Murder in the City: New York, 1910-1920

Murder in the City: New York, 1910-1920

by Wilfried Kaute, Tom L. Dunne

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When night falls on New York, the shadows are everywhere and death wears many faces. How the victims leave their bodies is deeply personal, but the witnesses to their death and the factors that brought it about belong to the public world—a somber world which is encapsulated in this gruesome survey of crime and violence in the 1910s.

Parts of the city that are today among its trendiest neighborhoods were once the battlegrounds of evil forces, which left their mark in unforgettable ways. Here, newspaper clippings, police reports and testimonies are placed alongside the scenes that they describe, fleshing them out and giving life to the departed.

Complete with an introduction from German actor and writer Joe Bausch, this book is a must for anyone who has ever anxiously imagined how dark an activity like dying can be—and isn’t that everyone?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250128706
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/13/2017
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 244
File size: 133 MB
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About the Author

Wilfried Kaute, born in Duisburg, Germany, in 1948, works as a cameraman, film producer, and author in Cologne. His projects include many award-winning films and TV productions. Murder in the City: New York, 1910-1920 is his first book.

Joe Bausch, born Hermann-Josef Bausch-Hölterhoff in Ellar, West Germany, in 1953, is an actor, known for Tatort, Tattoo, and Paradise Mall.

WILFRIED KAUTE, born in Duisburg, Germany, in 1948, works as a cameraman, film producer, and author in Cologne. His projects include many award-winning films and TV productions. Murder in the City: New York, 1910-1920 is his first book.

Read an Excerpt

Murder in the City: New York 1910-1920

By Wilfried Kaute

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Emons Verlag GmbH
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-12870-6



Crime scene photography revolutionized policing in New York in the 1910s. This book collects forgotten pictures and newspaper articles from a lost era.


Time and time again, the role that chance and forgetfulness play in criminal cases isn't to be underestimated. Every investigator can tell stories of witnesses who appear out of nowhere, objects that have fallen out of someone's pocket or stray items of clothing that have proved to be damning evidence against the offender.

In fact, the very existence of this book is ultimately down to chance. During the renovation of the former police headquarters in New York City, hundreds of large-size glass negative plates were discovered in a small room. Among them were crime scene photographs taken between 1910 and 1920.

Today the images of this forgotten chamber form part of more than 900,000 historic items that the Department of Records – the New York City archives – has digitized and made accessible. The oldest of these documents date back to the mid-19th century. There are maps, ciné film and audio files, but mostly photographs. They usually do not come from trained photographers, but from engineers, firemen, administrative staff or policemen, and they documented public projects, the recording of damage, accounting, and often transport and urban planning interests.

By dint of their simple objectivity, these photographs impressively depict the growth of the city. Then still 'gateway to the New World', New York in these photographs is on its way to becoming the first real 'mega-city'.

The crime scene photographs included here are particularly special. According to police authority rules, the images, once finished with, ought to have been dumped, without the public's knowledge, in the Hudson Bay – disposed of in the same way as confiscated weapons or gambling machines. But the scheduled destruction of the photographs was simple: they were forgotten about.

Thus they found their way into the collection of the 'NYPD & Criminal Prosecution', one of the largest photographic collections on criminology.


At the end of the 19th century, photography, though still emerging itself, revolutionized solving crimes and played an important part in the fledgling field of forensic science, which was based on scientific methods and the teamwork of evidence gatherers, fingerprint experts, police photographers and coroners. The object of crime scene photography was to document what happened, precisely and without emotion. As quickly as possible, the photographer had to be at the scene of the crime, secure and unaltered, where he usually took two photographs: a long shot showing the whole room with the victim, and a close-up of the corpse. For the close-up, the camera was positioned directly above the body. Due to the strong wide-angle lens used, the feet of the photographer and the legs of the camera tripod are often visible in the image. The photographs were initially for the exclusive use of the police investigation, after which they could be used as evidence in court. Often they told a clearer narrative than the detectives' statements ever could – stories of cruelty and brutality.

However, crime scene photographs are not the only kind of criminological photographs in the NYPD's collection. Even so-called 'mugshots' are included as they are still used in the identification procedure of suspects, and more recently thrust the odd celebrity involuntarily into the public eye.

Now, as then, anyone arrested is photographed front-on and in profile. Whether guilty or innocent, the suspects have to submit completely to the camera without moving. How petrified their faces can appear while being photographed. Some seem arrogant and presumptuous, others injured and confused.

That none of the images at the time was intended for the public is part of their appeal.

Mugshots also exercised a great fascination for the artist Andy Warhol. In 1964, before his famous portraits of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, he released his work Most Wanted Men, in which he processed 13 pictures of the NYPD's most wanted criminals. It went down in art history as a milestone in pop culture.

Past mugshots are now coveted collectors' items, rare vintage photographs that fetch high prices in galleries and at auctions. In the USA in particular, contemporary mugshots are popular. They can be seen on webpages with headlines such as '364 people who were booked in the last 24 hours'. Costing a dollar, the magazine The Slammer is exclusively dedicated to such photographs. Page after page, in hundreds of thousands of copies, pictures of fugitive perpetrators and suspects can be seen, while the innocent are not infrequently submitted to public exposure and humiliation.


Also part of the collection are historical 'copy photos' – reproductions of existing pictures, which were used during a manhunt. They gave the missing and suspects a face, and helped investigators in many nationwide searches and tracking. Apart from portraits, group shots and wedding photos were used, covering the faces of people not of interest and isolating and expanding the faces of those who were. These 'hidden pictures' are at first glance a rather unspectacular part of the collection, but sometimes they reveal an exciting and touching story.

Photographs of evidence complete the collection – murder weapons, burglary tools, everyday objects with fingerprint marks.

In terms of conservation, the remainder of the photographs of the Police Department was in a poor condition – little wonder when the negatives had been left to decay for 100 years. On some the emulsion had dissolved, or they were dirty, partially broken or torn at the edges.

That none of the images at the time was intended for the public is part of their appeal. In particular, crime scene photography should not prettify – they serve as documents for investigation and justice. These photographs can move and unsettle the modern viewer: their gruesome, violent background and the disturbing thoughts that they evoke stay with us.


The descriptions on the photographs are sparse: in addition to a rough dating there is a reference to the manner of death and the sex of the victim. Sometimes we learn the name of the police photographer. Where detailed accessories, such as an exact date, a topographic note or even the names of victims or perpetrators are present, a search for an image and the immediate circumstances are indeed possible. The research in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. was a journey into the past. The archive 'Chronicling America – Historic American Newspapers' unites the volumes of all digitized American newspapers up to 1922. A treasure within these archives are issues of the New York newspapers The Sun, New York Tribune and The Evening World.

Many of the articles related to the photographs today read like drafts of crime novels, simultaneously giving us a glimpse into everyday life, as well as the political and social conditions of the time. There are not only stories of manslaughter in marital disputes, or of murder out of jealousy or greed, but also of political murder or of the violent repression of trade unions. The spectrum of cases ranges from anarchists and the poisoning of an archbishop to the psychopath who copied Jack the Ripper to the search for a missing girl, who longingly and innocently went off to seek her fortune in Hollywood.

These rare photos offer an authentic and moving image of the rapidly growing metropolis of New York City. The images in this book put faces to the battle of good and evil of that time.



The criminal stage: crime scene, murder and perpetrator knowledge. On the new possibilities of solving crimes in old New York.


At the beginning of the 20th century, New York City is already a place full of movement and seething life. Year after year thousands arrive, flocking from the Old World to the United States. Among the countless, brave fortune seekers – the 'tired, poor and oppressed' who first glimpse the Statue of Liberty on reaching the city's port – are families with names like Meyer-Sucholanski, Flegenheimer or Siegelbaum, whose sons will grow up in the streets of the metropolis and, later, as Meyer Lanski, Dutch Schulz or Bugsy Siegel, make careers that are anything but tame. The Capones are there, too, and their son Alphonse will commit his first murder in Brooklyn, before fleeing to Chicago to successfully do there under the name 'Al' what will make him famous – killing.

Prohibition and therefore the great age of the mobster hasn't begun yet, but New York City is already ruled by gangs who have brought their structures from the Old World, and whose patches are already long established: for example, the notorious 'Hell's Kitchen', which the Irish-dominated 'Gopher Gang' controlled, was led by types with such illustrious names as 'Mad Dog', 'Willie the Sailor' and 'One Lung Curran', and supported by 'Battle Annie' and their 'Lady Gophers'.


But even the behaviour of the 'normal' economy of the period is more rough than cordial. It is the time of the 'Labor Slugger Wars'. Bargaining on the street is carried out with baseball bats: companies hire criminal thugs and let them loose on unionised dock or textile workers.

When I first saw the images and related newspaper articles that Wilfried Kaute had gathered for this book, I immediately felt transported back to the era of great black and white gangster movies starring James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson. The plots, the gloomy atmosphere of the films, the cops and the hoodlums that shaped my impression of life at that time in New York and the United States, are all rooted in the era that this book, like no other, reveals.

But beyond memories of the movies, Kaute's work is above all an invitation to the reader to reflect on the nature of crime-scene photography. In the early years of the 20th century this is still in its infancy, but very soon it will become an indispensable part of criminal investigations and remains, even today, crucial in solving crimes.

The crime scene is the stage on which the events played out. Images that are made here – of murder weapons, of evidence and, indeed, of the victims – freeze the crime in time. They help in its reconstruction, often making a reconstruction possible and remain long after the fact as evidence of great importance. And, of course, they are documents of horror: they show without mercy what people can do to each other.

Photographs of crime scenes often reveal more than police logs, witness statements or newspaper articles. They are eloquent (contemporary) witnesses that tell us the story of a crime from an apparently emotionless perspective – without words they are often much closer to the truth than lengthy reports and descriptions. Through them, investigators, criminal profilers or coroners can track the course of events. Moreover, it is sometimes possible to draw conclusions on the social and historical context of a crime, sometimes even to the motive.

Photographs of crime scenes often reveal more than police logs, witness statements or newspaper articles. They are eloquent (contemporary) witnesses that tell us the story of a crime from an apparently emotionless perspective.


The reasons why these photographs are usually withheld from the public are understandable. Until the final verdict in a trial, this is primarily for criminal law considerations: often the images allow the perpetrator to alter their story and for that reason may not be made public. Likewise, the individual rights of victims and perpetrators – and what we today call 'data protection' – are good reasons to keep such photographs under wraps. As a rule, the images are destroyed after a certain time.

The judgments in the cases included here were passed many years ago now, and their victims and the perpetrators are no longer alive. Thus, the conditions were met for Wilfried Kaute to create this tremendous work while preserving the dignity of the victims in their violent deaths.

Each of the photographs collected in this book tells of a brutal crime. Disturbingly, they depict the tragedies that led to murder, and testify at the same time to the banality of death. This is real crime – beyond any fiction.

Murder in the City: New York tells old, true stories.


Eight thousand people were murdered in the United States last year; 80 per cent of the victims were men; Memphis, Tenn., was the most dangerous of American cities from the homicide viewpoint, with a murder rate of 72.2 for 100,000 of Population; Reading, Penn., with a corresponding rate of 1 for 100,000, was the safest; New York had a murder rate of 6.1 for 100,000; Chicago's rate was 9.1.

A table of the statistics of thirty American cities shows that in Manhattan and the Bronx 168 people were murdered last year, a rate of 6.1. for 100,000, a rate which has remained exactly the same for twelve years. Brooklyn, with 94 murders last year, has a rate of 5.1. for 100.000. Next to Memphis, with the highest rate, comes Charleston, S.C., with 33.3 for 100.000. The first eight cities are in the South, where a majority of the murders are due to negro fights.

Another table on the methods of murder shows that 60.6 per cent of homicides were done with firearms, 15.1 per cent with cutting or piercing instruments, and 24.3 per cent through other means. Most homicide victims die between the ages of 25 and 34.

The Spectator, December 23, 1915


As few minutes after he had been heard in an argument with three men, John Rodgers, sixty years old, colored, janitor of No. 88 West One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street, was found dead in the hall near the front door of that address, at 1 o'clock this morning. An ambulance surgeon said a fracture at the base of the skull had caused his death. The police think Rodgers was assaulted. Warren Ames of No. 20 West One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street was arrested.

The Evening World, October 21 1915


Shell Hairpin and Teeth Marks in Victim's Arm Point To Female


Body in Kitchen With Wounds Bandaged and Towel Tied Stranglingly

A few tortoise shell hair pins and a broken side comb, found on the floor of a hallway in 507 West Twenty-third street, led to the belief that Mrs. Helen Hammell, whose body was found lying in the kitchen yesterday, came to her death at the hands of a woman. Two imprints of teeth on the left forearm strengthened this belief with the police officials trying to unravel the mystery of the woman's death.

Two women who had rooms in the place were questioned last night by Police Inspector Cray and Capt. Walsh of the West Twentieth street station, while a search was conducted over the city for a third woman who lived there until Wednesday.

Mrs. Hammell's body was found by Eugene Wendle, a lodger, when he went to the rear of the first floor yesterday. Dr. W. H. Nammack, assistant county medical examiner, said the woman had been dead not less than fifteen hours when the body was found.

Edward Kelly, who conducts a pool hall at 505 West Twenty-third street, told of hearing screams in the lodging house about 1 o'clock Wednesday, "I thought a child was getting a hard whipping," he said, "and didn't pay any attention to the matter. As I went home last night I looked in at the door and saw the gas burning in the hallway and decided that everything was all right."

Two deep wounds were found on Mrs. Hammell's head. These had been carefully bandaged by her assailant. A towel was found tightly knotted about her throat, and was sufficiently tight, the doctors said, to have caused strangulation.

It is thought that Mrs. Hammell attempted to flee when she was attacked and was overtaken at the door before she could escape to the street. The hairpins and the broken comb on the floor of the hallway strengthen this theory, and lend color to the belief that her assailant was a woman. Mr. Hammell was unable to identify either the hairpins or the comb as belonging to his wife.

A small purse, with some silver change was found on the floor of the kitchen. Nothing was found to indicate the motive was robbery.

In the room with Mrs. Hammell's body was a dachshund. Another dog was chained in a front room.

Mrs. Hammell moved into the house five years ago and opened a rooming place. Her lodgers were chiefly stewards, cooks and sailors of vessels frequenting the Twenty-third street piers. Her house was very popular until the war began, but since then her patronage has been limited.

The Sun, February 15 1918


Gertrude Miller, 22, a negress of 204 West Fortieth street, was shot and killed by her husband Leslie yesterday afternoon after they had quarrelled over money. She died before an ambulance arrived.

The Sun, May 21 1915


Excerpted from Murder in the City: New York 1910-1920 by Wilfried Kaute. Copyright © 2016 Emons Verlag GmbH. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Murder Mugshots Most Wanted,
True Crime and the Banality of Death,
Slang of the Criminal World,
Patrolman Slain while Wife Waits,
Robbery Ends with Double Death Plunge,
Henrietta Bulte found in Movie City,
Shadow Scares Amateur Thieves,
Woman Strangled to Death, Robbed of $2,500 in Jewels in Room at the Martinique,
Bullet Kills Wife; Nips his Cheek,
Johnny Spanish is Slain by Assassin,
Gangs Again Menace N.Y. Police Laxity now Blamed for Two Gunmen Killings,
Coroner Frees him but Vendetta Slays,
1915 May 4: East Side Children in Terror of "Ripper",
"Ripper's" Victim Slain by Lunatic, Autopsy Shows,
Grieving Mother Waits for Ripper,
Murder Night in Greater City,
Five are Dead,
Police Department Bureau of Criminal Identification City of New York 9/24/15,
Skeleton, Face Remade, Identified as Slain Man,
Crones's Signature in Letter here Identified,
Wife who Fled 15 Stabbed,
Boys at Play find Body of Stiletto Victim in Barrel,
Sing Sing Holds 23 who Await Death,
About the Author,

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