THE COLUMBIA COP CAPER Part V
An Original Short Story by Jack Robbin
Fallsburg Constable Bronco Kelly is helping out his old boss, Ben Knapp, owner of the Columbia Farm Hotel, by serving as security for the weekend while the hotel entertains a few hundred New York City cops. Bronco has discovered that the room of wealthy socialite Louise Corning has been broken into, and has notified the New York State Police. Sergeant Tom Mangan and Trooper Bill Elliott are investigating…
State Police Sergeant Tom Mangan was a good man, and a solid investigator, but he had just delivered some news that, although I had been expecting it, I didn’t particularly care for.
“I’m going to have to call Sheriff Borden in, so we can make use of a couple of his men,” Mangan told me.
Harry Borden had been elected Sullivan County Sheriff in 1935, and we had butted heads on a number of occasions since he had taken office. Although his three-year term would be up soon, and as yet County Sheriffs in New York State were not permitted to succeed themselves, there were efforts gaining strength in the State Legislature that would change that, so there was a possibility that I’d have to deal with him for a lot longer.
‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” I told Mangan.
And so, a little less than an hour later, Deputy Sheriff Jay Lass showed up at the hotel. I greeted my old friend outside the main building and led him upstairs to Mrs. Corning’s room.
“It’s just you, Jay?” I asked. “Nobody else coming?”
The way I heard it was that Mangan told the Sheriff he wanted a couple of men,” Lass said. “Harry told him since he already had you helping out he was only going to send him one guy.”
“Figures.” I said, shaking my head.
Sergeant Mangan met us at the end of the hall, a short distance from the room. He nodded at Jay, who stuck out his hand in greeting.
“Hi Tom,” he said. “What’s the plan?”
“I’ve asked Knapp to have all the guests meet us in the dining room,” Mangan said. “Jay, you and Kelly and I will question each of them. You know, try to determine where they were between seven and midnight tonight, if they saw anyone who looked out of place, stuff like that. You both know the routine. Mostly, let’s see if anyone gets nervous or looks guilty.”
“Okay,” Jay said.
“Bill will continue looking for the Corning kid,” Mangan continued, motioning toward Trooper Bill Elliott. “And Ben has agreed to let Shorty stay here at the room to make sure no one gets in.”
“Okay, then. Let’s get to it.”
All the guests, mostly New York City cops and a smattering of family members, were gathered in the dining room. It was a chaotic scene, and a loud one.
“All right, everyone, listen up!” Mangan shouted as soon as we had entered. And then a second time. “Ladies and gentlemen, can we have some quiet?”
The noise abated just a bit.
“My name is Sergeant Tom Mangan, New York State Police. As you might have heard, we had a burglary of one of the guest rooms tonight, and we’re trying to find out ‘who dunnit.’ We’re going to divide you into three groups and ask you each a few questions about your whereabouts this evening in an attempt to find out if anyone saw anything out of the ordinary. I thank you all in advance for your cooperation, and I promise you that we will get you out of here just as soon as we possibly can. So please, divide up into three groups, one over there where you will talk with Deputy Jay Lass… he’s the tall, thin guy with the slouch hat… another group over there with Constable Bronco Kelly…he’s the giant guy in the blue serge jacket…and a third group over here with me. Split up, now… that’s it… Thank you.”
The questioning went fairly quickly. Most of the cops were cooperative, those who had family members with them were protective of them, and no one admitted seeing anything unusual that night. I was down to a just a few more folks to talk to when I overheard a man and a woman a couple of places back in the line, arguing with one another.
“Don’t say a word,” the man told the woman, and that caught my attention. I didn’t let on that I had heard, and finished up with the next couple of interviews. Finally, they approached me, the man firmly grasping the woman just above her elbow.
“How are you folks tonight?” I asked perfunctorily, while fully realizing we were well into the morning already. “Can I have your names?”
“I’m Frank Cruckhorn,” the man answered quickly. He was a squat man, with thick black hair, a swarthy complexion and deep set, pale grey eyes. “Sergeant Frank Cruckhorn, 53rd precinct.”
“And this is your wife?” I asked.
“Yeah. Millie. Millie Cruckhorn,” he said.
“Any other family members here with you?”
“Just…” the woman started to answer, but stopped when her husband squeezed her arm even tighter.
“Just my brother and his wife,” Cruckhorn interjected. “He’s a Sergeant in the two-seven. I don’t see where he is right now, but we came up together.”
“That’s okay, we’ll get all that off the hotel register,’ I said, watching the woman for a reaction.
“Whatever,” Cruckhorn said. “Look, we would love to help you out with this, but we didn’t see anything tonight. We was all dancing and then we headed up to the room. Had a nightcap with my brother and his wife and another couple, and were getting ready for bed when we got summoned down here. That’s about it.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “Can you just give me the names of the other couple?”
“Oh, sure. They were Sammy Rowe and his wife Nina. They have the room next to ours. He’s a transit cop, and we’re neighbors in Queens .”
“Anything you can add to that?” I asked Mrs. Cruckhorn, looking her squarely in the eyes. She quickly turned away. “Not that I can think of,” she said nervously.
“Okay, thanks. Next!”
Does it seem as if Bronco Kelly thinks he might have stumbled upon a lead in the case of the stolen jewels? Find out in the next installment of “The Columbia Cop Caper” in the December edition of The Hurleyville Sentinel. (The story is purely fictional, and this incident never happened. Although the Columbia Hotel and several of the characters are real, no representation is made as to the accuracy of their characterizations here.)