Archive for the ‘Murder in Southampton’ Category


It was midnight on a Wednesday night in July of 1932, when four young people left Sunset Beach in Sag Harbor and headed home. The foursome, two males and two females, chatted excitedly about the upcoming weekend and made plans to get together. They were 19 year old Bernard Ernest and his buddy Earl Stevens from East Hampton and Lucille Deckert and Emma Willer from Bridgehampton. They headed down Noyac Rd, towards Sunrise Parkway and approach the intersection of Stony Hill Rd. They approached the intersection and the teens saw a figure standing in the center of the road. The man, described as “clad in all white” was holding a shotgun.  The gun was aimed directly at them.

As they passed the mysterious figure in white, there was a huge explosion and young Mr. Ernest can be heard to exclaim:

“I’ve been shot. I can’t find the brakes!”

With that, the car crashed into a tree stump and the “figure in white” disappeared into the night.

The bullets had entered Bernard Ernest’s back and torn through his lungs. He died at the scene. The other passengers were cut and bruised but released from Southampton Hospital later that morning. He was only 19 years old when the “Phantom  of Noyac Rd.” had murdered him.

Ernest was born in 1912 to Thomas and Julia Ernest and appeared to be a very upstanding kid. Thomas Ernest was a Carpenter and young Bernard had a job at the “East Hampton Mechanical Repair Shop.” His boss, E.J. Dominy, would have nothing but good things to say about young Mr. Ernest after the shooting.

This is a case that revolves around a cast of characters, worthy of any Hollywood Film. To tell the story of the bizarre sequence of events that ended in the murder of an innocent young man, one must go back and acquaint themselves with the participants in this tragic saga.

We start with the nexus of this sordid affair, 26 year old Katherine Gray.

Katherine Gray was of Scotch descent and described as a “very pretty brunette.” She was born in 1906 to JB and Irma Gray.  She grew up in Texas and her father, JB, is listed as the head of the household on the census forms. His occupation however is a bit sketchy. Under this category it simply states “income.” No other information is available. Very unusual for a census report.

The household consisted of JB Gray, his wife, Irma and their four children. No one in the home was employed with the exception of JB Gray.

Whatever the source of the “income”, it provided enough funds for Katherine to graduate in 1923 from a prep school located in Birmingham PA. Sometime after that Katherine married Harold Chapman, a manager for a local paper factory and the couple moved to Noyac Rd. near Sag Harbor.

The marriage lasted until July of 1931 when, for reasons that are unknown, the couple was divorced. A clue, however, might be found in the fact that shortly after her divorce and just months before the murder of Bernard Ernest, Katherine Gray’s name would be splashed across newspapers in yet another sensational story.

Friday, December 18th, 1931.

Katherine Gray was sound asleep in her bed. After her divorce, she remained in the bungalow on Noyac and Spring Hill Rd. and was now renting the upper portion to  boarders, Steven O’Neil and William Shultz. She was suddenly awakened by loud banging and the sound of voices coming from the front room. She threw on her bathrobe and ran out into the hall to find  prohibition officers and  United States marshals in her home.

The sensational headlines were splashed across the front page of newspapers all over Long Island:

“Radio Plant at Sag Harbor Was Shore Link to Rum Row”

“Find Rum Hoard and Wireless”

“Woman and Two Men Arrested in Raid On Bungalow After Five Month Search”

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At the time of her arrest, Katherine Gray swore that she had no idea that O’Neil and Shultz were using their shortwave radio for illicit purposes. She claimed that she thought the two men were just “experimenting.” At the same time Shultz was claiming to be a “garage man” and know nothing of the operation.

The Federal Government had different information.

That was when it began. In early November of that same year, 5 weeks before the raid on Katherine Gray’s home and only 5 months after Katherine and Harold Chapman were divorced. The first indication that there was a bootleg operation on the East End of Long Island came when Federal authorities intercepted a coded message, apparently intended for rum boats lying off the Long Island Shore. A search began in order to uncover the source of the message. It was discovered that the station was located on Long Island and after a gradual “narrowing down” process was implemented, the agents determine the exact spot. Tests of wireless impulses indicated that the set was in the Sag Harbor area.

After that, a “special apparatus” was brought in and disclosed that the transmitter was concealed in a bungalow near Peconic Bay. Katherine Gray;s bungalow.

Around the same time agents were raiding the home of Katherine Gray, they were also searching a farm located in Cutchogue. There, they discovered “a hoard of 200 cases of Scotch liquor”, in a secret compartment that was located in the barn. The farm was owned by Frank Zewenski.

Not far from the Zewenski farm, the agents discovered a well built staircase heading from the bluff, down to the Sound shore.  They believed the liquor landed there in small boats and was carried up to the top of the bluff where it was then trucked to Zewenski’s farm and stored until needed.

Zewenski tried to concoct a story of a broken down truck, who’s driver asked to store the load in his barn for a few days but the agents had been investigating this case for weeks now and were well aware of the source of the liquor and everyone’s involvement in the Rum Running operation…and that included Katherine Gray.

Perhaps Katherine Gray, future rum-runner and Harold Chapman, hard working plant manager, were simply traveling in two different directions at the time of their divorce?

The charges against Katherine Gray were eventually dropped and by July of 1932 she had met a handsome, 29 year old man from Southampton named Leslie Loomis.

Leslie Loomis was born in New York and was a garage mechanic and a foreman for a Repair Shop in Riverhead. The home he lived in was owned by 67 year old Emily Fritz and her 40 year old daughter, Elizabeth. There were only two young men renting rooms in the household and Loomis was one of them. The house was located on Hill Street in Southampton. One can imagine that a young man of Loomis’s age would much prefer to spend his evenings with Katherine Gray in her bungalow, as opposed to spending his time alone in his room in the Fritz household.

According to Loomis, the couple lived together for a year and a half and had recently split up when the shooting occurred..

It is safe to say that Loomis was far more infatuated with Katherine Gray then she was with him.

Meanwhile, Katherine had somehow, through her daily activities, come into contact with 40 year old Matteo Di Gregorio. Di Gregorio (spelled Di Gregaria on some documents) was born on July 6, 1894 in Sicily. He immigrated to America on the ship the  S.S. Sant’ Anna in 1914. His records indicate that he was traveling with his brother Antonino Di Gregorio and their friend, Domenico Bananno.

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Between 1914 and 1932 Matteo Di Gregorio was Americanized enough to go by the name of “Marty.”  He was living in Sag Harbor and owned “Marty’s Bathing Pavilion” on Noyac Road.

Di Gregorio must have found Katherine Gray as enchanting as Leslie Loomis had because in short order Di Gregorio was at Katherine’s home as much as Loomis had been and it was a fact that caused a feud to develop between the two men.

Leslie Loomis was  going nowhere and he made a point to harass the couple whenever possible. On the night of the shooting, he drove to Katherine Gray’s home and crept up to an open bedroom window. He punched through the screen and seized some of Di Gregorio’s clothing, which was laying across the back of a chair, then ran to his automobile and drove away.

It would seem that Matteo Di Gregorio, fed up with Leslie Loomis and his jealous pranks, had brought a shotgun to Katherine Gray’s house three days before the shooting. On that night he grabbed his shotgun and ran out into Noyac road in a rage. Matteo Di Gregorio was wearing his pajama top and his white boxer shorts when he stood in the center of Noyac road waiting for Leslie Loomis to drive by. It was at this time that the Bernard Ernest and his 3 young companions were innocently traveling down Noyac Road, on their way home from Sunset Beach in Sag Harbor.

Who knows what went through Di Gregorio’s mind after shooting Bernard Ernest. Did he realize all too late that he had shot the wrong person?  Did he believe he had hit his target and become overwhelmed with guilt?

Whatever his thoughts at the time, Di Gregorio threw the shotgun down and ran back to Katherine Gray’s bungalow, eluding even her. He donned what clothes he had left and set out through the woods, stopping only once to sleep.

Matteo Di Gregorio eventually found shelter at the home of Mr. Robert W. Lee on Noyac Road. He emerged from the woods behind Robert Lee’s house wearing a coat, vest and shoes but no pants. He explained to Lee that someone had stolen his trousers while he was swimming.

When Di Gregorio was arrested he was upstairs in the bedroom of Lee’s home, borrowing a pair of trousers. He was promptly arrested and taken to the police station.

Perhaps one of the most flamboyant characters to enter this sad drama is defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz. Di Gregorio hired Leibowitz immediately after the shooting and with good references.

Samuel Leibowitz was an extremely well known attorney at this time and he remained in the public eye for decades afterwards. He became the darling of the news media, beginning in 1922 when he was accused of blackmailing Maryland Governor Albert C. Ritchie, in an attempt to get charges against a corrupt prison official dropped.

In 1926 Leibowitz represented Al Capone in a triple murder charge. He was able to get the charges dismissed because of  “insufficient Evidence” and Capone was released the very next day.

In January of 1930 he made the news again when he represented gangster Max Becker, who was a prisoner in Auburn Prison and killed a guard during a hostage situation.

Long after Bernard Ernest’s young life ended in July of 1932, Samual Leibowitz continued to make the news and garner fame.

In 1936 Leibowitz defended 31 year old Vera Stretz in another sensational trial. Stretz was accused of killing her married lover Dr. Fritz Gebhardt who was the President of a German importing firm. Forty three year old Dr. Gebhardt was married and his wife was in Germany. Vera Stretz and Dr. Gebhardt both lived in the “Tower Apartment”, in New York City.

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That same year he was commended for winning 114 acquittals and not losing a case in 7 years.

Samuel Leibowitz created much controversy that same year by interviewing Bruno Hauptman, who was on death row for the Lindbergh kidnapping. Leibowitz  was granted permission to interrogate Hauptman for hours in an attempt to get him to confess.

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Perhaps acting more as a PR man than an attorney, Leibowitz continued to insert himself into the Lindbergh kidnapping case in 1936,  by representing Martin Schlossman.

Schlossman was a player in a bizarre side story associated with the Lindbergh kidnapping involving an abduction plot, designed to extract a confession from a disbarred New Jersey Attorney, Mr. Wendel.

In 1937 Leibowitz defended Robert Irwin in a triple murder charge and saved him from the electric chair. Leibowitz successfully argued that Irwin was insane at the time of the killings.

Robert Irwin beat and strangled 3 people as the result of being romantically rebuffed.

In 1940 Samuel Leibowitz became a judge and he continued to make the news and preside over important cases. He died in 1978 at 84 years old of a stroke.

Matteo Di Gregario hired himself one heck of an attorney when he went on trial for Bernard Ernest’s murder. Even as far back as 1932, it was clear that Samuel Leibowitz was an extremely persuasive man.

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The trial lasted two days and the jury was out for 4 hours.

The entire defense was based on the fact that Di Gregorio was entitled to use force, if necessary, to regain his possessions. Leibowitz stated that the death was the result of an accident occurring during the pursuit of Leslie Loomis.

Samuel Leibowitz continually stressed the point to the jury, that they were obligated to come back with a verdict of not guilty, if he was able to prove the accidental discharge of the weapon.

Amazingly, and to the dismay of most of the community, the jury acquitted Di Gregorio of all charges causing a great controversy. Most people felt that Di Gregorio should have at least been found guilty of manslaughter considering it was a tragic end to a sordid affair, for a person who was completely innocent of anything.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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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


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.

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