St. Patrick's Day Massacre

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The St. Patrick's Day Massacre was an attempt by the notorious Pègre crime lord Alphonse Lambert (aka "Scarface") to wipe out a rival group headed by Jean Arnaud.


By 1926 the Pègre, a Francophone criminal organization, had risen to dominate the whiskey smuggling business in the NAL. Profits in the wake of Prohibition were enormous, and with them came to power to hire muscle, bribe public officials and to overwhelm rivals. Gangland murders throughout the 1920s were a national scandal as gang leaders fought it out for control of territories worth more cash than some nations. The exact number of casualties will probably never be known because many individuals simply vanished, never to be heard from again.

As a crossroads of traffic between Louisianne and New Francy as well as the Great Lakes and railway systems throughout the NAL the city of Chicago was the first great center of Pègre operations. Two rivals came to dominate the underworld of the city.

  • Alphonse "Scarface" Lambert - a flamboyant dresser who liked to play "Robin Hood" to the masses. He would deliberately and publically support charities such as orphanages in a clever public relations ploy. More, he used terror as a weapon among his contemporaries, making sure those he ordered dead suffered as an example. Nobody crossed Scarface, lest they be found hanging by chains in a wherehouse, probably castrated and left to bleed to death.
  • Jean Arnaud - a very different sort than Lambert, one who increasingly operated his gang as a business and had carefully invested his profits in legitimate businesses. Most were betting on Arnaud coming out the victor in their rivalry. He was the smarter, the more careful of the two crimelords. But he was also personally the less popular, not least because he was not so concerned with the French backgrounds of his people.

The Crime

On March 16, 1927 Jean Arnaud planned on having a small party with his wife, sister-in-law, along with his brothers Luc and Guillaume with their wives. Also present was family friend and Cardinal (slang for "Advisor") Joey "Snaps" Bernini and his girlfriend, Ruth Silverberg. "Snaps" was a controversial figure with the Pègre because he held an unsually high position of power, despite having no French background. That he was dating a Jewish girl also caused rumblings. Lambert may have counted on this fact to help quell dissent to the sheer scale of his plan.

The party was to be held at the sister-in-law's apartment. One of the many urban legends of the Massacre is that she was herself in the employ--willingly or otherwise--of Lambert. Another, somewhat more likely one, is that the party was to annound Snaps' engagement to Miss Silverberg. Either way, lookouts were in position to report on the comings and goings. After everyone arrived, at approximately 4:30pm, teams went into place. At least three gunmen were in the hallway of the apartment building. Two more approached via the fire escape. All were armed with a then-new and devastating weapon, the machine gun. But across the street were at least two, maybe three snipers.

Evidence suggests the attack itself happened a few minutes before five o'clock. The hallway gunmen set off the fire alarm in the building and began to break down the door, which was the sign for the snipers to open fire and for the fire escape gunmen to also make their attack. The whole attack took less than ten minutes, and there were no survivors. Autopsies showed that no chance had been taken with that. Each individual had a pistol shot directly into the head, as well as the twenty to seventy bullet wounds inflicted by machine guns into each person.

One police investigator described the scene as a "human slaughterhouse."

All those guilty of the crime escaped amid the rush to escape the "fire." Interestingly, a fire had started, in an apartment directly above that of the crime scene and the tenant was widely believed to be in on the murders, but no indictment was ever handed down.

The Aftermath

The St. Patrick's Day Massacre did not, as Lambert presumably intended, decapitate and kill the Arnaud Crime Famille. Sylvestre Maupin, one of Jean Marnaud's most trusted Cardinals, immediately acted to take up the reigns of power. He also decided to take revenge in a surprising manner. He literally gave all the information he knew about the Lambert crime organization (at that point not really a Famille but a suped-up gang) to his contacts in the law enforcement.

He was helped by the public response to the killings, which sent shockwaves not only across the NAL but even the world. Individuals murdered, often in groutesque ways, their bodyguards suffering casualties was one thing. The murder of so many, including wives and girlfriends, in a home, an apartment shared by many who had nothing to do with organized crime, touched a chord.

It was Gwilliam Lyon MacDowell who proposed that the CBI be given direct authority over racketeering as well as expanding their powers to try and stem the tide of lawlessness. Among the provisions of the law Parliament enacted was a crucial one that got little attention at the time--the CBI was allowed jurisdiction in cases of large-scale income tax evasion. That was the provision that allowed the CBI to eventually convict "Scarface" Lambert in 1931.

Some believe that the massacre may have also motivated the political forces which eventually led to the repeal of Prohibition. Certainly it made the apprehension of gangsters a high priority, launching the career of future Castreleon New Governor Tomas Dewey.

Illinoise passed tough anti-racketeering legislation within the following few years, as did many other provinces. The St. Patrick Day's Massacre marked the end of an era in the history of American Organized Crime, not only toppling the biggest Chicago Kingpins but forcing the entire Pègre to be more subtle and discrete. It helped marshal the forces of the nation against them, but at the same time gave them strong motivation to become better organized, more careful, and harder to catch.

The massacre has also become a mainstay of popular fiction about the Pègre and gangsters in general. Versions of the event have been made into motion pictures at least five times.