Strange Times 88: Ape As a Burglar

Today brings an ape escape and a Grand Central con job. Find your marks for…

March 29, 1921

  • Although her promised $1,000 check has not yet arrived, Dorothy Miller—who offered to marry any refined white man who would give $1,000 for her mother’s operation—has accepted a $100 per week offer to appear on the Philadelphia stage.

  • After a white man starts rumors of a black uprising in response to the John Williams murders, an armed white mob marches on the plantation to put down the imaginary insurrection.

  • The Weather: Partly cloudy and colder today; Wednesday, fair and warmer; northwest winds.

You can always trust the Detroit police to get right to the heart of a criminal matter. When confronted with an ape on the loose, their question is not, “Why did the man who just bought this ape let it free?” but, “Who trained this ape to be a cat burglar?”

DETROIT, March 28.—Hearing a scratching on the porch roof outside her open bedroom window early this morning, Mrs. Fred Grossman told her husband she believed a burglar was trying to enter the room.

A hand fumbled at the shade, which shot upward, and in the dim light a face leered at the couple. It was that of an ape, not quite full grown, but to Mr. and Mrs. Grossman it seemed to belong to the most menacing misshapen man they had ever seen.

Mrs. Grossman shrieked, her husband fired a revolver and the face dropped from view. There was a half-human scream, a hurried telephone call for the police and then the arrival of the police motorcycle squad.

A trail of blood was traced to the end of the porch, where it ended. No other sign of an intruder was found, but while the police were searching, the ape, wounded in the shoulder, suddenly dashed down the blinds of the house and found refuge in the basement through an open window. It pounded on the door of a family in the basement flat and was admitted, closely followed by the police with drawn revolvers.

The animal finally was captured and taken to a police station, where it was treated by a surgeon. The ape was claimed today by a man, who had purchased it three days ago.

The police want to learn more about the animal’s previous owners, they say, on the theory that it was trained to unlock and enter windows.

“It is peculiar that the ape should have gone to a second story window when there were windows open on the first floor,” the Inspector said today. “An ape can be trained to do nearly anything. He could be trained to ransack drawers and bring out anything he was taught to seek.”

The story of the rube tricked into buying a city landmark is such a cliche that I never imagined it might have its roots in real life. But then, I never considered poor Gregory Pantazi, rube of the century.

Confidence men who used to sell Grant’s Tomb, the Aquarium and Brooklyn Bridge have recently taken to trafficking in the Grand Central Terminal, according to a complaint to the police by Gregory Pantazi, a restaurant keeper in West Seventieth Street.

The possibilities of making large returns from an investment were first pointed out to him, he said, by a young man who introduced himself on the street. The restaurant keeper had only $2,000 to spare, but he confessed that he would like to multiply that several times in a year. The young man said that he could not buy the whole of the Grand Central Terminal for $2,000, but that the sum would buy a large section of it. He promised to introduce him to the owner.

The “owner,” a large dark man, happened to be pacing the corridors of the Hotel Newton, at Broadway and Ninety-sixth Street, when Pantazi and his young business adviser, after discussing the scheme for several days, called at the hotel to complete it. The big man, who looked every inch the owner of the Grand Central Terminal, drew out a gold case and offered cork-tipped cigarettes.

The Grand Central Terminal property, it seemed, would be invaluable for a bootblack stand, beauty shop, grocery, antique store, museum of freaks, motion pictures, imported millinery, old iron or Shakespeariana. Pantazi did not have time to decide what lawful calling he would pursue at this desirable location before the documents had been put before him and signed.

Pantazi then handed over $1,200. The “owner” was angry that his time had been consumed by the kind of man who brought only $1,200 for a $2,000 deal. He uttered some reproaches and was on the verge of canceling the whole transaction, when the remaining $800 was promised. Pantazi hurried off to get it.

When he returned the pair were missing. Neither man was known there, according to the hotel employees. Pantazi went with his story to Detectives Fitzpatrick and Love. They thought that the description of the fat man resembled that of the operator who used to rent the Judges’ Chambers in the Criminal Courts Building to strangers and collect in advance.

The detectives did not identify the young man from description, but last night Pantazi picked out a young man on the street and demanded his arrest as the consulting real estate expert. The prisoner, who was locked up in the West Forty-seventh Street Station, gave the name of Christopher Nicholas, 21 years old, a clerk.

This was the first sale of any part of the new Grand Central Terminal that has been reported to the police. The old structure used to be sold from time to time by “Grand Central Pete,” who is credited by Bartlett’s with the authorship of, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”