Posts Tagged ‘crime in New York City’

The green lanterns outside city police precincts

October 24, 2013

Policelights10thprecinctWhether the precinct house is old or new, all New York police stations should have two green lights flanking their entrance.

There’s a story explaining why, and it has to do with the first men who patrolled New Amsterdam in the 1650s.

Peter Stuyvesant established an eight-member “rattle watch” who were “paid a small sum to keep an eye on the growing, bustling town,” and look out for pirates, vagabonds, and robbers, according to one source.

PolicelightsninthprecinctThe rattle watchmen carried green lanterns over their shoulders on a pole, like a hobo stick, so residents could identify them in the dark, unlit streets.

“When the watchmen returned to the watch house after patrol, they hung their lantern on a hook by the front door to show people seeking the watchman that he was in the watch house,” states this NYPD recruiting website.

Policelightsqueens“Today, green lights are hung outside the entrances of police precincts as a symbol that the ‘watch’ is present and vigilant,” explains the NYPD site.

The top two photos show the relatively modern green lights of a Chelsea police house, on West 20th Street, and the Ninth Precinct on East Fifth Street in the East Village.

The loveliest old police lantern I’ve ever seen has to be the one outside the 108th Precinct in Hunters Point, Queens.

The facade of the station house is currently undergoing construction, so my photo (left) of the cast-iron, crica-1903 lantern doesn’t do it justice. Luckily Forgotten New York has a much better shot here. It’s a beauty!

Who killed the Upper East Side career girls?

March 30, 2011

On August 28, 1963, a 23-year-old Time-Life staffer named Patricia Tolles came home from work to find her apartment at 57 East 88th Street a ransacked mess.

That was the least of it. In a blood-soaked bedroom were the bodies of her roommates, 20-year-old Newsweek editorial researcher Janice Wylie (below) and 23-year-old teacher Emily Hoffert (right).

Wylie (who had been sexually assaulted) and Hoffert were bound, naked, and each brutally stabbed dozens of times.

The horrific murders shook the city, especially the thousands of young “career girls”—as they were called in the 1960s—who came to New York to share apartments and find jobs.

For months, cops had no leads, until April 1964, when a 19-year-old Brooklyn resident named George Whitmore was arrested.

Police were certain they had their man. But his confession was soon discredited, and investigators were back on the hunt for the real killer.

He finally emerged in October 1964. Heroin addict and convicted burglar Richard Robles, 20, who had grown up near the East 80s apartment where the three career girls lived, was charged in January 1965.

After a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison, he told the judge he didn’t do it.

But during a parole hearing two decades later in 1986, Robles confessed to butchering the girls in a robbery-gone-wrong after Hoffert told him she was going to report him to the police. He was denied parole.

Whatever happened to New York’s pickpockets?

February 24, 2011

Apparently, they’re a dying breed. An article in Slate today stated that in 1990, the NYPD logged 23,000 reports of pickpocketing.

By 2000, the number was less than 5,000. And these days, pickpocketing is so rare, police no longer keep stats on it, Slate reported.

But flash back to the first half of the 20th century, when colorful scare stories of pickpockets were all over New York newspapers.

The one above, from a 1922 edition of The New York Times, warns about a pickpocket subtype called the “lush worker.”

“The lush worker patrols the streets late at night and when he sees a drunk ‘tails’ him. If convenient and if his proposed victim is intoxicated enough, he makes friends with him. Perhaps he helps him across a crowded street, and takes his watch in pay for the service.”

A second subtype: the lady pickpocket. From a 1916 Times story:

“These women, and there are quite a number of them, do their stealing in the department stores and in the fashionable candy shops and ice cream and soda water ‘parlors’ on Fifth Avenue.

“They dress well, and like the male pickpocket, two or more of them usually work together. The one who does the stealing passes the plunder to her sister pickpocket, so if she is caught and searched nothing will be found on her.”

“New York’s Bicycle Policemen”

September 15, 2010

Before there were cop cars and surveillance cameras, NYPD patrolmen walked their beat or kept an eye out via bicycle. 

“Bicycles a great help,” reads a New York Times headline from 1896. The story goes on to cite their use in catching runaway horses and preventing cyclists from reckless riding. “More bluecoats a-wheel recommended by the head of the force to the police board.”

This group of bike police, from an 1899 NYPL photo, looks ready to ride.

Where thieves met up at Broadway and Houston

June 18, 2010

Today, it’s prime Manhattan real estate, a location hosting trendy boutiques and upscale retailers.

But in the late 19th century, this heavily trafficked intersection was one center of the city’s criminal underworld, where late at night fences got their hands on all kinds of stolen goods.

Not surprisingly, police and politicians were paid off to look the other way.

Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York puts it like this:

“One of the notorious places of the city was the Thieves’ exchange in the 8th Ward, near Broadway and Houston St, where fences and criminals met each night and dickered openly over their beer and whiskey for jewelry and other loot.

“Annual retainers were paid to criminal lawyers and politicians and police received stated fees, and occasionally commission on gross business.”

The crime behind the best tabloid headline ever

March 29, 2010

“Headless Body in Topless Bar,” the New York Post‘s April 15, 1983 front page headline, is regarded as a work of headline-writing art.

But the story that inspired it is truly gruesome. And the guy convicted of the murder still denies any involvement.

After drinking heavily at a club called Herbie’s Bar in Jamaica, Charles Dingle, 23, shot the owner in the head.

Drunk and high on coke, he took four women hostage, raping one and robbing the bar manager.

In her purse he found a card indicating that she was a mortician.

Hoping to avoid being tied to the murder, he forced her to dig the bullet out of the owner’s head. That didn’t work. So he made her decapitate him with a steak knife.

Dingle later hijacked a gypsy cab, took two hostages with him plus the severed head, and drove to Broadway and 168th Street, where he passed out and was arrested.

Convicted of murder, rape, and robbery, Dingle got 25 years to life. His next parole hearing: 2011.