Mew Crime: A Cat Named 'Tipsy' Helped Solve This New York City Murder in 1912
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As promised, this week’s Allegedly Original features a cat who helped solved a murder. The post went up this morning, but didn’t arrive in anyone’s inboxes for some reason, so we’re re-sending now. Since you’ll obviously enjoy reading this twisted cat tale, don’t forget to share it—and subscribe to Allegedly.
Tipsy, the Expert Mouser Who Helped Solve a Murder
By Peggy Gavan
Two weeks after an unidentified woman’s body was discovered in a Connecticut mill pond, a New York City cat found the murder weapon in a five-story brick tenement on East 40th Street. This weapon was key to identifying and confirming the suspect in a baffling, high-profile murder case.
The story had everything a news editor could possibly want: murder, sex, mystery, and gore, as well as a beautiful teenage girl and a suspicious male boarder who might have been her lover.
The grisly case also featured a cat named Tipsy, who had a reputation as being an expert mouser in this tenement building. The suspect Tipsy helped nab was a “little” and “weazened man” called Salvatore “the mouse” Geracci.
The Unidentified Body
On Saturday, November 9 1912, a woman’s body was found in the Gilbert & Bennett mill pond in Georgetown, Connecticut. The body was wrapped in a tablecloth and a sheet, which was marked with the initials “CG” and bound in wire. There were four holes in the woman’s skull.
At first, police thought the woman was Grace Carbone, a Connecticut prostitute who had gone missing about four weeks prior. Grace and her friend Genevieve Cavalieri had both been scheduled to serve as witnesses at a trial of sex traffickers who operated in New Haven and Bridgeport. Police thought the woman had been killed to prevent her testimony, according to reports. The news media had a field day with this theory.
Grace Carbone had several aliases, including Nellie Carmelia and Antoinette, so the initial theory was just a weak hunch. Assuming the woman had been killed somewhere near the pond, the Connecticut State Police explored every inch of ground around the pond looking for evidence of a struggle. They also canvassed the neighborhood to inquire about anyone with the initials “CG.”
The Mysterious Trunk
Things got a bit more complicated when Lester Olmstead, a local carpenter and hunter, found remnants of a burned trunk about one quarter mile from the Branchville train station. All that remained of the trunk was its zinc lining and some fragments of wood. Among the cinders were a woman's shoe, three buttons, a safety pin, some wire, and a six-inch piece of rope that matched the rope used to tie the sheet around the woman’s body. The dirt around the site appeared as if someone had tried to dig a large hole and had then given up. Nearby, a stream entered into the mill pond.
One report inThe New York Times said the trunk had been shipped by express service from New York City to Branchville. Several witnesses told police they had seen two men and a young woman wheeling the trunk on a hand cart to a little yellow house on a hill overlooking the site where it was found.
With this new evidence, New York Police Department Deputy Police Commissioner George Samuel Dougherty reportedly changed direction and ordered detectives to start tracing the trunk’s point of origin. NYPD Detectives Clinton W. Wood and Ralph Mitelli were assigned to assist the Connecticut State Police in the investigation.
According to Giuseppe Napoli, who was a boarder in the yellow house, Salvatore “the mouse” Geracci and two other men had carried the trunk to the house and left it in the backyard. (Napoli said he knew Geracci from when he had lived there while working as a laborer on the railroad.) Police also found a second-hand shop owner who had sold the trunk to Geracci. They discovered that the origin of the trunk was 315 East 40th Street. Dougherty sent his men, and reportedly a female detective, to the tenement building to further investigate this new lead.
According to the New York Tribune, when detectives interviewed Mrs. John Preston, the janitress for 315 East 40th Street, she confirmed that an Italian woman named Carmelina Geracci had disappeared two weeks earlier. Carmelina was a 40-year-old seamstress who had lived in the first-floor apartment with her 54-year-old husband, Salvatore Geracci, their “markedly beautiful” 15-year-old daughter, Turiddi, and two male boarders, Salvatore Lombardi and Giuseppe Lombardi.
Two tenants in the building told police they had heard a woman scream the night before Election Day, November 5. Other neighbors alleged that Geracci often beat his wife. A few people said the girl had also gone missing. They worried that she had also been killed.
Armed with this new information, detectives began canvassing the neighborhood for Salvatore Geracci and Lombardi—who they thought was Turiddi’s 28-year-old lover, reports said.
Inside the apartment’s bedroom, detectives found stains as would be made by silver nitrate on a blood-stained mattress. These stains matched those on the sheet used to wrap the body. They also found dust outlined in blood on a rear window, and two clearly defined fingerprints on a closet. Bloodstained wire nails that matched the size of the four holes in Carmelina’s skull were scattered throughout the apartment. There were also some charred pieces of wood in the apartment, which led them to believe that the men may have tried to burn the body before shipping it to the mill pond.
Despite all this evidence, the detectives had not yet found the murder weapon. That discovery, it appears, would take some feline curiosity.
The Murder Weapon
On November 18, Tipsy, the tenement’s resident mouser, meandered into the open apartment to satisfy her curiosity. According to The Sun, Tipsy snooped around for a while and then settled down in a dark corner under the kitchen sink. Detectives tried to coax her out, but she refused to budge. When they reached under the sink to grab her, they discovered a short-handled, blood-stained bludgeon. Sharp carpet tacks had been driven into the tool, to cause more bodily damage and pain.
Based on this new evidence, detectives decided that Carmelina’s killer had used the bludgeon to drive the nails into her skull as she lay bound and gagged on the bed. At that point, however, the motive remained a mystery.
On March 25 1913, police in Buffalo, New York tracked down and arrested Geracci. The man who had sold the trunk identified him. Detective-Sergeant Vincent De Guide traveled to Buffalo to interrogate him and have him extradited to Manhattan. During a three-hour grilling, Geracci eventually confessed to the murder. As The Sun and other newspapers described it, Geracci drew out a little crucifix from his pocket and pressed it to his lips, saying, “As I kiss the cross, so will I tell the truth.”
Geracci reportedly said that his wife had been living the life of a prostitute and had been taunting him about her affairs with other men. He, Turiddi, and Salvatore Lombardi held a meeting during which they all decided that she must die. So one night, after she had come home late and kicked him out of bed, Salvatore drove the nails into her brain while she slept. Then he, their daughter, and Lombardi took the trunk to Connecticut, according to reports.
“It is our law,” Geracci told a horrified courtroom. “My wife tormented me. I have done right.” He said he had wanted to go to the police and confess his crime right away, but Turiddi and Lombardi convinced him to dispose of the body in the mill pond.
Shortly after Geracci’s arrest, police in Italy arrested Salvatore Lombardi at his home in Sicily. He promptly confessed and charged that Geracci single-handedly murdered his wife. Geracci pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, and was sentenced to no less than 20 years in prison.
The fates of Lombardi, Turiddi, and Tipsy the cat are unknown. As for the building at 315 East 40th Street, it was demolished in 1929 to make way for the large Tudor City housing complex that stands there today.
A version of this Allegedly Original originally appeared on Gavan’s website, The Hatching Cat, in December 2019.