April 17

This Day in History

Crime

Apr 17, 1936:

A single horsehair uncovers a murderer

After a week of tracking down every conceivable lead, police finally find the evidence they need in order to break the case of Nancy Titterton's rape-murder in New York City. Titterton, a novelist and the wife of NBC executive Lewis Titterton, was raped and strangled in her upscale home on Beekman Place on the morning of April 10, 1936. The only clues left behind were a foot-long piece of cord that had been used to tie Titterton's hands and a single horsehair found on her bedspread.

These small traces of evidence proved to be enough to find the killer. The detective in charge of the investigation had ordered his team to trace the source of the cord. After a full week of combing every rope and twine manufacturer in the Northeast, the cord was finally found to have come from Hanover Cordage Company in York, Pennsylvania. Company records showed that some of the distinctive cord had been sold to Theodore Kruger's upholstery shop in New York City.

Since the investigation of the horsehair had already led police to suspect John Fiorenza, an assistant at Kruger's shop, this new evidence only solidified their suspicion. Fiorenza and Kruger were the first to discover Titterton's body, when they arrived to return a repaired couch (which had been stuffed with horsehair that matched the one found at the crime scene) on the afternoon of April 10. However, they both denied entering the bedroom that day.

When investigators learned that Fiorenza had been at the Titterton house on April 9 and had been late for work the morning of the murder, they looked deeper into his background. Fiorenza had four prior arrests for theft and had been diagnosed as delusional by a prison psychiatrist. Detectives first gained Fiorenza's trust by pretending to need his help in solving the crime and then sprang the cord evidence on him.

Caught by surprise, Fiorenza confessed to the brutal crime but claimed that he was temporarily insane. This defense didn't hold up too well at trial, and Fiorenza was executed on January 22, 1937.

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