This was murder, the detectives realized. And at the very beginning they knew it was a different kind of murder, a murder they could not understand.
It wasn’t a holdup killing. For the victim had been beaten unmercifully about the face, struck again and again after he was dead. No holdup man kills like that; no holdup man will tarry on the scene of his crime as long as this murder had.
Nor was it a grudge slaying. It had not been carefully planned. The killer had slipped into Frank Cohen’s little drug store at No. 94-32 VanWyck Boulevard in Jamaica, Long Island, perhaps even while other customers were there. He had left the drug store while persons walked by on the street. No grudge killer who might be recognized by Cohen’s life-long friends and customers would take such a chance.
Other facts — facts deduced from the physical evidence — were at odds with the known formula for murder. Cohen lay on the floor of the pharmacist’s laboratory in the rear of his store. The walls and the ceiling were splattered with his blood. Yet the officers could find no evidence of a struggle. No bottles, vials or test tubes had been broken. Nothing had been overturned.
Nor could they find any sign of the death weapon.
“It was a blunt instrument of some kind,” said the medical examiner, Doctor Howard Neail, glancing up at the detectives. “Almost any of the dozen or so blows would have knocked him unconscious.”
Doctor Neail straightened and looked at his wrist-watch, its hands pointing to the noon position.
“He’s been dead from twenty minutes to an hour,” stated the Doctor. “That puts the time of the crime approximately between eleven and elve-forty this morning.”
Captain Henry Flattery, in charge of detectives in the southern half of Queens County considered this.
“Then the killer hasn’t much of a start,” he said. “We received the alarm at eleven-fifty-two and we got here at eleven-fifty-six, just a minute beofe you arrived.”
“Depends on the strength of the woman and the weight of the weapon,” said Doctor Neail. “A fairly strong woman wielding a length of iron pipe could have committed the crime.”
“Well, whoever did it took the weapon with them,” Captain Flattery grimly pointed out.
“Look at this!”
A subdued cry had come from Detective Al Dillhoff. He was perched on a stool examining a sheet of paper in a typewriter.
“Cohen must have been copying this letter when he was attacked!”
Dillhoff indicated another sheet of paper on the laboratory counter beside the typewriter.
It was a chain letter listing the names and addresses of two men and three women.
A dollar chain letter, addressed to “Dear Friend,” warning the recipient not to break the chain lest woe befall him, and promising him modest riches if he followed the instructions at the bottom of the page.
The instructions directed the recipient to send a dollar to the first person on the list, and then make five copies of the letter, eliminating the name of the person to whom he sent the dollar and adding his own name to the bottom of the list on each copy.
Therefore the recipient was to mail the copies to five of his friends, and they, in turn, were to duplicate the procedure. Thus, for his one dollar investment, the recipient eventually would receive one dollar from each of 3124 persons — if nobody broke the chain.
Captain Flattery picked up the letter and snored. It was one of innumerable chain letters that were flooding the country on this twenty-fourth of May, 1935.
“Another one!” said Detective Dillhoff. “You know, every one of these letters is a direct violation of postal lottery and fraud statutes.”
Of more interest to the Captain was the fact that Cohen had started to copy the letter, making four carbons, and had gone as far as the third name when the letter suddenly ended with the name only partly written.
“Better make a copy of those names and check them” said Captain Flattery, handing the chain letter to Detective Morlock.
Finger-print experts and a police photographyer filed into the tiny back room. Captain Flattery led the detectives into the front of the store.
Four women and a man were sitting or standing at the soda fountain. Captain Flattery’s eyes went first to the cash-drawer of a register near the entrance to the laboratory and then to another cash=register behind the fountain. The money drawers were wide open, empty.
The omey in the two tills probably had not been more than fifty dollars, because this was an unpretentious pharmacy in a quiet residential district. Had the robbery, then, been a cunning afterthought on the part of a brutal murderer?
Captain Flattery strode on, stopped in front of the civilian who was seated at the fountain.
“You found the body?” Flattery asked.
“No, I phoned the police,” said the man. “I think this lady found the body.”
He indicated a pretty, young woman sitting at the fountain, her hands clasped rigidly in her lap, her face drained of blood, her eyes wide and staring.
“She was coming out of the back room there when I entered the store,” the man said. “When she saw me she stopped and screamed. I went past her and looked inside the back room and I saw the body. By the time I finished calling the police these other women were in the store and I bolted the street door as the officer told me.”
The tree women he indicated were vigorously bobbing thier heads in agreement, fairly bursting with their desire to talk.
Captain Flattery said to them, “Any of you touch anything?”
Instantly he was engulfed by a babling flood of denials from teh women, all talking at once.
Quieting them finally, Captain Flattery said, “Any of you see anybody leave this store?”
“I did!” cried one woman triumphantly as the other two and the man were reluctantly shaking their heads.
She had been idly leaning out of a window in her apartment, this woman said, when she saw a young man hurry out of the pharmacy and speed off in a dilapicdated roadster in the direction of South Jamaica, where, she would have the Captain know, many young hoodlums prowled the streets who were “just the type to do something terrible like this and all of them should be put in jail like my husband says and —”
“When, Madam?” Flattery said sharply. “When did you see this?”
The woman was taken aback. She said haltingly, “Why, let me see know. “Oh, yes! It was just before Mrs. Moscowitz telephoned and promised to meet me this afternoon because we are going—
“When, Madam? roared Flattery, exasperated. “What time did this Mrs. Moscowitz phone you?”
“The woman started in surprise, drew herself up with mountainous dignity. She said primly, acidly, “That’s what I’m trying to tell you! It was at eleven fifteen. I know because—”
Eleven fifteen and the crime had not been discovered until more than a half-hour later. Any number of persons could have entered and left the drug store in that half-hour.
Briefly Flattery questioned the other two housewives and learned that they had been standing on the corner and had not noticed anyone enter the drug store. A muffled scream from the recesses of the pharmacy caught their attention and brought them running.
Captain Flattery politely but firmly ushered them out of the store and then turned his attention to the stunned, dark-haired young woman.
The girl was seemingly unaware of her surroundings. Captain Flattery’s eyes went over here dress slowly. But he noticed no tell tale bulge such as a concealed iron pipe or simliar weapon might make. He said to her quietly, “What is your name, Miss?”
By degrees her gaze returned from fare places. She said, tonelessly, “Where you speaking to me?”
“Yes. What is your name?”
“Aurora Aguilar. I’m Mrs. Cohen’s maid.”
“Her maid, eh? What were you doing in the laborator with her husband?
Miss Aguilar hesitated, groping in her mind. She said haltingling, “I…I came to get something. He was…I found him like that.”
“What did you come to get?”
“I…I don’t remember now.” The young woman brushed her forehead with the back of her hand. “Something for the baby, I think.”
“I don’t know. It seems ages ago. “
Mr. Cohen wasn’t in the store. We didn’t come out when I called. I went back to the laboratory. I…I saw him. The next thing I knew a man in a white uniform, an ambulance surgeon. I think, was giving me something.
“Was anyone in the store when you entered?” Captain Flattery asked.
“I don’t think so. “I’m pretty sure no one was.”
“Did you see this man when you came out of the laboratory?”
Aurora looked blankly at the man who had phoned the police. She said, “I don’t remember.”
“Do your remember screaming?”
Mis Aguilar’s dark eyes widened in sudden surprise. “No!”
Abruptly she uttered a cry of anguish and darted toward the street door. “Don’t let her in!” she cried, pushing and clawing frantically at the amazed patrolment on guard. “Don’t let her in! She mustn’t see!”
Comprehension caught at the officers. A charming-looking woman was struggling timidly but apprehensively to get through the gathering throng. She appealed to the officers: “Please! I must get in! I must! I’m Mrs. Cohen!”
A path opened through the crowd. Mrs. Cohen swept through into the store, into the maids arms.
“My husband? Where is he? What’s— “
She stopped, aware of the stillness, of the embarrassed, sympathetic glances.
Captain Flattery said gently, “There’s been an accident, Mrs. Cohen. Your husband is — dead.”
For an instant Mrs. Cohen stared fixedly. Then her eyes closed and she turned slowly white. Detective Dillhoff caught her as she slipped from Miss Agular’s arms.
Captain Flatter turned to detectives Georg Knab and George Campbell.
“Call another squad and go through that crowd out there. THen comb the neighborhood,” he directed. “Somebody may have seen someone in this store between eleven-fifteen and eleven-forty-eight. That’s the approximated period between when the boy ran out and when the maid says she came in here.”
An officer approaced and reported “No prints in the laboratory or around the cash-drawers except Cohen’s and smudges.”
Captain Flattery nodded, then called aside Miss Aguilar.
“Is Mrs. Cohen going to be all right?”
The girl stifled her sobs: “Y–yes. In a little while. She’s very brave.”
“Where does she live?”
“Around the corner and across the street. It’s on the second floor, over Charlie’s Meat Market.”
“We’ll talk to her there,” decided Captain Flattery. He wished to spare the woman the sight of her husband’s body being carried out of the store and it was only a short distance to her apartment.
With a hushed crowd trailing, Mrs. Cohen and the maid, Captain Flattery and Detective Dillhoff turned the corner a few minutes later and cut diagonally across the street.
As they reached the curb in fron of a meat market they halted in their tracks. Charles Ellis, the proprietor, burst out, his beefy face oa study in astonishment and concern.
“Mrs. Cohen! What is it? What’s wong?”
Mrs. Cohen reached out and touched the butcher’s soiled white apron appealingly.
“Charlie!” she gasped. “It’s Frank! He’s —” she couldn’t go on.
Ellis’ eyes rolled inquiringly to Captain Flattery. Then he backed away, confused, uncertain. The maid, bring up the rear with Detective Dillhoff, paused.
“Mr. Cohen’s dead,” she whispered.
“Ellis’ eyes popped. “Dead! Why, he can’t be! He was hale and hearty this morning!”
“He was murdered!”
Ellis’ jaw dropped. He was still standing like that when the little group disappeared into the entrance to the Cohen apartment.
“Charlie was one of Mr. Cohen’s best friends,” Miss Aguilar explained to Detective Dillhoff as they climbed the stairs.
The interview with Mrs. Cohen did not prove helful. She could think of no one with a grudge against her husband. She was positive no other woman had figured into his life.
“What tiem did the maid go to the drug store?” Captain Flattery asked casually.
“I don’t recall exactly,” Mrs. Cohen said. “I wanted some medicine for the bab. It was after eleven-thirty, I think. I was beginning to wonder why she was so long when a neighbor came and said something was wrong at the store — there was a crowd in front of it.
When the officers departed Miss Aguilar followed them to the door.
Dillhoff said in a low, confidential tone, “You were fond of Mr. Cohen?”
“He was a grand man. Everyone loved him.”
“Was his wife jealous? Any quarrels between them lately?”
Quick, resentful anger flashed into the girl’s dark eyes. Without answering she closed the door.
Dillhoff and Captain Flattery exchanged quizzical glances, then went down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk.
Ellis, the butcher, still was standing on the corner staring in the direction of the drug store.
“This guy was one of Cohen’s best friends,” Dillhoff said. He shold know about Cohen’s secret life.”
The detectives approached Ellis. He said to them anxiously:
“They tell me Frank was killed by bandits. Is that right?”
“We don’t know who killed him,” Captain Flattery said, “but you may be able to help us fiond out.”
“I”ll do anything!” he promised, his voice trembling. “He was one of my best friends!”
Did he have any enemies?”
“No, not Frank.”
“Any extra-marital romances?”
“None that I know of,” Ellis said slowly, thoughtfully. “Nothing particular, that is. Everybody liked him. Frank was good-natured, very courteous. He couldn’t stand to see a woman abused…”
Ellis’ voice trailed off, leaving a vague feeling of something unsaid.
Captain Flattery asked “Who was the woman Cohen saw abused?”
“It was nothing, ” Ellis shrugged. “Just a kid. Her boy friend slapped her. I thought for a moment that Frank was going after him.”
“When was that?”
“The other night. After I closed my market. A cute little trick was talking to Frank at the fountain when I went in. Then THen this young fellow came up and spoke to her. I couldn’t hear what the kids were saying but the boy was angry and slapped the ger in her face. Frank got mad. I ghouth he was going to jump over the counter and throw the boy out. But they left then, the girl and the boy. The got into a car and drove off toward South Jamaica together.
“What kind of a car?” asked Flattery.
“A rattletrap roadster. Looked as if it’d been put together from a dozen old cars.”
A yojg man in a rattletrap roadster. One witness had seen a youth run out of the drug stor a half-hour before the discovery of the murder and leap into a rattletrap roadster. And this your, too, had driven off in the direction of South Jamaica.
“What did the girl look like?” Captain Flattery said urgently.
“A blonde. A little too much make-up, but she had a neat fuigure. She was wearing one of those sweaters.”
“The boy—what did he look like?”
“You can’t mistake him. Tough. About eighteen or nineteen. Pug nose and red hair.”
Flattery shot a sharp glance at Detective Dillhoff. Red Donovan! A young punk they both knew well, a hoodlum who had been in trouble often and who was headed straight for Sing Sing.
Red and a dozen of his pals had organized a neighborhood gang of teen-age toughs who preyed on lone pedestrians and went in for thievery and other minor crimes. Knives and clubs were their wapons—not guns. Pocket knives—and foot long iron pipes. An iron pip such as might have killed Frank Cohen.
“The boys have got something!” exclaimed Detective Dillhoff suddenly.
Captain Flattery swung around. Detectives Campbell and Knab were signalling from directly across the street. Flattery and Dillhoff hurried to them.
“There was a blond girl in the drug store fifteen minutes before Cohen’s body was found!” announced Knab.
Captain Flattery whistled softly. “Wow do you know?”
“A truck driver saw her. She was coming out of the telephone booth and the driver said she was jittery as Hell.”
“He had to go on while we were in the drug store but before he left he told a customer in the lunchroom across the street.
“Better find him and bring him in,” said Captain Flattery. “I’d like to know what happened to that blonde.”
Detective Campbell said, “She came out of the drug store a few minutes before the Cohen maid was going in.”
“Who told you?”
“That elderly lady there.” Detective Campbell indicated a gray-haired woman standing in front of a tailor shop next to the lunchroom.
“Did the blonde head toward South Jamaica?”
“No. She came right across to this side of the street and went around the corner.”
“Do you think your withness would recognize the blonde if she saw her agina?”
She’s positive she can. She says she’s seen the blonde in the neighborhood a couple times this last month. But she doesn’t know her.”
“Did the old lady see anyone else enter or leave the store?”
The motor of the morgue truck roared; the crowd in the street swept back toward both curbs. As the truck lurched away, taking Cohen’s body to the morgue for an autopsy, Detective Lieutenant Edmund Moor emerged from the pharmacy and strode to the corner where Ellis was standing. For a minute he talked with the butcher. Then he turned and eased his way through the crowd and joined Captain Flattery.
“That chain letter was Ellis’, not Cohen’s,” Lieutenant Moore said. “Ellis admits it. He doesn’t have a typewriter to use as his own so he went to the drug store this morning and asked Cohen to copy it for him.
“How about those other names on the letter?” Flattery asked.
“Morlock’s traced those already. Nothing doing. The woman who sent it to Ellis doesn’t even know Cohen.”
“What time was Ellis in the drug store?”
“A little after eleven.”
“Did he see the young fellow who ran out of the store at 11:15?”
“No. Cohen was waiting on an elderly man at the time. Ellis doesn’t know who the man was. He was buying some patent medicine.
Captain Flattery’s eyes shifted to the far corner. Ellis was strolling moodily back to his meat market.
“It’s a shame Ellis didn’t take that letter to Cohen a few minutes later than he did, ” Flattery said. “We’d know definitely if it was Red Donovan.”
A few minutes later detectives were prowling the tawdry section of South Jamaica, in and out of pool-rooms, cigar stores and other hangouts of the teen-age toughs. But they did not find Red Donovan.
The Youth’s mother said, “I haven’t seen him in a week. He started running around with a dizzy blonde a month ago. Now his friends tell me he’s got a car. You’d think he’d help his poor mother instead of wasting money on that blonde.”
“Where does he get the money?”
“How should I know? I can’t do anything with him. Maybe he’s got a job.”
Red did have a job. He told about it when he sauntered nonchalantly into Jamaica Police Headquarters the following afternoon.
“I hear you’re looking for me,” he said.
Captain Flattery eyed him steadily.
“Where you been keeping yourself?”
“Around. Why? What’s on your mind?”
“Where were you yesterday?”
“Working. In an auto-wrecking yard in South Jamaica.”
“Good at slapping girls in the face, arent’ you?”
Red froze. “How did you know that?”
“Little birdies told me.”
“The Hell they did! It was that kluck who got knocked off.”
“How did you know he got knocked off?”
“I can read, can’t I?”
Captain Flattery shook his head. He said evenly. “That won’t do, Red. You were seen running out of the drug store yesterday.” Then, taking a shot in the dark, “And there were blood-spots on your clothes.”
Red blanced. “You’re not going to pin that job on me, are you? I wasn’t even inside the store. I just looked in and jumped back into my car.”
“Yeah? Just looking, eh?”
“Honest! Betty was going to meet me there at eleven o’clock if she got the afternoon off.”
“Betty Wiliams, my girl friend. She works in a beauty parlor a couple blocks from the drug store.”
“She a noce blonde, Red?” Flattery asked.
Red brightened. “A knockout!” Then, in sudden self-justification, “But she’s too damn wise. Always making a play for some fellow. That’s why I smacked her the other night. She said I was a bum and told me to scram because she’d made a date with the druggist. But that was a gag — she was just sore because I was late meeting her.”
Maybe it wasn’t a gag, Captain Flattery thought. Aloud, he said, “were you late yesterday?”
“A little, maybe. But I was ony going to drive her home, anyway, and when I didn’t see anybody in the store I figured she didn’t get off work or she had started walking.”
An hour later blond Betty was taking another walk. With detectives trailing her, she stepped out of the drug store, then went diagonally across the street and past a little gray-haired woman standing beside Detective Campbell and Captain Flattery in front of the tailor shop.
“Oh, my, no!” said the little, gray haired lady as Betty flounced by “The blond girl I saw was sweet and innocent-looking.”
“Thank you,” said Captain Flattery heavily.
“Betty’s in the clear but I’m not so sure about Red,” said Flattery later. “That slap in the face doesn’t indicate that he considered Betty’s interest in Cohen as a gag. And he had opportunity to knock of Cohen. We’ve got nothing but his word that he only looked in this store. He may have been here for five minutes.”
Lieutenant Moore said, “A blonde was in here, even if it wasn’t Betty. She may be the key to the whole mystery.”
“Yes, we’ll have to find her,” Captain Flattery said, “if the raid on Red’s apartment doesn’t bring anything new.”
The raid failed to bring anything new. Detectives reported that they had ransacked the place without finding a bludgeon of any kind or a single bloodstained garment.
To the officers the entire baffling case now revolved around the element of time.
Cohen had been murdered sometime between approximately eleven a.m. and eleven-forty, allowing a few extra minutes either way, according to the Medical Examiner.
And during this period, Ellis, the butcher, and other credible witnesses had seen only four persons entering or leaving or inside the drug store—namely, an aged man buying patent medicin; the hoodlum, Red Donvan;an innocent looking blonde and the Cohen’s maid.
Had one of them wielded the deadly bludgeon? All had opportunity. But which, besides Red had motive? And where was the mysterious blonde? That was the most important question. Every available detective was summoned to help hunt for her. The officers methodically scoured the neighborhood, getting farther and farther away from the store as the quest continued into the night and throughout the following day, Sunday. It was a monotonous, exacting, back-breaking job of stair climbin and doorbell ringing.
Detective Morlock had been assigned to the manhunt. He was half-way through his fifth building, three blocks from teh drug store. Sunday night when the fair-haired high-school girl of sixteen answered his knock on a door. “Mr. Cohen’s drug store?” she said when Morlock questioned her. “Why I was in there myself before Mr. Cohen was killed.”
Detective Morlock swallowed hard.
“You were? What time?”
“I was there for fifteen or twenty minutes!” the girl said with definite confidence. “It was going on eleven-thirty when I got there. About eleven twenty-five.”
“Did anyone enter or leave the store while you were there?”
“I don’t think so, I was phoning most of the time.”
“Won’t you tell me about it?”
“That’s all there”But I was there! And I just missed seeing the bandits! The papers said they hel up Mr. Cohen about noon.”
“Were you talking to Mr. Cohen?” Morlock asked.
“I didn’t see him,” she said, tracking a pattern on the carpet with her toe. “I wanted to make another call after I got through phoning, and I waited for five minutes to get change but Mr. Cohen didn’t come out from the rear of his store.” She paused. “I used a dime. I had to hurry to meet Mother.”
The nervous girl seen by the truck driver!
Morlock said, “Waasn’t Mr. Cohen in the store when you entered?”
She shook her gold tresses. “No. He must have been in the rear. I guess he was awfully busy. He was still back there when I left.”
Morlock fished in his pockets for a cigarette to conceal his elation. Here, indeed, was important news. The time element of the crime was narrowing.
“Weren’t there any customers in the store when you entered?”
“Did you see anyone leaving?”
“When I turned the corner a man was walking awy from it,” she said. “But I don’t know whether he came out of the drug store. At first I thought he worked in the grocery on the corner—he had on one of those white aprons the clerks wear. But I saw red stains on his apron so he must have been working in the meat market across the street.
Morlock’s cigarette snapped in midair.
“What did he look like?”
She drew an unmistakable verbal picture of Ellis!
Charles Ellis, the trusted friend!
The girls’s story proved Ellis had been in the pharmacy at a vitally important moment—11:25 a.m.
Even granting a few minutes either way for an honest error in her judgment of time, Ellis obviously had emerged from the drug store at some time between 11:20 and 11:30 a.m.
What did it mean?
“He’s our man,” said Captain Flattery grimly when he was told of the girl’s astonishing story.
Ellis, however was not even disconcerted when he was confronted by the girl the following morning.
“Yes, I sorta remember seeing this pretty girl when I came out of the drug store Friday,” Ellis said, “But I didn’t think it was as late as she says.”
“You weren’t there twice that morning, weren’t you?” Captain Flattery accused.
“No, I was too busy,” Ellis said slowly.
No resentment showed in Ellis’ manner or tone. He understood that the authorities could take nothing for granted, and he patiently, laboriously attempted to recall everything he’d done on the day of the murder.
A fussy woman who had been irritatingly slow in her selection of a chicken was one of his last customers before he went to the drug store, Ellis remembered, and he gave her name and address as well as those of many other people he’d seen or talked to or waited on from the time he opened his market in the morning until he went home that night.
His clincher came, however, when he volunteered theinformation that a newcomer in the neighborhood, a woman, had greeted him on the street when he was taking the letter to Cohen’s drug store. On his return he had found his clerk waiting, on the woman, Ellis said, and he again spoke to her, and then went directly to a wholesale butcher a few blocks distant.
“I just got back from the wholesaler’s when I saw you and Mrs. Cohen come around the corner,” Ellis told Captain Flattery.
In her apartment a few doors from teh meat market, the newcomer in the neighborhood readily verified Ellis’ story in almost every detail.
And neighborhood businessmen and residents attested to Ellis’ good character. No one could suggest a possible motive for Ellis to have committed the crime.
“It’s all a matter of timing,” Captain Flattery mused. “It doesn’t take long to kill— or die. In this instance, a minute, possibly. Any one of the people who were in the drug store might have done it. “
The search for the patent-medicine customer was intensified while a check-up on Ellis’ statements continued. The check-up was purely routine, however, and little impression was made on the officers when they finicky woman insisted she had purchased her chicken on Thursday, not Friday. Neigher did it seem particularly significant to officers when the meat wholesaler told them that Ellis visited his establishment at 11:30 a.m. and added that he remembered the time distinctly because Ellis had made a payment on a note.
But when Ellis began to prowl the neighborhood restessly that afternoon, with a forlorn expression on his heavy face as he watched the comings and goings of the police, Captain Flattery took notice, and he decided to talk with the finicky woman and the wholesaler himself.
Why, Captain Flattery wondered, had Ellis given the woman as an alibi? Or was he honestly mistaken about the day when the woman did buy the chicken?”
No enlightenment on the mystery was obtained by Flattery, however, when he requestions the woman, and the tiny doubt in his mind had become a persisting annoying thing by the time he caught up with the meat wholesaler late in the afternoon. Then, precipitately, with the wholesaler’s first words, Flattery’s small doubt ballooned until it filled his whole mind.
“Ellis is a sale-to-sale,” buyer the wholesaler said. “He has been for some time. His business has been poor. Couldn’t afford to buy any more than he deeded from morning until afternoon. He’s in here a couple times a day. That’s why I was so surprised when he made a payment on his note. I hadn’t expected it, and the hour he was here stuck in my mind. I can state definitely that it was at eleven-thirty, so I don’t see how you can connect him with the murderer. “
Captain Flattery could see. But the motive troubled him. Robbery could not have been Ellis’ mind when he went to the drug store. The evidence against it was overwhelming. What, then, had caused Ellis to fly into a murderous rage? That is, if Ellis actually committed the murder.
Considering all things, Flattery could not bring himself to believe that Ellis really was the killer. But his suspicions again were strong, though vague. They did not crystalize until he got back to the drug store and Detective Dillhoff said:
“That fellow Ellis has been acting awfully nervous. He left his market five times to take a peek at what was happening around this ddrug store.
Captain Flattery’s lips tightened into a thin line. Ellis had a guilty conscience. Something was preying on the man’s mind.
But how make him spill it? They had no physical evidence to connect Ellis with the crime. And a raid on his market that night did not furnish any. Knives, cleavers, saws and other implements of Ellis’ trade were found, of course, but none blunt enough to fit the woulds in the bludgeoned druggist’s skull. And bloodstained aprons were in his market, too, but at dawn all were returned by technicians of the police laboratory because none of the stains were human.
“The solutions we used changed the color of the stains on those aprons,” said one of the technicians, “when he sees them he’s going to get suspicious.”
“Swell,” said Captain Flattery.
He meant it. He had a plan in mind. True to the Captain’s expectatinos, Ellis headed for the corner a few minutes after he opened his market that next morning. He appeared haggard, as if he hadn’t slept well. The feverish activity he found around the drug store, with officers dashing up and then racing away, caused him to look suddenly worse. His jowls sagged in surprise.
And when two officers suddenly met in the middle of the street, stopped, and, after a few words, turned and stared at him in accusing astonishment before they hurried into the pharmacy, swift alarm flooded Ellis’ countenance. He waddled hastily back to his market.
“We got him now,” said Captain Flattery with calm assurance.
His eye was glued to a peep-hole in the rear of the grocery, where he ahad a clear view of everything that went on in Ellis’ market and of Ellis’ movements to and from the corner.
Beside him sat detective Dillhoff, peering through another hole made in the door for the occasion.
Concealed from the grocery store’s customers by a partition, the two officers sat there all that morning watching Ellis slowly crack under the relentless strain of seeing grimly silent officers stride purposefully in and out of apartment-houses and stores, stopping occasionally to whisper on the street before they glanced suspiciously in his direction, whether he was in his market or walking nervously up and down the sidewalk.
Twice that morning he made pitiful attempts to speak to officers, only to be sharply rebuffed. By noon he ceased to come out on the sidewalk.
Twice that morning he made pitiful attempts to speak to officers, only to be sharply rebuffed. By noon he ceased to come out on the sidewalk.
Miraculously, all the officers vanished at 1 p.m., and for ten minutes thereafter Ellis peered in fearful bewilderment through the window of his market. Then, cautiously, he eased out on the sidewalk and started to inch his way toward the corner. Abruptly Captain Flattery and Detective Dillhoff strode out of the grocery and bore down on him. With one stricken glance he tumbled back through the doorway.
A weird scene followed.
In ustter silence, their faces set, the two officers paced back and forth in front of the market, their eyes fastened on Ellis, who had retreated to the far end of his counter. Like sentinels of doom they continued their patrol thorughout the afternoon while the harassed man, mopping his face and tramnpling visibly, tried desperately to wait on the few customers who ventured into his store.
He gave up suddenly. Sending his clerk home, he wearily divested himself of his white apron and pulled on a leather jacket. Then, taking a last lingering look around his market, he stepped outside, closed and locked the door. Head bowed, he moved heavily toward the two officers watching him from the curb and stopped between them. A squad car clided around the corner, stopped. The two officers and the butcher climbed in.
Not a word had been spoken.
At Headquarters Ellis told his story. He told it quietly, without prompting. His audience included District Attorney Charles Sullivan, Captain Flattery and most of the officers who had worked on the case. They were very still.
“I couldn’t stand it any longer,” Ellis said. “It was on my conscience. I could see this morning that you had found out.
“Frank was copying my chain letter. A customer came in. He bouth some medicine. Then he wanted some stamps. I was standing in the laboratory, beside the typewriter. I could see a large roll of bills in the drawer when Frank pulled it out. I was in need of money. Desperately. Things had been going bad for sever months.
“I hoped the chain letter would save me. But the roll of bills looked like a fortune. I thought I could sneak them without Frank finding out. There was no bell on the cash-drawer. And I knew Frank would never suspect me. “When he went back to typing I got the cash-drawer open without a sound.
“But at that moment Frank turned to say something to me about the chain letter. He saw the bills in my hand. He cried out and jumped at me.
“I knew I was ruined if the people found out. I went crazy. I killed him. There was a big pestle on the laboratory counter. I picked it up and hit him. He went limp in my arms. I dragged him to the other side of the room. I beat him until I was sure he was dead. THen I got all the money and left the cash-drawers opened to make it look like a robbery.
“I took the pestle with me. I had it wrapped up, pressed against the side of my body — under my arm, so no one could see it. I smashed it up into powder and threw the powder in the cellar furnace before I went home that night. I also burned the apron. Some of Frank’s blood splattered on it. I thought I was safe then.”
That was Ellis’ story. It jibed with all the known facts in the crime. On February 25, 1936,Ellis pleaded guilty to second degree murder before Judge Thomas Downs sentenced him to serve 25 years to life in State Prison.
The names Red Donovan and Betty Williams are fictitious as used in this story to protect the identity of innocent persons.