'Torso Murder' stunned city Sensation: A woman's corpse was found piece by piece, with parts carefully wrapped in newspaper turning up in sewers and elsewhere. Finally the killer was found, too.

Remember When

March 23, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The "Torso Murder" was a Baltimore spectacle that had all the elements of a creepy 1930s Boris Karloff-Universal Pictures horror thriller.

It began innocently enough on April 14, 1939, when 8-year-old Nicholas Krepner descended into a manhole at Chapel and Lombard streets to retrieve a ball.

What he found there were two packages containing a hand and a portion of a leg carefully wrapped in the previous week's Sunday comics.

"It's a hand down there. It's a hand down there," he shouted. An alarmed corner grocer, hearing the boy's cries, called police.

News of the grisly discovery quickly traveled throughout the city, as amateur sleuths and curiosity seekers sought to help police and sewer-workers in their East Baltimore neighborhood search for the rest of the woman's body.

An hour and a half later, at Lombard and Wolfe streets, the second discovery was made -- a heart, lungs and other organs, again all carefully wrapped in newspaper.

At Lombard and Chester, the third discovery was made, of the right foot and the lower right leg.

Two suits and a pair of lounging pajamas were removed from a manhole at Chester and Fayette streets.

The next day, a hospital worker at City Hospitals found three-quarters of the torso in a dump near the hospital.

"Evelyn Rice was starting to reappear before anyone knew she was missing and the case had its name: 'The Torso Murder,' " said The Evening Sun in a 1988 story recounting the history of the murder.

Georgia belle

Evelyn Rice, 30, a native of Dublin, Ga., "the daughter of a respectable family," reported The Sun, was a local beauty and had been Georgia peach festival queen. After two marriages and two children, she moved north to Baltimore and worked as a mind-reader and as a barmaid in an East Baltimore Street bar.

She later went to work for Aurelio Marco Tarquinio, 45, an Italian immigrant and Sparrows Point steelworker, who operated a saloon at the foot of Broadway.

She moved into Tarquinio's residence at 110 S. Durham St., acting as his housekeeper and becoming his lover.

But the two often argued over her drinking and other men. In a fit of anger during one argument, Tarquinio hit Rice so hard that she tumbled backward down the basement steps and died when her head struck the cold concrete floor.

Terrified at what he had done, Tarquinio turned his cellar into a dissecting chamber as he methodically dismembered Rice's body with a butcher knife and readied it for disposal.

On the morning the news of the murder broke, a 14-year-old Russell Baker was standing in the pre-dawn darkness on the corner of a deserted West Lombard Street preparing to deliver the Sunday American. Baker, who later became a Sun reporter and is now a New York Times columnist, shook as he read the gruesome headlines.

"It was always exciting to rip open the bundles of fresh newspapers and be the first in the neighborhood to know tomorrow's news," Baker wrote in his memoir, "Growing Up." "Lately, it had been more and more about Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain, and Stalin. The chanceries of Europe. War in the air, and so forth, and so on.

"This morning, however, there was a bloodcurdling revelation. Page one was half-filled with a picture of several parcels, crudely wrapped in newspapers, lying on a police-station table. The story said they were pieces of a human body which had been dissected by an insane killer and discarded in the Baltimore sewer system. I scanned the story rapidly and felt a little better to learn that all the human parts so far recovered had been found in East Baltimore, a full two miles from West Lombard Street. Police had still not found the victim's head, however, and what was worse, the insane dissector was still at large."

Madman at large

In the stillness of the morning, Baker recalled the movie thriller "Night Must Fall," which featured a killer who carried his victim's head in a hatbox.

"I had seen this film. So, apparently, had the reporter writing this morning's story. It was possible, the story said, that the Baltimore madman was wandering the streets carrying his victim's head," wrote Baker.

"The American was a Hearst paper, and I knew Hearst papers sometimes tried to make a good story better than it actually was, but at that hour of the morning, alone on the streets of southwest Baltimore, I was incapable of mustering any reassuring skepticism."

A few days later, Tarquinio called at the Eastern District Police Station to report Rice missing. Capt. Adelbert Plantholt, commander of the district, was suspicious and put a tail on Tarquinio.

A neighbor who expressed an interest in the case said to Tarquinio, "They're finding more stuff all the time. They'll find all of it if they keep on."

"Oh," Tarquinio replied. "They'll never find the head."

He was taken into custody by police as they focused their investigation on his home and grounds.

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