Front Page Detective
A hushed stillness settled over the woodland as echoes of the shattering crash faded into the warm distance. For just a minute all life was transfixed. Not even Game Wardens William T. Cramer and Joseph S. Allen moved.
Then the chirping of birds, the flutter of wings and the rustle of dried leaves broke forth once more, restoring nature’s own animated silence to the dense underbrush. The two peace officers went into action, too, gliding noiselessly in the direction of the blast.
The air was motionless. Shimmering gold bars of sunlight in which clouds of gnats disported, slanted through the interlaced foliage overhead. It was an old game to the wardens. They were stalking poachers. And there was nothing to warn them on this Sunday morning, September 29, 1929, that violent, cold-blooded, mysterious death waited in ambush a few hundred feet ahead.
“Another good story to tell Al,” Cramer was thinking hopefully. Master woodsman, lecturer on woodcraft, the terror of poachers, forest guide for such notables as Ex-Governor Alfred E. Smith and millionair Clarence Mackay, Cramer was in the lead. “Shorty,” Ex-Governor Smith called him affectionately. He just topped five feet.
Allen, a stranger to this woodland, was tailing, silent, alert, watchful, listening. He was thinking “This is something like cowboy-Indian games when we were kids.”
Abruptly they eased through screening bushes into the presence of a startled, short, stocky, Italian. He was busy stuffing a slain bird into a pouch. Under his right arm nestled a single barrelled shotgun.
Sighting the officers, pistols holstered at their hips, the poacher whirled with a strangled cry of alarm and crashed blindly, frantically throug hte entangled underbrush.
Shorty Cramer dashed after him. A creeper curled around Shorty’s ankle. The ground shook when he hit, full length. Allen streaked after him, overtook the fleeing poacher, brought him back at gunpoint to Cramer.
The latter looked at the man quizzically for a moment. “Haven’t I seen you before?” he asked.
The poacher, his eyes wide, shook his head negatively. He seemed frightend but angry too. He gave his name as Josephy Lentini, of 191 Boerum Street, Brooklyn. He appeared to be about forty years old. He had no hunting license nor anything else to identify himself; worse, he’d obviously been hunting out of season.
“You’ll have to come with us,” said Shorty, with an air of bored resignation. The poacher faced only a ten dollar fine. Shorty had caused the state’s coffers to be enriched by more than $15,000 in fines, a thrilling story usually behind each one.
“No story for Al,” thought Shorty, disappointed. He started to lead the way out of the woods, avoiding impassable patches with unerring Indian-like accuracy. Allen brought up the rear. Their prisoner was between them.
Of a sudden Shorty froze in his tracks, his hand sliding to the rest on the butt of his revolver. Lentini and Allen grew rigid. A tall, gorilla-like creature with hairy arms had stepped in front of them from behind a bush. There was a threatening, metallic gleam in the stranger’s small, black eyes. A double-barrelled shotgun was raised menacingly half way to his shoulder.
There was a pause of bristling silence. Then Lentini shouted something in Italian. Instantly the gorilla-like creature replied in the same language. Allen felt a little shock of surprise at the clear, crisp, concise answer, phonetically available. And it was chilling in its hate-dripping tone.
Almost simultaneously, the stranger’s gun jerked up, his eyes gleaming with maniacal fury, and he fired both barrels full into Shorty’s face, ten feet distant. The blast tore off half of Shorty’s head and hurled him lifeless, sideways into the bushes.
Allen whipped out his revolver, fired from the hip. The gorilla-like creature’s right arm jerked up as the slug tore through it. His shotgun fell to the ground. With a bellow of pain he charged directly at Allen. The latter sprang to one side, tripped, sensed his revolver spinning off into the bushes, then felt a flaming flash of pain in as his head struck a boulder.
Snarling like an animal, the gorilla-creature sprang on top of him. Like steel traps the killer’s hands sunk into the semi-consious Allen’s throat. Of a sudden the killer’s fangs fastened on Allen’s nose. Instantly, Allen was snapped back to pain-wreacked consciousness. He wrenched his head to one side. The maniac’s teeth clamped on Allen’s ear.
Spasmodically, Allen’s knee jack-knifed. With a scream of mingled rage and pain the killer tore himself away, scrambled to his feet, and went thundering through the underbrush.
Groggily, his nose and ear almost torn from his head, Allen got up. Through a fog of pain he realized dimly that both the killer and Lentini had headed south. There was a man-trap in that direction, a quicksand-studded marshland. Allen staggered toward the north, broke out of the woodland, crossed a quarter mile stretch of marsh, clambered on the shoulder of a paved highway — Rockaway Boulevard.
Passing otorists sped by him, terrified by his appalling bloody sight.
Allan turned, looked back. The elliptical shaped woodland—Idlewild Woods, they called it—nestled in the center of a vast marshland stretching southward to Jamaica Bay in Queens, L.I.
To the west Allen saw a road —Idlewild Street—skirting the marshland a mile away. A half mile to the east, Pear Street poked a tentative finger for one block into the high grass of the marsh and came to a dead end.
There was not a sign of either Lentini or the killer. Were they hiding in the patch of woodland or in the tall grass? Or risking their lives trying to reach the bay south of the patch of woods?
A half hour later I arrived at the scene. Allen was being treated by an ambulance surgeon. Lieutenant Henry Flattery and Detectives Theodore Burger and Horace HYolden of the Jamaica Squad were just returning from a quick inspection of the patch of woodland and were carrying two shotguns and two revolvers they’d found near Allen’s body.
A police cordon was being thrown around the desolate wasteland and the emergency squad, equipped with hip-length rubber boots and rifles, was preparing to search for the killer in the seven-foot high swamp grass surrounding the woodland.
A screeching cavalcade of squad cars was tearing down the boulevard. Out stepped the dapper Police Commissioner himself, Grover Whalen, later to be widely known as director of the New York World’s Fair. With him were Inspectors Mulrooney, O’Brien and Gallagher, and acting Captain Herbert Graham.
Quietly we listened to game Warden Allen recount his amazing story, becoming more and more appalled by the enormity of the crime. For ferocious bestiality this murder was without parallel in the history of the county. But more confounding—there seemed to be no motive for it. For waht sort of man would slay a peace officer in cold blood simply to escape a ten dollar fine. It did not add up.
At my request Allen repeated phonetically the gorilla-killer’s ejaculation the moment before he fired point-blank into Cramer’s facce. I looked questioningly at Detective James Sabatino, now a lieutenant detailed to my office.
“Please repeat that,” Sabatino aksed, looking at Allen. Slowly, thoughtfully, Allen did.
Sabatino became solemn, his gaze shifted to me. “If Allen has it right, the killer shouted, “I’m going to let him have it!” just before he fired.”
Premeditation? Had the killer known Cramer? Did some sensational secret in Cramer’s life lurk behind the mystery of the tragedy?
Answering routine questions, Allen then told us something which at taht moment did not appear to be of particular importance but which was to loom large before we reached the end of the case.
The killer had a ruddy complexion and was wearing a brown pencil-striped suit, Allen said. Lentini, olive skinned, was wearing brown tweed pants and a black jacket with satin lapels and cloth buttons. “The elbow of the right sleeve was torn,” Allen added. “I noticed it when I was following him and Cramer through the woods.”
Allen knew little of Cramer’s past. “I’ve been working out in Nassau County,” he said. “I was detailed to help Cramer today because his partner is ill.” Cramer had a reputation for zealous enforcement of the game lawas, Allen concluded.
In Fascinated horror we were standing about Cramer’s body twenty minutes later when Medical Examiner Howard W. Neail appeared. In the distance we could hear the shouts of several hundred policemen as they beat through the marsh grass and the woods, their fingers on triggers in momentary expectancy of flushing their quarry—the killer.
“So they got poor Shorty at last,” said Dr. Neail sadly.
What was this! We crowded around him. Had someone attempted to kill Shorty before?
“Indeed they did,” said Dr. Neail succinctly. “Look!” He bent and lifted Cramer’s head. There was unmistakable evidence of an operation at the base of the game warden’s skull!
“A shotgun blast,” explained Dr. Neail succinctly.
“”It was touch and go for months. We thought we were going to lose him.”
“Who did it?”
“Two poachers. They attacked him without warning, shot him three times. It was about eight years ago. He killed one of the poachers. The other’s in prison.”
It sounded incredible. Were poachers of a vicious breed apart? Could the killer have been arrested previously by Cramer?
All that morning and afternoon the manhunt in the marshland continued, with the officers beating slowly southward toward Jamaica Bay. Overhead, airplanes roared, directing the searchers. In the bay, speedboats, canoes and rowboats loaded with armed policemen nosed in and out of hundreds of inlets and kept the shoreline under observation.
Scores of officers were treated for injured eyes, ivy poisoning, cuts, and several were removed to hospitals. But no sign of the killer nor of Lentini was found. Somehow, they’d vanished as through into thin air.
How? It seemed impossible that they could have emerged from the wasteland without being seen. Allen had kept Rockaway Boulevard under observation until police came, summoned by a motorist. And residents on the two streets skirting the wasteland on the west and east said they’d seen no one come out of the swamp.rThe air was motionless. Shimmering gold bars of sunlight in which clouds of gnats disported, slanted through the interlaced foliage overhead. It was an olA middle – How? It seemed impossible that they could have emerged from the wasteland without being seen. Allen had dpet Rockaway Boulevard under observation until police came, summoned by a motorist. And residents ion the two streets skiring the wasteland on the west and east said they’d seen no one come out of the swamp.
On woman on Idlewild Street, to the west of the swamp, insisted she’d seen a man wearing a dark coat, torn at the right elbow., frantically beating his way southwest diagonally through the swamp toward the bay. This impressed us favorably because we’d given out no information on how Lentini and the killer were dressed.
Yet it would have been a physical impossibility for Lentini to have escaped by this route even if he’d had a boat cached in one of the inlets. The police had cut off that avenue of escape too soon.
Questioning the few residents living on the block-long road, Pear Street, a half-mile to the east of the patch of woodland, detectives came to two bungalows near the dead end of the street.
A middle-aged Italian was puttering around a well-kept garden in front of one of the cottages. His wife and 13-year-old daughter could be seen moving around inside. An ancient Nash coupe, a small dog asleep on the seat, was parked at the curb.
The hopes of the detectives oared. Here, they thought, they might get some information on Lentini and the murderer. There was no other Italian family in the neighborhood.
The Italian greeted them cordially. “Good morning,” he said. Then, pointing to the police beating their way through the high marsh greass in the distance, he asked,
“What’s the matter over there — all the police?”The officers explained and saw his eyes widen with mingled surprise, interest and incredulity. He identified himself as Pasquale Leonado. He’d brought his family out early that morning to enjoy their last weekend of the season in the country, he said.
He’d heard some shooting but had paid no attention. He’d seen no one come out of the swamp, and pointed out that if anyone had, he would have seen him because he had been puttering around the yard all morning. He knew of no one by the name of Lentini, he said.
Disappointed, the officers tried the bungalow next door. The place seemed deserted. The yard was unkempt.
“Nobody lives there,” called Leonado. He explained that the cottage had been vacant most of the season. He did not know the owner nor anyone who knew him.
Meanwhile the hospitals had been warned and were on the alert for any man with a wounded right arm. Detectives were scouring Brooklyn for Lentini and seeking to learn the identity of all of his friends and relatives.
And, as fast as we could dig up the necessary information, additional sleuths were being dispatched from Jamaica. Police Headquarters to round up all poachers who’d ever been arrested by the slain game warden. Although still suffering from his harrowing eperience, Allen volunteered to remain with us at headquarters and view the suspects as they were brought in.
Thus we started back-tracking on a dim trail which we were to follow for a week with melon rinds, clandestine love, speakeasies and a broken home as guide posts.
As we’d expected, no trace was found of Lentini but we were agreeabley surprised when Detectives George Knabe and Joseph Smythe of the homicide squad phoned that Lentini had not only given his right name to the slain game warden but had also given his right address in Brooklyn.
“There wasn’t a thing in his flat, however, to give us a line on his friends and relatives,” the officers reported. “Except a letter from a brother in Clinton Prison, Dannemora.”
A canvass of the neighborhood in which Lentini lived developed little additional information. Most of Lentini’s neighbors were immigrants to whom the law was an impresonal, remote, terrifying agency. Fear sealed their lips when the questioning sleuths appeared among them.
It was late in the afternoon when Detectives Theodore Burger and Horace HOlden phoned and gave us our first stunning shock.
“We just ran into a funny one.” Burger said. “We learned that Lentini works for the Greenfield Candy Company on Lorimer Street. The factory is closed today but we routed out the manager. He told us that Lentini is one of their steady workmen and he gave us the name and address of a fellow on Stag Street who is supposed to be Lentini’s best friend. But this fellow denies knowing Lentini. We think he’s lying. His name’s Leonado.”
“Pasquale Leonado!” Inspector Gallagher exploded. “Bring him in! Bring in his whole family!”
Leonado proved to be the same one who’d been questioned during the morning in front of the bungalow on Pear Street. To our amazement, however, he was not in the least perturbed. Instead, he was indignant and wrathful at the ignominy of being brought to Jamaica Police Headquarters.
Gesticulating wildly, he protested he didn’t know why Lentini had named him as his best friend. “I don’t know him! I don’t know him! Why do you bring me here? What’s the idea?”
It developed that he’d quit the bungalow and returned to Brooklyn an hour after he’d been questioned by detectives in the morning.
“Why did you run away?” I asked.
“I didn’t run away!” he flared. “Why do you say that?”
Was the finger of suspicion being pointed at Leonado by an error or by a mere coincidence?
His wife and his daughter were questioned in separate rooms. They told identical stories. Neither knew Lentini, and Mrs. Leonado volunteered the information that they’d returned to Brooklyn early because they had not brought along enough food for all day.
Mrs. Leonado was stolidly calm. Her daughter was pertly interested. But their stories were too pat. The slight discrepancies which my suspicions could seize. Nothing, that is, until I asked the girl a casual question.
“How did you go home?” I inquired.
“By bus,” she smiled brightly.
“What happened to your dad’s automobile?”
“We haven’t any!”
We went back to the room in which Leonado was being detained.
“Who owns the green coup that was parked in front of your bungalow this morning?” I asked him.
Leonado shrugged shoulders. “I dunno,” he said smugly.
Taking Leonado with them, Lieutenant Flattery and Detectives Burger, Holden and Smyth raced to the bungalows.
The coupe was still parked a thte curb! Whining miserably, the little dog begged pitifully with its eyes to be let out. Lieutenant Flattery opened the door. With a joyful yelp the dog sprang out and then playfully, affectionately, jumped around Leonado as though he’d known him a long time.
“I suppose you ‘dunno’ this dog, either,” Flattery taunted. Leonado’s complacent was unshaken. “I dunno,” he said.
Leonado’s two-room bungalow was searched. Enough food, including perishables, to last his family a week was found in the kitchen! And the bungalow bore unmistakable evidence of having been abandoned by people in sudden flight!
The officers circled the vacant adjoining bungalow looking for footprints leading from the swamp or any other evidence which would indicate the bungalow had been occupied that day. With nothing but their own growing suspicions to justify it, they didn’t dare break into the structure.
“There’s the evidence!” Flattery exclaimed suddenly. He was pointing at a pail in the rear of the bungalow.
The detectives bent forward for a close inspection.
Melon rinds and egg shells!
Fresh garbage in the bottom of the pail. Someone had occupied the bungalow that morning!
Detective Burger hurled his weight against the rear door. Dirty-looking utensils and dishes filled the kitchen sink inside. Packages of foodstuffs cluttered a table.
But what brought the officers up short was something in the corner. A crimson-stained handkerchief on top of a the small pile of clothes. They picked up the garments. A tuxedo coat with satin lapels, its right sleeve torn at the elbow. And a brown jacket, pencil-striped, a hole in the right sleeve near the wrist.
Flattery whirled on Leonado. “So no one was here this morning!” he snapped.
Leonado hunched his shoulders indifferently. “I dunno,” he said. “I didn’t see anybody.”
Flattery was thoughtful for a moment. The brown coat was palpably part of the killer’s suit. Was he fleeing in a blood-stained shirt? Hardly. He must have borrowed a coat from either Lentini or Leonado.
Leonado, the dog and the coupe were brought back to headquarters.
For hours we grilled Leonado but his armor of smug dumbness could not be pierced. Infuriatingly stolid, he “dunnoed” us to the point of exhaustion.
The confidence of Leonado’s daughter was being gained, meantime, by Detective Burger, who was entertaining her with jokes and anecdotes of police work. on our signal he now interpolated a casual remark.
“By the way,” he inquired, “What kind of coat did that fellow borrow from your dad this morning?”
“You mean a shirt!” she corrected.
There it was! The missing link in the evidence. Carefully, jokingly, Burger drew the girl’s story from her. She was helping her mother clean the front room of their bungalow, she said, when her father called her from the rear yard and told her to fetch him one of his shirts.
When she complied she found him tending a small brush fire he’d built and talking to “a man in a funny coat.” Before she turned her back into the house she saw her father give the man a shirt. She did not see the stranger again.
Had Leonado burned the killer’s bloody shirt? He favored us with a mere look of pity for our ignorance when we confronted him with his daughter’s revalation. “Sure, what’s the matter with that?” he demanded. “He was a tramp. I gave him a shirt. He was happy and walked down the street.”
I ordered that Leonado be held as a material witness; there was not enough evidence to charge him with being an accessory after the fact. His wife and his daughter were permitted to go home.
It was now near midnight. During all this time Warden Allen had been looking over the suspects that were brought in. Aiding him was the little dog. We had hopes that the mutt might single out his master. But neither the dog nor Allen signified that they recognized any of the poachers who were brought in.
Lieutenant Flattery joined us, his eyes gleaming with a discovery of some kind. Through the Bureau of Identification in Manhattan Police Headquarters he’d been tracing the ownership of the coupe through its license and motor numbers.
“A fellow by the name of Frank Aldino, of 2016 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, owns teh coupe,’ the lieutenant announced. He then went on to explain that an application for a chauffeur’s license had been filed with the bureau by a fellow iwth the same name and address. As required by police regulations a photograph of the applicant had been attached to the application.
“They’re making copies of his photo right now,” Flattery added. “They’ll have ’em out here in an hour.”
It might mean much or nothing. The owner of the coupe could be an innocent person. It would depend upon wheter Warden Allen recognized Aldino’s photo.
We held our breaths when the copies of Aldino’s photo arrived and one of them was handed to Allen. Without an instant’s hesitation he cried excitedly, “That’s him! That’s him! That’s the murderer!”
On his application Aldino had represented himself as being thirty-three years of age, married and the father of one daughter. It was two o’clock in the morning when, whith guns drawn, several squads of detectives surrounded the Fulton Street address he’d given as his home. But it wasn’t Aldino’s address. It was his sister’s.
“I haven’t seen him for several months,” she said when she finally answered the officers’ repeated knocks on her door. She went on to explain that when she’d last heard from him he was living somewhere on Fresh Pond Road, in Queens. She didn’t know why he’d given her home as his address for the purpose of getting a license.
Through the Post Office, Detectives Knab and Smyth traced the Aldino family to 745 Fresh Pond Road, an hour later. This building also was surrounded. But again the detectives were disapponted.
“You’ll find him in Family Court tomorrow morning,” declared his wife, grimly. “He deserted us two months ago. I had him arrested last week for assault and non-support. He’s out on bail now.”
But Aldino didn’t appear when his case was called next morning in Family Court. And Lentini failed to report for work at the candy factory. He made no effort to claim the wages due him.
Aldino’s bail, which had been put up by his uncle, was forfeited.
His wife was requestioned but she proved of little help. She didn’t know where Aldino was working nor where he was living.
“I thought he was living with his sister,” she said. However two flimsy leads were obtained from her. She said her husband had been working as a bouncer in a dance hall in the Ridgewood section of Brooklyn. Discussing her husband’s habits, she said he had a great fondness for Turkish baths.
“At least that’s where he always said he was when he didn’t come home at night,” she added icily.
Detectives were assigned to scour all the Turkish baths in the city and investigate the dance hall. Other men were detailed to the arduous task of tracing relatives and friends of the two fugitives, with orders to keep under obseration the homes and mail of each one they turned up.
I was just leaving Jamaica Police Headquarters when Detective Thomas Coote of the homicide squad came out of the adjoining police garage. He’d been making a minute inspection of the murderer’s abandoned coupe. In his grimy hand he held a sales slip dated the previous year, of an auto supply company in Newark, New Jersey.
“I found it in the tool chest,” Coote said. “It may lead to something.” An hour later Coote set out for Newark, accompanied by Detective Dinan and Grottono.
By this time, morning papers were on teh street, carrying spectacular stories of the murder.
According to the newspaper accounts, we had six clues:
1. – a mongeral dog alleged to be a beagle hound.
2. –A dilapidated Nash car.
3.–Two coats, one bloodstained.
4. – Two shotguns, one the murder weapon.
5. _Fingerprints found in the car, supposedly the murderer’s.
6. – The name of the murderer’s companion.
We were thankful that nothing had leaked out about the name of the urderer. At this point we were hoping we could lull Aldino into a sense of security and lure him back to his old haunts.
As a result we clamped a censorship on our activities. there was one quaint result. The afternoon newspapers switched to feature artiles on the “arrest” of the beagle hound.”
It set the age old power of suggestion to work. A parolman, speculating on how the murderer had escaped, spotted a stray dog, similar in appearance to our beagle hound, moping around the Jamaica station of the Long Ilsand Railroad.
Jumping to the conclusion that the murderer had walked from teh scene of the crime to the railroad station, followed by the dog, the officer placed the stray animal under arrest, and when it was brought to Jamaica Police Headquarters it acted as if it had known the other dog all its life.
The newspapers jumped at the story and for several days the two beagle hounds lived off the fat of the land in the police headquarters while the newspapers vied with each other in publishing their pictures and concoction fabulous expectations of the dogs.
There was some justifcation for the newspaper stories, because we were frankly puzzled about how Lentini and Aldino had escaped.
For some reaosn we couldn’t fathom, they’d abandoned Aldino’s auto but they hadn’t taken a bus to Jamaica. Our thorough checkup of bus drivers had established this much and the reporters knew it, having done some sleuthing themselves.
What the reporters did not know was that our suspicions had settled on a certain cab driver. We were keeping him under constant surveillance but saying nothing about it.
It was Detective Coote who turned up the clue that was to lead to amazing developments. On his way to Newark he stopped a tthe New York Motor Vehicle Bureau and checked its records to see what license number had been mentioned by Aldino when he applied for his 1929 New York license plates.
Coote was playing a hunch that Aldino had purchase the auto in New Jersey. His hunch proved correct. On his application for New York License plates, Aldino had given a New Jersey license number for the car for ht eprevious year. But the first two figures or letters were undecipherable. Coote could make out only the numbers, 99-22.
With the Newark sales slip in mind he phoned the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Bureau and learned that license numbers beginning with 3E usually were assigned to Newark residents. It was a matter of only a few minutes for him to then ascertain that the number 3E 90-22 had been assigned the previous year to an ancient Nash coupe owned by a James Dawson, speakeasy proprietor on Springfield Avenue in Newark.
The motor number of Aldino’s dilapidated Nash and the speakeasy proprietor’s Nash were the same!
At Newark Police Headquarters Coote soon unearthed an officer who kmew Dawson.
“Detective Weckster is your man,” said the Lieutenant on duty. Weckster was sent for and he agreed to approach the seeakeasy proprietor and learn what he could about Aldino.
Coote and his colleaagues, Detetives Dinan and Grottono, waited in an auto a block from the sepakeasy while Weckster went to have a confidential chat with Dawson. It was a long chat —almost an hour. But when Weckster returned he was beaming.
“I got plenty,” he said. “Aldino did more than buy Dawson’s car. He stole Dawson’s girl! Her name’s Mabel Johnson. She’s a blonde and she lives about a mile from here. Dawson seems to think we’ll find Aldino in her apartment. In fact, he hopes we do find him. Dawson didn’t know that Aldino is married and he says Mabel doesn’t know it. I think Dawson has an idea he may get Mabel back when she hears that Aldino has a family. I let Dawson think that Aldino was wanted in New York just for desertion of his family.”
While their squad car raced to blond Mabel’s apartment, Weckster told the trhee New York detectives what else he’d learned.
The hunted slayer, he said, had eased his way into various bootlegging ventures between Brooklyn and Newark during the previous year and that was how Dawson had met him.
“Dawson also warned me to be careful of Mabel’s dog,” Weckster added. “He says it’s a vicious mutt.”
The warning proved of value because Mabel wasn’t home when the detectives closed in on her apartment. And while waiting for her to return the officers questioned her neighbors, pretending that they were simply investigating complaints to the effect that she had allowed her dog to run loose and that it had bitten several children in the neighborhood.
Mabel’s neighbors knew nothign about the dog-biting incidents but even Mabel would have blushed if she’d herd what they knew about her personal affairs. Although decidedly unsympathetic toward Mabel’s mod of life, it developed that her female neighbors had been possessed of, and had excercised, a lively curiousity regarding Mabel’s boudoir trysts.
So it was no surprise to the detectives when Mabel did not return home that night. But when she failed to return home the following day and still shunned her apartment as though it were aplague all the following night we became convinced that Mabel knew we had a trap laid for her, in the hope of bagging Aldino.
In New York we gegan to fear that Mabel and Aldino and Lentini had all skipped. Constant day and night surveillance of the friends and relatives of both men had proved futile.
We decided that it was time we made a public announcement to this effect that Aldino was the fugitive murderer.
The announcement was made–no mention being made of Mabel, of course—and the afternoon papers blazoned the story throughout the country, together with an announcement by Acting Governor Herbert Lehman to the effect that a reward of $500 would be paid by the State of New York for information leading to Aldino’s arrest.
Working on the theory that Lentini and Aldino were in hiding together we also announced that Lentini would be granted immunity if he gave himself up. We hoped thus to cause the pair to split up and gain a lead to Aldino’s whereabouts.
Fearing that Aldino might attempt to escape to Italy, we also caused every outgoing boat on the Atlantic seaboard to be searched and cabled to the authories in Italy to be on the watch for the slayer. Simultaneously all detectives were withdrawn from the neighborhood where Mabel lived.
The first result of our multiple maneuvers left us breathless. A New York City policeman came forward and announced that Aldino was his cousin.
“Our family honor demands that I help you track him down,” he said. Then he gave us the names of a score of Aldino’s relatives and friends concerning whom we hadn’t had the faintest inkling. The officer was appointed a detective for five days so he could circulate with freedom among all his relatives and ascertain if any of them was shielding the murderer.
The second development came two nights later, and it proved to us that Mabel was aware that we had been keeping a watchful eye on her apartment. At five o’clock in the morning she drove up to her apartment [missing ..use] in a moving truck, accompanied by two men. At eight o’clock in the morning the janitor of the building found her apartment stripped clean.
Long before then, however, we knew what had happened and where she had moved. before withdrawing from the neighborhood, Detectives Coote and Weckster had taken the precaution of enlisting the services of two youths who lived near Mabel and knew her by sight. The reward that Governor Lehman had offered was of material assistance to the officers in arousing the interests of the young men.
Subsequently the two youths had split up the watch, one keeping an eye on Mabel’s apartment during the day, the other during the night.
The flat to which Mabel moved proved to be in the tawdry tenement section of Newark. No official effort was made to close in on it at once, however. We were not interested in Mabel. we were interested only in Aldino and Lentini. We know it was quite improbable that she was still sheltering the fugitives, if she ever had. Our only hope was that she would lead us to them.
We fulfilled part of this hope that evening.
Aldino was picked up as he came out of an Italian restaurant at 14th Avenue and Prospect Place, Newark.
A few minutes later Detective Knab phoned me the news and by six o’clock that evening I was streaking across the Jersey meadows with Inspector Gallagher, Lieutenant Flattery, Lieutenant Fogarty and Detectives Burger, Holden and Sabatino. Detectives Knab, Coote and Smyth were at Newark Police Headquarters when we arrived.
Aldino was in the squad room on the second floor. He was a powerful looking man and he proved to be more obstinate than had Leonado. For the most part he simply ignored our questions and glowered at us with a certain supercilious contempt that some men seem to drain from sheer animal courage.
“I’m not dumb,” he sneered. “I wouldn’t be here if I had killed that fellow. I would be a thousand miles away, maybe.”
“then how did you get wounded in the right arm?” Inspector Gallagher shot at him.
“Ha, that.” With a flip of his hand Aldino whipped off the bandage and displayed a wound that could have been made by a bullet burning its way over the back of his arm just above the wrist. “A scratch,” he remarked flippantly. “No bullet!”
Asked how and where he had been injured, he favored us with a taunting gaze from his small black eyes, said nothing.
Accused of having been hiding out in Newark he grinned at us mockingly. “Sure,” he said. “What of it? I had some trouble with my wife.”
Shown a newspaper with a screaming headline and a story on its front page reporting the countrywide search for him, Aldino tossed the paper on the floor with a bored gesture. “I can’t read,” he yawned.
For two hours it went on like that. Patiently we detailed the overwhelming, daming evidence we had amassed against him for first degree murder. Carefully, we pointed out that we were interested only in knowing why he’d shot down Cramer in cold blood.
“If you have any reason at all, tell us,” Aldino was told. “It is your only hope of escaping the electric chair.”
For answer Aldino stod up, stretched and flexed his muscles as if to show us what a powerful man he was. “I tell you I didn’t do it, huh? Don’t you tell me I’m going to the chair!”
It was then that it happened. Fearing that Aldino was about to become violent, two officers closed in and grabbed him by the arms. Instantly Aldino hurled them aside as though they were children. Then he whirled to glower down at the rest of us with insolent contempt.
Languidly, Sergeant Fogarty got up from his chair, a glow of anticipation lighting up his Irish face. A massive man, one of the veteran members of Manhattan’s bygone strong-arm squad, he’d been sitting by most of the evening, annoyed by the killer’s attitude.
Now, as though performing a simple little chore, he approached Aldino had never before come into forceful contact with a man more powerful than himself. The change that came over him in that brief moment was an astounding thing to see. A look of stunned surprise and amazement had swept his face when Fogarty seized him. Now as full realization of what had happened penetrated his conceit and settled in his mind, he wilted before our eyes.
It was a simple thing thereafter to get his story. He said he’d never seen either Cramer or Allen before and that he didn’t know they were game wardens. All he knew was that he came upon them suddenly while they were leading Lentini out of the woods.
Lentini had then shouted, “Run! Run! just as Cramer put his hand on his pistol. “I got excited and I shot,” Aldino explained. “I didn’t mean to kill him. Maybe I thought they were robbers. I dunno.”
According to Aldino’s story he reacted simply like a fear stricken animal when he jumped on
allen and bit him. He did not seem to know that he, himself, had shouted something at Lentini just before he fired at Cramer.
“That just about saves him from the electric chair,” remarked Inspector Gallagher.
It did. Aldino was convincted of second degree murder and was sentenced on November 27, 1929, by County Judge Frank Adel, to serve twenty years to life in Sing Sing prison.
Lentini was not prosecuted. A week after Aldino was arrested a lawyer phoned me that Lentini wanted to surrender. I told him to bring Lentini in. He did. For an hour I questioned Lentinia and then, being satisfied that Lentini had gone into hiding only because of fear, I released him.
Leonado was released the same day. By this time he was no longer trying to pretend that he didn’t knwoLentini and Aldino. He was related to Lentin by marriage.
It was established that the cab driver, whom we’d suspected, had helped Lentin and Aldino to escape. The cab driver was Leonado’s friend. He lost his hacking license. The celebrities of the case, the two beagle hounds, won good homes for themselves as a result of the publicity they received.
An anti-climax came three months later when Game Warden Allen suddenly remembered he had some unfinished business on hand. He went to Brooklyn and rearrested Lentini on the original poaching charge. Subsequently, Lentini was fined $50 for possession of a shotgun because he was an alien. The poaching charge against him was dismissed.
The names James Dawson, Pasquale Leonado and Mabel Johnson are fictitious and are used inthis story to protect the identity of innocent persons.
Once more, fearless and untiring detective had tracked down a murder monster, the “Gorilla Man,” and brought him before a court of law. The guilty man paid for his dreadful crime.
People often ask me if I have ever run up against the perfect crime. The answer is no, chiefly because there are no perfect criminals — and no perfect corpses. Every homicide has a message for the trained investigator, a lead the murderer never meant to leave behind, a weak spot that can be probed. If you want a machine to do a special job, you check the wires and tighten the bolts and you’re set. But murderers aren’t machines. They’re human beings — and wherever human beings are “involved, weakness is involved too; some character fault that wouldn’t matter or even be noticed in normal circumstances. Fused into the stress of murder, though, that fault becomes the weakest link in the killer’s chain of deception and makes the policeman’s job a little easier. The commonest flaw: A craving for women —or a woman.
The faithful ladies of the underworld will do almost anything for their gangster husbands and sweethearts — sometimes even help them get caught.
I remember a case in which the murderer seemed to be trapped in an impassable swamp. On top of that, he had been seen by a witness trained to remember faces. Yet our man was smart enough to make a clean getaway and might be free right now if he hadn’t had an insatiable longing for a woman. It was his bad luck — and our great fortune — that we found out about Marie Jonasi. It marked the end of a long chase.
It began with a telephone call to the Jamaica squad. A game warden had been shot and killed in the Idlewild woods, the areas that today is covered by one of the world’s greatest airports. But on September 29, 1929, it was a wild tangle of woodland and swamp, protected from illegal hunters and poachers by state game wardens. Now one of them had been shot down in pursuit of his duty. It was a fantastic story we heard when we got to the scene, told by a man whose nose and ear had almost been torn from his face by the killer. He was Joseph S. Allen, the dead warden’s partner. While an ambulance surgeon worked to stanch the flow of blood from his face, Allen told this story:
About an hour or so before, he and Game Warden William T. Cramer, crack woodsman and one-time guide of former Governor Alfred E. Smith, had heard a shotgun blast to the south. Moving in cautiously, they had flushed the poacher just as he was about to stuff a dead bird into his pouch. Though frightened, the man gave his name as Joseph Lentini and quietly submitted to arrest. At worst he faced a fine of perhaps $10. Cramer in the lead, the trio started out of the woods.
Suddenly, a giant of a man with wild, black eyes sprang out from behind a bush and blocked their path. In his hands was a double barreled shotgun. Lentini shouted something to him in Italian and, snarling in reply, the big man leveled the shotgun and fired both barrels full into Cramer’s face. At a range of ten feet, the blast tore off the top of the warden’s head.
Reacting instinctively, Allen snapped his pistol out and, firing from the hip, shot the giant through the arm. Roaring with hurt and anger, the killer charged, threw Allen to the ground and began choking the life from him. His teeth asank into Allen’s nose. When Allen wrenched his head around, the giant bit deep into his ear. With the strength of sheer desperation, Allen kicked straight up —and dislodged his assailant. Bleeding and grogge, he staggered to his feet, just in time to see the two men disappear into the woods to the south.
His pistol gone and hovering on the brink of unconsciousness from pain and the loss of blood, Allen decided to go for help. Besides, he knew there was no escape in the direction the killer had headed. On the other side of an impassable, quicksand-studded marsh lay Jamaica Bay. The men would eventually have to turn back and, if Allen could summon help quickly enough, they would be trapped when they reached the main road, which was Rockaway Boulevard.
Taking a last look to make certain his partner was beyond help, Allen staggered to the nearest telephone and called the police. But though we responded inside of ten minutes and quickly had the road covered for two miles in either direction, neither the poacher nor the killer turned up. Either they were still hidden in the high marsh grass along one of the bay’s countless inlets or, more likely, they had doubled right back and made good their escape before Rockaway Boulevard could be blocked off.
The manhunt continued into late afternoon. Working through from the west, a dragnet of police officers swept through every inch of the woods while, offshore, police boats poked into the bay’s inlets and a police plane roared back and forth over the entire scene. But all we got was an epidemic of poison ivy. The quarry had vanished.
What kind of killing was this? Did the wild-eyed giant have a grudge against Cramer? Was it a professional job with roots in some mysterious aspect of the warden’s life?
I doubted it. Professionals don’t run off and leave eyewitnesses to their handiwork.
Allen had said he had never seen the killer before. Nor did it seem to him that Cramer had recognized him in the split second before the shotgun roared. But he couldn’t be certain of that. Motive, it seemed, would have to wait on our flushing the murderer.
We went through the customary routine, checking hospitals for a man with a wounded right arm, searching out Lentini’s address, rounding up all the poachers who had recently been arrested by the dead warden. Because we expected nothing, we were not disappointed by the blank we drew all along the line. The killer hadn’t checked into a hospital; Lentini lived alone in Brooklyn and hadn’t been seen around his flat all day; Cramer’s poachers either had airtight alibis or could contribute nothing constructive.
Close to the murder scene, we got our first break. It was late afternoon when we got to a little street bordering the woods. Set back a few yards from the corner was a ramshackle summer cottage. In front of it was an old green coupe. Cautiously, we pushed openthe unlocked door of the house. There was no one inside its single room. But dirty dishes were piled high in the sink and eggshells and fresh melon rinds were in a brown paper bag on the floor. Under the table was a blood-soaked shirt-sleeve.
“I’d say it’s a pretty good bet our man’s been here,” I said, “and a better bet that the car outside is his. Let’s check it.”
We ran the license plate number through the Motor Vehicle Bureau and came up with the name of Frank Aldino of Brooklyn. On file, too, was a photography of Aldino, as required for the chauffeur’s license for which he had applied. We took the picture to Game Warden Allen.
“Is this the man who shot Cramer?” I asked.
“That’s him! That’s the one, all right!” Allen shouted. “I’ll remember that face for 100 years!”
Now we knew who we were looking for. All we had to do was find him. At the Brooklyn address we found Aldino’s wife, but she was no help at all. “I haven’t seen him for weeks,” she muttered darkly. “He’s a bum.”
We went back to the coupe and stripped the inside. Down under the front seat, we found a grimy sales slip from an auto supply store in Newark, N.J.
“Say,” I muttered, “didn’t that license application show that Aldino had bought his last year’s plates in Jersey?”
We checked back and it did. Aldino seemed to be well acquainted across the river. I telephoned the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Bureau and asked them to run Aldino’s 1928 license plate through their files. In an hour, they called back to say that that number had originally been assigned to a George Darsin of Newark. It was a slim lead but it was the only one we had and we promptly drove across the Hudson River to see Darsin. We got more than we expected. Aldino had not only bought Darsin’s car—he had stolen his girl.
And that’s how we first heard about Marie Jonasi.
“She lives with him off and on,” Darsin mumbled. “I hope you get him good!”
So a woman put us on Aldino’s trail. If we were lucky and the situation followed true to form, she’d bait him into our trap.
Darsin gave us Marie Jonasi’s address and we went directly there. It was an old tenement. No one answered our knock. We let ourselves in with a passkey and, while I waited in the apartment, some of my men went through the building to find out what they could about Marie and her boyfriend. They soon reported back. The neighbors description of a “great big guy” matched what we already knew of Aldino. The trail was hot now and we waited tensely all through the night. But neither Aldino nor his Marie showed up.
By morning, I was convinced that one of them had found out we had their love-nest under guard. Stalking two men close by, the rest of us drove back to Jamaica to wait. At this point, I wasn’t too hepeful. Surely if Aldino had discovered that we knew about his Marie, he’d keep away from her. He hadn’t, after all, committed his crime with guile and deception. He’d killed a man in front of an eyewitness and his only hope was to stay hidden.
“She pulled up with a moving van about an hour ago and took every stick of furniture out of the place. We followed her to another apartment. No sign of Aldino.”
“Good,” I said. “Stick with it. He’ll show before the day’s out or I mmiss my guess.”
If Marie had stayed put, I reasoned, it might have meant Aldino had blown town. But Marie changing apartments in the dead of night could mean only one thing: Aldino wanted to get to her.
That night, Marie Jonasi walked into an Italian restaurant down the street from her new apartment. A Jamaica detective walked in right behind her — and arrested Frank Aldino who sat waiting for his girlfriend in a corner booth.
Once more I headed for Jersey. This time, I went to Newark police headquarters where Aldino sat sullenly denying everything, despite the bullet wound festering in his right arm. He had obviously been afraid to consult a doctor.
We took him back with us, questioning him all the way. But he stubbornly refused to say anything except that his name was Frank Aldino and that his “damn wife” must have sicced us on him.
The break came in the Jamaica station house that night. The longer we grilled Aldino, the more abusive he became and, at one point, he actually shoved two detectives out of his way as he walked from one chair to another. At that, Sergeant Jim Fogarty, a giant of a man himself, rose, lifted Aldino right off his feet and shook him—hard. Then he dumped him down in a chair.
“Listen, son,” he said, softly, “don’t get out of that chair again unless you’re told you can. Otherwise I’ll get angry.”
It was amazing to see what heppened. Obviously, Aldino had never before met anyone who wasn’t awed by his tremendous bulk and scowling face.
Fogarty’s simple act broke him completely. He threw his head into his hands and wept for ten minutes. Then he looked up and told us the whole story:
It was a murder without a motive. Lentini and Aldino had driven down the Idlewild woods together to shoot some birds that morning of Setpember 29. At one point, they had become separated and when next Aldino saw his friend, he was in the custody of two game wardens. The giant then simply went berserk.
“Run, run!” was what Lentini had shouted in Italian.
But Aldino, without knowing why, had replied, “I’m going to let him have it!” and he did.
“How did you get out of the woods?” I asked.
“We doubled back to the highway as soon as we were out of sight of the other guy. We went right to the shack where the car was, but I couldn’t drive because my arm hurt like hell and Lentini didn’t know how. So we separated and I finally got a taxi to take me to Brooklyn.”
Shortly afterward, Lentini came forward to give himself up. He was not charged with complicity in the murder, but was fined $50 for poaching and illegal possession of a shotgun.
On November 27, 1920, Frank Aldino was sentenced to serve a 20-year-to-life term in Sing Sing, trapped by a woman he couldn’t keep away from. He died in prison.
Now Aldino, of course, was not a hardened criminal. He was a novice at murder, a man who got panicky at the wrong moment and killed more out of fright than anything. But his downfall—a woman—puts him in the same class as some of the toughest professional gunmen in the business. Like Aldino, they’re marked by the urge to play with the deadliest toy that a hood ever got his fingers burned with.
The Jamaica detective followed Marie Jonasi into the corner spaghetti joint and nabbed himself a prime meatball.
Everyone knows how the Lady in Red led G-men to John Dillinger. Let me tell you how the Jamaica squad cracked a bank holdup because one of the gang, a smart cookie who’d been around long enough to know better, couldn’t get his Norma off his mind.
It began as a blustery September day in 1935. Just after noon, a Ford sedan pulled up in front of the Bank of Manhattan in St. Albans and three men got out. They ran into the bank doubled over, as though they were bucking the wind. Once inside, the real reason was plain: Handkerchiefs were knotted over their faces and, between them, they carried a Thompson sub-machine-gun, an automatic shotgun and two revolvers.
“Get ’em up, everybody–and quick!” shouted the man with the Thompson. “I’ll shoot anyone who goes for the alarm button.”
It was all over in five minutes. Moving with the precision of a military squad, the trio herded tellers and customers back to the vault and made them lie down out of sight. While one stood guard, the other two went from cage to cage scooping money into huge pillowcases, then ordered the manager to open the vault.
“Don’t keep us waiting, Mister,” they said.
They followed the manager into the open vault and quickly added two boxes of currency and two canvas coin sacks to the loot in the pillowcase. The job was done. More than $10000 was on its way out the door.
“Nobody move for five minutes if you want to live long enough to tell the cops about this,” barked the man with the shotgun and, as though to lend emphasis to his words, he fired two shots into the floor. Backing out, all three jumped into the sedan—where a fourth man kept the motor running—and sped out of sight.
The St. Albans bank thieves didn’t get their five minutes. One of the tellers, at the risk of her life, had slid over to a telphone while the holdup was taking place and whispered a call for help. But although two squad cars arrived three minutes after the Ford sedan had pulled away from the curb, we might as well have taken three days. There wasn’t a sign of the bandits.
We had one lead and one lead only: a pedestrian, almost knocked to the ground by the retreating gang, had caught sight of the shotgun and, as the car roared away, had had enough presence of mind to make a mental note of the license plate number. I promptly sent one of our cars to check the number out and ordered an eight-state teletype alarm. Then I began to take stock.
From the first, it was plain that the men we were after weren’t amateurs. The masks on their faces had ruled out any chance we had of getting a description. Then, after our technical research men had combed the bank for an hour, someone suddenly remembered that the bandits had worn gloves. Finally, the officer in the police booth only a block away was called in and asked if he had heard the shotgun blast.”
“No, sir,” he told me. “I check out of the booth at 12 sharp to relieve Hodges for lunch. My relief doesn’t get to the booth until 12:15.”
Their timing had been letter-perfect. They were smart—and that meant a long, hard search lay ahead of us.
Meanwhile, our first lead, the license plate number, bounced back. The car had been reported stolen two weeks before.
All through the night, squad cars roamed the area looking for it, while a dozen detectives checked public garages, parking lots and filling stations.
It was turned up by a motorcycle policeman early the following morning. On the back seat were the canvas sacks and tin boxes taken from the vault—empty—and a pair of cheap cotton work gloves, the kind you can buy in any five-and-ten. Again the fingerprint boys went to work, and again they came up with nothing but a couple of empty book-match covers that had slipped down under the back seat. Both showed a pair of dice and the words, “Seven-Eleven Club, Seventh Avenue, New York.”
It wasn’t much, but at this point even a slim lead helped. I sent a couple of men to Manhattan to check it out. They returned with the information that the Seven-Eleven club had been closed for weeks; that it had been managed by a man named Joseph LaPreta; that LaPreta lived in Jamaica.
Two men went out to check the man’s neighborhood and turned up a policeman living right next door to him who had observed some significant goings-on in the past few days:
“Three nights in a row,” the officer said, “a Ford sedan with four men in it pulled up in front of LaPreta’s house. They stayed pretty late—I could hear them gunning the motor when they left.”
“When was the last night they came?”
The policeman thought for a moment. Then he said, “THursday. Thursday the fifth. I remembered because we had a little party on Friday and I went to answer the door several times. The Ford wasn’t outside.”
what made this information especially interesting, apart from the match-book covers and the coincidence—if it was a coincidence— of the Ford sedan, was that Friday was the day of the holdup. Obviously, if LaPreta’s friends were driving the same Ford sedan involved in the holdup, they wouldn’t bring it around Friday night.
For ten more days we kept LaPreta’s place under surveillance. But though we saw him coming and going, no Ford sedan showed up, nor did any of the four men described for us by the observant policeman. I decided that there was only one thing left to do: LaPreta was suspicious enough to warrant a raid on his house.
Twelve days after the robbery we struck. It was 5 a.m. and LaPreta had just come home.
“Say, what’s this all about?” he whined.
“Just sit in the chair and be quiet,” I told him.
Four of us scoured the house from top to bottom. Down in the basement, I noticed ashes in the furnace.
“What’s he doing with a furnace fire in September?” I asked aloud. “We haven’t had any cold weather yet.”
I reached in to sift through the ashes and got my answer. Partly charred bank wrappers clearly stamped “Bank of Manhattan.”
I went back upstairs and got right to the point. “Tell us about the bank robber LaPreta, and be quick about it!”
“What bank robbery?” he protested. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Suppose you begin with the four men and the sedan that showed up here every night a while ago. We’ll prompt you from there.”
“Wait a minute, Officer,” he said, half rising out of his chair. “If those men did anything wrong, don’t put the rap on me. They used to hang around my club—the Seven-Eleven— and about two or three weeks ago, they came here and asked if they could rent my basement for a few days, said they were planning a big party. They came every night for a while, then they paid me off and I haven’t seen them since.”
“Who were they?” I asked.
“Gee, I don’t know. I knew their first names, but that’s all. You know how it is in a cabaret.”
“No,” I said, “I can’t say that I do. How is it?”
“Well, what I mean is, nobody ever uses any last names. It’s just Joe or Bill, you know. And that’s how I knew all these guys.”
Although LaPreta’s story came out pretty straight, I didn’t believe him. Not even when his dentist confirmed the alibi he had viven us —”I was at the dentist at noon on the sixth. I had a 12 o’clock appointment. Just ask him.”
I didn’t believe him for a very simple reason: A man may rent his basement to comparative strangers, but he doesn’t let them build a fire in his furnace in early September, not unless he has a good reason for it. No, LaPreta might have been at the dentist’s when the holdup took place, but only because it made such a nice alibi for him. My guess was that he had already performed his part in the robbery—by casing the bank.
We took him down to headquarters and showed him some rogues gallery books. “Pick out the men who came to your house,” I told him.
After an hour, he came up with the one identification, an ex-convict named Charles Buccheri with a record as long as your left arm.
“I knew him as Phil,” said LaPreta.
Two of us made right for Buccheri’s last known address, a Broadway hotel. The manager checked his records but found no Charles Buccheri. Then I showed him the police picture , and he recognized it instantly.
“Oh, that’s Charlie Malone. I remember him. Let’s see”— he leafed through the register again—”he moved out on September 5.”
“Where did he go?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t leave a forwarding address.”
“Did he have any regular visitors?”
“Well, there was this girl. She was a chorus girl or something, went by the name of Norma Norton, but Malone told me they were married. I can’t check all those things, you know. A man tells me it’s his wife…”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. Actually, the girl spelled good news for us. A hood on the lam alone was a smart hood and he’d be tough to track down. If he was traveling with a girlfriend, though, I figured he couldn’t be so smart.
I gave the girls name to the Broadway squad and asked them if they could get a line on her for me. THey soon reported that she had been living with another showgirl but had left town—on September 6. It was all adding up.
We went to see Norma’s roommate and she seemed most anxious to co-operate—in a non-police way. Norma was in Dallas, Tex., she told us; she hadn’t said when she’d be back.
We thanked her and started to leave. “You guys going all the way to Dallas for a dame?” she called after us down the hall. “What’s so special about her? I’m right here.”
“You guys going all the way to Dallas for a dame?” she called after us down the hall. “What’s so special about her? I’m right here.”
Checking the Motor Vehicle Bureau, we learned that Buccheri had bought a used car the day after the robbery under the name of Charles Malone. We wired the plate number and description of Buccheri to the Dallas police and sat back to wait for results.
Meanwhile, another LaPreta was picked up—on a traffic violation. This one was named Anthony, and when it turned out that there was no such address as the one given on his car’s registry, he was held for questioning. One of the first questions established that Anthony LaPreta’s wife was the sister of a long-sought bank robber named Cowboy Pete Colavecchio.
Now the pieces of the jig-saw were falling into place. I confronted the two LaPretas and asked if they were related. At first they swore up and down that they’d never seen each other. But when we moved aside we could hear them whispering a mile-a-minute in Italian.
“Captain,” Joseph said finally, “you got us frightened, that’s why we lied. We’re cousins. But we had nothing to do with that bank robbery.”
There wasn’t a man in that room who believed him. We were convinced that we now had in custody two of the five men involved in the holdup, and that we knew the names of two others—Buccheri and Pete Colavecchio. But unless we could get one of them to talk there was no point in even going to court. My own feeling was that our man was Charlie Buccheri—our girl, Norma Norton.
Then we got the report from Dallas. It was bad. Buccheri had been there, all right, but he’d left town for parts unknown. That same week, Norma returned to New York.
“Put a 24-hour watch on her, but don’t get too close to her,” I ordered. “And check her mail.”
The mail was what paid off. Norma began getting a letter a day from a man named Frank Medeo in Pennsylvania: his handwriting bore a remarkable resemblance to that of Charles Buccheri. Two men from the Jamaica squad went west and picked him up in a small-town rooming house. It would have been a perfect hideout if he hadn’t been sending up “Come-get-me” beacons in the form of those letters.
Before they got back to New York, my men got the whole story of the holdup from Buccheri. The job had been planned for weeks. Joe LaPreta, who lived in the neighborhood, had cased the bank thoroughly and then set up the dental appointment to establish an alibi. A man named Anthony Cutro had driven the getaway car — stolen before the robbery — while Buccheri, Anthony LaPreta and Pete Colavecchio had carried the guns.
Confronted with Buccheri’s confession, both LaPretas talked a blue streak and we went to trial in December, 1935. The results: Long prison terms for all three. Cutro was picked up and tried the following year, while federal police caught up with Cola vecchio a few months later. Cowboy Pete faced a state sentence after completing his federal term, while the other four had to do time for the governement when they were released from state prison. None of them will be in a position to make trouble for a long time to come.
We never had much to on, but once we found out about Norma it was only a question of time. She was the weak link—even though four of the five bank robbers didn’t know her. Buccheri knew her. That was enough.
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.
Front Page Detective
I never found honor among thieves. The only thing that kept them from talking was a strip of fear a mile wide. One of the first mottos I learned was: “To catch a thief, ask another.”
When you’re a detective and the former assistant district attorney wants to see you, you hop. You hop even if it’s the coldest night in the memory of man and the clock says 2 a.m. You hop even if the sleep is still thick on your lids and your shoes seem to have completely disappeared from the place under the bed where you know you left them. That’s what I did on the night of February 6, 1936.
The call didn’t come directly from the former assistant district attorney. It came from police headquarters and the voice was the early morning hawk of a police sergeant, but the message was loaded with authority.
“Charley Froessel wants to see you in his office right away, Captain. He’s in the Barr Building. “
Froessel had worked out of Queens County, which was my territory, and he’d participated in some of the most dramatic cases we have on record during the rip and roaring 20s. He was no longer with the District Attorney’s office, but if he wanted to see me at 2 o’clock on a February morning it wasn’t just to reminisce.
How good the reason was I learned as soon as I approached the Barr Building, which stood dark and desolate in the winter night. A uniformed patrolman was on guard at the door.
“Big stickup, Captain. They’re all up on the seventh floor.”
Upstairs, I found Froessel sitting behind his desk. He was ashy white and shaken. With him were two detectives from my squad and a white-haired man whose face was bleeding from two deep cuts. His name was Travis; he was the night watchman.
Practically on my heels came the borough Deputy Chief Inspector. It was a big stick up, all right.
Five men had invaded the building, trussed up Froessel and the watchman, and systematically looted the place. Although no complete estimate had been made of the loss as yet, it would probably be in six figures and would be shared by several tenants.
I asked Froessel to tell us exactly what happened. He said that he returned to his office late that evening to finish a confidential report for the Justice Department for which he was now a special counsel.
At 11 P.M. he rang for the elevator and got in without looking at the operator. The gate was scarcely shut when Froessel felt a gun poked in his ribs: “Open your mouth just one time, Mister, and you’re dead,” the “operator” said.
The man wore a mask and gloves, and seemed to know his way around the building. From the lobby, he prodded Froessel down a flight of back stairs to the basement. There in the glaring light of the unshaded bulb, frossel saw two other masked men and the watchman, who was bound to a chair.
“This guy got cute with us,” one of the men explained to Froessel.
“Don’t you try it unless you want some of the same.”
As they began tying Froessel to a chair, two more men entered the basement. The group now numbered fibe.
“Who’s this guy?” one of the men said.
“I picked him up on the seventh floor just now,” said Froessel’s captor. “Must’ve been working late.”
“Let’s have a look,” the newcomer said. He reached into the attorney’s coat pocket and came out with a billfold. The gunman took out a package of bills, some $250 in cash. Then, as he looked through the papers in the billfold, he whistled softly.
“We got us a big fish here, men,” he said. “This is none other than Charles W. Froessel, the great prosecutor.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the gunman spoke again: “Let’s have a look at his place first. Bring him along.”
Froessel’s bonds were loosened then and he was yanked to his feet. He was let back up the stairs into the elevator and up to his office. A light was turned on and, while one of the masked men held a gun on Froessel, three others began to search the two-room suite.
“Bring him in here,” someone called from the inner office. They had found the safe.
“All right, your honor,” said one of them, mockingly, “what’s the combination?”
Froessel tried a bluff: “I don’t remember. I never touch it. My secretary has been opening that safe for two years.”
How far the bluff would carry him, Froessel didn’t know, but he was ready to ride it as far as he safely could. His personal belongings were in that safe — stocks, jewelry and $4000 in cash — along with $28,000 in government-owned bonds., entrusted to his care by the Justice Department.
As it turned out, the bluff worked — but it didn’t help. Fingering the safe, one of the bandits said, “The hell with him; I can rip this can. Take the hero downstairs and tie him up.”
Back in the basement, Froessel was bound to a chair alongside the watchman. For two hours he sat there…under the watchful A.M., the other four returned, signaled the guard and left…with the unhurried air of a group of businessmen completing a big deal.
It took Froessel and the watchman nearly 15 minutes to squirm free of their bonds and telephone the police. To an experienced hood — which these men obviously were — 15 minutes is a long time.
About the Author
Captain Henry Flattery
From a bicycle cop whose job it was to ticket reckless buggy drivers and overparked carriages, Irish Henry flattery grew to be one of the most respected members of the New York Police Department, a captain who participated in over 200 investigations and who was retired in 1952 with the distinction of being one of the few top officers admitted to the Police Honor League.
The high points in the lives of most retired men have to do with successful business deals, with acquaintanship with celebrities, with the creation of works of art. Captain Henry Flattery’s memories are studded with anecdotes involving the round-up of infamous bandit gangs, the capture of homicidal maniacs, the bluffing out of telephone kidnap threats. The big names that are noted in his book won their notoriety through the questionable channels of thievery, murder, forgery and arson. Captain Flattery (retired) is now in his 60s, a security officer in one of New York City’s leading hotels, but he has known more excitement, experienced more adventures and had more close brushes with death than most men will ever read of. He has volunteered to tell you of some of them and this is the first in a series of Captain Flattery storeis. Other accounts of his many fascinating experiences will appear in future issues of Front Page Detective.
By the time Froessel was finished talking, my men were back with a report on the rest of the building. The first four floors had just been vacated by a large company, but three other offices on the fifth and sixth floors had been hit hard: a jimmied safe in a finance company office had yielded more than $1000 in cash; merchandise valued at $1500 had been taken from a hosiery manufacturer; and an attorney named Gallup was still checking his ransacked office to see if anything was missing. Including the government bonds, Froessel’s office had been the thieves’ biggest mark: all told, more than $50,000 came out of it.
I walked over to the safe. It bore the mark of an expert. A small hole had been drilled near the jamb, a jimmy inserted to pry the hole wider, and a tempered steel can-opener device used to rip the door plate from the top to bottom.
“Did you let the men in?” I asked the watchman. “No sir,” he replied. “After I locked the building doors at a quarter to eight, I only opened them one time and that was for Mr. Froessel.”
“What time was that?”
“About 9 o’clock.”
“When did you first see the holdup men?”
“It must have been around 11 o’clock. I went down to the basememt ot check the furnace and there they were, all around me. I tried to run for it bu one of them hit me with a gun. I sort of blacked out. When I came to, I was all tied up, like Mr. Froessel saw me.”
“Could they have gotten in during the day and hidden in one of the vacant offices downstairs?”
“No, sir. They’re painting down there and I’m supposed to check every one of them offices for fire hazards. I did that around 11 o’oclock.”
“What about the offices up here?”
“All locked, every one of them.”
“Well, how did they get in?”
“I don’t know, Captain.”
And I didn’t either. None of the main doors had been forced; no windows were broken. Despite what the watchman said, they must have been inside the building before he locked it up for the night. But where?
This was only the first of many unanswereable questions that were to rise and plague us on one of the most tangled criminal trails my squad ever followed. Before it took us to the men we were after, it would wind through a maze of murder, kidnaping and robbery; it would involve countless witnesses, big wheels and two-bit hoodlums. Four long, bitter years were to pass before the New York Police Department could close the file on “The Froessel Case,” which opened that winter night.
But that’s how it is when you’re up against a gang of professional gunmen. They won’t give themselves away like a scared kid on his first job. Their moves are never neat and compact like the amateur’s single criminal act; a gang can’t be content with the one stickup, no matter how big the haul. Crime is their business; it’s all they know. Once organized, a gang goes on and on – until death or the law breaks it up.
The worst part of tracking them down is that you may not really have them even after you’ve caught them. You may have your man sitting right in front of you in the interrogation room. He knows he’s guilty, but he knows the angels too: he knows you can’t convict him without positive evidence. If you don’t have the evidence you grit your teeth, let your man go and start all over again. You have no other choice.
Time, however, is on the policemen’s side when he’s tracking a mob of pros because a mob, by its very nature, must eventually destroy itself. Every man in it is a potential police lead, and so is every man he touches. So we forget about the gun-slingers and go after the bartenders and informers; we talk to wives and sweethearts, jail mates and old buddies .We track them all down, every last one of them, and we ask: “Who’s flashing the big roll? What’s your man been up to? Who fingered the Barr Building?”
It’s a tough, weary job, but it’s our best weapon. There are few real secrets in the tight little circle of the local underworld and eventually everything leaks out.
Time works in two ways. The gang strikes again. Pressures begin to mount through newspaper stories and public opinion. We get a bit of information here, add it to what we found there. The same names begin to turn up again and again. A patterne emergges. We keep working, asking, looking. It takes a long time but in the end we win out. As we did in this case.
Before that long night of February 6 was over, police flyers describing the stolen securities were on their way to banks and brokerage houses all across the country. A dragnet was thrown over the city and the usual motley crew of punks, procurers and addicts was brought in. Fingerprint men went to work on the raided offices. A list was compiled of every master safecracker know to be at liberty.
From it all, we learned exactly nothing. None of the underworld characters we had picked up knew anything about a new safe gang; there wasn’t a fingerprint in the Barr building that matched anything we had on file in headquarters; and of the dozen men with the technique to slice open a safe the way Froessel’s was opened, we couldn’t find more than two of them.
But that was only the beginning of our trouble. Five days after the Barr Building was looted, a local creamer was hit and a small safe containing $2800 in cas was stolen. On the night of February 12, the watchman of a coal company was surprised by a band of masked gunmen and tied to a chair while a safe holding $3500 was expertly rifled. On February 16, a vending machine company was the target. Their vault was looted of $242,000 in cash, the checks and securities.
There was no question but that all four jobs had been pulled by the same gang; their touch was unmistakable and was evident on each job. Within ten days, they had made off with close to half a million dollars, and four all we had found out about them in that time, they might just as well have been Martians operating from outer space.
On February 17, I was called to the District Attorney’s office. I wasn’t surprised. I knew just what he had to say; that Charles Froessel’s name as a robbery victim had made headlines and alerted the public; that three more robberies inside of two weeks had made the police department look foolish; that he wanted action.
I was called to the District Attorney’s office. I wasn’t surprised. I knew just what he had to say; that Charles Froessel’s name as a robbery victim had made headlines and alerted the public; that three more robberies inside of two weeks had made the police department look foolish; that he wanted action.
He said all that and more – and I didn’t blame him. He had probably got the same speech from the Mayor, and I turned right around and gave it to my men. Pressure follows a chain of command. That chain leads to the people. They’re at the very top, and when they choose a group of men to do a police job for them, they expect it to be done. I aimed to get it done.
On February 24 we got action. A bank clerk, checking through a batch of incoming securities, spotted one of the bonds stolen from Froessel’s safe. I had two men trace it through the maze of Wall Street to where it had been cashed in, a Manhattan branch of the Corn Exchange Bank.
A few pertinent inquiries led us to a man named Fred Spillman.
He had a record dating back to the time he was nine. Now 35, he had 20 arrests, the charges ranging from forger to armed robbery. At the moment he was fronting for a Cuban development company which, while it may have been legitimate was also a perfect blind for a fence. I ordered Spillman brought in for questioning and, at the same time, sent a man to check his office.
Spillman didn’t have much to say when brought in. He admitted cashing the bond, but insisted it had been deposited with him by a Cuban engineer as part payment for a construction job Spillman’s company was doing.
“Can we get in touch with this engineer?” I asked. “Well, he’s gone back to Havana. I imagine it would take quite a while.”
“Yes, I imagine it would. Look, Spillman let’s quit playing games. We both know you fenced that bond for the crowd that knocked over the Barr Building. Tell us who they are and where the rest of the bonds are, and we’ll have a good word to say for you to the D.A.
“You’re making a mistake, Captain. I’m not fencing no bonds for nobody.”
I was about to try another approach when I was called outside to talk with Hugh McEnroe, the detective I’d sent to shake down Spillman’s office. Another man was with him.
“I think we’ve got the right pigeon, Captain,” Hugh said. “I found a receipt for a safety deposit box made out to an Allen Stevens in Spillman’s desk. I took it over to the bank and had a talk with these gentleman – he’s the assistant manager. He told me that the box was rented on the morning of February 6, the day of the robbery. The bank opened the box for me. This is what was in it.” He pulled some papers out of a large manila envelope. They were all the stocks and some of the bonds stolen from Charles Froessel’s safe.
I led the bank manager inside and pointed to Spillman. “Is this the man who rented the safety deposit box on February 6?” “Yes, sir,” the banker replied. “That’s the one.”
Spillman had nothing to say except that he wanted a lawyer. I ordered him booked for receiving stolen property. Then I began investigating all of Spillman’s criminal friends. It turned out to be unnecessary, however.
Working for 18 consecutive hours with silver nitrate and ultra violet rays, the men at the Police Technical Research Bureau had come up with every identifiable fingerprint on the bond Spillman cashed in. Checked against police records, three of these prints were of a 28-year-old Brooklyn tough who had already served one sentence for armed robbery and beaten the rap four other times. His name was Augie Faucetta. He was neither an underworld wheel nor a big brain, but for a dependable hood who could take orders on a big safe-cracking job, he was a good bet.
I promptly put a tail on Augie and began quizzing everyone he knew. This led us to a cheap hotel on Broadway.
“Augie spends a lot of time there,” one of his cronies said. “He got friends who live there or something.”
That same day, Detective Hugh McEnroe stationed himself at the hotel. We didn’t hear from him for two days, but when he finally did return to headquarters, he had big news.
“That’s Augie’s hangout, all right, but he’s not the only one. That place is like the Rogues Gallery come to life. I saw more hoods in that lobby than we get in the lineup on a good day. And who do you suppose Faucetta’s best buddies are? Red Crowley, Joe McKenna and Charlie Rozea. They spent four hours together in Room 216 last night. “
There was a long silence in the squad room when Hughie was finished. He had made a real find and we all knew it. Crowley, McKenna and Rozea all had long police records. As a team they were capable of anything. There was no question about what we had to do.
Anyone hanging around the lobby of the hotel just before midnight on February 26 probably didn’t notice the two men taking to the desk clerk. They looked like they were asking for a room. A third man stood idly by the switchboard, seemingly asleep on his feet. There was certainly nothing in the picture to get excited about.
The picture changed an instant after I walked into the lobby with Hugh McEnroe. Suddenly the men at the desk weren’t interested in a room anymore. They were detectives and they had a job to do.
The clerk and two bellboys were ordered into a back room, and my men took over at the desk. The man standing at the switchboard came to life, too. He relieved the regular operator with the barest, “Pardon me, buddy,” and quickly disconnected every outside wire. The hotel was sealed off tight. It was primed for one of the most spectacular police raids in the annals of the Jamaica squad.
With the co-operation of Manhattan detectives, 30 special officers had surrounded the hotel. As soon as we had taken over the lobby and ushered all the loiterers into a paddy wagon, ten detectives moved inside and began shaking down every room in the building. In groups of five, every man or woman with a criminal record was taken to headquarters. I noticed two officers hustle Faucetta, Rozea and McKenna outside, but I didn’t give them a second glance. Let them sweat a while.
Before 1 A.M., the job was done, and don so well that when Red Crowley strolled into the lobby at 12:45 his jaw almost hit the ground at the reception waiting for him.
“You’re under arrest, Red,” I told him.
“Playing with fire crackers, that’s what for. Come on.”
With the co-operation of Manhattan detectives, 30 special officers had surrounded the hotel. As soon as we had taken over the lobby and ushered all the loiterers into a paddy wagon, ten detectives moved inside and began shaking down every room in the building. In groups of five, every man or woman with a criminal record was taken to headquarters.Captain Henry Flattery
That same night, we released 11 of the 20 people we’d picked up. Preliminary questioning showed they had no connection with the Froessel job. Later, others were turned loose and we concentrated on the men we were really interested in: Crowley, McKenna, Rozea and Faucetta.
Crowley by now was living up to his image of the hard-as-nails hood. “You ain’t got a thing on me,” he said, “and I ain’t got a thing to say to the cops.”
McKenna, known as the Professor because he had read a book once, admitted he frequented the hotel, but only because his girlfriend lived there. “I don’t know anything about a safe job.”
Rosea sang the same tue time after time: “I’m on parole, fellas,” he kept whining, “I wouldn’t do nothing dumb.”
Augie was the one who really threw us, though. We figured that his prints on the bond would shake him up…but he didn’t even bat an eye when we showed it to him. “Yeah, I seen it before,” he admitted. “Fellow name of Spillman showed it to me a couple of weeks ago. Asked me did I ever see a bond before and I said no. So he let me hold it.”
And that’s the way it went, all that night and all through the next day; we couldn’t budge them.
But the raid on the hotel was far from a total loss. Lieutenant Ray Honan, having checked out all the telephone slips charged to Room 216, turned up a shocker; two of the calls were to Jamaica numbers…one to the office and the other to the residence of Attorney Joseph Gallup . It had been Gallup’s office in the Barr Building that was ransacked but, as it later developed, not robbed.
For a long moment, Honan and I stared at each other, each thinking the same thoughts. Could it be that Gallup had fingered Froessel’s safe for Crowley? Was he the answer to how the stickup men go into the building on the night of February 6? Did Gallup let them into his office before the building was shut down for the night? The watchman, trying Gallups locked door at 10 p.m. would have no way of knowing that a band of safecrackers was waiting inside.
If Gallup had been working with Crowley’s mob under the guise of a respectable law practice, the whole thing would fit together perfectly – we would have our fingerman, our fence and the safecrackers all in one package.
As far as a jury was concerned, however, the evidence was still mostly conjecture. The best we could hope for on what we had at the moment was to put Spillman, the fence, away for a couple of years on a receiving-stolen-property charge. We had little on Crowley and his boys, even less on Gallup. He was an upright citizen without any links to the underworld – except two telephone calls from Room 216.
That same day, even this slender thread was severed. Called down to headquarters, Gallup had a ready explanation for the calls. He was preparing a divorce action in which Joe McKenna was to be a witness. McKenna had telephoned him twice to get some details straightened out.
It was hard to believe that the long arm of coincidence could reach out that far, but we had no choice except to swallow Gallup’s story.
It got worse before it got better. Despite almost three weeks of persistent questioning, not one of the men picked up at the hotel talked. On March 9, they were released.
Ten days later, a union leader was murdered on Manhattan’s West Side docks. Following a lead, detectives raided a West 90th Street apartment and uncovered an arsenal of machine guns, rifles, silencers and 4000 rounds of ammunition. Hovering stupidly over the whole works, like a hen guarding her errant chicks, was none other than Joe McKenna. He was reading another book.
Although he managed to wriggle free of the murder charge, McKenna was quickly convicted of violating the Sullivan Law – about two dozen counts – and was handed a 7-to-14-year prison sentence.
One down, five to go.
A month later, number two was tucked safely behind bars. Spillman was handed a 20-year-to-life sentence for receiving stolen property. And here, in his moment of greatest adversity, Spillman blundered. In a private conference with his wife, he revealed the whereabouts of another $2500 of Foessel’s government bonds; they were in another safety deposit box. When Mrs. Spillman showed up there to get them, two detectives relieved her of the key. The long weeks they’d spent shadowing her had finally paid off.
Number three was Crowley himself. Apparently willing to try anything once – so long as it was against the law – Red had kidnaped the son of a New York State political leader. Captured, he broke out of Jamesville prison, was taken again and this time moved to Leavenworth where he began working off a 30-year Federal sentence.
By now, Augie Faucetta must have grown lonesome. He tried to make some new friends. They were the wrong kind again. Augie was picked up for a payroll robbery and got 30 to 60 years. As the saying goes, that wasn’t the half of it. There was more, much more, in store for Augie.
So there we were. Only Rozea among our prime suspects for the Froessel job was free now, and he was being kept under constant surveillance. To anyone but a cop, this might seem like a job well done: four of the five men we had been after were serving long prison terms. What difference if they had been tried on other charges?
The answer to that is: it makes all the difference in the world. Until the Froessel case came to trial, it remained wide open in police department records, a galling situation to every officer who had participated in the investigation. Furthermore, whether it was Gallup or someone else, I was convinced that Froessel’s office had been fingered, that the gunmen had been admitted to the building and hidden by that same person. And whoever he was, that man was walking free on the streets this very moment.
Meanwhile, the stolen bonds kept turning up in various parts of the country. Although everyone was traced as far back as it could be, we never once got a lead on their point of origin. Finally, on September 29, almost eight months after the robbery, the last batch appeared in Morristown, M.J. When we failed to penetrate the blind thrown up to mask this transaction, we had to cross out the bonds themselves as a potential source of information.
I had one last idea. As a precaution, I had maintained a part-time tail on Mrs. Spillman. When the report came in that she was in financial trouble, I decided to convey the sad tidings to Spillman himself. Remembering the concern he had shown for his wife’s welfare after his trial, I thought there was a chance he’d lose his temper when he heard how poorly fixed his comrades-in-arms had left her.
“You’re wasting your time,” were his first words when he saw me.
“I don’t think so, Spillman,” I said. “Seen your wife lately?”
“What about it?”
“I hear she’s not doing too well.”
He stared at the ceiling.
“I hear the boys didn’t take care of her, that she’s out working day and night to make enough money to get by on.”
“Lay off, Flattery. I got nothing to say to you.”
“Why don’t you wise up, Fred? Your buddies welched and your wife’s paying for it. Now they’re doing time and they can’t hurt you or help her.”
“So play it smart, and you’ll be free in a couple of years. Be stubborn and we’ll lodge a robbery warrant against you. That’ll take care of your chance of parole. You’ll do every last day of that 20 years.”
He was quiet for a long time. He wasn’t looking at the ceiling any more.
“Were you in on the stickup, Fred?”
“Crowley, McKena, Faucetta and Rozea. Crowley ripped the can.”
“Who fingered it?”
Gallup. We went up to his office one at a time that afternoon. He locked us in and left at seven. We messed up his place to make it look good, then came out and went to work.”
“Fred,” I said tensely, “will you tell all this to a jury?”
“Will you get me off the robbery rap?”
I called for a guard and a stenographer. Then I heaved a big sigh. We were about to unwind the Froessel case.
As it turned out, we almost lost it again. Gallup had disappeared. For months we hunted down every lead to find him, but we had no luck.
In December, 1939, just two months before the statute of limitations on the Froessel case would have barred prosecution, an officer shadowing Charlie Rozea–who had never been out of our sight for long—followed him into an uptown apartment building. When Charlie didn’t show by 3:30 in the morning, the detective entered the apartment into which Rozea had disappeared. Charlie was still inside. With him was Joseph Gallup.
With Spillman as State’s witness, the trial was open and shut. Crowley, Rozea, McKenna and Faucetta were each sentenced to from 30 years to 60 years. These terms would not begin until the men had completed their current sentences. Their chances of ever getting out of prison alive are not bright. Gallup drew a 15-to-30-year sentence and faces embezzlement charges when he gets out.
Fred Spillman was not prosecuted on the robbery charge, but he didn’t know a good break when he got one. Weeks after his release from prison, he was back in; he’d developed a small burglary business which he operated whenever newspaper death notices assured him that his victims wouldn’t be home. It took us three such burglaries to catch up with the pattern.
On the fourth one, we caught up with Fred Spillman.
And so, more than four years after the robbery, we were able to make the Froessel case closed. In doing so, we broke up one of Queens County’s most dangerous gangs, not with police heroics or dime novel brainwork, but by patient, persistent — and often aggravating—plugging away at every lead, every angle.