A CONTINUATION OF THE STORY, THE STRANGE LIFE OF EDWARD RIDLEY – PART ONE.
In May 1933, police were called to a crime scene at a damp hovel below what had once been Ridley and Sons Department Store complex, on the Lower East Side of New York. The Ridley family had disposed of the property when the giant emporium closed down in 1901. However, the reclusive and eccentric Edward Ridley did not sever all connection. He set up a successful real estate and money lending business in the sub-basement, below the old stables. It was 35 feet below ground level. Apparently Ridley chose the location because he didn’t want to be disturbed by the rumble of a nearby elevated railway.
For thirty years the frugal millionaire quietly commuted to this mean little office from his boarding house in New Jersey. The only time he had to confront the wider world was when he arrived one morning in 1931 to find his long time confidential assistant, Herman Moench, shot dead . Neither the killer nor the weapon used could be found. Moench had known Ridley from the age of nine, and had worked as his confidential secretary for decades
ENTER MR LEE WEINSTEIN
It seems that the old man’s judgement was failing, because he chose an unlikely person as Moench’s replacement. Perhaps because his world was so narrow, he employed virtually the closest person at hand. This was Lee Weinstein, one of two brothers who managed the garage above, on street level (originally the building’s stables). Weinstein was terrible at maths, and secretly enlisted the help of two accountants, George Goodman and Arthur Hoffman, to help with Ridley’s complicated affairs. They were not on the payroll, but it would transpire that they were being amply rewarded by Weinstein.
On May 10 1933 Harry Weinstein tried to reach his brother Lee by telephone. When that failed he went down to the subterranean office to be confronted by Edward Ridley’s body at the entrance and his brother’s further inside.
The scene was horrific. The old man himself had been beaten to death with an iron bar and a book-keeper’s stool. He must have put up a fight, because portions of his beard had been pulled out by the roots. Next to him was 44 year old Weinstein who had been shot multiple times in the chest (some reports said five, others seven).
A photograph of detectives at the murder scene shows them examining one of the many derby hats found. Edward Ridley habitually wore a derby, and presumably he was too frugal to dispose of his old ones. More sinister is the broken stool in the foreground of the photo. It was found covered in blood.
Bizarrely, forensic examination of spent bullet cases revealed that the same gun was used to kill both Herman Moench and Lee Weinstein. It was a .32 caliber automatic revolver. As in the previous shooting, robbery did not appear to be the motive . What possible reason could there have been for someone to shoot both of Ridley’s assistants? And was the old man battered to death because he disturbed Weinstein’s killer, who had run out of ammunition?
DIAGRAM OF THE MURDER SCENE
The ramp shown in the diagram below was built for access to the stables by delivery horses in the old days.
In the course of the investigation, Edward Ridley’s will came to light. This was a surprise, because he had always resisted making one. It was dated March 4 1932, and witnessed by the accountants Goodman and Hoffman. Ridley’s usual solicitor had not been involved, and there was a bequest of $200,000 to the dead Lee Weinstein. Clearly the will was fraudulent. Ridley’s eyesight was very poor and it was assumed he had unwittingly signed the will in a sheaf of other papers. It was further revealed that Weinstein, Goodman and Hoffman had been stealing from Ridley for quite some time. Weinstein had purchased a Cadillac on the proceeds. The information increased the already intense public interest in the case, but did not appear to have any bearing on the murders. The crooked accountants ended up in Sing Sing, but as they told the detectives, they needed Weinstein alive to keep the cash flowing. They had nothing to gain (and quite a bit to lose) by his death. A $10,000 reward was offered by the administrators of Ridley’s estate.
Edward Ridley was buried in Green-Wood cemetery, Brooklyn. With an estate of approximately $3,000,000 at stake it was hardly a surprise when someone went to court in 1934 claiming to be the illegitimate son of Ridley. His story was quickly disproved and the case was thrown out. The money was eventually dispersed among nieces and nephews.
The old man’s landlady, Miss Emma Boucher, was devastated by his brutal murder. She immediately put her boarding house up for sale. She too was in her eighties, and had postponed retirement to maintain a home for her eccentric lodger.
In 1946 there were reports that the New York Police Department were investigating a secret new clue which it was hoped would finally crack the complex case. However, as far I can discover, nothing eventuated. Officially, all three deaths remain unsolved. One thing is for sure; Edward Ridley’s death was even stranger than his life.
AUTHOR’S THEORY – It’s my belief that a disgruntled client, perhaps with underworld connections, was responsible for the deaths. Moench, and subsequently Weinstein, were virtually running old Ridley’s business and perhaps it was felt that by taking them out the problem would be solved. I’m sure the killer of Moench expected the business to collapse after his death. Weinstien’s bizarre appointment allowed it to continue, and would have been a complete shock. Edward Ridley was little more than a figurehead, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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