Neighbors of former Brooklyn District Attorney William Geoghan knew something was amiss the night of September 30, 1945 when the second-floor lights in his 1842 Bedford Avenue home flickered on.
The retired lawman and his family were out of town at the time and they knew of no proxies who would have had access to the residence at the corner of Maple Street.
Lefferts Manor denizens were already on high alert when home after home had been picked clean of valuables over the preceding month. These were bold heists. The intruder had even raided three residences in a row on Rutland Road between Flatbush and Bedford – numbers 94, 96, and 98.
The grid’s more affluent types routinely vacated Brooklyn during the summer months and retreated to havens on Long Island and elsewhere. A scoundrel, it appeared, was reveling in their absence.
Perhaps already feeling a tinge blue after the season’s passage, residents of Maple Street, Rutland Road, Midwood Street, and Fenimore Street arrived home to windows shattered and luxuries vanished.
Word of the rampant thievery soon scampered across the Manor over several weeks and the clamor for police action grew louder.
Cops referred to the suspect as “The Hard Way” because he preferred breaching homes from their upper floors rather than street level.
Intrigued, reporters needed a sobriquet for this slippery fiend who was ransacking the debonair enclave with ease. Even the normally stolid New York Times couldn’t resist a nickname and dubbed him “The Cat” for his high altitude antics.
Desperate to muzzle an increasingly angry chorus of residents, bosses at the local precinct on Empire Boulevard embedded Detective Harry Eggolt in Lefferts Manor to put a stop to the looting. He inventoried losses, interviewed residents, and hoped for a break.
Patterns soon emerged. It appeared that the perpetrator deployed a ladyfriend to help tenderize targets. “The telephone had a habit of ringing on the nights when the homes were entered,” The Eagle reported. A woman would call, make an inquiry, apologize for having dialed the wrong number and then hang up.
But despite a few leads and increased scrutiny, the heists continued unabated.
So when the phone jangled in the precinct that night, Eggolt sprang to action. Along with two other officers, he hustled to Geoghan’s home in the hope of nabbing his nemesis in flagrante.
He stationed his underlings at the rear of the stately edifice and rang the doorbell. No answer. He pressed the button again. Still silence.
Suddenly, a stocky figure clambered out of a back window and slithered down a drain pipe – directly into the waiting arms of the law. Eggolt scurried to the home’s rear and secured the arrest.
“The detective subdued him with the butt of his pistol,” according to an account in The Eagle.
If the hasty second-floor exit wasn’t enough to suggest that Eggolt had his man, a check of the “chunky, muscular” subject’s pockets removed all doubt.
“The defendant’s shirt and trouser pockets – he wore no coat – bulged with jewelry, including a gold District Attorney’s shield which Mr. Geoghan’s staff had given him in 1931,” Eggolt recounted.
The intruder left behind a pair of packed suitcases as he tried to escape. They were stuffed with Geoghan’s goods – including clothing, “toilet articles” and numerous bottles of whiskey.
But it was only after 38-year-old Samuel Schlags returned to the station house a few blocks away and began to unpack his conscience that the logistics of his one man crime wave became clear.
To the astonishment of investigators, the native of Williamsburg was under their noses the whole time – living in a furnished room at 287 Lincoln Road just above Rogers Avenue.
Cops said Schlags had zeroed in on Lefferts Manor as fertile terrain and canvassed the area for an inconspicuous lair from which to base his dastardly operation. The Lincoln Road redoubt – just outside the Manor grid – allowed him to case the neighborhood at his leisure.
Officers paid a visit to Schlags’s room and found a trove of pilfered goods. The room was packed with typewriters, jewelry, mink and silver fox coats. Radios. “Electric Clocks.” One homeowner even had his movie film projector taken.
L.J. McSherry, who had left his 28 Maple Street home empty while he summered in Bellport, reported that he was missing a French clock and a pair of coveted urns.
In addition to his unidentified ladyfriend, cops also learned that Schlags was using another friend to hold the hot items at stash houses elsewhere in Brooklyn and Connecticut.
The haul was so expansive that the precinct organized a mass presentation of the loot and invited victims to come reunite with their effects.
Dr. Nathan Brecker, of 368 Parkside, attended the event on a lark and found his missing wallet.
“Hard Way” Schlags, it turned out, had made a career of taking items without asking first. His inaugural bust came 19 years before the 1945 arrest and he had done several prison bids.
The career crook had been released from Sing Sing less than two years before his incursion into Lefferts Manor.
Judging from press clippings of his prior arrests, he was no criminal sophisticate.
Nearly a decade before the Lefferts Manor episode, Schlags, then 30, was stopped by a suspicious detective on Shore Road in possession of a $500 coat and a handful of jewels.
When confronted with the evidence, he explained that he had found the jacket and that its pockets already contained the jewelry.
“Detective Kuhne pointed out that there were no pockets in the coat,” The Eagle reported.
Next time you stroll past Bedford and Maple, envision the lights going on on that second floor and “Hard Way” Schlags stuffing whatever he could into a pair of suitcases.
Note: Information for this Flatbushed.com post was taken from The Brooklyn Eagle and The New York Times.