this day in crime history: january 15, 1947

On this date in 1947, the mutilated remains of a young woman were found in Los Angeles. The woman would soon be identified as Elizabeth Short, an unemployed 22 year old, originally from Massachusetts. The news media would soon dub her the Black Dahlia. The LAPD conducted an exhaustive investigation, but the case remains unsolved.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Black Dahlia

Wikipedia – Black Dahlia

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this day in crime history: january 14, 1979

On this date in 1979, Lucchese crime family associate Thomas “Two-Gun Tommy” DeSimone was reported missing by his wife. Turns out he was whacked, reportedly by members of the Gambino family. DeSimone, who was believed to have killed at least ten people, apparently killed someone he shouldn’t have. I guess if you kill enough people, that’s bound to happen eventually. Anyway, DeSimone’s victims included William “Billy Batts” Devino, a made man with the Gambino family, and Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe, a protege of future Gambino family boss John Gotti. Killing made men without permission is a big no-no in the mob, which Tommy found out the hard way.

He was lured to his death by Lucchese family members who told him he was being “made,” and that they were taking him to the ceremony. But instead of getting made, he got dead. DeSimone’s body was never found. His remains were thought to be buried in a “mob graveyard” on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

Tommy DeVito, the character played by Joe Pesci in the movie Goodfellas, was based in large part on Thomas DeSimone.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Thomas DeSimone

The Free Information Society – DeSimone, Thomas

American Mafia History – Goodfella, Thomas DeSimone

New York PostJohn Gotti killed mobster played by Joe Pesci in ‘Goodfellas’

this day in crime history: january 11, 1794

On this date in 1794, Robert Forsyth became the first U.S. Marshal killed in the line of duty. Forsyth, who was appointed U.S. Marshal in Georgia by President George Washington, was accompanied by two of his deputies as he attempted to serve civil legal papers on brothers Beverly and William Allen. When Forsyth knocked on the door to the room where Beverly Allen (a former Methodist minister who probably had a chip on his shoulder over being tagged with an unmanly name) was hiding, Allen shot him in the head, killing him.

Beverly Allen was eventually arrested for murdering Forsyth, but he escaped, never to be recaptured.

Further reading:

U.S. Justice Department – The First Marshal of Georgia: Robert Forsyth

this day in crime history: january 5, 1945

On this date in 1945, Albany, NY Police Chief William Fitzpatrick was shot and killed in his office at police headquarters. It all started when the Chief’s bodyguard and longtime friend, Detective John McElveney, entered the office at 3:00 PM. The two men began to argue. The argument ended at 3:10 when Detective McElveney drew his pistol and shot Chief Fitzpatrick in the head, killing him.

According to the Albany Police and the D.A.’s office, the argument was part of an “ongoing dispute.” Contemporary news reports suggest the dispute was over payment for recent dental work done to correct injuries McElveney suffered after having been struck by Fitzpatrick.

Detective McElveney was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, avoiding the appointment with the electric chair that usually awaited most cop killers back in those days. He was released in 1957, when his sentence was commuted by Governor Averill Harriman. He died of cancer in 1968 at the age of 71.

According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy, the late Dan O’Connell, founder and former chair of the Albany Democratic political machine, told him that Chief Fitzpatrick, back when he was a sergeant, was one of the gunmen who killed gangster Legs Diamond in 1931. Of course Chief Fitzpatrick was conveniently dead when this accusation was made, and therefore unable to dispute O’Connell. Or sue him for defamation.

Further reading:

Albany Police – Chief William J. Fitzpatrick

O Albany!, by William Kennedy

Schenectady Gazette, January 29, 1946 – “Pleads Guilty to 2nd Degree Murder Count”

Legs Diamond: Gangster, by Patrick Downey

this day in crime history: january 3, 1791

Police Officers Memorial, Albany, NY

 

On this date in 1791, a posse in Stephentown, NY attempted to arrethis day in crime history: january 3, 1791st local resident Whiting Sweeting on a warrant for theft. Sweeting resisted, and in the process of arresting him, Albany County Constable Darius Quimby was stabbed. Quimby later died of his wounds. He is commonly believed to be the first law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty in U.S. history. Sweeting was charged with Quimby’s murder. He was convicted in July of 1791 and was executed the following month.

Further reading:

Officer Down Memorial Page – Constable Darius Quimby (Note: This is one of many online sources that incorrectly state that Quimby was shot)

An NYCHS Timeline on Executions by Hanging in New York State

Ancestry Message Boards – Whiting Sweeting, Darius Quimby

this day in crime history: december 31, 1986

rescue

On this date in 1986, 97 people were killed when a fire was set at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The fire was started around 3:30 PM in a ballroom beneath the hotel’s casino. The fire spread quickly and the hotel’s lack of a sprinkler system and locked fire exits (to prevent theft) aggravated the situation. Many of the hotel guests fled to the roof, where they were evacuated by police, National Guard, Navy, and Coast Guard helicopters.

The fire was started by three hotel employees, Héctor Escudero Aponte, José Rivera López, and Arnaldo Jiménez Rivera. The men were angry with hotel management for rejecting a proposal by their labor union, Teamsters Local 901. All three were convicted of murder and given prison sentences. Jimenez was released in 2001, Lopez in 2002. Aponte remains in prison.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Dupont Plaza Hotel arson

New York Times – “3 ADMIT SETTING HOTEL FIRE THAT KILLED 97 IN SAN JUAN”

Rescue 911 Video 1, Video 2

this day in crime history: december 30, 1905

Frank Steunenberg

On this date in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was killed by a bomb that was rigged to a gate at his home. While in office, Steunenberg took a tough stand against the Western Federation of Miners during a period of labor unrest. Former WFM member Albert Horsley (a/k/a Harry Orchard) was arrested for the crime. Legendary Pinkerton detective James McParland headed up the investigation. McParland pressured Horsley into implicating three high-ranking WFM officials as co-conspirators. Horsley was ultimately convicted of Steunenberg’s murder, but his testimony against the other men was discredited. Two of them were acquitted at trial, and charges were dropped against the third. Albert Horsley was sentenced to death by the court, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He died in prison in 1954 at the age of 87.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Frank Steunenberg

Wikipedia – Albert Horsley

Find a Grave – Frank Steunenberg

Idaho Meanderings: Steunenberg, Trial of the Century, Labor, Legal, Political History