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THE HUNT FOR FRED “KILLER” BURKE

THE HUNT FOR FRED “KILLER” BURKE

After the Massacre, Fred “Killer” Burke, an associate of Al Capone, was hiding out in rural Michigan when he killed a police officer. Authorities searched his house and found an arsenal, including two Tommy guns that Dr. Calvin Goddard proved had been used in the Massacre.

Fred Killer Burke
Fred “Killer” Burke was a prime suspect in the Massacre but was never prosecuted for that crime. Courtesy of John Binder Collection

Fred “Killer” Burke started his life of crime as a teenager in Kansas City. When he moved to St. Louis, he became a top member of Egan’s Rats, the city’s most notorious crime syndicate. Burke committed robberies and contract killings in St. Louis until a large number of his associates were jailed. He moved to Michigan, where he was an associate of Detroit’s Purple Gang and was a suspect in the murder of three men in 1927. He relocated to Chicago, where he hooked up with Al Capone.

When the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred on February 14, 1929, Burke was among the prime suspects. He went into hiding in rural Michigan. On December 14, 1929 — 10 months after the Massacre — he was involved in a car accident in St. Joseph, Michigan, where he was known as “Frederick Dane.”

When patrolman Charles Skelly tried to intervene, Burke shot him dead and took off. He wrecked his car on the edge of town but commandeered another and got away.

Police found papers in Burke’s wrecked car that led them to his house, where they found an arsenal that included two Thompson submachine guns. The guns and ammunition were delivered to Dr. Calvin Goddard’s crime lab in Chicago. Goddard fired test bullets from the Tommy guns and they matched those taken from the Massacre victims.

Chicago Police now had the murder weapons, but they still didn’t have any suspects in custody.

Tommy Gun used in the massacre
One of the Tommy guns used in the Massacre.

Burke, America’s most wanted man at the time, fled to a farm in Green City, Missouri. He posed as a prosperous businessman named “Richard F. White.” While hiding out there, Burke married a 20-year-old nurse named Bonnie Porter and they lived on her father’s farm.

Fred Burke Portrait
Fred “Kller” Burke was a prime suspect in the Massacre but was never prosecuted for that crime. Courtesy of John Binder Collection

A local man named Joe Hunsaker studied the newcomer and became convinced he was really Fred Burke, whose pictures he had seen in True Detective magazine. Local police initially ignored Hunsaker’s pleas to apprehend the fugitive cop killer, but finally in the early morning of March 26, 1931, they raided Burke’s house and found him in bed. Burke had weapons by his side but he did not resist arrest.

Burke was extradited to Berrien County, Michigan, where he was convicted of killing the police officer and sentenced to life in prison. He served nine years in Marquette State Prison before he died of a heart attack in 1940. He was strongly suspected of participating in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but was never prosecuted.

Al Capone Goes to Prison

Al Capone was suspected of being the Massacre mastermind but there was no evidence to charge him...

Al Capone Goes to Prison - The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Feb. 14th, 1929.
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