Gangster Gats: “Red” Barker’s Ghouls

A band of ghouls seeking to rob the grave of George (“Red”) Barker, slain claimant of the gang power of Al Capone, was driven from Mount Carmel cemetery in a heated gun battle early today.

News Journal, “Gun Battle Is Staged Over Grave of Gangland Leader” (22-JUN-1932)


I have previously expressed doubt whether gangsters and Mythos investigations are a good fit. I am still not entirely convinced, but you could probably make it work. Recently I stumbled over an article in the Chicago News Journal, which reported that on 22-JUN-1932, shortly after midnight, four or five “ghouls” had tried to disinter the body of Chicago Outfit member George “Red” Barker in Section 26 of the Mount Carmel cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

Barker, who despite newspaper accounts was not actually a rival of Capone but was rather involved in the Outfit’s aspirations to control the labour unions, had been killed on 17-JUN-1932 from a “machine gun nest” in a flat on the second floor of 1502 North Crawford Street in Chicago, Illinois. Barker had been on foot on the sidewalk opposite the flat. The shooters used the Auto-Ordnance Model 1921AC submachine gun (No. 3200) in .45 ACP with a Type C 100-round drum magazine (GURPS High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, pp. 28-30; Investigator Weapons 1: The 1920s and 1930s, pp. 87-89), as well as an “automatic rifle” ‒ probably a Winchester Model 07 semiautomatic rifle in .351 Winchester (GURPS High-Tech: Pulp Guns 2, pp. 9-10). Barker was riddled by at least 18 bullets. Miraculously, his three companions escaped unharmed. The floor of the flat was covered in spent brass. A half-eaten dinner indicated a long wait. Imprecise use of the military term “machine gun nest” by contemporary newspaper hacks led some later-day historians to believe that a tripod-mounted, water-cooled medium machine gun had been used, like the two Colt-Vickers M1915 machine guns depicted in the ambush scene in The Public Enemy (1931). (Ironically, the bullet impacts in that scene were made by live ammunition fired by a professional shooter with an Auto-Ordnance Model 1921A submachine gun!) That, of course, was not so. The weapons used were seized nearby by the police. While the “machine gun nest” tactic had been invented by the Chicago Outfit and was almost a trademark modus operandi, it is unlikely that the Outfit had anything to do with this slaying. Barker had been on his way to meet Guilfoyle-Kolb-Winge Gang member Martin “Marty” Guilfoyle, an ally of the Touhy Gang. The latter probably put him on the spot. The shooters were almost certainly members of the Touhy Gang. The “automatic rifle” was traced to Louis Silversmith, proprietor of The New Dells roadhouse in Morton Grove, Illinois. Silversmith had received it from Patrolman Arthur Mutter of the Chicago Police Department, who had bought it for him at Von Lengerke & Antoine Sporting Goods Store in Chicago ‒ just one of the many low-key collusions between law enforcement and criminals that defined Prohibition. Silversmith claimed that he had left the rifle with all the other fixings in his former gambling house at 51st Street and Indiana Avenue in Chicago, but it is far more likely that he had supplied it. The New Dells was a known Touhy hangout; Chicago Outfit member Frederico “Frank the Cowboy” di Giovanni had been killed there just the day before. The Model 1921AC submachine gun (No. 3200) was also traced to Von Lengerke & Antoine. From there it had been sold with a Type C 100-round drum magazine and a Type XX 20-round box magazine to the Haber Die & Stamping Company in Chicago, but it was subsequently found out that the “F. Miller” who had received it for the company did not exist. For a while, the company’s former president Titus Haffa was suspected, since Haffa had spent time in prison for violation of the liquor laws. Haffa was a former associate of the North Side Gang, which had been put out of business by the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

Anyway, why on earth would anyone want to dig up Barker’s shot-up body? The police speculated that the grave-robbers, who had brought a small lorry, wanted to steal something from the casket ‒ or even just the expensive floral arrangements. However, their main theory was that they wanted his corpse, although why was anyone’s guess. The “ghouls” even got into an actual firefight with 46-year-old Croatian cemetery caretaker Josip Sobol. When Sobol accosted them, they immediately opened fire and completely sieved his vehicle. Sobol returned the fire until his pistol jammed. Wait. What? What kind of caretaker routinely carries a semiautomatic pistol? Who in his right mind engages a numerically larger enemy gathered around a gangster’s grave? This seems strange even for the USA in the 1930s. Then again, Sobol might have had experience with nightly visitors to the graves … Could he have been an Investigator of the Mythos? Or were the “ghouls” actually Investigators, who did what they had to do even if it meant shooting at a harmless bystander? Or were the “ghouls” actually ghouls who had adapted to the times and used firearms just like everybody else?