The Blue Ribbon Tale

Buffalo Police Detective Sergeant William E. Burns

 

By Jack Meddoff

Deborah Kufel - Typist

Detective Sergeant William E. Burns will probably never again run into as fantastic a criminal chase as the one that cut a trail all the way to Mexico and finally ended with the electrocution of three Blue Ribbon gangsters for the murder of Ferdinand Fechter.

 

The leader of that gang and one of the trio who died in Sing Sing's electric chair was Alexander Bogdanoff, as cunning and ruthless a criminal as Detective-Sergt. 

 

William E. Burns has ever encountered in his two-score years of policing.

 

"Aleck the Terrible," as he was known, owned up to 18 murders before he died. But let's let Bill Burns tell the story of how the Blue Ribbon gangsters were caught and the mysterious Fechter murder solved, along with numerous other crimes. "This Bogdanoff was quite a guy." Detective-Sergt. Burns recalled.

 

"He was sentenced in New York in 1919 to serve 15 years for robbery and came here after being paroled in 1927. He got into the hijacking racket and did pretty well.

Detective Sergeant William E. Burns

 

All of these things of course, we found out a couple of years later after we had pinned the Fechter murder on him and he came clean about everything.

 

"Well, there came a time in the hijacking racket when some of the gang pulled a double-cross and Aleck and two pals went gunning for a fellow who, incidentally, is still very much around these days in downtown spots."

 

Aleck and his two pals looked for this fellow all evening on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 1928. Finally, on a tip they walked into the Peacock Inn early on New Year's morning, Jan. 1, 1929. 

 

The Peacock Inn was a second-floor nightclub in Washington Street around the corner from Chippewa Street..

 
"Aleck and his gunmen didn't find their man so they started to leave.

As they got near the door, Mike George, who owned the Peacock Inn, grabbed a gun somewhere behind the bar and fired four or five shots at them. Bogdanoff, who was a dead shot with a pistol, fired back. He killed George.

 

"By the time the police got there, Aleck and his pals had disappeared. The gangland code was at its best then-no squealing; remember, those still were the days of prohibition, rum-running hijacking and squealers being taken 'for a ride.'"Aleck beat it out of town and stayed out for months.

He came back to these parts in Mayor June 1929, and with his pals pulled five different stickups in Niagara Falls; one, you may remember, was at the Strand Theater when a policeman surprised them and Bogdanoff shot and wounded him. Another was the Spirella factory holdup when the gang got an $8000 payroll.

 

"By the way, Bogdanoff long afterward learned that one of his pals had shorted him on the divvy and that was why he and Stanley Piachorski-the famous Ziggy-parted company. 

 

Bogdanoff swore he'd get Ziggy; he never told us he did but, then nobody has ever heard of or seen Ziggy since those days.

 

"Here's another sidelight on how Aleck the Terrible and his Blue Ribboners worked. The gang had a chauffeur, named Stanley Bartchowiak. Every time he got a few drinks in him he'd become loose-mouthed. So, one day, Bogdanoff and another man started across the river with Stanley for a load of liquor.

 

"Out in the river, they killed Stanley, wired him with copper and weighted him down and tossed him overboard. After Bogdanoff told us about this, nearly two years later, efforts were made to find the body but it was no go. Only last year I went with the widow to court to prove him legally dead so that she could collect some insurance.

 
"Anyway, Bogdanoff became acquainted with a couple of toughies named Max Rybarczyk, known as "Max the Goose," and Stephen Grzechowiak, called "Bob the Weeper." Aleck liked them because they were killers and about his own age-he was 32 at that time, The Goose was 30 and The Weeper, 28.

 

"Max got wise that Ferdinand Fechter, who ran a soda grill at Delavan and Northumberland, used to draw about $10,000 from the bank on paydays

so that he could cash the checks of the men in the Chevrolet plant across the street.

 

"They decided to pull the job on a Saturday morning, July 27, 1929.Blanche, wife of Bob the Weeper, was given a part-to go to Bailey and Kensington in a car and pull the fire alarm box at a certain time, then drive to Genesee and down to Main and pull another box. That, of course, was to keep the cops busy while the holdup was in progress.

 

"Well, as Fechter started to get out of his car in front of his place, there was Bogdanoff in front, Bob on the left side and Max on the right. They knew Fechter carried a gun in his car so they didn't give him a chance. Bogdanoff put two bullets in him. They picked up the money and started toward their own car, parked a few yards away-it had been stolen the night before.

 

"On the way to the bandit car, The Goose noticed that Fechter, who had fallen to the running board, was still alive. So he put a gun to his head and finished him-'So he'd never be able to identify me,' as he told me afterward.

 

"The gang went to a house in Fay Street and whacked up the money-$8396 was the exact amount. Bogdanoff went to New York and the others stayed here. Well, sir, we took in many a man on suspicion but had to let them all go. A week later we had to admit to newspapermen that after investigating a flood of clues we had made no material progress in solving the murder. The first break we got came on Wednesday, Aug. 7, when the stolen car used by the gang was found at Rawlins Avenue and Genesee Street. In it were a 45-caliber revolver shell and a metal-loaded rubber hose.

 

"A couple of days later somebody tipped off Detective Chief John G. Reville that he knew the name of the man who had killed Mike George in that Peacock Inn shooting on New Year's Day. The informant said the killer was named Bogdanoff and was right at the moment living at such and such and address in New York.

 

"Chief Reville and Detective Sergt. John J. Whalen and I were working on the Fechter murder. But none of us had the remotest idea of any connection between the Mike George killing and the Fechter case.

 

"While Reville was on the train for the New York, the information that he was going there to get the killer of Mike George was broadcast by a Buffalo radio station-how the news came to be given out before Reville was able to get his man has always been a mystery to me. Anyway, when Reville got to that New York address, he found, of course, that whoever had lived there had made a hurried departure.

 

"So that was the end of that, for the time being; and the Fechter murder still remained a mystery and the man who, we had been told had killed Mike George, still was on the loose. But to keep the story straight, I'll have to tell you what happened next although we didn't find it out, of course, until later.

 

"Upon leaving New York, Bogdanoff headed for Mexico and showed up in Tampico. He went to the Standard Oil Company plant there and got a job driving a truck. Most of the truck drivers were Mexican. So the garage foreman and Bogdanoff became friendly because Aleck was an American. We have never disclosed the identity of this garage foreman; he was known to all of us as 'Mr. X' and he'll remain Mr. X.

 

"They found a common ground for friendship. Bogdanoff, an expert shot and a fancier of firearms, was interested in that sort ofmechanism. Mr. X had been a machine-gunner in the World War.

 

"As their friendship grew, Bogdanoff confided in his new friend that he would like to make a set of plates to counterfeit a $20 bill that would defy detection. Mr. X suddenly realized that his new friend was a criminal. He pumped Bogdanoff and learned that Aleck had taken an 8-months' course in an Indiana engraving school and had the blocks all ready to make these plates. Bogdanoff said he had some money to help finance the thing but had a job in mind to get the remainder of the necessary money.

 
"Well, Mr. X had served in the war with a pal named Eddie Tyrrel who happened to be a United States Postal Inspector, stationed at San Antonio. And it was one of Tyrrel's duties to keep abreast of counterfeiters. So Mr. X wrote to his pal about Bogdanoff; Tyrrel took it up with his superiors and the result was that Mr. X was asked to keep a close watch on Bogdanoff.

 

"Mr.X got all the details of the counterfeiting plan from Bogdanoff but he didn't find out where the blocks for the plates were; and what the government men wanted was the equipment for making the fake bills. Mr. X, of course, pretended to be willing to become a confederate in the scheme.

 

"Finally came the day when Bogdanoff told Mr. X how he was going to get the money he needed to finance his big counterfeiting scheme. He told Mr. X that he knew where a government truck often carried more than half a million dollars.

 

"All I need, Aleck told Mr. X, is two machine guns and a man who knows how to handle 'em and we can take this truck, easy. You're the man I need for the machine-gun job."

 

"But Aleck didn't tell Mr. X where the job was to be pulled. So Mr. X said it was OK by him but he wanted to bring in a buddy in San Antonio.

 

"Aleck and Mr. X went to San Antonio and met Tyrrel, who posed as a gangster. They talked

 

 over the plan for capturing the federal money truck but still Aleck didn't let on what city it was in. Aleck and Mr. X went back to Tampico.
 
"One day Tyrrel got a letter from Mr. X. It said that Bogdanoff had told him that he was wanted badly in Buffalo and that Buffalo was where they were going to hold up the truck carrying a load of money to the Federal Reserve Bank.

 

"Tyrrel wrote to the police in Buffalo, asking about the bank and the truck, to make sure he wasn't being kidded. Well, sir, we all found itwasn't anything to kid about-because there was such a truck makingfrequent trips to the Federal Reserve Bank at Main and Swan Streetswith half a million or more.

 

"After a further exchange of correspondence, Reville and I began thinking the thing back and trying to figure out what it was that Bogdanoff had told Mr. X he was wanted for in Buffalo. Mind you, we didn't know it was Bogdanoff but we decided that was who it must be.

 

"Came the day when Bogdanoff and Mr. JX left Tampico. Chief Reville assigned Johnny Whalen and me to join two government men 'roping' him; that is, keeping close tab on him all the time. We followed Bogdanoff and Mr. X all around-from St. Louis to Boston to Buffalo.

 

"Remember, we don't know that Bogdanoff did the Fechter job but we feel sure he did the Mike George murder; but we can't take him in because the government men want to find out where Bogdanoff's stuff is for making bum $20 bills. So we have to play along with them.

 

"When Bogdanoff and Mr. X came to Buffalo, they went out to a house in Fay Street to live. The house had no cellar; it rested on pins. And Johnny Whalen and I used to go out there, get under the house and listen in on what went on inside.

"Mr. X knew we were there, of course, and he used to get the gangsters inside who were meeting with Bogdanoff to start bragging about the jobs they had pulled. And I took plenty of notes-they're right here in this little book.

 

"Bogdanoff bragged about the holdups he had pulled in Kansas City and in St. Louis and New york. He told about the killings he had committed. He cleared up a lot of unsolved crimes in various cities. And finally, one night, out of a clear sky-Whalen and I almost fell over in sheer surprise-Bogdanoff told the whole story of the Fechter murder. He and The Goose and The Weeper-they all were there in the house-laughed and joked about how they had split the money up and had given Blanche the small change that was left over for pulling those false fire alarms.

 
"Still we couldn't do anything because the Secret Service men wanted to find out where that counterfeiting equipment was.

 

"Meanwhile, besides the Fechter murder, Whalen and I listened in while the gangsters cleared up a lot of unsolved crimes; Bogdanoff bragged about his Niagara Falls holdups, how he had weighted down his chauffeur's body and thrown it into the Niagara River, and how he had done no less than 18 murders.

 

"Tom Daly, one of the government men, and I used to keep in touch with Mr. X who'd keep us informed of the plans for the federal truck holdup. Mr. X used to get out for a walk now and then and Whalen remained behind to keep watch.

 

"Later on, because the gang thought that the best way to do the thing right was for Mr. X to have a pistol permit and a job as a guard at the steel plant, we fixed it up for him.

 

"The gang's plan was this: A team of horses pulling a wagon would cross directly into the path of the federal money truck; they'd throw tear gas in through those little portholes, kill the driver, take over the truck and drive it to a farm in Marilla.

 

There an aviator pal of Bogdanoff's would be waiting. They'd unload the money into the plane and Bogdanoff and the aviator would fly to a small place on the Hudson River, Port Aloen was the name, I believe, and remain in hiding for a while. "On Sundays, Bogdanoff and Bob the Weeper and his wife, Blanche, used to go to a farm near Marilla and there they'd practice shooting, especially aleck. We found out about it and we used to hid nearby and watch 'em shoot. Bogdanoff used to throw up something about as big as a cop's badge and shaped like it and plug the thing right through the middle. Boy, he could shoot!

 

"One day we discovered that the gang had disappeared from the Fay Street place. Later we found out how come; Blanche used to talk with some of the precinct men occasionally who didn't suspect here of anything. She was trying, of course, to find out if they suspected anything at the house. And once an unsuspecting policeman remarked that he wondered why headquarters men were hanging around.

 

"That's why the gang up and moved to a house in Sloan which had no buildings on either side and made everybody visible who approached the place. Naturally, we found out about it from Mr. X. Don't ask me how we did it, but anyway, we planted Dictaphones in the place.

 

"Seven days before the time set for the bank job, the gang had a big party in the house. No less than 33 cars were on hand and the guests included politicians, doctors, lawyers, business people of prominence and others-none of whom, of course, knew what their hosts really were. Even the Sloan cops were there. We were planted around the place and took the license numbers of the autos. The doctor who treated Bogdanoff on the night of the Mike George shooting-Bogdanoff was wounded in two places that night-was among the guests.

 
"The day for the bank job drew near. We didn't dare let the job go through; my Lord, there would have been several people killed! They had their tear gas and machine guns ready.

 

We couldn't take a chance any longer. So early on Sunday morning, Sept. 8, we closed in on the mob. We used tear gas bombs and made it very spectacular.

 

Whalen and I probably could have arrested the gang without any trouble. But a hot political fight was coming on and lots of publicity was wanted. So that's why it was done the spectacular way.

 

"Well, the gas that was tossed in the house set the place on fire. Then a few of us had to go in wearing gas masks that didn't work at all, they were so old. We got Bob the Weeper and his wife out of the house. Aleck heard the commotion, came out to see what it was all about and we grabbed him. Later we got Max the Goose.

 

"Reville and Whalen and I decided on our plan of action with the prisoners. I was to be the tough guy, Whalen the soft, fatherly fellow, and Reville the intermediary. We got Bob the Weeper into a room at the old Police Headquarters; he wanted to talk to his mother. We got her and they talked about 10 minutes. Then we sat Bob down in a chair.

 

"I proceeded to tell Bob the entire Fechter story, word for word. He started to sweat. When I got done, he started to cry. He was a big, husky fellow but he broke completely and admitted that it was all true. Then we called in a stenographer and he made a full confession.

"Then we brought in Max the Goose. He was ice-cold, absolutely unemotional. I proceeded to tell him the Fechter story, the part he played 

in the holdup and murder. He was amazed, then wanted to know who had told.

"Sure, it's true,' he admitted.

 

"Last, we brought in Aleck the Terror. Again I told the story-this time quoting his own words as I had heard them while I squatted under that house in Fay Street.

 

"Where did you get that?' Aleck wanted to know, I told him about listening in on his bragging reminiscences.

"And I thought,' Aleck remarked, that I was a smart hombre.'

 

"Well, there isn't much more to tell, I guess. Oh, yes, the Secret Service men located the counterfeit equipment and Aleck the Terror, Max the Goose and Bob the Weeper were convicted of the Fechter murder and electrocuted."

 

 


 

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