Murdered Behind a Hot Dog Stand: A Shocking True Crime Story
While working on my next book about a murder from the late 1920s, I came across three stories I thought you'd like to read.
All three are from February 1928.
Miss Margaret Brown, the governess for a well-to-do family living on Park Avenue in New York, died while "flaming like a human torch" behind a hot dog stand. Her body was discovered near the hot dog stand on a highway between Bernardsville and Morristown in New Jersey.
Her killer has confessed by mail. He's also warned police that they'll never take him alive.
The anonymous murderer even tells the police his motive.
Miss Brown, he writes, secured $2500 in bonds and cash from her broker the day before she was killed. There's the motive, right?
So it was a robbery gone wrong?
Miss Brown's murderer was not after her bonds or her cash.
Instead, in his confessional, this madman writes Miss Brown died because the young woman turned down his offer of matrimony. As the anonymous slayer wrote, "she refused to marry a poor man."
Enraged, he knocked her unconscious and dragged her behind the hot dog stand. Then he marched to his automobile, where he siphoned out some gasoline. He returned to the poor woman's unconscious body, poured the gas over the young lady, and set her on fire.
Now, as for the motive.
This maniac says he didn't want the bonds Miss Brown had in her purse.
Okay, he did take the bonds, but he included them in the envelope with his confessional letter that he mailed to the NYPD.
However, he kept the cash. And never revealed his name. So the case was still open when this story made the papers in February 1928.
Meanwhile, in Benton, Illinois, the notorious leader of the Shady Rest gang, Charlie Birger, was told that Friday the 13th, in April, would be highly unlucky for him.
Actually, April 13 will be much more than just unlucky for Charlie.
That's the day he will be hung by the neck until dead for his conviction on a first-degree murder charge.
Charlie has a rap sheet as long as a tall man's leg. It's an extensive history of being on the wrong side of the law.
Most recently, he led his gang on a long war with a rival outfit, the Carl Shelton gang. Along the way, Charlie was charged with everything from robbery to bootlegging to murder.
It was the homicide that did him in, even though Charlie did not pull the trigger. Or so he says.
Charlie and two of his outlaw associates were convicted of murdering an influential politician. The other defendants, Art Newman, his chief lieutenant, and a hanger-on named Ray Hyland, got off with life sentences for the killing of Joe Adams, the mayor of West City, Illinois.
Even though his cellmates on Death Row were grief-stricken to learn of his imminent execution, Charlie took the Illinois Supreme Court's decision philosophically.
"Cheer up, boys; don't look so sad," he told his friends inside the Franklin County jail.
"It can't be helped, I guess." Charlie shrugged. "What is to be, will be. Yeah, it's a bitter pill. But, well, there is nothing to be done but grin and bear it."
That's what Charlie would do, but not on Friday, April 13.
He was hanged six days later, on the 19th.
And he grinned. All the way to the gallows, accompanied by a black-hooded rabbi, Charlie smiled, shook hands with the hangman, and spoke his last words, "It's a beautiful day."
In the next moment, the garrulous executioner pulled back on the wooden lever, the trap door under Charlie's feet open, and he fell to his death.
One more for you today, and this story is not true crime-related. But I think it's interesting that on February 26, 1928, a group of engineers and businessmen in Detroit tested a new "free-energy motor" that didn't need gasoline or diesel fuel.
Instead, this creation of Lester J. Hendershot, a Pittsburgh electrical engineer, is electromagnetically operated, "drawing its power from the air or ground," according to Associated Press.
The famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh, was interested in the invention. Still, more testing will be needed before determining if an electric engine can power automobiles.
What a pipe dream that must have seemed to many in February 1928.
November 2, 1945: On her way to a high school football game with friends, a fourteen-year-old girl vanishes after driving away with a man who says he needs a babysitter.
The FBI unleashes its top kidnapping expert, an agent who helped bring John Dillinger down. Will that be enough to find the girl and her abductor?
Agents chase the suspected kidnapper from California to Illinois and back again.
Arrested in Los Angeles, he admits abducting the child. He also tells the FBI he killed the girl and threw her body into the Pacific Ocean. A search for her corpse proves fruitless.
Then, when all hope is lost, authorities discover the skeleton of another young woman who's fallen victim to this madman.
Ready for another twist? The wife of the man who made that discovery is found dead at the bottom of the cliff.
During the accused killer's trial, women around the country fall in love with the handsome monster and literally break down the doors of a courthouse to get close to him.
Wild enough for you? Wait. After the child's killer is convicted and sentenced to the gas chamber, a scientist shows up and says he can bring the murderer back from the dead.
The Murder of Thora Chamberlain: A Shocking True Crime Story: This is the wildest, most shocking true crime story you've ever read.
That's it for now. For me, it's time to go back to writing my next book, a shocking true crime story from 1928.
As always, thanks for reading, and in the days ahead, remember the advice of the late, great Robin Williams, who said, "Never fight an ugly man. He's got nothing left to lose."