Sometimes the tiniest clue can solve a crime. Such was the case with the rape and murder of writer Nancy Titterton in 1936. In the 1930s, many of today’s forensic tools and techniques were decades in the future. Even so, forensic science was a valuable crime-fighting weapon.
Nancy Titterton, Aspiring Writer
Nancy Titterton was a budding writer (some of her stories had appeared in magazines). She married Lewis Titterton, an executive at the National Broadcasting Company, in 1929. They lived at 22 Beekman Place, then and now a fashionable area of Manhattan near the East River. The year 1936 saw Nancy working on her first novel.
On April 10, 1936, two furniture repairmen delivering a repaired sofa, found the door of the Titterton apartment open. Inside, they found Nancy dead in the bathtub. She had been raped and strangled with her own pajamas, which were still tied around her neck.
Not surprisingly, police looked at the two furniture shop men, Theodore Kruger and John Fiorenza, with suspicion. Kruger owned the shop and Fiorenza was an assistant.
Detectives led by Assistant Chief Inspector Lyons had only two significant clues to work with. One was a light-colored horsehair found on Nancy’s bedspread. The horsehair matched the stuffing of the sofa (furniture then often had horsehair stuffing). This heightened their suspicions against Fiorenza (Kruger’s alibi apparently satisfied investigators).
The second clue was a 13-inch length of course string. Marks on her wrists indicated that killer had used string or cord to bind Nancy’s hands during his attack. He took the cord with him, but he overlooked this small segment. Detectives found it under Nancy’s body.
One other possible clue turned out to be a dead end. A smear of green paint on Nancy’s bed sheets was the shade painters were using throughout the building. However, of the four painters assigned to the job, only one had been at work the day of the murder. Building tenants were able to confirm the fourth painter’s whereabouts at the time in question.
An Obsession with Nancy Titterton
Lyons and his team began the process of finding the origin the string left at the murder scene. They eventually traced it to the Hanover Cordage Company of York, Pennsylvania. Hanover’s records disclosed that the company had sold a roll of that exact cord to Kruger’s upholstery shop.
Upon further investigation, detectives learned that John Fiorenza had a criminal record. It included four arrests for theft and a two-year stretch in prison, where a prison psychologist diagnosed him as delusional. They hauled Fiorenza in for questioning.
For five hours, Fiorenza denied killing Nancy Titterton before he finally broke down and confessed. He claimed he developed an infatuation with the woman when he picked up the sofa for repair on April 9. Early the next morning, he went to the Titterton apartment where he gagged Nancy and tied her hands. He then stripped her and dragged her into the bathroom where he raped her and strangled her with her own pajamas. Then he went to work, later returning with Kruger and the sofa to “discover” the body.
Fiorenza claimed he was insane at the time of the killing. That defense didn’t cut much ice with the jury, who convicted him of first-degree murder. He paid for this brutal murder with his life in Sing Sing’s electric chair on January 22, 1937.
In 2015, author Robert Grey Reynolds, Jr. published a book about the case, The Bathtub Murder of Crime Club Founder Nancy Evans Titterton: Good Friday April 10, 1936.
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