“Keep ’em up, you!”
The blue-jowled gunman snarled his words.
Patrolman Walter Murphy winced as if in fright. But he really was not afraid. He stood without moving, holding his note-book in both hands. In a flash he had formed a daring plan.
“May I put this notebook in my pocket, Mister?” he said. His voice quavered.
He hoped that, in his civilian clothes, he looked like a frightened motorist. He hoped that neither of the sccowling stickups in front of him noticed the bulge under his coat where his revolver hung.
“Okay, Mug!” said the blue-jowled gunman.
Behind Murphy, his friend Walter Higgins and the boy James Brassard, eighteen-year-old attendant at this filling-station, were backing silently into the restroom, their hands upraised. The bandit waved his gun.
“Make it snappy!”
Patrolman Murphy unbuttoned his overcoat. With the same movement he shot his right hand downward to his service revolver.
“Blue Jowls'” gun roared.
The officer jack-knifed double as the slug tore through his stomach. Again the bandit’s gun flamed and thundered. The slug zipped over the patrolman’s shoulder and buried itself in young Brassard’s chest.
His evil eyes blazing, the gunman kept jerking his trigger, plumping bullets into Patrolman Murphy’s body.
The officer slumped to the floor, still tugging at his holstered revolver.
Then a look of utter amazement spread suddenly over the second bandit’s face. The incredulous expression was still on his knife scarred features when he died. For as Patrolman Murphy hit the floor his service revolver came out at last—blazing.
The officer’s first two bullets crashed through the scar-faced bandit’s heart and stomach. The next three zinged near Blue Jowls’ head as he whirled and fled. The sixth never was fired because at that instant Patroman Murphy was gripped by a spasm of agony.
He writhed convulsively and rolled over on his back, dead — five bullets in his body. Stretched out alongside him was the scar-faced bandit’s body. Crumpled at his feet was the mortally wounded boy, Brassard.
It was thus that Patrolman Joseph Miller found them when, gun in hand, he dshed into the gasoline-station. Hearing the gun battle four blocks away, he’d sprinted to the scene in time catch a glimpse of a gray sedan disappearing into the night.
In the restroom he found Higgins, stunned by the slaughter but unhurt.
Higgins explained that he and Patrolman Murphy, off duty and in plain clothes, had dropped in at the filling-station only a few minutes before to make a telephone call. Murphy had been thumbing through his note-book in search of the number when the two bandits strode in behind their guns —
“Scar Face,” who was to die, and Blue Jowls, who was to kill and escape.
Their first command had been: “Get in that restroom, all of you!” It was at this moment that the patrolman had conceived his daring and fatal plan.
Seconds later the ponderous machinery of the police department was whirling with incredible speed, for nothing electrifies a police force like the dreaded alarm that an officer has been slain.
Even while Patrolman Miller breathlessly was phoning his first sketchy report, the wires were humming. High officials were tumbling out of bed, ambulances and squad cars were wailing through the streets toward the filling station at 181st Street and Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica, Long Island. And the police radio was droning, “All cars, all cars,” drawing strategic cordons in a desperate attempt to head off the fleeing bandit car. The hour was 3 a.m., aiding our chances of spotting the getaway machine—we hoped. The day was January 7, 1933.
Coordinating the maelstrom of action was the telegraph bureau in Jamaica Police Headquarters, where two tense operators, Patrolmen Frank Seitz and Vincent Valentine, sat with earphones clamped to their heads, relaying the details to the various bureaus as fast as they received them from the officer at the scene of the crime.
Ten minutes later the gasoline station was swarming with uniformed men and detectives headed by Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach, Inspector John J. Gallagher, Captain Herbert graham, Lieutenant Henry Flattery and Lieutenant James Fogarty. Also there were my own superior, District Attorney Charles S. Colden, now a county court judge, and Medical Examiner Howard W. Neail.
There was something grimly awesome in the way they went about their work. Few words were spoken, few orders given. Each man knew his duty; each man did it. One additional witness was found, the night manager of a near-by lunch-wagon.
“I ran outside when I heard the shots,” he said. “I saw a man jump out of a car and run to the door of the gas-station with a gun in his hand. He bumped into another guy who was just running out. Both of them jumped into the car and sped away. I wasn’t close enough to get a look at their faces.”
“Calling all cars…all cars…” the police radio was droning a correction a split minute later. “Two men in the getaway car…dark gray sedan…a Plymouth, a Chevy, Dodge or a Willys-Knight…”
Higgins contributed the information that the killer had been wearing a gray overcoat.
“What’d he look like?” Inspector Gallagher asked tersely.
Higgins’ brows puckered thoughtfully. He said slowly:
“He was about five feet ten, dark skin and his eyes, uh!”
“What about his eyes?”
It was an involuntary, chorused grunt from the assembled detectives. Killer’s eyes! Would they ever find a murder witness who didn’t say the same thing?
Higgins caught the significance of the grunt and flamed with indignation.
“That’s how I’ll know him if you ever catch him!”
District Attorney Colden looked at Higgins with more than usual interest.
“Tell us about his eyes.”
“Well, they were dark, almost black. But that wasn’t it—there was something peculiar about them. Their shape —I can’t explain it. They didn’t seem to match his face.”
Where should the officers begin a hunt for such a killer?
Medical Examiner Neail and Ambulance Surgeon McKenna had been working frantically over Brassard, the wounded gas-station attendant. Neail now straightened, turned to the police officials.
“He’s semi-conscious, but I doubt if you’ll ever get a chance to question him.”
“Get any information out of him?”
“Not much. He keeps mumbling, ‘The money–the money–don’t shoot.’ Once he said, “Three men in car—holdup–get back in the shack—‘ I couldn’t get any more than that.”
The cash register rang as Inspector Gallagher tapped the “no sale” key.
“Well, they didn’t get anything,” he said. “There’s more than $60 in the till.”
Brassard was carried out and taken quickly to a hospital. He died a few hours later.
Detective Sam Clarke of the Homicide Bureau was busy taking pictures of the two bodies on the floor. Inspector Gallagher turned to District Attorney Colden.
“As soon as Clarke gets through we’ll take that dead punk’s fingerprints and go through his pockets to see if we can learn who he is. If the radio cars don’t intercept those other two, we may never find them. We’ll have to track down every person this bandit ever knew and rely on Higgins to identify the killer.”
District Attorney Colden glanced sharply at the Inspector. This was the Prohibition era when café society courted the companionship of gang leaders and the lower strata of the social order aped the glamorous movie versions of the yellow rats. It was the bootleg era of violent deaths and of spurious caginess on the part of witnesses in answering questions.
“Jail anyone who doesn’t cooperate!” ordered District Attorney Colden. “Charge them with obstructing justice! Tolerate no nonsense! Pamper no one!”
He was about to warn the detectives to take no chances, but a look at the grim faces of the officer’s crowded about him told him it would be futile.
“I’ve seen this bum before!”
The exclamation came from Detective George Brautigan. He’d just entered the gas-station and was looking down at the dead bandit. His brother officers crowded around him.
“I don’t know his name,” Brautigan added, “but he’s one of the punks who used to hang around the Green Parrot when I was a patrolman in Ridgewood.”
Every member of Brautigan’s audience knew exactly what he meant.
The Green Parrot was a suspicious speakeasy seven miles distant from the gasoline-station, in the Ridgewood section of the city which includes part of Brooklyn and Queens.
Brautigan’s memory was corroborated a minute later when the slain bandit’s pockets yielded an auto key and a pocketbook containing a pawn ticket, various speakeasy cards, personal cards and telephone numbers, and a chauffeur’s license.
A photograph of the dead bandit was attached to the license. It identified him as Francisco Illardi, 21 years of age, of No. 502 Knickerbocker Avenue, which is in the Ridgewood section of Brooklyn.
Dawn, cold and gray, was streaking the sky in the east when squad car after squad car loaded with detectives roared away from the gasoline-station on what was to be one of the most grim and astounding manhunts in New York police annals.
Their orders were simple: Comb the city for Illardi’s friends and relatives! Drag them out of bed! Bring in anyone hesitating to talk! Find out who was with Illardi when he was last seen alive!
Lieutenant Flattery returned to Jamaica Police Headquarters to coordinate the activities of the detective as they telephoned their reports. District Attorney Colden, Inspector Gallagher and Deputy Police Commissioner Leach prepared to face the public’s shocked howl of rage when Jamaica awoke and read of the slaughter in its morning newspapers.
Detectives Frank Heyner and Harry Kraus were the first to report. They’d been assigned to some of the leads furnished by the cards and phone numbers found in Illardi’s pocketbook.
“We’ve found a young fellow who knows Illardi but he’s afraid to talk,” Heyner phoned.
“Bring him in!” gritted Lieutenant Flattery, now an acting-captain in charge of the detective squads.
Rushed to Jamaica Police Headquarters in a squad car, the youth identified himself, established an unassailable alibi and admitted he had known Illardi five years. But then he began to hedge.
He didn’t know that two of his interrogators were Assistant Director Attorneys William Gautier and David Dugan and that no harm could come to him. He knew only that instantly a circle of silent, stern-faced men closed in on him ominously.
He knew they meant business when he heard Lieutenant Flattery utter the word, “talk,” in an soft purring tone which conveyed untold horrors to him if he didn’t comply. He talked.
“I–I seldom ever see Illardi,” he stammered. “He–he’s got a bad reputation.”
“When did you see him last?”
“A week ago”
The youth said he’d been driving past a row of private garages near Wyckoff Avenue and Hancock Street, in Ridgewood, when Illardi hailed him and borrowed a screw-driver to fix his car. He protested he didn’t know what kind of a car Illardi had, nor did he know the garage where it was kept.
“I drove right on,” the youth explained. “I don’t go with him any more. He—he’s got a criminal record now. I just gave him my address so he could return the screw-driver. He—he hasn’t returned it yet.”
“He’s dead!” snapped Lieutenant Flattery. “You needn’t be afraid of him any more.”
Detectives Heyner and Frank Wagenbrenner were given the auto key found in Illardi’s pocket and were dispatched to Ridgewood to search the garages mentioned by the youth.
“It may be the getaway car,” Flattery pointed out to them.
Then, with a wave of his hand in the direction of the youth, he added, “We’re going to find a lot of this hedging in this case. They’re all going to be afraid to talk. Illardi’s record shows he was a tough, vicious rat. His two pals must be worse.”
Unknown to Flattery, his observation was being verified that very moment. Detectives George Brautigan and John Magner were standing in the living-room of the address Illardi had given on his chauffeur’s license as his home. Grouped about them were the slain gangsters relatives, heavy-lidded with interrupted sleep but suspicious and apprehensive, too.
Reacting to a normal pattern, they gave up a few details under the persistent hammering of the detectives, with Illardi’s brother answering most of the questions while the others bobbed their heads in vigorous agreement.
Illardi, it developed, was estranged from his family. They hadn’t seen him in more than a year. A woman, and not trouble he’d once been in with the police, was at the bottom of the estrangement, they maintained.
They didn’t know where Illardi was living but they suggested that his two best friends might know.
When more questions elicited no additional information the news of Illardi’s death was broken to the family.
For a stunned moment there was silence, followed by riveted looks of consternation at each other. Then came a storm of lamentations, loud cries and beating of breasts and appeals to Heaven for vengeance on the men who had led Illardi to his death.
When the stomr subsided, the detectives renewed their questioning. Instantly fear settled like a gripping, living thing on the family group.
No, they didn’t think they could be of any help I ntracking down Illardi’s bandit pals. No, they didn’t have the faintest inkling of his other friends.
Hastening to the shoe factory where Illardi’s relatives had said the slain youth’s “two best friends” worked, the detectives singled out the two when they came to work a few minutes before the morning whistle blew.
Questioned separately, they proved to be straightforward, clean-cut youths and they told virtually identical stories. They hadn’t seen Illardi in six months and didn’t particularly care to see him, they said.
Why? Illardi had got into trouble with the police, then he had quit his job and had become a “cake-eater,” they said, mluthing with disdain the word “cake-eater.”
“Yes, I know where he was living six months ago,” one of them responded to a query, “but I don’t know if he’s still living there.”
At the address given by the youth, Detectives Brautigan and Magner found “the woman.”
“Yes, I’m Mrs. Illardi,” she said. She appeared harassed and worried., as though she’d spent a sleepless night.
The detectives brushed silently into the apartment. The woman’s eyes grew large with fear. An eight-year-old pajama-clad girl appeared in an inner doorway.
“Is this Illardi’s daughter?” Detective Magner inquired absently.
Magner’s head jerked around. His eyes fixed the woman accusingly.
“Illardi’s only twenty-one years old!”
“He is not!” the woman flamed. “He’s thirty. I’m twenty-nine.”
She lapsed into indignant silence.
What was this? The police records listed Illardi as 21 years old.
Detective Brautigan was going quetly through the apartment, opening closets, bureau drawers, desks and other places of concealment.
“Where is your husband?” Detective Magner asked the woman.
She put a trembling hand on the head of her daughter, who was now clinging to her gown.
“Didn’t he come home last night?”
The woman hesitated.
“No,” she said finally.
“Who’d he go out with?”
“I—I don’t know.”
“Who does he usually go out with?”
“He—he never says. He doesn’t bring any of his friends home. I don’t know them.”
“None of them?”
It was obvious the woman was afraid. Detective Brautigan returned and showed her a bondsman’s business card he’d found in the desk.
“What did you need this for?” he asked.
“That’s my husband’s. He—he got it a few months ago when he—he was helping some friend. I don’t know who. He wasn’t in any trouble himself.”
The detectives shifted their tactics. As gently as possible they broke the news to the woman that Illardi would never come home alive. Minutes later, when her first wave of sobbing misery has passed, she lifted appealing eyes to the detectives.
“What—what am I going to do?”
“We’ll help you all we can,” said Brautigan softly. “But, first you must tell me what you know. You can’t help your husband or your daughter by concealing anything now.”
The woman nodded in despair. Slowly, painfully, the detectives drew from her the names of Thomas Margolo and Dominick LaBianca. They were the only two friends of her husband she’d met, she said.
Her description of both men fitted that of the killer of Murphy and Brassard. Brautigan and Magner looked at each other significantly. Did one of these friends have “killer’s eyes”?
“Where do they live?” Brautigan inquired.
The woman didn’t know. Except for two visits they’d made to her home, she’d seen them only on the street or in speakeasies in the neighborhood of Myrtle and Wyckoff Avenues, Ridgewood.
This was the neighborhood in which Brautigan had seen Illardi years before. It now was being combed by other detectives.
“Did your husband go out with Margolo and LaBianca last night?” Brautigan asked.
“I don’t think so,” the woman answered. “He went out about nine o’clock and said he’d be back in a fiew minutes. I waited up for him all night.”
Brautigan and Magner left her then and went to the address on the card they’d found in Illardi’s home. They found the bondsman reading a newspaper account of the staggering crime at his breakfast table when they walked into his home.
“Sure, I gave that card to Illardi six months ago,” explained the bondsman. “He was interested in bailing a couple friends but he couldn’t get up the collateral. I don’t know if he got ‘em out.”
“What were their names?”
:Let’s see, now. Wait—I think I still have a note on it.” The bondsman rummaged through a pile of papers in a cubby hole in his desk. “Yeah. Here it is—something up in your own territory in Queens. A gas-station stickup. Two fellows, Red Murphy and Thomas Margolo, held in $7,500 bail each.”
Red Murphy? Could this be an alias for Dominick LaBianca?
The bondsman’s face was blank. “Never heard of him.”
The two detectives phoned their report to Lieutenant Flattery.
“Stand by,” he directed. A few minutes later Flattery phoned back.
“The District Attorney’s office reports that Red Murphy—his first name’s Joseph—and Thomas Margolo were bailed five months ago,” he said. “Some other bondsman put up the bond. Margolo lives at 721 Hart Street. Murphy lives at 1022 Greene Avenue.
Get Margolo. I’ll send another squad to get Murphy.”
If either of these men was the blue-jowled bandit, how many more officers would be killed before the capture?
The squad sent to get Murphy was composed of Detectives William Jackson, Thomas Coote and Irving Higgins of the Homicide Squad and Detective Peter Thornton of the police precinct covering Ridgewood.
Detective Thornton, leading the Homicide detectives through Ridgewood, already had uncovered the names Margolo and Murphy as friends of Illardi.
“I know that fellow Murphy,” said Thornton. “I once picked him up on suspicion in connection with a butcher-shop stickup. But I had to let him go. I didn’t have enough on him.”
The name of Dominick LaBianca meant nothing to Thornton, however.
“If I know him at all it’s under another name,” said Thornton. “Maybe it’s an alias for Margolo.”
Brautigan and Magner of the squad seeking Margolo were walking along Wyckoff Avenue to get their auto when they spotted Detectives Wagenbrenner and Heyner buzzing taxi chauffeurs. This was the street where the first man picked up had said he saw Illardi and loaned him a screw-driver to fix his car.
Always careful never to upset a brother officer’s play, the fou detectives silently signaled each other. A minute later they met around a corner.
“I think we’ve got the getaway car,” said Wagenbrenner. “And I think we’ve got a lead on the killer through a friend of his. His name’s Arena! Frank Arena!”
“Arena!” echoed Brautigan and Magner in unison.
“Yeah, we just got it,” cut in Heyner.
Murphy! Margolo! LaBianca. Arena! The number of suspects was mounting with each passing hour. And Murphy was the only name recognized by any of the police. How could the others be traced?
Wagenbrenner went on to explain how the lead to the suspected getaway car had been obtained.
“Heyner and I came down here and made the renting agent ope the whole bunch of garages along here. We must have examined forty cars before we found one which Illardi’s auto key would fit.
“But here’s the pay-off. The garage wasn’t rented in Illardi’s name. It was rented in the name of Frank Arena! And the agent’s description of Arena doesn’t fit Illardi. It fits the killer—the blue-joweled guy!”
“Did the agent have Arena’s address?”
“Sure, but it was a phony. The agent’s positive, though, that Arena lives around here. He thinks Arena’s a fine fellow, says he always pas his rent in advance and all that sort of stuff.”
“When did you last call in?” Brautigan asked.
“We phoned Flattery about an hour ago, as soon as we found the car,” Heyner replied. “He’s checking the motor number and plates now.”
They called the Lieutenant and told him about Arena.
“That jibes with what I’ve got,” ex-claimed Lieutenant Flattery. “That auto was stolen three months ago in Manhattan. The license plates were stolen four days ago from another car in Brooklyn.
“You’re on a hot trail. All four of you concentrate on Arena. Margolo’s out under heavy bail. He can’t get very far away. You can pick him up later.”
The four detectives split up to canvass the cab-drivers and lessees of the private garages. Surely one of them would know Arena!
A half hour later the lessee of one of the garages told them:
“I drove in about three o’clock this morning. The garage of that fellow you call Arena was empty then. I happened to notice it because the door was ajar.”
An hour later, a taxi-driver who recognized Arena’s description told them:
“Yeah, I know who you mean. I picked him up one rainy night in front of those garages. I drove him to Green Avenue in the twelve hundred block, to a grocery store.”
It added up. A stolen auto that answered the description of the getaway car. It’d been out on the street at the time of the murders. And Arena had given a phony address when he’d rented the garage. But what about the Green Avenue grocery store?
“That’s enough,” grated Brautigan. “Let’s case that store.”
Detective Wagenbrenner, acting for the group, essayed to get a line on the owners of the grocery store by questioning a few of the housewives near by. Ten minutes later he returned.
“The people who run the grocery store are named LaBianca!” he exclaimed. “And they have a son about twenty-six years of age who answer the description of the killer! But these housewieves arent’ sure that the son still lives with his folks.”
Were Arena and LaBianca one and the same man? Or was Arena a friend of LaBianca? Possibly they used the grocery store as a meeting place. Mrs. Illardi had named Dominick LaBianca as a friend of her dead husband. Was this the friend? And how could the detectives learn this without arousing suspicion?
Representing himself as a bookmaker, Detective Brautigan sauntered into the store. A young dark-haired girl smiled at him from behind the counter. Brautigan pulled out a roll of bills.
“Call Tommy, the lucky stiff,” Brautigan said casually, using the nickname for Dominick. “I’ve got a lot of cabbage here for him.”
The girl’s eyes widened in mingled interest and puzzlement.
“Green leaves, Sister.” Brautigan flourished the bills. “Dough. It’s the pay-off. It breaks my heart and my pocketbook, too. But it’s all part of the racket. Win today, lose tomorrow. Tommy hit me for a long shot yesterday. Were you in on it?”
The girl hardly could draw her eyes from the bills Brautigan slowly was counting out on the counter. When she lifted her face, undisguised concern was written there.
“Tommy isn’t here right now,” she offered tentatively.
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Brautigan’s tone was one of great sadness. With a sweep of his hand he gathered up the bills and nonchalantly put them back in his pocket. “I can’t wait, you know. I told Tommy I’d be around to pay off at noon today if he hit that long shot, because I’m heading for the tracks down South.”
“Wait, Mister!” the girl cried. “My brother lives in the next block. He just moved there last week. Maybe that’s where he thought you’d meet him.”
Fearful that the girl might phone her brother, the four detectives raced to the address she gave, an apartment on the top floor of a three-story building at No. 1165 Greene Avenue.
The officers didn’t bother to knock. They burst in, guns drawn.
The scream of an attractive, blue eyed blonde mingled with the crash of the door. A three-month-old baby raised a wail in its crib.
A blue jowled, pajama-clad young man with blazing dark eyes tried to spring out of bed. The detectives pounced on him.
“Got in late, eh, Dominick?” BRautigan baited.
“What’s it to you, Copper?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t give a damn.” LaBianca’s lips wreathed in a sneer. “You aint got nothing on me.”
He had something there. Except for Higgins’ possible identification, they didn’t have much to connect him with the holdup slayings. Unless, of course, they found the murder gun or some other incriminating evidence.
Brushing aside the protests of the blonde, who was shrilling, “Leave my husband alone!” He hasn’t done anything! Let him alone!”, they began to ransack the apartment. They had to find evidence!
The bed was torn apart. The contents of closets and bureau drawers were dumped on the floor. Carpets were pulled up and the floor and wall examined for hiding places. A phonography and a radio were almost dismantled. Still they found nothing incriminating.
Even the baby carriage was turned virtually inside out after Mrs. LaBianca had been compelled to take the child in her arms. The search then spread to the hallways and the roof, where Brautigan dove into a pigeon loft and came out covered with feathers but no evidence.
“I’ll be!” he exploded. “Not even a bullet, much less a gun.”
“And we’ll never get a thing out of that tough egg downstairs,” lamented Wagenbrenner, who was on the roof with Brautigan.
They returned to the apartment. Contemptuously, his eyes gleaming with self-complacency, LaBianca refused to answer any questions, no matter how innocent they appeared to be. It was obvious that under his enraged stolidity of manner he concealed a sharp cunning—the cunning of hardened criminals who seal their own lips lest their shrewdest answeres betreay an incriminating knowledge.
So the detectives were sure they had a “hot one,” but what could they do about it?
Questioned in a separate room, Mrs. LaBianca wasn’t sure of the time her husband got home but admitted that it had been late.
“I was asleep,” she said. “He was visiting relatives in Manhattan and afterwards he went to a crap game over there, he told me when he came home.”
“I thought you were asleep!” Brautigan countered.
“He woke me up when he got into bed,” the blonde flashed back. “I didn’t look at the clock.”
Brautigan and Wagenbrenner joined Heyner and Magner in the next room, where they were guarding LaBianca. Heyner was busy poking through a pile of odds and ends dumped on the floor from a dressing-table drawer.
“Oh, oh!” Heyner suddenly held aloft an auto key. He glanced significantly at Wagenbrenner. “Let’s see that key you have.”
Wagonbrenner produced the key that had been found on the slain bandit’s body. Heyner put the two keys together.
Brautigan whirled on LaBianca, who, still clad in pajamas, was sitting impassively on the edge of the topsy-turvy bed.
“Get up and get dressed, you bum,” Brautigan commanded. “You’re under arrest!”
LaBianca lifted mocking eyes and stared coldly, steadily at the detective.
“What for, Copper? He sneered. “You can’t pin that on me.”
Nevertheless, LaBianca got dressed. Rushed to the private garages, he looked on contemptuously while the detectives tried his key on the suspected getaway car.
The key fitted the lock!
But LaBianca still wouldn’t talk. And he maintained his sneering defiance even when Lieutenant Flattery and Assistant District Attorneys Gautier and Dugan hammered questions at him at Jamaica Police Headquarters.
LaBianca was held on suspicion. Although he was linked to Illardi, the slain bandit, by the auto key, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with the murders. For that matter, there was no conclusive evidence that the stolen auto found in the private garage had been used in the crime.
And that meant there was no worthwhile evidence against him. The double murder still was unsolved.
“Nothing left but that witless Higgins’ possible identification,” said Flattery heavily.
Gautier and Dugan slumped into chairs. Higgins wasn’t scheduled to return to Jamaica Police Headquarters for several hours; he’d been up all night and most of the morning. But it didn’t matter if Higgins put the finger on LaBianca. That would not be conclusive in itself.
Considering the conditions under which he’d seen the killer, Higgins easily could make a mistake and identify anyone who looked like the killer.
While Flattery, Dugan and Gautier debated the matter, Detectives Thornton, Jackson Higgins and Coote, on the trail of Red Murphy, were sweeping down on a bungalow-shack on Kimball Street in the Brooklyn flatlands, and and Detectives Magner and Brautigan were speeding back to Ridgewood on the rail of Margolo. Still other detectives were keeping the store of LaBianca’s parents and the Murphy and LaBianca homes under contant surveillance.
One lead on Murphy already had failed.
When they’d crashed into Murphy’s home, Detectives Thornton, Jackson, Higgins and Coote had been surprised to find it deserted. There wasn’t even a sign of Murphy’s wife and two children, one a boy of four, the other a 20-month old baby. Neither was there any evidence of a hasty departure.
On Thornton’s suggestion, the squad then had headed for the desolate flatlands home of Mrs. Murphy’s mother. Now as they came within sight of the bungalow they slid out of their auto and approached the two-room building from the front and rear.
Guns drawn, they barged in. Murphy’s startled wife and her mother and the children were in the rear room. Murphy was sprawled sound asleep on a bed in the front room.
“Get dressed, Red,” ordered Thornton, shaking the sleeping man.
Murphy made no effort to pretend he didn’t recognize Thornton.
“All right, Pete,” he said.
There was nothing belligerent about him. He seemed crestfallen. While he dressed, his wife and her mother were questioned in the other room.
“Joe came home at eleven o’clock last night,” Mrs. Murphy responded quietly to a query.
“Eleven?” repeated Detective Jackson. “Then what’s he doingi n bed now? It’s almost two o’clock.”
“He didn’t feel well.”
Murphy’s mother –in-law had no idea when he came in.
“I went to be early,” she said.
Eleven o’clock? If true, Murphy couldn’t have been one of the slaying bandits. The crime had been committed at three o’clock in the morning.
Concealing their chagrin, but remaining careful to say nothing that would tip Murphy to the crime they were trying to link him with, the officers search the canty quarters. They found no evidence to connect him with the murders. Then Murphy did something that kept the detectives rooted in their tracks.
He picked up his children, one after another, and held them close for a long time, his eyes closed, uttering no sound.
Then, kissing his wife, he looked into her pain-stricken eyes and said, “Don’t worry, Dear.”
It wasn’t what he did, exactly, nor what he said, that moved the officers. But there was something in his leave-taking like that of a man going on a long journey, something emotion stirring.
What was going on in his mind?
The detectives played on Murphy’s mood. Not once during the long ride back to Headquarters did they say a word, either to Murphy or to each other. Twice Murphy volunteered some general observation. No one answered. He lapsed into silence. It was like a funeral car.
At Headquarters the same procedure was followed. Seated in a chair in front of the desk of Lieutenant Fogarty of the Homicide Squad, with his captors seated on either side of him in a semicircle, Murphy was treated to nothing but silent, cold stares.
For ten minutes Lieutenant Fogarty did not even look up from some papers he was examining. Then, leaning back in his chair, he, too, glared mutely at Murphy. Not a word was spoken.
Gradually Murphy’s uneasiness showed itself. Sitting there, awaiting the unknown, he felt his mouth get dry. He licked his lips. Unconsciously he began to fidget.
Abruptly a door was flung open. Detectives Magner and Wagenbrenner entered, gripping Margolo by the arms. Murphy turned his head. A look of surprised joy flashed across his face. It was as though a great weight had lifted suddenly from his shoulders.
Margolo was hurried across the room and through another door. And when Murphy turned back to find himself staring into five pairs of eyes piercing with supreme contempt, the officers knew that he wondered fearfully if somehow, someway, he’d made a mistake.
Still the detectives said nothing. They simply watched while fresh anxieties seized Murphy in their torturing grip. As his imagination raced feverishly, spinning new fears, the blood drained slowly from his face. Tiny beads of perspiration broke out on his forehead. The silence became an oppressive thing, suggestive of the grave. Unwittingly Murphy wrung his hands.
But would he do more than that?
Lieutenant Fogarty pressed a button under his desk. There was a commotion at the door. It flew open. Murphy turned, stiffened.
For just an instant LaBianca, his hair disheveled, his tie askew, was framed in the doorway. Then he was hustled roughly across the room by Lieutenant Flattery and Detective Brautigan.
Murphy’s lips trembled. He gulped. He turned to Detective Thornton., pleading with his eyes. He tried to speak. He couldn’t. He tried again.
“P-Pete,” he managed to say, “P-Pete, I don’t want to burn. Pete–“
Thornton waved his hand in the direction of Lieutenant Fogarty, said nothing. Murphy looked helplessly at the Lieutenant.
“Your only chance not to burn is to spill it.” Said Fogarty quietly. “But I can promise you nothing.”
As simply as that it started. Uncertainly, like a thin stream of water finding a weak spot in a kike, Murphy’s words started. Then, as the breach widened, they gained momentum and gushed forth violently until suddenly his entire reserve gave way.
“I only drove the car! “ he cried. “I didn’t do any shooting! LaBianca did it!” He swung toward Thornton. “Pete! Tell’em! You know me, Pete! You know I wouldn’t kill!”
When his confession was complete he admitted participating in 30 holdups of gas-stations and butcher-shops with LaBianca, Margolo and Illardi.
“I usually drove the car,” he said. “Once Margolo and I went out on a job alone. We got caught. But he wasn’t with us last night, so I figured maybe you only picked me up again on that old rap when Margolo came in. But when you dragged Labianca in I knew right off you had us cold.”
“What did you do with the guns?” Lieutenant Fogarty inquired.
“LaBianca has them. He usually hides them in the cellar under his father’s store.”
Word was flashed to Detective Kraus, who had the store under surveillance. An hour later Kraus phone: “We tore that cellar apart. There are no guns there nor in any other place in this building. We went through it from the roof to the cellar.”
Confronted with Murphy’s confession, LaBianca remained imperturbable until told that his parents were going to be jailed for concealing the guns. Then LaBianca betrayed his first weakness.
“They had nothing to do with it,” he protested. “Lay off them and I’ll tell you where the guns are.” Assured of this concession, he went on. “I hid them in the cellar all right. But I got to thinking about the shooting. Then my father came to my place this morning. I was in bed. I had him get the guns and hid them some place else. They’re in a small black bag. He didn’t even know guns were in the bag.”
“Where did you tell him to hid the bag?”
“In an empty flat at 135 Menahan Street.”
The black bag was found in the vacant flat, concealed in a hole behind a fireplace. The bag contained three revolvers. Ballistics tests proved that Patrolman Murphy and young Brassard had been killed by bullets from on of the guns.
The witness Higgins later picked LaBianca out of the line-up.
“That’s the killer,” he said. “I can tell by the Oriental cast in his eyes.”
Thus, less than fourteen hours after the crime was committed, the cse was solved and the criminals arrested. And to the average layman it would appear that Murphy and LaBianca were headed straight for the electric chair. Margolo, of course, did not face charges in connection with the murder.
But prosecutors are never so confident. Convictions are not obtained that easily. We took no chances. We had two murder indictments returned against each man, one for the murder of Patrolman Murphy and one for the murder of the attendant, Brassard. It was fortunate that we did.
Detailed to prosecute the two confessed criminals, I tried them first for the murder of the patrolman. They had a clever defense. LaBianca appeared in court wearing a pair of ten-cent glasses to conceal the wicked cast of his eyes and to give him a more dignified appearance. Then both frankly admitted all their previous holdups but contended that on the night of the murders they did not intend to hold up the Jamaica gasoline-station.
“We went there with Illardi, just to keep him company,” said LaBianca. “Illardi was a bootlegger and he was supposed to meet another bootlegger there. Then I saw this Patrolman Murphy in plan clothes with a gun and I thought he was a killer for another mob, so I let him have it.
“Gee, if I’d “a” known he was a cop, I’d ‘a ‘ let him shoot me before I’d pull a trigger,” was the version LaBianca tried to impress upon the jury “I should ‘a’ let him shoot me first.”
Murphy said he had gone along just for the ride.
There was just a tinge of truth to their story. No money had been taken from the cash register. And except for Brassard’s dying statement and their own stickup records, there was little evidence that they’d intended to stick up the gasoline-staion that nigh.
In any event the jury gave LaBianca the benefit of the flimsy doubt. He was convicted of only second-degree murder.
But the verdict on Murphy almost caused him to swoon. The jury agreed that he was not guilty!
It must be remembered that this was the prohibition era when the public looked u0on murdering gangsters as glamorous knights.
Neither Murphy nor LaBianca cared to stretch his luck any farther , however. When I prosecuted them for the murder of Brassard, they both asked for and were granted permission to plead guilty to second –degree murder.
Each was sentenced by County Judge Thomas C. Kadien to serve 30 years to life in Sing Sing.