Organizing by themes III: Interrogating memory and identity

This site benefits/suffers/both from consisting of posts about a wide range of topics, all linked under the amorphous heading “data-driven storytelling.”

In an attempt to impose some coherent structure, I am organizing related posts both chronologically and thematically.

The sequence of events that resulted in the unifying concept of “interrogating memory” went like this:

  • September 2014: Facebook post for my 48th birthday rank-ordering 24 favorites films noir
  • December 2014: Defend epidemiology doctorate at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH); within two months, doctoral committee and I begin to haggle over publication
  • March 2015: Start building comprehensive film noir database (4,825 titles as of January 2019) as result of September 2014 Facebook post
  • May 2015: Skip official BUSPH Commencement in lieu of informal private ceremony; haggling had become personal and nasty
  • June 2015: End four-year senior data analytic position at Joslin Diabetes Center (19 years in health-related data analysis career) when federal grant funding expires
  • July 2015-July 2017: Look for new position in field, more half-heartedly than I care to admit
  • Early 2016: Realize 50th birthday coming in September, begin to think about discovering truth of genetic family as present to self. This goes nowhere fast.
  • August 2016: Commence long-overdue psychotherapy and begin to take low-dose anti-depressant. Early sessions zero on in establishing my “identity.”
  • September 2016: Turn 50. World does not end.
  • December 2016: Debut Just Bear With Me blog, inspired to large degree by the accessible data journalism of FiveThirtyEight.
  • Early 2017: Realize am spending far more time writing about American politics and culture than anything related to epidemiology (which, along with biostatistics, was focus of 10 years of graduate study at BUSPH).
  • May 2017: Publish Film Noir: A Personal Journey
  • June 2017: Begin to express doubts about my career path 
  • Summer 2017:

By August 2017, I was fully engaged in three interlocking processes:

  1. Writing a book with the working title Interrogating Memory: Film Noir and My Search for Identity.
  2. Using online tools (and documents I had carefully archived over the years) to build comprehensive, ever-expanding family trees, first for my legal family (the only family I ever knew until the last 18 months) and later for my genetic family
  3. Using 23andMe’s DNA Relatives tool to supplement slow-moving legal process to learn about genetic family.

This is easily the single most entertaining and rewarding process I have ever undertaken—especially when you learn the death of your father’s father’s father—the handsome and dapper David Louis Berger—made the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer in October 1919!

David Louis Berger (1869-1919)

And it is far from complete.

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The funny thing is that I had never intended to write that much about these genealogical research process, given that I had originally conceived this site to be a place to disseminate “data-driven” odds and ends.

The innate storyteller in me could not resist, however, and on July 22, 2017, I wrote 23and…Who? This proved to be a relatively popular post, so whatever residual disinclination I felt to continue writing about my familial research evaporated almost immediately.

In fact, in a span of four days in mid-August 2017 I wrote three consecutive posts about what I was learning.

Making personal connection, 60 years later

Querying the impossible, just for fun

Interrogating memories of childhood fires

One month later I returned to the research with a cri de coeur about the perils of genealogical research.

I had little new to report until December 2017, when I wrote the following three consecutive posts; in the second one I finally dropped the tattered pretense that this site is solely devoted to “objective data-driven” analyses:

Querying the impossible once again…

In which the objective is to get more…personal

Interrogating memories of the LAST Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl

After a two-month hiatus during which I described I glorious detail my recent adventures in San Francisco, I returned to my genealogical investigations with two posts:

Questions of identity

Two worlds collided…

These were followed by a May 2018 post focusing less upon genealogy and more on my ongoing search for identity.

That August, I traveled to my birth city of Philadelphia, PA to conduct on-site research (and to visit friends and family). I shared what I learned from that trip in a three-part series:

Visiting Philadelphia 1

Visiting Philadelphia 2

Visiting Philadelphia 3

From then until mid-December, I was preoccupied with the 2018 midterm elections. It was not until what would have been my maternal grandfather Samuel Kohn’s 104th birthday (or so I always had understood) that I returned to both the book and the research. I followed that up with a cri de coeur reprise less than one month later.

The assimilation of Samuel Joseph Kohn

The many Samuel Schmucklers

Finally, here are the posts that are about my life (separate from my taste in music and love for baseball) but do not necessarily fall under the heading of “interrogating memory.”

Welcome…and just bear with me.

July 2017 Odds and Ends

Questions asked…and answered

Moving memories

Moving serendipity

And for my 100th post…

Wait…did I mention that I have learned the name of my genetic mother?

Until next time…

 

Two (at least) Samuel Schmucklers: a cautionary tale

In a recent post, I described the metaphoric journey my maternal grandfather took from being Yisrael HaCohen, born in the small town of Shpola (in what is now Ukraine) in November 1905, to being Samuel Joseph Kohn, born in Cleveland, OH in December 1904. His literal journey included crossing the Atlantic with his parents, Joseph and Bessie (Koslenko) Cohen, and six (seven?) siblings from Liverpool to Philadelphia on the Haverford (in steerage, buffeted by a violent storm) in December 1912.

One sibling was named Sofia, later Sophie; what little information I have about my great-aunt Sophie (other than a passing reference in a single-page report I wrote about the Cohen family in 8th grade[1]) comes from official records available on the invaluable Ancestry.com.

As I lamented here, it can be very difficult to pin down dates of birth for immigrants who arrived around the turn of the last century. Sophie Cohen was no exception. Her father gave February 2, 1903 as the date on his naturalization petition, while her death certificate lists it as February 15, 1902. Meanwhile, the 1920 United States Federal Census (“Census”) records her age as of January 14 as 18, putting her date of birth somewhere between January 15, 1901 and January 14, 1902.

In other words, three different official documents put her date of birth anywhere from January 15, 1901 to February 2, 1903—a window of more than two years. This is actually one of the more benign “occupational hazards” of meticulous genealogical research.

Far more troublesome is the presence of two or more persons with the same name living in the same community at the same time, as I have come to learn.

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This meticulous genealogical research is part of what I anticipate will be Chapter 3 of the book I am writing (working title: Interrogating Memory: Film Noir and My Search for Identity). For this chapter, one of a series which trace the movement of my Jewish ancestors from the Pale of Settlement to West Philadelphia, so that David Louis Berger could marry Elaine Kohn in January 1960, I have spent hundreds of hours painstakingly collating information from such Ancestry records as Censuses, death certificates, marriage records, city directories, naturalization petitions and other online family trees. Where possible, I supplement these data with information published in contemporary newspapers.

It is from the 1920 Census, for example, that I know that Joseph and Bessie Cohen were living with their five youngest children at 729 Morris Street in South Philadelphia as of January 14, 1920. Examining Google Maps Street View and a typical real estate website tells me their home, a three-story red brick row house built around 1915, still stands on narrow Morris Street.

That record also informs me that the unmarried, teenaged Sophie was making cigars in a factory, having either quit or graduated from high school, depending on her actual age.

Official marriage records[2] reveal that later that year (I cannot pinpoint the exact date, despite the Philadelphia Inquirer publishing daily lists of marriage licenses issued), Sophie Cohen married a man with the euphonious name of Samuel Schmuckler (sometimes written “Shmukler”). Jumping ahead a bit, the 1930 Census lists an 8-year-old “Evelyn Schmuckler” living with her grandparents (Joseph and Bessie Cohen), two uncles (including my grandfather) and an aunt in their new home at 1842 N. 32nd Street, in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia, just east of Fairmount Park.

In fact, Sophie Cohen Schumckler had given birth to a daughter named Evelyn in her Morris Street home on January 13, 1922[3]. However, something went horribly awry during the birth, because within a few days she almost certainly started to suffer from flu-like symptoms (fever, pain, chills, loss of appetite) accompanied by a swollen abdomen and a foul-smelling vaginal discharge; she may also have had pale skin and an increased heart rate. These are the typical signs and symptoms of puerperal sepsis, a post-partum infection caused by bacteria in the uterus[4]. The risk for puerperal sepsis is highest (as of 2016, at any rate) with a Caesarean section, especially if the operation occurs after labor has begun. Today the infection could be easily treated with antibiotics—or even prevented by using antiseptics—but these were not available in 1922.

As a result, at 10:30 in the morning of January 20, 1922—just seven days after giving birth to her only child—Sophie Cohen Schmuckler died in her bed, just a few weeks shy of her 18th, 19th or 20th birthday[5].

The Informant on her death certificate was “Samuel Cohen” of “729 Morris Street.” This was most likely her younger brother (my grandfather), himself only 16 or 17 years old, though it could have been her husband Samuel, with a confusion of surnames.

And this is where the story takes an unusual turn.

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In an earlier draft of “Chapter 3,” I wrote something to the effect of “After living with her grandparents, uncles and aunt for a number of years, Sophie Cohen Schmuckler went to live with her father, his new wife Tessye (Dounne) and her half-brother Stanford. She was living with them when she graduated from Gratz High School in 1938.”

I wrote this passage because I had uncovered (through Ancestry’s “hints” and other search methods) an Evelyn Love Schmuckler, born in Philadelphia in 1922, whose father was Samuel Schmuckler (who married Tessye Dounne…at some point).

But here is the thing.

When I was growing up, the enormous extended Cohen family would celebrate the first night of Passover with the ritual Seder meal at a vast kosher banquet hall in northeast Philadelphia called the Doral; those nights rank among the happiest memoires of my childhood. One of the many adults (whose precise relationship to me was often a bit murky) I would look forward to seeing every year “Cousin Evelyn Gable,” along with her husband “Dicky” Gable.

However, I have absolutely no memory of a “Cousin Stanford”—nor does he appear in a handwritten, three-page Cohen family tree written out by a first cousin of my mother in 1979:

sophie cohen

I decided to investigate further—to interrogate my own interrogation, essentially. It did not take long to ascertain the following:

  1. Samuel Schmuckler married Tessye Dounne in Philadelphia…in December 1921.
  2. Their daughter Evelyn Love Schmuckler was born in Philadelphia…on October 9, 1922 (not January 13, 1922).[6]
  3. Evelyn Love Schmuckler later married a man with the surname Goodhart (not Gable).

As a baseball announcer might say after a three-pitch strikeout: good morning, good afternoon, good night.

Unless my great-uncle (by marriage) had rapidly divorced and remarried while his teenaged bride was pregnant with their first child—then quickly impregnated his second wife, who gave birth to a child ALSO named Evelyn…it would appear there were TWO Samuel Schmucklers who fathered a daughter named Evelyn born in Philadelphia in 1922.

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I have had little success tracking down what became of “my” Samuel Schmuckler (and why his daughter was living with her grandparents, uncles and aunt eight years after her birth). This is due in part to the number of men with that name inhabiting Philadelphia in the early 1920s. The Philadelphia City Directory for 1921, for example, lists both a “Schmuckler, Saml,” a dealer in fruit living at 1720 N. Wilton Street, and a “Shmukler, Saml,” of “Shoes Sales Co” living at 2935 Norris Street.

The former address is West Philadelphia, just a few blocks from the western edge of the western edge of Fairmount Park. Because Sophie Cohen Schmuckler’s death certificate clearly states she was still living at 729 Morris Street in January 1922, the fruit merchant living in West Philadelphia is almost certainly a third Samuel Schmuckler, albeit of indeterminate age.

As for the latter (in Strawberry Mansion, only a few blocks north and east of where the Cohen family would move in a few years)—on December 7, 1921, 2935 W. Norris Street was the home of a “Tessye Doum” who had received a marriage license to marry “Samuel Shmukler” of 623 N. Marshall Street (in the southernmost part of North Philadelphia)[7]

Wait, but it gets better.

I have uncovered two World War I registration cards from 1918 for a Samuel Schmuckler (or Shmukler) of Philadelphia.

One, dated September 12, 1918, is for a man of medium height and slender build with blue eyes and brown hair who was born in the United States on January 18, 1898. He was a brakeman for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and he gave 247 Poplar Street as his permanent address, care of a Morris Shmukler. Well, the 1920 Census lists Morris and Jennie Shmukler living with their 22-year-old son Samuel at…you guessed it, 623 N. Marshall Street (just four block west on Poplar Street).  This is the Samuel Schmuckler who married Tessye Dounne, and in 1920 he was an accountant working in an office[8].

The second World War I registration card, also dated September 12, 1918, is for a man of medium height and medium build with hazel eyes and light hair who was born in “Russia” (i.e., somewhere in the Pale of Settlement) on January 5, 1898. He was a “bolter” for the Sun Ship Company of Chester, PA (about 12 miles south of Philadelphia along the Delaware River), and he gave 202 N. 2nd Street as his permanent address, in care of his cousin A.S. Cohen.

Or, at least, that is what it looks like…but on closer inspection the handwritten script upper-case “S” could easily be an upper-case “L.” Which aligns, perhaps, with the fact that as of December 19, 1918, an Aaron L. Kokin was living at that address—and had just gotten a license to wed Anna Cooper of 823 N. 10th Street.[9] Could A.L. Cohen actually be A.L. Kokin?

Just to confuse things further, the 1918 Philadelphia City Directory shows an Aaron L. Koken (“stoves”) living at 220 N. 2nd Street; this could be a simple typographic error in either source. Except that taunting us from the past, the 1916 and 1917 Directories put Aaron L Koken at 213 N. 2nd Street, while the 1919 Directory put him at 237 N. 2nd Street; he is not listed in the 1921 Directory (the 1920 Directory is unavailable). Quite the peripatetic stove-maker was Mr. A. L. Koken, who seems to have had competition from John McConville at 215 N. 2nd Street.[10]

At the same time, on October 30, 1918, 202 N. 2nd Street was the address listed to apply to be a cashier at a retail grocery store in West Philadelphia[11]. Actually, a quick review of the available 1918 Philadelphia newspapers suggests the 200 block of N. 2nd Street (between Race and Vine) was heavily commercial. The occupant of 209 N. 2nd Street even had a two-ton Autocar truck for hire.[12] As of the 1960s, according to photographs on PhillyHistory.org, there was both residential and commercial use; it could easily have been that way four and five decades earlier.

But none of these records place A.S./L. Cohen/Koken/Kokin’s cousin Samuel Schmuckler at 202 N. 2nd Street. Meanwhile, the only Samuel Schmuckler in the 1919 Directory is an “actor” living at 958 North Franklin Street—just three blocks north and east of 623 N. Marshall Street (where the Samuel Schmuckler who married Tessye Dounne lived in December 1921). Were they the same man, with acting what he did after being a railroad brakeman, but before he took up accounting? Curiously, Morris Shmukler of 247 Poplar is nowhere to be found in the 1919 City Directory, though he appears (as a tailor) in 1917 and 1918.

At any rate, his son Samuel Schmuckler died from an acute myocardial infarction (resulting from diabetes mellitus and chronic nephrosclerosis) on February 1, 1963. His death certificate[13] lists his job as “chief clerk-tax department,” meaning he had remained an accountant for more than 40 years; the 1940 Census lists his occupation as “investigator” for “city hall,” suggesting he was worked as a kind of forensic accountant for the city of Philadelphia. His date of birth is listed as February 5, 1898 (in the Pale of Settlement, of course). Which makes him the same Samuel Schmuckler described on a World War II Draft Registration card (1942) as 5’9” tall and weighing 238 pounds (for a body mass index of 35.1, which is “obese”) with a ruddy complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair.

So…three Samuel Schmucklers based in Philadelphia around 1920 were born within a month of each other in early 1898, two of whom had a daughter named Evelyn in 1922.

But that does not count the Samuel “Shumkler” in the 1940 Census listed as 44 (born between April 1895 and April 1896) who worked as a housing contractor specializing in paperhanging and printing. He, his wife Ida and two teenaged children (Shirley and Bernard) lived at 5860 Washington Avenue in southwest Philadelphia. And what about the “salesman” named Samuel L. Schmuckler of Philadelphia who married Mollie Laveson in 1923 and moved across the Delaware River to Camden, NJ (and later Chicago, IL)? Or the Samuel “Smuckler” who married a woman with the surname Cooper in Philadelphia in 1922? Were any of them “my” Samuel Schmuckler?

The truth is, I may never learn what happened to my great-uncle-by marriage following the birth of his daughter Evelyn—and the death of his wife Sophie—in January 1922. The fact that 8-year-old Evelyn Schmuckler was living with her grandparents, aunt and two uncles in 1930 suggests he either died or otherwise split the scene, though I have as yet found no evidence of either. And if he remarried either Ms. Laveson or Mr. Cooper, why not raise his daughter with his new wife?

The search continues.

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Happily, I know much of what happened to my first cousin, once removed.

In 1942, the 20-year-old Evelyn married a 21-year-old college senior named Richard Edward “Dicky” Gable (born Philadelphia, December 16, 1921), with whom she would have two daughters. On May 4, 1943, less than one year after marrying, “Dicky” Gable enlisted in the army to fight in World War II; he would leave active service—honorably discharged from nearby Fort Dix, NJ—on April 14, 1946. Four years later, while living at 5407 Chestnut Street (only about nine blocks north and west of where my 14-year-old father was living) in the Jewish enclave of West Philadelphia, “Dicky” Gable received $410 (a little over $4,200 today) as compensation for both domestic and foreign service, the latter totaling 14 months.  As of 1959, the Gables lived at 122 Waldo Street in Holyoke, MA, while Richard taught art some five miles south in Springfield, MA. At some point in the following decade, they returned to Philadelphia, becoming Doral Seder stalwarts—and by 1978 they had settled into Apartment 18D of a luxury apartment building at 3900 Ford Road (photograph from here) in the Wynnefield neighborhood of Philadelphia, just off the eastern edge of the Main Line suburbs. This was where they would spend the rest of their lives. “Dicky” Gable died on July 26, 2004, aged 82, followed by his wife of 60+ years on January 22, 2008, aged 86.

3900 ford road

Just bear with me for a brief postscript.

In 1984, a woman named Irene Kohn moved back to Philadelphia from Lancaster, PA—where she had settled in the mid-1960’s after divorcing her husband of more than 30 years, Samuel Joseph Kohn. She settled into apartment 10M of the apartment complex at 3900 Ford Road. That is, the former wife of the man who, as a teenager, had been the Informant on his sister’s death certificate would live eight floors below that sister’s daughter and her  husband for the next 20+ years. I only wished that on those occasions I visited my grandmother—and then stopped in to see the Gables (usually with another cousin)—I had known more about “Cousin Evelyn’s” life story.

Until next time…

[1] Dated January 20, 1980—I was 13 years old at the time.

[2] Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1852-1968 and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951.

[3] Confirmed by U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014.

[4] This is the cause of death listed on her official death certificate.

[5] Curiously, I wrote in my report that “Sima Bella died in childbirth.” My sources clearly did not remember which one had died.

[6] Stanford was born nine years later.

[7] MARRIAGE LICENSES ISSUED. Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), December 8, 1921, pg. 13.

[8] Despite the discrepancies in occupation, I do not want even to begin to imagine two Morris Schmucklers with a son Samuel of the same age living a few blocks apart.

[9] MARRIAGE LICENSES ISSUED. Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), December 19, 1918, pg. 14.

[10] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), December 8, 1918, 2nd Section, pg.4.

[11] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), October 30 , 1918, 2nd Section, pg.4.

[12] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), March 7, 1918, pg. 19.

[13] His son Stanford was the Informant.

Her name was Elizabeth Short…

At 11:47 pm on January 14, 2019, I parked my black Accord on Salem Street, in front of the ironically-named Brookline Bank; behind where I sat was the rotary where one accesses I-93 from MA-60—or continues along MA-60 into Medford Center. The drive from Brookline, including stops at an ATM and my old Star Market in North Cambridge (which, I was heartbroken to learn, is no longer open 24 hours[1]) had taken less time than I had anticipated.

I wanted to perform my modest version of The Poe Toaster’s ritual precisely at midnight, so I sat quietly in the darkened car for about eight minutes. At around 11:55 pm, I grabbed the plastic-wrapped bundle on the seat next to me, braced myself against the cold, and exited the car. After briskly walking to the other side of Salem Street, I stopped at the large black metal trash bin on the sidewalk in front of Nunzio’s Upholstery to strip the plastic wrap and rubber bands off my bundle.

Turning toward the rotary, I crossed a narrow side street and continued walking along the sidewalk past a small parking lot and a two-story red brick apartment building. Just beyond its entrance lay a narrow patch of grass; it separates the sidewalk from the cul-de-sac ending Fountain Street.

Toward the end of this narrow strip of grass stands a piece of rock, less than a yard high. I arrived at this rock with three minutes to spare, so I tried to read the plaque embedded in the side of the rock facing the street. I need not have bothered, since I had read it maybe half a dozen times before.

At the moment my iPhone switched from “11:59” to “12:00,” I knelt down and carefully arranged the bundle of white flowers I had bought at the Star Market along the base of the memorial. I was greatly heartened to see that others had recently left fresh flowers as well.

I then took two photographs with my iPhone. This is the second one; I like the effect of the flash reflecting off the metal and stone.

IMG_4041.JPG

And then I stood quietly, remembering why I was dropping off these flowers for the fourth year in a row (as I previously described here).

On the 72nd anniversary of the discovery of her body in an empty, grassy lot in Los Angeles, I wanted to honor Elizabeth Short, whose last home in Medford had stood about where the rotary is now, as a real human being, a naïve and imperfect 22-year-old dreamer who simply wanted to make it in Hollywood.

“The Black Dahlia” was an ingenious nickname, nothing more.

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I wrote about this ritual last April in the context of finding a photograph of a key suspect/witness in her slaying, Robert “Red” Manley, on the same page of the January 21, 1947 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer as a story about the Dock Street strikes in Philadelphia; Herman Modell, the lawyer who arranged my adoption, represented some of the strikers.

When I think of the investigation of Elizabeth Short’s murder, one thing that comes to mind is a wide range of lurid headlines from the Los Angeles newspapers, notably the Herald and the Examiner.

Having spent much of the last 18 months immersed in online editions of the Inquirer, thanks to the indispensable Newspapers.com, I was curious to see how they covered the murder of Elizabeth Short; it was hardly a local case. This curiosity was greatly inspired by my desire for a reliable compendium of primary-source information about the case analogous to The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion.

Limiting myself to the first month (i.e., through February 15, 1947), I quickly learned two things. First, the Inquirer relied upon the wire service United Press Associations (UP) for their Elizabeth Short stories; presumably, this meant that only the “key” facts were being reported. The one exception was “Special to the Inquirer” coverage of the “confession” of a corporal named Joseph Dumais, stationed at Fort Dix, NJ, just 38 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The other thing I learned is that this was enough of a national story to regularly merit coverage on page 3, and occasionally on page 1.

Here then are those 19 articles, presented in chronological order (with brief commentary). Read in order, they reveal how the case unfolded in real time—and how quickly the lack of genuine clues and likely suspects manifested itself.

The case first appeared on page 3 of the January 16, 1947 edition. And I cannot imagine the UPI (United Press International, following the UP’s 1958 merger with International News Service), Associated Press, Reuters or McClatchy using the word “Fiend” in a headline today.

001 (2).jpg

This is only the first article, and there is already a mistake in reporting. Elizabeth Short’s body was not discovered by “a motorist,” but by a woman named Bette Bersinger, who was walking along the edge of Leimert Park (on South Norton Street) with her young daughter at about 10:30 am PST.

The next day (January 17) brought only a photograph of the victim on page 3, now identified by her fingerprints as Elizabeth Short. She had in fact been born in the Boston neighborhood of Hyde Park (July 1924), although she was raised primarily in the suburb of Medford.

002 (2).jpg

On January 18, 1947 (page 3), we see the slow building of the mythology that still surrounds Elizabeth Short: the “trail of boy friends,” the “sheer black gowns” and, most importantly, the nickname “Black Dahlia.” The presence of this macabre sobriquet in a wire story only three days after her body was discovered confirms that it was given to her while she was still alive, most likely in a Long Beach drugstore (supposedly in a nod to the 1946 film noir The Blue Dahlia and because of the amount of black clothing she wore and the white flowers she would wear in her hair).

003 (2).jpg

The story of policewoman McBride (who believes she encountered a frightened Elizabeth Short on the night of January 14—the last of the “missing days” between her last verified sighting on the evening of January 9 and the discovery of her body on the morning of January 15) is an intriguing one—and deeply tragic, if true.

Meanwhile, the UP reporter is apparently confusing Ann Todd with an actress named Ann Toth, who actually was a friend of Elizabeth Short.

This article, finally, gives readers the first hint of a key witness/suspect named “Red,” who sent her a telegram in San Diego (where she had lived since December 1946).

004 (2).jpg

The first persons to be considered (and rejected) as suspects appear in this page 3 article on page 3 of the second edition of the Sunday morning Inquirer (January 19, 1947). Mrs. Phoebe Short, tricked into giving a reporter information about her daughter through a lie about her winning a beauty pageant, arrives in Los Angeles (where Elizabeth’s married sister Virginia West had recently married). And the hunt for the “handsome red-haired ex-Marine flier” named “Red” continued.

He would be discovered the next day, though he was actually only 25 years old. This story put of the murder of Elizabeth Short on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer for the first time (January 20, 1947).

And here I correct a mistake (as I interrogate my own memory) I made in my April 30, 2018 post: Robert Manley did not turn himself into the police voluntarily. Rather, he “was taken into custody…for questioning,” in that he “was arrested” although “no charges had been filed.”

Manley would later admit that when he first saw Elizabeth Short on a street corner in San Diego (in December 1946, I believe), he had picked her up to test his love for his wife. He would also attempt to sleep with her in the motel (not, as the article says, “hotel”) room they shared on the night of January 8, 1947, but got nowhere. For this intended-if-not-consummated transgression, Robert Manley would be hounded (though not by his forgiving[2] wife Harriette) for the rest of his life: he would be confined to a mental hospital (yes, by his wife) in 1954.

There is a curious slip in this article (and not the mythologizing about her being a “party girl”). Manley and Short were seen “at a drive-in restaurant near San Diego the day before” the latter’s body was discovered in Leimert Park. The waitress who saw them, Jadell Gray, claims to have served the “black-haired, black-clad” girl on the night of January 14—but that makes no sense given the Manley last saw her on the evening of January 9 (as will be established below).

Was it a case of mistaken identity, a misremembering of dates (confusing the night before her disappearance—or some other visit to the restaurant by “Beth”—with the night before the discovery of her body?), or did the UP reporter simply miswrite the date?

Robert Manley’s custody ended after one day, as the full text of the article (back to page 3) accompanying the photograph I first posted in April 2018 reveals. How disappointed must the Los Angeles Police Department have been not to be able to break Manley’s alibi?

001 (2)

For the first time, we read about (though not by name) the Biltmore Hotel, where Manley dropped Elizabeth Short on the evening of January 9, 1947; this was the last place she was confirmed to have been seen (other than by her killer) alive. We also get the first intimations (whether true or not) of a violently jealous boyfriend.

The humanity of the story, meanwhile, returns with Elizabeth’s mother Phoebe being (understandably) unwilling to view her daughter’s remains unless absolutely necessary.

Four days would pass before the Elizabeth Short murder reappeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer—on the front page, with one heck of a headline.

So far as I know, nothing ever came of the arrest of the 21-year-old 6’1” blonde Caral Marshall and her “male companion.” If anything, the UP buried their lede: the interception of the envelope addressed in cutout letters to the “Los Angeles Examiner and other Los Angeles papers” containing a wide range of Elizabeth Short’s personal belongings (including an address book stamped with the name Mark Hansen). Incidentally, the note actually read, “Here! is ‘Dahlia’s belongings letter to follow.”

One day later (back to page 3), the UP was no longer burying its lede. The receipt of Elizabeth Short’s belongings—and the extraction of usable fingerprints (despite the sender—almost certainly Ms. Short’s killer—having soaked the envelope and its contents in gasoline) was one of the biggest breaks in the investigation. One of the only big breaks, really.

fbi gets prints

 

Of course, they had to drag poor Robert Manley back in to the story (he did identify the shoe—though it was found in a restaurant dumpster, not in the “city dump”) and make sure the readers knew he had “had a few dates with Miss Short shortly before she was killed, but who was absolved of any implication in the crime.”

There was no Inquirer article about the case on January 27, 1947, but on January 28 (page 3), the “Black Dahlia Avenger” makes her/his first appearance—supposedly he would turn himself in to Los Angeles police on the morning of January 29 (exactly two weeks after the discovery of Elizabeth Short’s body).

BDA.jpg

S/he never did, as we will see.

A small story appeared on the front page of the January 29, 1947 Inquirer marking an inevitable turn in the investigation: the first of dozens of false confessors turned himself in to the Los Angeles police.

Transient claims.jpg

Even more fake confessors appear in this January 30 article (back to page 3). The focus on the false confessions is telling—little new evidence was emerging.

dahlia slayer fails.jpg

The lack of new evidence is also revealed by the fact that the UP did not put out a new wire story relating to the death of Elizabeth Short until February 11, 1947 (and that was about an entirely different murder victim). Or, at least, the Inquirer did not print any UP story during that period.

In the meantime, however, Inquirer reporters had uncovered a possible lead much closer to home—and they broke the story on the front page on February 6, 1947.

While the latter half of this story provides no hard new information, it does tie a black bow around the emerging (and distorted) portrait of “man crazy” Elizabeth Short, based solely on a collection of photographs of men in her album—and the discreet sentence “She never did have a steady job, and made money by a variety of part-time work, including posing for a Hollywood photographer.” I let the probable implications of “posing” speak for themselves.

One day later (back to page 3 again), the “Corporal Joseph Dumais killed the Black Dahlia in an alcoholic blackout” story was already unraveling—and the single clipping in his wallet had become “clippings.”

010 (2).jpg

The unraveling continued on February 8, 1947 (page 3), with some confusion as to the accuracy of records (this is a military base, mind you—and Dumais was military police) indicating Corporal Dumais had returned to Fort Dix on January 10 (and not left after that—it is a near-certainty Elizabeth Short was still alive on the night of January 14).

011 (2).jpg

Meanwhile, the casual aside about Elizabeth Short’s “fondness for sheer black lingerie” (did she exhibit her underwear in the Long Beach drug store where the moniker “Black Dahlia” likely originated?) is telling. It is almost as though Elizabeth Short is becoming only a bit player (ironically) in her own murder investigation.

The saga of Corporal Dumais continued on the front page of the February 9, 1947 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, as he had now formally “confessed” to a killing he was supposedly too blackout drunk to remember committing.

And Elizabeth Short is still wearing sheer black undergarments around Long Beach.

Beyond that, however, no new hard evidence is cited in the article…and the story of the “confession” of Corporal Joseph Dumais essentially comes to an end the next day (February 10, 1947), albeit on the front page.

014 (2).jpg

The UP stories returned to the front page of the Inquirer the next day, but with an entirely new victim: 40-year-old Jeanne (not “Jeane”) T. French, former flight attendant and Army “flying nurse,” whose murder superficially resembled that of Elizabeth Short[3]. The most “tangible” connection were the initials “B.D.” written in lipstick on her body (under an obscene phrase).

Corporal Dumais makes an encore appearance in a three-paragraph article just under the story of Jeanne French. Clearly, the Inquirer was reluctant to let their local connection to the murder of Elizabeth Short go.

A page 3 article on February 12 offers no new evidence in the Elizabeth Short murder investigation.

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And by February 13, 1947, investigators were clearly grasping at straws, as this tale of a 21-year-old Boston parolee named George F. Poleet shows. As in the previous two articles, Elizabeth Short herself barely appears.

018 (3)

This was the last article about the case—which remains officially unsolved—to appear in the Philadelphia Inquirer in the month after Elizabeth Short’s body was discovered in Leimert Park. I will not speculate here on who killed her, for the simple reason that I have absolutely no idea.

**********

I offer a brief “mea culpa” postscript to this retelling of the first month of the investigation into the death of Elizabeth Short.

I drive our two daughters to school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. This past Tuesday, January 15, 2019, was the morning after my ritual drive to the Elizabeth Short marker in Medford. Half-asleep, I was telling the girls in the car about my adventure the previous evening (leaving out the meh slice of pepperoni pizza I bought near Tufts University—most of whose campus is in Medford—after leaving the marker). Forgetting how young our precocious daughters actually are, I let slip some of the details about her murder. When I mentioned she had been bisected (I may have said “cut in half”) our eldest daughter responded “Oooh, really?” with a mixture of disgust and fascination; she does like her murder mysteries. Our youngest daughter said nothing.

I had completely forgotten the conversation until just after 9 pm that night, when the younger daughter emerged from her bedroom crying, though she did not know why. My wife Nell took her back into her bedroom to comfort her.

A few minutes later, Nell called out from her bedroom in her “you’re in trouble, mister” tone of voice. Reluctantly leaving the “A” block of The Rachel Maddow Show playing on our television, I walked into the bedroom.

“Do you want to tell Daddy why you were crying?”

It transpired that she had been lying quietly, thinking about the morning, then remembered the conversation she had overheard in the back seat.

Ooops.

At this the eldest daughter sleepily poked her around the corner to find out what was happening. When told, she worried aloud that SHE would now have nightmares.

Double ooops.

Luckily, neither had any nightmares (though I did awaken the younger daughter a few hours later rearranging the pots and pans in a kitchen cabinet) that night, nor so far tonight.

Fingers crossed.

Until next time…

[1] When I lived just over the line in Somerville from September1989 to February 2001, Porter Square had a 24-hour supermarket, a 24-hour CVS (still there, still open 24/7), a 24-hour White Hen convenience store (long since demolished) and a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts (still there, no longer 24/7). Fin de siècle, indeed.

[2] And, if I may be forgiven a personal note, absolutely beautiful. I have never found Elizabeth Short particularly attractive…but Harriette Manley is another story entirely.

[3] Ms. French was one of a number of female murder victims in Los Angeles spuriously linked to the death of Elizabeth Short, most notably a 20-year-old oil heiress named Georgette Bauerdorff.

Was Jack the Ripper Jewish?

In saying that he was a Polish Jew I am merely stating a definitely ascertained fact.” [1].

Sir Robert Anderson wrote this sentence on page 138 of his 1910 memoir The Lighter Side of My Life. Its context may be found in a preceding paragraph:

And the conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews; for it is a remarkable fact that people of that class in the East End will not give up one of their own number to Gentile justice. And the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point. For I may say at once that ‘undiscovered murders’ are rare in London, and the ‘Jack the Ripper’ crimes are not within that category.”[2] (boldface added)

Anderson was named Assistant Commissioner (Crime) of London’s Metropolitan Police on August 31, 1888. At about 3:45 that same morning, the body of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols (still barely breathing) was discovered lying on the sidewalk of a short narrow thoroughfare called Bucks Row.

Eight days later, on the same day the mutilated body of Annie Chapman had been found in the rear yard of a house at 29 Hanbury Street, Anderson would begin an enforced restorative vacation in Switzerland. He would not return to London until after the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on the morning of September 30. Six days later, Anderson would assume full control of the investigation of these four (and counting) murders.[3] In the interim, however, Anderson had named Chief Inspector Donald Sutherland Swanson day-to-day director of the investigation into the killer who later that month would be given the name “Jack the Ripper.”

Soon after the publication of his memoir, Anderson presented Swanson with a copy. At some point, Swanson penciled his own commentary in the margins of page 138 (which continued onto the book’s blank back pages). In what would become known as the “Swanson marginalia,” the former Chief Inspector described an unhesitating identification of a Jack the Ripper suspect by “the only person who ever had a good view of the murderer,”[4] before ruefully noting that the witness refused to

“…give evidence against him because the suspect was also a Jew and also because the evidence would convict the suspect, and witness would be the means of murderer being hanged which he did not wish to be left on his mind.”[5]

Swanson goes on to describe (somewhat erroneously, as it turned out) how the identification took place, followed by the suspect’s subsequent internment in, first, Stepney Workhouse, then Colney Hatch, where he soon died.

The final words of the Swanson marginalia are “Kosminski was the suspect.”[6]

This was not the first mention of a Polish Jew named Kosminski as a top Ripper suspect. In 1959, typed memoranda written by Sir Melville Leslie Macnaghten, Assistant Commissioner of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of Scotland Yard during the investigation (which was officially closed in 1892) were unearthed. In the memoranda (three versions of which have been discovered), he lists three possible suspects, one of them being “Kosminski, a Polish Jew.”

Pioneering research in the mid-1980s would lead Martin Fido to uncover a Polish-born 23-year-old Jewish barber named Aaron Kosminski as the likeliest match to the suspect alluded to by Anderson, Swanson and Macnaghten. Interestingly, Fido himself would ultimately assert that Jack the Ripper was really a man named “David Cohen” who had been confused with Aaron Kosminki[7]. Opinions continue to fluctuate about the viability of Kosminski as Jack the Ripper, with Robert House’s 2011 book Jack the Ripper and the Case for Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect[8] an excellent summary of what little is known about Aaron Kosminski[9].

Kosminski book.JPG

Lost in the dispute about names and evidence, however, is this simple fact: three key on-the-scene investigators and one contemporary investigator believed that Jack the Ripper was Jewish.

**********

Just bear with me as I veer into the personal.

As I have noted previously, I was raised Jewish. More to the point, I am the (adopted) son of a woman and a man raised in the mid-20th-century Jewish enclave of West Philadelphia, both of whose fathers were born in the Pale of Settlement, one in what is now Poland and the other in what is now Ukraine.

That I now identify as a “Jewish-raised Atheist” testifies to the conclusion I reached after an adulthood immersed in epistemology: organized religion is not my cup of coffee[10].

Nonetheless, I am proud of my Jewish heritage (even if I no longer practice “Judaism”), even more so as I write my book. Intended initially to trace the genesis of my love of film noir, it will now include opening chapters detailing the immigration of four Jewish families from the Pale of Settlement to Philadelphia between 1893 and 1912. Because I realized I cannot understand my childhood (and attendant immersion in detective fiction, Charlie Chan and “classic” black-and-white films) without understanding how David Louis and Elaine (Kohn) Berger came to be living in Havertown (a middle-class suburb of Philadelphia) in the mid-1960s. And once you start peeling that particular onion…

At the same time, I consider myself an amateur Ripperologist. It is thus not surprising that in what will probably be Chapter 2, I find myself describing late-19th-century Jewish migration to the East End of London:

Ultimately, 100,000 of these Jewish emigrants landed in the crowded slums of the East End of London[11]. At first treated with sympathy, native-born Londoners’ feelings soured as Jewish immigrants soon became the majority in a number of areas, particularly the southwest section (NewTown, Spitalfields) centered on the intersection of Commercial Road, Commercial Street East and the Whitechapel High Road[12]. The established, assimilated Jewish authorities of London were also wary of this immigrant influx, fearing that these uneducated peasant Jews would cast their own community in a poor light, even though, as I have noted, while they may have been impoverished, they were also literate enough to support a wide range of newspapers and works of literature. The alienation of native British Jews from their own Jewishness (stemming from their recent fight for emancipation from anti-Jewish statutes) has been described as their “Anglicization”[13] and it led the arriving Jewish immigrants of the 1880s to establish dozens of new, traditional synagogues in the East End and elsewhere. Soon, there was at least one synagogue on nearly every street in that area.[14]

Anti-Semitic feeling reached a boiling point in the late summer and early fall of 1888, when a series of brutal murders came to be attributed to the Whitechapel Fiend and, later, Jack the Ripper. One of the first people to be publicly accused of committing the murders was a local Jewish butcher named John Pizer, aka Leather Apron, who was arrested on September 10, 1888. Quickly establishing his innocence, he noted that he had not left his house for days for fear of being torn to pieces by an angry mob[15].

In other words, it is impossible to separate Jack the Ripper from the increasingly visible Jewish immigrant population of the East End. As of 1888, 45-50,000 Jews (9-10% of the total population) lived in the East End. If you assume, as I do, that Jack the Ripper lived in geographic proximity to his crime scenes, there is (as a sort of baseline estimate) roughly a 1-in-10 chance he was Jewish.

You also cannot separate Jack the Ripper from the appalling conditions prevailing in his killing fields. It is no accident that Paul Begg opens Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History this way:

During the 1880s the East End became the focus of a great many general anxieties about unemployment, overcrowding, slum dwellings, disease and gross immorality. It was feared that the unwashed masses would tumble out of their dark alleys and bleak hovels, sweep beyond their geographical containment and submerge civilized society. A working class uprising and revolution was an imagined reality that waited just around the corner. Jack the Ripper gave those fears substance and form, flesh and bone, because Jack the Ripper was a product of ‘the netherworld’ who could—and in one case fractionally did—move out of the warrens of hovels and alleys into the civilized city. And if Jack the Ripper could do it, so could the diseased savages themselves, espousing socialism, demanding employment and fair wages, education and acceptable housing, and bringing an end to the world as the Victorian middle classes knew it.”[16]

Much of the socialism being preached in the East End resulted from the writing and agitation of recent Jewish immigrants, as I observe in “Chapter 2”:

As I noted above, the Pale of Settlement served as an incubator for a variety of socialist and other pro-worker movements. Morris Winchevsky, born Leopold Benzion Novokhovitch in the Pale of Settlement city of Kovno, in what is now Lithuania, founded the radical socialist Arbeter Fraint (Worker’s Friend) newspaper in London in 1885. The editorial and printing offices of the Arbeter Fraint were housed in the rear of the IWEA [International Workingmen’s Educational Association, founded in 1884], also known as the Berner Street Club. The IWEA was a central meeting place for the newly-radicalized Jews of the East End, both native-born and recently-arrived. In fact, on the night before the murder of Liz Stride, a man named Morris Eagle led a discussion entitled “Why Jews Should Be Socialists.”[17]

And here we come to the crux of the matter—the morning of the “double event.”

**********

At 12:45 am on the morning of September 30, a Hungarian Jew named Israel Schwartz turned from Commercial Street into Berner Street. At the gateway to 40 Berner Street, he saw a man stop to speak to a woman standing there. The man was about 30 years old, 5’5” tall and broad-shouldered, with a fair complexion, dark hair, small brown moustache and full face. He wore a dark jacket over dark trousers and a black cap with a peak; he held nothing in his hands. As he was trying to pull the woman into the street, he turned her around and threw her down on the footway of the gate; the woman screamed—though not loudly—three times.

Schwartz, who spoke little English, wanted to avoid this tussle, so he crossed to the opposite side of the street. There he saw a man standing in the shadows, lighting a clay pipe. This second man was about 35 years old, 5’11” with a fresh complexion and light brown hair; he wore a dark overcoat and an old black hard felt hat with a wide brim.

As Schwartz crossed the street, the first man called out “Lipski,” but whether he was addressing Schwartz or the man with the pipe, we do not know. Later that morning, Schwartz would tell police officers he did not know whether the two men were together or even knew each other. He would also identify the body of Elizabeth Stride as the woman he had seen.

Once the first man called out “Lipski,” Schwartz walked away. The second man began to follow him, and Schwartz ran as far as a nearby railway arch; the man did not follow him that far. Schwartz then told his story to the police, which was summarized by Chief Inspector Swanson.[18]

Stepping back a moment…on June 28, 1887, a 22-year-old Polish Jew named Israel Lipski had been arrested for killing a young Jewish woman named Miriam Angel by pouring nitric acid down her throat. Lipski had been found under her bed with traces of the same acid in his mouth. Protesting his innocence (and with no motive offered by the prosecution), he was sentenced to death; he finally confessed on the morning he was hung[19]. At that point, the name “Lipski” became a sort of casual anti-Semitic insult.

Back on Berner Street, the 9-12-foot-wide gateway at number 40 was the entrance to a passageway called Dutfield’s Yard. It was adjacent to the building housing the IWEA (aka Berner Street Club). Only a few hours earlier, Morris Eagle had lectured in that same building on why Jews should be socialists.

For the previous six months, a Jewish trader of cheap jewelry named Louis Diemschutz had served as the club’s Steward. At 1 am, just 15 minutes after Israel Schwartz’s encounter with the two men and a woman, Diemschutz turned his pony-drawn cart into Dutfield’s Yard. Something made the pony shy to the left; when Diemschutz touched what we thought was a pile of mud with the handle of his whip, he had discovered the body of Elizabeth Stride.[20] And after Diemschutz ran into 40 Berner Street for help, it was Morris Eagle who brought the first two police constables to Dutfield’s Yard.

Whether or not the man Schwartz saw grappling with the woman was Jack the Ripper, he was unlikely to have been Jewish. In fact, I have always believed he called out “Lipski” to the second man as a prelude to a form of anti-Semitic bullying; one can see the two men walking away laughing almost immediately[21]. It also does not seem credible to me that the man with (possibly) Elizabeth Stride would then kill her in the same place he had just been seen by Schwartz and the man with the clay pipe. Curiously, there is no record of Israel Schwartz giving evidence at the inquest into the death of Elizabeth Stride, though it may have been given in secret[22].

Elizabeth Stride was not abdominally- and genitally-mutilated the way other canonical victims of Jack the Ripper (Nichols, Chapman, Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, the latter on November 9) were, suggesting either that she was not actually a victim of Jack the Ripper or that he was interrupted by Diemschutz before he could do so.

Thirty minutes after the discovery of the body of Elizabeth Stride, Police Constable (PC)

Edward Watkins walked through Mitre Square, in the City of London (and thus outside the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police), and saw nothing out of the ordinary[23]. Five minutes later, at 1:35 am, three Jewish men—Joseph Lawende, Joseph Hyam Levy and Harry Harris—left the Imperial Club[24], a short distance away from
Church Passage, the entrance to Mitre Square. Levy had earlier remarked that Mitre Square should be watched, presumably because untoward things happened there.

Walking by the darkened Church Passage, the three friends saw a woman (who they later felt certain was Catherine Eddowes[25]) standing there with a man. Lawende, who was walking a bit in front of Levy and Harris, passed within nine or 10 feet of the couple, and he glanced briefly at them. He later described the man as about 30 years old, 5’9” tall, with a fair complexion and a small light moustache; he looked ‘rather rough and shabby,’ and he wore a cloth cap with a cloth peak. Other than the four-inch difference in height, this description is broadly similar to that given of “Man 1” by Schwartz. That said, the description would have fit many men in the area. Meanwhile, Lawende would repeatedly assert his inability to identify the man again[26].

The other two men paid little attention to the couple, although Levy was quoted as telling Harris, “I don’t like going home by myself when I see these sorts of characters about. I’m off.”[27]

Five minutes later, PC James Harvey saw and heard nothing standing on the edge of Mitre Square at the end of Church Passage, though Mitre Square was not lit. The couple seen by the three Jewish friends was gone (or hiding in the gloom).

But five minutes after THAT, at 1:45 am, PC Watkins walked through Mitre Square again. And that is how he found the viciously mutilated body of Catherine Eddowes.

Jack the Ripper may thus have been seen by as many as four Jewish men between 12:45 and 1:35 am on the morning of September 30, 1888. One of them was called an anti-Semitic epithet a few yards from the rear entrance of a club for Jewish socialists, and another Jewish man would find the body of Elizabeth Stride lying near that same entrance.

And the morning was not yet over.

At 2:55 am, PC Alfred Long walked down Goulston Street on his beat[28]. He had done so 25 minutes earlier, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. This time, however, he saw a piece of bloody apron lying near a stairway leading to 108-119 Wentworth Model Dwellings. The near-universal consensus among Ripperologists is that this was a piece of Catherine Eddowes’ apron, which her killer had cut off and used to wipe his bloody hands and knife[29].

PC Long also observed writing in white chalk on the wall where the piece of apron was found. He recorded it as “The Juwes are the men That Will not be Blamed for nothing.”[30] As Jakubowski and Braund put it, “There has been a great deal of dispute over the meaning of the message, because it is not clear if the Jews should be blamed or excluded from the murders or whether the word ‘Juwes’ actually means ‘Jews.’” Nonetheless, rather than wait for sufficient light to photograph the graffito, a possible clue, fears of resulting anti-Semitic rioting led then-Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren to order its erasure at about 5:30 am.

Even if Jack the Ripper stood next to that wall while he wiped his hands and/or blade, it is not plausible to me that—knowing members of both the Metropolitan AND City Police were scouring the area—he would then take the time to write an obscure message. Nonetheless, somebody took the time to write that putatively anti-Semitic graffito shortly before 2:55 that morning.

There is one final “Jewish connection” to Jack the Ripper.

At 6 pm on November 12, 1888, three days after the unspeakably savage murder of Mary Jane Kelly in her tiny room at 13 Miller’s Court, 26 Dorset Street,[31] a friend of hers named George Hutchinson (who had not given evidence at the inquest, held earlier that day) walked into Commercial Street Police Station to give a statement. At about 2 am on the morning of Kelly’s death, he had seen her talking to a man near the Dorset Street entrance to Miller’s Court. In his remarkably detailed description, Hutchinson noted the man “…wore a very thick gold chain, white linen collar, black tie with horse shoe pin, respectable appearance, walked very sharp, Jewish appearance. Can be identified.”[32] (boldface added)

Hutchinson, who was himself seen watching the entrance to Miller’s Court at 2:45 am, may have invented the wealthy Jewish-appearing man to cover his own presence near the crime scene. But even if he did see such a man, he was unlikely to have been Jack the

Ripper, as the best estimates put Kelly’s death at between 4:00 and 5:45 am; it is extremely unlikely the “john” would have had sex with Kelly (a prostitute like the preceding four victims) in her room then waited there for two or three hours to kill her.

Mary Jane Kelly is the last of the five canonical victims (though I personally include Martha Tabram [or Turner], killed on a stairwell in George Yard Buildings on the morning of August 7, 1888 as well) of Jack the Ripper, although Alice McKenzie (July 17, 1889) and Frances Coles (February 13, 1891) are sometimes included.

For what it’s worth, not one purported victim of Jack the Ripper was Jewish.

**********

For the record, I have absolutely no idea what Jack the Ripper’s real name was, although “a Polish Jew named something like Kosminski” is one of more plausible suspects of the hundreds put forward, if only because of the writings of Anderson, Macnaghten and Swanson[33]. For some perspective, John J. Eddleston’s indispensable Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia lists 113 suspects—including a catch-all “Polish Jew” and “Unknown Male” (rated a “5,” meaning “a strong possibility” that someone not yet named was Jack the Ripper). For context, Aaron Davis Cohen (the real name of Fido’s suspect David Cohen) is listed as a “4” (a very good possibility) as is another East End Jewish man named Nathan Kaminsky (who may or may not have been Aaron Davis Cohen). Aaron Kosminksi is rated lower, at “3” (a reasonable possibility), while “Polish Jew” is rated a “2” (a remote possibility).

Moreover, the perceived certainty about Kosminski is undercut by Macnaghten himself, as he names two other likely suspects (a barrister named Montague John Druitt and a “mad Russian doctor” named Michael Ostrog). And other high-ranking officials had their own preferred suspects. Secret Department[34] Chief Inspector John George Littlechild, in a 1913 letter, would cite an American “doctor” named Francis Tumblety as “to my mind a very likely suspect.”[35] And Inspector Frederick George Abberline, one of the top officers assigned to investigate these murders, ultimately decided a convicted wife poisoner named Severin Klosowski (aka George Chapman) was Jack the Ripper.

Other Jewish residents of the East End have been put forward as suspect, meanwhile, including Hyam Hyams.

And the suspects keep coming. In 2007, retired CID homicide detective Trevor Marriott somewhat fancifully named Carl Feigenbaum (who also went by many other names).[36] This video makes a somewhat tortured case for a mortuary attendant named Robert Mann (who gave evidence at the inquest into the death of “Polly” Nichols), while this video makes an intriguing—if highly circumstantial—case that Jack the Ripper was a carman named Charles Alan Cross (aka Charles Alan Lechmere)—the first of two men (along with another carman named Robert Paul) to find the body of “Polly” Nichols![37]

My point was simply to delineate the nexus between Jack the Ripper’s crimes, the increasingly Jewish (and socialist) character of the East End of London in 1888, ensuing anti-Semitic backlash and the roles played by numerous Jewish residents (including, perhaps, Jack the Ripper himself) in the discovery and investigation of the murders.

Until next time…

POSTSCRIPT: In separate books in the 1990s, Paul Harrison and Bruce Paley each argued for the candidacy of Mary Jane Kelly’s former lover and cohabitator Joseph Barnett; the circumstantial evidence is interesting although the ascribed motive is…creative.

In 1937, my great-aunt Rose Goldstein married a man named Joseph Barnett Spungen, who had been born in Leeds, in the north of England, in 1908. (If the name Spungen sounds familiar, it is because this was his brother’s granddaughter). I always do a double-take when I see his first and middle names.

I do not really think there is any connection between Whitechapel’s Joseph Barnett and my mother’s first cousin by marriage…but I will keep interrogating the extant records nonetheless.

[1] Anderson, Sir Robert. 1910. The Lighter Side of My Official Life. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton, pg. 138 (Quoted in Begg, Paul. 2003. Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History. London, UK: Pearson Education Limited, pp. 268.

[2] Ibid, pg. 267.

[3] Much of the information in these paragraphs comes from Eddleston, John J. 2001.Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. as well as my own deep familiarity with the details of the case.

[4] Begg, pg. 267-69.

[5] Ibid, pg. 269.

[6] Ibid, pg. 269.

[7] An excellent summation can be found in Fido, Martin. 1999. “David Cohen and the Polish Jew Theory,” pp. 164-86 in Jakubowski, Maxim and Braund, Nathan, eds. 1999. The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.

[8] New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. See especially Chapters 17 and 20-26.

[9] Who, for example died on March 24, 1919, not sometime in the 1890s as Swanson seemed to think.

[10] I am not much of a fan of tea, either.

[11] https://www.jewisheastend.com/history.html

[12] http://www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/life-in-the-jewish-east-end

[13] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/london

[14] https://www.jewisheastend.com/history.html

[15] Begg, pg. 157.

[16] Ibid. pg. 1. Carrying this argument to an absurd, pointed extreme, George Bernard Shaw wrote a letter on September 24, 1888 to The Star newspaper which began, “Will you allow me to make a comment on the success of the Whitechapel murderer [the name “Jack the Ripper” was still three days away] in calling attention for a moment to the social question? […] Private enterprise has succeeded where Socialism failed. While we conventional Social Democrats were wasting our time on education, agitation, and organization, some independent genius has taken the matter in hand, and by simply murdering and disembowelling [sic] four women, converted the proprietary press to an inept sort of communism.” Quoted in Begg, pg. 2.

[17] Ibid., pp. 171-74.

[18] Preceding four paragraphs from Begg, pg. 179 and Eddleston, pg. 114.

[19] Begg, pg. 139.

[20] Ibid,, pg. 174.

[21] The counter-argument that he was attempting to distract from his own Jewishness by calling out “Lipski” has always seemed far-fetched to me as well.

[22] Or Schwartz was Swanson’s Jewish witness, who refused to testify against a fellow Jew.

[23] The next few paragraphs from Begg, pp. 193-94.

[24] At 16-17 Duke Street, now Duke’s Place.

[25] This despite the fact Lawende only saw the woman’s back. The identification seems to be have been based upon the black jacket and bonnet she was wearing and, I surmise, the fact she was a few inches shorter.

[26] Which again begs the question whether HE was Swanson’s reluctant Jewish witness.

[27] Begg, pg. 193. Begg goes on to say that he—and contemporary observers—felt that Levy was being evasive.

[28] The ensuing few paragraphs are drawn from Jakubowski and Braund, pg. 41.

[29] It matched a gap in the apron Eddowes was wearing when her body was discovered.

[30] The City of London police believed the graffito read, “The Juwes are not the men That will be Blamed for nothing.”

[31] The crime scene photograph of what was left of the approximately 25-year-old Irish-born Kelly is the ghastliest thing I have ever seen.

[32] Eddleston, pp. 70-71. Eddleston actually believes Hutchinson is the most likely suspect, as he details on pp. 275-84.

[33] According to the invaluable on-line Casebook: Jack the Ripper, “By some counts, more than 500 individuals have been put forward by various experts, historians and theorists – most based on flimsy or non-existent evidence.”

[34] Later known as “Special Branch,” this was the unit devoted to preventing Irish (or Fenian) terrorism. Eddleston, pg. 126.

[35] Quoted in Jakubowski and Braund, pg. 100. An excellent analysis of Tumblety’s not-unreasonable candidacy is Evans, Stewart and Gainey, Paul. 1995.Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer. London, UK: Century Random House UK, Ltd. The edition I own is the 1998 paperback reprint published by Kodansha America, Inc.

[36] Marriott, Trevor. 2005. Jack the Ripper: The 21st Century Investigation. London, UK: John Blake Publishing, Ltd. Marriott did not actually name Feigenbaum until the 2007 paperback edition.

[37] The inevitable “well, maybe not” counter-argument may be found here.

Visiting Philadelphia: …very few answers

The first indication of the nature of my recent trip to Philadelphia was the absence of SD’s and my favorite server at the Westgate Pub my first night there (the night before a Thor-like thunderbolt short-circuited the air conditioning in my hotel room for four nights). As I detailed here, I shoehorned seeking answers to a series of questions arising from my “interrogating memory” project into this trip—and I hit investigative walls as early as Connecticut.

The day before I left Brookline, I sought help from a friend (let’s call him “ST”) who serves as an Assistant District Attorney (DA) in Philadelphia regarding sources of information on my maternal grandfather’s service with the Philadelphia Police Department and the fire that destroyed the original John Rhoads Company site in West Philadelphia; in the case of the fire, I could find nothing online. That same month, David Baugh, an archivist at the Philadelphia City Archives, told me he could not locate my grandfather’s “roster card,” meaning he could access no information about him.

As I settled at the counter of the Sherwood Diner to eat lunch on Thursday, August 9, 2018, I read an e-mail from ST which confirmed the Department’s inability to locate any information on Patrolman (later Detective) Samuel Joseph Kohn. Prior to 1960, such information was kept on cards, many of which have been misplaced (or outright lost) since then. This is consistent, unfortunately, with the experience of an investigative journalist friend who has decried Philadelphia’s lack of quality record-keeping more than once.

ST directed me to visit the Archives in person, but…they are in the process of moving locations and will not reopen until September 4, 2018. At least ST and I had a terrific time catching up over lunch here Tuesday afternoon.

**********

I began my investigation at Roosevelt Memorial Park, where my father is buried adjacent to his parents, sister, paternal aunt and uncle, and paternal aunt-by-marriage. Roosevelt is less than a five-minute drive from my sister’s residence, so I went there before I picked up Mindy Friday afternoon.

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Beyond paying respects to these family members, I sought information about a relative named “Nathan Berger,” who died on August 14, 1944; what I particularly wanted was the Hebrew name of his father, which traditionally appears on the headstones of Jews (my father’s father’s Hebrew name, like mine, was Moshe—or Moses). “Nathan Berger” appears on a list of “Bergers / death dates” I compiled as a boy. Invaluable information on Ancestry.com allowed me to determine my relation to each of them (two great-grandparents, a great-great-uncle and aunt, three of the latter’s sons)—except Nathan. I had found a Nathan Berger who served in the Navy (Yeoman, 3rd class) during World War I with the same death date; his death was reported by a woman named Miriam, but it was not clear what her relationship to him was. While these precise relationships are not necessary for my book, they do reveal the Berger presence in West Philadelphia over the last century-plus was far larger than I realized. Plus, I dislike investigative loose ends.

In the main office at Roosevelt, a very helpful woman named Dawn told me the location of Nathan Berger’s (“He was 46 when he died”) gravestone. In that section, I immediately found this (NOV. 17 1900 – AUG. 3, 1999):

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Next to it was a light-brown indentation in the ground. I dug around for a few moments but could find nothing else. Nor could I find a gravestone for “Nathan Berger” anywhere else in that section. Back at the office, Dawn confirmed that “Miriam Berger” was “Nathan Berger’s” wife and their graves should be adjacent.

“Perhaps it sunk into the ground,” she offered, before promising to investigate for me (I need to follow up with her).

This new information enabled me to pin down the elusive Nathan Berger a bit more; I now suspect he and my grandfather were second cousins.

Progress is more often measured in inches than miles.

I then located this gravestone:

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It is a curious fact that this seminal noir writer, a Philadelphia native, is buried (along with his brother and parents) a few hundred feet from my father—and both had the Hebrew names David Laib.

**********

The thunderstorms began that night and continued into early Saturday afternoon, threatening “cemetery day.” However, the skies cleared enough that I chanced a drive to Mt. Sharon Cemetery where Herman Modell, the attorney who arranged my adoption, is buried.

In no rush, I first drove by the office building where I saw my first psychologist (at 11, I ineffectually attempted suicide). I also visited nearby Paxon Hollow Country Club; once the White Marsh Country Club, Modell had served as club president multiple times between 1949 and 1962. Other than an impending wedding (the bride looked radiant), there was little of interest to see there (perhaps because, as I now read in my Chapter 5 draft, the White Marsh CC moved to Malvern in the mid-1960s).

Twenty or so minutes later, I turned onto Bishop Avenue from Baltimore Pike (after making a U-turn in a still-active Denny’s), passing a WAWA I frequented when I lived in the area in 2002-03.

Just bear with me while I share a memory of that WAWA.

At around 11:30 pm on the night of February 13, 2002, I was turning right onto Bishop Road from the WAWA parking lot when my 1995 Buick Century was struck from behind (right rear quarter panel) by a Pontiac. The Pontiac contained three young women, though the car’s owner was a passenger, not the driver. As we exchanged information, there appeared some urgency on the part of the car’s driver and owner that our insurance companies not be informed. During this exchange, the third young woman interjected this question to me:

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No,” I replied.

I should have asked “Why do you want to know?” but I was more focused on the matter at hand.

Five days later, the four of us met at a nearby McDonald’s to sign an agreement that they would reimburse the cost of my repairs, which they ultimately did. In fact, the entire affair was remarkably civil.

I still have a copy of the signed agreement. As for the Buick—my then-stepfather acquired it for me (79,000 miles already on it) when I returned to Philadelphia in February 2001, and it gave up the ghost two days after I moved back to the Boston area in September 2005. Talk about perfect timing.

I remembered these incidents as I turned left off Bishop to East Springfield Road then drove the short distance to Mt. Sharon. This being Shabbat, the office was closed, so I faced the daunting prospect of finding a single grave among 20,000+. It was a muggy day with a steady drizzle falling.

And so I began systematically to walk up and down the rows of gravestones scanning the names as rapidly as I could. Up and down, up and down, up and down…at one point a curious deer stared briefly at me before wandering off. The ground was often uneven, meaning I had to watch my feet and the gravestones at the same time.

Some two-and-a-half-hours later, after having searched maybe one-third of the vast space, I was ready to call it a day when I turned around…and saw this:

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I was transfixed…and, despite never having met him, a little weepy. Exploring the nearby gravestones, I found those of his parents and sister, as well as 10 other persons with the surname Modell.

As I noted in my previous post, I spent nearly three hours searching for the gravestone of the man who arranged my adoption out of my genetic family while “forgetting” to seek out actual genetic relatives living in the area. While my therapist had a field day with this (after I brought it up myself), I ascribe no deeper meaning other than I have been investigating Modell for more than a year but I am still processing finally identifying my genetic mother. Plus, standing in a cemetery for a few moments (OK, 150 or so minutes) requires far less mental and emotional preparation than meeting a genetic relative for the first time.

Pulling out of Mt. Sharon, I attempted to drive the “back route” to my old Drexel Hill apartment, but I made a wrong turn (or three) somewhere. As I drove by the “car repair agreement” McDonalds, though, I realized that I was close to a direct route to here:

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Driving east on State Street, I crossed West Chester Pike in Upper Darby, intending to turn north to City Avenue (dividing line between Philadelphia and suburban Lower Merion Township). However, curiosity overtook my gnawing hunger as I realized that I was not that far from 4157-59 Lancaster Avenue—longtime home of the John Rhoads Company.

Parking on Lancaster Avenue, just northwest of 41st Street, I pulled out my iPhone and started taking photographs:

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Finding a gap in the chain-link fencing, I explored the lot (empty since sometime between December 1976 and 1988—I will check city property records next):

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As I walked back onto Lancaster Avenue, a reasonably-well-dressed African-American man (West Philadelphia is predominantly African-American) walked over to the western edge of the fencing and began to urinate.

That was my cue to drive to Dallesandro’s. There, as I awaited an excellent cheesesteak with provolone, mushrooms and pizza sauce (a combination I first invented at the long-defunct Boardwalk Pizza in Ardmore, PA in the spring of 1984), I chatted amiably with a young man from Philly and a young man from Somerville, MA (where I lived for 11+ years) about the need to “respect the line” that continually snakes out of Dallesandro’s.

**********

Sunday afternoon, after brunching in Collingswood, NJ here with my former work colleague JJ, I drove back over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia. And, despite the blazing sun and heat, I decided to try my luck finding gravestones at historic Har Nebo Cemetery (opened 1890).

Other than my great-grandfather David Louis Berger and his wife Ida (Rugowitz), I did not know who else was buried there…making the search that much more daunting. It did not help that the first thing I noticed when I turned into Har Nebo shortly after 2 pm was a sign informing me the gates close at 4:30 pm.

And, of course, after about an hour of walking up and down the even-more-treacherous rows between gravestones (many of which had toppled over), I could no longer ignore the fact that I REALLY HAD TO PEE.

Answering nature’s call required driving back to the Roosevelt Boulevard, the main artery of Northeast Philadelphia. The first gas station I tried did not have a public restroom, and I was directed around the Oxford Road traffic circle to a combination gas station/Dunkin Donuts—which also had no public restroom. However, the two bored young ladies behind the Dunkin counter (one with admirably-blue hair) took pity and provided me the “secret” rest room key.

That was as successful as the afternoon was, as two fruitless sweaty hours exploring Har Nebo revealed a number of “Berger” and “Rugowitz” and “Caesar” (paternal grandmother’s maiden name) gravestones, but no great-grandparents. Looking through the photos I took just now, however, I discovered two of the names on the “Bergers  / death dates” list, so that is something.

After a delicious supper of spinach salad (my body was craving greens) and salmon here, I made arrangements to meet a high school friend for drinks (let’s call him “OW”). As we caught up over Chianti (me) and bourbon (him) here, I mentioned my discovery my father had allegedly hired Eddie “Psycho” Klayman to set fire to the John Rhoads Company.

OW wryly repeated “Eddie Klayman” before telling me that he used to babysit his children on Long Beach Island, NJ, less than an hour’s drive north of Atlantic City. I thought he was pulling my leg until he added he knew that Klayman was a front man for the Philadelphia mob, buying properties in his name for them. He added that his late wife Bernice (Kligman) was the “fattest woman I ever saw” and unhappy to boot.

Once again, the world really is that small.

**********

Monday was when I began to investigate in earnest—which is how I found myself sitting in the main Philadelphia branch of Santander Bank (1500 Market Street, directly southwest of City Hall), just past noon.

The young man I queried about my mother’s old safety deposit box keys tried to be helpful, but he was at a total loss. He called someone else about them, but she was equally flummoxed. About all they could tell me was that after 10 years of non-payment, boxes are drilled open and the contents sent…somewhere. I thanked him, gave him my card and asked him to contact me if he learned anything. I have not heard back from him.

After that, I walked around City Hall to the Masonic Temple.

Which, I learned, is closed on Mondays.

Had there been an appropriate wall, I may well have banged my head against it.

Realizing, however, that I was only two blocks west of the must-visit Reading Terminal Market, I walked there to have lunch at the Down Home Diner.

Thus fortified, I decided to walk here (I took this photograph as part of a text message to our avid-reader eldest daughter):

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My friend ST, the Assistant DA, had suggested that I explore their newspaper archives for information about the John Rhoads fire: while Newspapers.com appears to have every issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News for the relevant time period (March 29, 1972 to October 31, 1974) they do not have, say, the Philadelphia Bulletin (defunct since January 1982, its slogan used to be “Nearly everybody reads the Bulletin”).

In the newspaper archives room on the second floor, I was greeted by a row of modern-looking (if anachronistic) microfilm readers. It quickly became apparent I would have to skim each individual issue of the Bulletin over a 30-month span; two hours after I began, I had not even reviewed every issue from September 1974, so I called it a day.

Well, not entirely, because as I walked the 11 blocks to the parking garage at 15th and Sansom, I decided to drive to the Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD) Administration Building at 240 Spring Garden Street. Happily, I made the drive to arrive there well before 5 pm.

Just inside the grim gray building, I was greeted by three imposing, albeit friendly, men in navy firefighter’s uniforms. One of them was seated behind a small desk, and he asked me what I wanted. I explained that I sought information on a fire that had taken place in West Philadelphia in the early 1970s. After a brief conversation between the three men (implying I may as well have been asking about the 1770s), I was told that as of such-and-such a date, PFD records were stored in Room 168 of City Hall.

Yes, the same City Hall I had circled some three hours earlier.

I thanked them, walked up Spring Garden Street to my parked car, and drove out of the city towards my hotel. Hungry, I stopped here for a veggie stromboli; it was delicious, but not nearly as delicious as I remembered it being in the early 2000s.

Had it been open, I would also have walked a few blocks east on Lancaster Avenue to Gold Million Records—especially had I known its husband-and-wife owners, Harold Gold and Max I. Million, would announce the closing of this Main Line institution a few days later. When I was in high school, the store was called Plastic Fantastic, and its Bryn Mawr location was a haven for music buffs like me (I still have records I purchased there). It was also the playground of two of the most beautiful and gentle Afghan hounds you will ever see. One afternoon, I stood at the counter seeking to make my purchase with a personal check, which the cashier was hesitant to accept; standing just behind the cashier, with his back to us, was Mr. Gold. Overhearing the cashier’s and my conversation, Mr. Gold turned slowly around, pointed to me, and said, “He’s OK.”

Thank you, Mr. Gold (and Ms. Million) for slaking the musical thirst of generations of Philadelphia-area music fans.

**********

At around 2:20 pm the next day (Tuesday, April 14, 2018), after lunch with ST, I entered the interior court of Philadelphia’s imposing City Hall.

Philadelphia City Hall

After traversing one incorrect hallway, I located Room 168: Police/Fire Records Unit…

…which closes at 2 pm daily.

Unwilling to concede defeat, I entered the room across the hall (most likely Room 156: Records). There, a helpful young man behind a clear partition told me he did not believe the PFD kept records that far back then wrote down a phone number to call BEFORE returning to City Hall. This was terrific advice, actually, given how much I was paying to park in Center City.

Leaving City Hall, I walked across East Penn Street then turned north to N. Broad Street where—huzzah!—the Masonic Temple was open to the public.

Masonic Ticket

Walking into the Library, I saw an older woman sitting at a desk just outside what looked like the Librarian’s office; the sign on her desk read “Cathy Giaimo, Assistant Librarian.” The inner office was empty. I asked Ms. Giaimo where I could find Glenys Waldman (the Librarian with whom I had been corresponding by e-mail through November 2017—with an unanswered follow-up e-mail in March 2018).

“Oh, she retired a few months ago.”

At this point, I was ready to scream at the universe, “ENOUGH ALREADY!!” but I instead thanked her and decided to investigate the inner office.

And here I caught a break.

While I wanted to thank Ms. Waldman in person for her amiable and carefully-researched responses to my questions, I also wanted to know just how many Masonic Lodges Philadelphia housed—and what their relative memberships were—in 1925, 1938 and 1957 (when my great-uncle Jules, Modell and my father, respectively, were initiated). Scanning the bookshelves, I noticed a series of annual “Abstract of the Proceedings” volumes. Pulling out the one for 1938, I was thrilled to discover a table listing every Masonic Lodge in Pennsylvania, along with its city and membership for that year and the preceding one.

By 5 pm, I had taken relevant iPhone photographs of all relevant pages in the 1925, 1938 and 1957 annuals. I also photographed a few dozen pages in this historic publication:

1946 Lafayette Lodge

Here is a photograph I found of the 1943 Worshipful Master of LaFayette Lodge No. 71:

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Soon after, my friend SD met me outside, where I took these photographs for our history-loving daughters.

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The Bond

After dining at Reading Terminal Market (of COURSE I had another mushroom-provolone-pizza steak), we drove here.

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The listless Philadelphia Phillies may have lost 2-1 to the otherworldly Boston Red Sox, but it was still a blast being in my “home” ballpark for the first time since 2014 (also with SD, plus one other friend).

**********

SD had a good suggestion for where I might obtain information about the fire that destroyed the downstairs playroom of my childhood house in Havertown, PA in, I surmise, March or April 1973: the Haverford Township Administration Building. That is where I drove after checking out of my hotel the following morning.

At the window of what I took to be the police and fire records department, I told a man about my age what I was seeking. Just behind me, two uniformed male officers were questioning a middle-aged woman seated on a vinyl-topped bench about what sounded like ongoing physical abuse by a man she knew (“Do you have somewhere you can go, ma’am?”).

“A fire in Havertown in 1973?”

“Yes.”

He turned to confer quietly with some women in the office behind him, then turned back to ask:

“Did anybody die?”

“No.”

“Yeah, sorry, we would not have a record of that here.”

“Oh, OK. Thank you.”

I walked by the woman and the officers, up the stairs and out to my car. Driving over to City Avenue I made the decision NOT to go back to City Hall, Room 168. Instead, I pulled into the parking lot of what used to be a terrific bowling alley (Center Lanes, if memory serves), a short walk from where I saw Manhattan with my father in 1979.

There, I called the number I had been given the day before. In response to my query, I was directed to call the Fire Marshal’s office (which, I just learned, is located in the PFD Administration Building I had visited two days earlier. Oy.). A harassed-sounding woman named Michelle listened to my request, clarified my return phone number and promised to get back to me. Much to my (delighted) surprise, she left me a voice mail the next day—she could find no record of a fire at 4157 Lancaster Avenue during that time period.

Thus do the emotions of a researcher rise and fall.

I then made one last stop—back to Har Nebo Cemetery (making sure to find a restroom first). I was somehow not surprised the office sign said “Closed.” On a whim, however, I rang the doorbell—and was immediately buzzed in.

Behind a low wooden counter, a balding man sat at a computer amidst a blizzard of paper. When I explained that I was searching for my great-grandparents, he said:

“Must be something in the air, because you are the second person today looking for relatives” then described that previous conversation in detail.

At first he could not find a “David Berger” who died in 1919, but he did find him under “Louis Berger.”

He scanned his screen a moment then exclaimed, “He was shot!”

While this was not news to me, I was fascinated it was part of the official burial record. I then told him the story—which I refrain from sharing here (I have to leave at least one untold tale for my book).

A few moments later (and with gratitude to Richard Levy), I was standing here:

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I had forgotten my widowed great-grandmother had married Benjamin Leopold in 1933, at the age of 63, making it all the more touching she was buried next to her first husband.

After photographing a few nearby gravestones containing familiar surnames, I returned to the office to ask Mr. Levy if he could locate other “Berger” gravestones of a similar generation. I withdrew the question after learning there were, I believe, 67 of them. At least I learned my great-grandfather’s father’s Hebrew name was Shmuel Mayer.

Baby steps—and I will be better prepared next time.

I also learned that the Vernon Diner makes an excellent spanakopita, though their cherry pie is meh.

Oh, and if you merge onto the Massachusetts Turnpike heading eastbound at night, you should take advantage of the Charlton rest area, because you never know when two lanes will be closed between Worcester and I-495 when OHMYGODIHAVETOPEERIGHTNOW.

At 11:35 pm that night (having answered nature’s call just in the nick of time), after driving 1,246.4 miles in just over six-and-a-half days, I pulled into our new driveway.

Until next time…

Visiting Philadelphia: Many questions, but…

My “interrogating memory” project began as a July 2017 conversation with my wife Nell about writing a book in lieu of finding a new position in my two-decade-long career as a health-related data analyst. In my head, I translated her intended meaning (write a mystery—something that would sell many copies) to “I could easily expand this into an entertaining full-length book.”

That simple idea (trace the childhood and early-adult roots of my passion for film noir), however, quickly entwined with two simultaneous personal investigations: 1) the results of my genetic testing—which disproved everything I thought I knew about my paternal heritage and 2) my decision to learn the truth about my adoption, arranged prior to my birth and enacted five days after I was born, and genetic forebears.

But this “simple idea” proved more complicated, once I set my over-educated brain to the task of collating the details of those film-noir-formative events: my profound respect for investigative journalism and my doctoral work in epidemiology (to me, a branch of epistemology) led me to question EVERYTHING.

The investigations fall into two broad categories:

  1. Family history (I cannot understand my childhood without understanding the emigration of Bergers, Caesars, Gurmankins and Koslenkows from the Pale of Settlement to the Jewish “city-within-a-city” of West Philadelphia between 1890 and 1920)
  2. Childhood memories (including some I begin to investigate here).

Linking those two investigations, again, is the overriding fact of my adoption, arranged by a powerful Philadelphia attorney named Herman Modell. And the link between Modell and my (legal) father, D. Louis “Lou” Berger, is their overlapping membership in LaFayette Lodge No. 71, Free and Accepted Masons.

These entwined strands found me performing these tasks, often at the same time, over much of the ensuing 13 months:

  • Using Ancestry.com, supplemented by carefully-archived personal documents, Newspapers.com and other online research tools, to construct increasingly-elaborate trees for my legal family.
    • Contacting “newly discovered” relatives on the Berger/Ceasar side of my family (Lou Berger self-alienated from his family later in his life, meaning I knew very little about his branch of my family). These contacts were mostly successful.
  • Supplementing requests to the Orphans Court of Delaware County for information about my genetic parents with names appearing in the 23andMe “DNA Relatives” tool to construct increasingly-elaborate, if necessarily speculative, trees for my genetic family.
  • Picking the brains of friends and relatives to confirm/clarify/deny stories I “recalled” from my childhood. In the process, I learned new things; for example, I first learned about Modell from my maternal aunt.
  • Using public records (primarily newspaper accounts and advertisements) to confim/clarify deny these same stories.
  • Corresponding with a wide range of sources—my childhood synagogue (where, in my final year of Hebrew School, I wore one of my mother’s white blouses to portray a hyperkinetic Cossack in an all-Hebrew production of Fiddler on the Roof), the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Fire Department—to ask them a wide range of questions about my legal family.

Just bear with me while I acknowledge two exceptionally helpful people affiliated with the Masonic Temple: Librarian Glenys Waldman, who patiently and carefully answered all of my e-mailed queries, and LaFayette Lodge Past Master Perry Ecksel, who sold me (for an outrageously low price) one of his two copies of a history of LaFayette Lodge published in 1971. When I mentioned to a college friend that I would be incorporating the Freemasons into my book, he quipped that that would mean an additional 10,000 copies sold. I honestly believe that if that is true, it will be less because of any Dan-Brown-style conspiracy and more because these gracious individuals made the chapter on Modell and the Freemasons that much more interesting.

Because the world really is that small, when I mentioned to one of my newly-discovered paternal cousins that I had spoken with Perry Ecksel, she noted that he was the uncle of a man her close friend had dated (or something).

*********

Almost from the start, one thought animated my investigations:

“I will need to spend significant time in Philadelphia visiting cemeteries, tracking down records and questioning folks in person.”

However, every time I thought about making this trip, life intervened. Most recently, we discovered that we needed to move from our home of nearly 11 years, meaning that I did not have sufficient time to incorporate the research aspect into my regular summer trip to Philadelphia.

The best I could do was rapidly compile an annotated one-page (front and back) list of research questions, throw some papers into a folder and, essentially, wing it. My questions fell into these broad categories:

Cemeteries. When I was a boy, I created a list of “Berger death dates” that I archived along with other genealogical materials I collected. In the process of building my Ancestry family trees, I was able to place every name on the list into the tree except for a “Nathan Berger” who died on August 14, 1944. I was able to locate the veteran death record of a Nathan Berger (Navy, Yeoman third class in World War I) who was buried in Roosevelt Memorial Park, as is my father; his birthdate was listed as November 23, 1887. His death was reported by “Miriam,” though I could not discern whether she was a wife, sister, daughter or other female relative. Presumably, I thought, the information on his gravestone (his father’s name especially) would link him to the rest of my father’s father’s family.

I also wanted to view the gravestones of family members from older generations of the male Berger line, especially my great-grandfather David Louis and his wife Ida, many of whom were buried in historic Har Nebo Cemetery. Unfortunately, without time to generate a list of every relative buried there, I was relying upon my memory.

Finally, I wanted to view the graves of two non-relatives (and their families): Modell (Mt. Sharon Cemetery) and the seminal noir writer David Goodis—also buried in Roosevelt Cemetery.

Masonic Temple. While I desired to know the number (and membership totals) of Philadelphia’s Masonic Lodges in 1925 (when Jules Berger, younger brother of my paternal grandfather Morris, was initiated), 1938 (Modell) and 1957 (my father), I primarily wanted to thank Ms. Waldman in person for her gracious assistance.

Samuel Joseph Kohn. My mother’s father was a member of the Philadelphia Police Department, rising for a few years to the rank of Detective before (as his surviving daughter put it in an e-mail) his “combative personality” interfered, from around 1935 to around 1952. That is, he was a big city police officer at the height of the classic American film noir era; in my mind, Broderick Crawford plays him in the movie.

Unfortunately, my attempts to locate his police records (outside of two brief mentions of him in Philadelphia newspapers) have proven fruitless: David Baugh of the Philadelphia Police Archives was unable to locate his roster card. Still, I thought that if I went to “The Roundhouse” (the unusually-curved Philadelphia Police Headquarters) in person, I could dislodge “misplaced” information about my grandfather.

John Rhoads Company. Founded in 1886 by a sugar merchant from Harrisburg, PA, this warehouse/storage facility specializing in used carpeting, furniture and valuable bric-a-brac was a West Philadelphia fixture (if the tenor of newspaper advertisements is to be believed) until the early 1970s. Brothers Morris and Jules Berger assumed control of John Rhoads around 1926, operating it jointly until Morris’ death in 1954, after which Jules ran it until his own death in 1958. By 1960, my father had assumed the presidency of John Rhoads, co-running it with his mother Rae.

Rae Caesar Berger died on January 3, 1972. At some point between March 29, 1972 (last newspaper advertisement I can locate) and October 29, 1974 (first newspaper advertisement for its new Upper Darby, PA location I can locate), John Rhoads burned; family stories suggested my father was responsible for the fire (perhaps to pay off rapidly-growing gambling debts). Still, it was rather a shock when my maternal aunt not only confirmed my father committed arson, but that she knew he had “hired” to set the fire: Edward “Psycho” Klayman, who died (I believe) in 1984. A quick search of Newspapers.com revealed numerous accounts of Klayman in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was arrested for selling heroin and, yes, his participation in an arson ring.

It speaks volumes about my gregarious and lovable father that he knew both Modell (state representative, Assistant City Solicitor, chair of numerous Boards) and Klayman (convicted heroin dealer and arsonist).

Curiously, for what presumably was a major fire, I cannot find a single online record of it. A December 2017 call to the records division of the Philadelphia Fire Department was never returned, though neither did I follow up as a I should.

As with my maternal grandfather’s police department files, I hoped that inquiring about the John Rhoads fire in person would make a difference.

Miscellaneous. I also sought answers to three less-key questions:

Safety Deposit Box keys

  1. After my mother died in March 2004, my then-stepfather and I engaged in a legal battle over her estate for more than a year (in her infinite wisdom, she had named us co-executor in her will), finally settling in August 2005. It is inconceivable that any of her property was left unaccounted after all of the legal maneuvering. But when I was cleaning out files and papers to prepare for our move, I came across two safe deposit box keys from Sovereign Bank (now Santander).

Question(s): Do the safety box(es) still exist, and, if so, what was in them?

  1. One night, most likely in March or April 1973, a fire broke out in the playroom of my childhood house in Havertown, PA; a few years later, a friend would nudge me during a fire safety film in our elementary school then say, “That’s your house!” It is surprising that my sister Mindy woke me up, and not my mother (I do not know where my father was)…though I am obviously grateful that she did. As for the cause of the fire, my mother’s claim she left a sit-down hair dryer on for my father to turn off is…odd.

Question(s): On what day and time did this fire take place, and what does the official fire report say about it?

Morris Berger late 1940s early 1950s

  1. According to his obituary, Morris Berger was Vice President of Beth El Synagogue, 58th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. Allen Meyers has called Beth El “the largest edifice” in the area, presenting in first in his chapter on West Philadelphia synagogues. Beth El merged with Beth Hillel in 1967 to form Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in suburban Wynnewood, PA. It was here that a charmingly awkward almost-13-year Moshe ben David Layb Berger was called to Bar Mitzvah on September 17, 1979.

Matthew Berger Bar Mitzvah Sept 1979

Seriously, check out the brown velvet three-piece suit, with the Eton-collared eggshell-colored shirt, as I stand proudly with my father.

Lou and Matthew Berger Bar Mitzvah Sept 1979

When I queried a helpful gentleman at Temple Beth Hillel about my paternal grandfather, I was told that his name should appear on a “brick” outside the chapel. So my last “question” was to see if I could locate this brick.

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It is notable that the one family research area I was NOT planning to pursue was tracking down the surviving members of my genetic mother’s family in Philadelphia.

Let me back up a second.

As I implied earlier, by May 2018 I had identified the man (dead) and woman (living) who were most likely my genetic father and mother. And having exhausted everything I could learn from the Orphans Court of Delaware County, late that month I sent my check for $20 to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Division of Vital Records along with an application for a non-certified copy of my original pre-adoption birth record. I had deduced the existence of this record from my interactions with the always-helpful Latifah Jones of the Office of Children and Youth Services of Delaware County.

On June 19, 2018, the non-certified copy of my original pre-adoption birth record arrived in the mail. And, for the first time in my life, I officially knew the name of my genetic mother.

My reaction when I read the name, sitting at my desk in the downstairs walk-in closet I had converted into an office, was to shout, “Ha, I was right!”

If I accepted the Jungian notion of synchronicity, I would have been far less surprised that on the very same day, I was contacted by a genetic relative, a woman (call her “AC”) whose daughter was the first link to my genetic maternal family on 23andMe. As I had learned a few months earlier, AC herself had been given up for adoption (along with her older sister—to the same family—a few years earlier), and she was about to meet her genetic sister and brother for the first time.

The woman listed as my mother on the pre-adoption birth record is—officially—AC’s older sister. I write “officially,” because there is compelling, if circumstantial, evidence that my genetic mother was actually raised by her half-sister and her husband, after she was illegitimately conceived by her “official” maternal grandmother via the latter’s fourth husband—while still married to her third husband. I cannot PROVE any of this, mind you, but the genetic evidence is strongly suggestive.

As you can imagine, when AC quietly revealed to her sister not only my existence, but everything I had already learned (and surmised), the sister’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. My existence has been a closely-held secret (three or four people) for nearly 52 years, and the sister was not certain how my genetic mother would react to my discoveries.

Incidentally, I assume this is the sister accompanying my genetic mother and maternal grandmother when I was handed by a nurse to Modell (who then handed me to Lou and Elaine Berger) outside Metropolitan Hospital on October 5, 1966.

AC shared a lot of information with me from that meeting, which I have largely delayed processing because of the move, including that the sister (who still lives just north of Philadelphia) would “very much like to meet” me.

I did not deliberately avoid her on this last trip to Philadelphia so much as I sort of forgot to think about it. Still, it is telling that I neglected to look up my actual genetic aunt/cousin but I spent hours tracking down the gravestone of the man who arranged my adoption OUT of her family.

To be continued…

Two worlds collided…

(with apologies to INXS).

One of the unanticipated pleasures of writing my book is that I get to spend hours reading old newspapers.  This is an amateur historian’s idea of heaven.

Last August, I introduced a key character in my book: a powerful Philadelphia attorney named Herman M. Modell. Modell, who knew my father and his uncle through their membership in LaFayette Lodge No. 71, Free and Accepted Masons (of course the Freemasons are part of my saga), privately arranged my adoption by David Louis and Elaine (Kohn) Berger in 1966.

In a recent post, I described the ups and downs of learning more about the circumstances of my adoption, observing that a “packet” from investigators appointed by the Orphans’ Court of Delaware County had been mailed to me.

That slender, typed, two-page packet arrived on April 21, 2018.

Given the twists and turns my search had already taken, I should not have been surprised that it contained very little information. Basically, because my adoption was private, the only information the Court had was testimony Modell had provided in a follow-up hearing in April 1967. My genetic mother did not attend that hearing, so she is not named, and my genetic father’s name did not even appear on the official birth certificate filed upon my birth. This would have been before October 5, when Lou and Elaine took five-day-old me home from Metropolitan Hospital and filed a superseding birth certificate.

Wait…what?

The story I had always heard (or told myself—this is why I “interrogate” memory) was that I was born in Pennsylvania Hospital. In fact, I was born in Metropolitan Hospital at 10:29 am on September 30, 1966 (with my adoptive parents paying my genetic mother’s hospital bills).

Oh. OK.

Off to Google and Newspapers.com I went. The first thing I learned was that Metropolitan Hospital had closed in 1992. The building was sold in 1997 and turned into condominiums in 2004. So who knows where their 1966 birth records are now (note: when I called Pennsylvania Hospital last year, a less-than-helpful informed me they had destroyed all the analogous records. Good, great, thank you.)

Seriously, this search has had more dead ends than the Minotaur’s labyrinth.

A little more digging turned up this curious tidbit.

One Herman M. Modell served as Metropolitan Hospital’s chief counsel (and occasionally as either President or Secretary of the hospital’s board of directors) from 1944, when it was converted into an “osteopathic hospital,” until his death in 1973.

Modell Metropolitan 1947

Check out the bowtie. As the 11th Doctor says, bowties are cool.

I thought that fact was significant until I checked three other adoptions he had arranged between 1960 and 1970[1]: the three other mothers gave birth at three different hospitals, none of which was Metropolitan. Most likely, it was simply the hospital nearest where my 19-year-old, unmarried, white Catholic genetic mother lived with her parents (and possibly the sister with my genetic mother and their mother when she handed me to Modell outside the hospital. I suspect my adoptive parents were watching from a discrete distance away on Spruce Street; Elaine Berger would have been that curious).

What this association with Metropolitan Hospital did do, however, was send me back onto Newspapers.com to learn more about the hospital and Modell’s association with it.

As a result, I found many more mentions of Modell than in my first search last summer; Newspapers.com continually adds to its collection (or its search algorithm improved). Once I read through all of the Metropolitan stories, I started working my way through other stories (after all, I am devoting most of a book chapter to the man…well, him AND the Freemasons).

One story I was able to flesh out concerned Modell’s representation of 125 (or 150, or 200, depending on the article) women clerks who worked for the Dock Street produce markets in 1947.

These women were the proximate cause of a 90% shutdown of these markets in January and February 1947. Teamsters Local 929, Produce, Poultry, Fish and Oystermen’s Drivers and Helpers had negotiated a new contract with the management associations on January 2. They also wanted the clerks, already members of the independent Wholesale Fruit and Produce Employees’ Association (sometimes called the Wholesale Produce Office Employees Association), to join Teamsters Local 929.

The women refused and staged a seven-hour walkout. This led Teamsters Local 929 to issue their bosses, 57 carlot receivers, an ultimatum: get their clerks into the union by January 4, or they would shut down the markets on January 6.

Guess what happened on January 6.

Modell ultimately got a Circuit Court judge to issue an injunction against Teamsters Local 929, preventing them from coercing the clerks into joining the union (the dispute then moved into other areas, ending Modell’s role here).

By the way, if you think this sounds like racketeering (say, violation of the Wagner and Hobbs Acts), give yourself a gold star. Three men and Teamsters Local 929 were convicted in federal court in October 1948 of violation of the Hobbs Act.

But let me return to January 1947, as I found myself reading the unfolding sage of the “Dock St. rackets,” while thinking about the excellent 1949 film noir Thieves’ Highway.

I found this story in the upper right-hand corner of page 3 of the January 21, 1947 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Dock Street 1-21-1947

As I was reading it, my eye was drawn to a captioned photograph immediately to the right.

I recognized it immediately.  “Oh, right,” I thought…or said (to no one there), “January 1947!”

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Just bear with me as I take us 2,721 miles west and six days into the past.

On the morning of January 15, 1947, at approximately 10:30 am PST, a woman named Bette Bersinger was pushing a stroller along a sidewalk bordering an empty grass-and-weed-covered lot on Norton Street, between 39th and Coliseum. She saw what she thought was a broken doll lying a few feet off the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, she discovered…well, I spare you the fairly gruesome details. If you want to know more, I recommend starting here; this video is also excellent.

The body was soon identified as a 22-year-old aspiring actress named Elizabeth Short, who grew up in Medford, MA (a 20 minute drive northeast of our Brookline apartment).

IMG_3314

History, as you can see, knows Ms. Short better as “The Black Dahlia.” The flowers are mine. I place them there every year because I want to remember “Betty” Short as an actual human being, not a true-crime caricature with a macabre sobriquet.

I have been fascinated by the still-unsolved death of Ms. Short for nearly 20 years. So much so that I write the following from memory (interrogate it, by all means):

Elizabeth Short was last seen alive leaving the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles around 9 pm PST on the night of January 9. She had been dropped off there by a name named Robert “Red” Manley. Manley, who was married, had just driven Ms. Short north from San Diego, where the peripatetic young woman had been living for a month or so. They had spent the night at a motel, where nothing exciting happened according to Manley; Manley was sorely disappointed, if memory serves. We know all of this because shortly after the identification of Ms. Short, Manley came forward to tell his story to the police, insisting that the last time he ever saw Ms. Short was at the Biltmore Hotel.

The police, lacking substantive leads, grilled Manley mercilessly, eventually submitting him to a polygraph test. I do not recall how many times I saw the newspaper photograph of the exhausted Manley strapped into the machine, police detectives hovering over him.

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You guessed it.

This was the photograph that caught my eye at the top of page 3 of the January 21, 1947 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Red Manley

The full caption reads:

(AP Wirephoto)

‘PASSING’ THE LIE DETECTOR TEST

Robert Manley, 25, submitting to a lie detector test in Los Angeles yesterday as police questioned him in connection with the mutilation-slaying of Elizabeth Short, 22-year-old Hollywood hopeful. The tests proved, detectives said, Manley had nothing to do with the slaying. He has been released. Checking results of the test are Detective F. A. Brown (left) and Ray Pinker, police chemist.

Here is the full newspaper page:

The_Philadelphia_Inquirer_Tue__Jan_21__1947.

Just to make this serendipitous juxtaposition of interests even better, the actress Laraine Day (see divorce story) is the female lead in one of my five favorite films, Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant Foreign Correspondent.

Until next time…

[1] These are only the ones I currently know about.