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There are many ways for a killer to evade justice — fleeing town, wearing a false mustache, or hiding in an attic.
It’s probably not a good idea to do what Daniel “Handsome Dan” Graham, 25, did after he murdered a friend in Manhattan and stole $4,700 from him in 1927.
First, he spent $470 (about $8,000 today) on a diamond ring for his girlfriend. That was followed by a stop at a Buick dealership, where he bought a sporty roadster for $1,600 (in 2023, about $28,000). Then he dropped his fiancée at home and roared off in his car for a long night of champagne guzzling in a Coney Island cabaret.
High rolling like this was bound to attract attention, especially with a man of modest means. When the corpse of his friend — Judson H. Pratt, 27 — turned up, Graham became the sole person of interest. Pratt was the paymaster for a construction company erecting an apartment building on E. 52 St. He was on his way to distribute the week’s pay — about $4,700 total — when he was killed.
Given Graham’s profession, it was all shocking.
“JAIL POLICEMAN AS KILLER” was how the Daily News announced his arrest on Aug. 29, two days after the murder.
Graham had been on the job since 1924. Chronic lateness and other derelictions of duty marred his career from the start.
But what he lacked in skill and commitment, he made up for with charisma. At 6 foot 3 with an athletic build and chiseled features, Graham quickly became popular on his beats. He had a smile for everyone.
Neighborhood children and women adored him. Colleagues nicknamed him “Handsome Dan” or the “Adonis of First Avenue.” Others just called him “The Sheik,” a nod to Jazz Age cinema heartthrob Rudolph Valentino.
On Aug. 27, a patrolman found Pratt’s car, with his corpse at the steering wheel, on the Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx.
Pratt’s job was dangerous and required a police guard. For several weeks, Graham had been the officer assigned to that duty, and the two men became friends.
The last week of August, Graham was out on sick leave. Another officer was assigned to the job, and the plan was to meet at the site. Pratt never arrived.
Police would learn later that Graham had called Pratt at his office, saying they should meet midway and drive to the site together. Somewhere along the way, Pratt ended up with a bullet through his brain.
A straw hat on the victim’s head provided an important break in the case. Capt. Henry Bruckman, head of the Bronx homicide squad, noticed that a bow on the hatband was missing, apparently ripped off by the force of the slug. It was not in the car or the street near its parking spot. This suggested to Bruckman that Pratt was killed somewhere else.
He set his detectives out in search of this small piece of ribbon.
It was in the gutter on E. 52 St., near the construction site. Detectives found witnesses who had heard a sound like a car backfiring and saw someone fitting Graham’s description driving away. The neighborhood was Graham’s beat, so some even recognized him as the “tall policeman.”
Detectives traced his path down to the Brooklyn home of his sweetheart, Margaret Wogan, 19.
Questioned at her home, Wogan said her sweetheart was driving away in his fancy new car the last time she saw him. She told detectives he left her $900, and she turned the money over to them.
Police arrested Handsome Dan at his home on E. 74th St. when he rolled up the next morning after a wild night of drinking and tossing cash at waitresses. He had $500 on him and several quarts of champagne in his car. He said a rich aunt died and left him the money. But Graham’s father said there was no rich aunts in this family.
“He’s simply mad,” defense attorney Leonard A. Snitkin told the Daily News. Snitkin said his client complained of imaginary bugs crawling up his legs and saw faces leering at him from under his cot. His shrieks were scaring the other inmates.
Filthy, unshaven, drooling, and in baggy clothes, the once dapper officer shuffled to his arraignment. Unsurprisingly, the plea was “not guilty by reason of insanity.”
But a lunacy commission said it was all an act and declared him sane.
Handsome Dan — hair slicked back, natty suit, clean-shaven face—reemerged by the start of his trial on Oct. 24, 1927. Three witnesses from E. 52 St. — two boys and an elderly woman — told of hearing a sound like a gunshot and seeing Graham shove a body aside so he could get into the driver’s seat. Investigators described the intricate web of evidence they collected, starting with the bow from the hatband.
The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to death. Graham was confident, declaring he would “never burn,” even as appeal after appeal failed.
There was a glimmer of hope when a Death Row buddy — George Appel, sentenced to death for murdering a police officer —confessed to the crime. But there was no evidence to support this.
Graham was one member of a trio doomed to die in Sing Sing’s electric chair on Aug. 10, 1928. Cop killer Alexander Kalinowski went first. Graham, with a smile on his face, was second. “I am innocent,” he said. “I went into the army during the World War when I was only 15. This is the reward.”
His friend Appel went last and took it all in stride.
“I’ll be a baked apple soon,” he quipped as he stepped toward the chair.
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Jeux dangereux,Le livre .
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