Lane Bryant: Old Murder Case Needs a Breakthrough

My blog post this week concerns an unsolved crime from sixteen years ago. In 2008, a man shot six women inside a Lane Bryant clothing store in a Chicago suburb, killing five of them. The crime remains unsolved today.

Intruder at Lane Bryant

It was a little after 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 2, 2008. A tall man, six-foot to six-foot-two, entered the Lane Bryant store in the Brookside Marketplace shopping center in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park. He claimed to be a deliveryman. Soon, however, he dropped the pretense. Pulling a .40-caliber Glock handgun, he herded the two employees and two women customers to a back room. He then bound them with duct tape and ordered them to lie face down on the floor.

The scene at the Brookside Marketplace Lane Bryant on February 2, 2006 (Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)
The scene at the Brookside Marketplace Lane Bryant on February 2, 2006 (Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

Two other women, potential customers, came into the store and were also herded to the back and bound.

The Lane Bryant Murders

According to police, the intruder was in the store for 40 minutes. During that time, he sexually assaulted at least one woman before shooting all six, killing five. One victim, a part-time Lane Bryant employee, survived but declined to be identified.

The Tinley Park police department released a new 3-D image of the Lane Bryant suspect on February 1, 2018 (Tinley Park Police)
The Tinley Park police department released a new 3-D image of the suspect on February 1, 2018 (Tinley Park Police)

During the attack, Lane Bryant store manager Rhonda McFarland managed to call 911 from her cellphone, pleading with the operator to “hurry.” A Tinley Park police officer was on a call in Brookside Marketplace a few hundred yards away. He was on the scene within a minute, but the gunman had already escaped.

  • Store manager Rhoda McFarland (Family photo)
    Store manager Rhoda McFarland (Family photo)

The dead women were store manager Rhoda McFarland, 42, of Joliet; Jennifer Bishop, 34, of South Bend, Indiana; Sarah Szafranski, 22, of Oak Forest; Connie Woolfolk, 37, of Flossmoor; and Carrie Hudek Chiuso, 33, of Frankfort.

Epilogue

The Lane Bryant murders remain unsolved today (2024), sixteen years later. Tinley Park police still have a detective assigned full-time to the case.

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Lizzie Borden: Fascinating Murder is Never Forgotten

In this blog post, I present a well-known crime that has piqued public interest for over 130 years. The 1892 slaying of Andrew and Abby Borden in Fall River, Massachusetts, shocked Victorian sensibilities in that community. Even more shocking was the arrest and trial for parricide of Andrew’s daughter, Lizzie Borden. Although an all-male jury acquitted her, a cloud of suspicion hung over her for the rest of her life. The crime also inspired a popular, if inaccurate, schoolyard rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks,
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Lizzie Borden and Her Family

Lizzie Andrew Borden was born in Fall River on July 19, 1860. Her mother died when Lizzie was three years old. Three years later, Andrew married Abby Durfee Gray. There were indications that Lizzie and her stepmother were not close. She later said she called Abby “Mrs. Borden” and shied away from saying whether or not they had a cordial relationship. Bridget Sullivan, the Borden’s live-in maid, reported that Lizzie rarely took meals with her father and stepmother.

Lizzie Borden in 1889 (Public Domain)
Lizzie Borden in 1889 (Public Domain)

Andrew had grown up in modest circumstances and had little money as a young man, but by 1892, he had accumulated considerable wealth. He had interests in many local businesses and was president of one bank and a director of another. Despite his financial success, Andrew preferred a frugal lifestyle. For instance, the Borden house at 92 Second Street did not have electricity or indoor plumbing, despite this being common in homes of the well-to-do.

Andrew Jackson Borden and Abby Durfee Borden (Public Domain)
Andrew Jackson Borden and Abby Durfee Borden (Public Domain)

Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, had a religious upbringing. As a young woman, she devoted considerable time to church and charitable activities. She was 32 years old in 1892 and, given the standards and expectations of the time, would have been considered a spinster.

The Borden house at 92 Second Street, Fall River, MA, as it appeared in 1892 (Public Domain)
The Borden house at 92 Second Street, Fall River, MA, as it appeared in 1892 (Public Domain)

Tensions in the Borden Household

The summer of 1892 was not a pleasant time at the Borden residence. As mentioned, the Bordens lived well below their means. Lizzie, in particular, would have preferred a more elegant home on “The Hill,” the section where Fall River’s wealthiest citizens lived.

Another issue was the real estate Andrew gifted to several of Abby’s relatives. A visit from Emma and Lizzie’s maternal uncle, John Vinnicum Morse, raised suspicions that more property transfers were in the works.

Finally, for several days at the end of July and the beginning of August, members of the household had been violently ill. Some speculated that the cause was food poisoning. Abby feared someone might have been trying to poison Andrew, as he was not particularly popular in Fall River.

Bridget Sullivan, the Borden's live-in maid (Public Domain)
Bridget Sullivan, the Borden’s live-in maid (Public Domain)

Murder in the Borden House

August 4, 1892, was a hot Thursday in Fall River. John Morse, who had arrived the day before and spent the night, ate breakfast with Andrew, Abby, and Maggie (the family’s name for Bridget Sullivan). Afterward, he and Andrew retired to the sitting room, where they talked for over an hour before Morse left for some errands. He planned to return for lunch. Andrew also left after 9:00 for his morning walk.

Abby Borden's body as discovered (Fall River Historical Society)
Abby Borden’s body as discovered (Fall River Historical Society)

Sometime between 9:00 and 10:30, Abby went upstairs to the guest room to make the bed. She was facing someone who struck her on the side of the head with a hatchet. The blow caused Abby to turn and fall face down. The attacker then delivered multiple blows—nineteen in all—with the hatchet, killing her.

When Andrew Borden returned to the house, his key wouldn’t open the lock. He knocked, and Bridget went to unlock the door. Finding it jammed, she swore. She later testified that immediately after, she heard Lizzie laughing from the top of the stairs. If true, that meant that Lizzie would have seen her stepmother’s body since Abby was already dead by this time. However, Lizzie denied being upstairs.

Andrew Borden's body as discovered (Fall River Historical Society)
Andrew Borden’s body as discovered (Fall River Historical Society)

Bridget Sullivan was resting in her third-floor room after cleaning windows all morning. At 11:10, she heard Lizzie call from downstairs. Maggie, come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.”

Andrew lay on a sofa in the sitting room where he had been napping. He had been struck, probably while asleep, ten times with a hatchet or hatchet-like weapon.

Lizzie Borden Suspected

Lizzie was naturally a suspect because she was the only person besides Bridget Sullivan in the house (Emma was in New Bedford visiting a friend). Her behavior following the discovery of the murders also invited suspicion. She changed her story several times, and some investigators found her unusually calm and poised. However, they did not check her for bloodstains, and the search of her room was cursory at best.

The following Sunday morning, Alice Russell, a friend of both sisters, went into the Borden kitchen and found Lizzie burning a dress in the kitchen stove. She said she had ruined it by brushing it against wet paint. No one ever determined if it was the dress she had worn the day before.

Lizzie Borden around the time of her trial (Fall River Historical Society)

The district attorney convened an inquest into the murders on August 8. Lizzie’s testimony was confused at some times and combative at others. Her family doctor prescribed regular doses of morphine to calm her nerves, and this likely affected her performance as a witness. In any event, the DA conducted the proceedings more like an interrogation than an impartial inquiry.

At the conclusion of the inquest on August 11, police served Lizzie with an arrest warrant.

Lizzie Borden on Trial

Lizzie’s trial began on Jun 5, 1893, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In a victory for the defense, Justin Dewey, the presiding Justice, refused to allow Lizzie’s inquest testimony in evidence.

A prominent piece of evidence was a handleless hatched head found in the Borden basement. However, the prosecution failed in its attempt to prove it was the murder weapon. Whether Lizzie was even in the house at the time of the murders was also in dispute.

The handleless hatchet that the prosecution tried—unsuccessfully—to brand as the murder weapon (Fall River Historical Society)
The handleless hatchet that the prosecution tried—unsuccessfully—to brand as the murder weapon (Fall River Historical Society)

Observers viewed Justice Dewey’s summation to the jury as supportive of the defense. They deliberated for only 90 minutes before returning with a “not guilty” verdict.

Epilogue

Lizzie and Emma moved into a large, modern house on “The Hill,” complete with a staff of servants. Lizzie named it “Maplecroft.” Around this time, she began styling herself as Lizbeth A. Borden.

Maplecroft in 2008 (Author's Photo)
Maplecroft in 2008 (Author’s Photo)

Despite her acquittal, Fall River society ostracized Lizzie. She came into the public eye again in 1897 when she was accused of shoplifting in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1905, the Borden sisters argued over a party Lizzie had given for actress Nance O’Neil, and Emma moved out. They never saw each other again.

Lizzie Borden died from pneumonia on June 1, 1927, in Fall River at age 66. Emma died from chronic nephritis nine days later. The sisters, neither of whom ever married, were reunited in death, buried side by side in the family plot in Fall River’s Oak Grove Cemetery.

The Borden house on Second Street in Fall River is now a museum and a Bed & Breakfast.

An immense number of books relate the story of the Borden murders and Lizzie’s trial. Some of the more recent are The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller, The Case Against Lizzie Borden and Lizzie Borden Uncut: A Casebook of Theories by William Spencer, One Hot Day in August by Victoria Strachan, and Forty Whacks: New Evidence in the Life and Legend of Lizzie Borden by David Kent.

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Dan Hogan — New Attack Kills “Irish Godfather”

Last week’s blog met Judge Joseph Force Crater who disappeared without a trace in 1930. This week’s blog introduces “Dapper” Dan Hogan, the so-called “Irish Godfather” of St. Paul, Minnesota. Like the judge, Hogan’s case remains unsolved.

St. Paul the Gangland Haven

St. Paul in the early twentieth century was one of the most corrupt cities in America. When John O’Connor became Chief of Police in 1900, he instituted what became known as the O’Connor Layover Agreement. The system was straightforward. Criminals could hide out in St. Paul if they followed three simple rules. First, they had to check in with O’Connor’s representative when they got into town. Second, they had to pay a small bribe. And third, they were not to commit major crimes within the city during their stay.

St. Paul police chief John O'Connor ca. 1912. Dan Hogan was O'Connor's "ambassador" to visiting criminals
St. Paul police chief John O’Connor ca. 1912

O’Connor’s first contact man was William “Reddy” Griffin. When criminals came to town, they would “check in” with Griffin at the Savoy Hotel and pay the required bribe. Griffin was O’Connor’s “ambassador” until he died suddenly of a stroke in 1913.

The Layover Agreement made St. Paul one of the most crime-free cities in America—for a while. But surrounding cities and towns suffered as crooks committed the crimes the planned in St. Paul there.

Dan Hogan Arrives on the Scene

Dan Hogan arrived in St. Paul around 1908. He began organizing crimes under the auspices of O’Connor’s system and became politically connected. He operated the Green Lantern, a saloon on Wabasha Street. The saloon catered to the underworld element and laundered their stolen money. It also had a casino and, during Prohibition, was a speakeasy.

"Dapper" Dan Hogan
“Dapper” Dan Hogan

Hogan took advantage of William Griffin’s death to become O’Connor’s “ambassador” to the criminals seeking shelter in St. Paul. However, O’Connor retired from the police force in 1920. The O’Connor Layover Agreement persisted for several more years, but it began to change in ominous ways. St. Paul’s crime rate, which had been low while O’Connor was active, began to climb.

A Car Bomb Kills Dan Hogan

On December 4, 1928, Dan Hogan got into his Paige coupe and stepped on the starter. A nitroglycerine bomb wired to the starter circuit exploded. Men both respectable and disreputable lined up at the hospital to donate blood, but Hogan slipped into a coma and died about 9:00 p.m.

A St. Paul newspaper reports Dan Hogan's death
A St. Paul newspaper reports Dan Hogan’s death

Hogan’s death marked the beginning of the end for the O’Connor Layover Agreement. The repeal of prohibition at the end of 1933 accelerated its decline. With prohibition gone, so were the profits from illegal liquor sales. Bootleggers turned to kidnapping for ransom. Once known for its lack of serious crime, St. Paul became infamous for its criminal activity. Thanks to a recently energized FBI and a crusading newspaper man, the O’Connor Layover Agreement finally ended in 1935.

Epilogue

The murder of Dan Hogan was an early instance of assassination by car bomb, a technique perfected in New York. Police never arrested anyone for the murder, and it remains officially unsolved. However, recently declassified FBI files reveal that the likely killer was Hogan’s underboss, Harry Sawyer.

Police identification card for Harry Sawyer
Police identification card for Harry Sawyer
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Judge Crater: An Odd Disappearance and Possible Murder

Last week, I told you about the disappearance and reappearance of evangelist “Sister Aimee,” Aimee Semple McPherson. This week we meet Judge Crater, once described as “the missingest man in New York.”

Joseph Force Crater

In the summer of 1930, Joseph Force Crater could look on his legal career with satisfaction. In April of that year, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court for New York County. At age 41, Crater was relatively young for this position, even if in New York, the Supreme Court is a trial court and not the appellate “Supreme Court” of most states. Some were bold enough to hint that he bought his appointment, pointing to the $20,000 he withdrew from his bank around that time. Crater’s fondness for showgirls did nothing to remove the whiff of scandal that surrounded him.

Judge Crater, the "Missingest Man in New York"
Judge Crater, the “Missingest Man in New York”

On Thursday, August 3, 1930, Judge Crater interrupted a Maine, vacation leaving his wife, Stella behind. He returned to New York, he said, to attend to some unspecified business. Instead, he took one of his mistresses, showgirl Sally Lou Ritzi, to Atlantic City. After returning from the seashore, he spent the morning of August 6 in his chambers at the Foley Square courthouse. People saw him going through documents, possibly destroying several. He then had his law clerk cash two checks for him totaling $5,150. At noon, Crater and the clerk took two locked briefcases to the judge’s apartment. He then told the clerk to take off the rest of the day.

A modern photograph of 40 Fifth Avenue, where Judge Crater and Stella lived
A modern photograph of 40 Fifth Avenue, where Judge Crater and Stella lived

Judge Crater Vanishes Without a Trace

Thursday evening, Crater dined with a lawyer friend, William Klein, and Sally Ritzi at Billy Haas’s Chophouse. The restaurant in the heart of the theater district at 332 West 45th Street. Earlier Crater had purchased a single ticket for that evening to see the comedy Dancing Partner at the Belasco Theater. The three enjoyed appetizers of cool lobster cocktails and had cold chicken for dinner.

Sally Ritzi with an unnamed actor
Sally Ritzi with an unnamed actor

Klein and Ritzi initially told authorities that after dinner, Crater took a cab in front of the restaurant. They assumed he was on his way to the theater, even though this left his dining companions on the sidewalk. They later changed their story, saying that they had taken the cab leaving Crater on the sidewalk. It was the last time anyone reported seeing the judge.

The Belasco Theater, Judge Crater's destination the night he disappeared
The Belasco Theater, Judge Crater’s destination the night he disappeared

Judge Crater’s disappearance merited only a muted response at first. Several days after he failed to return to Maine, his wife started calling friends in New York. Fellow justices also instituted a quiet search after he didn’t appear for the opening of the courts on August 25. Finally, they notified the police on September 3. The case immediately became front-page news.

What Happened Next

Investigators followed several leads that looked promising, but they turned out to be dead ends. A Grand Jury meeting in October found insufficient evidence to determine whether Judge Crater disappeared voluntarily or was the victim of a crime.

Crater’s wife, Stella, petitioned to have him declared legally dead in July 1937. The courts granted her request in 1939. She remarried to Carl Kunz in 1938 but they separated in 1950. Stella always believed her husband had been murdered. She presented that theory in her 1965 ghostwritten book, The Empty Robe. She died in 1969 at the age of 70.

Judge Crater and wife Stella shortly before he disappeared
Judge Crater and wife Stella shortly before he disappeared

Epilogue

Judge Crater quickly became part of the American lexicon. Although not in common usage today, 90 years ago “to pull a Crater” meant to disappear. Nightclub acts often included “Judge Crater, call your office” as a throwaway gag. Crater was, at least until the advent of Jimmy Hoffa, the most famous missing man in America. Like Hoffa, he never reappeared alive or dead.

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