Leave It To The Girls

Leave It To The Girls

FRONT PAGE DETECTIVE DEC 1955

Leave it to the Girls
Captain's Blog

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. 

Captain Henry Flattery is no stranger to FRONT PAGE readers. He has taken you on two memoriable excursions through some of the most hair-raising investigations of his career. In this third in the series of Captain Flattery stories you are given an opportunity to see still another side of a big city homicide department and how it works — through the eyes of one of this country’s most capable detectives.
But Aldino wasn’t a robot; he was a man with a weakness. He was hungry for his woman. Before dawn that next morning, I was awakened by a telephone call from Newark.

“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.    

New York’s Riddle of the Floating Corpse

New York’s Riddle of the Floating Corpse

 New York’s Riddle
of the Floating Corpse

Dynamic Detective Magazine, November 1941

by Claude Stuart Hammock

Dynamic detective

The hush that comes with twilight enveloped the scene as the car slowly neared the end of Lovers’ lane at the foot of Jamaica Bay on Long Island, N.Y. The machine came to a halt where the road makes a horseshoe curve around the inlet.

Water lapped against the mashy bank a few feet below the road. But even this was not heard by the lovers as the young man’s arm tightened around his companion’s waist and her head rested contentedly on his shoulder.

Darkness ws slowly closing in as they sat there enjoying the solitude. The young man’s gaze rested idly on the swaying bunches of marsh grass in the back eddy. Suddenly his body tensed. An unusual movement in the vegetation of the marsh had caught his attention. He leaned forward, his eyes wide and staring.

Discovery

A ghastly object ws being borne ashore by the slowly rising tied. With a trembling hand he snapped on the ignition, and said in a husky voice, “Let’s get out of here.”

His companion was alarmed. “What’s wrong, dear?”

“Nothing…nothing at all. I don’t like the looks of this place.”

The gears meshed and they were soo speeding back down the lonely road. Not until they had turned into Sunrise highway did he recover sufficient composure to explain that he had seen the body of a man floating in the waters of the inlet.

He knew the matter should be reported at once to the police but shrank from the possibility of becoming involved in a situation that might require embarrassing explanations. He decided to wait until the next day, hoping that someone else might report the body; but when there was no mention of it in the morning newspapers he went to the police and told his story.

Action began at once. Police cars and an ambulance raced to the lonely spot at the end of the lane, with Detective Lieut. Henry Flattery, commander of the Jamaica squad, in charge.

Evidence of a fiendish crime was apparent when officers lifted the lifeless body from the water and placed it on the bank.

After the first cursory examination the ambulance doctor said, “I’d say he’s been dead about a week.”

The dead man’s clothes were partially removed, exposing his torso. “Stabbed eight times in the chest,” the doctor added. “Yes, and seven more in the back. We’ll get complete details at the autopsy.”

Flattery looked at the victim’s head and face. The certainly did a complete job. “See how they’ve battered his features out of shape before they knifed him?”

All traces of identification appeard to have been removed from the body but Flattery, unwilling to admit defeat, took a second look at the coat. There was a hole in one pocket. Shoving his hand through it, he retrieved a folded piece of paper that had lodged in the lining.

“They always overlook something,” he muttered, unfolding the paper. It was a tradesman’s bill made out to Dominick Tovano.

Upon his return to headquarters, Flattery directed an investigation of records of automobile and operators licenses, the telephone directory and other sources of information in an effort to connect the name with the victim. It was well past midnight, May 4, 1934, when he positively identified the corpse as that of Tavano, and located his address.

Flattery, accompanied by Detective Thomas Coote of the homicide squad, went immediately to search the apartment where Tovano was reported to have been living alone. Although light showed beneath the door , repeated knocking brought no response. At a nod from Flattery, Coote’s burly shoulder thudded against the panels. The door splintered and flew open. The room was untenanted and a glance gave unquestionable signs of poverty that promptly ruled out robbery as a motive for the brutal crime.

A careful search of the premises yielded little information. The bed had not been slept in and the whole place was in disorder. Clothing was thrown about as though someone had dressed in a hurry. A revolver was found but there were no letters or other papers to throw any light on the owner’s affairs.

The click of a latch sounded from the apartment across the hall and a man and a woman stood framed in the open door.

“We…we heard a noise,” the man said.

The detective lieutenant identified himself. “When did you folks see Tovano last?” he asked.

“Why, not for several days.”

 

Why had the impovershed victim left the lights burning in his rooms above the barber shop?

Woman Angle

Flattery followed with other questions but the man and woman were unable to give much information. They were visibly startled when Flattery told them. “Tovano has been murdered. Think hard now, if there’s anything that might help solve his slaying.”

The effect was magical. The man, giving his name as John Miller, blurted, “Tovano thought he had a way with women. He used to bring them here to his rooms. There was one in particular that came here quite a lot. Pretty, too, with dark hair and dark eyes.”

“And always well dress,” his wife interrupted. She gave a fairly complete description of the woman and added, “She was married, too, and Tovano was always afraid her husband might find out about them and make trouble.”

“Did he ever mention her name?”

“No, never.”

Flattery considered the love triangle.  The unusual brutality of the crime might be the work of a wronged husband crazed by jealousy. But why would  a good-looking, wel-dressed woman jeopardize her home and her good name for a man in Tovano’s circumstances?

And if not a jealousy killing, what then?

“Now, Miller,” he sai, “when did you see Tovano last?”

“I remember now,” the man said after a moment, “it was a week ago tonight. My wife and I were driving over to Manhattan to take one of her friends home. We were just ready to start when Tovano asked to go along. He said he he had a date. He had shaved and was all dressed up. We got into a traffic jam on Queensboro bridge and were late getting to Manhattan, but when wet go there Tovano changed his mind and said he wanted to go to brooklyn. So we came back that way and dropped him off.”

“Where?”

“Why, it was on Pitkin avenue at Linwood street. He just said ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,” and walked off. I don’t know where he went.”

Mrs. Miller added, “That’s right. That’s just the way it was. We left him there about eleven o’clock.

Flattery dismissed the Millers with thanks.

As the investigators were leaving the building they glanced at the open mail boxes. There was a letter in the one marked “Tovano.” It was from a resident of Brooklyn and stated that the writer had found Tovano’s driver’s license on Crescent street, near Fulton, in Brooklyn. The license was enclosed. How the license happened to be found several miles from Tovano’s home merely added to the mystery.

Next morning the man was questioned but could offer nothing further. He had picked up the license in the street and mailed it nearly a week before, thinking he was doing the owner a favor.

Flattery and Coote returned to Tovano’s house. They had noted that the ground floor was occupied by a barber shop and it seemed a likely source of information.

“You know Dominick Tovano, don’t you?” Flattery asked the barber. “Oh sure. He lives upstairs.”

“When did you see him last?”

“It was on Saturday. More than a week ago. I know because I let him have my keys so he could come in here and cook his dinner.”

“Do you live here?”

“No, but I have a stove in the back room. Tovano is a very poor man and I like to help him out. When I came to open the shop Monday morning I remembered Tovano had not returned the keys, so I went up to his room. He wasn’t at home but there was a light shining under the door. I asked John Miller who lives across the hall from Tovano if he or his wife had seen him and they said not since Saturday. So I had to go home for my other keys.”

“You say Tovano was poor?”

“Yes. He was a housepainter and business is awfully bad. He owed a lot of rent and his gas was turned off. That’s why he came here to cook.”

“Why didn’t you report that to the police?”

“I meant to at first but it slipped my mind. Sometimes he goes away for a few days so I didn’t worry about him. I thought he would come in just most any time.”

Flattery puzzled. Who would want to kill so poverty-stricken and unimportant a victim? Why had a sharp instrument been plunged fifteen times into the body of an unemployed painter?

Dominick Tovano met a ghastly death. Detectives probed deeply into his life to find out why. 

Flattery followed with other questions but the man and woman were unable to give much information. They were visibly startled when Flattery told them. “Tovano has been murdered. Think hard now, if there’s anything that might help solve his slaying.”

The effect was magical. The man, giving his name as John Miller, blurted, “Tovano thought he had a way with women. He used to bring them here to his rooms. There was one in particular that came here quite a lot. Pretty, too, with dark hair and dark eyes.”

“And always well dress,” his wife interrupted. She gave a fairly complete description of the woman and added, “She was married, too, and Tovano was always afraid her husband might find out about them and make trouble.”

“Did he ever mention her name?”

“No, never.”

Flattery considered the love triangle.  The unusual brutality of the crime might be the work of a wronged husband crazed by jealousy. But why would  a good-looking, wel-dressed woman jeopardize her home and her good name for a man in Tovano’s circumstances?

And if not a jealousy killing, what then?

“Now, Miller,” he sai, “when did you see Tovano last?”

“I remember now,” the man said after a moment, “it was a week ago tonight. My wife and I were driving over to Manhattan to take one of her friends home. We were just ready to start when Tovano asked to go along. He said he he had a date. He had shaved and was all dressed up. We got into a traffic jam on Queensboro bridge and were late getting to Manhattan, but when wet go there Tovano changed his mind and said he wanted to go to brooklyn. So we came back that way and dropped him off.”

“Where?”

“Why, it was on Pitkin avenue at Linwood street. He just said ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,” and walked off. I don’t know where he went.”

Mrs. Miller added, “That’s right. That’s just the way it was. We left him there about eleven o’clock.

Flattery dismissed the Millers with thanks.

As the investigators were leaving the building they glanced at the open mail boxes. There was a letter in the one marked “Tovano.” It was from a resident of Brooklyn and stated that the writer had found Tovano’s driver’s license on Crescent street, near Fulton, in Brooklyn. The license was enclosed. How the license happened to be found several miles from Tovano’s home merely added to the mystery.

Next morning the man was questioned but could offer nothing further. He had picked up the license in the street and mailed it nearly a week before, thinking he was doing the owner a favor.

Flattery and Coote returned to Tovano’s house. They had noted that the ground floor was occupied by a barber shop and it seemed a likely source of information.

“You know Dominick Tovano, don’t you?” Flattery asked the barber. “Oh sure. He lives upstairs.”

“When did you see him last?”

“It was on Saturday. More than a week ago. I know because I let him have my keys so he could come in here and cook his dinner.”

“Do you live here?”

“No, but I have a stove in the back room. Tovano is a very poor man and I like to help him out. When I came to open the shop Monday morning I remembered Tovano had not returned the keys, so I went up to his room. He wasn’t at home but there was a light shining under the door. I asked John Miller who lives across the hall from Tovano if he or his wife had seen him and they said not since Saturday. So I had to go home for my other keys.”

“You say Tovano was poor?”

“Yes. He was a housepainter and business is awfully bad. He owed a lot of rent and his gas was turned off. That’s why he came here to cook.”

“Why didn’t you report that to the police?”

“I meant to at first but it slipped my mind. Sometimes he goes away for a few days so I didn’t worry about him. I thought he would come in just most any time.”

Flattery puzzled. Who would want to kill so poverty-stricken and unimportant a victim? Why had a sharp instrument been plunged fifteen times into the body of an unemployed painter?

“It means one thing,” said Flattery. “This fellow MIller is holding something back. He knows where Tovano was going and and he’s trying to cover up. Here’s what you’d better do. Go over to Brooklyn Where he said he dropped Tovano.”

“Maybe he left him there and maybe he didn’t. But work from there in every direction until you find if Tovano was in that neighborhood. No telling how long it will take or how far it may be from that spot. There’s a chance that Tovano didn’t even want Miller to know where he went.”

“Do you know if Tovano ever had trouble with anyone?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t know.” The barber shrugged, then added, “About three months ago somebody tried to break into his place but I don’t know who it was. I never heard any more about it.”

That last remark might have some significance. Flattery thought of the dark-eyed woman’s husband. Of course the housebreaker might have been just a common prowler. The detectives returned to headquarters to check developments.

In the meantime, Tovano’s relatives had been located. They evidently knew little about the victim’s acquaintances or his relations with them. They did mention, however, that he once had received a legacy of 13,000 lire and suggested that possibly Tovano had been in some kind of trouble in Italy and had been pursued and slain in revenge.

A search for the dark-eyed woman had been successful and the report was waiting. She said that she had broken off her affair with Tovano several months before and that she and her husband had been reconciled. The husband was exonerated after his alibi was investigated. The love triangle was definitely out but that only plunged the case into deeper mystery.

“They probably broke off after Tovano had spent all his legacy,” Coote suggested.

“That’s a thought. Say, did you get a line on any one of Tovano’s friends?”

“Only one — James O’Connor. He’s not hard to locate; he’s in jail right now waiting trial for robbery.”

Why had the impovershed victim left the lights burning in his rooms above the barber shop?

Quiz Prisoners

O’Connor’s record showed that he had been arrested in April, several days before the murder, and had been in Queens county jail ever since. That would clear him of any actual participation in the crime but it raised a question in Flattery’s mind. Was Tovano involved in any of O’Connor’s escapades? His friendship with O’Connor, an ex-convict with an unsavory record was nothing to be proud of. It would bear looking into.

They went to O’Connor’s cell and began questioning him. The prisoner positively refused to answer. At the first mention of Tovano’s name he flew into a violent rage and poured out a torrent of profanity. Disgusted, the detectives left and got out O’Connor’s arrest report. It showed that he had held up a gasoline station single-handed. He was all set for a getaway but had trouble in starting his car and the delay had permitted a radio car to pick him up.

The detectives reviewed the fragmentary bits of information that they had at hand but they failed to fit into any kind of pattern. Tovano was broke, he was in debt, his gas was shut off, and still he had left the lights burning when he went out.

“What does that suggest?” asked Flattery.

“He must have left in a big hurry.”

“Exactly. He must have had something important on his mind. He said he had a date and wanted to go to Manhattan, then changed his mind and went to Brooklyn.

“It doesn’t add up. It means something, all right.”

“It means one thing,” said Flattery. This fellow Miller is holding something back. He knows where Tovano was going and is trying to cover up. Here’s what you’d better do. Go over to Brooklyn where he said he dropped Tovano.

“Maybe he left him there and maybe he didn’t. But work from there in every direction until you find if Tovano was in that neighborhood. No telling how long it will take or how far it may be from that spot. There’s a chance that Tovano didn’t even want Miller to know where he went.”

Coote went to Pitkin avenue and Linwood street, Brooklyn, and tried to pick up Tovano’s trail. Working methodically, he called the stores, homes, restaurants and bars, making inquiries and showing a photograph of Tovano. It seemed an endless job but, as frequently happens, he struck a lead as he was about ready to admit defeat.

He had shown the photograph to a barman in a squalid saloon and received a negative shake of hte head when a patron leaning on the bar glanced at the picture.

“I saw that fellow once,” he offered. “He was drunk.”

Coote tuned to the man and began questioning him but met with sudden suspicioun.

“Say, who’re you?” the patron asked cautiously.

“Why, I’m a friend of this man. I’ve got an important message for him.”

Again at ease, the patron told what he knew. He had been walking along the street when the man in the photography came out of a house and bumped against him, then got into a car with some other fellows and drove away, he related. He told where this had happened and gave a good description of the house. Coote hurried away to check it up.

A three-story house on Glenmore avenue answered the description. Coote rang the bell. The woman who opened the door looked at the photograph and said she recognized the man as one who had been at her daughter’s birthday party on the night in question. She was not acquainted with him. He and two other men, who also were strangers, had come with some friends of the family and therefore had been allowed to stay, she explained.

“Who were these friends who brought the three strangers?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Miller, from Jamaica.”

Coote controlled his elation. Here, then, was a tie-in with the Millers.

Coote secured a fairly complete list of those who had been at the party, thanked the woman and hurried away to telephone headquarters.

Flattery was enthusiastic. Would the party furnish a key to the riddle of the weird slaying? The lieutenant detailed detectives to bring in the party guests. Later in the day, a young man, his sister, a portly merchant, the hostess and her daughter formed a group of astonished guests at police headquarters.

Each played a part in a murder drama: the sullen sailor at left, freckle-faced James O’Connor, center, and detective Lieut. Henry Flattery, right, who finally rang down the curtain on a puzzling mystery. 

“We are investigating a murder,” Flattery told them, “and I am sure that all of you will be glad to cooperate. The victim was Dominick Tovano. Were any of you acquainted with him?”

All answers were in the negative.

“I believe you were all at a party a few nights ago. Tavano was there, so you must have seen him.” He passed around the photograph for inspection.

All remembered seeing the man but none had ever seen him before the party and his name had not been mention there. They corroborated the hostess’ story about the three guests the Millers had brought — one who had been merely introduced as “Jo-Jo,” another as “Lenny” and the man in the photograph.

“We have been told that Miller and his three guests left the party about midnight,” said Flattery., “and returned several hours later without this man Tovano. Does anyone here know just when they returned and what explanation, if any, was given for the absence of Tovano?”

“They returned about three o’clock,” one man replied. “I know, for I was getting ready to leave. I heard Jo-Jo say that this man Tovano had been taken sick and they had left him at a restaurant while they took a ride. They had all been drinking heavily and I guess no one paid much attention.”

The witnesses were dismissed. The story pieced together from the information they had given convinced Flattery that they were making very definite progress. It also confirmed his suspicion that Miller had beenholding out on hi. Miller and his wife were sent for.

“We told you all we know about Toano,” Miller protested as soon as he arrived. He seemed very nervous.

Flattery smiled mirthlessly.  “Then suppose I tell you what I know?” he said.

He gave them the whole story as he had gotten it. Miller became visibly agitated as the tale unfolded and when it was finished his face was ashen.

“Now, Miller,” demanded Flattery, “tell us just what happened dring the three hours you were away from the party. And tell it straight, this time!”

Miller broke completely. Trembling, he poured out the whole story of the midnight ride. He said he had been forced to drive the car and that Jo-Jo  and Lenny threatened him with death if he ever told what happened. He knew what went on before and after the murder, but he said he had not witnessed the actual killing.

On the afternoon before the murder, he said, he had been at a ball game and when he returned home Jo-Jo and Lenny were waiting for him. He had met Jo-Jo through Tovano but Lenny was a stranger to him. During their conversation the forthcoming party had been mentioned and it was decided that they would all go. Jo-Jo Jo-Jo suggested that they take Tovano along and show him a good time as he did not have much money and it would be a treat for him. The others agreed.

“Now this man Jo-Jo,” Flattery interrupted.  “He was a friend of Tovano’s?”

“Yes, they had been friends.”

“What do you mean by ‘had been’?”

“Well, Tovano, Jo-Jo, and O’Connor all belonged to a holdup gang, but they had quarreled and Tovano was behind the eight ball. But I thought that was all patched up when Jo-Jo wanted to treat Tovano to a party.”

“What was the quarrel about?”

Miller hesitated a moment, then said, “Tovano worked with O’Connor on these holdups. But he ran out on O’Connor.”

“Then O’Connor pulled a job alone and got caught. Is that right?”

“Yes, that’s what the fuss was about.”

Miller went on to explain that there had been a whispered conversation at the party, during which he learned that Jo-Jo and Lenny were out to avenge O’Connor.

“All right, the ride was planned. Go on.”

Miller said they started out at midnight. Tovano was very drunk by that time vut Lenny helped him into the rumble seat and got in with him. Jo-Jo got in front with Miller and they drove to a tavern. Miller and Tovano remained in the car while the other two went to get some liquor. They returned soon, Lenny ordering him to drive on. This time Lenny got in front and Jo-Jo got in with Tovano.

They had gone only a short distance when Miller heard Tovano yell. He turned to see what was the matter, he said, but Lenny told him to attend to his own business and keep driving. but in the rear-view  mirror he saw Jo-Jo hit Tovano over the head with a bottle. A moment later he was told to stop the car. Jo-Joe then closed the rumble seat on Tovano and got in front.

Miller said he drove the car on as directed, out to the Sunrise highway, off on a dirt road, following it to the end. Here Lenny and Jo-Jo opened the rumble seat and pulled Tovano out, then ordered Miller to drive back down the road a short distance and wait. He had no idea they were going to do more than give Tovano a beating.

Soon the two rejoined Miller and they started back to the party. On the way, Jo-Jo stopped at the his home to change his shirt. They continued their ride but at Crescent street, Brooklyn, they stopped again. Miller said the others left him in the car while they went for a walk, taking Jo-Jo’s soiled shirt with them. He noted that they returned without it.

“All right, Miller, who is the man they call Jo-Jo?”

“His name is George Stanulov.”

“And Lenny?”

“I don’t know his name. I never saw him before that day, nor since. I don’t know a thing about him.

Seek Shirt

 

Stanulov, a broad-shouldered man of about 25, was picked up and questioned. He denied all knowledge of the affair. Flattery knew the evidence Miller could give was not enough to convict Stanulov, as he had not been present at the actual killing. He would have to find something definately implicatin the man. If Miller had told the truth about the two men taking a walk on Crescent street and returning without the soiled shirt, the next step was clearly indicated. It was more than a mere coincidence, Flattery decided, that Tovano’s license had also been found on that street.

“Search the sewers on Crescent street,” he ordered. “We’ve got to find that shirt.”

Some hours later, a bloodstained shirt was fished out of the catch basin at Crescent street and Ridgewood avenue. Before bringing it to Flattery the detectives traced the laundry mark and proved definitely that it was Stanulov’s shirt.

Flattery took the garment to Stanulov’s cell. “Ever see that before?” he asked.

“No.”

“You had one like it, didn’t you?”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Thousands of men have shirts like that. So what?”

“That’s the shirt you had on when you killed Tovano,” Flattery thundered, “You got it all bloody and chucked it in the sewer on Crescent street, over in Brooklyn where you thought it would never be found. The laundry mark pins it on you, so you might as well come clean.

Stabbed 15 times in the chest and back, a man’s body in Jamaica Bay, N.Y., offered police a baffling mystery. But a tiny slip of paper led them at last to the killer shown here in custody.