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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Murder At Shooting Thoroughfare

Prohibition, the era from 1920 through 1933, was an interesting and exciting period in our nation's history. I've seen many television series with that era as a backdrop. 

The first series that I recall was in 1959 when CBS showcased The Untouchables a crime drama which took place in the Chicago of Al Capone in the 1920s. Robert Stack played the relentless Eliot Ness who tracked down a variety of mobster villains.

The most recent is Boardwalk Empire which centers around illicit prohibition related activities in Atlantic City, right here in our own backyard. It is loosely based on Nelson Johnson's best selling book about Enoch "Nucky" Johnson's iron clad rule including various nefarious endeavors in Atlantic City, the surrounding communities, and Southern New Jersey. The series takes many liberties with the truth, including changing the main protagonist's name to "Nucky" Thompson, while attempting to maintain the spirit of the roaring twenties era in New Jersey. The settings and costumes are particularly true to the time period. The history, not so much, but many find it entertaining.

These two prohibition series came to my mind the other day as I was browsing through back issues of the Tuckerton Beacon from the 1920's and early 1930s. Images of Eliot Ness and "Nucky" Thompson flashed through my mind, as I read the following headline from the September 15, 1932 edition.

I read on, expecting to find a story about an underworld hit in neighboring Atlantic City, and was surprised to find out that the body was actually found just a stone's throw from little old Tuckerton.

It seems that, somehow, a "gentleman" from New York with a few known aliases ended up in the meadows at the end of Route S4A by Shooting Thoroughfare, rubbed out by six shots to the head. Anyone besides me find the name of the location where they found the body ironic?

Never having heard of Route S4A out of Tuckerton, I was able to borrow a 1920 Ocean County New Jersey map from my history buddy, Shirley Whealton, which allowed me to locate the crime scene. It was obviously in a remote area.

The Ocean County authorities concluded that the crime probably occurred Sunday night or early Monday morning. By Wednesday, with the cooperation of the New York police, the body was identified as that of a known criminal who served some hard time at Sing Sing prison but had mysteriously been released.

The body was discovered by Edward Horner of Parkertown who was returning from a fishing trip. At first, Horner and his two companions believed the man was sleeping but suspected something was awry when the body appeared not to be moving. Image their surprise and horror when they encountered the grisly scene.

The authorities photographed and searched the body. No wallet was found to identify the body; however, robbery seemed unlikely as the victim's gold pocket watch and chain were found. A tattoo of the Statue of Liberty and a heart with the words "Love, Joe to Anna" seemed to offer promising clues regarding the body's identity.

The autopsy indicted that the victim had been shot repeatedly at close range by a right handed man packing a 32 revolver. Someone clearly wanted this man dead.

Many theories emerged regarding the crime; however, it was generally believed that the victim was murdered elsewhere and driven to and dumped in an isolated spot adjacent to Shooting Thoroughfare.

Other information regarding the incident filtered in over the next few days. Arthur Mathis, who was in the area fishing around the estimated time of the incident, reported that he saw a low flying airplane which came from the direction of Atlantic City circling overhead at the end of Rt. S4A before turning in the direction of Philadelphia. This added an intriguing twist to the unfolding story.

The prosecutor's office was becoming convinced that the shooting was committed by Atlantic City gangsters and reached out the authorities in Atlantic City, New York, and Philadelphia for leads into the mystery. 

It would't be the first time gangsters traveled through Tuckerton. Route 4, also known as New York Highway and now Rt. 9, was the main route in the 1920's and 1930's to travel from New York to Atlantic City. Local residents were generally unaware of the unsavory travelers, as they usually quietly passed, unnoticed through town. This time; however, it appeared they left a "package".

I couldn't help wondering why the killer or killers choose to dispose of the body on the meadows in Tuckerton. After all, thousands of acres of Pine Barrens wilderness beckoned nearby which, over the years, proved to be the mob's dumping ground of choice.

This story was to play out in the Tuckerton Beacon over a few months with a variety of twists and turns. Stay tuned for further developments as it unfolds in the next few Blog entries!

Pete S

PS- Lest some Blog readers disbelieve my contention that it was not uncommon for noted gangsters to pass through Tuckerton on their way to and from New York to Atlantic City, click in the photo of Al Capone to read about his sighting at a gas station in New Gretna. Fortunately, he did not leave a package!


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