Citizens For A Better Norwood 2

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Part I: Clue of the Killer’s CALLING CARD

PISTOL pressed against the holdup man’s belly Sergeant Anthony H. Overberg, of the Norwood, Ohio, police, snapped a command, "Lay that gun of yours on the counter-and make it fast!"

Facing Overberg, hands upraised, stood a surprised youth. A moment before he had started backing the drugstore's proprietor, Howard J. Lawson toward a rear room where the robber knew there was a safe. He hadn't figured that an armed policeman would be concealed there.

Overberg was only one of ten Norwood officers hidden that night July 8, 1942, in as many local establishments --lying in wait for the boasted return of a bold young thug who had been terrorizing merchants in the greater Cincinnati area.

The trap had been arranged by Chief of Police Charles Fritz at the urging of Mayor Allen C. Roudebush and business leaders, following visits of the bandit to Wester's and Hein's pharmacies on Section and Sherman avenues respectively.

On June 27, the thug had taunted Hein as he relieved the druggist's cash register of $200 receipts. "When you see your cops," he had said, "tell them this town's soft pickin's. I'll be around some more." Now on this July night, it seemed as if the egotistical youth had fallen victim to a snare of his own making.

At Sergeant Overberg's command, he put down his .45 caliber automatic pistol on the glass counter. Looking on were Lawson and three customers--Mr. and Mrs. M. H. Burroughs and Joseph Coors--rooted to their positions near the soda fountain, where the thug had ordered them to remain.

Occasionally they would shift their eyes toward the two large plate glass windows, but it was 10:30 P.M. and the streets were deserted. There was no further help in sight.

They then saw Overberg make a move toward his handcuffs. In that very instant, the bandit snaked his hand back toward the counter. He seized his .45 and at the same, time hurled himself at Overberg. His left hand got a grip on Overberg’s gun.

The momentum of the thug's leap sent Overberg plummeting back against the prescription counter, where a cascade of bottles tumbled over the pair of struggling men.

The .45 went off with the boom of a cannon, its slug ploughing high into the woodwork of the partition upon at the rear of the store. It sent another shower of' glass down upon the men.

Overberg was powerful, but his opponent was lithe and tough. And the sergeant gradually felt his own .38 caliber service pistol being pressed back against him.

Then, to the horror of the watchers, it exploded violently three times. Sergeant Overberg loosed a strong deep groan and the .38 slipped from his grasp. Now it was in the possession of the thug, whose own big automatic had been knocked from his hand during the struggle.

As Overberg slumped to the floor, blood gushing from three severe wounds, the bandit whirled and brought the policeman's pistol level with the awed quartet.

"Don't make a move!" he snarled. "I'm getting out."

The left leg of his trousers was torn. His suit was smeared and reeking with vanilla, which had splashed over him from one of the bottles that had showered down upon him while he was struggling with Overberg.

Lawson and the customers watched him race into Franklin Avenue, run up the block and turn the corner of Alison.

Druggist Lawson then rushed into a phone booth.

Chief of Police Fritz, Mayor Roudebush and Hellman Buse, President of the Norwood Taxsavers' Association, were among a group of city officials waiting at police headquarters for the results of the bandit trap. Lawson's message deeply shocked the group.

Fritz hurriedly summoned Dr. W. H. Ventress, police surgeon and deputy coroner, an ambulance from the Good Samaritan Hospital, and every available officer. He dashed to Franklin and Courtland avenues, site of the Lawson store, and an intersection not far from the business center of the city.

Sizing up the situation, Fritz spread a cordon around the neighborhood. Obtaining a description of the thug -- about twenty-four, five-feet eleven, 165 pounds, light curly hair, suit stained with vanilla, trouser leg torn-he ordered it phoned back to headquarters and then flashed out to all squad cars.

"That guy can't get away!" he snapped to Detective Lee Kiley, one of his veteran officers.

Then he turned for a look at Sergeant Overberg, who lay unconscious. Dr. Ventress shook his head.

"Hit in the chest, groin and leg," he said. "He's in bad shape. Blood's going to be needed right away."

Fritz snapped an order to Kiley, who dashed into a phone booth and notified headquarters to rush a squad of blood donors to the hospital where Overberg would be taken.

Overberg was then loaded into the ambulance and rushed to the operating table. An hour later he was dead.

CHIEF OF POLICE FRITZ was stunned as this information reached him at the Lawson store, where he was still directing the work of fingerprint men and interrogating the witnesses.

The .45 caliber automatic had been gingerly lifted from the floor, dropped into a, cellophane bag, and rushed down to the laboratory. Fritz held high hopes of obtaining usable impressions from this gun, or a serial number that might point to its purchaser.

The chief was flabbergasted when his detectives and the squad officers began reporting back. Although plenty of passersby had seen the bandit run into Alison Avenue, none were able to say where he had gone from there. The police found no further trace of him, and figured he must have made a getaway in a parked car.

According to the accounts of the witnesses, the bandit's routine had varied little from the scores of other crimes he had committed in the Cincinnati area. He had walked in, ordered a soft drink, looked the situation over carefully, then gone to work behind his big, black, .45.

Lawson, the Burroughses, and Coors were certain he had run out with Overberg's pistol, and since this was missing, Fritz knew it would tag the youth as the killer if he could be found with the weapon.

Further, if he attempted to sell or hock it, the pistol might lead to his ultimate undoing. But there was a possibility Chief of Police Fritz feared: the bandit might dispose of the gun in the Ohio River. However, he made a mental note to put his pawnshop squad to work tracing the weapon on the following morning.

Overberg's gun was not an ordinary pistol, a fact which Fritz considered noteworthy. Special grips for the weapon had been designed the sergeant himself, and Norwood's ballistics expert, Harold Davis, had built and installed them. Furthermore, the weapon had a trigger guard rebuilt by armorer Oakley Wilson.

Word of the killing had been flashed to Cincinnati, where the bandit had been active before invading adjoining Norwood. As soon as he heard the news, Detective Chief Emmett D. Kirgan rushed his night staff out to comb the resorts for a youth who smelled of vanilla.

Fritz, speeding back to his own headquarters, directed the activities of a crack detective staff, which included, besides Kiley, such seasoned homicide investigators as Joseph Flower, Meredith Dockum, and George Schultz.

These men were directed to shake down stool pigeons and other sources of information for a line on the thug, and to raid several gambling dens which were known to be openly flaunting the law.

Fritz also notified the State Police and the Hamilton County sheriff's office to watch the highways for a lone youth smelling of vanilla, whose trouser leg was torn, and who, possibly, was in possession of Anthony Overberg's specially designed service pistol.

The combined efforts of these agencies filled both the Norwood and the Cincinnati headquarters with people. On hand to view photographs and suspects personally were Lawson, Mr. and Mrs. Burroughs, Coors and Peter Hein, the latter being the druggist victim of the bandit on June 27.

None of them were able to recognize the killer from pictures. And the negative shakes of their heads rapidly eliminated the numerous suspects caught by the police net.