Starr as a "Body of Evidence"
A Body of Evidence on Long Island
When a fashionably attired corpse washed ashore, the DA and the press knew what to do
- By Steve Wick, Newsday Staff Writer
She was a lovely corpse.
Her nails were painted a bright red, her silk dress an expensive design she might have worn to a society party in New York City. And although her hair had been tossed around in the surf, you could still see the outlines of a fashionable cut.
The body was lying in a pile of seaweed on a deserted stretch of sand in Long Beach when five Nassau County detectives arrived. It was the morning of June 8, 1931. That day's edition of the Nassau Daily Review said:
Police today were seeking to identify the body of a young woman, about 24 years old, expensively dressed and apparently of a wealthy family, who was washed ashore at the foot of Minnesota Avenue, West Long Beach, early this morning . . . She had dark brown hair, apparently hennaed, well manicured nails, finished in a bright red polish, and perfect teeth.
By noon, Nassau County Police Insp. Harold King believed the dead woman was Elizabeth Wardwell, the daughter of an upstate bank president, who had been reported missing. But by the following morning, King also was trying to determine if the dead woman was Catherine Hill, 26, of Provincetown, Mass.
It would be another two days before a name was finally attached to the corpse: Starr Faithfull, the well-to-do daughter of a Manhattan society couple.
STARR FAITHFULL fit perfectly into a splashy headline, over stories filled with talk of murder and cover-up, political intrigue, wild partying on cruise ships, Manhattan society affairs and mysterious diary entries.
``This was one of those cases that grabbed people's attention,'' retired Nassau County chief of detectives Ed Curran said recently. ``When I came on in 1946, the old-timers were still talking about it.''
Today, the only way to reconstruct the events that followed the discovery of Faithfull's body is to read newspaper accounts. The principals in the case -- from King to the then-Nassau District Attorney Elvin Edwards, who said from the get-go that Faithfull had been murdered and boasted two days after the body's discovery that an arrest was imminent -- are all dead. Edwards' voluminous records on the case have never been found.
Yet the case of Starr Faithfull, her life and death as told across the pages of New York's newspapers, is still intriguing today. In some ways, it was 20th Century Long Island's first big crime story. Or was it a crime story?
Within a day of Faithfull's body washing up on the beach, District Attorney Edwards had seized the story by the throat and was squeezing hard for all it was worth. A story on June 9 in the Nassau Daily Review -- with a headline that read MALE COMPANION OBJECT OF HUNT -- said Edwards had determined that the victim ``had been subjected to physical violence before her body was thrown into the ocean.''
His statement that the death was the result of ``foul play'' was based on bruises on her body, the story said. Police sources were quoted as saying Faithfull --``an aspiring writer'' who apparently never wrote anything -- had been kidnaped from her home in Manhattan and brought to Long Beach, where she was killed and her body tossed into the surf. This story also noted -- in a way that suggested it meant something to the case -- that Faithfull's next door neighbor in New York was the mayor, James J. Walker.
By June 10, two days after Faithfull's body washed up on the beach, the headlines screamed:
GIRL'S KILLERS KNOWN; HUNT LEADS TO BOSTON. Under this headline in the Nassau paper, was another: DISTRICT ATTORNEY, MAINTAINING SECRECY, ANNOUNCES MEN SOUGHT FOR STARR FAITHFULL MURDER WELL KNOWN.
The first paragraph of the story read: ``Seeking two men he has labelled `the murderers of Starr Faithfull,' whose body was found at Long Beach early Monday morning, District Attorney Elvin Edwards was in Boston today.''
Asked if Faithfull might have committed suicide, Edwards was quoted as saying, ``Do you think I would be working like this if it were a suicide?'' The story went on to say that Edwards ``told reporters he was looking for two men who were with Faithfull Friday morning, when she was last seen. He expects an early arrest. He said he knew the names of the men and that one played an important role in New York political circles.''
Underworld Haunts. . .
What did Edwards mean by ``political circles''? Was he referring to the mayor, Jimmy Walker? ``Sources'' told the newspaper that Edwards and his investigators had grilled crewmen on a cruise ship docked in New York Harbor because of reports that a drunken Faithfull had been taken off the boat a few days before her death. ``As attendants were placing her in a small boat, she screamed: `Kill me. Throw me overboard.'''
Edwards had a new theory, too, according to the account. ``Edwards' theory is that Miss Faithfull was murdered in New York and carried to Long Beach by taxicab. He believes her assailants placed her in a row boat during the night and carried the body out to sea . . . Edwards has secret information to support his belief.''
On June 12, the Nassau paper trumpeted: STARR FAITHFULL DIARY MAY REVEAL BLACKMAIL --SLAYERS HIRED TO END CAREER. The story said investigators had learned that Faithfull had frequented ``underworld haunts'' and ``revelled in the company of known killers and desperate criminals. The investigation also revealed her wide knowledge of men whose shady character and nefarious deeds would make them unwelcome in her plutocratic drawing room.''
Edwards would ask for indictments that morning, the paper said. A source -- presumably Edwards himself -- told the paper that Faithfull's diary centered on ``men, men, men --all sorts of men in all walks of life.'' And the source said she met her killers at a party aboard a cruise ship, the Franconia.
What Did It Mean...?
But newspapers of the next day, June 13, downplayed virtually every point made in the papers of the day before. The grand jury probe was a ``disappointment,'' the Nassau paper said. Three days later, on June 16, Edwards told reporters he had been ``deliberately and generally misquoted'' by the newspapers.
On June 15, Edwards told reporters he was searching for a Chicago gang leader named ``Blue,'' and his blond girlfriend, who he said had partied in New York with Faithfull the night before she disappeared. Ten days later, on June 25, Edwards' investigators questioned New York publisher Bennett Cerf, who said he had been at the party and had seen Faithfull.
But all this was talk, and by June 26, three weeks after the death, a small story in the Nassau paper said the case would soon be closed. The next day, Faithfull's father was quoted in the newspapers as saying Edwards was afraid to make arrests because ``big'' people were involved.
And that was that. Case closed.
This was written by: Steve Wick, Newsday Staff Writer
- - Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc. - -
Newsday's article was printed with a photo of Starr Faithfull
[from Nassau County Museum Collection, Long Island Studies Institute]
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