Why Didn’t God Accept Cain’s Sacrifice? Because He Wasn’t Abel.

January 5, 1927
Albany, New York
Cain is alive and well (jeepers, the life span of these antediluvians) in the land of Nod York, East of Eden, or at least Schenectady…seems that one Harry Cain was engaged in a phone call, and was having some trouble making himself understood to the person on the other end of the line.

Finally the landlady came to the rescue.  “CAIN,” she shouted into the telephone, “C-a-i-n.  You know, the man that killed his brother.”

That set off the other party on the phone all right…murder!  The police were summoned and Harry Cain was in jail in a matter of minutes.  It took hauling the landlady in some time later to explicate the whole mess.

Still, I’d keep an eye on that Lamech character.

Ruth Snyder’s Date with Death

December 17, 1927
Ossining, NY Ruth Snyder

Mrs. Ruth Snyder has a date with Sing Sing’s electric chair on January 12, 1928, unless her plea for executive clemency is granted.

The seductive blonde and her lover, corset salesman Judd Gray (see photo), were both tried and convicted of murdering Ruth’s husband by caving in his skull with a window sash weight, strangling him with a garrote fashioned out of picture wire and a gold pen, and finally stuffing chloroform soaked rags into his nostrils.

Judd GrayIf there is an explanation for the obvious overkill in the murder of Albert Snyder, it must be that Ruth’s previous attempts to snuff out the life of her husband (twice by asphyxiation and once by poison) had failed – and she wasn’t about to give up. Ruth had persuaded her husband to take out a double indemnity policy, which would pay her in the event of his accidental death. It was the lure of the $97,000 worth of life insurance that compelled her to continue with her diabolical schemes until she succeeded.

Fueled by two bottles of whiskey and profound stupidity, the criminally-challenged duo staged the murder scene as a burglary gone horribly wrong. But their pathetic plan was doomed to failure. They threw an Italian language newspaper on the floor as a false clue to the identity of the killers. They emptied dresser drawers and overturned chairs. And in an act that would eventually help prosecutors to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Ruth hid her allegedly stolen jewelry under her mattress, about three feet away from Albert’s battered body!

The trial of Ruth and Judd would be a media circus, and celebrities such as director D.W. Griffith, and evangelists Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson would attend. Ruth would be called “ruthless Ruth”, “vampire”, and the “blonde fiend” by the press. Evidently not all men found those appellations a turn-off, because Ruth received at least 160 marriage proposals during her incarceration. DEAD

Unfortunately for Ruth, her plea for clemency would be denied by Governor Al Smith. Her execution would be famously recorded by newspaper man Tom Howard. The ingenious reporter had strapped a miniature camera to his ankle beneath his trousers. Just as the executioner threw the switch on the whimpering murderess, Tom raised the cuff of his pants and snapped the tabloid photo of a lifetime.

The murderers were unexceptional, but their crime inspired art. “Machinal”, a play by Sophie Treadwell was deemed one of the best of 1928-29. James M. Cain’s brilliant novels “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” are said to have been inspired by Albert Snyder’s murder. And, of course, each of the novels translated into two of the finest examples of film noir ever produced.

Stay Away from the City Hall in 1967

fortyyearsNew York
December 8, 1927 

From the Great Men Saying Great Things file…none other than the esteemed Sir Edwin Lutyens, Greatest of British Architects, has asserted that our sky-scrapers will, with certainty, in forty years, tumble.  According to Lutyens, the methods employed in structural steel construction of giving the steel only a “coating of paint or one of mud and water” allows our edifices scant protection from atmospheric penetration.

And boy, was he right.  Who can forget the terrible collapsings of Berg & Clark’s Gillender Building, or Burnham & Root’s Ashland Block or Masonic Temple, or Flagg’s Singer Building, et al?  Damn that atmospheric penetration!  (For more on victims of atmospheric penetration, go here.)

Here in Los Angeles of the future, of course, the atmosphere laughs as it burns paint and mud and water right off our tall buildings.  But stand tall and proud still, they do!

Houdini’s Widow to Receive Settlement

June 13, 1927
New York

houdiniFamed illusionist Harry Houdini died October 31, 1926, but until today, his widow, Bess, didn’t know whether she’d see any of the insurance money.  After months of investigation, the New York Life Insurance Company decided to accept the claim that Houdini died as the result of a blow struck by J. Gordon Whitehead, a McGill University student.  Bess Houdini would receive a settlement of $25,000 ($296,962 USD 2007).

Of course, New York Life had good reason to be confused.  Even today, Houdini’s death is surrounded by uncertainty.  Some accounts say that Whitehead challenged Houdini to take the punch fair and square, while others claim that he and his buddies lambasted the illusionist while he reclined on a sofa.  According to some, the blow to the abdomen could have ruptured Houdini’s appendix, while others today say that this would only have aggravated a pre-existing condition.  Still others speculate that he was actually poisoned by the angry Spiritualists he’d discredited.  As recently as March of this year, Harry’s descendents were seeking to have the body exhumed, while Bess’s sought to block it, claiming that the whole thing reeked of a book promotion stunt.

What’s a humble claims adjuster to do?