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Lot #173
Saint Valentine's Day Massacre: Frank Gusenberg's Colt Detective Special Revolver

Capone rival Frank Gusenberg's Colt Detective Special .38 revolver, recovered from the grisly St. Valentine's Day Massacre site—as seen in a bloody crime scene photo

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Estimate: $150000+
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Capone rival Frank Gusenberg's Colt Detective Special .38 revolver, recovered from the grisly St. Valentine's Day Massacre site—as seen in a bloody crime scene photo

Frank Gusenberg's Colt Detective Special .38 revolver, recovered from the scene of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre on February 14, 1929. Gusenberg was a contract killer and part of Bugs Moran's North Side Gang, rivals of Al Capone's Chicago Outfit. He reportedly assisted in the murders of Antonio Lombardo and Pasqualino Lolordo, presidents of the Unione Siciliane, which prompted Capone's plot to eliminate Moran and his associates. On the morning of February 14th, four unknown assailants—two dressed as police officers—shot seven North Side Gang members and affiliates at the 2122 North Clark Street garage, including enforcer brothers Peter and Frank Gusenberg. These were no mere gangland shootings—it was a massacre meant to send a message, with some 70 rounds fired from an arsenal that included two Thompson submachine guns, the favorite firearm of the notorious Chicago syndicate. Frank Gusenberg took fourteen of those shots, yet miraculously survived for three more hours. When Sgt. Thomas Loftus made it to the scene and questioned Gusenberg about the perpetrators, the hitman observed the gangland principle of 'omertà' (absolute silence) and insisted, 'I won't talk.' Gusenberg's last words before succumbing to his wounds were reportedly, 'I ain't no copper.'

The revolver is accompanied by a Colt Archive letter dated February 3, 1986, indicating that this Colt Detective Special, serial number 364509, was shipped in a batch of six to Chicago gun dealer P. Von Frantzius on June 26, 1928. Peter von Frantzius was a well-known firearms distributor, later dubbed by the press as 'The Armorer of Gangland.' He is known as an almost-exclusive supplier of firearms to the Chicago Mob: one of the two recovered Tommy guns linked to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre was also shipped to Frantzius. According to legend, the firm offered a $2.00 service to file away the serial numbers and bob the hammers, both attributes found on this Detective Special. After the gun was recovered, crime lab investigators were able to raise the obliterated serial number.

Where this revolver traveled in the eight months before the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre is open to conjecture. What is known is that this .38 Detective Special was found by Sgt. Thomas J. Loftus in the S-M-C Cartage Company's warehouse at 2122 N. Clark Street in a bloody mess with several dead men and a pile of empty .45 ACP cartridge cases. In his sworn statement made at the District Attorney's office later that day, Loftus mentioned discovering the ".38 caliber Colt Revolver Detective Special, with a one-inch barrel" on the floor of the facility. The revolver is also seen in the corner of a crime scene image taken at the bloody site. The police and investigators linked the gun to Frank Gusenberg, believing that it fell from his pocket as he attempted to crawl to safety following the massacre. No other firearms were recovered at the site, making this revolver the only firearm available to the public that originates directly from the scene of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Includes the original Chicago Police Department property envelope and evidence bag, filled out in pencil with Sgt. Loftus' name and the important note: "Found on floor at 2122 N. Clark St. Garage, 1-38 Cal. Blue Steel Revolver."

The revolver features much of its original finish, with some staining and wear to the stocks. It shows wear commensurate with a 93-year-old revolver which was likely carried in overcoat and suit pockets; the 'bobbed hammer' made it easier to conceal and less likely to catch on clothing in a quick-draw situation. The serial number is found in two places on the inside of the revolver: along the grip strap and on the reverse of the side plate. The side plate does show thinning and browning of the finish. The hammer is bobbed and the cut surface is dulled. The action is tight and the revolver really only shows exterior wear. This gun was not very old when it was recovered at the crime scene in a trail of blood and then thrust into a criminal investigation which yielded no suspects.

The reverse of the grips are both inscribed in ink, “JCW Jr. St. V. Case," evidently provenance markings attributing it to the collection of Joseph C. Wilimovsky, Jr. He was a criminologist affiliated with Calvin Goddard Associates, a pioneering forensic ballistics firm that worked on the St. Valentine’s Day investigation. According to an accompanying letter by Neal Trickel, Cook County coroner Herman Bundesen turned the weapon over to a criminologist for firearms identification work, which we know was undertaken by the Goddard Crime Lab. We assume that the gun passed into Wilimovsky's possession sometime during the 1930s, as the crime lab was sold to the Chicago Police Department in 1938. Trickel writes that he acquired the gun from a relative of the criminologist in the 1980s, after it had been in the family for more than fifty years.

Additionally includes an original 1924 P. von Frantzius mail-order catalog stamped "Calvin Goddard" on the cover, two glossy prints of the grisly crime scene photos, and assorted other related documentation. This revolver was previously on loan to the Las Vegas Mob Museum, where it was exhibited for several years.

Depicted in the corner of a crime scene photograph taken at the grisly site, this historic Colt Detective Special Revolver boasts superior provenance and was featured on an episode of Fox Nation's Selling History.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autograph and Artifacts Featuring Gangsters, Outlaws & Lawmen
  • Dates: #656 - Ended January 11, 2023