On January 17, 1920 the 18th amendment to the US Constitution, The Volstead Act, was enacted which prohibited the transport and sale of all alcoholic beverages within the United States. Interestingly enough no federal criminal punishments was included in the legislation, so it was left to the states to figure out. A domino of effects followed and ushered in the Roaring 20s. What became clear almost immediately--nobody was giving up their hooch. Not ones to pass up an opportunity, various gangs stepped in to fill the demand and Chicago was the epicenter of the action. In Sinclair Lewis’ story Babbitt, there is a scene in which Babbitt is scrambling around town hunting down the bootlegger to acquire some booze for a dinner party he was giving. This law basically turned law-abiding citizens into criminals and made every two-bit hustler a purveyor of liquor.
The king of the bootlegger heap was Al “Scarface” Capone, and he peddled his various wares from the South Loop west to Cicero. Bugs Moran, leader of the Northside gang, did the same within his territory. But their gangs had long battled for dominance and all this violence culminated on February 14, 1929 which became known as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. At S.M.C. Carthage, which was located at 2122 North Clark Street, Bugs’ gang was called in to accept a shipment of whiskey and was summarily executed by four men, two in police uniforms.
Dr. Loyal Tacker, a newly minted dentist with an office at 2530 North Clark, was located four blocks from the shooting scene. His wife was expecting their first child and they lived in a very nice apartment building at 425 Surf Street. Life was good
Sometime after the bloodbath, detectives canvassed all dentists in the area looking for someone who had recently extracted the teeth of a person of interest to them. An eye witness had indicated the driver of the getaway car had missing front teeth. Dr. Tacker confirmed that this was his patient based on the photo shown. Also at some point after the shootings, Dr. Tacker received a threatening letter that, according to his wife, completely unnerved him. An important line of reasoning here is the police detectives came to Dr. Tacker asking questions……he did not come forward as a witness on his own.
At around 9:00 p.m. on February 23, 1929, Dr. Tacker was kidnapped after leaving his dental office by four unknown individuals. They cracked him over the head with a blackjack and dragged him into a car that was parked on Hampden Court, two blocks from his apartment building. The doctor felt they must have drugged him as well because everything was very hazy, but he remembered they cut his clothing labels from his clothes (tailors sewed their advertising labels into clothing which usually included their address). He was thrown, bound and blindfolded, into the back seat of a Peerless touring sedan wedged between two armed men. Tacker said one of the men told him, “it’s going to be good-bye for you, big boy.”
Fifteen hours later the car slowed down, the door opened and Dr. Tacker was thrown into the bright noon sunshine and told to walk straight ahead and don’t look back. In the cold, blinded by the intense light, Dr. Tacker walked forward expecting to be shot at any moment. But behind him he heard the touring car accelerate heavily and tear away. He kept walking straight ahead, to the corner of Library Street and Gratiot at Cadillac Square in Detroit. He had no idea where he was until he flagged down a police officer.
Now, what happens to Dr. Tacker is rather unbelievable. His account was detailed in at least 50 newspapers—the ones that I found. From those widely varying accounts, I gleaned the facts I found the most interesting.
First thing to consider—why wasn’t he killed? These gangsters where notorious for violent acts. Dr. Tacker received a threatening letter before the attack. Two other witnesses were also threatened by letter. He was snatched off the street, all identification removed and he was driven to Detroit only to be allowed to walk away?
The next unbelievable part of his story was the way the police apparently treated the victim. Remember, it was reported by witnesses that two of the four gunmen in the Clark Street shooting where uniformed police officers. At first the Chicago Chief of Detectives John Egan demanded Dr. Tacker be held by the Detroit police (as in arrest??), as if he had been a part of this crime. They then reversed themselves and asked that Dr. Tacker be escorted immediately back to Chicago with protection.
Chief Egan made many contradictory statements to the media over the course of the next week. He at first indicated that Dr. Tacker had identified George Westcott as being his patient and that this George Westcott could not be a part of the crime because he had been held in jail since November 1928. Egan is quoted as saying, “if Dr. Tacker ever does prove to be a witness of value, such disclosure would hurt the state’s case.” It appears that Chief Egan was under a great deal of pressure trying to repudiate any suggestion that actual uniformed police officers were involved in the slayings. The glaring fact remains: Dr. Tacker’s name had not been publicly released, and there were no newspaper reports suggesting Dr. Tacker had named names prior to his abduction. It would seem someone inside the investigation made sure the word got out that Dr. Tacker could be an important witness. Assistant State Attorney David Stansbury was quoted as saying as much on March 3.
The Pittsburgh Press of February 26 had an account of Dr. Tacker’s thoughts 24 hours after his return to Chicago. “After recounting the kidnapping and the ride, Tacker said he now believed the men who abducted him only sought to throw the police on the wrong trail.” “I am sure the men who kidnapped me had something to do with the killings,” Tacker indicated, “but if the man whose tooth I pulled was one of the killers, they would have killed me without delay. Knowing that the man whose tooth I extracted had nothing to do with the murders, however, I think that they thought they could make the police believe he was implicated by kidnapping me.” “If they really thought I could have identified one of their gang as a killer, I have no doubt they would have killed me without compunction.”
Eventually the car was found that was used to take him to Detroit, burned out in a garage. Under the seat was an ink pen that belonged to him. But the case stalled as theories flew in a million different directions. Al Capone was brought in and questioned about his knowledge of events, but it was obvious he was in Florida at the time and not directly involved. However, strong evidence pointed to his gang as being suspect and working under his direction. What helped break the case was the first recorded use of ballistics to source one of the weapons used in the massacre. Fred Burke, a member of the Purple Gang of Detroit, was found to possess one of the guns used after he shot and killed a police officer in Michigan. Burke was eventually arrested for the death of the police officer and went to prison where he died in 1940. It doesn’t appear he was ever thoroughly questioned about his involvement in the Chicago crime and the ballistic evidence was never given serious consideration. But another interesting fact is clearly seen in his booking photos--Fred Burke was missing a front tooth.
So, I think that Dr. Tacker did in fact identify one of the suspects. I also feel the Chicago police waged simultaneous campaigns to impeach Dr. Tacker’s claims and issue smoke screens, either to protect Dr. Tacker or to take attention away from his testimony. It is amazing to me that Dr. Tacker survived his run in with Al Capone’s gang, they were not known for their civility.
One thing is for sure—Dr. Loyal Tacker was a lucky man. He lived to be 99 years old and died 14 days shy of his 100th birthday. He died in Texas in 2001 and was lovingly eulogized by his family in his obituary. Based on what this man accomplished in his lifetime, I would say his early brush with death had a lasting impression on him. However, I did not see anything mentioned of this chapter in his life and wondered if he ever told his children and grandchildren about his disturbingly close encounter with Scarface Capone and his gang.