Saturday, November 28, 2020

The East River Murder.

The morning of February 8, 1898, the nude, dismembered body of a man was found floating in the East River, near a ferryboat slip on Roosevelt Street, New York City. The entire front portion of the head was missing, leaving only the right ear and a portion of the back of the head. The left leg was missing from a point just above the knee and the right leg had been cut off at the hip. Both arms had been cut off at the shoulder.

The cuts were smooth and intentional, eliminating the possibility that they had been taken off by steamboat paddle-wheels. The police were convinced that the man was murdered and butchered. 

The previous June, a human torso, cut into two pieces, and two severed legs found were floating in the East River. Even though the head was missing, the body was soon identified as that of William Guldensuppe and within a month, the killers were charged. It was hoped that this butchered East River body would follow a similar pattern. But Guldensuppe’s body parts were wrapped in oilcloth and burlap providing additional clues and the discovery corresponded with the Guldensuppe’s mysterious disappearance. But the February body was completely uncovered offering no additional clues and, although there was a long list of missing men in New York, none of them stood out as an obvious match for the victim.

He had been a large man, nearly six feet tall and weighing at least 220 pounds. Marks on the throat indicated that the cause of death was strangulation; broken ribs indicated that the killer was probably kneeling on his chest.  A man that size would have put up quite a struggle unless first shot in the head or knocked down with a hammer. Early estimations determined that the job of dismembering the body would have tired out three or four men. The job had possibly been done by butcher or grocer accustomed to cutting flesh. On February 8, the right thigh of the victim was found floating in the East River. It matched up perfectly with the torso but provided no new information.

The coroner estimated that he had been in the water less than 36 hours before the discovery; it could have been thrown in the river from any part of the city and drifted with the tide. The victim had sandy colored hair, and a day or two earlier had a haircut and a shave. The last thing he ate was swiss cheese; he had been a drinking man but not a habitual drunk. A stab wound on the upper thigh resembled that of a stiletto and the murder could have been the work of the Mafia or some other Italian assassins, but there was no way to determine the nationality of the victim himself.

To aid in identifying the victim, the police opened the morgue to the public and hundreds of people came in to view the mutilated torso, but it was hard to get a positive identification on the partial body. Friends of missing men William McGarrigle, Jacob Breen, and Leonard Carrali, all thought the body might be their man, but none would commit to his identification. At least six people thought the description matched that of Jean Lanerez, a Frenchman who worked as a bottlewasher at the Mouquin Wine Company. Lanerez was known to be a ladies’ man who bragged about his conquests, which could have provided a motive for murder. But those who viewed the body were no more certain than anyone else. 

Captain McClusky, head of the New York Detective Bureau had nearly all of his detectives working the case. “We are absolutely without a clue,” McClusky told the New York World.

But he did have a theory. McClusky thought that the man had been murdered on a vessel in the harbor or a barge being towed down the river. The body was too heavy for one man to carry on land, he believed it was murdered and dismembered on a boat then dumped into the river. McClusky’s theory led to speculation that the victim could be Tom Abramson, a watchman on the barge Mars, and someone who knew Abramson positively identified the body as his. However, that identification was upset by “proof that Abramson has been seen walking about in his usual health since the discovery of the body.”

On March 3, Captain McClusky announced that work on the mystery of the mutilated body found in the East River had been abandoned. Though it seemed impossible, apparently no one heard the scuffle, found the bloodstains where the butchering occurred, and no one saw the body carried to the water. Most importantly, the victim was someone who had not been missed. 

“We never entirely abandon a case, of course,” said McClusky, “Murders have been solved months and years after the crime had been committed, and we have hopes of getting at the bottom of this mystery.”

But they never did.

Originally posted on March 2, 2019.

“Experts Examine Dismembered Body for Clews to Solve,” New York American, February 9, 1898.
“Expert Furnishes Murder Clews,” New York American, February 11, 1898.
“Looks like Abramson, ,” Pawtucket Times, February 12, 1898.
“May Be Jean Lanerez,” Fort Madison Democrat, February 10, 1898, 1.
“Murder And Butchery,” New York Tribune, February 9, 1898.
“Police Give up Work on the East River Murder Mystery ,” New York American, March 3, 1898.
“The River Murder Mystery,” New York Tribune, February 12, 1898.
“Two Wrong Identifications,” Sun and New York press, February 13, 1898.


Post a Comment