It was February 1961, Washington’s birthday. Four-year-old Edith Kiecorius had taken the subway from her Brooklyn home with her widowed mother and brother to visit her uncle in Manhattan.
Her uncle’s apartment was on Eighth Avenue near 18th Street, in the “deteriorating” neighborhood of Chelsea, as one newspaper described it at the time.
Edith spent the afternoon playing outside on the sidewalk. Her uncle left her alone for a few minutes to buy cigarettes, and by the time he came back around 4 pm, the little girl in a purple snowsuit had vanished.
In an era without Amber Alerts or even 911, police seemed to pull out all the stops to find her. Over the next week, they set up special hotlines for anyone who may have seen her; they searched rooftops, sewers, and the bottom of the Hudson.
“Detectives leafed through records of mental hospitals for women recently released and checked death lists,” reported the New York Times, as the police felt the person who took her might have “a frustrated mother instinct.”
On February 27, Edith’s body was found on a bed in a one-room flat at 307 West 20th Street (at left today), a “dingy Chelsea rooming house,” as a front-page Times piece put it. She’d been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.
The killer was captured a few days later. Fred Thompson, a 59-year-old drifter who had just rented the room in the West 20th Street house. He admitted to cops that while in a drunken stupor, he lured Edith to his room by telling her that he had his “own little girl” she could play with.
He assaulted and beat her, then left her in the room while he spent days drinking on the Bowery. When he learned that police had found Edith’s body and that he was the prime suspect, he fled to Philadelphia and then to a New Jersey chicken farm.
“Assistant Chief Inspector James J. Walsh of the New York City police said after questioning Thompson he had said, ‘I know I deserve my full punishment for what I did,’” the Times wrote.
“Asked what he meant by ‘full punishment,’ Thompson was quoted as saying ‘life imprisonment or the electric chair.’”
Thompson was tried and found guilty later that year; the verdict carried a mandatory death sentence.
But according to one source, Thompson, above, was instead institutionalized for the rest of his life.
[Second photo: Getty Images; Fourth photo: NYTimes]