer. He had gone to medical school in Heidelberg, Germany and was an eye surgeon recently divorced from Josephine. Ida was recovering from the tragic death of a fiancé. When they married he was 53 and she was 38.
After they were married they lived in the Chicago area where Michael had a successful ophthalmology practice on Lake Shore Drive. He worked with his grown son, Reinhart, from his previous marriage. Her grandparents bought a home in Wilmette, Illinois. They lived a wealthy life style with live-in help and her mother went to Europe every year with her mother (Ida) and a nanny.
When her grandfather died in 1919 there was no will and Reinhart whom Margaret had never met, took all of the family’s money. He left nothing for their grandmother except for the house in Wilmette. Her grandmother took the proceeds from the sale of the house and bought a house near the midway of the University of Chicago (5716 Kimbark Avenue). Her grandmother supported her daughter, Margaret by renting rooms to students. Her mother remembered sleeping in the kitchen when they needed to increase income from their renters. The change from wealthy to poor was traumatic. Thereafter her mother created much of her own reality.
Lynn believes that Reinhart received his just reward on that cold February morning.
Gail had written me a very gracious email after her daughter had forwarded my information. She had always visualized her grandparents living in a large house near the University of Chicago. She remembers her mother, Margaret (later Margaruite) lamenting over the fact that her mother, Ida had sold all of her father’s paintings after his death in 1919 because of their financial situation. They did save one of Michael’s paintings which was a scene of Heidelberg, Germany as viewed from a hillside. The painting now hangs over her sister Lynn’s mantel in Lake Forest. She remembers that her mother was very close to her father and he took her swimming at 6:00 a.m. during the summer months before he had to go to work.
Gail seems to remember that Reinhart kept his car in the same garage as members of the Moran gang and it was suggested that he had a taste for the exciting and enjoyed the atmosphere of the notorious gang. She also believes that Reinhart was mostly innocent of any involvement with the gang other than an occasional fraternization and was merely a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Gail and Lynn’s mother Margaruite went on to marry a banker at the First National Bank of Chicago by the name of Joseph Arthur Smolek in 1933. They were both 24 years old. Margaruite for some reason didn’t like the “k” on the end of the name and Joseph would do absolutely anything to please her so he had his name legally changed to Smole. He absolutely adored her and they went on to have a wonderful marriage. They each had lived through traumatic childhoods since Joseph’s little sister drowned when she was two years old and his mother never recovered from the shock. Gail and Lynn lived in several homes in Evanston, Illinois and according to Lynn it was an idyllic place to grow up.
Tragically, Joseph died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 58 while on vacation with Margaruite in the Virgin Islands. Margaruite remarried to a widower neighbor named Steve Kostakos two years later.
Both Gail and Lynn have very fond memories of their mother who succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease three weeks before her 80th birthday. She was really the life of the party. She enjoyed painting, mostly with oils, was an avid gardener, loved to read, appreciated music, loved to dance and had a wonderful sense of humor. Gail would kid that she was born without a censor and spoke whatever she was thinking.
It is nice to see that great things can come out of tragedy. I promised to keep in touch with Lynn, Gail and Lynnie and will continue to research their family and share with them the results.
I will be updating the story on my website www.historycop.com so feel free to become a fan on my HistoryCop fan page as well.
Stay tuned to glowbass.com for the next article concerning the family of Moran’s mechanic and driver John May. In the meantime, if you are family member of any of the victims of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre please feel free to contact me at [email protected]