Archive for the ‘THE CORN DOCTOR’ 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.

Mitzie and Victor Duel sm

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.


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