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The Locked Room Murder Mystery – Isidor Fink

Is there such thing as the perfect murder? One would imagine that the “perfect murder” would constitute as one with absolutely no evidence left behind. However, in 1929, a murder case exceeded all expectations of what defines a “perfect murder.” In an apartment in New York City lay the lifeless body of a middle-aged man; bullet holes dotted over his body. He was discovered in a locked apartment, with no entry or exit point, and no weapon.

What happened to Isidor Fink and more importantly, how?

Isidor Fink left his native Galecia, Poland, and immigrated to America in search of greener pastures shortly after World War One. After saving enough money, Fink opened his own laundry on East 123rd Street in New York. He occupied a large ground floor apartment in which he used for business purposes as well as his own living quarters.

On 9 March, 1929, Fink returned to his apartment after delivering fresh laundry to several of his customers. East 132nd Street wasn’t much of a safe neighbourhood. Robberies were rife and Fink was particularly cautious. He never left a window or door unlocked and would only grant entry to his apartment to those he knew. In fact, all windows and doors had multiple bolt locks. Fink was somewhat of a paranoid man, one could say.

“Some night, I’ll be robbed of everything, but they’ll have a tough job of getting in,” he joked with his customers. 1

Times Square near 42nd Street in New York City, 1920s. Credit: AP.

Shortly after Fink returned home at around 10PM, Mrs. Locklan Smith, who lived in the apartment next to his, ran to the Harlem police station to report hearing some loud quick shots – from a gun, she was sure – followed by a hard thud.

The first officer on the scene was patrolman, Albert Kattenborn, who discovered that the door was locked from the inside. He decided to attempt to enter via the small window which was on top of the front door but found that it been nailed shut from the inside. Kattenborn smashed the small window. However, it was much too small for any average-sized adult to fit through, and thus he sent a small boy who was in the crowd that had now congregated outside the apartment to crawl through the window and unlock the door.

Inside, the body of Fink was discovered on the floor. Two bullet wounds pierced his chest and another was through his left wrist.

When the apartment and surrounding area was searched, no weapon could be discovered. An investigation revealed that the only fingerprints found inside the apartment belonged to Fink. This baffled investigators… If somebody had killed Fink then how did they escape the apartment and lock the door and windows from the inside?

New York City’s finest investigators were sent to the scene but nobody could make any sense of it. The door had been bolted shut, the windows were unbroken and locked from the inside and there was no weapon. Nothing had been stolen from the apartment, including money which was found in Fink’s pocket, thus robbery was ruled out as a motivation.

The case held the public’s attention with many forming their own opinions as to what had really happened. Suicide was often a main theory but this too was nonsensical. There was no weapon, after all, and why would Fink have shot himself in the wrist before the chest? The coroner who examined Fink’s corpse said: “The man has been murdered. The position of the body and location of the wounds indicate, beyond doubt, that Fink could not have shot himself.”2

Another more ambiguous theory was that Fink had created some sort of secret contraption, hidden in the walls, with which he shot himself dead with remote control. This theory was just implausible, however, because investigators searched the apartment from top to bottom and found nothing of the sort.

This case has mystified authorities and curious crime buffs alike for decades, yet still remains unsolved.

Further reading:

The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes by Robin Odell.


 

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Footnotes:

  1. Lexington Leader – 3 December, 1938
  2. Star-Gazette – 9 December, 1938

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Member

This is an interesting case. The bullet wound to the wrist might suggest some sort of struggle. Possibly the victim struggled with the attacker by the door, which was open. The victim managed to push the attacker out of the door, but was shot whilst doing this. The victim then shut and locked the door (the hard thud could have been the door slamming) before collapsing and dying.

Member

My thought exactly 👏😊

Lara
Guest

The murderer probably entered right behind the victim (or WITH him) and then left. Why, I have no idea

Alex
Guest

The explanation that springs to mind is that the victim was shot, but hadn’t collapsed yet. Once the murderer was out of the door, Fink locked the door and died. Probably an altercation.

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