Las Vegas, never known for its understated approach, is spending $50 million to build a mob museum. So it seemed credible when sin city officials announced that they bought the actual bullet-riddled brick wall from Chicago's St. Valentines Day massacre. But as the I-Team found out, Las Vegas doesn't have all of the St. Valentines Day massacre bricks because what happens in Vegas isn't always as billed.
Wide-brimmed mobsters ready to whack a rival bootlegger. Or not. Actually, it was the mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, and former Nevada governor Richard Bryan dressed in their outfit best for the big unveiling of the mob museum.
"What makes Las Vegas distinctive? What makes us distinctive from any other place? What gives us our mystique? It's the mob," said Oscar Goodman, Las Vegas mayor. Click here to read about the mayor's response to this I-Team report
And nothing in all of mobdom has more mystique than the St. Valentine's Day massacre.
SMC Cartage on Clark Street in Lincoln Park. February 14, 1929, 80 years ago this year. On that snowy morning, several hoodlums believed to be sent by Al Capone, enter the warehouse dressed as Chicago policemen. They line up seven henchmen from the rival Bugs Moran North Side gang, faces to the brick wall.
"Carnage. Some of the guys took about fifteen machine gun bullets which at that range could cut you in half," said John Binder, mob historian.
The building was used until 1967, when it was one of many gangland landmarks ordered demolished by Mayor Richard J. Daley.
"During the time it was being torn down that's when people came and liberated parts of the wall for their own collections," said Richard Crowe, mob collector.
Richard Crowe and a business partner have more than 100 bricks from the St. Valentines Day execution wall. Another Chicago collector obtained 200 bricks in 1967. And Canadian promoter George Patey secured the largest number, 414 bricks. According to an agreement with the demolition company, Patey's bricks had supposedly been in the line of fire. It is those bricks that Las Vegas officials say they bought for their mob museum.
"I can't think of an event they were involved in that was more bloody and more gory which represented how they did business," said Goodman.
But not so fast. Before promoter Patey died five years ago, he sold more than 150 of the bricks, most of them through a now-defunct Web site. So the Chicago massacre wall that Las Vegas unveiled last week is, at best, only a partial relic.
"Mayor Goodman does not have all of the bricks that Patey bought," said Binder.
"How many are going to wind up in Vegas is a mystery," said Crowe.
When Vegas officials announced that the massacre wall would soon be on display, they showed a large picture to reporters. A city spokeswoman now tells the I-Team that it really wasn't a photo of the Chicago bricks, just a look-a-like illustration.
For two days Las Vegas officials would not tell us how much of the wall they actually have or what they paid.
A city spokeswoman sent the I-Team a statement on Wednesday night that they are "fully aware some bricks have been sold off" over the years. But she contends that they purchased the "vast majority" of the massacre wall.