LaPreta was rushed to headquarters. He denied any knowledge of the bank robbery. The witnesses were brought in, but none could identify him.
“What’re all these questions about, anyway?” he asked. “What did I do, kill somebody?”
Hill retorted, “It’s too bad one of your pals carried around souvenir matches when he pulled the bank job.” The detective flung the matchbook on the desk.
“Who were the four men you brought into your nephew’s home?”
LaPreta looked up startled. “Say, wait a minute. Did they do something? They used to hang out around the club. When the place closed they asked me for my address. About a month ago they came out to see me. They told me they were behind payments on their car and wanted to hide it from the finance company, so I let them use my garage. I read about the bank robbery, but I never thought they did it. I was at my dentist at the time of the robbery.”
LaPreta’s alibi checked. He had been at his dentist from 12:30 until one o’clock that day.
“So what?” District Attorney Sullivan pointed out. “He wasn’t one of the four bandits, but he still could be the fingerman.”
LaPreta said that he did not know the last names of the four men. “You know how it is in a place like that. You call everybody by their first name. I just knew them as Phil, Jimmy, Marty and Mimi.”
Disbelief showed on the faces of the officers.
“You’ve got to believe me,” he pleaded. “Look,” he said “they usually hang out on the corner of 48th Street and Seventh Avenue. I’ll go over there with you and see if I can spot them. I’ll point them out.”
For several hours the sleuths lounged on the corner with LaPreta.
For several hours the sleuths lounged on the corner with LaPreta. He shook his head each time somebody nodded or spoke to him. “Not the ones,” he chanted.
LaPreta was taken to the rogues’ gallery where he searched through a group of pictures. “Here’s Phil!” he suddenly shouted. It was a photo of Charles Buccheri, an ex-convict. This was the only picture he was able to select.
He was brought back for further questioning, but clung to his original story. “They played me for a sucker,” he moaned.
Flattery conferred with Sullivan. “Turn him loose,” the prosecutor directed.
Flattery was startled. “Don’t tell me you fell for his story?”
“We want him to think so. As matters stand now, I couldn’t convict him of anything. Keep shadowing him, so if he tries to get away your men can nab him. So far he’s our only hope leading to the others. We’ll know how much of a song and dance he’s been giving us after we find Buccheri.”
The detectives learned that Buccheri was living at a hotel at Broadway and 28th Street, but the manager there said no one by that name was registered. He was shown the police photo.
“That’s Charles Malone,” he exclaimed. “He moved out September 8. Norma Thomas, a chorus girl, was a friend of his. She used to visit him, if that’s any help.”
Hill contacted Detective Hyman Levine, famous Broadway sleuth. Two days later Levine telephone. “Norma left town, and so did he. I couldn’t find out where she went, but I can give you the address of her girlfriend, Sue.”
Posing as a slightly tipsy business man from the west, Hill went to Sue’s suite in a midtown hotel. “Norma told me if I couldn’t locate her that you would know her address.”
Sue, a petite brunette, smiled sweetly. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, mister, but Norma is out of town.” She arched her eyebrows coyly. “Perhaps I can help you. I’m Norma’s best friend.”
Hill shook his head doggedly. “Nope, got to find Norma. Where is she? I’ll go there.”
“Have a pleasant trip, mister,” Sue snapped back. “The last I heard, she was heading for Dallas, Texas.” She slammed the door in the detective’s face.
From the Motor Vehicle Bureau, Hill learned that Buccheri had purchased a used car for $600 on September 7, the day after the bank robbery. A description of the car and the wanted man was wired to Dallas police. Buccheri had listed his parent’s home in Corona as his address on his ownership card.