Archive for the ‘1940S MURDER’ Category

Title Graphic Victor Downs

Article published in the 2013 Columbus Day edition of the Southampton / East Hampton Press

There is little doubt that Victor Downs would have relished the fact that 81 years after his picture first appeared on the front pages of newspapers across the country, there would be yet another article written about him in the Southampton Press. To look at Victor you might think he was a movie star or a wealthy, society playboy, instead of the suspect in a terrible murder. Handsome, far beyond the norm, Victor Downs did his best to present the image of a swashbuckling romantic, who was simply misunderstood. “Vic”, as he would be affectionately dubbed by the press, was one of those elusive creatures who’s first name became immediately recognizable in a headline. No last name necessary. By 1943, it was just “Vic” and everyone on the East End knew who he was.

You could say that the saga of Victor Downs is intermingled with the story of another well known character around the East End, known as the “Corn Doctor”, but that would not be entirely true. The story of Victor Downs  began long before the Corn Doctor came into the picture. Once a police officer, Victor had also been a member of the “Bill Dwyer Liquor Mob.” Disgraced, and discharged from the force, Victor continued to live a questionable life, staying on the wrong side of the law and eventually meeting a young woman, who would become the love of his life.

Her name was Mitzi and she too would enjoy the distinction of making headlines, on a “first name only” basis. Platinum blonde hair and almost 20 years Vic’s junior, Mitzie was Vic’s feminine match.

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The summer of 1932 saw the Great Depression and money was scarce. People lost faith in banks and those who had money, usually kept it close at hand. It was this atmosphere that shaped another local character named Frank Tuthill, affectionately known as “The walking bank from Quogue”, or more commonly referred to as “The Corn Doctor.” One of the most picturesque figures in Long Island history, Doc. Tuthill would gather his supplies and travel around the Island, treating people for their foot ailments and collecting cash for his services. It became Mr. Tuthill’s habit to carry thousands of dollars in bills, in the pockets of his overcoats,  mostly in envelopes and between sheets of paper. Doc Tuthill was often spotted, walking through the Village wearing not one, but two overcoats. Perhaps the Corn Doctor’s biggest flaw, was his delight in exhibiting his wealth to others, in public places.  Doc Tuthill often boasted that he was not afraid of being robbed because he was a “crack shot with a revolver” and was “too quick on his trigger finger” but neither fact would prove of any assistance on the night of August 6, 1932.

quogue sign tint

The 68 year old Corn Doctor was renting a room in Quogue, from Mr. and Mrs. Filmore Dayton at the time. The Daytons became alarmed when Mr. Tuthill addressed them before leaving the house that night. The Corn Doctor told them that he was carrying $10,000.00 in cash on his person and before walking out the door, he turned and said:

“If I’m not back by tomorrow, call the police.”

The next morning, when Frank Tuthill had not returned home, that’s exactly what the Daytons did. Two weeks later, Tuthill was found crumpled on the floor of his dilapidated car, with every pocket of his two worn and tattered coats, turned inside out. He had been brutally beaten and then shot.

In a matter of days, Victor Downs and his wife Mitzi were taken into custody and charged with first degree murder. The case made national news and the trial was sensational, largely due to the antics of the defendants. Even by today’s standards, it would have been one of those stories worthy of  “gavel to gavel coverage.” It didn’t take long for the police to get a confession out of Mitzi, who claimed that after meeting Frank Tuthill in an isolated location, she lured him back to their home with complaints of a foot ailment. It was there, Mitzi told them, that Mr. Tuthill was murdered and then robbed. Mitzi was offered a deal, if she agreed to testify against Victor, but when Mitzi took the stand during the trial, she did something that shocked everyone. To the astonishment of the prosecutors, she began screaming in open court, that they had tricked her into signing a false statement.

“You tricked me! You made me lie!” she shrieked.

The prosecutor was forced to admit that, other than Mitzi’s testimony, he had no other evidence against Victor Downs and the charges were reluctantly dropped. Try as he might, Prosecutor L Barron Hill was not able to “get” Victor Downs for first degree murder, but that didn’t stop him from trying. He used several tactics to snare the elusive Vic, starting with charging both husband and wife with first degree murder. In short order, Victor Downs claimed double jeopardy and was released, while Mitzi remained in jail. Prosecutor Hill announced that he would use Mitzi’s confession against her and all the while, newspapers were selling like hotcakes.

Vic and Mitzie sm

On November 18, of 1932, Victor arrived at the jail house with a box of chocolates under his arm, requesting to see his wife and was denied the visit. This caused Victor Downs to fly into rage and challenge Sheriff Ory Young to a “duel by fists or by guns.” After some name calling and advice from the Sheriff to go home, Victor left the jail in a huff.

Prosecutor Hill was certainly not finished with Victor Downs. Victor was again arrested, this time charged with grand theft, for stealing the Corn Doctor’s money. As the case was awaiting trial, Vic was released on bond, while his wife Mitzi, who was still incarcerated, had dyed her hair and was now a brunette.

Mitzie

It was while out on bond, that Vic visited Mr. Mike Gallo, at his home in Mattituck. During the course of the evening an argument broke out and Victor attacked Gallo, stabbing him and cutting his throat. Once again, Vic was promptly arrested and charged with second degree assault. By now Victor was familiar with the system and manipulated it quite effectively. Victor Downs plead guilty to a first degree assault charge in the case of Mike Gallo and was sentenced to ten years at Sing Sing, a condition being that his wife Mitzi would be set free.

As the years passed by, Victor spent his time at Sing Sing Prison studying law and becoming somewhat of a self-styled attorney. In 1937, when Vic came up for parole, he began a bid for his freedom. The case was herd in the Brooklyn Supreme Court where Vic claimed he had been “persecuted” by the authorities in Suffolk Co. “for political reasons.” He went on to tell the court that he had been “made the goat”, following his acquittal in the Corn Doctor’s murder. The request was denied and Victor filed a second request, this time in the Supreme Court at White Plains, in Westchester County. This time he won. In late August of 1937, after serving three years in prison, it looked like Victor Downs was again going to be released.

While Victor and Mitzie were planning their reunion, their old adversary, Prosecutor Barron Hill, was busy at work opposing the ruling. No doubt  the circumstances of the Corn Doctor’s murder and the assault on Mike Gallo, helped Hill to make his points. The writ was subsequently denied and Victor Downs was sent back to prison, once again.

On February 4, 1943, Vic was finally released, having served the full 10 year sentence.

Time did nothing to diminish Mitzie’s love for Vic, but it did have an effect on 54 year old, Victor’s Downs. The rage inside of Vic had festered and eight days after leaving prison, Victor Downs would be making headlines once again.

Immediately following his release, Victor Downs sent threatening letters to former Prosecutor Hill, who was now an acting Judge. Other Suffolk County officials involved in Vic’s case over the years, received letters as well.  Judge Hill immediately informed the FBI and they were soon, hot on the trail of Victor Downs. Vic was charged with extortion and escorted back to the Riverhead jail.

eccentric slain

At the arraignment Vic plead not guilty and insisted on acting as his own counsel. The judge refused to allow it and in turn, Vic refused to accept the court appointed lawyer. Again, Vic’s move was effective and the trial was postponed indefinitely, until the matter could be resolved. Vic’s bail was set at $50,000 and he was sent back to Riverhead. Victor would publicly refuse to work with any Suffolk County attorneys, making headlines at every turn. Eventually Vic did work with a lawyer from Westhampton and together they asked for a change of venue, sighting the notorious Corn Doctor case. Vic could not get a fair trial in Suffolk County. The change of venue was granted and Vic’s trial would finally take place in Nassau County.

The Nassau County jury dismissed one blackmail charge and remained undecided on another. Eventually all of the charges would be dismissed, but Judge Hill would have Vic Downs arrested and re-tried in Suffolk Co, one more time, for the remaining charge. Again, Victor Downs asked for a change of venue and got it. Eventually Victor Downs was allowed to plead to a lesser charge of “sending an annoying letter” and would receive a suspended sentence, after much ado.

Throughout it all, Mitzi waited faithfully for Vic’s release and together they left the Riverhead jailhouse, one final time, with newspapers reporters in tow, wishing them luck. Sadly, no one would ever be effectively prosecuted, for the murder of Frank Tuthill, known affectionately to everyone on the East End, as the Corn Doctor.

saga of downs

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The Southampton Goodnight Kiss Murder

Officer Harold Winters had finished his coffee, and was ready to get back into his patrol car and continue policing the streets of Southampton. Officer Winters was working the night shift and it was his habit to enjoy his dinner break in the company of his girlfriend, Mary.  He pushed the last bit of his sandwich into his mouth, washing it back with his coffee, gathering any loose items he needed before turning to say goodnight to his girl. Harold  took Mary in his arms and held her tight. As they embraced and kissed each other goodnight, Mary heard a loud explosion and felt Harold Winters go limp in her arms.  He dropped to the floor,  red liquid spilling from a wound in the back of his head. Mary screamed as he fell, taking in the terrible scene. Even as she  ran to the phone calling for help, she knew exactly what had happened. It was Frank. She had been afraid of this for months.

The shot that killed Harold Winters was fired at approximately 10pm on a Friday night, August 5,1949.

Earlier that evening, Frank Zieman crouched in the darkness and watched through the back window as the couple inside stood up, their arms encircling each other. As their lips met, it was more than he could bear. Everything that had happened in the past few months crashed in on him at that moment, so he aimed his rifle at the back of Harold Winter’s head and pulled the trigger. Seconds later, Frank ran towards his parked car while his heart, no doubt, pumped wildly in his chest. Once inside the car, he started the engine and took off towards Sunrise Highway, racing towards Bridgehampton, checking his rear view mirror the entire way.

Frank Zieman had one more thing to do before he was finished.

Southampton Goodnight Kiss Murder window

THE WINDOW  FRANK ZEIMAN LOOKED INTO, WHEN HE SAW HIS EX-WIFE KISSING OFFICER HAROLD WINTERS

Frank  was born in 1904 in Southampton, NY.  His father, Leo Zieman, was born in Poland and his mother Marian was from Germany. Frank Zieman was Leo and Marian’s 6th child.

Leo Zieman made his living as a driver for a coal company and could not read or write at the time of Frank’s birth.  As the years went on Leo and Marian Zieman continued having children, ending up with a grand total of eleven by 1920.

At that time, four of the Zieman children were gainfully employed and presumably helping with expenses while 15 year old Frank Zieman and the others attended school. The Zieman family spoke Polish, German and English and by 1920 Leo Zieman had learned to read and write.

Ten years later, Frank’s father, Leo, has a new job working at a “clubhouse” and the family has moved to West Prospect St.  At the same time Frank Zieman was still living at home, a single man, working as a plumber.

Between 1930 and 1935 Frank Zieman exchanged his plumbing career for a job in retail sales. It was while he was working behind the counter at a large “chain store” in Southampton, that he met a pretty red-headed young woman named Mary. Mary would eventually become Mary Zieman and in 1935 give birth to a son. For a man like Frank Zieman, this must have been the happiest time of his life.

Frank would later leave the retail sales business and take a lucrative position in the civilian branch of the Navy. The position would require Frank to work overseas for a while. With a wife and child to provide for, it was an opportunity to better himself and Frank Zieman took it.

Harold Winters graphic

THE SCENE IN THE KITCHEN AFTER OFFICER HAROLD WINTERS WAS SHOT BY FRANK ZEIMAN THROUGH THE WINDOW

It was when Frank returned, after being overseas for months, that he discovered his wife of 15 years had taken a trip to Palm Beach, Florida and gotten a divorce behind his back. To make things worse, Frank eventually discovered that Mary was deeply involved with another man, Officer Harold Winters.

The series of events that followed, would dispel any doubt that this discovery devastated Frank Zieman,

Frank Zieman Graphic

One wonders if Frank Zieman and Harold Winters might have even known each other in some capacity? Considering that they both grew up in Southampton Village, it’s not out of the question.

Even though Harold Winters was technically born on Grand St. in Brooklyn, he spent most of his life in Southampton. His father,  John Winters, worked as a machinist in a rope factory and his mother, Stella was a stay at home mom. Harold Winters had one brother growing up, 8 years his senior. His name was John Jr.

In 1920, for some unknown reason, the Winters family split apart. John Sr. and Stella Winters left Brooklyn to live in Jersey City, minus their 2 children. John Winters Jr. went off on his own and 15 year old Harold Winters moved to Southampton to live with his grandparents.

The Southampton household consisted of Cleveland Winters, his wife Eva and Eva’s mother Jane Wells, who was 90 years old at the time. Cleveland Winters was 64 and worked as a freelance farm laborer which is difficult work at any age.

Harold Winter’s grandparents had taken on the extra responsibility of raising their grandson, and they must have done a very good job. Harold made them all proud in 1929, when he became a motorcycle patrolman with the Southampton Police Department.

At the age of 25, the handsome police officer married a pretty 23 year old school teacher  named Marion. They lived on Wooley St. and were described  as the perfect family…

until Harold Winters met Mary Zieman, that is.

The Murder House

THE MURDER HOUSE STILL STANDS TODAY, AND THERE IS STILL A BLEMISH  ON THE KITCHEN WALL WHERE THE BULLET HIT.

After 3 children and almost 20 years of marriage, Marion Winters divorced her husband Harold right around the same time that Mary Zieman made her trip to Palm Beach Florida and divorced her absentee husband Frank.

No one really knows exactly how long Mary Zieman and Harold Winters had known each other, but It would seem  they became serious approximately  six months before Frank Zieman returned home from the Pacific.

Frank Zieman thought he was coming home to a loving wife and instead returned, only to discover that his wife had divorced him six months earlier and he didn’t even know it. For months after his return, Frank obsessed over his marriage, expressing outrage at the fact that his ex-wife and her new lover were spending time in the very same house that the Ziemans had lived as husband and wife. Even the telephone was still listed in Frank Zieman’s name.

Suicide Collage

After returning from overseas, where he was working hard to make a good living for his family, Frank  was forced to move out of his own house and accept the fact that his family was gone. He moved to an apartment in Islip, and was able to get a good job working for the Central Islip State Hospital, however he was never able to move on.

Zieman was spotted in Sag Harbor around 6:30 on the night of the murder, drinking with friends.

The evidence would later show that Frank Zieman arrived in Southampton around 10pm and waited in ambush outside of his house for Harold Winters to arrive. Then, as the couple embraced and gave each other a goodnight kiss, Frank Zieman shot Harold Winters in the back of the head. After the shooting Frank  got into his car and drove to a beach at the end of Ocean Avenue, in Bridgehampton. Shortly after arriving there he  took his own life.

His body was found, along with a suicide note, 9 hours after he murdered Harold Winters.

The beach  Frank Zieman drove to that night, was the same spot he had chosen to court his wife Mary and eventually the place where he had asked her to marry him.  Hw sad that a final act of desperation,  would make it the place he also chose to end his life.

Suicide site

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