At 6 a.m. on August 4, 1941, Evelyn Anderson, age 26, left her home in the Bronx, walking to her job as a waitress in a nearby restaurant. She never punched the clock that day, and it was 9 p.m. before her lifeless body was discovered in an alley off Jerome Avenue. She had been strangled by a powerful assailant, marks of fingernails imbedded in her throat, but she had not been sexually abused.
A few days later, Anderson's watch was recovered from a New York pawn shop, hocked by one Charles Woolfolk. Under questioning, Woolfolk swore that he received the watch from a lady friend, Hazel Johnson, who in turn pointed an accusing finger at suspect Mandy Reid. Hauled in for interrogation, Reid said she got Anderson's handbag -- containing the watch -- from her friend, Jarvis Catoe, a resident of Washington, D.C.
Catoe, a 36-year-old black man, was arrested by authorities in Washington. On August 29, he confessed to the murders of seven women in Washington and one in New York City; four others had been raped but left alive, and he reportedly had failed in efforts to abduct two more. Another slaying in the District of Columbia was added on September 1. Corroborating his confession, Catoe told police where they could find one victim's lost umbrella, and he knew that twenty dollars had been stolen in another case -- a fact known only to detectives, members of the victim's family, and her killer.
Catoe named Evelyn Anderson as his New York victim, but the rampage had started years earlier, in Washington. Florence Darcy was the first to die, raped and strangled in 1935, but the case had been "closed" a year later, with the conviction of an innocent suspect. Josephine Robinson was next, murdered on December 1, 1939. Lucy Kidwell and Mattie Steward were killed two months apart, in September and November 1940. Ada Puller was the first victim of 1941, murdered on January 2.
Things started heating up for Washington police six weeks later, when Catoe *** to Caucasian victims for the first time. Rose Abramovitz, a bride of one month, hired the strangler to wax some floors on March 8 and was murdered for her trouble, sprawled across her bed, while Catoe scooped up twenty dollars and escaped.
It rained in Washington on June 15, and Jesse Strieff, a pretty secretary at the War Department, was relieved when Catoe stopped to offer her a lift. Mistaking his car for a taxi, she climbed in and was driven to a nearby garage, where Catoe raped and strangled her, hiding her umbrella, stuffing her clothes in a trash bin. Strieff's nude body was discarded in another garage, ten blocks away, her death provoking congressional investigations and a personnel shake-up in the Washington police department. Still, the case remained unsolved until Catoe got careless in New York.
At once, police from several eastern jurisdictions sought to question Catoe in a string of unsolved murders. Officers from Lynn, Massachusetts, suspected a connection with a homicide recorded in July of 1941, and detectives from Garden City, Long Island, were curious about the death of a patrolman in 1940. Authorities from Hamilton Township, New Jersey, questioned Catoe about a series of *** murders, between 1938 and 1940, that were later cleared with the arrest of Clarence Hill. Spokesmen for NYPD requested that Catoe be questioned about the February 1940 strangulation death of Helen Foster. For all the circus atmosphere, the final tally stands, as far as anyone can tell, at nine.
Brought to trial in late October 1941, for killing Rose Abramovitz, Catoe sought to recant his confessions, claiming that police had tortured him while he was "sick and weak." A jury failed to buy the act, deliberating only eighteen minutes before returning its verdict of guilty, with a recommendation of death.