|"New York Daily News," March 18, 1928, via Newspapers.com|
New York subway stations can be unpleasant and even dangerous places, but thankfully they have seen few crimes as mysterious as the now long-forgotten murder of an otherwise unremarkable woman.
39-year-old Mrs. Emma Weigand was an attractive milliner, who worked hard to support her aged mother and three young children. Unfortunately, little else is known about her. There is no evidence she had enemies, or gave any reason for anyone to wish her dead.
The trouble is, someone did indeed wish her dead.
On the afternoon of August 5, 1927, a young woman named Sarah Lipschitz entered the women's restroom at the B.M.T. subway station, deep under New York's City Hall Square. She saw a woman's foot sticking out from under one of the half-doors of the toilet compartments. When Lipschitz peered under the locked door, she was confronted with a pool of blood and a woman's crumpled body, dead from a bullet wound in her chest. Understandably enough, her reaction was to let out an ear-splitting scream and run for the police. A commutation ticket of the New York Central found in the dead woman's purse indicated the corpse was that of one Emma Weigand. (The body was later positively identified by her mother, Freida Ahles.) The absence of a weapon found at the scene, coupled with the lack of powder marks on the victim's hands, indicated this was a case of murder, not suicide.
|"New York Daily News," August 6, 1927|
From the start, authorities were confronted with an almost total lack of clues. The noise of the trains would have drowned out the sound of the gunshot, leaving it impossible to say exactly when the murder occurred, but police believed she had been killed between 11:30 and 11:45 a.m., about four hours before the body was discovered. (Before Lipschitz discovered the body, a number of women had gone in and out of the washroom, but they had all felt that a prone body in one of the stalls was hardly worth investigating.) A group of girls told police that they had seen a "tall, thin man" running up the steps to the Woolworth building at the end of the station platform around the time Weigand must have been shot. Was this the murderer, fleeing the scene of his crime? Or just some innocent bystander in a hurry? As he was never identified, that question was fated to remain unanswered, but detectives were disinclined to attach much weight to the girls' story.
There was nothing about Emma's last known movements to indicate anything unusual. Earlier that morning, she visited the hospital where her 7-year-old daughter, Dorothea, was about to have her tonsils removed. Within half an hour of Mrs. Weigand leaving Dorothea's bedside, she was dead.
Emma's estranged husband, Frank Weigand, was naturally brought in for questioning. He was extremely cooperative with the police. Weigand stated that the murder was as puzzling to him as it was to everyone else. "I do not know of any affairs she might possibly have had, and I am sure she was the sort of woman who wouldn't have an enemy in the world." He freely admitted that two years back, his wife had left him due to his excessive drinking. It also emerged that he had a conviction for grand larceny on his resume, and that he was failing to pay his court-ordered child support. However, his alibi for the time of the murder--he was at work--proved to be water-tight. Investigators had no choice but to dismiss this initially promising suspect. "It was too bad," Weigand said of his wife's murder. "She was a nice girl."
The detectives were having a terrible time grappling with the city's first "subway murder." They had no motive, no suspects, no witnesses, no anything at all to suggest who had shot Emma Weigand, and why. Robbery was ruled out--her purse, and the $35 she had placed inside it before leaving her home--were untouched. (However, it was noted that an onyx ring Emma always wore was missing. The ring was never traced.) It was suggested that Mrs. Weigand had stumbled upon an anarchist seeking to bomb the Woolworth Building, causing him to silence her with a bullet, but no actual evidence for this rather lurid theory ever surfaced. Out of sheer desperation, some detectives proposed that Mrs. Weigand had committed suicide, with some passerby later stealing the gun, but proof of this scenario was conspicuously absent, as well. In fact, friends of the victim asserted that she had been in excellent spirits, and was planning a vacation for herself, her children, and her mother. She had a good job, and no money worries. Police, in the words of the "New York Daily News," were "facing a blank wall."
An additional enigma was provided by where she was killed. Why was she at the City Hall station at all? According to her mother, Emma did all of her shopping in another district, and had no reason to be in this unfamiliar section of the metropolis. Police announced that the answer to that question would lead to solving her murder. Unfortunately, as far as anyone could tell, that answer died with Mrs. Weigand.
With the investigation stymied, the Weigand murder soon disappeared from the newspapers. In January 1929, there was momentary hope for a break in the case, when a woman in another subway station reported that another lady had tried to strangle her. This "lady" turned out to be a burly paroled murderer and middleweight boxer named Stefan Wiszuk, in full flapper attire. Unfortunately, any attempts to link him to the unsolved crime fell apart when it was proved that he was in prison at the time Mrs. Weigand was killed. (When asked why he was wearing female clothing, Wiszuk said sheepishly that it was "only a joke.")
|"New York Daily News," January 29, 1929|
This was the final public word regarding the Weigand murder, and the mystery was soon completely forgotten. Someone pulled off a seemingly clue-free, motive-free, suspect-free murder.
The perfect crime.