The murder of New York laundryman Isidor Fink ranks as one of the most infamous unsolved crimes of all time.
For armchair detectives, true crime buffs and fiction writers everywhere, it’s one of the classic “locked room” mysteries, where it’s very incredibly difficult to figure out how the crime was committed, never mind why.
At 10:30 P.M. on March 9, 1929, Fink was working late at his laundry. Neighbor Locklin Smith heard sounds of a struggle, and rushed to Fink’s door, fearing what she might find.
The door and windows were locked from the inside, save for a tiny transom window above the front door, which hung with its hinge broken. Officers arrived, and, unable to enter, found a young boy small enough to climb in through the transom and open up the door from the inside.
What they found, upon entering, was Isidor Fink’s corpse, shot once in his left hand and twice in his chest. The key to the door was in the inside lock.
Being a somewhat fearful man living and working in one of New York’s rougher neighborhoods, Fink was constantly fearful of being robbed. His door was always locked, his windows were always locked, and he never allowed strangers to enter either his home or his business. According to his landlord Max Schwartz, Fink was a reliable tenant who never caused trouble, had no enemies and didn’t consort with women. This left detectives stumped when it came to a motive.
The case only got more confusing. There was no sign of robbery. Fink had money on his person, and his business cash remained untouched. A thorough search revealed no murder weapon or spent cartridges. The room was undisturbed: it hadn’t been turned upside-down by an assailant looking for something in particular.
It was commonplace in New York for gangsters to extort protection money from small businesses. But police found no evidence of Fink being extorted. No witnesses came forth to say they had seen Fink being approached for protection money.
What detectives had on their hands was an apparently motiveless crime. What’s worse: it was committed in a seemingly impossible manner.
There was no gun at the crime scene, which ruled out suicide. The gunshot wound on his hand showed powder burns, indicating he’d been shot at close range, but the door and windows (apart from the broken transom window which was too small for an adult to climb through) were all still locked. The only fingerprints at the crime scene were Fink’s.
The case was a frustratingly difficult one, for so many reasons. Not only was it impossible to find a motive for the murder, but it was impossible to find a suspect capable of committing it, from a purely logistical level. It was, to put it simply, the perfect crime.
Detectives were baffled. The New York Police Commissioner at the time, Edward Mulrooney, stated that the Fink case was unsolvable. So far, his assertion has held true
By ROBERT WALSH