Sergeant Burns Recalls Another of Buffalo's Real-Life Dramas
The Stolen Perfume
By Edmund De Castro - Deborah Kufel - Typist
Buffalo, NY 1928
Detective Sergeant William
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
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
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.
connection was seen between the bold bandits and the sneak
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
"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.
Buffalo Police Department
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
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
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
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?"
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.
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.
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
"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.
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
"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
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
On the Job
History of Police Woman
History of Black Officers
Meet Detective Sergeant Coyle
Meet Detective Sergeant Burns
Meet Patrolman Nicholas Donahue
Buffalo Housing 1980's
Days Gone By
Underwater Recovery Team
Homicide Cold Case Squad
CSI Crime Scene Investigation
Mobile Response Unit
Band and Drill Team
World War II
The Blue Ribbon Gang
The Mystery Perfume Case
The Felons Fang
Contract For A Hit
An Eye For Murder
The Boarder Bandits
Detective William Burns
Callea Brothers Murders
Magaddino Cheats Death
Aquino Brothers Murders
DeLuca Gangland Murder
Battaglia Gunned Down
Gerass Found In Trunk
Albert Agueci Murder
Birth Of Witness Protection
Murder Gangland Style
How America Meets The Mob
Anti-Gambling Crusader Murder
The Easy Money