WHEN Baltimoreans of a certain age reminisce about the legend and lore of the town, they might talk about the horses (the November afternoon in 1938 when Sea Biscuit beat War Admiral in a match race), about the excursion boats that took them across the bay to Tolchester and about the murders . . .
At 6:10 p.m. April 14, 1939, 8-year-old Nickie Kemper went down a sewer at Lombard and Chapel streets in East Baltimore. When he came out he was shouting, "It's a hand down there!" There was more: a leg (a left one) wrapped in the funnies from the Sunday paper. Young Kemper had found the first piece of evidence in one of Baltimore's most sensational murders.
Two other grisly murders ought to be mentioned here. At 12:30 a.m., Aug. 20, 1952, Baltimore County police officers John Eurice and Paul J. Hardesty, cruising near Belair Road and Taylor Avenue, saw a car careening toward them. Twenty feet away it swerved, veered off the road, hit a tree and turned on its side. Inside the wreckage the police found a woman. She was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Joseph's Hospital. But minutes after the car had overturned, the police noticed that its wheels were still spinning. They found a pebble holding the accelerator in the down position.
Police reached the husband of the deceased, identified as G. Edward Grammer, in New York, where he was working at his job. He told police that on the night of the murder his wife had driven him to Penn Station -- as usual. Russell Fisher, the chief medical examiner, set the tone for the investigation: "This is murder, no ifs, ands or buts."
Ten days after the murder Grammer confessed. He had, he admitted, bludgeoned his wife to death about half an hour before the "accident."
Probably, though, no murder in Baltimore received more fTC extended press coverage than the Norris case.
At 9:25 a.m. Aug. 18, 1922, five men were seated in a Hudson automobile parked on the south side of Madison Street between Howard Street and Park Avenue. They were Jack Hart (who would prove to be Baltimore's most famous prison escape artist), Charles "Country" Carey, Frank Allers, John ("Wiggles") Smith and 19-year-old Walter Socolow. They cut the engine and waited.
They didn't wait long. As they had expected, two men, William Norris and Walter Kuethe, came in sight. They had just left the Commonwealth Bank at Howard and Madison and were carrying the payroll ($7,263) of the engineering firm of Hicks, Tate and Norris. Hart gave the signal and he, Smith and Socolow rushed Norris. In the fracas, Socolow shot Norris in the thigh, and Norris fell to the sidewalk. As Norris lay there, Socolow fired three more shots into him.
The manhunt, captures and trials went on for four months. Before the year was out, Carey, Smith and Hart were given life sentences. In 1928, Carey was hanged for murdering a prison guard, and Smith died of natural causes in 1946 in a Hagerstown prison. Allers was not prosecuted.
Hart and Socolow were paroled. Hart died in the home of a brother in New Jersey.
As for Socolow, on his release from prison in 1945, he went to work for the News American as a printer (a trade he learned in prison) and became a member in good standing of the International Typographical Union.
But back to young Nickie and the "hand down there."
By 7 p.m. that same evening, other parts of the body of a woman by now identified as 30-year-old Evelyn Rice were turning up in East Baltimore. A patient walking in the area of City Hospitals (now Francis Scott Key Medical Center) found three-quarters of the dead woman's torso (giving the case its name, the "Torso Murder").
Rice's husband name was Aurelio Marco Tarquinio. A few days earlier he had reported his wife missing. After interrogating Tarquinio, the police had reason to start digging up his yard at 110 South Durham St. In minutes they found what they had been looking for: Rice's head, two upper arms, two thighs and a section of torso.
Tarquinio went to prison but was paroled in 1954. He dropped out of sight. Evelyn Rice was cremated, and her ashes were sent to her home in Dublin, Ga.
At 12:55 a.m. June 11, 1954, G. Edward Grammer was hanged in the Maryland State Penitentiary.
In 1973 Walter Socolow, 70, called by his colleagues "a gentle, well-liked and law-abiding citizen," died alone in his room on Crimea Road. He was buried in Chizuk Amuno Cemetery.