MFDJ 04/11/24: The Truth About Ruth

Today’s Incompetent Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On February 13, 1917, Henry Cruger contacted detectives in Upper Manhattan to report that his seventeen-year-old daughter, Ruth, had failed to return to their home at 180 Claremont Avenue. She was just one of hundreds of young women who went missing every year. While some were victims of foul play, the vast majority turned up safe and sound within a short time. As a matter of policy, the NYPD refused to act on Mr. Cruger’s missing-person report until twenty-four hours passed. When Ruth was still not back the next day, the police finally opened a case.

Ruth Cruger

Ruth’s sister told police that the last time she saw her, Ruth said that she was going to have her ice skates sharpened at a motorcycle repair shop on 127th Street. Detectives interrogated the proprietor of the garage, Alfredo Cocchi, an Italian immigrant who lived above the shop with his wife and son. Cocchi admitted that Ruth picked up her ice skates but insisted that he did not know where she went after that. Nevertheless, detectives conducted a perfunctory search of the garage, including the basement workshop, and were satisfied that no harm had come to Ruth while she was there.

Cocchi disappeared the very next day without telling his wife, but detectives did not consider it suspicious because he was well known to several patrolmen assigned to the Motorcycle Squad. A livery driver told police that a girl matching Ruth’s description got into his cab near Cocchi’s shop the day she vanished and asked to be taken to the nearest subway station. The police concluded that Ruth had left home of her own accord and closed the case.

Mr. Cruger was so upset that the police were willing to take the word of a stranger over his own that he hired a lawyer, forty-six-year-old Grace Humiston, to pursue the matter for him. Humiston’s persistent badgering of the detectives assigned to the case finally got the attention of Police Commissioner Arthur Woods. He agreed to have Cocchi’s shop searched a second time. After Humiston provided evidence that a man had seen Cocchi covered in dirt on the night that Ruth disappeared, Woods allowed her to be there for the search.

A team of detectives and private investigators conducted a thorough search of the premises on June 16, 1917, under Humiston’s watchful eye. They noticed that a workbench in the basement appeared slightly off-kilter because the concrete underneath it had been broken apart. Humiston told them to dig there. Ruth’s remains were discovered in the same outfit she had worn the last time she was seen alive.

Awesome Grace Humiston

Solving the horrific crime under these circumstances proved extremely humiliating to the NYPD. To make matters worse, Cocchi turned up alive and well in Italy living with his brother, but under international law he could not be extradited.

A grand jury convened by Manhattan District Attorney Edward Swann revealed that the bungled investigation went well beyond mere incompetence on the part of the police. Cocchi’s cozy relationship with the motorcycle officers, which helped eliminate him as a suspect, was actually a moneymaking scam. Whenever these particular motorcycle patrolmen issued a summons for a traffic infraction, they steered the violator to Cocchi’s shop to settle up rather than have the offender go to court. Cocchi would take a cut of the fines, and the balance would go directly into the patrolmen’s pockets instead of the city coffer. The officers involved were indicted, along with acting captain Alonzo Cooper, who had headed the investigation into Cruger’s disappearance.

Cocchi confessed to Italian authorities that he had murdered the pretty teenager because she had resisted his advances. Then he recanted and blamed the murder on his wife back in America. He avoided a death sentence when the Italian court sentenced him to twenty-seven years in jail, thus bringing an end to one of the more embarrassing episodes in the history of the NYPD.

The Creep Himself: Alfredo Cocchi

Culled from: Undisclosed Files of the Police

Weegee Du Jour!

Weegee was the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig (June 12, 1899 – December 26, 1968), a photographer and photojournalist, known for his stark black and white street photography. Weegee worked in Manhattan, New York City’s Lower East Side as a press photographer during the 1930s and ’40s, and he developed his signature style by following the city’s emergency services and documenting their activity. Much of his work depicted unflinchingly realistic scenes of urban life, crime, injury and death.

Here’s a photo from the book Weegee’s New York: Photographs, 1935-1960:

Murdered while playing boccia, 1938

Well, at least he died having fun! – DeSpair

Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

December 6th. Foggy in the morning; clear and cold at night. I heard preaching from clergyman from Florence. Went out for wood.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

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