Part III: Clue of the Killer’s CALLING CARD
In spite of these disappointments, Fritz had been keeping the promise to himself and Sergeant Overberg that he would overlook no lead in the crime no matter where it took him. Although other duties encroached on his time, the officer was ever ready to plunge back into the murder mystery at the drop of a clue.
Thus it was on April 25, 1944, that Fritz, Flower and Hein rushed to Colorado Springs, where a prisoner, seized in a $3,700 diamond robbery, had confessed he once killed a policeman and left his gun behind.
The man, who looked discouragingly unlike the Norwood bandit, was later found hopelessly insane.
Often, when alone at his desk, Chief of Police Fritz would open a drawer, remove the .45 caliber automatic and the three leaden pellets and study them. He wondered, with a shake of his head, whether an opportunity ever would come when he might tie them up to a callous killer.
THE year 1945 arrived, and on January 18, Detective Kenneth Vassie received a visitor at police headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.
It was a friend who during war-times held down the position of auxiliary policeman. He had a problem which seemed to demand professional attention, and Vassie was an offcer to whom he could talk freely.
"It's about a fellow who's threatened my life," the auxiliary officer said.
Vassie's brows knitted. "Why don't you grab him and bring him in? We'll cool him off down here."
The friend shook his head. "It's not as easy as that - he isn't around right now. Anyhow, I am not so concerned for myself. I could handle the guy. I'm worried about my girl."
"He threatened her, too. Rather, he threatened both of us through her. I've never seen the mug face to face."
"What are these threats all about?"
"It's a long story, but I'd better go back to the beginning. I guess you know my girl-she's Mrs. Florence Klawson."
Vassie whistled Mrs. Klawson only nineteen, was a Louisville society belle. She had made and dissolved an unfortunate marriage. This was no hysterical woman, Vassie decided, but a well-educated, poised post-deb. His friend’s story increased in importance.
Several questions were on the tip and of his tongue, but the auxiliary policeman was already launching his story, so Vassie allowed him to continue.
"This girl of mine," Vassie's friend said, "met this fellow about a year ago, right after her divorce. He was a young chap, with good looks and apparently a lot of money. She had a convertible coupe and they did a lot of driving around.
"Every once in awhile this fellow would tell her to stop the car and wait for him. He'd get out and leave her for about half an hour or so; then, when he came back, they'd resume the evening activities--visit night clubs or roadhouses. As I said, he always had plenty of money.
"Well, one night the coupe was stopped in a police search for a bandit who had just robbed a store. When the cops approached, this fellow said to the girl, 'Tell them I was with you all evening.' He backed up his words with a pistol, which he stuck into her ribs.
"My girl gave the fellow his alibi, but before the cops left she realized he was the bandit they were after. He admitted it. Furthermore, he showed her the pistol and said 'I got this from a fellow I once killed. I call it Tony in his honor. Not a bad idea, eh?'
"Mrs. Klawson was horrified. After that, although he kept persisting, she never went out with him again.
"Then she met me. This fellow became jealous. Last week, when he was on a furlough, he came around to see her. He said, 'If you don't give that guy up, I'll hide in your rumble seat some night and bump both of you off.'"
Vassie rubbed his chin. He had heard plenty of stories in his day, but this was one of the strangest of all.
"You said something about a furlough," he declared. "Is that bandit in the armed services?"
"Yes-in the Navy. It seems things got a little hot for him about three months ago, so he decided to hide out in a uniform. But how he got in, I don't know-seeing he told my girl he'd served time in the Texas State Penitentiary."
"What's his name?"
"Frank Carter. He's married, and his wife lives in Middletown, right near here."
Vassie knew Middletown as a tiny village with a population of not over fifty.
"What do you think we ought to do?" the auxiliary policeman asked.
"Keep your girl away from this fellow and let me know if he comes back to town."
"My girl's in Chicago."
"Then there's nothing to worry about."
"But he's at Great Lakes."
"That's bad. Anyhow, keep your eye out for him."
Vassie didn't know anything he could do, since the alleged bandit named Carter was out of the state.
That night, however, he went to the Louisville criminal files and discovered a record for Frank Dudley Carter of Middletown. His prison sentence in Texas was included in the file.
Vassie recalled a few sentences from his friend's story, "'I got this from a fellow I killed. I call it Tony in his honor.' "
A man, Vassie thought, had been killed. The gun taken from him had been christened Tony by the murderer.
Vassie tried to remember the victims of the unsolved Kentucky murder cases, but could recall none whose name was Tony.
Casually he walked over to a stack of wanted notices supplied by out-of-town police agencies, and after considerable desultory reading he came across the Norwood, Ohio, crime in 1942.
As he read the victim's name Anthony H. Overberg-the Louisville detective wondered whether, by any stroke of coincidence, this could possibly have been the death referred to by Carter, the self-admitted murderer.
Reading the circular further, Vassie saw that Overberg's gun was wanted almost as badly as the killer.
Tony! Missing gun! The course he must pursue began to shape up in Vassie's mind.
FRITZ regarded Vassie's telephone call with the same skepticism he had been viewing all leads of late. Even the nickname given the gun failed to impress him.
But he appreciated the Louisville officer's thoughtfulness in relaying the information, though he put little stock in the tip. However, having vowed to follow up every lead, Fritz told Vassie he would send some men down.
"They can go out and talk to this Carter's wife, anyhow," Fritz said.
Vassie told Fritz that he knew two of the three principals involved and they were trustworthy people.
"The only convincer," Fritz answered, "would be Anthony Overberg's revolver. If this Carter's got a pistol, it isn't likely he took it into the Navy with him. Maybe his wife knows where it would be. It's worth taking a chance on."
That noon Kiley and Dockum, on orders from Fritz, took the train to Louisville, about seventy-five miles to the southwest. By 7 o'clock they were in a car with Vassie, heading for the home of the Carters in Middletown, just outside Louisville.
The cottage was lighted, indicating someone was there.
"It's his wife," Vassie told the pair. "I made one of those ‘who is this’ telephone calls this afternoon and Mrs. Carter admitted her identity before I hung up on her."
Kiley and Dockum got out of the car. "This probably won't take but - a few minutes," the veteran Kiley told Vassie. "You want to wait in the car or come in with us?"
"I'd better wait here. We don't want to scare the woman. If she's not frightened by us, she might make some admissions."
Kiley pressed the doorbell. Soon the porch light went on, the door swung open and a young, slim woman stood before Kiley and Dockum.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," Kiley began, removing his hat, "but we're police officers from Norwood, Ohio, and --"
That was as far as he got. The woman's mouth dropped open, her eyes widened, a painful expression crossed her features, and she collapsed in a heap.
"Fainted, by gosh!" Kiley exploded. "And all I. said was Norwood! Hey, we're hot! Oh, Vassie!"
The last was a call for the officer in the car who had witnessed the scene in the lighted doorway. He came running.
"This gal's out," Kiley said, "and we've got the chance of a lifetime. Norwood means plenty to her. That gun could be in this house. You and Dockum take a quick look."