ST. LOUIS • August "Gus" Winkeler grew up in Lemay and went bad in a hurry. He ran with the hoods known as Egan's Rats, sometimes as wheelman for the gang's last boss, William "Dinty" Colbeck.
Winkeler turned 19 while doing time in the city Workhouse. He met Georgette Bence at her family's boarding house, a Rats hangout, and married her. Police scorned him as a "punk," or lesser figure, when Colbeck went to prison in 1925. Newspapers even misspelled his name, referring to him as Winkler.
He and Fred "Killer" Burke, another dispossessed Rat, drifted to Chicago, where they made the big time.
They became lieutenants to Al Capone and probably took part in the machine-gun executions of seven rival gangsters in a garage on St. Valentine's Day in 1929, with Winkeler as getaway driver. He showed his steam by easily making $100,000 bond in a major bank holdup in Nebraska. "The Big Boy is back of me," he boasted to cellmates.
But Capone went to prison for income-tax evasion. Burke got life for murdering a police officer. Rivalries emerged.
At midday on Oct. 9, 1933, Winkeler stood outside a tavern on Chicago's North Side. A passing green panel truck slowed. Three men blasted away with shotguns, raking Winkeler with 72 buckshot pellets.
At the hospital, he said nothing to detectives but managed a last prayer with a Catholic priest. He died wearing a jeweled belt buckle.
From their spacious apartment on Lake Shore Drive, Georgette Winkeler promised to adorn her man in jewelry before burying him in St. Louis. "The best is none too good for Gussie," she said.
Chicago newspapers described his silver casket as worth $10,000, the equivalent of more than $171,000 today. Almost 2,000 people dropped by visitation for a look.
The Oct. 12 St. Louis newspapers reported the casket heading here on a Wabash day train. But when the chapel was opened at Donnelly Funeral Home, 3840 Lindell Boulevard, Winkeler's body was in a plain black tuxedo inside a bronze casket. Disappointed local reporters dismissed the casket's worth at $1,000, no more than $3,000.
Long lines filed by just to be sure. A floral display next to his casket carried the inscription, "Last Chapter."
Winkeler received a funeral Mass at St. George Catholic Church, 4980 Heege Road, a rite often denied to gangsters. The Rev. Joseph Siebert, pastor, cited Winkeler's dying prayer to justify the exception.
He was buried next to his parents in Park Lawn Cemetery in Lemay as his widow sobbed, "Oh, daddy, daddy." On Oct. 22, she tried to commit suicide by turning on the gas in her Chicago apartment.
Killer Burke's wife, Bonnie, reached her in time. Mrs. Winkeler died in 1962.