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Gorilla Man

Gorilla Man

Front Page Detective

Gorilla Man

By Charles P. Sullivan, District Attorney
Queens County, N.Y.

As Told to Royal Riley


Main StoryCaptain's Blog

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.  

Dumbbells I Have Known

Dumbbells I Have Known

Front Page Detective

Dumbbells I Have Known

Few killers have high IQs, true. But wait till you read about these dumbbells.

Captain's Blog

November 1955

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.” 


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.

From the most exciting of his experiences he has culled what he believes to be the most memorable cases for our readers, and in this issue we bring you the second in a series of Captain Flattery stories. 

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.”

“How long?”

“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. 

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Wake of the Dawn Patrol

Wake of the Dawn Patrol

True Detective February 1943

Wake of the Dawn Patrol

From Harlem to Queens the mob had plundered–now murder was added to their crimes.

By David Wray

Captain's Blog

Mob slaying 

The Wake of the Dawn Patrol

At Jamaica Avenue and Merrick Rd. a motorman saw a waiting taxi, its motor racing. Just around the corner was Mahairas’ restaurant.

Detectives James Sabatino, now Lieutenant, and Theodore Burger, helped solve mystery that surrounded slaying of the café owner.


The white-jacketed figure uttered the one piercing cry and then collapsed to the sidewalk.

At Jamaica Avenue and Merrick Rd., (below), a motorman saw a waiting taxi, its motor racing. Just around the corner was Mahairas’ restaurant.

Two hundred yards farther up the street Patrolman Cornelius McKenna wheeled as he heard the call. He turned in time to see a man fall in front of an entrance to a restaurant on Jamaica Avenue near Merrick Road in Queens, Long Island, part of suburban New York City. Across the street two pedestrians halted as they heard the cry and then hurried toward the motionless figure. Otherwise, the officer noted, the broad thoroughfare was deserted.

As he bent over the man on the sidewalk, Patrolman McKenna recognized him as Angelo Mahairas, one of the owners of the all-night restaurant. He lay on the street just two feet from the doorway of his establishment. He had a fresh cut and bruise on his chin. He was unconscious and his breathing was labored.

“Looks like he had a heart attack,” one of the pedestrians ventured.

McKenna straightened and pointed to the white jacket. A red stain was beginning to spread on the left side.

“This man was just shot over the heart,” he said. “Did either of you see or hear anything?”

“No, we only heard him call the word ‘police’ and then saw him drop. We didn’t hear any shots or see anybody run away.”

The officer stared somberly at the two men. “Neither did I,” he declared in a puzzled voice. He searched the dining room and kitchen of the restaurant. No one was inside. The back door of the building was locked. McKenna looked at his watch and entered the time in his memorandum book.  It was 5:20 A.M..

Within five minutes Detectives Theodore Burger, James Sabatino and Horace Holden arrived from Jamaica Police Headquarters, only a block away, to be followed shortly by Dr. James Rizzi of nearby Mary Immaculate Hospital.

The physician applied his stethoscope. “D.O.A.,” he announced. Mahairas had died while the call was being put through for the ambulance.

Detective Burger examined the two cash registers in the restaurant. The one near the front door contained less than a dollar in small change. The second one, located near the kitchen entrance, held $70 in bills and silver.

“Doesn’t look as if robbery was the motive,” Burger said.

Sabatino stopped his two companions in the kitchen and pointed to the wall opposite a large refrigerator. An ice pick was imbedded in the wall at about the height of a man’s head. Above it was a calendar with the date marked off. It was Sunday, March 21st. The dawn had ushered in spring—and violent death.

“Here’s where it probably took place,” Sabatino reconstructed. “There was some kind of a fight. Mahairas picked up the ice pick and threw it at the man with the gun. It might have been in self defense. He missed but the man with the gun didn’t.  The shot would be muffled by this room and an elevated train passing by outside could have drowned out the rest of the noise. That would account for no on hearing the shot.”

Lieutenant Martin J. Brown, commanding officer of the detective squad, entered the restaurant. “Sounds plausible,” he commented after hearing Sabatino’s theory.  “We’ll have to contact the dead man’s friends and relatives and find out if he had any enemies. We also have to round up all those who were in the restaurant within the last hour. Maybe one of them overheard something that might be a clue.”

“I can help you out on that,” McKenna offered. “I was here about forty five minutes ago. I was walking by on my post and dropped in for a glass of water. Three men were inside at the time. One was just finishing his coffee and left while I was here. The other two were sitting a ta table. Both were dark and stocky. I noticed them because they were wearing fedora hats but no overcoats, even though it is cold outside. Then I figured their coats could have been in a car parked in front. It was a brand-new Hudson with an 8-C series plate.”

“We should be able to trace the car,” Lieutenant Brown said. “There won’t be many brand-new Hudsons with an 8-C plate.”

“The Russian!” McKenna suddenly exclaimed.

“What Russian?” the detectives asked.

“I forgot about him for the moment, the officer said. “He’s missing. He’s the cook here. When I came in the first time I smelled crullers cooking and Mahairas told me the chef was making a batch for the breakfast trade.”

“That may be the answer,” Brown said. “Cooks have a reputation for being tempermental. There could have been an argument and then a quick trigger. If the Russian is the man we want, he won’t be hard to find.”

The words were hardly out of the Lieutenant’s mouth when a key was inserted in the rear door and a moment later a tall, gaunt, black-haired man stepped into the kitchen. He was wearing an overcoat over a white uniform.

“He’s the cook,” the patrolman said.

“Did you get them?” the chef asked in a trembling voice.

“Get who?” Lieutenant Brown replied with a query of his own.

“The tree men. One of them shot and killed Mahairas in front of my eyes.”

Under questioning by the detectives the chef identified himself as Ivan Petrovich. He said he had been in the kitchen making crullers and Mahairas had been chopping ice for the butter trays when two men entered the room with drawn guns. It was 5:15 A.M.

“They told me and the boss to empty our pockets and then put up our hands,” he related. “I had $70 in my back p ocket and threw it on the steam table. One of the men picked it up. THe other, a thin young fellow who seemed to be the leader, was standing in front of Mahairas.

“He took the ice pick from the boss’s hand and threw it into the opposite wall. “You might scratch yourself with this,” he told him. The boss thought he was joking and told him to stop fooling. But he knew it wasn’t a joke when he heard the third man, who was standing in the dining-room watching the door, ring open the first cash register. The boss got mad and pushed the gun away. The fellow shot him and they all ran out.”

“Why didn’t you notify police?”

“I was afraid and ran away out of the back,” the other replied in heavily accented English.

Lieutenant Brown studied the man.

“You’ll have to explain a few other things,” he said. “I want to know why you stopped to lock the back door and how it is that none of the witnesses saw any of your three men run away from the restaurant. They couldn’t have followed you out of the rear exit.”

“I didn’t do it,” the other insisted.

“There was $70 in the cash register but the robbers took $70 from you . Why did you have so much money with you while you were working?”

“I live in a rooming-house where somebody could steal it.”

“Scout around and see if you can find anything to back up his story,” Brown directed Sabatino and Holden. He returned to Headquarters with Burger and the witnesses.

Detectives Henry Flattery and John O’Brien were in the squad room when the Lieutenant entered.

“We were out when the report on the homicide came in,” Flattery said. “A diner on Hillside Avenue near Parsons Boulevard was held up.”

“What time?”

“About five o’clock. Six men, one of them a hack driver, walked int the luch wagon and had something to eat. Only two people were there. Austin Hurley, the counterman, and Albert Schob, who was making a milk delivery. The six of them ordered something to eat, paid for it and left. A few minutes later three of them came in again. Two of them had guns. Schob said one was a revolver and other an automatic. The third man held a knife in his hand. They emptied the cash register and beat it. Hurly and Schob said they made their get-away in a Luxor cab.”

“Cased the place first and when they saw it wasn’t so tough they pulled the job,” Brown remarked. “Looks like the beginning of a nice spring. A murder and a stickup and the day is just beginning. What next?”

Flattery’s blue eyes were serious. “Plenty,” he replied and tossed over a piece of pager. “This alarm came through a little while ago. The Cake Eater Mob pulled another stickup tonight, this time in Harlem.  They walked into a chop suey place at 3 A.M. waved their guns at more than twenty guests and left with the receipts. As usual, they escaped without a trace.”

“Any shooting?”

“Not tonight.”

“I’ glad they’re staying on the other side of the bridge,” Brown said.

“That’s the point,” Flattery replied. “They’re not. I compared the description on the alarm with the one given me by the counterman. They match to a T.”

Lieutenant Brown was silent for a while. A new criminal gang was sweeping through the city. In a little over a month they had stage more than thirty robberies, som so bold that they had succeeded simply because of their audacity. Robbers seldom invade croweded dining-rooms and other public places because the chances of capture are so much greater. Yet time after time the gang had done just that. Several times they had sprayed lead to make good their escape. The Lieutenant knew that it was only a question of time before one of the victims would resist and death would follow.

Although many traps had been set for them by an alert detective force, the mob vanished after each holdup. Part of their evil success in avoiding capture swas due to their appearance. The description of the men always agreed on one point. They were always dressed in the latest of fashions. Newspapers promptly dubbed the bandits the “Cake Eater Mob,” and reporteres conjectured on the possibility that the were wealth thrill-seeking youths. Enough victims had thumbed through Rogues’ Gallery pictures for police to know that noe of the men had a criminal record.

“I suppose things are getting too hot for them in Manhattan and Brooklyn, so they’re coming into Queens,” Brown said to Flattery. “If we can crack the chef and clean up this murder, I’ll work with you on the other case.”

Petrovich was questioned for an hour by an assistant district attorney. “His story is full of holes, yet he seems sincere,” the Prosecutor said. “If he’s lying he should have thought up a better  yarn than the one he’s been giving us.”

Detectives Sabatino and Holden canvassed the neighborhood and questioned cruising taxi-drivers and the ticket agents on both the elevated lines and the Long Island Railroad. No men answering the vague description of the trio given by Petrovich had been seen.

Sabatino watched a trolley car pull into the depot at the corner of Jamaica Avenue and 168th Street, only a block from the scene. “That’s an idea,” he said. “Let’s find out if any of the motormen saw anything suspeicious.”

From the man on duty the detectives learned that a street car had been scheduled to leave the corner just two minutes before the murder. THe company supplied the name of the motorman. “He finished his run and is through for the night,” a dispatcher informed them.

The pair hurried to the motorman’s home in Woodhaven and awakened him. “I left on time,” he told them.

“Pulled out empty. There was nobody on the street.”

“Did you see any automobile parked near the restaurant?

The motorman shook his head. “There was nothing doing at all. The only thing I did see was a taxicab parked arund the corner on Merrick Road with the motor running. There was nothing suspicious about that because I could see some men sitting in it. I figured the driber was getting instructions. It was one of those new checker cabs.”

Sabatino and Holden returned to Headquarters. “No trace of the three men, if there actually were any,” the detectives reported.

Brown’s eyes widened as he heard the story told by the motorman.  “Petrovich may be telling the truth after all,” he said. “Mahairas could have been killed by the Cake Eater Mob. The description the cook gave us doesn’t tally with the others so well, but that often happens. He did say they were well dressed. The gang that got away from the diner used the same kind of a taxi.”

“Those cabs are the latest rage,” one of the detectives pointed out. “Almost every other taxi on the street is that kind.”

At the suggestion of the district attorney, Petrovich was held as a material witness while the investigation continued. “We’re still not sure if he’s in the clear,” the Prosecutor said. “We will need his testimony as an eye-witness if the Cake Eater Mob actually committed the murder, and if our investigation uncoveres any evidence agains him, we will have him where he can’t get away.”

He then read through a report on the activity of the gan. “You’ve got a real job on your hands. First you will have to find these men before we can tell if they killed Mahairas. That’s some order!”

“My men will do it,” the Lieutenant responded quietly. His pride in his squad was matched by their achievements on record in official files. As Brown rose in the ranks to the position of inspector which he fills today, many of his men kept pace with his progress. Flattery is now captain of the detective division where he once served as a precinct sleuth, and HOlden and Sabatino are both lieutenants, the latter in command of the confidential detective squad assigned to District Attorney Charles P. Sullivan.

But as the days passed, Lieutenant Brown wondered whether his confident words would come home to plague him. The Cake Eater Mob had disappeared. His men were working day and night seeking the taxi used in the crime. The Lieutenant, however, was not overlooking any other phase of the investigation into the death of Mahairas.

With the information supplied by Patrolman McKenna, Flattery, Sabatino and Burger succeeded in tracing the new Hudson car which had been parked in the front of the restaurant the night of the murder. The owner was a race-horse trainer and had stopped off at the restaurant for a bite to eat before going to the Belmont track to supervise the exercising of several thoroughbreds He had been in the restaurant with a friend. The two men answered the description of the fedora wearers supplied by the patrolman.

But at the time of the shooting, both these men had been at the track in full for of exercise boys, other trainers and track employees.

Jerry Mahairas, co-owner of the restaurant and a cousin of the slain man, revealed that he was supposed to have worked the night Angelo was killed.

“I had a cold and wasn’t feeling well, so my cousin told me he would take my place, even though he had worked all day on his regular shift.”

He said he knew of no enemies Engelo might have had. “Nobody had any reason to kill him,” he added. “He never refused a food handout even to an out-and-out bum.”

The detectives also probed into the background of Petrovich. THe chef had fled from the Russian revolution and had worked in various parts of the country and Canada since his arrival. Jerry Mahairas as well as customers of the restaurant agreed that the slain man and the chef always had been on friendly terms. ‘police’?” the lieutenant asked Neail.

“He could,” the physician replied. “The bullet pierced the right auricle. Death was caused by the ensuing hemorrhage and a

Dr. Howard. Neail, the assistant medical examiner who performed the autopsy, reported that Mahairas had been killed by a .32 caliber bullet that had entered the heart.

“Could he have run seventy feet from the kitchen through the dining-room with a bullet in his heart and then out into the street where he shouted ‘Police’?” the lieutenant asked Neail.

“He could,” the physician replied. “The bullet pierced the right auricle. Death was caused by the ensuing hemorrhage and was not instantaneous.”

“That upholds part of the chef’s story,” the lieutenant said.

Brown sifted through reports turned in by his men. All bus drivers working in Jamaica that night had been questioned. One of them reported that he had seen a crowd in front of the restaurant during the early morning of the murder and asked what had happened.

“I was told the owner had just had a heart attack,” he said. “I pulled out on my run a little while after that. I picked up a fare while driving east on Central Avenue. He told me to be careful in going down that street. I asked him what was the matter. ‘A taxi just flew down that way,’ the passenger told me. I asked him if the cab was going that fast. ‘It was going so fast that it was ten feet off the ground,’ he answered.”

Brown considered the strange conversation between the driver and the unidentified bus passenger. The lieutenant knew that most cabs race through the streets during the early hours of the morning. The taxi had been traveling east, which would have taken it somewhere farther out on Long Island.

“The mob we want have their hideout in Manhattan, and not on the Island,” he observed. “It’s too open out there.”

“Suppose they doubled back on their tracks,” Sabatino suggested.

“You’ve got something there,” the lieutenant said. “Get a list of all the taxis in accidents that night.”

“Why accidents?” inquired the detective.

“The cab must have been going unusually fast even for that time in the morning.” Brown replied. “The bus driver said he ocassionally picked up the same passenger during the early hours of the morning, so the passenger is used to seeing speeding taxis. If it was traveling fast enough to get that kind of comment from him, the driver was inviting disaster.”

A list of all taxi cabs in the city involved in accidents the morning of the murder was completed. Neighboring Nassau County police reported that no Checker cabs had been in any mishap. Brown summoned Detectives Burger, Flattery, Sabatino, Holden and O’Brien.



“Check on every hackle on this list. One of them may be the driver for the Cake-Eater Mob.”

The detectives split into groups and canvassed the list. They first questioned the cabbies in Queens and then in Manhattan. Late that afternoon, Burger, Flattery and Sabatino went to Brooklyn to interview the last man on their list.

“He had his crackup at almost eight o’clock, three hours after the murder,” Burger said.

“Doesn’t look too promising,” the others agreed.

A man with his arm in a sling answered the doorbell. “I’m Ralph Kobak,” he admitted.

“I’m from the hack bureau,” Burger said. “I just wanted to make a routine check on the cause of your accident.”

“It was nothing,” the driver declared, inviting the detective into his apartment. “I was all through and going home for the night when this other fellow smacked into me, turned my cab over and broke my arm. Five minutes and I’d have been home. “

“Did you have a busy night?”

“One of the best in years, but I can do without another one like that.”

“What was the matter?” Burger asked.

“I picked up some crazy young fellows and drove them all over town. They spent money like water and drank booze as if it came out of a tap. They looked like college boys out on a spree.”

“Well dressed?”

“Snappy. They gave me a nice tip, too.” Burger’s eyes narrowed in thougth. Did you take them out to Jamaica?”

“Sure I did. THey must have thought I was Ben Hur. They kept making me drive faster all the time.”

A few minutes later the taxi driver was rush to Jamaica Headquarters where he was questioned by Lieutenant Brown. Kobak said that he he had picked up five men on Park Abenue and 68th Street at four-thirty in the morning.

“We’re only going out for a ride on Long Island an will come right back,” one of them told the cabbie.

“I figured it would be a good break for me,” Kobak continued. “I drove across the Queensboro Bridge and one of them kept telling me where to turn. They told me they were hungry and I stopped at a diner on Hillside Avenue. They insisted that I come in and have a sandwich with them and they paid for it.”

“What happened after you left the diner?” Brown asked.

“My starter wouldn’t work. It got jammed Three of my passengers said they’d go back to the diner for another cup of coffee while I fixed the trouble. A couple of minutes later one of the other fellows lifted up the hood and found a loose wire. RIght after that the others came out and I drove away.”

“Didn’t you hear anybody shout?”

“You couldn’t hear yourself think,” the other replied. “There was a milk truck parked outside the diner with the motor running and before the trhee went back inside one of them climbed up and pulled out the throttle to race the engine. It made a loud racket.”

The officers exchanged glances. The Cake Eater Mob thought of all angles.

“I drove to Merrick Road,” Kobak related, “when they told me to stop again. They said they wanted to find some place where they could get a bottle of whisky. The same three went away. A few minutes later they came running back and told me to get going, that they couldn’t get what they wanted. They kept yelling at me to step on it and when I didn’t drive fast enough, one of them put a gun to my head. I got scared and started speeding.”

“Weren’t you suspicious?”

“Sure I was. I drove all the way to Lynbrook when they told me to turn around. I made believe I was running out of gas and stopped at a station. I whispered to the guy there that I had a couple of holdup men in the car. He looked inside and saw them laughing and drinking and drinking and thought I was kidding him. Later I thought I had got excited for nothing. I drove right back the same way I came and none of them looked scared. When I got to Manhattan one of them asked me if I wanted to take them to Connecticut. I told them I was too tired. I dropped off some of them at 85th Street and Third Avenue and the rest at 92nd Street and Second Avenue. The bill was nine dollars and one of them game me a two dollar tip. The way they were laughing so unconcerned I thought the must habe been having fun with me when they pulled the gun, so I forgot about it.”

The detectives soon verified the taxi-driver’s story. The gas station attendant remembered the incident. “They were all dress so well, I thought the cabbie was joking,” he admitted.

“I wonder if they were pulling a phony with that Connecticut story,” Brown said.

Kobak furnished the same description as the one given by the victims in the diner. “I don’t think any of them were over twenty years old,” the cabbie said. “One of them wore a derby hat and patent leather shoes. I think I heard him called “Red.” The fellow who seemed to make most of the decisions was called “Herbie.” I got the idea that he was the leader of the bunch. I didn’t hear anything else.”

Brown contacted Lieutenant Thomas F. Dugan, head of the detective squad at the 67th Street station house in Manhattan.

“I don’t recognize any of them from the description,” Dugan said, “but that fits in with the theory that none of them has ever been arrested before. I’ll have my men go around and see what they can pick up.”

That night, detectives rounded up a series of suspects and brought them to the station house for questioning. “I never knew there were so many fellows named Herbert,” one detective remarked as he entered the squad office with another suspect. But all were released when none of them answered the description of the gang leader.

Other detectives posing as door-to-door salesmen, gas and electric meter inspectors, swarmed through the neighborhood and engaged housewifes in conversation. Any item of gossip that appeared suspicious was immediately checked.

Finally Dugan telephoned Brown. “If any of them live around here, they’ve certainly covered their tracks.

“How about the Connecticut angle?” Brown asked.

“I’m working on that now,” Dugan replied. “My men are out trying to get a list of people in the neighborhood who have suddenly left the city since the murder.”

A superintendent of an apartment house on 94th Street listened to the description of the wanted men and shook his head. “Nobody that fancy lives here,” he remarked. “The only tenants I know who are aout of town are two sisters up on the fifth floor. I haven’t seen them around since last week-end, but they go away every once in a while.”

“Give that lead a whirl,” Dugan directed when his men reported to him. “Everything else has petered out.”

Two hours later Dugan spoke to Brown. “We might be on the track of something,” he said. “One of the sisters has a boyfriend named Herbert, but no one knows where he lives. My men found out that the sisters are close friends of Mrs. Green. Neighbors said Mrs. Green and her husband, Jimmy, left for a trip Sunday. I’m posting a watch at both places. “

At eight-fifteen the following morning a taxi pulled up in front of Green’s home on 82nd Street and three men and a woman got out and entered the apartment. The watching detectives flashed a report to Headquarters.

A few minutes later Lieutenant Dugan received another report that the sisters had returned home.

A half-hour later he entered the aprtment followed by Detectives Emil Mack, Martin Solomon and Edward Pollak Green and his wife and the other three men were seated around a table playing cards.

Dugan flashed his badge.

“What do you want with me?” Green asked. “I haven’t done anything.”

We heard you left town in a hurry,” the lieutenant replied.

“Not at all. We planned to go away for a weeks vacation a long time ago.”

“But your week isn’t up,” Dugan pointed out.

“It was too cold, so we came back.”

At the station house the other men identified themselves as Herbert Korber and Richard Daunt. THey denied killing Mahairas or sticking up the restaurant.

Lieutenants Dugan and Brown took turns at quetioning the trio. The taxi-driver was brought to the stationhouse. “They’re the fellows I drove to Jamaica,” he said.

“Sure, he did,” Korber replied. “We were at a party and wanted to get some air so we drove out to the Island, but that doesn’t make us killers.”

“But it makes you robbers,” Bron replied. “You held up a diner on Hillside Avenue.”

Petrovich was brought into the room where the other prsoners were.

“There’s the man who fired the shot,” he accused, pointing at Korber.

“You’re crazy,” the other retorted, “I never saw you before.”

Brown and Dugan held a consultation in another office. “We’ll need some proof to pin this job on them,” Brown said. “Our evidence isn’t strong enough to stand up in court.”

“The girl friend may be the weak link. Let’s try that angle.”

The two lieutenants again faced the prisoners. “We’re booking the whole lot of you,” announced Dugan. “I’m sending out my men to bring in your girlfriend.”

“Keep her out of this,” Korber protested.

“You brought her in,” answered Dugan.

“You left town with her after you killed Mahairas and that makes her an accessory after the fact.”

Korber leaped out of his chair. “She had nothing to do with it,” he shouted. “She didn’t know anybody was killed!”

The prisoner sat down abruptly. “You win,” he said. “I’ll talk.”

Korber admitted being the trigger-man. “I was drunk and didn’t know anybody was killed!”

The prisoner sat down abruptly. “You win,” he said. “I’ll talk.”

Korber admitted being the trigger-man. “I was drunk and didn’t know what I was doing,” he pleaded. He sad that on the night of the murder he had gone to a show “Mondkey Talks, on Broadway with his sweetheart and several other members of the gang. After the show the group went to a cabaret and about 2 A.M. took the girls home.

Korber, Daunt and Green then went on to a masquerade ball where they spent a half-hour. At the ball they met Gustav Fischer and Frederick Kellerman. From there they went to the chop suey place, where they staged their first holdup of the evening.

While police were searching for them they were calmly enjoying the entertainment in a Harlem cabaret. When they felt the coast was clear they left the night club by taxi. They dismmissed the driver at Park Avenue and 68th Street and hired Kobak.

“What did you do with all the money you stole?” they were asked.

“Spent it for clothes, liquor and cabarets,” Korber replied. “I always had to hold Daunt’s money for him because when he got drunk he would throw it away. “

THe hardened officers stroked thier chins in thoughtful silence when Korber and Green stated they were eighteen years old and that Daunt was only seventeen.

“I always had to get half-lit for courage,” Daunt admitted.

Detectives Sabatino and Burger quickly brought in Kellerman and Fischer. Neither had gone to Connecticut with the others.

“We didn’t know anything about the holdups,” these two insisted. “We met Korber, Daunt and Green at the masquerade and they invited us to go riding with them.”

Korber said that they usually hid the guns used by the gang in the basement of the apartment house where his girl friend lived. The death weapon was found hidden under some charred paper in a fireplace in Green’s apartment.

The woman owner of a boarding house in Danbury revealed that Korber, Daunt and Green had spent three days after the murder at her house.

“I had to put them out,” she said. “All they did was play cards and drink all night long. I got nervous when one of them bought a gun and they spent all afternoon trying to improve their marksmanship.”

Four days after their arrest, all five were indicted for first degree murder and three weeks after the murder, Korber was placed on trial.

Assistant District Attorney Charles W. Froessel, now a State Supreme Court Judge, was assigned to prosecute. Foressel had questioned the prisoners after their arrest.

During a bitter, five-day trial, Korber denied that he had confessed to the crime. He admitted being in the restaurant but said that he asked Mahairas if he could buy a drink.

“He told me to come to the back,” the prisoner testified. “All of a sudden he made a grab for me. I ran out of the store. He jumped on top of me and I suppose during the struggle my gun went off. I didn’t hear it and I didn’t know he was shot until the police arrested me.”

Froessel quickly ripped Korber’s story to shreds. “Where did you carry your gun?” he asked.

“In my hip pocket,” the prisoner replied.

The Prosecutor then showed that it would have been impossible for the gun to go off in Korber’s rear pocket and the shot strike Mahairas in the chest.

“The gun went off all right,” he commented, “but Korber was holding it in his hand and he pulled the trigger.”

As the last desperate hope, the defense traced the childhood of Korber. His mother, a janitress, had died when he was fourteen years old, leaving him an orphan.  “Poor little Herbert. He never had a chance,” his attorney pleaded.

The jury’s reply was prompt. On April 10th, 1926, Korber was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair.

THree days later, Daunt, Green, Fischer and Kellerman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and were sentenced from twenty years to life imprsonment by County Judge Frank Adel.

A new trial was granted to Korber on a technical ground. Because the other four defendants had escaped the electric chair, the second jury convicted him of second-degree murder on February 7th, 1927, and Judge Adel also sentenced him to a term of twenty years to life imprisonment at Sing Sing.

Note: The name of Ivan Petrovich as used in the story is fictitious to protect the identity of an innocent man.


The Clue of the Chain Letter

The Clue of the Chain Letter

Revealing Detective Magazine August 1942

The Clue of the Chain Letter Main StoryCaptain's Blog

Puzzled, a little frightened, the man paused on the threshold of the drug store and stared.

An attractive girl with dark hair was stalking toward him like a somnambulist from the direction of the laboratory in the rear of the pharmacy. Her face was a white mask of horror.

Abruptly, as if startled by the man’s presence, the girl pause. Then slowly, very slowly, her mouth opened and a long, rising, piercing scream tore from the depths of her soul.

Stunned, the man stood transfixed for a minute while several curious women pressed into the store and looked wonderingly from the man to the girl.

“What’s he doing to you girlie?” shrilled a buxom matrom belligerently.

The girl’s answer was a vacant stare.

The man said nothing. His eyes had fastened on the cash register behind the soda fountain. It was open. In two steps he was leaning over the fountain. The cash register had been cleaned out.

Wheeling, he strode toward the rear of the drug store. The others, strangely hushed now, followed hesitantly.

Then all stopped in stride. They were looking mutely at a stamp and money drawer of a postal substation near the entrance to the laboratory. Like the cash register, the postal drawer was yawning its emptiness.

“Robbed,” breathed the buxom matron and a little chill went through the group as they wondered where the druggist might be.

As if dreading to see what they feared they might, they eased their way cautiously into the laboratory. Then they gasped in unison and huddled together in sheer horror, fascinated and at the same time, repelled.

Sprawled on the floor in a widening pool of blood, lay the druggist, Frank Cohen. His face had been beaten into unrecognizable bloody pulp!

Of a sudden, the man tore his gaze away and went to the booth in one corner of the store and phoned the police.

“This man has been dead no longer than forty-five or fifty minutes,” Medical Examiner Howard Neail told a group of detectives ten minutes later significantly scanning the blood-stained walls and ceiling.

“It’s possible he has been dead only twenty minutes.”

Detective Captain Henry Flattery looked at his watch. It was three minutes past the noon hour. According to the doctor’s statement the druggist, cohen, had been murdered between approximately 11:15 and 11:45 a.m. The police had received the alarm at 11:53 a.m.

“The weapon?” said Flattery.

“A blunt instrument of some kind,” replied Dr. Neail. “A piece of pipe or something similar. “

“No bullet or knife wounds?”

Dr. Neail shook his head. “He was beaten to death. A brutal job. Fiendish.”

The officers stirred restlessly. They could conceive of a bandit knocking his victim unconscious. But for him to continue beating his victim after the latter had been rendered insensible—well, it wasn’t a plausible theory to the investigators; the evidence simply did not add up.

“Cohen must have known his murderer” said Captain Flattery musingly. “Or there was something more behind this than robbery.”

A woman! said a detective.

There was silence for a moment. The robbery could have been an afterthought. An impulse action to mislead the police.

Dr. Neail nodded slowly, his eyes significantly scanning the blood-stained walls and ceiling.

“An enraged woman could have don it,” he agreed. “Her flailing weapon could have flung blood around the room.”

Automatically, Captain Flattery’s eyes went once again around the laboratory. In their brief survey after their breathless arrival, he and the detectives under his command had been unable to find any trace of the murder weapon though it had been plain to them that Cohen had been taken by surprise and bludgeoned while he was copying a chain letter.

It was a dollar chain letter bearing five names; one of millions flooding the mails on this 24th day of May, 1935, as the craze spread over the country duping thousands into believing they had found an infallible get-rich-quick scheme.

This had indicated to the officers that Cohen had been attacked at that moment, but they were puzzled nevertheless. Puzzled because, seated at the typewriter, Cohen had a clear view of his entire store by glancing sideways.

Did it mean that Cohen had known and trusted his assailant? The absence of any sign of a struggle indicated as much. It indicated more. It indicated that Cohen had been stunned by the killer’s first blow, and that he had reeled from teh stool on which he had been sitting and had staggered across the room before collapsing on the floor.

But if the killer was a woman, what had been her motive? Jealousy?

11:45 a.m. and they did not anticipate much trouble in ascertaining who those persons were.

Located at 94-32 Van Wyck Boulevard in Jamaica, Long Island, the pharmacy had catered to the needs of a sleepy neighborhood of small stores and middle class apartments; a neighborhood where life moved dully and where everyone was confident that he or she knew everything worth knowing about his or his neighbor’s lives., and where nothing could happen without attracting attention and causing comment.

The surmise of the officers proved correct. Within an hour, a squad combing the neighborhood under the direction of Lieutenant Edmund Moore ascertained that three persons — a girl, a youth and an elderly man — had been in the drug store betwen 11:15 a.m. and 11:48 a.m. when the attractive dark-haired girl had entered and found Cohen’s lifeless body.

The latter had identified herself as Aurora Aguilar, Mrs. Cohen’s maid. She said her mistress had sent her to the drug store for the druggist’s baby son, and that she had been shocked speechless on finding him slain.

“Did you see anyone in the store or store as the blond came out?”

“Did you recognize the blonde?”

“No, I mean I don’t know her personally. But I’ve seen her on the street two or three times. She must live in the neighborhood. She is a pretty little thing.

It was the buxom woman witness who told the officers about the bare-headed youth with a pug nose and sandy hair dashing away from the drug store.

“My apartment is upstairs above the drug store,” she said. “I was looking out the window, waiting for a phone call. I happened to glance down and I saw an uncouth looking young man hurry out of the drug store and jump into a dilapidated roadster. I didn’t think anything was wrong. Anyway, the phone call I was waiting for came then. Afterwards I came downstairs to do some shopping and I heard a girl scream in the drug store.”

“What time did you see this young man hurry out of the drug store?” Captain Flattery probed.

“Between 11:15 and 11:20 a.m.”

Checking the woman’s story, Captain Flattery phoned the person who, he said, had called her.

“Yes, it was about 11:20 a.m.” the answer came back. “I was a little late phoning. I was supposed to have phoned her at 11:15 a.m.”

The time element was narrowing. So were the suspicious of the police. It seemed particularly significant to the officers during the questioning that followed, that no one could identify either the youth who had been seend racing away from the drug store at 11;20 a.m. nor the blonde who had been loitering in the drug store between at least 11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.

Were both the girl and the youth strangers in the neighborhood?

It remained for Charles Ellis, proprietor of the butcher shop around the corner from the drug store to give point to the conflicting mysteries baffling the police.

A huge, doleful looking man, Ellis had been one of Frank Cohen’s most intimate friends, it developed. He seemed dazed by the tragedy that had befallen the druggist and he answered questions in a hollow monotone seemingly unaware of the importance of the information he was disclosing to the police.




It was a dollar chain letter bearing five names; one of millions flooding the mails on this 24th day of May, 1935.

“It just doesn’t seem true,” he said dully. “Frank was in such fine health and good spirits when I saw him this morning.”

“What time was that?” queried Detective Al Dillhof, one of the officers detailed to question all merchants in the neighborhood.

“Going on 11:15,” Ellis replied. “I took a chain letter over to Frank’s drug store to have him copy it for me. I have no typewriter.”

Detective Dillhof started inwardly. Other officers, he knew, had been detailed to check the names on the chain letter in the hope that one of them would be able to supply a clue to murder. Now that possible lead was done with.

“Frank was waiting on an elderly man,” Ellis went on unwittingly supplying a new suspect. “I had to get back to my own store. I left the chain letter with him. He said he’d copy it as soon as he got a chance. His customer was still in the drug store when I left.”

“Do you know who the customer was?”

Ellis shook his head glomily. “Can’t say I ever saw him before. Must live near here, however. He had a heavy cane. He limped. Couldn’t have walked very far.”

“Maybe he had an auto,” Dillhof suggested.

“I didn’t see any autos parked anywhere on that street when I went over there. I remember noticing it when I stopped on the corner to talk a moment to one of my customers.”

Ellis gave his customer’s name — a married woman who lived a few doors from Ellis’s market.

“Did Cohen have any enemies? Dillahof probed, “anyone at all who might wish him harm? Either a man or a woman?”

A puzzled look spread over Ellis’s heavy face. “Frank? Enemies? No, not Frank. Everyone loved him. I never saw him angry but once in my life.”

“When was that?”

“The other night, after I closed my market. I was on my way home — I live in St. Albans and I stopped in Frank’s store to get some stamps. A young pug-nosed kid came into the store and slapped a girl in the face who was sitting at the fountain. Frank started after the little punk but he ran out of the store. The girl ran after him and both of them got into an old Ford roadster.

The girl didn’t seem to mind getting slapped but it made Frank furious, especially as it happened in his store.”

“Did you recongize the girl or boy as residents of this neighborhood?”

“They don’t live around here,” Elllis said morosely Frank told me they came from South Jamaica. They had gotten into the habit of meeting in his store.”

“A wise looking little thing. A shapely figure. A blonde. She seemed to know what it’s all about.”

A blonde! An old roadster! A pug-nosed kid!

Were the blonde and the pug-nosed youth the couple seen in the drug store at different times during the half hour before Cohen’s body had been found? Or was it mere coincidence?

A score of detectives were dispatched by Captain Flattery to scour South Jamaica for the pug-nosed youth. A tawdry community inhabited mostly by negroes and white “home-reliefers.” South Jamaica was the haunt of several youths answering the suspect’s description and all of them had had brushes with the police at one time or another, the investigators knew.

It was a matter of which boy to pick up. The proprietor of a pool room fingered the hunted youth toward evening.

“You must mean Bill Boyle,” he told Detective Fred Morlock. “He’s the only one of the young toughs around here who has an auto — if you can call it that. It’s a roadster. He slapped it together in an auto junk yard a couple of weeks ago. He’s working there now.”

“Where does he live?”

“He used to live the third house down the street with his mother but I hear he blew home when he got a job in the junk yard. I think he’s living with some blonde now. I heard some of his pals wise-cracking with him in here the other night. They wanted him to shoot a game with them but he said he had to go home.”

Informed of the pool room proprietor’s story, Captain Flattery smiled grimly. Bill Boyle and several of his pals had been picked up two months before on suspicion of robbery, but had been freed for lack of evidence. On other occasions he had been suspected of purse-snatching.

A piece of pipe was just about the kind of weapon a youth of Bill Boyle’s character would use!

Every available detective in the country was summoned by Flattery and sent to join the others in searching South Jamaica for Bill Boyle.

Throughout the night the manhunt went on with officers drifting in and out of pool rooms, cigar stores and other hangouts of the community’s youngest toughs, but no lead to Bill Boyle’s whereabouts was found.

His mother said she hadn’t seen him in two weeks. His pals affected expressions designed to convey the impression of dumb innocence and said they hadn’t seen him all that day. And the owner of the junk yard said that he hadn’t seen Bill Boyle after he had finished work and had gone home.

But Bill Boyle’s “home” to the junk yard proprietor was the home of Boyle’s mother; he knew no other address for the youth and there the search for the youth stymied when he failed to show up for work the following morning, Saturday, May 25, 1935.

To the amazement of all the officers, a jaunty, freckled faced youth with sandy hair sauntered into Captain Flattery’s office in the afternoon.

“I’m Bill Boyle,” he said. “I got a tip you were looking for me. What’s it all about?”

“Where were you yesterday?” said Flattery quietly.

Boyle slumped into a chair and flicked a cigarette into the corner of the room.

“I was working an a junk yard where I got a job,” he said nonchalantly. “I was there all day except for a few minutes at lunch time. I ran up the road then in my crate to pick up my girlfriend and drive her home but I missed her.”

Detectives were dispatched by Captain Flattery to scour South Jamaica for the pug-nosed youth.

“Where were you supposed to meet her?”

“At that drug store where that wise guy got knocked off yesterday.”

Flattery eyed the youth narrowly and a heavy silence settled on the room as the detectives in the room edged nearer the boy. Bill Boyle turned languidly and surveyed them with a grin.

“Don’t get excited, boys,” he said with exaggerated casualness. “I didn’t kill the lug. But I ain’t sorry, either, that he got his. He made a bum out of me in front of my girl the other night. He chased me out of the drug store.”

The fog of suspicion enveloping the youth was dissipating in the strong light of his astonishing frankness. It vanished almost entirely when his blonde girl friend was picked up and confronted by the elderly woman who had seen a blonde emerge from the drug store a minute before the druggist had been found slain.

“Oh, no, not that girl,” the elderly woman said haughtily. “The blonde girl I saw was very refined looking.”

A swift search of Bill Boyle’s quarters failed to unearth any bloodstained clothing or anything, blood-stained or othersies, that could have been the lethal weapon.

“What’s the matter with you coppers anyway?” Boyle said irritably. “Can’t you see I’ve been leveling since I met up with my girl friend?

There appeared to be much in what the youth said. Coincidence, apparently, had directed unjust suspicion toward him.

Captain Flattery said heavily: “Who was in the drug store when you went in there yesterday?”

“I didn’t go to the drug store,” Bill Boyle said flatly, almost defiantly. “I simply looked inside. I didn’t see my girl friend so I scrammed. I hadn’t expected to make it in time to pick her up anyway. And I wasn’t going to hang around there and have that lug come out and take a poke at me.”

Queried separately, both Bill and his blonde girl friend said that they had been using the drug store as a meeting place when she worked. She wa employed part time in a beauty parlor a few blocks distant, and she had not wanted Bill to pick up her up in the front of the beauty parlor lest her employer get gist to her clandeste mode of life.

Almost reluctantly, Captain Flattery conceded by his next question that Boyle was in the clear.

“Who did you see in the drug store?” he asked.

“Nobody,” Boyle answered quickly. “That lug — the druggist — must have been in the rear of his store. No one was in there.”

Flattery whistled noiselessly. Had the druggist been slain before Boyle looked into the pharmacy? A picture of the elderly customer with a heavy cane came to Flattery’s mind.  The customer seen by the butcher, Ellis. Had the can been the lethal weapon?

But what earthly motive could the elderly customer have had? Surely not robbery. A checkup had shown that the two cash drawers had yielded less than fifty dollars to the murderer. Furthermore the sheer bestiality of the crime did not jibe with a simple robbery theory.

The story she told blasted the case wide open and virtually ended the search for the elderly customer. Informed of the purpose of the officer’s visit, the girl, Mildred Bailey, a sixteen-year-old high school student, frankly admitted that she had been in the drug store between 11:25 a.m. and 11:46 a.m.

“I was going away for the weekend with my mother and father,” she said. “I had to make some phone calls and ask Mr. Cohen to cash a check for my mother. I waited as long as I could but Mr. Cohen never came out from the rear of his store though. I called him several times. Then I left. I decided afterwards that he must have been out on an urgent call delivering medicine. It wasn’t until I looked at a paper out on the Island this morning that I learned he had been held up and killed. I was dumbfounded. I’ve been wondering ever since whether he was dead while I was in the store. We got home only a few minutes ago and I haven’t had time to inquire.”

The girl’s parents quickly corroborated her story and proceeded to bombard Detective Morelock with questions. Had the robbers been caught? Why had they killed Mr. Cohen? Had Mr. Cohen been dead when their daughter walked into the drug store? The newspapers they said, had been vague as to the exact time of the crime.

Morelock stroked his face thoughtfully as he parried the questions. He, too, was wondering whether Cohen had been dead when ingenuous looking, blonde Mildred walked into the pharmacy.

“Did you see anything amiss when you were in the store?” Morelock queried.

Mildred looked at him blankly.  “Amiss? Not that I know of.”

“Did you notice the cash register and the money drawer in the postal sub-station? Did you observe anything pecurliar about them?”

“Not that I remember,” Mildred said slowly, “But I don’t recall having noticed them at all.”

Morelock signed wearily. The time of the murder was still as much a mystery as ever, and now there was only one suspect left — the elderly customer that the butcher Ellis had seen in the drug store. The limping customer with a heavy cane!

The murderer plainly had been intent on seeing that the druggist was dead.


Did the blonde who had been in the drug store for fifteen minutes hold the key to the mystery? Who was she? The only clue was the elderly woman’s statement that she had seen the elusive blonde on neighborhood streets before.

Throughout the rest of that day and night and the following day, Sunday, and Sunday night the hunt for the mysterious blonde and the elderly customer was pressed by the authorities. It was a gruelling, methodical search with more than fifty detectives participating. House by house, they questioned all the residents in the neighborhood with the search getting farther and farther away from the drug store.

Abruptly, unexpectedly, the blonde was found late Sunday evening by Detective Morelock who had been detailed to recheck apartments where the officers had not found anyone home.

There was no direct evidence, but the detectives knew how to make the guilty conscience of a murderer work for justice.


“Did you see anyone in that drug store at any time while you were there?” Morelock persisted.

“I was all alone,” Mildred said, puzzled. “No one came in. The only person I saw was Mr. Ellis, the butcher. He was just leaving when I entered the drug store.”

Astounded, Morelock stared at the girl. Patently Ellis had either lied to the authorities or he had told them only part of the truth.  If his story about seeing an elderly customer was true then he obviously had returended to the store after the customer had left because Mildred had not entered the pharmacy until 11:25 a.m. more than ten minutes later than Ellis had insisted he had been in the store!

More damning, Bill Boyle had looked into the drug store at 11:20 a.m. and had noticed no one. Had Ellis been in the rear of the pharmacy at that moment beating the life out of his friend, Cohen? If so, why? Had the chain letter something to do with it?

“An inquiry into Ellis’s financial status and his background is clearly indicated,” commented Captain Flattery dryly when informed of Mildred Bailey’s story. “He may not be as prosperous as he looks.”

Ellis wasn’t. Flattery confirmed this early the following morning. A wholesale butcher a half mile from Ellis’s meat market, admitted that Ellis owed him a large sum of money when Flattery called on him.

“Ellis surprised me last Friday,” the wholesaler went on blandly, unaware that the quiries concering Ellis were being made in connection with a murder and that he had just named the day of the murder. “He came in here between 11:30 and noon and made a paymenet on his note. It surprised me bcause his purchase from us have been mostly on a sale-to-sale basis during the last month or two and I did not think he was making any money. I was under the impression that things had been going pretty badly for him.”

Lost in thought, Captain Flattery walked slowly back to the drug store. If pressed for money, Ellis might have attempted to rob his friend surreptitiously, and on being detected might have felt impelled to kill the druggist to prevent his shame becoming known to others.

But it was a thin theory, particularly thin because blonde Mildred Bailey had not noticed a weapon of any kind in Ellis’s hands when she saw him come out of the drug store and she had not observed any stains that looked like fresh blood on Ellis’s white apron.

Moreover, a re-check of the neighborhood had failed to unearth anyone to confirm Mildred Bailey’s statement as to the time—11:25 a.m.—when she saw Ellis come out of the drug store. Even the woman whom Ellis had spoken to when he was on his way to the pharmacy with the chain letter, had been unable to designate the exact time.

It was possible that Mildred Bailey had been mistaken in her judgement of time. Captain Flattery decided, and all at once it seemed foolish to him that a businessman would lumber through a street with a white apron on him and thus attract attention to himself if he were bent on committing a crime.

Captain Flattery modified his decision, however, when he arrived at the drugstore.

Detective Dillhof told him: “Say, that butcher, Ellis, has been acting screwy this morning. He’s button-holed a half dozen of the boys and asked them if they had found any clue to the robbery. Keeps saying he wats the murderers of his friend caught. But he’s action more like a nervous old hen. I think he has something on his conscience. He knows something even if he didn’t commit the murder himself.”

Flattery considered Dillhof’s report silently. It was important. No doubt about that. But if Ellis had something on his conscience, how could they make him spill it? Ordinary methods would not do. Ellis already had manifested unusual shrewdness if he was protecting someone he knew to be guilty.

“Well, if he has something on his conscience we’ll soon find out,” Captain Flattery said finally. “We’ll give his fears something to feed and grow fat upon. When they get big enough he’ll blow apart. “He paused, and added: “No great harm will be done if we’re on the wrong track. We’ll take it easy and watch how things develop.”

To the delight of the officers Ellis broke out in a rash of nervous actions the following morning.

After opening his meat market, Ellis lumbered hurriedly to the corner to get a view of what was going on in front of the drug store, and twice he attempted to intercept officers and speak to them only to be sharply rebuffed; and it did not seem to occur to him that there was an unusual number of officers dashing back and forth about the neighborhood in a manner that was much too obvious for police work.

Throughout the morning Ellis spent more time watching the movements of the officers than he devoted to his business. Twice his clerk had to come out on the sidewalk and call to him to come and help wait on the customers and on both occasions he was seen making awkward inquiries of his mystified customers who did not know that suspicion had been directed at him.

Abruptly at one o’clock, all the officers vanished from the street, and for ten minutes thereafter Ellis stared out the window of his store, bewildered and uncertain. Then, cautiously he stepped from his market and started for the corner to see what was going on in front of the drug store, and at that moment Captain Flattery turned to Detective Dillhof sitting beside him behind the rear door of the grocery store and said: “O.K. Let’s go.”

Striding out of their hiding place, the two officers bore down on Ellis with grim faces and cold piercing eyes. Ellis blanched and stopped in his tracks. Whirling like a frightened elephant, he waddled back into his market, retreating to its deepest recesses.

Without changing their expressions Flattery and Dillhof began to pace up and down in front, staring ominously into the market when no customers were inside, and gazing straight ahead like two idling men when customers entered.

After an hour of this, Ellis summoned enough courage to again carry out his part of the pretense that he himself was not under suspicion and he began to wait on customers again.  But as the afternoon wore on the harassed man became more and more nervous and when finally he cut himself twice, he stood there gazing into space for a long time and he seemed slowly to cave in. His shoulders slumped, his hands dropped lifelessly to his side and his head drooped resignedly.

Then, dismissing his clerk, he plodded slowly around his market putting everything in order and the two officers watching him from the curb knew that they had won.

A minute later, like an old man, Ellis came out of the market and locked the door and walked wearily toward them his head bowed.

Without a word, he climbed into a squad are that glided up at the signal of one of the officers. An hour later, in Jamaica Police headquarters he confessed the crime to District Attorney Charles Sullivan.

“I was in desperate need of money when I took the chain letter to Frank,” he said. “That’s why I asked Frank to coy it. I thought it might bring me a lot of money. But an elderly man came in while Frank was copying the letter. He wanted some stamps. And when Frank pulled out the money drawer I saw a big roll of bills. I thought I could snitch the money without Frank knowing I was doing it. There was no bell on the drawer to attract his attention. When he went back to copying the chain letter, I got the drawer open quietly but just then Frank turned to say something and saw me with the money in my hand. He sprang at me. I picked up a large pestle on the laboratory counter and hit him. He fell down. I was afraid he’d come to and tell everybody. I hit him again and again. Then I cleaned out the postal drawer and the cash register and wrapped the pestle up in a piece of paper and carried out of the store under my arm so no one could see it. I smashed it up into powder and burned it in the cellar. I burned up my apron, too. Some of Frank’s blood splashed on it. I didn’t think anyone would suspect me and I was sure I got away with it until Captain Flattery brought the young girl around to face me. I knew then that he was suspicious. Then the officers went around getting evidence against me all morning and I knew it was all up.

Nine months later, Ellis pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree. On February 25, 1936, he was sentenced by Judge Charles Colden in the Queens County Court to serve twenty-five years to life in State prison.

NOTE: The names Mildred Bailey and Bill Boyle as used in this story are fictitious to protect the identities of innocent persons.

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.


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.”


“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.”


“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.


“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.