Part 4 out of 4
the "Death House" at Sing Sing had invoked every expedient to escape
punishment, and by the use of his knowledge had even saved a fellow
prisoner, "Mike" Brush, from the electric chair.]
A Flight Into Texas
The flight and extradition of Charles F. Dodge unquestionably involved
one of the most extraordinary battles with justice in the history of the
criminal law. The funds at the disposal of those who were interested in
procuring the prisoner's escape were unlimited in extent and the arch
conspirator for whose safety Dodge was spirited away was so influential
in political and criminal circles that he was all but successful in
defying the prosecutor of New York County, even supported as the latter
was by the military and judicial arm of the United States Government.
For, at the time that Dodge made his escape, a whisper from Hummel was
enough to make the dry bones of many a powerful and ostensibly
respectable official rattle and the tongue cleave to the roof of his
mouth in terror.
Who could accomplish that in which the law was powerless?--Hummel. Who
could drive to the uttermost ends of the earth persons against whom not
a shadow of suspicion had previously rested?--Hummel. Who dictated to
the chiefs of police of foreign cities what they should or should not do
in certain cases; and who could, at the beckoning of his little finger,
summon to his dungeon-like offices in the New York Life Building,
whither his firm had removed from Centre Street, the most prominent of
lawyers, the most eminent of citizens?--Surely none but Hummel. And now
Hummel was fighting for his own life. The only man that stood between
him and the iron bars of Blackwell's Island was Charles F. Dodge--the
man whom he had patted on the knee in his office and called a "Mascot,"
when quite in the nature of business he needed a little perjury to
assist a wealthy client.
Hummel in terror called into play every resource upon which, during
forty years of practice, his tiny tentacles had fastened. Who shall say
that while he made a show of enjoying himself nightly with his
accustomed light-heartedness in the Tenderloin, he did not feel
confident that in the end this peril would disappear like the others
which had from time to time threatened him during his criminal career?
But Hummel was fully aware of the tenacity of the man who had resolved
to rid New York of his malign influence. His Nemesis was following him.
In his dreams, if he ever dreamed, it probably took the shape of the
square shouldered District Attorney in the shadow of whose office
building the little shyster practised his profession. Had he been told
that this Nemesis was in reality a jovial little man with a round, ruddy
face and twinkling blue eyes he would have laughed as heartily as it was
in his power to laugh. Yet such was the fact. A little man who looked
less like a detective than a commercial traveller selling St. Peter's
Oil or some other cheerful concoction, with manners as gentle and a
voice as soft as a spring zephyr, who always took off his hat when he
came into a business office, seemingly bashful to the point of
self-effacement, was the one who snatched Charles F. Dodge from the
borders of Mexico and held him in an iron grip when every influence upon
which Hummel could call for aid, from crooked police officials, corrupt
judges and a gang of cutthroats under the guise of a sheriff's posse,
were fighting for his release.
Jesse Blocher is not employed in New York County, and for business
reasons he does not wish his present address known. When he comes to New
York he occasionally drops into the writer's office for a cigar and a
friendly chat about old times. And as he sits there and talks so
modestly and with such quiet humor about his adventures with the Texas
Rangers among the cactus-studded plains of the Lone Star State, it is
hard even for one who knows the truth, to realize that this man is one
of the greatest of detectives, or rather one of the most capable,
resourceful, adroit and quick-witted knights of adventure who ever set
forth upon a seemingly impossible errand.
It is unnecessary to state just how the District Attorney discovered the
existence of "Jesse," as we knew him. It is enough to say that on
Saturday morning, July 23, 1904, he was furnished with the proper
credentials and given instructions to proceed at once to New Orleans,
Louisiana, and "locate," if it were humanly possible to do so, Charles
F. Dodge, under indictment for perjury, and potentially the chief
witness against Abraham H. Hummel, on a charge of conspiracy. He was
told briefly and to the point that, in spite of the official reports
from the police head-quarters of both New York City and New Orleans to
the contrary, there was reason to believe that Dodge was living,
although not registered, as a guest at the St. Charles Hotel in the
latter city. A partial and inaccurate description of Dodge was given him
and he was warned to use extreme caution to prevent any knowledge of his
mission from being made known. Once Dodge had been discovered he was to
keep him under surveillance and wire New York immediately.
Accordingly, Jesse left the city upon the same day at 4.45 P.M. and
arrived two days later, at 9.15 on Monday morning, at New Orleans, where
he went directly to the St. Charles Hotel, registered, and was assigned
to room Number 547 on the fifth floor. Somewhere in the hotel Dodge was
secreted. The question was how to find him. For an hour Jesse sat in the
hotel foyer and meditatively watched the visitors come and go, but saw
no sign of his quarry. Then he arose, put on his hat and hunted out a
stationery store where for two cents he bought a bright-red envelope. He
then visited a ticket-scalper's office, secured the owner's business
card and wrote a note on its back to Dodge offering him cheap
transportation to any point that he might desire. Armed with this he
returned to the hotel, walked to the desk, glanced casually over a
number of telegrams exposed in a rack and, when the clerk turned his
back, placed the note, addressed to Charles F. Dodge, unobserved, upon
the counter. The office was a busy one, guests were constantly
depositing their keys and receiving their mail, and, even as Jesse stood
there watching developments, the clerk turned round, found the note and
promptly placed it in box Number 420. The very simple scheme had worked,
and quite unconsciously the clerk had indicated the number of the room
occupied by Dodge.
Jesse lost no time in ascending to the fourth floor, viewed room Number
420, returned to the desk, told the clerk that he was dissatisfied with
the room assigned him, and requested that he be given either room Number
421, 423, or 425, one of which he stated that he had occupied on a
previous visit. After some discussion the clerk allotted him room Number
423, which was almost directly opposite that occupied by Dodge, and the
detective at once took up his task of watching for the fugitive to
Within the hour the door opened and Dodge and a companion, who
subsequently proved to be E. M. Bracken, alias "Bradley," an agent
employed by Howe and Hummel, left the room, went to the elevator and
descended to the dining-room upon the second floor. Jesse watched until
they were safely ensconced at breakfast and then returned to the fourth
floor where he tipped the chambermaid, told her that he had left his key
at the office and induced her to unlock the door of room Number 420,
which she did under the supposition that Jesse was the person who had
left the chamber in Dodge's company. The contents of the room convinced
Jesse that he had found Dodge, for he discovered there two grips bearing
Dodge's name as well as several letters on the table addressed to him.
The detective returned to the hall and had a little talk with the maid.
"The old gentleman with you has been quite sick," she said. "How is he
"He is some better," answered Jesse.
"Yes, he does look better to-day," she added, "but he sho'ly was
powerful sick yesterday. Why, he hasn't been out of his room befo' fo'
five or six days."
This statement was corroborated by Dodge's physical appearance, for he
looked haggard and worn.
Jesse was now confident that he had found Dodge, in spite of the reports
of the New Orleans police to the contrary, and he was also reasonably
sure that the fugitive was too sick to leave the hotel immediately. He
therefore telegraphed his superiors that he had discovered Dodge and
that the latter was ill at the St. Charles Hotel.
At three o'clock in the afternoon Jesse received a wire from New York as
New Orleans police department claims party not there. Left for
Mexico three weeks ago. Ascertain correct destination and wire at
Jesse at once replied:
No question as to identity and presence here at this time.
He now took up the task of keeping his quarry under absolute
surveillance day and night, which duty from that moment he continued for
a period of nearly ten months.
During the remainder of the afternoon and throughout the night Dodge and
Bracken remained in room Number 420, and during the evening were visited
by several strangers, including a plain-clothes officer from the New
Orleans Police Head-quarters. Little Hummel, dining in Long Acre Square
in the glare of Broadway, was pressing some invisible button that
transmitted the power of his influence even to the police government of
a city two thousand miles away.
The following day, January 26th, at about 8.40 in the morning, Dodge and
Bracken descended to the lobby. Bracken departed from the hotel, leaving
Dodge to pay the bill at the cashier's window, and Jesse heard him order
a cab for the 11.30 a.m. Sunset Limited on the Southern Pacific Railroad
and direct that his baggage be removed from his room. Jesse did the
In the meantime Bracken returned and promptly at 11 a.m. left for the
railroad station in a cab with Dodge. Jesse followed in another. As the
two passed through the gates the detective caught a glimpse of Dodge's
ticket and saw that it had been issued by the Mexican National Railway.
Retiring to the telegraph office in the station he wired New York as
Bird flying.--Sunset Limited. Destination not known. I am with him.
He then hastily purchased a ticket to Houston, Texas, and boarded the
train. Dodge's companion had bidden him good-by as the engine started,
and Jesse's task now became that of ferreting out Dodge's destination.
After some difficulty he managed to get a glimpse of the whole of the
fugitive's ticket and thus discovered that he was on his way to the City
of Mexico, via Eagle Pass, Texas, while from the Pullman conductor he
learned that Dodge had secured sleeping-car accommodation as far as San
Antonio, Texas, only.
So far all was well. He knew Dodge but Dodge did not know him, and later
on in the afternoon he had the satisfaction of a long talk with his
quarry in the observation car where they amiably discussed together
current events and argued politics with the same vehemence as if they
had been commercial travellers thrown fortuitously into each other's
company. Dodge, however, cleverly evaded any reference to his
When the train reached Morgan City, Louisiana, at 3 P.M., which was the
first stop, Jesse wired New York as follows:
On Sunset Limited with friend. He has transportation to the City of
Mexico, via Eagle Pass, where I am now journeying with him. Answer
to Beaumont, Texas.
Later in the afternoon he sent an additional message from Lafayette,
Have seen transportation of friend and am positive of destination.
Dodge was occupying Section 3 of the sleeping car "Capitola," and, as
became an invalid, retired early.
At Beaumont Jesse failed to receive any reply to his various messages,
and when the train arrived at Houston no word came from New York until
it was almost the time of departure. Waiting until practically the last
moment Jesse hurried through the gates of the Union Station at Houston
and bought a ticket to San Antonio. As he was leaving the ticket window
Night Chief of Police John Howard and two officers came hurrying up
inquiring anxiously for "Mr. Jesse." The reinforcements had arrived.
Outside on the track "The Sunset Limited" was just getting under way.
The first frantic puffs were being vomited from the funnel. Inside
Dodge was sleeping peacefully in his berth. Jesse, accompanied by Chief
Howard, hurried up to the conductor who was about to swing on to the
steps of the sleeper, and ordered him to hold the train till the
fugitive could be removed. After some argument the conductor grumblingly
complied and Dodge was aroused from pleasant dreams of the "Creole
Quarter" to the cold reality of being dragged out of bed by a policeman.
He was unceremoniously hustled out of the sleeping car into a carriage
and taken to Head-quarters where he admitted his identity and remarked:
"I know what I am wanted for, but I will never return to New York."
In his grip was found the sum of $1,563.15 as well as numerous letters
from the law firm of Howe and Hummel and a quantity of newspaper
clippings relative to his case.
Dodge pleaded with Chief Howard not to lock him up, urging that he was a
sick man and offering a goodly sum if he might be taken to a hotel and
guarded for the remainder of the night. But what "went" in New Orleans,
did not "go" in Houston, and the best that Dodge could get for himself
was a cot in the "Ladies Detention Room" on the second floor of the
Early the following morning Jesse visited Police Head-quarters and for
the first time met George Ellis, Chief of Police of Houston, for whom he
will always have a feeling of deep gratitude for his enthusiastic
cooperation and loyalty in the many stirring events that followed. Dodge
now received a telegram from New York, which was submitted to Jesse
before reaching the prisoner, to the effect that Howe and Hummel were
sending on an attorney to aid the fugitive in resisting extradition, and
informing him that they had employed Messrs. Hunt and Meyers as
attorneys to look out for his welfare. These last immediately jumped _in
medias res_ and on the afternoon of the same day secured a writ of
habeas corpus from Norman J. Kitrell, District Judge of Harris County,
Texas, returnable the following morning.
The next day, January 28th, Kitrell released Dodge from custody.
Jesse had anticipated this and immediately swore out another warrant
with the result that the prisoner was rearrested before he left the
Meantime the Dodge interests retained another firm of lawyers, Messrs.
Andrews and Ball, who, on the following day, secured a second writ of
habeas corpus from Judge Ashe.
The result of the first engagement thus being a draw, counsel on both
sides agreed that this writ should not be returnable for six days.
During this period District Attorney Jerome employed Messrs. Baker
Botts, Parker and Garwood to represent him and secured from Governor
Odell at Albany a requisition on Governor Lanham of Texas for the
extradition of the prisoner, which he entrusted to Detective Sergeant
Herlihy of the New York Police. Herlihy reached Houston with the papers
on the evening of January 30th, and on the same train with him came
Abraham Kaffenburgh, a member of the law firm of Howe and Hummel and a
nephew of the latter. Likewise also came Bracken, still styling himself
"E. M. Bradley," and from now on Bracken was the inseparable companion,
guide, philosopher and friend (?) of the unfortunate Dodge whose
continued existence upon this earth had become such a menace to the
little lawyer in New York.
Herlihy, accompanied by Judge Garwood, proceeded direct to Austin where
they found Dodge already represented by Messrs. Andrews and Ball who, at
the hearing before Governor Lanham, made a strong effort to induce that
executive to refuse to honor the requisition of the Governor of New
York. This effort failed and Governor Lanham issued his warrant, but
Herlihy had no sooner returned to Houston for the purpose of taking
possession of the prisoner than he was served with an injunction
enjoining him, together with Chief of Police Ellis, from taking Dodge
into custody, pending a hearing upon a new habeas corpus which had been
issued by Judge Waller T. Burns of the United States District Court for
the Southern District of Texas. This new writ was returnable February
After exhaustive but futile argument by the counsel for Dodge, Judge
Burns remanded the prisoner to Herlihy's custody to be returned to the
State of New York, but this decision had no sooner been rendered than an
appeal was taken therefrom by Dodge's lawyers, and the prisoner released
upon bail fixed at twenty thousand dollars.
During this period Dodge was quartered under guard at the Rice Hotel in
Houston, and the day following the argument the twenty-thousand-dollars
bail was put up in cash and Dodge released from custody.
In the meantime, however, Jesse, knowing that no sum, however large,
would deter Hummel from spiriting Dodge out of the country, had made his
arrangements to secure a new extradition warrant from the Governor of
Texas, so that if the prisoner did succeed in getting beyond the
Southern District of the Federal Court of Texas, he could be seized and
conveyed to New York.
Of course some one had to keep watch over Dodge while Jesse hurried to
Austin to see the Governor, and it was decided to leave Sergeant
Herlihy, reinforced by a number of local detectives for that purpose.
But while the watchful Jesse was away, Bracken proceeded to get busy in
the good old Howe and Hummel fashion. Lots of people that Herlihy had
never seen before turned up and protested that he was the finest fellow
they had ever met. And as Herlihy was, in fact, a good fellow, he made
them welcome and dined and wined at their expense until he woke up in
the Menger Hotel in San Antonio and inquired where he was.
Jesse meantime had returned from Austin to discover that Dodge with his
companions, Kaffenburgh and Bracken, had slipped out of Houston early in
the morning of February 11th, after disposing of Herlihy and eluding the
watchfulness of Herlihy's assistants. Hummel was leading and by ten
o'clock the next morning Dodge and his comrades were on board an English
merchantman lying in the harbor of Galveston. Later in the same day the
Hummel interests chartered from the Southern Pacific Railroad for the
sum of three thousand dollars the sea-going tug _Hughes_, to which Dodge
was now transferred for the purpose of being conveyed to the port of
Tampico in the Republic of Mexico.
But here Hummel's wires became crossed with Jerome's, and unfortunately
for the little lawyer, the persons from whom the tug had been leased
turned out to be closely allied with the prosecution's interests, with
the result that the captain of the tug was instructed by his superiors
under no consideration to put into any Mexican port, but on the
contrary, to delay his departure from the harbor of Galveston for a
period of two days and then to proceed only as far as Brownsville,
Texas, where he should compel the debarkation of the fugitive. The
captain, who was a good sport as well as a good officer, promptly threw
himself into the part and told Bracken and Kaffenburgh that it was
evident from the barometer that a severe storm was approaching (which
must have had a sinister implication to these two unfortunate
gentlemen), and that he could not think of putting to sea. Once the
"storm" had blown over, the tug started out across the blue waters of
the Gulf of Mexico. But now Bracken and Kaffenburgh were informed for
the first time that it was impossible to consider putting into any port
of the Republic of Mexico, since to do so would cause international
complications and compel the revocation of the captain's license. In
desperation the Hummel interests offered the captain five thousand
dollars in cash to disregard his instructions and put into Tampico, but
the worthy sea-dog was adamant. It was probably worth five thousand
dollars to him to see three gentry of this pattern so much put about.
While Dodge and his accomplices were dallying in the harbor of
Galveston, Jesse was taking advantage of his opportunity to proceed at
once by railroad to Alice, Texas, which at that time was the furthermost
southern point reached by any railway in the direction of Brownsville.
On his arrival, he at once applied to Captain John R. Hughes, commanding
Company D of the Texas Rangers, who received him with great joy and
ordered a detachment of the Rangers to meet the tug at Point Isabella at
the mouth of the Rio Grande River on the border of Mexico. In the
meantime, Jesse started on a toilsome stage journey to Brownsville,
across one hundred and seventy miles of desert, which occupied two days
and nights, and necessitated his going without sleep for that period.
During the trip Jesse heard no word of English and had as his associates
only Mexican cattlemen. Every fifteen miles a fresh relay of broncos was
hitched to the stage and after a few moments' rest the misery began
Jesse had been hurrying toward Brownsville by stage while Dodge,
Kaffenburgh and Bracken were landing at Point Isabella, where they were
kept under close surveillance by Sergeant Tom Ross of the Rangers.
Thence they took the train to Brownsville, registering at the Miller
House under the assumed names of C. F. Dougherty, A. Koontzman and E. M.
Barker, all of Oklahoma. But, although they knew it not, Sergeant Tom
was at their elbow, and had Dodge attempted to cross the border into
Mexico he would instantly have been placed under arrest.
As Brownsville was within the Southern District of the Federal Court of
Texas, Jesse decided not to arrest Dodge until he should actually
attempt flight, and when Dodge and his companions, on the following
morning, February 15th, entered the stage (the same upon which Jesse had
arrived) and started for Alice, Jesse and Tom Ross procured the best
horses they could find and started after them, keeping just in sight of
the stage. Dodge's intention in making this move was to take the Mexican
International Railway at Alice and cross over to Mexico via Laredo.
Jesse and Ross covered the seventy-four miles from Brownsville to Santa
La Cruz Ranch by four in the afternoon, which was fairly strenuous work
for a New York detective, and here found themselves so sore and
exhausted from their ride that they were glad to hire a pair of horses
and buggy with which to complete the journey to Alice. Luckily they
were able to get into telephonic communication with various ranch owners
along the road and arrange to have fresh relays of horses supplied to
them every twenty miles, and here also Jesse called up Captain Hughes at
Alice, and suggested that he substitute for the regular night clerk at
the City Hotel one of the privates of the Rangers by the name of Harrod.
Dodge and his companions arrived in Alice on February 17th, and, as
Jesse had anticipated, repaired at once to the City Hotel, where,
inasmuch as they were dry from the dust of their trip and depressed by
lack of society, they entered at once into an enthusiastic and
confidential friendship with the man behind the counter in the hotel
office, sublimely ignorant that they were unfolding to a member of the
Texas Rangers all their most secret intentions. Harrod was just as glad
to see Dodge as Dodge apparently was to see Harrod, and kindly offered
to assist the fugitive to get into Mexico in any way that the latter
desired. Dodge, for his part, took advantage of his usefulness to the
extent of requesting him to purchase them railroad tickets, the plan
being to leave Alice the following morning for Monterey, Mexico. Three
hours after the stage bearing Dodge and his party pulled up at the City
Hotel, Tom Ross and Jesse drove in behind a pair of fagged-out broncos
at two in the morning. Jesse had had no sleep of any sort and no proper
nourishment for five days, and had just strength enough left to drag
himself up one flight of stairs and tumble into bed, from which he did
not emerge for many hours.
In the meantime day broke and Dodge, Kaffenburgh and Bracken, having
breakfasted, drove comfortably down to the International Railway Station
and settled themselves in the smoker, but they had no sooner given this
direct evidence of their intention before Captain Hughes entered and
placed Dodge under arrest. The latter's surprise may be appreciated when
it is stated that from the time the three had left Houston, they had no
idea that they were being followed and believed that they had completely
foiled Jesse and his assistants.
While Jesse had been chasing Dodge across the desert, his lawyers had
not been idle and had secured at Austin another extradition warrant from
Governor Lanham, who, on receiving news of the arrest, promptly
instructed Captain Hughes by wire to assume charge of the prisoner and
to deliver him into the hands of the New York officer to be conveyed to
There now began such a legal battle as the State of Texas had never
known. Hummel had been forced into his last ditch and was fighting
desperately for life. Through Kaffenburgh he at once applied for a new
writ of habeas corpus in Nueces County and engaged counsel at Corpus
Christie to assist in fighting for the release of the prisoner.
Precisely as Hummel had intended, Chief Wright of Nueces rode into Alice
and demanded the prisoner from Captain Hughes. As Hummel had _not_
intended, Captain Hughes refused to surrender the prisoner and told
Chief Wright to go to--well, he told him that he intended to obey his
commander-in-chief, the Governor of Texas.
On February 20th, Hummel, through Kaffenburgh, attempted to get another
writ of habeas corpus in Bee County, and promptly the Bee chief came
buzzing over and demanded Dodge, but to him Hughes replied even as he
had spoken to Wright.
Excitement in Alice had now reached such a pitch that Judge Burns, of
the Federal Court, in Houston, ordered United States Marshal John W.
Vann, of Alice, to assume charge of the prisoner. The indomitable
Hughes, however, paid no more attention to the United States Marshal
than he had to the local chiefs. But the situation was so delicate and
the clash of authority might so easily have resulted in bloodshed that
it was finally agreed by all parties that the best thing to do was to
have the prisoner returned to Houston in the _joint_ custody of Captain
Hughes of the Rangers and the United States Marshal.
Jesse, through his counsel, in proper course made application to
forfeit Dodge's bond and remand him to jail, but the Hummel attorneys
finally induced the Court, on the plea that to confine Dodge in jail
would be detrimental to his already badly impaired health, to permit the
prisoner to go free on a greatly increased bond, nevertheless
restricting his movements to Harris County, Texas.
While Jesse had fought a winning battle up to this point he was at the
end of his resources so far as the extradition of the prisoner was
concerned, for Dodge was now at liberty, pending the decisions upon the
habeas corpus proceedings of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals
at Fort Worth, and the United States Supreme Court at Washington. But
his orders were to _bring Dodge back to_ New York. Hence, with the aid
of some new men sent him from the North, he commenced an even closer
surveillance of the prisoner than ever before by both day and night.
Meantime Kaffenburgh departed for New York, fleeing from the wrath of
Judge Burns, who had issued a summons for him for contempt of the
Federal Court on the ground that he had induced Dodge to attempt to jump
his bond. In place of the blustering Kaffenburgh was sent another member
of the famous law firm of Howe and Hummel, David May, an entirely
different type of man. May was as mild as a day in June--as urbane as
Kaffenburgh had been insolent. He fluttered into Houston like a white
dove of peace with the proverbial olive branch in his mouth. From now on
the tactics employed by the representatives of Hummel were conciliatory
in the extreme. Mr. May, however, did not long remain in Houston, as it
was apparent that there was nothing to be done by either side pending
the action of the courts, and in any event Dodge was abundantly supplied
with local counsel. The time had now come when Hummel must have begun to
feel that the fates were against him and that a twenty-year term in
state prison was a concrete possibility even for him.
In the meantime, Dodge and Bracken had taken up their headquarters at
the Rice Hotel in the most expensive suite of rooms in the house, a new
scheme for getting the prisoner beyond the reach of the New York courts
apparently having been concocted. Dodge was now indulged in every
conceivable luxury and vice. He was plunged into every sort of excess,
there was no debauchery which Bracken could supply that was not his and
their rapid method of existence was soon the talk of the county and
continued to be so for ten long months. There is more than one way to
kill a cat and more than one method of wiping out the only existing
witness against a desperate man striving to escape the consequences of
Dodge's daily routine was somewhat as follows: He never slept at his own
hotel, but arose in the morning between ten and eleven o'clock, when he
was at once visited by Bracken and supplied with numerous drinks in lieu
of the breakfast for which he never had any desire. At noon the two
would have luncheon with more drinks. In the afternoon they would retire
to the pool rooms and play the races, and, when the races were over,
they would then visit the faro banks and gamble until midnight or later.
Later on they would proceed to another resort on Louisiana Street where
Dodge really lived. Here his day may be said to have begun and here he
spent most of his money, frequently paying out as much as fifty dollars
a night for wine and invariably ending in a beastly state of
intoxication. It is quite probable that never in the history of
debauchery has any one man ever been so indulged in excesses of every
sort for the same period of time as Dodge was during the summer and fall
of 1904. The fugitive never placed his foot on mother earth. If they
were going only a block, Bracken called for a cab, and the two seemed to
take a special delight in making Jesse, as Jerome's representative,
spend as much money in cab hire as possible. The Houston jehus never
again experienced so profitable a time as they did during Dodge's wet
season; and the life of dissipation was continued until, from time to
time, the prisoner became so weak from its effects that he was forced to
go under the care of a physician. A few days of abstinence always
restored his vitality and he would then start out upon another round of
During this period Jesse maintained a close and vigilant personal
espionage over the prisoner. For over ten months he slept less than four
hours each day, his fatigue being increased by the constant apprehension
of treachery among his own men, and the necessity of being ever on the
alert to prevent some move on the part of the defense to spirit the
prisoner away. During the summer attempts were repeatedly made to evade
the vigilance of Jesse and his men and several desperate dashes were
frustrated by them, including one occasion when Bracken succeeded in
rushing Dodge as far as Galveston, where they were forced to abandon
From time to time Bracken would disappear from Houston for a week or ten
days, stating on his return that he had been to New York, after which
there was invariably some new move to get the prisoner away. Time and
space prevent giving a detailed account of all the marches and
counter-marches that took place in this battle of wit against wit.
In August, 1904, Bracken made one of his periodical visits to New York,
and when he returned sought out Jesse and said: "Blocher, you might as
well be a good fellow and get yours while you can. I mean that Dodge is
not going back to New York, even if it cost a million dollars to prevent
it." A few days later Bracken sent a gambler named Warner to Jesse, who
offered the latter thirty-five hundred dollars to get "lost" long enough
for the prisoner to slip over to Mexico. Acting upon the advice of his
attorney, Jesse encouraged this attempt, under the belief that if he
could get the Hummel forces in the position of having attempted to bribe
him the prisoner's bail could then be forfeited and Dodge himself taken
into custody. Hummel became wary, however, and apparently abandoned for
the time the idea of bribery. Later on Bracken again disappeared. On his
return a marked change was noticeable in his demeanor and Jesse observed
that he was in constant consultation with Dodge, from which the
detective drew the inference that some last desperate move was to be
made towards the escape of the prisoner.
On one occasion Jesse saw Bracken showing Dodge a map and some drawings
on paper, which so excited his suspicions that he followed the two with
unremitting assiduity, and within a day or two was rewarded through
Bracken's carelessness with an opportunity for going through the
latter's coat pockets in the billiard room. Here he found a complete set
of plans worked out in every detail for spiriting the prisoner from San
Antonio into Mexico during the State Fair. These plans were very
elaborate, every item having been planned out from the purchase of
tickets, and passing of baggage through the customs, to hotel
accommodation in the City of Mexico and Tampico, and steamship tickets
from Tampico to Europe.
The plan had been to secure permission from the Court for Dodge to leave
Houston long enough ostensibly to attend the Fair at San Antonio and to
"lose" him during the excitement and crowded condition of the city at
It is, of course, needless to say that these plans were abandoned when
Bracken discovered that Jesse had been forewarned.
Almost immediately thereafter the Circuit Court of Appeals at Fort
Worth, Texas, decided one of the habeas corpus cases adversely to Dodge
but it still permitted him to retain his liberty pending the final
determination of the questions involved by the Supreme Court at
The Hummel forces were apparently losing hope, however, for early in
October another attempt was made to bribe Jesse. Bracken entered his
room one evening and informed him that he could get his own price if he
would only be a good fellow, and even went so far as to exhibit a
quantity of money which he stated was twenty-five thousand dollars. The
only result of this offer was to lead Jesse to redouble his precautions,
for he argued that the situation must indeed be acute when such an offer
could be deemed worth while. Thereafter it was obvious that the revelry
of Dodge and his companions was on the increase. Accordingly Jesse added
to his force of assistants.
On December 2, 1904, Nathaniel Cohen, another member of the firm of Howe
and Hummel, arrived at Houston, and the next day the Supreme Court at
Washington decided the appeal in the habeas corpus against the prisoner,
who was at once ordered by Judge Burns into the custody of United States
Marshal William M. Hanson.
Things looked black indeed for Dodge and blacker still for Hummel. How
the little attorney, eating his midday lunch four thousand miles away,
at Pontin's restaurant on Franklin Street, must have trembled in his
patent leather boots! His last emissary, Cohen, at once procured an
assistant by the name of Brookman and with him proceeded to Wharton
County, Texas, where they secured a new writ of habeas corpus and
induced the local sheriff, one Rich, to swear in a _posse comitatus_ of
one hundred men for the purpose of coming to Houston to take the
prisoner by force of arms out of the hands of the United States Marshal.
This was one of the most daring and desperate attempts made in recent
years to frustrate the law. Jesse believes that the real object of this
_posse_ was to precipitate a fight between themselves and the Federal
authorities. It is not inconceivable that in such an event Dodge might
either have escaped or been killed. The men composing the _posse_ were
of the most desperate character, and consisted largely of the so-called
"feud factions" of Wharton County, known as "The Wood Peckers" and "The
Jay Birds." Jesse has been informed, on what he regards as reliable
authority, that this move cost the Hummel forces fifteen thousand
dollars and that each member of the _posse_ received one hundred dollars
for his contemplated services in the "rescue" of the prisoner. But civil
war, even on a small scale, cannot be indulged in without some inkling
of the facts becoming known to the authorities, and prior to the receipt
of the mandate of the Supreme Court, Judge Burns ordered the prisoner
removed to Galveston for safe keeping.
Thus the long, expensive and arduous struggle came finally to an end,
for Judge Burns in due course, ordered that Charles F. Dodge should be
conveyed to New York in the personal custody of the United States
Marshal and delivered by him to the New York authorities "within the
borders of that State." Such an order was, of course, exceedingly
unusual, if not almost unheard of, but it was rendered absolutely
necessary by the powerful influence and resources, as well as the
unscrupulous character, of those interested in securing Dodge's
In order to thwart any plans for releasing the prisoner by violence or
otherwise, and to prevent delay through the invoking of legal
technicalities, Hansen and Jesse decided to convey Dodge to New York by
water, and on the 16th of December, the Marshal and his five deputies
boarded a Mallory Line steamer at Galveston and arrived in New York with
their prisoner on the evening of December 23d.
Dodge reached New York a physical wreck. How he was induced to tell the
whole truth after he had pleaded guilty to the charge against him is a
story in itself. A complete reaction from his dissipation now occurred
and for days his life was despaired of. Jesse, too, was, as the
expression is, "all in," and the only persons who were still able to
appreciate the delights of New York were the stalwart Marshal and his
boys, who for some time were objects of interest as they strolled along
Broadway and drank "deep and hearty" in the cafes. To the assistants in
the District Attorney's office they were heroes and were treated as
How Dodge finally testified against Hummel on the witness stand has
already been told. As they say down-town, if Jerome had never done
anything else, he would have "made good" by locking up Abe Hummel. No
one ever believed he would do it. But Jerome never would have locked up
Hummel without Jesse. And, as Jesse says with a laugh, leaning back in
his chair and taking a long pull on his cigar, "I guess I would not do
it again--no, I _would_ not do it again for all the money you could give
me. The wonder is that I came out of it alive." When the reader comes to
think about it he will probably agree with him.
A Case of Circumstantial Evidence
In the town of Culiano, in the province of Salano, in Italy, there dwelt
a widow by the name of Torsielli, with her two sons, Vito and Antonio.
The boys loved their mother devotedly and were no less fond of each
other, the height of their ambition being to earn enough money to
support her in comfort without need of working in her old age. As it
was, she arose before light, made the fire, cooked their breakfast and
labored in and about the house all day until they returned from the
fields. But she was getting old and at last became bedridden and infirm.
She could no longer cook the meals, and the boys had to shift for
themselves. Moreover, instead of finding her standing at the door with a
smile on her wrinkled face, welcoming them to supper on their return,
the fire was always out and their mother lay on her couch, no less glad
to see them, to be sure, but no longer able to amuse them or minister to
their comfort. Then the taxes were increased and hard times came. By
twos and threes the men of the village packed their bundles, bade
good-by to their friends and families, and left the town, some to seek
work in other parts of Italy, but most of them to take the big iron
steamships for America, where work was easy and money plentiful. Sadly
the boys watched their comrades depart. They would have liked to go,
too, to seek their fortunes in this new land of promise, but they could
not leave their mother. The following year some of the men who had gone
away to America returned in fine clothes and with full purses to tell of
the wonderful country beyond the seas, where one could always earn his
ten _lire_ every day and do as he liked. "Viva la liberta!" they cried,
pounding the tables in the cafe. "Come, comrades! We have plenty of
money. Drink to the great country of America!"
Vito and Antonio listened with envy. One evening the elder brother asked
Antonio to come to walk with him. When they had gone a little way he
"Toni, I think I shall go to this America. We need more money to make
our mother comfortable. If we wait until she is dead the money will be
of no use. You can stay here, and when I have made a place for you and
her, you shall bring her on the ship to the new country."
Vito was five years older than Antonio, and his word had always been
law to the younger brother, so although he was sick at heart at the
thought of being left behind, he said nothing against the project, but
tried to make it easy for Vito with their mother. The old woman could
not bear the thought of her firstborn leaving her, and declared, with
the tears running down her face, that she should never see him again,
but at last she yielded to their persuasions and gave Vito her blessing.
It would be only a little while before she and Toni would join him, and
they would be happy ever after.
Then Toni was left alone with his mother. Every day he arose at the
first streak of dawn, prepared breakfast, cleaned the house, saw that
his mother was comfortable and then started off for the fields. A month
went by, two months, three, a year, but no word came from Vito. Toni
assured the poor old woman that they would certainly hear from him the
next week or the next, but cruel fear had taken possession of him.
Something had happened to his brother! The years swept on. Their mother
became more and more helpless. Antonio was obliged to hire a woman to
care for her as nurse for a small sum, but it was just enough to leave
only a pittance for them to live on. Toni grew thin and haggard. Where
could Vito be? Was he alive or dead? Next to his love for Nicoletta
Lupero it became the great passion of his life to learn what had become
He had known Nicoletta from a child and their love had followed as
naturally as summer follows spring. It had always been "Toni" and
"Nicoletta" ever since he could remember. But she was growing up, and
from a boy he had become a man. Yet how could he marry when he could
hardly earn enough to support his mother and himself? They talked it
over time and time again. If Vito would only return or good times come
it might be possible. But meantime there was nothing to do but wait.
Nicoletta blossomed into womanhood. Had she not been betrothed she would
have been called an old maid. Neither she nor Toni took any part in the
village merrymakings. Why should they? He was thirty and she
twenty-five. They might have married ten years ago had not the elder
brother gone away. Toni secretly feared that the time would never come
when they would be man and wife, but he patiently labored on earning his
two _lire_, or at most two _lire_ and a half, a day.
Then a man returned from America just for the harvest to see his family.
He said that Vito was alive. He had not seen him himself, but others had
seen him and he was rich. He told of the plentifulness of gold in
America, where every one was comfortable and could lay up a fortune. He
himself had saved over five thousand _lire_ in four years and owned a
one-third interest in a fruit store. He was going to take his brother's
family back with him--all of them. They would be rich, too, in a little
while. A man was a fool to stay in Italy. Why did not Toni come back
with him? He would get him a place on the railroad where one of his
friends was padrone.
Toni discussed it all with Nicoletta, and she talked with the man
"Toni," she said at length, "why do you not go? Here you are earning
nothing. There you could save in a month enough to keep your mother in
comfort for a year. You have to pay the nurse, and that takes a great
deal. While you are here it would cause talk if I came to live in your
home to care for your mother but if you go away I can do so without
comment and it will cost nothing. Perhaps you will find Vito. If not you
will soon make enough to send for both your mother and me."
"You are a good girl," he answered, kissing her, "but I could not shift
the responsibility of my mother to your shoulders. Still, I will talk to
Father Giuseppi about it."
The priest thought well of the plan (he was a little excited over
America himself), and agreed to break the matter to the mother.
She begged Toni piteously not to go. He was her only surviving son. Vito
was dead. Let him but wait a little while and she would not be there to
stand in his way. Then the priest added his personal assurance that it
would be for the best, and the mother finally gave way. Toni was obliged
to tear himself away by force from the arms of the old woman lying upon
the bed, and her feeble sobs echoed in his ears as he trudged down the
road with the scarf Nicoletta had worked about his neck, and a small
bundle of his tools and most precious possessions on his shoulder. A
couple of miles farther on came another harrowing parting with his
betrothed, and from the top of the next rise beyond he could see
Nicoletta still standing at the crossroads gazing pitifully after him.
Thus many an Italian, for good or ill, has left the place of his birth
for the mysterious land of the Golden West.
The voyage was for Antonio an unalloyed agony of seasickness and
homesickness, and when at last the great vessel steamed slowly up the
North River, her band playing and the emigrants crowding eagerly to her
sides, he had hardly spirit enough left to raise his eyes to the
mountains of huge buildings from whose craters the white smoke rose
slowly and blew away in great wind-torn clouds. Yet he felt some of the
awakening enthusiasm of his comrades, and when once his feet touched
earth again it was not long before he almost forgot his sufferings upon
the ocean in his feverish anxiety to lose no time in beginning to save
the money which should reunite him to Nicoletta and his mother. As soon
as the vessel had docked a blustering Italian came among the emigrants
and tagged a few dozen of them, including Antonio, with large blue
labels, and then led them in a long, straggling line across the
gangplank and marched them through the muddy streets to the railroad
train. Here they huddled in a dirty car filled with smoke and were
whirled with frightful speed for hours through a flat and smiling
country. The noise, the smoke and the unaccustomed motion made Antonio
ill again, and when the train stopped at Lambertville, New Jersey, the
padrone had difficulty in rousing him from the animal-like stupor into
which he had fallen.
The Italians crowded together upon the platform, gazing helplessly at
one another and at the padrone, who was cursing them for a lot of stupid
fools, and bidding them get upon a flat car that stood upon a siding.
Antonio had to be pushed upon it by main force, but the journey this
time was short, and in half an hour he found himself upon an embankment
where hundreds of Italians were laboring with pick and shovel in the
broiling sun. Here he also was given a pick and told to go to work.
Toni soon became accustomed to his new surroundings. Every night he and
the rest were carried to Lambertville on flat cars and in the mornings
were brought back to the embankment. The work was no harder than that to
which he had been used, and he soon became himself again. Moreover, he
found many of his old friends from Culiano working there. In the
evenings they walked through the streets of the town or sat under the
trees playing _mora_ and _tocco_. His letters home were quite
enthusiastic regarding the pleasant character of the life. To be sure he
could not write himself, but his old friend Antonio Strollo, who had
lived at Valva, only a mile from Culiano, acted as his amanuensis. He
was very fond of Strollo, who was a dashing fellow, very merry and quite
the beau of the colony, in his wonderful red socks and neckties of many
colors. Strollo could read and write, and, besides, he knew Antonio's
mother and Nicoletta, and when Toni found himself unable to express his
thoughts Strollo helped him out. When the answers came he read them to
Toni and joined in the latter's pleasure. Toni himself soon became a
favorite in Lambertville, for he was simple and gentle, and full of
good-will for everybody. He was very good-looking, too, with his
handsome Roman profile, snapping black eyes and black curly locks. Yet
he was sad always, especially so as since his arrival in America he had
made no progress toward finding Vito. From time to time he met other
Italians who had been working elsewhere, who thought they had seen him
or some one that looked like him. But inquiry always elicited the fact
that their desire to give him encouragement was greater than the
accuracy of their memories. Of course Antonio Strollo, who had become
Toni's inseparable friend, shared all his eagerness to find Vito. In
fact, Toni had no thought that he did not confide to his friend, and it
was really the latter who composed the love letters to Nicoletta and the
affectionate epistles to the mother.
Every month Toni divided what he earned into three parts. One of them he
deposited in the savings-bank, another he invested in a money order
which was sent by Strollo to Nicoletta for the mother, and the last he
kept for himself. It was astounding how fast one really could make money
if one was industrious. Forty dollars a month, sometimes! That made
nearly seventy _lire_ to send to Nicoletta. His bank account grew
steadily, and he often saved something out of the money he allowed
himself to live upon.
Antonio Strollo, on the other hand, was lazy and spent all his wages on
_chianti_, neckties, waistcoats, and gambling. Sometimes he would do
nothing for a whole month but loiter around the streets smoking cigars
and ogling the village girls. These last were afraid of him and called
him "The Dare Devil."
Toni worked on the embankment for three years, sending his money with a
letter to Nicoletta every month. The mother still lived and Nicoletta
was giving up her own life to take care of her, but the old woman was
very feeble and no longer had any hope of seeing either of her sons
again. Moreover, she was now so bedridden that it was useless to think
of trying to move her, even if Toni had plenty of money. No, as soon as
he was satisfied that Vito could not be found and had saved enough money
he must return. How she begged him to return! As Strollo read him the
girl's letters Toni wept bitter tears and Strollo wept likewise in
sympathy. But no word came of Vito.
Toni, anxious about his mother, despairing of ever finding his brother,
pining for Nicoletta and with three hundred dollars lying in the
savings-bank, decided to return to Italy. But if only he could find Vito
first! Then Antonio Strollo had an idea. Why not advertise, he
suggested. He wondered that they had never thought of it before. They
would put a notice in _Il Progresso_, the Italian paper in New York, and
see what would come of it. Toni agreed that the idea was good, so
Strollo wrote the notice offering a reward for news of Vito.
Two months passed, once more Toni gave up hope, and then,
O-never-to-be-forgotten day! a letter came from the post-office from
Vito! Toni threw his arms about Strollo and kissed him for joy. Vito was
found at last! The letter, dated Yonkers, New York, told how Vito had by
chance heard of Toni's notice and learned that he was in America. He
himself, he said, had prospered and was a padrone, employing many
workmen on the water-works. He begged Toni for news of their mother. He
confessed himself an ungrateful son never to have written, but he had
married and had had children, and he had assumed that she was being
cared for by his brother. Toni must forgive him and come to him at once.
"O Dio!" cried Toni, the tears in his eyes. "Forgive him? Of course I
will forgive him! Come, Antonio, let us write my dear brother a letter
without delay and tell him that our mother is still alive. How should I
like to see his wife and babies!"
So they prepared a long letter which Strollo took to the post-office
himself and mailed. Toni went back to work with joy in his heart and
whistled and sang all day long, and, of course, he wrote all about it to
Nicoletta. He was only waiting for his month to be up before starting.
Then he would go to Yonkers, make Vito a little visit, and return home
to Italy. It would be easy enough, after that, for Vito would send them
money, if necessary, to live upon.
Several letters passed between the brothers, and at the end of the month
Toni drew out his money from the bank, received his wages in full, and
prepared to leave Lambertville. Meantime a letter had come from
Nicoletta telling of his mother's joy at learning that Vito was still
As Toni had doubts as to his ability to find his way to Yonkers, Strollo
kindly offered to accompany him. Toni had made many friends during his
three-years' stay in Lambertville, and he promised to write to them and
tell them about Vito and his family, so it was agreed that the letter
should be sent to Sabbatto Gizzi, in whose house he had lived, and that
Gizzi should read it to the others. The address was written carefully on
a piece of paper and given to Toni.
So early in the morning of August 16th, 1903, Toni and Strollo took the
train for New York. It was a hot day, and once again the motion and
speed made Toni feel ill, but the thought of seeing Vito buoyed him up,
and by the time they had crossed the ferry and had actually reached New
York he was very hungry. In his excitement he had forgotten to eat any
breakfast and was now beginning to feel faint. But Strollo said it was a
long way to Yonkers and that they must not stop. For many hours they
trudged the streets without getting anywhere and then Strollo said it
was time to take the cars. Toni was very tired, and he had to climb many
flights of stairs to the train. It carried them a long distance, past
miles of tenement houses and vacant lots, and at last into a sort of
country. Strollo said they should get out. It was very hot and Toni was
weak from weariness and lack of food, but his heart was light and he
followed Strollo steadily down the wilting road. After going about a
mile they crossed some fields near where people were playing a game at
hitting little balls with sticks. It was astonishing how far they could
strike the balls--entirely out of sight.
"Is this Yonkers?" asked Toni.
"It is near here," answered Strollo. "We are going by a short way."
They entered some thick woods and came out upon another field. Toni was
now so faint that he begged his friend to stop.
"Can we not get some food?" he inquired; "I can hardly walk."
"There is a man in that field," said Strollo. "Go and ask him."
So Toni plodded over to the man who was digging mushrooms and asked him
in broken English where they could get something to eat. The man told
him that it was a long way. They would have to take the trolley to
Yonkers. There was a restaurant there called the "Promised Land," where
one could get Italian dishes. He seemed to take a kindly interest in
Toni and in Strollo, who had remained some distance behind, and Toni
gave him a cigar--a "Cremo"--the last one he had. Then Strollo led the
way back into the woods.
It was almost sunset, and the long, low beams slanting through the tree
trunks made it hard to see. They went deeper and deeper into the woods.
Presently Strollo, who was leading the way, stopped and said:
"We are going in the wrong direction. We must turn around and go back."
Toni turned. As he did so Strollo drew a long knife and plunged it again
and again through Toni's body.
* * * * *
Strollo spent that night, under an assumed name, at the Mills Hotel in
Bleecker Street. He had stabbed himself accidentally in the knee and
also in the left hand in the fury of his attack, and when he arose in
the morning the sheets were covered with blood. There was also blood on
his shoes, which had been new, but he took his knife and scraped it off.
He had experienced a strange sort of terrified exaltation the night
before, and in the early light as he crept downstairs and out of the
hotel he could not have told whether he were more glad or afraid. For he
had three hundred dollars in his pocket, more than he had ever seen at
any one time before--as much as a man could save in two whole years. He
would be a king now for a long time. He need not work. He could eat,
drink and play cards and read some books he had heard about. As for
finding him out--never! The police would not even know who Torsielli
was, to say nothing of who had killed him, for he had removed, as he
thought, everything in Toni's pockets. There would be a dead man in the
morgue, that was all. He could go back to Lambertville and say that he
had left Toni with his brother, at Yonkers, and that would be the end of
it. First, though, he would buy some new clothes.
It was very early and the shops were hardly open, but he found one place
where he could buy a suit, another some underclothes, and a third a pair
of shoes. The shoemaker, who was a thrifty man, asked Strollo what was
the matter with the shoes he had on, so Strollo craftily said they hurt
his feet. Then he ate a hearty breakfast, and bought a better cigar than
he had ever smoked before. There was a bookstore near by and he
purchased some books--"Alto Amore" and "Sua Maesta e Sua Moneta" ("The
Height of Love" and "His Majesty and His Money"). He would read them on
the train. He felt warm and comfortable now and not afraid at all. By
and by he went back on the train to Lambertville and smoked and read all
the way, contented as the tiger is contented which has tracked down and
slain a water-buffalo.
The same afternoon about sunset, in a lonely part of Van Cortlandt Park,
the mushroom digger stumbled over Torsielli's body lying face downward
among the leaves. He recognized it as that of the man who had asked the
way to something to eat and given him a cigar. He ran from the sight
and, pallid with fear, notified the nearest police officer. Then things
took the usual course. The body was removed to the morgue, an autopsy
was performed, and "Headquarters" took charge of the case. As the
deceased was an Italian, Detective Sergeant Petrosini was called in.
Torsielli's pockets were empty save for the band of a "Cremo" cigar in
one waistcoat pocket and a tiny slip of paper in another, on which was
penciled "Sabbatto Gizzi, P.O. Box 239, Lambertville, New Jersey."
Whether this last was the name of the deceased, the murderer, or some
one else, no one knew. Headquarters said it was a blind case, but
Petrosini shrugged his shoulders and bought a ticket to Lambertville.
Here he found Sabbatto Gizzi, who expressed genuine horror at learning
of Toni's death and readily accompanied Petrosini to New York, where he
identified the body as indeed that of Torsielli. He told Petrosini that
Toni had left Lambertville in the company of Strollo on Thursday, August
16th. This was Saturday, August 18th, and less than thirty-six hours
after the murder. Strollo, reading "Alto Amore," and drinking in the
saloon, suspected nothing. New York was seventy miles away--too far for
any harm to come. But Monday morning, walking lazily down the street
near the railroad station, Strollo found himself suddenly confronted by
a heavily-built man with a round, moon-shaped face thickly covered with
pockmarks. Strollo did not like the way the latter's gimlet-like eyes
looked him over. There was no time to turn and fly, and, besides,
Strollo had no fear. They might come and ask him questions, and he might
even admit almost all--_almost_ all, and they could do nothing, for no
one had seen what he had done to Toni in the wood. So Strollo returned
Petrosini's gaze unflinchingly.
"Are you Antonio Strollo?" asked the detective, coming close to the
"Yes, certainly, I am Antonio Strollo," replied the latter.
"Do you know Antonio Torsielli?" continued Petrosini.
"To be sure," answered Strollo. "I knew him well," he added almost
"Why did you accompany him to New York?" inquired Petrosini sharply.
Strollo paled. He had not known that the police were aware of the fact.
"I had errands in the city. I needed clothes," said Strollo.
"He has been murdered," said Petrosini quietly. "Will you come to New
York to identify the body?"
"Why--yes--certainly. I will go to New York." Then he added, thinking
that his words seemed insufficient, "I am sorry if Torsielli has been
murdered, for he was a friend of mine."
There was a wait of several hours before the train started for New York
and Strollo utilized it by giving Petrosini a detailed account of his
trip with Torsielli. He took his time about it and thought each
statement over very carefully before he made it, for he was a clever
fellow, this Strollo. He even went into the family history of Torsielli
and explained about the correspondence with the long-lost brother, in
which he acted as amanuensis, for he had come to the conclusion that in
the long run honesty (up to a certain point) would prove the best
policy. Thus he told the detective many things which the latter did not
know or even suspect. Strollo's account of what had happened was briefly
He and Toni had reached New York about twelve o'clock and had spent an
hour or so in the neighborhood of Mott Street looking at the parade of
"San Rocco." Then they had started for Yonkers and gone as far as the
terminal of the Second Avenue El. It was about five o'clock in the
afternoon. They had got out and started to walk. As they proceeded they
suddenly had seen a man standing under a tree and Torsielli had said to
"That man standing under that tree looks like my brother."
Strollo had replied:
"You know I am not acquainted with your brother."
As they reached the tree the stranger had stepped forward and said to
"Who are you?"
"Who? Me? My name is Antonio Torsielli," had been the reply. "Who are
"I am Vito Torsielli," had answered the stranger. Then the two had
rushed into each other's arms.
"And what did _you_ do?" inquired Petrosini, as Strollo naively
concluded this extraordinary story.
"Me?" answered Strollo innocently. "Why, there was nothing for me to do,
so I went back to New York."
Petrosini said nothing, but bided his time. He had now several important
bits of evidence. By Strollo's own account he had been with the deceased
in the general locality of the murder shortly before it occurred; he had
given no adequate explanation of why he was in New York at all; and he
was now fabricating a preposterous falsehood to show that he had left
his victim before the homicide was committed. On the train Petrosini
began to tie up some of the loose ends. He noticed the wound on
Strollo's hand and asked where it had been obtained. The suspect replied
that he had received it at the hands of a drunken man in Mott Street. He
even admitted having stayed at the Mills Hotel the same evening under an
assumed name, and gave as an excuse that his own name was difficult for
an American to pronounce and write. Later, this information led to the
finding of the bloody bedclothes. He denied, however, having changed his
clothes or purchased new ones, and this the detective was obliged to
ferret out for himself, which he did by visiting or causing to be
visited almost every Italian shop upon the East Side. Thus the incident
of the shoes was brought to light.
Strollo was at once taken to the morgue on reaching the city, and here
for the first time his nerve failed him, for he could not bring himself
to inspect the ghastly body of his victim.
"Look," cried Petrosini; "is that the man?"
"Yes, yes," answered the murderer, trembling like a leaf. "That is he."
"You are not looking at him," said the detective. "Why don't you look at
him. Look at the body."
"I _am_ looking at him," replied Strollo, averting his eyes. "That is
he--my friend--Antonio Torsielli."
The prisoner was now taken to Police Headquarters and searched. Here a
letter was found in his hip pocket in his own handwriting purporting to
be from Antonio Torsielli to his brother Vito at Yonkers, but enclosed
_in an envelope addressed to Antonio at Lambertville_.
This envelope bore a red two-cent stamp and was inscribed:
ANTONIO TORSIELLI, BOX 470,
Lambertville, New Jersey.
The letter as later translated in court by the interpreter read as
LAMBERTVILLE, _July 30, 1905._
_My dear Brother_:
Upon receipt of your news I feel very happy to feel you are well,
and the same I can assure you from me. Dear Brother, you cannot
believe the joy I feel after such a long time to know where you
are. I have been looking for you for two years, and never had any
news from you. I could not, as you wrote to me to, come to you,
because I had no money, and then I didn't know where to go because
I have been always in the country. Know that what little money I
have I sent it to mother, because if I don't help her nobody will,
as you never write to her. I believe not to abandon her, because
she is our mother, and we don't want her cursed. So then, if you
like to see me, you come and take me. You spoke to me about work
thither, but I don't understand about that work which you say, and
then what will I do because here I have work, therefore, if you
think I can come and work with you let me know because I have the
address. But if you want to do better you come and take me. _Dear
Brother_, I remind you about our mother, because I don't earn
enough money, which she is your mother also. DEAR BROTHER, I hope
you did not forget our mother. Dear Brother, let me know the names
of your children, and I kiss them. Many regards to your wife and
Aunt. I beg you to write to me. Dear regards, your brother, Antonio
Torsielli. When you answer send the answer to the address below,
Strollo made no attempt to explain the possession of this letter, which,
if sent at all would naturally have come into the possession of the
"And what was Vito's address at Yonkers?" inquired Petrosini.
"1570 Yonkers," answered Strollo.
"Is that the street number of a house or a post-office number?" asked
"Neither," said Strollo. "Just 1570 Yonkers."
Thus the infamy of this villain was made manifest. He had invented out
of his own brain the existence of Vito Torsielli in Yonkers, and had
himself written the letters to Antonio which purported to come from him.
He had used the simple fellow's love for his long-lost brother as the
means to lure him to his destruction, and brutally murdered him for the
sake of the few dollars which his innocent victim had worked so hard to
earn to reunite him to his mother and his betrothed.
The wounds in Strollo's hand and knee were found to correspond in shape
and character with the thirty-six wounds in Torsielli's body, and the
mushroom digger unhesitatingly identified him as the man in the company
of the deceased upon the afternoon of the murder.
It almost seemed like the finger of Providence indicating the assassin
when the last necessary piece of evidence in this extraordinary case was
discovered. Petrosini had hurried to Lambertville immediately upon the
discovery of the letter and visited the post-office.
A young lady named Miss Olive Phillips had been employed there as a
clerk for twelve years, and had lately had charge of what are known as
the "call boxes"--that is to say, of boxes to which no keys are issued,
but for the contents of which the lessees have to ask at the delivery
window. These are very inexpensive and in use generally by the Italian
population of Lambertville, who are accustomed to rent them in
common--one box to three or four families. She had noticed Strollo when
he had come for his mail on account of his flashy dress and debonair
demeanor. Strollo's box, she said, was No. 420. Petrosini showed her the
envelope of the letter found in Strollo's pocket. The stamp indicated
that it had been cancelled at _Lambertville_ on July 26. When she saw
the envelope she called Petrosini's attention to the fact that the stamp
was a two-cent red stamp, and said, to his surprise, that she was able
to identify the letter on that account as one _mailed_ by _Strollo_ on
July 26. As there is no local delivery in the town, she explained, "drop
letters," or letters mailed by residents to other residents, may be
franked for one cent. Now, in the first place, no Italian in
Lambertville, except Strollo, so far as Miss Phillips could remember,
had ever mailed a letter to another Italian in the same town. A frugal
Italian, moreover, if he had done so, would have put on only the
required amount of postage. On the 26th of July, Strollo had come to the
post-office and pushed this identical letter through the window, at the
same time handing her two cents and asking her to put on a red stamp for
him. She had been surprised at this, and had at first thought of calling
his attention to the fact that only a one-cent stamp was necessary, but
she had refrained and put on the stamp. At the same time she had noticed
that it was addressed to "Antonio Torsielli, Lambertville, New Jersey."
Strollo had then taken the letter and slipped it into the "drop" and she
had cancelled the stamp, taking the opportunity to examine the letter a
second time. A stranger coincidence could hardly be imagined, and this
observing young lady from the country was thus able to supply the most
important link in the chain against the murderer, and to demonstrate
conclusively that the wretch had himself been mailing in Lambertville
the letters purporting to come from the fictitious brother in Yonkers.
Strollo was now placed in the House of Detention as a "witness," a
course frequently pursued when it is desirable to prevent a suspect from
knowing that he is accused.
The case against him was practically complete, for it did not seem
humanly possible, that any jury would hesitate to convict him upon the
evidence, but juries are loath to find any one guilty of murder in the
first degree upon purely circumstantial evidence, and this was the first
purely circumstantial case in a long time. Inspector Price, therefore,
conceived the idea of trapping Strollo into a confession by placing a
detective in confinement with him under the guise of being a
fellow-prisoner. It was, of course, patent that Strollo was but a child
mentally, but he was shrewd and sly, and if he denied his guilt, there
was still a chance of his escape. Accordingly, a detective named Repetto
was assigned to the disagreeable task of taking the part of an accused
criminal. He was detailed to the House of Detention and remained there
for five days, from September 8 to September 13. Here Repetto became
acquainted with Strollo and the other prisoners, giving his name as
Silvio del Sordo and his address as 272 Bowery. He played cards with
them, read the papers aloud and made himself generally agreeable. During
this period he frequently saw the defendant write and familiarized
himself with his chirography.
The scheme worked and Repetto afterward received five letters from
Strollo, sent after the latter had been removed from the House of
Detention to the Tombs and indicted for the murder of Torsielli. The
first, dated September 22d, was merely to inform his supposed friend
Silvio of the change in his residence and to inquire the whereabouts of
another prisoner named Philip. The second would be pathetic were it not
written by the defendant in the case. It carries with it the flavor of
the Calabrian hills.
NEW YORK, _October 17, 1905._
I write and believe not to sicken you with my words, but it is
enough that you are well in health. I take the liberty again not
having any one else but you, and I believe to find a brother in
you, not a friend. I ask you nothing, only if you have time to come
and see me as soon as possible. I ask you this as a favor because I
know and believe to find a true friend, as I want to ask you a
certain thing at the cost of my life. I will not say any more.
Bring me five cents of paper and envelopes to write letters and
when you come I will give you the money. Nothing else. I am yours
ever. Servant and
The third letter from the perfect friend to his equally perfect friend
is an extraordinary combination of ingenuity and ignorance. It contains
the only suggestion of a defence--that of an alibi.
NEW YORK, _October 30, 1905._
With retard I answer in receiving yours. I was very, very glad. I
believe all you told me and I am grateful, and hope you will not
betray me, because you know it will cost the life of a poor
unfortunate, so do as you told me, keep things to ourselves, if you
wish to help me you will do me a great service, and if God helps
me, you can dispose of my life.
So I will have you called unexpected, saying that I did not know if
you remembered. So if you are called the first thing you must do is
to make believe to look at me, and then you say you remember of
having seen me looking at the pictures in front of place where you
work, and you asked me if I wanted my pictures taken and I said no.
If they ask at what time say 5:20 or 5:30 P.M., and that you spoke
with me for quite awhile. If they ask how was he dressed? The coat
was black, the shoes russet the Trousers with white stripes which
is the one I am now wearing; what tie, I don't remember, I only
know he was well dressed, the hat was brown, if they ask did he
have a mark on his hand? Say no, he had a ring with a black stone,
how many times did you see him, say that after your work you were
going around Mott Street and you saw me again and how it was eight
o'clock or past eight and you saw me with a handkerchief around my
hand, and you said to me, why I had my hand so. And he answered
that some one struck him, I asked if it hurt much, he said he did
not feel it, did both of you go to drink. No. Where else did
Strollo go, Strollo said he was going at the Bleecker Street Hotel
to sleep, did you see him again. No. Nothing else, if you want to
help me reflect well, but you don't need any more words from me say
just what I have said and I hope, with faith of a brother not a
friend, I am ever your Friend,
It may, and probably will, appear to the reader that a clearer case of
guilt could hardly be established, but the action of juries is always
problematical, and this was a case composed entirely of circumstantial
evidence. The jury would be obliged to find that no reasonable
hypothesis consistent with the innocence of the accused could be
formulated upon the evidence. Thus, even in the face of the facts proven
against him, some "freak" juryman might still have said, "But, after
all, how do you _know_ that Strollo killed him? Some _other_ fellow
might have done it." Even the "faking" of a defence does not prove the
defendant guilty, but merely that he fears conviction, and is ready to
resort to feigned testimony to secure his freedom. Many innocent men
convict themselves in precisely this way.
Accordingly it was by no means with confidence that the People went to
trial, but throughout this remarkable case it seemed as if it must have
been preordained that Strollo should not escape punishment for his
treacherous crime. No defence was possible, not even the partially
prepared alibi was attempted, and the only thing that savored of a
defence was the introduction of a letter alleged to have been received
by the defendant while in the House of Detention, and which, if genuine,
would have apparently established that the crime had been perpetrated by
the "Black Hand."
The offering of this letter was a curious and fatal blunder, for it was
later proven by the People to be in Strollo's own handwriting. It was
his last despairing effort to escape the consequences of his crime.
Headed with a cross drawn in blood it ran as follows:
I swear upon this cross, which is the blood of my veins, Strollo is
innocent. I swear upon the cross the revengeful Black Hand could
save me. New York, Oct. 12, 1905. Sir Strollo, knowing you only by
name, eight days after that I leave this letter will be sent to
you. I leave at seven o'clock with the Steamer Britain the Harbor.
Therefore I leave betraying my oath that I have held for the last
three years belonging to the Black Hand. I will leave three
letters, one to you, one to the Police Officer Capri, and the other
to the law, 300 Mulberry Street. All what I am saying I have sworn
to before God. Therefore your innocence will be given you, first by
God and then by the law, capturing the true murders. I am sure that
they already captured the murderer of Torsielli. Who lured you to
come to New York was Giuseppi Rosa, who knew you for nearly two
years, and who comes from Lambertville, came among us and played
you a trick. He is a Calabrise and has a mighty grudge. He and four
others are averse to them. Announce the name of the man who stabbed
you with the knife was Antonio Villa. He had to kill _you_, but
_you_ was fortunate. He is in jail for the present time and I don't
know for how long, but I know that he was arrested. Nothing else to
say. I have done my duty in giving you all the information. 407 2nd
[Illustration: First page of the "Black Hand" letter written by Strollo,
and put in evidence at his trial, placing the murder of Torsielli upon
members of that imaginary secret organization. This letter convicted
It is clear from the letter that Strollo had formed a vague plan for his
defence, which should, in part, consist of the claim that he, as well
as Torsielli, had been marked for death by the Black Hand, and that
while both had been induced to come to New York, the plans of the
assassins had in his case miscarried.
The reader has already observed that purely for the purpose of securing
his continued interest in the present narrative the writer has, as it
were, told his story backward, reserving as long as possible the fact
that the finding of the beloved Vito was a pure fiction invented by the
murderer. At the trial, however, the jury listened breathlessly while
bit by bit the whole pathetic story was painted before them, like a
mosaic picture. They heard first the story of the mushroom digger, there
of the expedition of Petrosini to Lambertville, of the identification of
Torsielli's body, of the elaborate fabrications of Strollo, and in due
course, of the tell-tale letter in the murderer's pocket. Gradually the
true character of the defendant's crime came over them and they turned
from him in aversion. The natural climax in the evidence was Miss
Phillip's extraordinary identification of the defendant sitting at the
bar as the man who had mailed upon the 26th of July, at the Lambertville
post-office, the envelope purporting to come from Yonkers and containing
the forged letter from the imaginary Vito.
Strollo remained almost to the last confident that he could never be
convicted, but when his own letters in prison were introduced in
evidence he turned ashen pale and stared fixedly at the judge. The jury
deliberated but fifteen minutes, their functions consisting of but a
single ballot, followed by a prayer for the wretched murderer's soul.
Then they filed slowly back and, in the waning light of the summer
afternoon just one year after the murder, and at the precise hour at
which Strollo had killed his victim, pronounced him guilty of murder in
the first degree. In due course his conviction was sustained by the
Court of Appeals, and on March 11th, 1908, he paid the penalty for his
crime in the electric