Sunday, May 16, 2010

'Radio Burglar' Paul Hilton Killed for Music in the Late '20s by David J. Krajicek - NY Daily News

Read original...

Otto Guendal awoke on Jan. 30, 1926, and found a window jimmied at his home on 91st Ave. in Woodhaven, Queens.

Nothing but his radio was missing.

Guendal proved to be the first victim of one of the more eccentric crime sprees in New York history. Over the following two months, a fleet-footed housebreaker paid late-night visits to 29 of Guendal's neighbors in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill. If they owned a radio, they awoke to find it gone.

In that era, a radio receiver was considered as essential as an icebox. New York had become a broadcasting center, with such stations as WJZ, WNY and, at 660 AM, WEAF, the NBC flagship. The number of stations nationally exploded from 26 in 1923 to nearly 600 a year later.

Radios were pricey - up to $250 for deluxe models at a time when a working man earned $100 a month. But they were flying off the shelves - and out windows in the arms of a burglar.

Cops got a first look at the human crime wave on Feb. 26, when Queens Patrolman Jacob Biegel saw a young man toting a radio from a home on 95th St.

The burglar pulled a gun, shot Biegel in the leg, and sprinted away like a jackrabbit, despite his cargo of a 15-pound radio.

By wounding a cop, the break-in artist made the newspaper front pages as "the Radio Burglar."

Scrutiny did not hinder his work. He hit a new house nearly every night as Police Commissioner George McLaughlin fumed. He ordered extra patrol cars to the area and goaded his minions to find the man.

They found him, all right.

At 3 a.m. on March 25, Herbert Horscroft reported an intruder at his 78th St. home. Queens Patrolman Arthur Kenny arrived in the backyard as a man casually strolled out the back door.

The man told Kenny he was the homeowner, then pulled a Smith & Wesson revolver and shot the cop in the neck. He sprinted off, leaving another patrolman, Frank Donnelly, in his dust. Three blocks away, the Radio Burglar stepped out of a shadow and shot his winded pursuer in the shoulder.

Commissioner McLaughlin flooded the neighborhood with 500 extra cops. One of them, Detective Charles McCarthy, stopped a suspicious young man he saw walking on 87th Ave. at 2 a.m. on April 6.

"I'm legitimate," the man said. "Toole, from the gas company."

He flipped open a wallet, and as McCarthy reached for it, the man pulled a gun and shot him in the shoulder. Two fellow detectives lost another footrace to the Radio Burglar.

Patrolman Kenny, the burglar's first shooting victim, died just hours after McCarthy was shot. The radio thief now had the homicide squad on his tail.