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Press: Murder for Easter

5 minute read

Easter Sunday blew wintry cold in New York. Chilled photographers of the Fifth Avenue fashion parade swung their cameras in despair at such finery as winter overcoats did not conceal. Managing editors by mid-afternoon were groaning over the results, wondering what they could scrape up to decorate Monday morning’s paper. At 3: 3O they knew.

On the fourth floor of a six-story apartment house in Manhattan’s midtown East side, the beautiful naked body of a 20-year-old artist’s model was found stretched dead on a bed. Beneath the bed was the almost naked body of the girl’s mother, also murdered. In an adjoining room, pillowed in a pool of blood, stabbed through the skull eleven times by some sharp instrument such as an ice pick or an awl, was a murdered man, a roomer in the apartment.

As a murder mystery it was a natural. On Easter Eve, the mother had apparently been preparing vegetables and a roast for next day’s dinner. She had been strangled. Judging from her bruised knuckles and the traces of skin and grey hair later found beneath her nails, she had fought her assailant. The roomer, deaf, had presumably been murdered in his sleep. The murderer had then waited until the daughter came home at 3 a.m. Charles Robinson who lived on the top floor reported, “As I came up the steps leading to the Gedeons’ floor [at 2:10 a.m.] I noticed the door of their flat was half open. As I came nearer it closed—slowly and very quietly. But whoever was behind it kept out of sight. It looked as though the person inside had been waiting for someone.

When he saw it was me he stepped back.” The girl, shown by the autopsy to have been drinking heavily, left her escort at her door, entered her apartment, took off her coat and dress in the bathroom, washed out her silk stockings and hung them over the edge of the tub to dry, cold-creamed her face and put her hair up in curlers.

Then, wearing only her slip, she walked into her bedroom where the murderer knocked her unconscious, strangled her.

Her torn slip was found in the apartment.

The police doctors found no conclusive evidence of criminal assault of either mother or daughter. The killer had left no easy clues. There were no obvious motives. The murdered people had no known common enemies. What perfected the story for the newspapers was that the girl had posed, nude and otherwise, hundreds of times for commercial studios. As a picture story it was a Roman holiday.

By midweek the triple murder mystery had reached such a news-picture frenzy that decent, practical, socialite Publisher Joseph Medill Patterson of the tabloid News, with front and back pages, a double-page spread inside, and five other pages of the day’s issue already devoted to the Gedeon case, felt impelled to ask himself publicly: “Should we have done this?” By printing a ravishing body view of the murdered Veronica Gedeon smack in his editorial column beside the face of Chief Justice Hughes, Self-Critic Patterson boosted his paper’s total of the murdered Veronica’s pictures that day from 15 to 16, of which nine were nude or negligee views.

“What Is the Best Story?” was the headline of his editorial, which debated the News’s wallowing treatment of the murders as contrasted with its brief recording of the Supreme Court’s important batch of decisions the day after Easter (TIME, April 5). Wrote Publisher Patterson: “If we could print only one of the two stories we’d choose the Supreme Court. . . . Perhaps people should be more interested today in the Supreme Court than in the Gedeon murder, but we don’t think they are. . . . Murder sells papers, books, plays because we are all fascinated by murder.” Letting its soul-searching go at that, the News then plunged ahead with all the rest of Manhattan’s press to follow the Gedeon story on through. Suspicion fell upon the estranged father Joseph Gedeon (pronounced Gedyon), an upholsterer with erotic tendencies. Reporters hounded him into beer halls, had chairs thrown at them.

At a photographer who aimed at him, Father Gedeon hurled a glass of beer, making a news-picture of the week (see cut. p. 68). Police pulled him out of bed after three hours’ sleep one morning, grilled him nonstop, with time out only to attend the funeral of the murdered women, for 33 hours. His alibi had obvious gaps. Although neighbors had heard screams the murder night, the dead women’s Pekingese had not barked, must have known the strangler. Despite his wispy build and his age (54), the upholsterer had unusually powerful hands. The police questioned him on the sexy photographs and erotic books in his bedroom behind the upholstery shop, puzzled over his composure at the funeral, hounded him about the murders. But the police could not “break” him. Boasted he to Editor Paul Nadanyi of the Hungarian paper Amerikai Magyar Nepszava, who questioned him in Hungarian, “They can’t break me—I have seven lives.” By week’s end, when the newspapers had begun to build Gedeon up to look like another Bruno Richard Hauptmann and the police had begun to bog down before three more unsolved murders, up popped the discovery of Robert Irwin. A twice-committed mental hospital patient, 29-year-old Sculptor Irwin had once roomed with the Gedeons and was so abnormal about sex that he had tried to have himself emasculated. Learning that he had come to New York, hired a room for a single day near the Gedeon apartment and disappeared the night of the murders, the police settled on him as the murderer and began a nation-wide search. Thus this perfect story, playing a lurid obbligato to the Supreme Court and the Sit-Down in Manhattan’s lively press, flamed on into another week of joy for the city editors.

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