In April of 1922, in a small corner of the Bronx in New York. There were curious questions about what might have happened to Mrs. Jennie Becker. A hardworking stay-at-home mother of four who fiercely loved her children. On April 6th, she and her husband, Abraham Becker, had attended a party together. On April 7th, Abraham was telling friends and family that Jennie had left with another man. She left her husband, kids, and life for a mystery man. She was never seen alive again. Was this a love triangle gone wrong, or is there something more sinister about? Let’s go over the case.
Hello everyone, and welcome to Forgotten True Crime by Okie Investigations, the True Crime Podcast where we tell the stories of crimes that happened long ago. If you are a true crime fan, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. That way, when we have new episodes, you will be the first to know. Also, check us out on our Youtube and Facebook pages “Forgotten True Crime.” Visit our blog TrueCrime.Blog where we post many cool things we found for each episode. This episode, “Seven Feet Deep,” has a lot of exciting stuff for you to dig into. Make sure you go there and check it out. The links to all that are in the description below.
Parts of this story may contain opinions and speculations and should be taken as such. These stories depict violent crimes of all types and may be a trigger for some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.
Today’s story was one that I waited on telling for a while. I waited on this one because we had to make a few purchases for documents and information that goes along with this case. What we found was some really great stuff and amazing insight on what it really took to investigate this case in the 1920s. You have to remember that everyone that had anything to do with cases that are a hundred years old like this one, there’s no one alive that had anything to do with this case. So it is lovely to go through things like notes or documents that show the reasoning behind things.
But, let us start where this story begins, which is oddly enough, 7 months after Jennie left Abraham. Letters began showing up in mailboxes, all around the area where Jennie Becker once lived. They were from her mother, who lived in England. Jennie’s mother was worried because she had not heard from her daughter since April. It was not like her to drop all contact, and she feared that something had happened to Jennie.
By this time, the news of Jennie leaving Abraham was less of a shock than it first was. Everyone knew that Abraham was a hard man to deal with and if Jennie chose to fall in love and run away with someone else, then who’s to blame her?
But the one thing that always bothered one neighbor, Mrs. Rebecca Baldwin, the most was why on earth did Jennie leave her children behind? Abraham was not a caretaker. He was the type of man who always thought about himself. When it came to taking care of their four children alone, he had them committed to an asylum instead of taking care of them himself. Their children, 8-year-old Harry and 9-year-old Alek, were placed in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum after Jennie had left.
Now the Hebrew Orphan Asylum sounds like an awful place. I did some research and found that back in the early 1900’s, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum was always filled with thousands of children, and they had little to care for them all. Very few children were adopted because they were children from one-parent homes. Their mother or father couldn’t care for them, so they took them to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and used it as a boarding school.
Mrs. Rebecca Baldwin refused to accept that Jennie would leave her children with their father. She knew that Jennie’s disappearance was not news to the Police. Jennie’s Husband, Abraham (Who everyone called Abe), went to the police just days after Jennie left, and he reported her missing. They all believed the story that she had left with another man. So Rebecca did something that not a lot of people would do at the time. She named herself the Detective on the case.
Shortly after Jennie was reported missing, Rebecca began talking to friends and neighbors about what they knew of the situation. She wrote down everyone’s statements word for word. She asked how they came to know that Jennie had left Abe, and they all had the same answer, Abe told them. But it was what he said to them that didn’t make any sense. Some of the neighbors said that Abe said to them that Jennie had left with another man at the April 6th party. Others stated that it was after the party that Abe said that she had left. Others who spoke to Abe on the morning of the 7th state that Abe claimed that he got rid of his wife.
Rebecca knew that Jennie was a devoted mother. There were times in the past when Abe would have mishandled the family’s account or wasn’t there altogether, and they had no money for food. Jennie would go out and beg for food for their children so that they didn’t go hungry. It’s just what a loving mother would do.
In the months after Jennie had disappeared, Abe then brought another woman into his house. Anna Elias, who was a beautiful 24-year-old woman, restarted a relationship with Abe. Yes, I said restarted. Yo u see, in 1920, Abe left Jennie for Anna. He and Anna were having a baby together, and he wanted to marry her. The only problem was that he was still married to Jennie. When the two couldn’t wed, that is when Anna found out that the man that she had been spending all this time with was a married man. He had never told her about Jennie or his children. Anna told Abe that there was no way she would live a life with a married man. If he was ever single, they might try again. Abe then returned to Jennie, who let him back into the home. Partly because she loved him and party because they needed the income in the house to help feed the children.
Rebecca Baldwin wrote every little detail down. She marked the day that Anna started living with Abe, and she continued to wait for the day she received a little more evidence, and then she would go to the Police. Rebecca looked for any signs of Jennie, where she supposedly went to go live with this unnamed mystery man, but never found her. But it was when she received the letter from Jennie’s mother, who so desperately wanted to see her daughter, that she decided to take what she knew to the Police and hope that someone would listen.
When Rebecca walked into the police station, officers treated her very skeptically. Although they reported Jennie’s disappearance, they had largely forgotten about it. It wasn’t until District Attorney Edward J. Glennon and Assistant District Attorney Albert Cohn sat down with Rebecca that they started putting the pieces together. Rebecca was able to outline the entire timeline of events. She handed Edward the many different statements that Abe gave the neighbors, and she even included the names and addresses of everyone. She then told them about the state of the children and that Abe had been living with Anna almost as soon as Jennie was out of the picture.
At the behest of District Attorney Edward Glennon, Officers in the Bronx quickly moved in on Abe’s home and arrested him. Several Detectives then started moving in with copies of the names and addresses of the neighbors who gave statements to Rebecca. They wanted to back up her claims with the same evidence to make sure that everything she presented them with was on the up and up.
Slowly but surely, they found that everything that Rebecca gave them was the truth. I can’t state this enough. What Rebecca Baldwin did for this case was nothing short of amazing. The Detectives on the case said that her work was better than most detectives. I’m surprised they didn’t offer her a job.
With witness statements in hand, District Attorney Edward Glennon decided that it was time to confront Abraham Becker. Abe was a calm person, he didn’t let a lot get to him, and it was this cool and calm deminer that really made things difficult when interviewing him. He flat out refused to acknowledge that anything might have happened to his wife. He told officers that she had left with another man and that he didn’t really know where she was at this moment.
The District Attorney pressed Abe for information on his movements on April 7th, the day after the party. Abe thought about it for a moment and then began to tell them about that day. He stated that it started just like his other workdays. He got up and ready for work. He was a truck driver, and he started his workday at 7:45 in the morning. It wasn’t until that afternoon that he discovered that Jennie was missing. He reported his disappearance to the Police, but he received a letter from her some days later stating that she had moved to Philadelphia.
At this moment, District Attorney Edward Glennon began to suspect that Jennie might no longer be living. You see, Abe had just contradicted some of the witnesses. One witness, Harry Simonowitz, stated that he ran into Abe on the morning of the 7th. Abe was in a great mood and told Harry, “Congratulate me! I got rid of my wife!” At the time, Harry thought it was funny, kinda dark humor. He believed the story that Jennie had left Abe… that was until the rumors started going around town.
Abe denied any involvement in Jennie’s disappearance. He wanted to disprove what others were saying about him, so he told officers about his friend that he had seen that day to back up his statement. He told the officers that they needed to speak to Reuben Norkin and that he would set them straight. On the night that Jennie supposedly disappeared, he told the officers that he was with Reuben, although he couldn’t give them a real answer as to why he was with him. Reuben had an auto shop and dump. The officers asked if there was something wrong with Abe’s car, but he told them no, but he did tell them that he brought his trash to Reuben’s dump regularly.
The District Attorney felt as if he had enough to hold Abe on suspicion. They brought him in front of a judge who assigned a 10 thousand dollar bail, and they then locked him up in the Bronx County Jail. The most interesting thing about this was that few guards patrolled the corridors of this part of the jail. So the inmates spoke freely about their crimes and what they were accused of. When Abe was placed in his cell, he was pestered into telling them why he was there. Abe told the other inmates that they were looking for his wife. They asked what happened to her, and he shied away from saying anything until he heard others talk about their crimes. So he finally spoke up when asked again what happened to his wife. All he would say was, “The Police will never find her. I hid her away and they won’t be able to find her.” Abe then asked how he could get a message out. He needed to contact a friend, Reuben Norkin, and get a message to him. The inmates asked who he was, but Abe stopped talking when they didn’t tell him how to contact his friend.
The thing that Abe didn’t realize was that every inmate around his cell was police officers. They went undercover thinking that Abe would do something stupid and freely talk about his involvement in his wife’s disappearance. They also had a stenographer in a cell next to him taking down his statement, word for word. They now knew two major things. One was that Reuben Norkin was someone they needed to talk to and that they thought that the visit he had on the night of Jennie’s disappearance at Reuben’s shop might be the key to the whole thing.
Officers were dispatched to Reuben Norkin’s shop. They brought him in for questioning without any resistance. Reuben was a little like Abe, calm, cool, and collected. But when they got him into the station, Detective James McCarton thought that Reuben’s deminer was all an act. All day and overnight, they questioned Reuben about what he knew about Jennie and Abe. At first, he acted indifferently. He would say things like “What do I care what happened to her?” or “If Abe killed her, what does that have to do with me?”
As the hours went by, Reuben Norkin slowly started saying more and more. He still denied having anything to do with Jennie’s disappearance. But he let on that if they were looking for her, they should perhaps start digging in the dump around his shop.
Right away, Detective James McCarton took Reuben to his shop, and then they walked out into the dump. Soon several officers showed up as well, all with shovels and ready to dig. Detective McCarton looked to Reuben and asked, “Where do we dig?” Reuben then looked around and led them to a spot. They started to dig, but it wasn’t long before they stopped. They knew that this was not the right spot. The dirt was packed and had clearly been undisturbed for some time. The Detective then began to walk around the dump and nearer still to the sidewalk and building. He probed the ground with a stick to see how soft it was. When the stick went in with little trouble, the Detective looked to Reuben. Before he could even ask if this were the spot, he saw the look on Reuben’s face. He was pale and looked horrified. They didn’t need to ask him anything more. The officers began digging down. As time went on, more and more people gathered along the sidewalk to see what was happening. Newspapermen, who had been tipped off to the story, snapped pictures as they dug deeper and deeper. Hours later, they had reached nearly 7 feet into the earth and moved out several large rocks from the pit. It was then they found a badly decomposed body.
Detective James McCarton believed that they had just found poor Jennie. They had got this far in the case thanks to one Detective that refused to quit, Mrs. Rebecca Baldwin. Although she was not on the Police’s payroll, she was probably one of the best Detectives in town. I wish we were all so lucky to have a friend like Rebecca in our lives. She refused to believe that her friend and neighbor would leave her family overnight unless something horrible happened to her. Rebecca stuck to her gut feelings and let the evidence lead her to the truth. Justice for Jennie was only happening because Rebecca stepped in.
The main questions we have at this point are, the body they found, was it Jennie’s? How did Reuben Norkin know where the body was buried? The Detectives still haven’t interviewed Anna Elias. Did she have more to do with this than previously thought?
Join us next time to finish “Seven feet Deep” with part two of this story. You won’t believe its outcome.