Edward Ridley Snr emigrated to New York City from Nottinghamshire in the early 1840’s. From humble beginnings as a hawker of ribbons and other small items he eventually built a vast emporium at Grand and Allen Streets, on the Lower East Side. It was one of the city’s first and largest department stores, covering five acres and employing 2,500 people at its peak.
When the old man died in 1883 his sons Arthur and Edward inherited the store. Edward Jnr was a withdrawn batchelor, who rarely appeared on the shop floor. His persona was in stark contrast to the idealized image of family life portrayed in the company’s Christmas card pictured below.
By the turn of the century Ridley and Sons had been remodeled, but the district was becoming unfashionable. Rather than follow their rivals uptown to 5th and 6th Avenue the brothers closed the giant store in 1901. They sold off the stock and fittings for $300, 000. Both moved into the real estate business and in Edward’s case, money lending.
The reclusive Edward maintained two links with the department store. Firstly, he set up an office in the sub-basement of what was originally the stables belonging to Ridley and Sons, at 59 Allen Street. It could scarcely even be called an office; it was a tiny, damp chamber lit by gas. Secondly, he employed Herman Moench, one of the store’s long term employees , as his assistant. It was said that Moench had started out as an errand boy, aged just nine.
The pair worked together for decades. Edward Ridley became increasingly wealthy, and increasingly eccentric. He let his beard grow wild and wore an overcoat and rubber boots every day, regardless of the weather. He had never married, and lived in a boarding house in Fanwood New Jersey. He only bought new clothes when nagged by his landlady, Miss Emma Boucher.
He had a reputation as a hard businessman , showing little sympathy for those who could not repay their loans.
On January 3 1931, Ridley arrived at work as usual and called for the now middle aged Herman Moench to help him remove his coat. There was no response, and the old man found his assistant slumped in his chair. He was dead, shot twice in the stomach. Detectives could find no signs of robbery. The safe was untouched and there was money on Moench’s person.
Interest in the case dwindled and Edward Ridley employed another local man as a replacement assistant.
Two years later police were again called to the creepy underground office. This time they were confronted by two bodies, one riddled with bullets and the other beaten to death.
TO BE CONTINUED….
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