Weegee, Naked City, p. 80

“Murder in Hell’s Kitchen
One looks out of the windows… talks about the weather with a neighbor… or looks at a murder.”

Photo of people in a pair of windows on the second floor of 415 West 48th St

(That’s pretty close to 451 West 47th. St.)

They are above:
Chas. Kemp, plumbing, heating, 415 West 48th, CI rcle 6-9690
Night, Sun, and holidays WI ndsr 6-2536
and
Jos. Beck, electric contractor, 415 West 48, CI rcle 6-9262


(Screenshot from icp.org)

Page 220 of the essential and indispensable book “Extra! Weegee” features a photo of a large, empty box. The photo (exactly like the photo below) is cluttered and claustrophobic, yet empty. Perhaps it’s a crime scene. There are boxes, cartons, a coat, and papers on top of the empty box and on shelves in the background, there’s a can or two on the ground; a pole and it’s shadow are in the foreground.
Beneath the photo in “Extra! Weegee” is a caption:

“RECLUSE DIES IN COFFIN-LIKE BED.
New York – Nightly for thirty-five years, Jeremiah Erranght, 55, would lock himself in the four-foot square iron box and go to sleep. When Erranght, who kept to himself, not allowing anyone to enter his squalid two-rooms at 79 Allen St. was missed by neighbors, the police were summoned. Breaking into the apartment, the police were confronted with the strange box. Using torches, the box was opened and inside was discovered the body of Erranght. Neighbors say he is quite wealthy.”

It’s an intriguing and enigmatic photo, appropriately people-free; Grand Guignol reality from the gritty ghetto of the (Lower) East Side… We didn’t see any coverage in PM. The NY Post had the best coverage. The Daily News coverage was silly and the NY Times had a pair of articles. AP distributed a widely printed short story. All photo-free. (No mention in the press about the Selox soap boxes: “The Speed Soap. Saves time, clothes, work, money”; “The Speed Soap. Quick sudsing – safe – economical,” for clothes and dishes.)


(Screenshot from icp.org)

March 16, 1942:

NY Post, front page, then page 8:
Dies in Coffin in Which He Lived.
Eccentric’s Body Clothed in Galoshes, Earmuffs

“The mystery of Jeremiah Erranght, accurately nicknamed Dracula by a sharp-eyed East Side kid years ago… lived for 35 of his 55 years in a two-room flat at 79 Allen St… Yesterday police smashed down the door… and found him dead.
Like Dracula, the king vampire of Bram Stoker’s creation, the recluse had almost literally dwelt in a coffin. His six-foot length was found crammed in a four-foot-square sheet metal box, which he had built himself… its narrow door was padlocked on the inside.
…He had a job – coach washer for the Pennsylvania R.R. [in Sunnyside, Queens] – to which he went faithfully, clad in a black suit, black hat and a capelike outer garment…
He bought prodigiously and fantastically. A crate of eggs, two boxes of apples, 12 dozen oranges. Six boxes of candles… A case of ketchup…
…once a month the recluse would open his door a crack, slip $15 though and utter a single sepulchral word: “Rent.”
The police who forced their way into the place yesterday saw a strange sight. The windows had been nailed shut and were opaque with decades of grime. Two tables were deeply encrusted with dirt, as were two chairs…
The body was clothed in trousers and undershirt, galoshes and earmuffs. There was no bedding in the box.
Two old trunks held only yellowed scraps of paper, on which the writing was mostly illegible… and a key to a safe deposit box…”

AP: “…They broke into his unlighted and unheated room after neighbors reported him missing for several days and plowed through the trash-filled, furniture-less abode for half an hour before deciding to pry open the big box.
There, knees drawn up because of his six-foot figure’s space requirements, they found Erranght, wearing galoshes and ear muffs. Natural causes, they said, apparently brought the mystery man’s unnatural life to an end.”

Daily News:
Lone ‘Dracula’ Dies In Box He Slept In
A mysterious, silent black-clad recluse, called Dracula by the children of the neighborhood, was found dead yesterday in a four-foot square, homemade sheet-metal box in which he slept at his one-room flat at 79 Allen St…
The room was without gas, electricity, heat or furnishings except the metal box and two trunks containing some newspaper clippings and faded letters…
His only purchases at a nearby store were candles and oatmeal…”

NY Times:
Recluse Dies Locked in 4-Foot Metal Box
In Which He Slept Wearing His Galoshes

A taciturn six-footer whose long black cape and hat were a familiar sight on the East Side was found dead yesterday in a metal chamber that served as his bed in the two squalid rooms he had occupied for thirty-five years at 79 Allen Street.
Death was apparently due to natural causes, the police said… had pried off the lid of the boxlike bed 4 1/2 feet high and 4 feet wide and long… The chamber was ventilated by small perforations in its two-inch-thick walls…
…The only food in the rooms was oatmeal. There were a couple of broken tables and chairs and the metal chamber that a policeman said resembled a ‘medieval torture chamber.’…
…alarmed at not having heard the heavy iron door clang shut at night, Siebert [the janitor who lived next door] called the police.
In the neighborhood the children spoke of him as a ‘Dracula-like’ figure…”

Syracuse Herald-Journal:
‘Ghetto Dracula’ is Found Dead in His Torture Bed
Death today sealed the mystery of the Ghetto ‘Dracula.’
In a trash-littered, bedless two-room East Side apartment…
His elongated figure garbed in a long black cape and wide black hat caused children to call him Dracula.
Police said the almost furniture-less candle-lit apartment shed little light on Erranght. Two black trunks filled with yellow, illegible documents, a safety deposit key and $150 in postal certificates were found by police…”


Weegee, [Jeremiah Erranght’s room], 1942, screenshot from icp.org

PM, March 14, 1941, pp.12-14 (photo by Steve Derry)


New York Herald, March 1896


New York Herald, March 1896


The Sun, November 1897


The Sun, June 1898


The Sun, July 1899


The New York Press, October 1902


Evening Telegram, December 1908


The New York Press, March 1913


Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 1914


The New York Press, March 1915


New York Call, March 1915


Evening Telegram, March 1915


PM, March 12, 1942, p.5

Police Seize 3 Suspects in the Refuge Murder Case

“A wealthy Polish refugee, Mrs. Susan Flora Reich, suffocated last week when robbers bound and gagged her after stripping her of $2000 in jewelry. Her body was found in an East Side hotel apartment occupied by Madeline Webb, former model, and Eli Shonbrun. Third suspect, John D. Cullen, above, right, is watching Miss Webb climb into a patrol wagon. Evidence against the trio will be presented to a grand jury tomorrow. Assistant DA said Miss Reich was killed in a “barbarous, inhuman and savage attack.” In court, Miss Webb screamed: “You can’t do this to me!”

“Mullen represented himself as the father-in-law of Miss Webb in renting a Bronx furnished room. Here he is being booked for homicide. Police trailed him for two days before arresting him and getting information that led to the others. PM Photo by Hy Rothman

“Shonbrun drummed his fingers nervously on desk while giving pedigree. Miss Webb tried to hide her face from photographers. She came here from Stillwater, Okla, is a college graduate, worked as a showgirl, model and dancer. PM Photos by Weegee
PM, March 12, 1942, p.5

A great lesser-known photo… Photographer was INSIDE the patrol wagon…

Mrs. Reich was a refugee from Poland, the “wife of a New Jersey wax processor,” lived at the Hotel Woodrow (35 West 64th St), was 52 years old. She was murdered at the Hotel Sutton, 330 East 56th St on March 4th… Webb (“obscure actress college graduate”) and Shonbrun were living in 438 East 147th St in the Bronx… Miss Webb had an I.Q. of 90; Cullen’s I.Q. was 107; Shonbrun possessed an I.Q. of 102 according to the psychiatrist quoted by the NY Times

“…she turned her eyes to the mural of modern justice…”

On January 9, 1967 Madeline Webb left the New York State Prison for Women in Bedford Hills after 24 years. Thanks to Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s Christmas clemency. She spent 22 years working as the prison librarian. (“As the sole inmate librarian, she spent almost every weekday of the past 22 years in the small but busy library.” THS, January 7, 1967.) She was 53 years old.


New York Times, March 1942 – February 1944