Tag Archives: Crime

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:


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.

Crime In New York In 1852

“Charged With The Most Heinous Crimes”

Fate of New York ThievesIn The New-York Daily Times of August 3, 1852 on page 3 there appears a summary of events occurring in New York City.

The most interesting parts comprising this article of brief news items is the crime news.

The flowery language used in the stories to describe the offenses have to be read to be fully appreciated.

Here are some interesting statistics in the first news item and a couple of crime stories which are excerpted below:

Crime in the City – The Court of General Sessions commenced its August term yesterday and a frightful array of crime awaits its action. No less than 67 individuals, charged with the most heinous crimes are to be tried. The following is the calendar:

Grand Larceny          24
Murder                         8
Burglary                       7
Attempt to Kill            4
Robbery                       4
False Pretences           3
Forgery                         3
Incest                            2
Carrying Slung-shot    2

Riot                              2
Bigamy                        1
Rape                             1
Bastardy                      1
Attempted Burglary  1
Abandonment             1
Manslaughter              1
Disorderly House        1
Arson                            1

Some of the crimes are unique to the time including: “Carrying Slung-shot,” (a striking weapon consisting of a small mass of metal or stone fixed on a flexible handle or strap), “Bastardy,” (the begetting of an illegitimate child) and “False Pretences” (an illegal, deliberate misrepresentation of facts, as to obtain title to money or property).

After some reports on license statistics, recent immigration, and admissions to the city hospital and the news report goes on with additional lists and details of crimes recently committed –

Crimes and Casualties

An unusual number of charges were made yesterday morning at the Jefferson Market Police Court, principally for assault and battery and for gross intoxication. Sunday night was evidently spent immorally. Over thirty cases of this kind were disposed of before the following were brought into Court: Michael Edwards residing at Manhattanville, was charged by James Kaiting for a violent assault with intent to kill. It appears the prisoner struck the complainant on the head with an ax, inflicting a severe, but not a dangerous wound. A struggle ensued, in which the complainant, with the help of some bystanders, arrested his cowardly assailant. He was locked up to answer…

Among the charges disposed of, was the following aggravated case of assault, in which Patrick Wheelan, John Trihan, Patrick Farrall, John Townsend and Bridget Crawley figured as assailants. It appears that the accused were having a nice little “muss” for their own private gratification, when they were accosted by police officers Atherton, Jones and Scott, who exhorted them , under the threat of various pains and penalties, to keep the peace. This aroused Bridget, who forthwith made a descent upon officer Atherton, and was followed by the male prisoners, when a general melée occurred. Some broken heads and other injuries were the result, but the assailants were captured an secured. They were committed to answer…

The Dangers And Lures Of New York City 1957

Stay Out of the Parks At Night!

From the New York City Guide And Almanac 1957 – 1958

This vintage book is a great snapshot of New York City in the late 1950’s. I wish they would have printed this annually, but it was published for only one year by New York University Press in conjunction with The Daily News. It is 378 pages chock-full of fascinating facts and figures. The paperback version was originally 85 cents, while the hardcover version would set you back $2.75.  There are a few copies of this out of print gem for sale on abebooks.com ranging from$8.00 – $14.00. A veritable bargain.

Here is a snippet on crime from pages 197 – 198:

Traps for the Unwary

New York City is full of traps for the unwary visitor. It is doubtful if there are proportionately more crooks and criminals in New York than any other large city, but the metropolis is so large that the total is impressive. The bait generally used is greed, and the victims are most often people who regard themselves as sophisticated. Most effective traps for the unwary:

Auctioneers: Dishonest “auction stores” especially in the mid-town sections, where salesmen pretend to auction off “amazing” bargains, which often are samples of “flash goods” turned out for the carnival trade. Articles of genuine value are knocked down to stooges in the crowd, who later return them to be used again. The stranger who obtains a “bargain” is likely to find that a cheap duplicate was substituted during the process of wrapping up his purchase. He usually discovers that he has actually bought a garish gold-washed watch that will not run or an impressive pipe set made of celluloid. These shops should not be confused with operations of reputable auctioneers who preside over genuine sales which are usually advertised in honest fashion.

Confidence Men: Most of these offer money-making machines or counterfeit currency. They also offer to share rewards for well-filled pocketbooks lying on the pavement and “found” by the con man and the victim simultaneously. Continue reading

Crime, Murder, Prisons, Hangings and Lynchings in 1891

Some Interesting Facts The 1892 World Almanac

The 1892 World Almanac contains fascinating crime statistics.

Putting the crime numbers in perspective to the population, in 1890 the United States total population was 62,830,361.  The “colored” population  was 7,488,676. So, African-Americans made up about 12% of the population.

There were 45,233 people in penitentiaries, 14,687 were black. That means African-Americans comprised nearly one third of the inmates in the U.S. penitentiary system.

The number of murders and homicides reported by newspapers for 1891 was 5,906.

The murders and homicides are broken down as follows:

  1. Quarrels 2,820
  2. Liquor 877
  3. Unknown 859
  4. Jealousy 449
  5. By Highwaymen 241
  6. Infanticide 208
  7. Resisting Arrest 182
  8. Insanity 102
  9. Highway Men Killed 74
  10. Self Defense 74
  11. Strikes 10
  12. Outrages (?) 2

The number of legal executions reported in the U.S. was 123. The two leading states were Georgia and Texas with 19 and 12 executions respectively. The electric chair as a means of execution was first put into use in New York in 1890.  Almost all the executions in 1891, were by hanging.

The number of lynchings reported was 195. The leading two states were Alabama with 26 and Mississippi with 23. Six of the people lynched were women.

Below is the full chart on all these statistics. (double-click to enlarge to full size)