Gone Tomorrow: The Unsolved murders of Mae Gazzo and Kathleen Egan

Posted: June 23, 2019 in Uncategorized

Everyone agrees it was an accident.

Alcohol. High heels. A fifth-floor walk-up. The receptionist at my favorite hair salon met her demise a few weeks ago due to alcohol, high-heels, and a fifth-floor walk-up.
After a bar crawl fellow salon employees dropped her at her door and her neighbors heard her tumble down the stairs a few minutes later.
Fatal falls are far more common than most people realize, authorities told her family;
the autopsy results haven’t been released but it is believed she teetered as she reached the top floor and snapped her neck while hurtling down the stairs backwards.

It is terrifying to remember so we strive to forget: safety is illusory.
Every day, all day, each and every one of us is a single misstep from endless night—and it’s not only our choice of accommodations or footwear which might be plotting to kill us.
In one notable NYC murder a bride-to-be showed up early for an electrolysis appointment and wound up dead.
Sometimes the early bird gets a bullet instead of a worm.

Beauty is tyranny. Scheduled to wed fireman Frederick Weigold on January 14th, 1956,
twenty-five-year old Queens resident Kathleen Egan was determined to look perfect on her honeymoon.
Plagued by rogue hairs on her chin and bosom, the AT&T clerk scheduled a series of electrolysis treatments designed to obliterate the unsightly fuzz forever.
In the ultimate irony, so mortified was Kathleen by her whiskers and chest pelt she booked the appointments under a fictitious surname (“Ferris”) to shield her identity.
Little did she know her secret shame would soon be printed on the front page of every major newspaper in New York.

35-57 82nd Street

On November 15th, 1955—exactly two months before her wedding—Kathleen skipped work to bid bon voyage to a friend leaving for Europe;
she then spent a few hours running errands related to her impending nuptials.
At 3:30pm Kathleen was due at 35-57 82nd Street in Jackson Heights for an appointment—her fourth—-with electrologist Marie “Mae” Gazzo.
The precise time of Kathleen’s arrival is unclear but she apparently arrived early—-by 3:30pm there were already intimations of calamity at Mae’s electrolysis office.
Suitemate Dr. Herbert Schwartz, a chiropodist, had become alarmed by the incessant ringing of the telephone.
He and Mae shared a line and she always picked up the receiver by the second ring.
At 5pm Dr. Schwartz took advantage of a lull between patients and walked down the hall to investigate.

When his repeated knocking drew no response Dr. Schwartz attempted to enter Mae’s office—the knob turned but the door was jammed.
The rooms on the second floor of 35-57 82nd Street are interconnected and thus he continued down the hall to enter Mae’s office via a bridge club located in the building’s rear.
As he traversed the club—-closed during daylight hours—Dr. Schwartz discovered the still-warm corpse of thirty-two-year old Mae Gazzo splayed beneath a window.
Mae hadn’t died alone; shortly after their arrival responding NYPD officers found the body of Kathleen Egan crumpled in the bridge club’s tiny kitchen, her battle with unwanted hair ended forevermore.

MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GORY

The tabloid press was granted an absurd amount of access to the crime scene; though there are some variations in detail these are the pertinent facts upon which all newspapers agree:  
 
In the kitchen:

    • Kathleen was found facedown, nude except for her stockings
    • A set of rosary beads were entwined in her fingers
    • Her one-carat engagement ring—valued at $550—was missing

 
In the bridge club:

    • Mae was found fully clothed in her white beauticians’ uniform
    • As she fell she pulled the window curtains down on top of her
    • Kathleen’s girdle and panties lay on the floor beside Mae

 
In the office:

  • The electrolysis machine was still running
  • Jazz was playing loudly on the radio, the volume possibly turned up by the killer
  • A stopper had been wedged inside the door to prevent entry via the hallway
  • Kathleen’s orange dress and bra were found neatly folded on a hanger in the closet
  • A two-carat diamond ring Mae always removed for work was found secreted in a drawer
  • The contents of both women’s purses had been dumped onto a table
  • Approximately ten dollars was missing from Kathleen’s wallet and thirty-five from Mae’s

 
 “At least sixty ex-convicts, gun-toters, sex perverts and assorted criminals have been taken to Elmhurst station house for a ‘sweating.’” Long Island Star Journal, November 18th, 1955

Subsequent autopsies will determine neither victim exhibited evidence of sexual assault and both had sustained a single bullet wound—Kathleen behind the left ear and Mae in the left side of her upper back.
Mae’s wound showed evidence of stippling indicating close contact with the gun barrel—the tip of the bullet protruded just above her right breast.
The medical examiner will estimate the victims’ times of death as sometime between 2:40 and 3:05pm;
Mae had been killed first, the doctor surmised, dying approximately ten minutes before Kathleen.
Both women were shot with the same weapon, a .38 caliber Colt Special revolver;
the copper-coated bullets utilized in the crime were rare in America but popular overseas.

Upon examining the crime scene details detectives theorized the event had unfolded thusly:
between 2:30 and 3pm Kathleen arrived at Mae’s office and removed her dress and bra for treatment.
Her skin bore only faint electrolysis markings indicating the process had been interrupted shortly after commencement.
When the killer knocked on the door Mae shrouded Kathleen with a sheet before answering;
both women were then immediately confronted at gunpoint.
As their purses were dumped and cash extracted Mae fled through the adjoining door into the bridge club.
Dragging Kathleen along with him, the killer gave chase and caught up with Mae as she struggled to open the window, presumably to summon help.
Enraged, the assailant shot Mae in the back and then proceeded to tear off Kathleen’s panties and girdle, possibly as a prelude to rape.
Kathleen managed to break away but was ultimately cornered in the bridge club’s kitchen—she was then forced to her knees and executed.

“This is one of the toughest cases we’ve ever been called on to solve but we believe robbery was the motive for this double killing.” NYPD Chief Inspector Daniel McGovern, Democrat and Chronicle, November 17th, 1955

FRUSTRATION, DESPERATION, STAGNATION—OH MY!

“A wonderful girl, just the grandest, grandest girl”—that’s how Dr. Schwartz’s wife described Mae Gazzo to journalists after the murders.
The electrologist, the sole support of her widowed mother, was a homebody with no romantic entanglements and no known enemies.
Just six weeks before her death Mae had achieved a lifelong dream of purchasing a house “in the country” for herself and her mother.
To Bronx natives like Mae the New Jersey suburbs were the promised land.

Mae began operating the electrolysis parlor at 35-57 82nd Street three years before her death;
detectives questioned the hundreds of women listed in Mae’s business ledger—she had no male clients—but were unable to develop a single lead.
Then as now, predatory behavior was an occupational hazard for women;
the previous occupant of Mae’s office, Anne Hoey Warren, had been raped in the building a few years before Mae’s tenancy.
Investigators determined Ms. Warren’s rapist Mark Sullivan had an airtight alibi for the day of the murders;
detectives dismissed the freshly-paroled felon from the suspect list and the investigation soldiered on.

Despite a BOLO order issued to area pawn shops Kathleen’s diamond ring could not be—and has never been—located.
No unidentified fingerprints were detected at the crime scene and no hair or fiber evidence collected.
Bereft of forensics, the sole weapon in the NYPD arsenal was interrogation,
a high-stakes free-for-all in the era before Miranda.
Sex offenders, stick-up artists and assorted ne’er-do-wells were rounded up and grilled like beefsteak.
A confession from dishwasher Foster Baker initially seemed promising but detectives’ ardor quickly cooled—evidence ultimately proved Baker had been present at work at the time of the murders.
With another potential suspect crossed off the list the investigation chugged onward.

The next miscreant in investigators’ crosshairs was a Bronx resident named Louis Polite.
Beginning one month before the murders, detectives learned,
electrologists throughout the city had been bombarded with a rash of lewd phone calls;
Mae herself had been the recipient of at least one of these unwelcome advances.
After the slayings the harassment intensified, victims reported, with the caller now posing as an NYPD detective before veering off into depravity.
A sting operation eventually identified the obscene orator as Airman First Class Louis Polite.
No ballistic evidence could be unearthed which tied Polite to the homicides, however,
and he denied any knowledge of the murders.
Detectives eventually shelved the ironically-named Polite as a suspect and resumed their quest;
leads dried up, optimism withered, and the slayings of Kathleen Egan and Mae Gazzo began to fade into memory.

AN OVERLAPPING MURDER, ALL IN THE FAMILY

Four years and three months after the electrolysis shop slayings Mae Gazzo’s family suffered another blow—her thirty-five-year-old cousin Eleanor Saia was murdered in a real estate office in Oradell, New Jersey.
Eleanor, a happily married mother of two,
was a receptionist at Demarest Reality and Insurance, located at 275 Kinderkamack Road.
At 1pm on March 14th, 1960 she arrived at the office just as her boss Frank O’Shea was departing for lunch.
A half hour later a potential client entered, noticed Eleanor prone on the couch, assumed she was napping and left.
Due to the drawn drapes in the office he failed to notice her upper body was drenched in blood.

At 2pm Frank O’Shea returned to the office and found Eleanor mortally wounded—she mumbled incoherently, only three words decipherable: “Englewood, Edgewater, Lyndhurst,” names of New Jersey towns.
The victim was transported to Bergen Pines Hospital where she died without regaining consciousness;
an autopsy will determine she was beaten to death with an unidentified object—her face bruised, her left eye blackened, her skull fractured in two places.
Although Eleanor exhibited no evidence of sexual assault investigators were unable to rule out an attempt—her blouse and slip were ripped and a button had been torn from her white sweater.

The office’s safe hadn’t been touched; the only item determined to be missing from the scene was Eleanor’s red leather wallet containing less than five dollars.
Although her murder shared many similarities with her cousin Mae’s—both women were murdered at work,
in ostensible robberies which netted only a negligible amount of money—authorities were unable to find any concrete links and ultimately deemed the situation a “weird coincidence.”
The cousins’ slayings will share one final similarity—as is the case with the murders of Mae and Kathleen, Eleanor’s homicide remains unsolved.

Leading with the bleeding, literally

Return home after having a couple of cocktails and you might die. Go to work and you might die. Have your rogue hairs zapped and you might die.
Show up early for an appointment and you might die—hell, show up late or fail to show up at all and you might die.
Locking your doors, advisable though it may be, can’t lock out mortality;
like it or not, each and every one of us will, without exception, die.
The only sensible option is to enjoy your time on earth, however brief, and don’t sweat the small stuff—because as Kathleen Eagan learned in the most public way possible: hair today, gone tomorrow.

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