There are probably enough books written about Alphonse “Scarface” Capone to fill an entire small library. This, however, is not a book about Capone per se. Think of it more as a first-person account, by an emotionally torn spouse, of man that allegedly participated in the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Gus Winkeler is the subject, as told by the memoirs - long buried deep in government files – of his wife Georgette Winkeler.
True crime author William J. Helmer (author of Dillinger: The Untold Story and co-author The Complete Public Enemy Almanac with the late Rick Mattix ) introduces the book with a reminder of Georgette’s slightly-biased view (trying to put husband Gus Winkeler in better light). He also provides plenty of historical facts and bios in the back of the book that work to support Georgette’s account and other times to clarify or fill in blanks (Georgette wrote primarily about the characters she had personally met, not other prominent figures such as Jack McGurn – the only man ever charged – never convicted – with the Valentine’s massacre)
Those who are well-versed in the entire St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, the murder of Frankie Yale in 1928, or the 1933 Kansas City Massacre, will already be familiar with a good portion of the book’s historical element. Even so, to read the words of Winkeler - well, it simply puts a more personal, humanistic stamp on the entire subject. And for those unfamiliar with the intricate details of the men who perpetrated the 1929 Chicago hit – this book covers it well – giving insight into why the Capone faction would use mostly St. Louis gangsters for the 1929 hit and what the later fates would be for Winkeler and the other “American Boys.”
And that makes this read all the more interesting. Georgette’s recollection of events and people was not merely limited to a portrait of her husband. From her viewpoint, every friend, enemy and associate (she personally knew from Gus’s life) is discussed – the who, why and how they behaved based on the interactions with her husband.
One chapter in particular deserves special mention as it opens with a reminder of how life in organized crime usually works out. As any true crime aficionado surely knows… there’s jail, death or turncoat. Georgette points to the latter in chapter eleven’s introduction, and it’s quite poignant. A basic truism really, as she proclaims, “There is no honor among thieves.”
She further explains that “thieves” refers to all racketeers and the concept of protecting one another usually becomes null and void when one is faced with jail time. Of course, she points to specific individuals that “rolled over” on husband Gus.
Other interesting topics covered in Al Capone and His American Boys include Gus Winkeler’s demise, Georgette’s post-gangster life, law enforcement communications regarding the memoirs, backgrounds on the other Valentine’s Day shooters, and how Winkeler’s handgun was used in a suicide by Melvin Purvis.
Georgette’s account of her husband and his associations with other well (and lesser) known gangsters is, of course, going to be a little subjective. Mrs. Winkeler was indisputably living quite a balancing act – loving her husband while living in constant turmoil over his arrests and the dangers that come naturally with a life of crime. The 1930′s memoir itself is rather well-written, and the tone is that of a warning for both law enforcement (she tried to submit the memoirs to FBI) and women who consider becoming involved with hoods. Al Capone and His American Boys is more than just fascinating history – its built on the human interest element of living a gangster’s life.