Tag Archives: Crime

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

1925 Police Chief Suggestion: Pay Bounties To NYPD For Killing Criminals

In 1925 A New York Police Chief Proposed Paying Cops Extra To Kill Criminals

Across the country complaints are rising against police officers using excessive force against alleged criminals. So it probably would not be politically correct today to make a suggestion that cops get paid extra to kill criminals. But that didn’t stop one top cop 90 years ago from making that proposal.

Second Deputy Police Commissioner George S. Dougherty c .1912

Second Deputy Police Commissioner George S. Dougherty c .1912

In January 1925 George S. Dougherty former NYPD Second Deputy Commissioner and Chief of Detectives wrote to the New York Times recommending that large bounties be paid to police officers who kill hold-up men.

Dougherty suggested that a police officer killing one hold-up man be paid $1,000, $2,500 for killing two and the astounding sum of $5,000 for killing three. This bounty would mean a regular patrolman could earn substantially more than the $2,500 annual base salary for killing a robber.

Though many citizens may have agreed and responded positively to the Chief’s populist proposal, it never gained any momentum. The New York Times commented that “of course no one goes into mourning when one of these land pirates meet the fate they deserve as enemies of the human race, and if a policeman in the exercise of his duty kills one of them it properly is regarded as a good job, well done. But Mr. Dougherty’s proposal is a very bad one.”

Several officials at the police department concurred with the Times opinion saying that if Dougherty’s suggestions were put into force, “they might incite indiscriminate shooting.”

Other positions advocated by Dougherty included: 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

The Mystery Man Who Let John Wilkes Booth Escape

Lieut. Charles H Jones Witnessed Lincoln’s Assassination And Claimed Someone Came On Stage And Stopped The Pursuit of John Wilkes Booth

Lincoln assassination witness Lieutenant Charles H. Jones

Lincoln assassination witness Lieutenant Charles H. Jones

On April 14, 1865 Lieutenant Charles H. Jones came to Ford’s Theatre to see General Grant who was supposed to attend that evening’s performance of the play Our American Cousin.

But, General Grant had decided earlier in the day that he was going to visit his children in Burlington, NJ, so he was not at the theatre to the great disappointment of many in the audience including Lieutenant Jones.

Instead of seeing General Grant, Jones witnessed the shocking assassination of President Lincoln.

Lieutenant Jones in 1915 telling his account of the assassination said he saw something that no other history of the Lincoln assassination ever mentions: that a man came on stage a few seconds after Booth had fled the theatre through a side stage door and announced that the assassin had been captured. This announcement the mystery man made was not true, and it delayed the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth.

In an earlier 1908 account of witnessing the assassination Lieutenant Jones said he never entered the President’s box after Lincoln was shot, which contradicts the account he gave below. So does his eyewitness account have any validity?

From The New York Call April 14, 1915

When John Wilkes Booth sprang from the president’s box in Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865, and challenged the world with his dramatic cry, “The south is avenged,” only one man Continue reading

Graffiti As Vandalism, Not Art

Museum of The City Of New York Graffiti Exhibition Doesn’t Show What The Majority Of Graffiti Is – Unintelligible Scrawls By Vandals

I caught the newest exhibit at The Museum of the City of New York entitled “City as Canvas,” which glorifies the practitioners of graffiti and their “work” during the 1970’s and 1980’s in New York City.

For anyone who thinks that graffiti is something to be celebrated in a retrospective by an exhibition at an important cultural institution, here is some evidence to contradict that viewpoint.

Iouri Podladtchikov, Olympic half-pipe king visits the lower east side with typical graffiti defacing a grand old building.  photo - Casey Kelbaugh for the New York Times

Iouri Podladtchikov, Olympic half-pipe king visits the lower east side with typical graffiti defacing a grand old building. photo – Casey Kelbaugh for the New York Times

A typical display of current graffiti “art” as seen in this building covered by spray paint on the lower east side really is a better representation of the so called graffiti artist. It pains me to see old handcrafted stone buildings covered with paint. The beautiful Queensboro Bridge girders and stonework are always being cleaned and re-painted due to these miscreants who attack our public property with their spray cans, markers and etching knives.

Subway graffiti photo taken Feb 8, 1982

Subway graffiti photo taken Feb 8, 1982

The onslaught of graffiti began in earnest in the subway system in the 1970’s where riding a train was a demoralizing prospect. Almost every single car was covered in dripping unintelligible paint and marker scrawls, which obliterated any blank spaces. Continue reading

A New York City 1859 Mass Murder Prank

15 Dead Bodies Discovered in The East River

A shocking discovery was made on Thursday June 9, 1859 near Hell Gate in the East River, when some fishermen picked up a box which contained 15 dead bodies in various states of decomposition.

Death on the River print 19th centuryAs was common in early journalism there were mistakes made when the papers first broke the story.

They reported the box contained seven bodies, all dressed in fine night clothes, packed in lime and shavings and having the appearance of recent decease.

This caused a bit of panic among New York’s citizens who concluded that a whole family had been murdered in their beds and packed off to sea to conceal the crime.

The investigation by city authorities three days later revealed the true nature of what had transpired.

The bodies had been removed from the old Potter’s Field and were being transported by barges for re-interment in Long Island.

The box containing these bodies went overboard, and the workmen let it go without trying to retrieve it – just to see what an excitement it would create!

150th Anniversary Of The New York City Draft Riots

July 13, 1863 The Civil War Draft Riots Begin + Related Book Recommendations

"The Battle in Second Avenue" from John Shea's 1886 book, The Story of a Great Nation

“The Battle in Second Avenue” from John Shea’s 1886 book, The Story of a Great Nation

If you’ve watched Martin Scorcese’s 2002 film The Gangs of New York, you saw a vivid depiction of what the Civil War Draft Riots may have looked like. In reality the tumult was probably a lot worse than what was portrayed on the screen. It was the most violent civil disorder in 19th century American history.

Protesting the conscription act, mobs of citizens went on a multi-day rampage of killing and looting.  The riots were quelled after four or five days. The estimated number of people killed was 105. The number of injuries was in the hundreds.

In a November 26, 1938 New Yorker story, journalist Meyer Berger wrote about combing through the original blotters at the West Forty-Seventh Street Police Station. Berger came across the station’s last riot related arrest which occurred on July 30, 1863.  Fergus Brennan, 35 was charged with being a leader of the rioters. He was held on $2,000 bail by Justice Kelly.

There are several books which cover the draft riots in detail. Among the best are: July 1863 by Irving Werstein (Julian Messner, 1957); The New York City Draft Riots by Iver Bernstein (Oxford University Press, 1990); The Second Rebellion by James McCague (Dial Press, 1968); The Devil’s Own Work The Civil War Draft Riots of 1863 by Barnet Schecter (Walker & Co., 2006) and The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 by Adrian Cook (University of Kentucky, 1974).

Woman Missing For 28 Years Found Buried In False Wall In Her Own Home

Getting Away With Murder

photo Poughkeepsie Journal

photo © Poughkeepsie Journal

It’s cases like this one that leave me scratching my head.

JoAnn Nichols, a 55-year-old elementary school teacher in Poughkeepsie, New York went missing December 20, 1985. Her husband, James I. Nichols Jr. notified the police the next day and gave them a note supposedly from his wife indicating despondency.

James I. Nichols Jr. died December 21, 2012, at the age of 82 in the home he shared with his missing wife. There were no relatives to claim his body and the dissolution of the estate fell to Dutchess County.

Neighbors, co-workers and former students never forgot Mrs. Nichols. They wondered where she had gone and what had happened to her. The police never found JoAnn Nichols and it became a cold case.

It took a contractor doing renovations in the home at 720 Vassar Road on June 28, to discover a false wall in the basement that contained a sealed container which held the remains of JoAnn Nichols. The cause of death has been determined to be blunt force trauma to the head. Homicide.

How the police never searched the house thoroughly at the time of the disappearance is perturbing.

It looks as if James I. Nichols Jr. got away with murder.