I apologize for being away longer than intended. I had a computer failure that contributed to this particular absence, but I think everything should be fixed now, and I should be able to provide a continuous stream of facts for awhile. Knock on desiccated wood!
Today’s Demonically Howling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
On the morning of November 2, 1942, Fridolph Trieman was exercising his German shepherd in a remote part of Central Park. As the dog disappeared into some tall grass, Trieman ran to keep up. Puffing and panting, he paused for breath, then stopped abruptly. Ahead of him, beneath the low hanging branches of a dogwood tree, lay the fully clothed body of a young woman. She looked ominously still.
At first the police were uncertain how the woman had died. Apart from a trace of blood at the nose and a faint welt around the neck, there were no other obvious signs of assault. It might even have been natural causes. then a sleeve torn from the coat at the shoulder was found several feet from the body. This raised the prospect of some kind of struggle.
An autopsy carried out by Gonzales confirmed strangulation as the cause of death. Her larynx was fractured, but other than that there was no sign of injury, nor had she been raped. The fact that she had no handbag or money strongly suggested that this was a mugging gone tragically wrong – except the woman still wore a gold chain bearing a crucifix around her swollen neck. No self-respecting thief was going to leave that.
Later that same night, detectives Joseph Hackett and John Crosby of the Missing Persons Bureau identified the woman as Louise Almodovar, a twenty-year-old waitress and Sunday school teacher, who lived with her parents in the Bronx. They had reported her missing the previous day. According to tearful parents, Louise’s recent home life had been abusive and turbulent. Against their wishes, she had married Anibal Almodovar, a diminutive Puerto Rican ex-sailor, just five months earlier, only to leave him after a few weeks because of his insatiable womanizing.
When tracked down and told of his wife’s fate, the twenty-one-year-old Almodovar just shrugged. She had made his life hell, he said. The bitch even had the nerve to beat up one of his girlfriends and swear at another! Good riddance, was his verdict, though he vehemently denied any involvement in her death. And the facts seemed to bear him out. According to Gonzales, Louise had met her death most probably between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. on the night of November 1, at which time Almodovar had been carousing in a dance hall called the Rumba Palace with the very woman whom Louise had attacked. Furthermore, there were dozens of other witnesses who could testify to his presence. In the fact of such an iron-clad alibi, detectives understandably began widening their search for suspects, until Louise’s parents produced several threatening letters that Almodovar had written to their daughter. The bile that dripped off every page convinced detectives to hold the amorous former seaman as a material witness.
Still, they couldn’t get past that seemingly impregnable alibi. Only when detectives visited the dance hall, just a few hundred yards from the murder scene, did they realize that it would have been possible for Almodovar to have sneaked unnoticed out of a back door, gone to Central Park where he might have previously arranged to meet his wife, killed her, and crept back into the Rumba Palace without anyone being the wiser. It was theoretically possible, nothing more. Without a scrap of solid evidence against Almodovar, he was released.
Given the absence of any alternative suspects, this was one of those cases that looked destined for the “Unsolved” cabinet, until Gettler had a flash of inspiration. More out of curiosity than anything else, he happened to glance at the crime scene photographs. He noticed that the body was lying in some very tall grass. This set him thinking. At the time of Almodovar’s arrest, his clothes had been given to Gettler for analysis, and in the trouser cuffs and jacket pockets, he had found some tiny grass seeds. Gettler now sent the crime scene photographs off to be enlarged. When they came back, this higher magnification allowed him not only to identify the individual strain of grass but also to declare it identical to the seeds found in Almodovar’s clothing. When confronted with this evidence, Almodovar blustered that he had not visited Central Park for over two years. Any seeds in his pockets, he said, must have been picked up on a recent visit to Tremont Park in the Bronx.
Gettler decided to test this story. He forwarded the seeds to Joseph J. Copeland, formerly professor of botany and biology at City College. It didn’t take Copeland long to identify the grasses in question all were exceptionally rare and grew only at two spots on Long Island and three places in Westchester County. The only place in New York City where such grass occurred was Central Park. Moreover, it could be further isolated to the very section where Louise’s body had been found.
Almodovar panicked, suddenly recalling a walk he had taken in Central Park two months previously, in early September. Copeland shook his head. The grass in question was a late bloomer, mid-October at the earliest, therefore Almodovar could not possibly have picked up the seeds in September. But on November 1 … ?
After nearly two months of parrying questions, Almodovar was utterly floored by Copeland’s intervention. On December 23, he broke down and confessed. He had arranged to meet his wife in Central Park on the night of November 1; they had quarreled again, and he had killed her in a fit of rage. Later in court, he recanted this confession, saying it had been beaten out of him in the interviewing room. But the jury did not believe a word and after just three minutes’ deliberation, they found him guilty of first-degree murder. When sentence of death was passed, Almodovar, despite being shackled from head to toe, fought like a madman. No fewer that nine guards were needed to restrain him. Howling demonically, he was dragged off to Sing Sing. Six months later, on September 16, 1943, he died in the electric chair.
Ghastly! Baroness Edition
Here’s a ghastly image of the corpse of Baroness Dellard and her killer, Louis Anastay, from a French crime scrapbook used as the basis of fictional tales in the book Crime Album Stories. (The poor quality is in the source material.)
And here’s a newspaper article from the Chicago Tribune (April 9, 1892) detailing the fate of her murderer:
ANASTAY WILL BE GUILLOTINED.
Efforts to Stay the Execution Are in Vain -The Prisoner Down-Hearted.
PARIS, April 8.– Louis Anastay, the ex-Lieutenant who has been sentenced to death for the murder of the Baroness Dellard on the Boulevard du Temple, will be guillotined at daybreak to-morrow (Saturday) morning.
The condemned man, aware of his fate, is very down-hearted. He has had a long interview with the chaplain of La Roquette prison, but at the same time writes long letters about his positivist theories. His father made a last attempt on Friday to delay the execution by calling for a new medical examination as to his son’s sanity, but in vain.
Anastay has requested his brother, who is a medical student, to experiment on his head as soon as it is decapitated by the executioner. He promised to reply by movements of his eyes to certain questions which his brother will ask regarding the sensations which he experienced when the knife cut his head from his body and matters of a physiological nature. The object of this proposed grewsome [sic] conversation is to afford a test as to whether any vestiges of life remain in a human head immediately after it has been severed.
(Sadly, it is not believed that Anastay’s brother actually attended the execution. Darn. – DeSpair)