Tag Archives: Crime

How Don Hoak Scared The Hell Out Of Me When I Was A Kid

Don Hoak Becomes The Bogeyman

Don Hoak was a professional baseball player for 11 seasons. From 1954-1964 Hoak played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies. By all accounts he was a nice man and a decent player who had a career .265 batting average.

In real life Don Hoak probably never intentionally scared a child. Little did he know one day this baseball card would affect one superstitious, naive, ignorant kid.

One day when I was about 7-years-old I acquired some old baseball cards from the 1960s from my grandfather. I showed them to an older boy and when he came to Don Hoak  he said, “you know, he’s dead,” as he handed the card back to me.

Well I stared at the card and I got the willies. An actual shudder ran down my spine.

“Dead? What do you mean, dead?” I said.

My simpleton mind knew what dead meant, but I did not have much real life experience with death.

All I knew was that I was holding a dead man in my hand. How could he be dead? This card is only a few years old and he couldn’t have been an old man?

“How’d he die?” I needed to know.

“I don’t know but he died a few years ago (1969)” my companion said. Then he added, “He may have been murdered.”

Wellllll  now I was transfixed for about a full minute. This simple 1964 Topps baseball card of a smiling ballplayer took on new meaning. Continue reading

Women Joining The NYPD 100 Years Ago? Not Likely.

No Women Became NYPD Officers Until 1918

Woman Police Making Arrest Bain locThis 1908 news photo by Bain News Service shows a Cincinnati suffragette dressed as a policeman. The accompanying captions is “How woman policeman would look making an arrest.”  Another photo of the same woman is captioned “the woman cop ‘A Dream.'”

Women becoming police officers in the early 20th century was considered a joke. Well maybe that was the case 100 years ago, but not today. There are now over 6,000 uniformed women police officers in the NYPD and they comprise almost 20% of the police force.

In the early history of the NYPD, women had worked as jail matrons and secretary’s. It was in 1918 that Ellen O’Grady was named a Deputy Police Commissioner and Mary E. Hamilton was appointed a policewoman along with 5 other women.

Some of the original policewomen were assigned to battle the white slave trade (forced prostitution) while other recruits were to work on juvenile delinquency cases.

The policewomen were issued badges, summons books, revolvers and handcuffs. They had the same authority as their male counterparts and surprisingly, received the same $1,200 salary as policemen.

As more women joined the force in the following two years, most of the policewomen were assigned to the city beaches to protect women. Others were given assignments in the Vice Squad, the Missing Persons Bureau and some were to investigate fortune-tellers and midwives. Continue reading

You’re Under Arrest! Why The NYPD Would Arrest You In 1905

The Crimes That Got You Arrested in New York City In 1905

New York City police bringing suspects into the station. (circa 1900)

New York City police bringing suspects into the station. (circa 1900)

The police make more arrests now In New York City than they did In 1905. Of course the population has doubled from what it was in 1905. But it’s the type of arrests that were made 111 years ago that are quite different from today.

Among the 4,014,304 people living in New York City in 1905 with almost 2 million foreign born and many of them poor, you would think there would be a lot of crime. And there was, but most of it was not violent. In 1905, there were 198,356 arrests for the year, with about 90 percent of them being misdemeanors.

So what crimes were New Yorkers charged with? The following information was taken from the Report of the Police Department of the City of New York for the Year Ending December 31, 1905. Below are 1905’s top 13 offenses with the number of people arrested by the NYPD and the offense they committed:

52,316 Intoxication / Intoxication and Disorderly conduct
39,972 Disorderly conduct
17,584 Violation of Corporation Ordinances
11,731 Assault and Battery
8,592 Disorderly Person
8,333 Vagrancy
7,991 Suspicious Person
6,880 Petit Larceny
5,031 Grand Larceny
3,939 Violation of Liquor Tax Law
3,795 Violation of Health Law
2,810 Felonious Assault
2,279 Burglary

In the breakdown of the hundreds of offenses that people were arrested for, here are some facts that might surprise you.

New York City police turned a blind eye to the oldest profession as only 13 people were arrested for prostitution. 10 for possessing or selling obscene pictures. 49 for arson. 16 for murder and 711 for homicide- (I never realized  there was a technical difference between murder and homicide)!

Six were arrested for cruelty to children, yet 535 were arrested for cruelty to animals. Continue reading

Ten Great Films From The 1940s Featuring New York City

Filming Around New York City In The 1940s

On The Town posterDuring Hollywood’s golden years from the 1930s through the early 1950s there were many films set in New York City, but the vast majority were made on the studio lots in southern California. Almost every studio had their own New York set which would convey “the Big Apple.”

The reasons for doing so were obvious; the costs of actually sending the cast and crew on location to film would be cost prohibitive and complete control could be exercised in the studio for crowd control, noise, lighting and other technical issues.

Occasionally films would use stock footage of New York or a second unit directing team would be sent to capture a New York scene or two to be used as establishing shots showing the audience, yes this is New York. Usually though none of the principal characters in the film were ever actually in New York, but back in Hollywood, playing against what is called a “process shot” a background screen showing New York footage usually while the actors were walking or driving.

Even such quintessential “New York” films such as A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) were shot completely in Hollywood.

So when the cast and crew actually did any filming in New York it was a rare treat, especially looking back today at the much changed metropolis.

Here are ten of the best 1940s films where a part of the movie was actually filmed on location in New York City.

Saboteur Cummings and Lloyd Statue of LibertySaboteur (1942) This cross-sountry chase of one man falsely accused of sabotage pursuing the real saboteur winds up in New York. Director Alfred Hitchcock had his second unit shoot footage in the city that shows New York in the midst of World War II. We see Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, the waterfront and other familiar city sights.  A masterpiece of storytelling the film moves at a smooth pace as you bite your nails watching. Spoiler alert: Sinister character actor Norman Lloyd battles hero Robert Cummings on Bedloe’s Island at The Statue of Liberty in one of the most iconic conclusions to a film ever shot.

Ray Milland The Lost Weekend Third Avenue photo Life MagazineThe Lost Weekend (1945) Director Billy Wilder takes advantage of New York, shooting many of the exteriors of The Lost Weekend on location. Ray Milland’s portrayal of troubled, alcoholic writer Don Birnam won him an Academy Award for best actor. The film also won Oscars for best picture, best director and best screenplay. There are so many shots of Milland in the city it becomes a game to recognize where the actual locations are. Third Avenue is prominently put on display. The giant street clock Milland passes in one scene is still there today – located on Third Avenue between 84th and 85th Streets. All the mom and pop stores and restaurants along the way are long gone, replaced mostly by chains. P.J Clarke’s on Third Avenue and 55th Street was used in the shooting but many of the interior scenes of the bar were shot back in Hollywood. Continue reading

Why Few Of Us Are “Normal” Human Beings (And That’s A Good Thing!)

According To Writer Donald Henderson Clarke, Normal Human Beings Are A Rare Breed

Man of the world bookDonald Henderson Clarke (1887-1958) enjoyed telling a good story. Clarke was able to accomplish that as a successful reporter for many New York newspapers including The New York World, New York Times, and the New York American. After his newspaper stint from 1907 through the 1920s, Clarke began writing books and screenplays which made him a tidy sum.

Born to a wealthy New England family, Clarke lived the life of a bon vivant, but always held a fascination for the underbelly of life. Besides writing about the famous and newsworthy, Clarke spent quite a bit of time with bootleggers, gangsters and prostitutes. Out of nowhere in his autobiography, Man of the World: Recollections of an Irreverent Reporter, 1951, Vanguard Press, Clarke makes an astute observation about the human condition.

64 years after this was written, this timeless description of normalcy and humanity still strikes a strong chord. Clarke’s quirky style comprises the longest run-on sentence I’ve read by a journalist, but I’ll forgive him the run-on, because he is right on the mark.

Good, normal human beings are a rarity, and we all should be thankful for that. They are dull, monotonously successful, exasperatingly even-keeled, always in good health. Of course, they should not be called normal.

Most human beings suffer from anxieties, worries, fears, suppressed desires, regrets for past sins, secret yearnings for future sins, aches, pains, toothaches, flat feet, ingrowing toe nails, body odors, hair in the wrong places, too little hair in the right places; they are too short or too tall or too plump or too lean; they wish they were married, wish they were unmarried, wish they could have a successful careers, are bored silly with successful careers, wish they had children, wish their children would hurry up and get married, wish their children would never marry, are afraid of hell, are afraid of the dark, are afraid of poverty, wish their noses were different, wish they were in society, are bored with society, wish they could know actors and actresses, wish they could get away from actors and actresses, shoot and poison their husbands, shoot and cut the throats of their wives, make love to the cook, make love to the chauffeur, talk virtue and think of vice, howl because Rossellini and Bergman have a baby without benefit of clergy – and wish they could be Bergmans or Rossellinis.

The average human being is full of imperfections which make him-her interesting. When the imperfections lead to explosions small or large, it makes the kind of news I like – the sort of news that reveals the human being for what he is – mortal and finite but clinging desperately to the idea that he is immortal and infinite; possessing nothing, no matter if he has millions of dollars, but soothing his fears with the false idea that he has possessions.

He is suddenly gone. Nothing is more ridiculous than the carcass left behind, unless it be the strangely patterned bits of cloth and leather with which he or she concealed that carcass from view. The discarded garments of one suddenly dead look tiny and silly.

Where did the spirit flit? Even several Christians will not give you the same answer. It depends on the particular belief of the particular Christian. Mohammedans will tell you Paradise, where warriors will have a bevy of houris to amuse them. Other religions, whose followers outnumber Christians, will give you other answers.

No human being ever went wherever it is and came back to tell about it in plain, everyday language. That would be one big, important, serious newspaper story I would like to cover.

Continue reading

The First Execution By Electric Chair

125 Years Ago Today William Kemmler Became The First Prisoner To Be Put To Death By Electrocution

The original and first electric chair that was used to execute a prisoner on August 6, 1890 in Auburn, NY

The original and first electric chair that was used to execute a prisoner on August 6, 1890 in Auburn, NY

While the debate continues today over what exactly comprises cruel and unusual punishment or whether the death penalty should ever be invoked, 125 years ago today on August 6, 1890 William Kemmler became the first person put to death by the electric chair. The electric chair was proposed to be a more “humane” way to execute criminals.

On June 4, 1888 New York’s Governor David B. Hill signed a law passed by the legislature that the punishment for murder after January 1, 1889 should be “death by means of an electrical current that should be caused to pass through the body of the condemned.” Electrical experts then came up with the plan to apply the current and strap a man in a chair while he sat.

The New York Evening World wrote of the convict Kemmler on the day of his execution, “If vengeance were what the law seeks by capital punishment for murder it would get little satisfaction out of the event today, for the poor wretch whose life has been taken within the walls of Auburn Prison has for weeks awaited the coming of black-visored Death with a child-like expectancy, almost impatience.”

One of eleven children, William Kemmler was born into poverty in 1860 in Philadelphia, PA. Continue reading

Gangster Al Capone and His Mother

Even A Vicious Gangster Is Loved By His Mom

Al Capone and his motherIf you’ve seen 1987’s hit movie The Untouchables or HBO’s Boardwalk Empire you probably came away with the impression that Al Capone king of Chicago’s underworld during the 1920’s and early 1930’s was a cold blooded killer that few could love but many feared. Movies and TV shows convey only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Capone’s ruthlessness.

Capone could often be generous with the poor and downtrodden but he also displayed a hair-trigger temper and would personally kill or order killings with the slightest of provocations.

Even with all the horrible things Al Capone was responsible for or blamed for, his mother Theresa still loved him.

She fought valiantly to get her son out of prison after his 1931 conviction for income tax evasion. First in 1937 Theresa asked a judge to set aside an additional one year conviction of a misdemeanor and $20,000 fine and again in 1938 Theresa sought Al’s complete release. The caption to this news photo above reads:

Capone’s Mother Seeks His Release

Chicago – Attorney’s representing Mrs. Theresa Capone, mother of Al Capone have filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal court in Chicago seeking the release of the former gang chief who was sentenced to ten years in prison for income tax evasion in 1931, and is now in Alcatraz. The petition claims that time is allowed off for good behavior, and that Capone is entitled to 1,320 days credit and has therefore completed serving his sentence. The above photo shows Al Capone and his mother Mrs. Theresa Capone, at Al’s Miami home before his fall from power. credit line: ACME 4-2-1938

Theresa’s efforts were rewarded and Al Capone was released early from Alcatraz prison January 6, 1939 and was transferred to Terminal Island, a Federal Correctional Institution in California, to serve the one year misdemeanor sentence. Continue reading

In 1961 Dr. Richard W. Hamming Predicted The Harmful Effects of Computer Technology

Loss Of Privacy, Pooling Of Data And The Slow Blurring Of The Distinction Between Human And Machine “Thinking.”

Richard W. Hamming photo: Naval Postgraduate School

Richard W. Hamming photo: Naval Postgraduate School

In 1961, scientist and mathematician Dr. Richard W. Hamming of Bell Telephone Laboratories, had enormous foresight in predicting that computers would soon change our lives in ways that few people could have imagined half a century ago.

Dr. Hamming saw the future improvements that the computer revolution would bring, but he also warned of the coming dangers in that revolution.  Looking back at his insights today you will find them eerily accurate. In many ways Dr. Hamming merely scraped the surface on many of his suppositions.

Today we are all aware that marketers are tracking your movements on the internet. Unless you’ve set up blockers, all your clicks, all your searches, every site you visit is captured and analyzed. Big Data firms want that information, supposedly just to market to you. The government, banks, schools, brokerage firms, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and merchants all collect information that you are obliged to provide in order to receive services. You just hope your information is secure and not compromised.

But then you voluntarily share information on Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In. We know that the information we provide is used to compile an aggregate online portrait of our lives that is available for the world to peer into and that includes stalkers, thieves and hackers and yet we still provide it!

Which leads us back to a symposium held in December 27-29, 1961 on “Man and the Computer” at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Denver, CO. At the symposium Dr. Hamming’s observations were listened to attentively and the New York Times interviewed him afterwards. Summarizing  Hamming’s observations:

While computers will surely benefit mankind in ways not yet dreamed of he said, certain harmful effects of the computer revolution can be foreseen. One example he gave was a reduction in individual privacy that would be possible with the increasing storage of personal records even travel information in computers.

A major concern is that a growing amount of personal information was being committed to the memory of machines: various data collected by Selective Service; Social Security, Internal Revenue, insurance companies, places of employment, medical services and even airline companies.

“How do we know that this is always being used for the benefit of the individual?” he asked, “How can we be sure that this information will not be used against a person?”

Continue reading

In 1918 New York’s Hotel Commonwealth Was Going To Be The Largest In The World

 The Unbuilt 2,500 Room Hotel Commonwealth – New York’s Largest Hotel

Hotel Commonwealth New York City postcard view 3New York has always been a city of ambitious plans, dreams and schemes. But there are few rivals to the grandiose project for a hotel which was to be the largest in the world with 2,500 rooms and set up on a cooperative system to be owned by common investors.

The promotional brochure proclaimed:

TO BE BUILT BY THE COMMON WEALTH
TO BE MANAGED FOR THE COMMON GOOD
TO BE OPERATED FOR THE COMMON BENEFIT

The Hotel Commonwealth was to be situated on Broadway between 55th and 56th Streets. The description on the back of this 1918 postcard pictured above contains early 20th century ballyhoo of the highest order:

Hotel Commonwealth – “Greatest thing of its kind on earth.” The Commonwealth will be the first important building to be erected in conformance with the new building law to conserve light and sunshine for the general public. Through its 28 stories which will contain 2,500 rooms, it will rise 400 feet in the air in graceful terraces, or “set-backs” as the zoning law calls them, the flowering plants and shrubs upon each terrace giving the monster hostelry an unusual beauty of architecture, rivaled only by the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The planned 2,500 rooms would be 500 more rooms than the largest hotel ever built. Continue reading

Notorious Crime Scene Property Is For Sale

In Back Of This House One Of The Most Horrendous Killings In New York History Occurred

Westchester Home For Sale in 2014. In the 1930's the home was known as Wisteria House. photo: HGMLS

Westchester Home For Sale in 2014. In the 1930’s the home was known as Wisteria House. photo: HGMLS

You may or may not believe that houses have vibes, memories or energies surrounding them. But regardless of your beliefs, would you want to live on a property where a serial killer committed a murder so horrific that the police did not initially believe the details of the confession?

Albert Fish Crime Scene 1934 - Investigators check over a doll's wig, women's shoes and a man's suit , found near the deserted Westchester home where Albert Fish murdered Grace Budd. photo: Daily News

Albert Fish Crime Scene 1934 – Investigators check over a doll’s wig, women’s shoes and a man’s suit , found near the deserted Westchester home where Albert Fish murdered Grace Budd. photo: Daily News

In a bucolic town in Westchester, NY, you can buy the three acre property where serial killer Albert Fish took and brutally killed ten-year-old Grace Budd on June 3, 1928.

Discovering a ramshackle cottage in the glades behind Wisteria House, where Albert Fish, confessed to murdering Grace Budd, police are dismantling the old structure, and digging methodically the ground surrounding it in a search for bones of possible other victims. The house are at Greenberg, N.Y. Photo shows the small cottage also occupied by Albert Fish. 1934

Discovering a ramshackle cottage in the glades behind Wisteria House, where Albert Fish, confessed to murdering Grace Budd, police are dismantling the old structure, and digging methodically the ground surrounding it in a search for bones of possible other victims. The house are at Greenberg, N.Y. Photo shows the small cottage also occupied by Albert Fish. 1934

Asking price – $799,900.

The home shown in the contemporary photograph above and in the vintage news photograph on the left was once known as Wisteria House, an 1860 villa in what was once Greenburgh, NY, and is now part of the town of Irvington.

Obviously the real estate agent listing the home will not advertise the fact, that on this property right behind the old home was where Wisteria Cottage stood (shown in photo to the right). This is where Albert Fish strangled, dismembered and later, at his own home, ate Grace Budd.

To say Albert Fish was one of the most heinous people who ever walked the earth would be an understatement.

Reading Fish’s life story is to uncover the debaucheries of a real life Hannibal Lecter as described in Silence of the Lambs. Continue reading