The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins

Book: The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Paul Collins
Tags: Retail, True Crime, USA, Criminology
the river with carnations for their lapels. Just up the street stood three cheap new wood-frame houses—two stories apiece, flat-roofed boxes with nearly windowless, unadorned sides. The eight men walking up to them hadn’t gone unnoticed; a scowling woman was waiting in the nearest one, at number 344.
    “Mrs. Hafftner,” she introduced herself.
    She was the caretaker for these three houses. The owners, theBualas, ran a wine shop over in the city. And yes, she said, someone had been in 346 recently—a couple from the city who had wanted to rent it—a Mr. and Mrs. Frank Braun. She’d warned them that it was a little desolate out here.
    “On the contrary,” Mrs. Braun had assured her, “I like to be where it is quiet.”
    The
World
reporter thrust a photo forward.
Is this her?
    Mrs. Hafftner examined the unlabeled photo of Augusta Nack. Yes, she said, that was the very image of Mrs. Braun.
    The crew eyed the block around them. It was a good place to get in and out of quickly, if you were coming from the city. It
looked
rural, butnear one end of the block was the stop for the NY & Queens County trolley line. A couple of blocks in the other direction was Jackson Avenue, which was a straight shot down to the East River ferries.
    The couple had signed a year lease and paid the first month’s rent, Mrs. Hafftner said, but after coming to their new house a few times, they’d disappeared.
    “They promised me they were to move in yesterday or today,” the caretaker fretted. “But I haven’t seen them.”
    She unlocked the door of 346, and the detectives strode into the empty building, their footsteps echoing. It wasa dreary little house, coated in cheap brown paint; its seven rooms sat vacant, the gloom unrelieved by the rays of light filtering in through the shutters. Someone
had
been here, it seemed, because crammed in among the ashes of a stove there laythe remains of a man’s shoe. Just the steel shank was left, the leather having been consumed into fine ash. Someone had stoked the fire as hot as they could get it. Interesting. But that could have been the previous tenants, who’d left a couple of months before.
    Detectives fanned out into the empty bedrooms upstairs, and one of the doors along the southeast side creaked open into a bathroom. There was nothing in the eight-by-ten room but a large zinc bathtub. It was spotless. Yet the pathologist, Frank Ferguson, had claimed there was some scalding on the body. Was this where it had happened?
    The bathroom didn’t look quite right, somehow. It was clean
—too
clean, for a place that had been vacant for nearly two months. There was no dust on the floor. Kneeling down, the detectives found a splatter of dark drips on the planking between the bath and the wall, and some hard-scrubbed sections of flooring around them; something had soaked into the wood, impervious to any effort at cleaning. They procured a carpenter’s plane and, as the property’s caretaker waited helplessly, shaved samples off the floor. Inspector’s orders: that stuff was going to NYU’s Loomis Laboratory for analysis. Another detective followed the drain line to the ditch outside andscooped up a bucket of the mud around the mouth of the drainpipe; it, too, would go the lab for testing.
    As more men dug out the cellar and probed the cesspool in vain for Guldensuppe’s head, a crowd gathered outside. Word had gotten out around the block and then back on Newspaper Row as well.Reporters were pouring over on the East River ferries, hungrily circling the local residents.
    Why, yes, neighbors said, they
had
heard a strange cry last Friday.Something like—
“Help! Help! Murder!”
One of them had even poked his head outside to investigate. But he hadn’t heard anything more, and, well, you hear all sorts of crazy things from neighbors’ homes. But a trio of local busybodies—Mrs. Buttinger, Mrs. Ruppert, and Mrs. Nunnheimer—had indeed noticed when Mrs. Braun and another fellow stopped by here

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