Posts Tagged ‘famous New York murders’

A piece of cord busts a 1936 Manhattan murderer

January 7, 2013

BeekmanplacemurderOn April 10th, 1936, Nancy Titterton, a 34-year-old writer and book reviewer, was found dead in the empty bathtub in her apartment at 22 Beekman Place.

She’d been raped and strangled, her body left unclothed except for a pair of rolled-down stockings. The pajamas she’d worn the night before were wrapped around her neck.

The murder made headlines because it was so brutal. “There were signs of a struggle in the bedroom,” wrote Michael Kurland, author of Irrefutable Evidence: A History of Forensic Science.

Beekmanplace“Ligature marks on the victim’s wrists indicated that she had been tied up before she was raped, but the rope had apparently been cut off and taken away.”

Adding to the media fascination was the fact that Titterton was known in literary circles; her husband was an NBC bigwig.

Also, crimes so vicious just didn’t happen on posh Beekman Place, a two-block residential enclave in the East 50s (above photo).

Luckily police had evidence to work with. Underneath Titterton’s body in the bathtub was a 13-inch cord, similar to the cord of a Venetian blind.

They traced the cord to a Pennsylvania upholstery wholesaler. It just so happened that the two men who discovered Titterton’s body were from a local upholstery shop; they were delivering a couch to the apartment.

Fiorenza Leaves for Death HouseOne of the delivery men, the shop’s owner, was cleared. The other, a 24-year-old assistant named John Fiorenza, had spent time in prison for theft, where a psychiatrist labeled him a possible psychopath.

Police brought Fiorenza in for questioning. He admitted to raping and murdering Titterton, who he’d met the day before when he came to her apartment to pick up the couch.

“He claimed to have returned to the apartment convinced that Nancy Titterton had fallen for him during their brief encounter the day before,” wrote Kurland.

“When she rebuffed him, he became so furious he tied her up and raped her. . . . Afterward, he had strangled her and left her in the bathtub.”

Convicted of murder in a trial that started six weeks after the slaying, Fiorenza (at right, the morning of his execution) went to the electric chair at Sing Sing in January 1937.

The sensational clam chowder murder of 1895

January 8, 2012

It was a bowl of arsenic-laced clam chowder that felled Evelina Bliss, a wealthy 53-year-old widow living at 397 St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem.

The apparent source of the poisoned soup? Her daughter from her first marriage, Mary Alice Almont Livingston (right).

Mary Alice, who made her home at the nearby Colonial Hotel on 125th Street and Eighth Avenue, was an anomaly in Gilded Age New York: Unmarried, she had three kids by three men with a fourth on the way.

It was Mary Alice’s 10-year-old daughter who brought the lethal chowder to her grandmother, at her mom’s request, on August 30.

After Evelina died that night and the coroner determined she’d been poisoned, police arrested Mary Alice. The motive, they said, was money, according to Arsenic and Clam Chowder, by James D. Livingston.

Through the spring of 1896, the arrest and trial created a media sensation. Prosecutors had a solid case, and Victorian New York was biased against single mom Mary Alice, despite the fact that she came from an old money family.

But she had a clever lawyer, and she capitalized on the fact that most New Yorkers were against the death penalty—when it could be used on a woman, that is, especially one who showed up in court in mourning clothes.

In the end, she was acquitted, spent much of the rest of her quiet life in Manhattan (in poverty toward the end), and died in 1948.

A tourist murdered in a midtown subway station

September 1, 2011

Every so often, a crime comes along that’s so extraordinarily senseless, it doesn’t just grip New York—it makes national headlines.

That was the case with the stabbing of Brian Watkins (right) in 1990, a year that saw a record  2,245 murders in the city.

Tennis fan Watkins, 22, and his family were in from Utah to see the U.S. Open. On the night of September 2, they entered the 53rd Street E train station to have dinner in the Village.

They had the bad luck of being targeted by a group of teenagers looking to rob someone so they could each cover the $15 admission fee to Roseland, the dance club on 50th Street.

The mugging was quick and brutal. “Brian’s father, Sherwin, was knocked to the ground and slashed with a boxcutter,” explains a 2010 article from City Limits. “Brian’s mother said she was grabbed by the hair, hunched over and kicked in the face and chest.”

Brian responded by lunging toward her, and he was then stabbed in the chest by one of the teens. He collapsed at the token booth and was pronounced dead at St. Vincent’s Hospital, his pulmonary artery severed.

The teenagers did go dancing at Roseland that night . . . but were quickly caught and tried. Seven got 25 years to life prison terms.

“Public outcry over Mr. Watkins’s murder put pressure on Mayor David N. Dinkins to hire more police officers and has driven his administration’s fiscal priorities ever since,” a 1992 New York Times article stated.

In 1991, the city put Brian’s name on a public tennis court in East River Park.

A Broadway chorus girl gets away with murder

June 27, 2011

Of course, Nan Patterson, a pretty chorus girl in the 1900 smash Broadway hit Florodora and daughter of a Treasury Department bigwig, insisted she didn’t kill her married boyfriend, gambler Caesar Young.

But the evidence against her was strong.

On the morning of June 4, 1904, Nan and Caesar were taking a hansom cab to a Hudson River pier where Caesar and his wife were to board a transatlantic ship.

At West Broadway and Franklin Street, a shot rang out from the cab. Caesar lay dying in Nan’s lap, a bullet in his chest.

Nan told police Caesar shot himself, upset that she was leaving him. The cops said no way: the bullet entered Caesar from an angle not compatible with suicide. And anyway, Caesar’s gun was found in his pocket.

Arrested for murder, Nan’s sensational trial attracted a ton of media interest and resulted in two hung juries. In the end, she went free.

“The prosecutor concluded that no jury would unanimously believe that such a sweet young thing could commit so brutal a crime,” writes Patrick M. Wall in The Annals of Manhattan Crime.

[Photo: Bain News Service; Floradora program cover, 1900]