Dumbbells I Have Known
I have spent most of my life chasing murderers. During my 37 years as a police officer, I’ve been on the trail of some 200 of them…and have caught up with enough to know that there is no such animal as “the typical killer.”
A murderer comes in all shapes, sizes and mentalities. He can be weak, tough, shrewd or stupid. Sometimes he’s easy to catch, usually he’s not.
Some plot for a long time before committing what they hope will be the perfect crime. Others who make crime their business are like professionals in any field, they seldom make mistakes. But many killers strike in the white heat of anger…thoughtlessly, foolishly, passionately. And when they do they always make a mistake, always leave an obvious clue. I call this their “calling card.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Captain Henry Flattery
Drawing on a history of more than 30 years with the New York Police Department, Captain Henry Flattery, Ret., is able to spin one fascinating crime story after another, working from his first-hand knowledge of more than 200 homicide investigations.
Take, for example, this foolish, pasionate murder: A few minutes before five on the morning of January 19, 1931, a cab driver rushed into the emergency room of Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, Long Island, and shouted: “There’s a hit-and-run victim in my cab! I think he’s dying!”
The cabbie was only half right. The man was dying — he didn’t last until dawn — but he was no ordinary hit and run victim. A quick examination disclosed deep, severe burns all over his body. One of his shoes was missing.
Who could forget running down
a man, dragging him through
the streets for a mile?
The attending surgeon telephoned the Jamaica police station and in a few minutes two detectives from the Jamaica homicide squad were at the hospital. A search of the man’s clothing gave his identity: George Langan, age 26, a chef. From the cab driver, the detectives learned that Langan had been lying in the middle of the intersection of 89th and Jamaica Avenues. An elevated train ran overhead.
“Could these be third rail burns?” asked one officer.
“Not a chance,” the doctor replied. “the look like friction burns, only I never saw any so deep.”
Little information was uncovered at the scene. Langan’s missing shoe was found close by, the entire sole burned away. Blood, if there had been any, had been covered by a heavy snowfall. A query to headquarters from the police box on the corner revealed that the patrolman on the beat had phoned in an “All quiet” at 4:40 A.M.
For exactly 30 minutes, it appeared that we were faced with a brand new “ride” technique, a gangland killing that would take weeks of digging to solve. Then a state trooper in civilian clothes walked into the Jamaica station house.
“I think I saw a hit-and-run accident about 45 minutes ago,” he said. Instantly he had everyone’s attention. This was his story:
He had been driving past 161st Street and Jamaica Avenue at about 4:45 A.M. when he heard men shouting. It looked as though they were running down the middle of Jamaica Avenue chasing a car. Then someone on the corner noticed the trooper and shouted at him: “Stop that Nash! He just hit somebody!”
Swinging into Jamaica Avenue, the trooper gave chase and got close enough to get part of the Nash’s plate number. It was in the T series. Then he skidded on the icy street and went off the road. In the meanwhile the car disappeared. When he drove back to where the men had hailed him, they said that the Nash had climbed the sidewalk, that the driver had intentionally run down a man named Langan, then raced away. Langan’s body had disappeared. Apparently, it had been dragged away by the car.
As it turned out, this is exactly what had happened. George Langan had been dragged for more than a mile before something — or someone — had shaken him loose at 86th Avenue.
Within an hour, we gathered some other useful information from the men on the corner and some other witnesses. All of them, along with Langan, had spent the evening in a brassy speakeasy nearby.
In the course of a long, hard-drinking night, Langan had gotten into three arguments and one fist fight. This left us with a platoon of suspects. But the most likely suspect was missing: he was a man who had gotten into a fight with Langan when Langan bought the man’s girl a drink.
None of the witnesses knew the suspect’s name or remembered him well enough to give us a good description. But they all remembered the girl: a tall, dark-haired beauty with quite a figure.
Now I felt better. We had a murder on our hands, true, but it was a typically stupid crime of impule and I was certain we’d have our man before the day was out.
That morning, one of my men was at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to check on the killer’s calling card — the segment of a license plate number spotted by the state trooper. It took more than two hours to check through some 5000 plates in teh T series and come up with the names of 27 Nash owneres.
Now this is what I meant by legwork and digging. It might be that we’d have to question each of those 27 men, but amont them we knew we’d find the one we were looking for.
We began with the likeliest candidates. One was a man name Tom Ransome. Although he lived in Brooklyn, he had bought his plates in Jamaica, indicating that he was familiar with the neighborhood. At his Brooklyn address, we learned that he had moved and left no forwarding address. We checked gas, electric and phone companies but failed to come up with a new address. Ransome was getting likelier all the time.
The lead that finally put us on his trail came from a neighbor, the sixth we’d questioned. Ransome’s wife had given their new address to the neighbor. It took the woman a half hour to find it, however. But we waited; like a soldier, a policeman learns to wait.
Our first sight of Mrs. Ransome was a surprise. Though a handsome woman, she was no dark-haired beauty and her figure was not the kind men would remember. Was Ransome just another name to check off an forget, after all?
Then things began looking up. The woman was Mrs. Ransome, all right, but she hadn’t seen her husband in weeks. He’d lefter her for “a cheap, hip-swinging hussy.” All she knew was that he used to have a restaurant on Hillside Avenue in Jamaica.
“If you find him,” she said, “let me know. I’ve got a warrant for his arrest.”
The restaurant was closed but not far from it we found our first real break: the death weapon, a 1925 Nash with a dented front fender and bits of clothing still clinging to the underside. It was in a parking lot across the street. A spot on the crankcase was shining bright. Something had rubbed against it just recently.
From the parking lot attendant, we found out that the car belonged to a “Mr. Moore.”
The attendant had no idea where Moore might be.
“Try the rooming houses first,” I told my men. “He wouldn’t be apt to take an apartment with his wife on the prowl for him.”
The search came to an end a block away. “Yes,” said a landlady, “there’s a Mr. Moore here. Second floor back.”
We went up the stairs and knocked.
We could hear a man whispering, but there was no movement.
“Police business,” I said. “You’ve got ten seconds before we knock the door in!”
The door opened. A man in pajamas with the red-eyed evidence of a hangover stood before us.
‘Your name Ransome?” I asked.
“Moore.” he answered. “My name’s Jim Moore.”
I looked past him. In the bed was a dark-haired girl.
“What’s this all about?” the man asked.
“Where were you last night””
“In a speakeasy on Jamaica Avenue.”
“i don’t remember. I got pretty loaded.”
“Did you get in a fight with anyone over the girl?” She was getting out of bed. Yes, that was a figure you wouldn’t forget.
“No. I didn’t fight with anyone.”
“Which way did you come home?”
“I don’t remember. I told you I was drunk.”
“Could you have hit anyone with your car?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Where’s your car?”
“In the parking lot on the next block.”
“We’ll have to take it down to headquarters for a check. Let’s have the key.”
“It’s in the glove compartment. Door’s open.”
“All right. You two better come along. “
At headquarters, the man finally admitted that his name was Ransome and that he was hiding out from his wife, but he stuck to his story that he didn’t remember anything about the night before except that he hadn’t hit anyone with his car.
“But if I did it was by accident. I was dead drunk.”
Now we had him. “You hit someone, all right, Ransome, but it was no accident. You got blind mad about Langan making a pass at your girl. You waited until he came out of the speak, then ran your car on the sidewalk to kill him. What’s more, you weren’t drunk enough to forget about it. If your memory was clear enough to remember that your car key was in the glove compartment and the door was open, it’s hard to believe you’d forget about running a man down and dragging him through the streets for a mile or more.”
The charge stuck. Just 12 hours had elapsed between Ransome’s crime and his booking. He was sentenced to 15 years for second-degree manslaughter.
The Cupcake Killer
During World War II, there was a man we called the “Cupcake Killer.” He got an unexpected break when his victim inadvertently threw suspicion on another man. In spite of that, and in spite of the Cupcake Killer’s clever ruse to throw us off, he was arrested within 24 hours. He had killed in an angry frenzy and left a calling card.
On a cold winter night in 1942, Patrolman Joseph Doyle was walking past the Dutch Reformed Church in Queens when he saw a light flicker in the dark churchyard. For a moment he stared into the blackness, wondering if he could have been mistaken. Then the light flared again. Doyle jumped the fence. Instantly the light died and there was the sound of running footsteps up the gravel drive. Doyle searched the area with his flashlight but could find no one.
He went back to where he had first seen the beam of light. No windows were broken in the church. There was no indication that anyone had tried to break in. Then Doyle saw the woman. She was lying just off the path. A green scarf was tightly knotted around her throat, which had been viciously slashed. She was young and had been pretty once. Now she wasn’t.
Ten minutes later, the churchyard was filled with policemen. Searchlights were set up and the medical examiner began inspecting the body.
As I listened to Doyle’s story, it struck me that the killer must have lit some matches after the woman was dead: he wouldn’t require any light to strangle her or cut her throat, and even if he did she’d be unlikely to hold still while he used his hands to light a match. That being the case, the killer must have been looking for something, her purse if he was a mugger, something that belonged to him if he wasn’t.
“Cover every inch of the yard,” I instructed my men. “I’m looking for a calling card.”
But, except for a bakery carton of cupcakes, nothing was turned up. There were no signs of a struggle.
The medical examiner made his report: “She probably died a few minutes before Doyle spotted her. Strangled with the scarf. Those cuts are funny. Not one big one but a whole series of little ones, as if the killer had used a small knife. And not a very sharp one at that. No matter. The scarf’s what killed her.”
By this time, quite a crowd had gathered outside the churchyard although it was almost 2 A.M. Hoping to get a lead on the dead woman’s identity, I asked them to file by and have a look at her. They did, but it brought no results.
Back at headquarters, I went through a pile of Missing Persons reports. There was nothing matching a description of our murder victim. It seemed to me that if the woman had been carrying a box of cupcakes, she might have a family. But if she had a family, why hadn’t they reported her missing?
Other things weren’t adding up, either. The case didn’t follow the pattern of the usual muggings. Muggers don’t use scarves, they used their forearms. And they certainly didn’t hack away at their victims’ throats with a dull knife. They weren’t interested in killing, only in stealing. They’d kill if they had to, but they wouldn’t stop to cut someone’s throat after they’d gotten what they wanted by strangling.
No, it looked like our killer had planned on murdering the girl, then tried to cover up by making it look like a mugging. If that was so, whatever the killer was looking for in the darkness must have belonged to him— and must be important to us.
Now a clearer, more logical picture began shaping up. The girl had entered the church yard with the killer. She knew him.
At 4:30 that morning, a patrolman found the victim’s purse five blocks from the church-yard. It matched her outfit and contained identification papers and a commutation ticket to freeport, Long Island. We phoned Nassau County police, outlined the crime and asked for a check on a Carol Dugan of Freeport.
Meanwhile, another discovery had been made. In the churchyard, detectives had uncovered the calling card I was hoping for: a small, bone-handled knife. It still had blood on it.
By morning, we had the report on the victim. Her name was Carol Dugan Tuttle. She worked in a large chain store not for from the church. Her husband was on his way to police headquarters.
Now things began to move quickly. Tuttle, obviously shaken by his wife’s death, answered all our questions forthrightly.
Why hadn’t he notified the police when his wife didn’t get home by, say, midnight?
“She stayed out late pretty often. I thought she’d missed the last train. I had to put the kids to bed. Then I went to be myself.”
Did he know of anyone who might want to kill her?
“Yes. That is, someone tried to kill her a couple of weeks ago. She came home about six in the morning, all beat up and cut. She said a sailor named Wright, John or Joe Wright, who used to work in her place had done it. She promised me she wouldn’t fool around any more.”
Detectives had uncovered the
calling card I was hoping for:
a small, bone-handled knife.
At a tavern near the churchyard, one of several we had been checking, we began unfolding the mystery of Carol’s last hours. She had been there the evening before, drinking with a man the bartender knew only as Bart. The bartender remembered the box of cupcakes.
“Was Bart a sailor?”
“No, a civilian.”
A check of the store where Carol had worked turned up a youngster who knew Bart well: “He’s Bart Rundall. Used to work here. He and Carol were sweet on each other.”
“Do you know a John or Joe Wright?
By now, I was convinced that the killer had tried to throw us a curve ball by making the murder look like a mugging. The question that remained, therefore, was which of Carol Tuttle’s after-hours friends, Rundall or Wright, was our man. We tried Rundall first.
A tall, rawboned young man man, he was shocked when we told him Carol was dead.”But I was with her last night,” he said.
“Yes,we know. Let’s hear about it.”
“Well, we went to this tavern where we always used to meet. We had a few drinks and talked. About midnight or a little after, we left. Carol went to the railroad station and I came home.”
“You didn’t walk through the churchyard with her?”
“Do you know a sailor named Wright?”
“What about Carol’s husband? Know him?”
Now Rundall looked even more shocked: “What do you mean, Carol’s husband? She’s not married. She was going to marry me.”
We took Rundall to headquarters, then began checking Carol’s friends in Freeport. We hit pay dirt with the first one, a girlfriend who remembered the time Carol had been beaten.
“She came to my house before she went home that night, the girl explained. “She said she was afraid to let her husband see her like that. I persuaded her it was best to face the music so she went home.”
“Did she tell you who did it?”
“She didn’t have to. I know this Bart Rundall she goes with. He has a terrible temper.”
“What about the sailor, Wright?”
The woman shook her head. “I don’t know of any sailor.”
We went to work on Rundall but he insisted that he had left Carol shortly after midnight, that he had never known she had a husband and three children by a previous marriage. Then came the big break, a letter we found among Carol’s things. It was from Rundall and it read:
“I know you are thinking of the children, but you don’t owe Harry anything.”
It was pretty clear now. Afraid to tell her husband about Rundall, Carol had invented the sailor named Wright — someone Tuttle could never check up on because he didn’t exist. As for Rundall, he was acting the injured innocent because if he could convince us that he didn’t know about Carol’s husband, he would have no motive for killing her. The letter made a liar out of him and a killer, as well. He had beaten Carol up because she wouldn’t leave her husband for him and he had murdered her for the same reason.
We were ready to play our ace. Calling in witness after witness, we showed them the little bone-handled knife we found in the churchyard and asked if they recognized it. Every one of them who knew Rundall identified it as the one he always carried on his key chain. Result: we had placed Rundall in the churchyard in contradiction to his statement; we knew what he was looking for when he lit the matches.
Caught dead to rights, Rundall finally confessed to Carol Tuttle’s murder and was given a 20 years to life sentence. He had gotten every break a killer could ask for: a phony suspect, a misleading motive and a chance to get away unseen. But he had stacked the cards too high against himself. He had killed in hast; he got plenty of opportunity to repent at leisure.
Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray
Thus far we have considered cases in which a murder committed in haste and anger resulted in the killer’s apprehension. Let us now take a look at a case in which the murder was carefully planned for two years…and then executed suddenly, blindly and foolishly.
I’m referring to the famous Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray case of the 1920’s. Here was a classic murder case embodying all the elements of drama and sex, plus a sensational trial and execution. To police officers it was sensational and classic for another reason: seldom had a murder been committed with such clumsiness and stupidity.
Although Ruth Snyder, a Queens housewife, and her corset salesman-paramour had planned the death of her husband for two years, so bedazzled were they by lust an liquor that not once did they consider the possibility of being caught. Passion guided their hands; ignorance sent them to the electric chair.
March 20, 1927, was just dawning when a hysterical child named Lorraine Snyder telephoned police headquarters and yelled, “My mother is all tied up! Robbers were here!”
A burglary detail hurried to a frame house on 222nd Street in Queens Village. Less than ten minutes later, they called headquarters and said to send out the homicide squad. Seems there was a dead man in the house.
We had to push our way through a mob of neighbors and curious passersby when we arrived at the house.
In an upstairs bedroom, Ruth Snyder, a good-looking blonde just past 30, sat with a piece of rope loosely hanging from one wrist. Her feet were still bound.
In the next room, Mr. Snyder was in bed. He would never again get out under his own power. Not only had his head been brutally bashed in, but his mouth and nose were stuffed with chloroform-soaked cotton strips and a piece of picture wire was tightly knotted around his throat. He was really dead.
“We went back to talk with Mrs. Snyder. This was her story:
She, her husband and her nine-year-old daughter, Lorraine, had been to a neighborhood party. Returning about 2 A.M., they had gone to bed. Sometime later, she had heard footsteps in the hall outside the bedroom. Thinking it might be Lorraine, Mrs. Snyder went to see if anything was wrong. Only it wasn’t Lorraine out in the hall. It was “a big, rough looking individual with a black mustache.” He hit Mrs. Snyder over the head with a club and knocked her out. When she came to hours later, she was on a bed in the spare room, tied and gagged. Dragging herself to Lorraine’s room, she had awakened the child and sent her for help.
If it hadn’t been tragic, it would have been laughable! That’s how obviously false her whole story was. We had been struck by inconsistencies the moment we entered the house; now they were getting ridiculous.
First, although Mrs. Snyder’s hands had been freed by neighbors, her feet were still tied when we got there. This was to show us how helpless the killer had left her.
Second, if the Snyder home had been invaded by a burglar, he might have beaten Albert Snyder with a heavy object, or chloroformed him, or strangled him. But since all three had been done, it was obvious that either the burglar had been a maniac or Mrs. Snyder was lying.
Inside of ten minutes, those possibilities were narrowed further. Although the house was in a state of disorder — drawers pulled out, clothing on the floor — there was a careful design to the jumble. Valuable linens, for example, were neatly stacked on chairs; a set of sterling silver lay untouched on a talbe, as did a mink coat. Jewels, which Mrs. Snyder promptl maintained had been stolen, were discovered hidden under a mattress. No matter how hard we looked and how many questions we asked, Mrs. Snyder could think of nothing that was actually missing, absolutely nothing.
We turned to other things. How had the burglar gotten into the house? Both doors were locked from the inside and there was no sign of forcible entry on any window.
What about the terrific blow Mrs. Snyder had received on her head? When the medical examiner had finished examining her, he said that she hadn’t been hit at all.
We arrested Ruth Snyder that morning. Just before 11 that night, she confessed to killing her husband and said that her accomplice, Judd Gray, was in a Syracuse hotel. Four hours later, Syracuse police picked him up and turned him over to two Queens detectives, who brought him back to New York.
For hours, Gray maintained his innocence. He didn’t care what Ruth Snyder had said about him.; he had remained in his hotel room in Syracuse all through the night of the murder. Halfway back to the city, he was confronted with a used Pullman ticket from Syracuse to New York, dated March 19.
For a long moment, Judd Gray acted like a man in a trance. Then he said “Well, gentlemen, I was in Queens Village that night.”
The trail was one of the most spectacular in New York crime. It brought out a sordid story of blind passion and equally blind hatred which inevitably led not only to murder but, just as inevitably, to discovery.
Mrs. Snyder had met Gray in 1925 and immediately became his mistress. Soon they were both planning Albert Snyder’s murder, not only so that they could continue their bacchanals with impunity, but so that Mrs. Snyder could collect the double indemnity on a $50,000 insurance policy she had thoughtfully taken out on her husband’s life — without his knowledge.
And never once, despite the long period of time in which they had to devise their murder plan, did the conspirators ever face the harsh realities of crime and punishment.
Ruth Snyder was surprised when detectives refused to accept her version of her husband’s death. She was shocked when they penetrated her flimsy story within 30 minutes.
Murder is a crime that calls for careful planning and cool wits — which is why so few are successful. Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray talked of Albert Snyder’s murder for two years, but when they finally struck they were completely without order or plan. It’s rarely any other way when passion is the motive.
One of the writers [Damon Runyon] covering the trial called the case the Dumbbell Murder and that’s about as accurate a label as anyone could pin on it. Even after her arrest, Ruth Snyder clung to the belief that everything was going to be all right just because she wanted it to be. Just before the trial, for example, she actually requested the police to return a suitcase found at one of the hotels where the couple held their secret trysts. When one of the detectives told her, “Don’t worry. You won’t need it for a couple of years.” She replied, “Do you mean you actually think they’ll send me away? Who are you trying to kid?”
On the night of January 12, 1928, Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray were electrocuted in Sing Sing Prison. The detective, it turned, wasn’t trying to kid anybody.
Editor’s Note: The names Tom Ransome and Bart Rundall in this story are fictitious. The convicted killers have served their sentences and are, apparently, rehabilitated to a worthwhile place in society.