Detective Sergeant Burns Recalls Another of Buffalo's Real-Life Dramas

 

The Stolen Perfume Mystery
By Edmund De Castro - Deborah Kufel - Typist

Buffalo, NY 1928

Detective Sergeant William E. Burns

Take the Wunderlich case, for example. There, six policemen tried to arrest a petty thief for stealing some cheap perfume. Before they got their man all were disarmed, one was shot, and only quick thinking saved all six from death.

Events leading to the quasi-tragedy were exciting, but commonplace enough. In 1928, with "soft drink" places flourishing on every corner, three bandits took heavy toll of the easy money. Hardly a night passed without police cars speeding to the scene of a brazen holdup.

 

Proprietors and patrons told the same story in every instance. As the hour grew late, the front door would open and the bandits saunter in.

 

One would fire a shot to cow resistance.

 

The second would line everyone up and empty their pockets.

 

The third took care of the cash register. Another shot to halt pursuit, and the trio escaped in a waiting automobile.

 

During the same period, the police were plagued by a series of burglaries.

No connection was seen between the bold bandits and the sneak thieves.

 

Why, the burglars were so petty they stole a pair of scales and 35 bottles of cheap perfume from William Hoffman's drug store, then located at 821 Elk St.

 

But, strangely, it was the perfume which led the six policemen into a death trap and
resulted in the arrest of the Wunderlich gang.

 

Detective William Yaiser, of the Babcock Street Station, was assigned to the drug store burglary. Intrigued by the theft of the perfume, Yaiser had a hunch. His first stop was at a motion-picture theater in Clinton Street near Bushnell Street. He interviewed the manager.

 

"If any of your patrons come in here reeking of perfume, please give me a call," Yaiser asked the manager. "I have a hunch that the stolen perfume is still in this neighborhood."

 

The hunch worked. On New Year's Day, 1929, two young girls entered the
theater. The manager hurriedly called the Babcock Street Station, telling Yaiser that
one of his customers "smelled like a barber shop.

 

Captain James E. Short
Ninth Precinct
Buffalo Police Department

The detective entered the theater and sat behind the two girls. When they left, he trailed the perfumed youngster to her home.

 

The next morning, Yaiser and his partner, Detective John Schmelzer, called on the young woman.

 

Searching the house, they found the missing scales and several bottles of perfume. They also found the girl's brother, George Seychew, 24 years old, in bed, and arrested him.

 

While searching the house, Schmelzer saw a woman member of the household quickly reach into a bureau drawer. Suspecting she was trying to hide evidence, the detective threw himself at her.
He found that her hand grasped a loaded .38-caliber revolver.

 

In tearing the gun from her hand, the detective had to push her to the floor. The Seychews seemed to resent this rough treatment and Schmelzer got many black looks. But the detectives were satisfied. It looked like the end of the petty burglary epidemic.

 

But it was only the beginning of the drama.

That very afternoon, another member of the family came to call on Capt. James E. Short, then in command of the Babcock Street Station. He had a message which he asked the captain to deliver to the detectives.

 

"Tell Yaiser and Schmelzer to go to 715 First Ave., Lackawanna at exactly 6 o'clock this evening," he told the police official. "They'll find a man named William Wunderlich there getting his stuff together. He's going to leave town in a hurry because George has been arrested. He knows he's wanted too."

 

His message delivered, the youth left the station house, nearly colliding with Detective Sergt. William E. Burns, who was coming in to get out of the cold.

 

Capt. Short was in a quandary. He was unable to get in touch with Detective Schmelzer, who was assigned to other duties. He asked Burns if he'd mind going along with Yaiser. Burns willingly agreed. Because it then was 2 degrees below zero and getting colder by the minute, Capt. Short gave them the station car with Patrolman Joseph E. Renowden at the wheel. Patrolman Frederick A. Smith went along for the ride.

 

As is customary when making an arrest in another city, the Buffalo policemen reported Lackawanna headquarters. Two Lackawanna policemen, who knew Wunderlich volunteered to aid in the arrest. The two cars pulled into First Avenue in front of No. 715, which was in complete darkness.

 

The Lackawanna police offered to make the arrest and turn the prisoner over to Burns and Yaiser. They knocked on the door of the house and were admitted. No gleam of light came from the dwelling.

 

The four Buffalo policemen stood shivering beside their car. After a wait of a quarter of an hour, Yaiser decided to enter the house and hurry up the proceedings. He also was admitted and failed to return.

 

Burns decided to investigate.

 

Sending the two patrolmen around to the back of the house, the sleuth tiptoed to the door and turned the knob. His revolver in hand, Burns stuck his head into the hallway. 

 

An arm went around his neck and he was pulled quickly inside. He had to make a split second decision as he entered a lighted room.

 

Yaiser and the two Lackawanna policemen were lined against the wall with their hands in the air and their revolvers on a table in front of them. Menacing them with two guns was William Wunderlich. Back of Burns was Alexander Seychew, his hands grasping a shotgun.

 

Should the detective sergeant risk a shot at wunderlich and seal the fate of his men? 

 

Nothing would stop Seychew from blasting away with the shotgun. The sergeant decided on bluff.

 

"What's it all about?" he asked gently. "We came out here to get Wunderlich for a drug store burglary and here you boys are holding up policemen. What's the matter with you?"

 

William Wunderlich

Wundrelich kept his two guns trained on the captured policemen, but Seychew seemed worried.

 

"There's a mistake here," said the latter. "Where's Schmelzer?"

 

Burns decided on a deal to prevent a whole series of murders. He began to talk persuasively to the two armed men, pointing out that shooting policeman could only lead to the electric chair.

"I'll tell you what I'd do," said the canny sleuth. "I'd give up those guns and come along with us. I'll have to arrest you for carrying them, and Wunderlich for the burglary. But it'll be a lot better than the chair."

"Not on your life," snarled Wunderlich. "You can't trick me.

 

But Seychew wasn't so tough.

 

He finally made a deal with Burns. He told him that if he would unload his gun and add it to the collection on the table, he and Wunderlich would do the same. Thus there would be no killings.

 

"Sure," said Burns, breaking his gun so that the cartridges fell on the floor, "I think you boys are being very wise." Seychew kept his part of the bargain, and the shells dropped from the shotgun. Wunderlich, still grumbling, was about to comply in turn when there was a loud knock on the rear door.

 

Alexander Seychew

"Good-night," groaned Burns, "it's Renowden and Smith." The two patrolmen assigned to guard the back of the house had decided something was very wrong and were trying to force their way in.

 

"See, what did I tell you," shouted Wunderlich. "It's a plant, load your gun again, Alex." The latter obeyed quickly.

 

At that instant the back door burst open, giving a glimpse of the two Buffalo bluecoats.

 

"Look out, boys, don't come in, there's trouble in here," shouted Burns.

 

But he was too late. Wunderlich fired, and Patrolman Smith dropped with a bullet in his body.The second patrolman was captured before he could recover from his surprise.

 

"Now see what you've done, with your foolishness," bitterly cried Alex. Wunderlich snarled.

 

"We've got to get out of here," he said as the enormity of what he had done came to him.

 

"There's no use in any more shooting," suggested Burns. "You boys are in bad enough now, you'd better beat it." His mind was on the wounded policeman who needed medical attention at once.

 

Alexander Seychew "We've got no dough," wailed Wunderlich. Detective Yaiser, also thinking of Patrolman Smith, quickly offered him a $2 bill.

 

Collecting all of the revolvers, Wunderlich and Seychew ran from the house and drove away in the Lackawanna police car.

 

Sending Patrolman Smith to the hospital, Burns and his colleagues took up the search for the two gunmen. The trail led to Fredonia, Erie and Corry, Pa., and then to Jamestown.

 

Shivering from the cold and still shaken by the sight of Smith being shot in front of their eyes, the detectives entered a restaurant there.

 

A waiter, who had heard of the manhunt, saw the two men enter. As they sat down, he saw a pistol holster on one of them. "It's the bandits," he yelled, dropping his tray and dashing out the back door of the place. The tired policemen had to go to another restaurant for their coffee.

 

The trail led to Perrysburg and then to Angola where the Lackawanna police car was found abandoned.

 

Footprints led to an empty farmhouse where three revolvers were recovered. But a search of the house showed the hunted men had come in merely long enough to get out of the cold.

 

The weary detectives returned to Buffalo. To their delight, they found that Patrolman Smith, although badly injured, would recover.

 

Burns had just entered the Babcock Street Station when he was called to the telephone. A woman was on the other end of the line. She told the sleuth:

"Alexander Seychew has discovered he's been led into something. He's willing to give himself up, if he can be sure he won't be hurt.

 

The detective told here that if Alex would walk into the stationhouse and surrender his guns he would be safe from bodily harm, and at the appointed hour the stationhouse door opened with a bang and Alex rushed to the desk, dropping his guns in front of Burns.

 

"That's off my chest," said Alex. "That was a death trap, not for you but for Yaiser and Schmelzer," he explained to Burns, as he was places safely under lock and key. He swore that he had broken with Wunderlich after the shooting and he did not know where he could be found.

 

Meditating, Burns strolled to a nearby store to buy a cigar. A figure stepped from the shadows. "Go to this address on Cushing Street and you'll find Wunderlich," whispered the shadow, pushing a piece of paper into the sergeant's hand. "Don't hurt him when you arrest him," begged the voice.

 

The police surrounded the Cushing Street house and Burns pushed his way inside the front door.

 

"Bill, we know you're here. I'm coming upstairs after you," shouted the detective, mounting the stairs. "You know I'm unarmed, you've got my guns," he continued as he reached the landing.

 

Wunderlich stood in a doorway, his two guns trained on the detective.

 

"Burns, I'm going to kill you before you kill me," shouted Wunderlich. The detective raised his empty hands.

 

At that instant Burns was shocked to feel the barrel of a pistol slip past his ear. A brother detective had followed him up the stairs and was going to try for a potshot at the cornered bandit.

 

"Everything happens to me," groaned Burns, knowing that the instant Wunderlich sensed he was covered two bullets would plunge into his own body.

 

Making a quick plunge backwards, he caught the second detective off balance, causing him to fall backwards down the stairs. "That ought to show you I'm on the level, I just saved your life," pointed out the sleuth. "Give me those guns and I'll keep you from getting hurt," he coaxed.

 

"OK, you win," admitted Wunderlich, handing over the weapons. On the ride to the stationhouse the bandit handed Detective Yaiser his $2 bill. "I never had a chance to spend it," he told the detective.

 

A few weeks later Supreme Court Justice Thomas H. Noonan sentenced Wunderlich and the two Seychew brothers to prison for 30 years each.

 

The Lackawanna death trap had failed in more ways than one.

 

The Mystery Perfume Case

 

 
 

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