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A Spectacle of a Death

July 19, 2017

 

The brakes on the small aircraft screeched as the landing gear wheels touched the damp tarmac at LaGuardia Airport. This was his second trip in less than a week. He looked at his watch. It was late and he would have to wait until morning to continue his quest for the truth. A few press reporters haggled him for information as he exited the arrival gate. “Suicide ruled out?” one of the stringers asked him bluntly. He fixed the collar of his trench coat and then almost naturally checked the shape of his homburg held in his hands. “Definitely not.” He then placed his hat on, grabbed his overnight bag, and headed for his contact waiting by the exit door of the terminal. The man patted him on the back as they stepped out onto the sidewalk. The homicide detective shook hands with his just arrived Boston colleague and motioned for him to their waiting unmarked car. He jumped in the front seat.  As the detectives drove him to a nearby hotel, they filled him in on what information they had gathered during their nearly seven hours of questioning earlier in the day. He took notes on a small pad and when not making notations, he tapped his pencil on the dash of the car. As the three men proceeded through town, the two New York City homicide detectives continued with their description of their questioning. The detectives dropped him off at the hotel and they indicated that they would pick him up in the morning. As he lay in bed he went over what the investigation had already confirmed.  He went minute by minute in his mind on the possible sequence of events. His sleep was restless. The tell-tale flashes of light and the constant barrage of the sounds of the city did not keep him awake. It was not being able to determine how it happened that served him a cold dish of insomnia. No, he reflected, some things just did not add up. His mind raced. He tossed and turned in the uncomfortable bed. The image of the body, the statements from witnesses and experts, it all flooded through his mind as if tidal waters along the shore under a full moon tide.


He awoke in a daze, the case and its various angles still plaguing his thoughts. He got out of bed, shaved, showered and dressed quickly. At a breakfast counter across the street from the hotel, he ordered a cup of black coffee and some buttered toast. As he stomached his brew and light breakfast, he paged through the September 29th edition of The New York Times. At least he had been quoted correctly, he muttered to himself. He folded up the paper and tossed it onto the counter.  He rubbed his eyes and then looked across the street. He noticed a familiar car. It was the detectives arriving to fetch him for the day. He took one last sip of his coffee and put the cup back down on its saucer. He stood up, reached into the pocket of his pants and thumbed out a few dollar bills from his wallet to cover the cost of the breakfast and a tip. He carefully slid the bills under the saucer of his empty coffee mug. He picked up his trench coat from the empty stool beside his and slung it over his arm. He picked up his hat and nodded to the waitress that he was leaving. “Alright sugar,” she offered in a heavy New York accent as he reached the door. A crack of a smile showed on his weathered face as he looked back and waved goodbye. He walked across the street and motioned to his colleagues. A few minutes later, the three men were once again together in the unmarked car heading toward the Brooklyn waterfront. Captain James B. Fallon, Chief of the Boston Homicide Squad, held his hat in his lap. He calmly straightened it as they got closer to the docks. In his mind, he rehearsed the questions he was going to ask the officers and crew of the S.S. Utrecht. Someone aboard knew what happened. Someone, or possibly several persons on board, knew more than they were telling. They parked the car at Sucrest Sugar Company on Richards Street. Fallon stepped out of the car and placed his hat on his head. As he walked toward the waterfront, he pulled his hat a little lower in the front. As he and the two other detectives walked toward the gangway of the liner, Captain Fallon was determined to find the answers to his many unanswered questions about Mrs. Lynn Kauffman.
Lynne Kauffman, born to a respected family from Chicago, attended private schools and later Smith College, before meeting and marrying Arthur B. Tucker, of the United States Army who was stationed in Chicago. Sidelining her schooling temporarily, she relocated with her new husband to Alaska. When his tour of duty was complete the couple moved to St. Louis where Tucker received his honorable discharge and sat for the bar exam. She returned to her studies, this time attending Washington University studying the Far East. Her academics were back on track but her marriage derailed and at the age of twenty, in 1956, she and her husband divorced. It was during this time frame, while attending the university that she befriended one of her oriental studies professors, Dr. Stanley Spector.
Dr. Spector thought highly of his new student and after she became his secretary and then research assistant, he and his wife invited the bright student into their home near the campus. Dr. and Mrs. Juanita Spector and their two children, Stephanie and Jon, immediately took a liking to the vivacious and intelligent co-ed. Three years later, in 1959, Dr. Spector had a full itinerary of research planned for the summer months and he was not going alone. At the end of the spring semester, Dr. and Mrs. Spector, their two children and Mrs. Lynn Kauffman flew to Asia for a whirlwind research trip. By early August, Dr. Spector realized that he still had a lot of research to complete for his pending book. He spoke with his wife and a decision was made.
On August 5, 1959, Dr. Spector kissed his wife and children and then he walked down the gangway to the pier. He waved to Mrs. Kauffman and the rest of his brood and wished them a hearty bon-voyage. His wife, children, including a fifteen year old Chinese boy they were adopting, and his research assistant were returning to the United States aboard a cargo ship, the S.S. Utrecht. Dr. Spector, his academic research requirements still unfinished, was staying behind in Singapore for a few more days. After completing his research there he would fly to New Delhi, Tashkent, Moscow and Prague. On August 26, 1959, an injured Dr. Spector boarded a commercial flight to the United States. He needed medical attention on his knee. He would arrive home before his family who were still steaming across the Atlantic at a tramp steamer’s pace.
While Dr. Spector was busy with his continued research across Asia, Mrs. Spector, the children and Mrs. Kauffman remained aboard the cargo ship. The voyage would take forty-five days in total. The ship, as she was taking on cargo at various ports, would visit a host of locales to view for the Spector clan. The ship would venture into the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, pass through the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean and once passing Gibraltar, finally enter into the Atlantic Ocean on the last leg of the circuitous voyage. In addition to the Spector group, U.S. Army Sergeant Arden Brown, his wife and two children rounded out the remaining passengers. The ship’s officers were mostly Dutch and the crew was primarily Chinese. There was little to do aboard the ship as it steamed from port to port taking on cargo. Many of the passengers read or sunbathed on the deck during the day and then, after the evening meal, retired to their cabins for the night. It was a long and monotonous voyage with few opportunities to enjoy ports of call.
Mrs. Kauffman, at the tender age of twenty-three was a glimmer of beauty for all aboard. She had a bubbly personality and when not practicing her Mandarin with crewmen, she served as the spark of life of the ship’s company. Her bright smile and equally mesmerizing eyes were a welcomed addition to the cargo ship and her passengers and crew.  Despite her friendly nature and personality during the first few weeks of the trip, the voyage became monotonous and boring and her mood became withdrawn. By September 18th, 1959, the S.S. Utrecht had finally reached the United States and was docked at the Commonwealth Pier in South Boston. When informed that that lunch was being served, Mrs. Kauffman answered the knock of her employer and slowly opened her cabin door. Mrs. Spector was surprised when she cracked the door open only a few inches. Lynn replied that she was not going to attend lunch. She was suffering from a terrible headache and wanted to try and rest. Respecting Lynn’s wishes, Mrs. Spector wished her well and then the cabin door closed. Mrs. Spector and her children attended lunch.
A few hours later, Mrs. Spector returned to Lynn’s cabin to call her for dinner. All of the passengers, in celebration of the last evening of the forty-five day voyage, had been invited to dine with Captain Albert de Bruijn in the ship’s lounge. Lynn did not answer the door. Then Mrs. Spector heard a broken and cracking voice. Lynn indicated that she was still not feeling well. Mrs. Spector thought the response was odd and upon her arrival at the lounge, five minutes later at exactly seven o’clock, she passed on to the captain, the officers, stewards and other passengers, that Mrs. Kauffman would not be attending due to her not feeling well. Five minutes later, one of the ship’s stewards went to Mrs. Kauffman’s cabin. He knocked and she answered from behind the closed door. She was not feeling well and wanted to be left alone. The steward, Lubertus van Dorp, acknowledged her request and as he turned to return to the party in the lounge, he stopped short in the passageway. For a second he thought he heard sobbing emanating from Mrs. Kauffman’s cabin. It was probably coming from the party he reflected. He then returned to the lounge unperturbed by the muffled sob.  
Approximately two hours later, Andreas P. Van Oosten, the chief purser of the S.S. Utrecht called on Mrs. Kauffman’s door out of concern. There was no answer to his repeated blows to the sturdy cabin door. He reached down and turned the handle. The cabin door was not locked but the door appeared wedged tight. The purser leaned into the door and powered it open with his strength. The cabin was empty. A cool breeze swept through the immaculately clean cabin from two open port-holes. Something, he quickly realized, was rotten in Denmark. The chief purser called upon Captain Albert de Bruijn and informed him of his discovery. The officers and crew began an immediate search of the entire ship. Mrs. Kauffman was nowhere to be found. Suddenly the ship’s whistle blasted. All aboard knew the signal – everyone grabbed their lifejackets and proceeded to their lifeboat stations. A muster was completed. One member of the ship’s compliment was missing – Mrs. Lynn Kauffman.
Captain Albert de Bruijn feared the worst. He immediately ordered that her cabin be untouched and locked. Then he ordered the ship’s radio officer, Willem Marie Louis Van Rie, to send a message to the United States Coast Guard that one of the ship’s passengers was missing and may have fallen overboard sometime after she left Boston Harbor earlier that evening. With the message passed, the S.S. Utrecht continued to her final port of call, New York.  On September 20th, at one o’clock in the afternoon, the ship docked at Pier 1, in Brooklyn. Plainclothes detectives and a few beat police officers of the New York Police Department were waiting on the dock. They had a few questions for the officers and passengers aboard the newly arrived ship based on a discovery made the previous morning in the shallow waters off of Spectacle Island.
In the dawn’s light of September 19, 1959, the tugboat captain wasn’t sure exactly what he was looking at…moments later, his hunch was sadly proven correct. It was a corpse. As the captain turned the body over in the shallow water, he saw that it was a female. The badly bruised body was clad only in a pair of gray Bermuda shorts and a set of blue slippers. It did not take long for authorities to identify the half-naked corpse. Mrs. Lynn Kauffman was finally accounted for…dead. The only question that remained was how she met her untimely death. Dr. Spector, who had already arrived at his home in St. Louis was contacted and asked to fly to Boston to identify the body. He left immediately and upon his arrival at the city’s morgue, sadly confirmed that the body found was Mrs. Lynn Kauffman. Captain Fallon and two of his fellow detectives traveled to New York to meet the ship and question all aboard. Captain Fallon felt, based on the initial questioning that there was no doubt that his victim had committed suicide. The Chief Medical Examiner of Boston had a different opinion. Captain Fallon didn’t work on opinions, he worked with facts and until he found more evidence, he felt that suicide was the most likely explanation.
But Captain Fallon was not thoroughly convinced and now, on his second trip to the ship, he was determined to find more evidence. Captain Fallon and the New York Police Department Homicide detectives entered the sealed cabin and once again took note of its immaculate condition. Some manuscripts, some clothes, a cocktail dress hanging on a hook – prepared for the last meal at the Captain’s behest – but never worn. Captain Fallon opened the closet door and once again saw the officer’s immaculate jacket hanging on the rod. He recalled his line of questioning of the owner of the coat on his first trip to the ship to view the possible crime scene. The radio operator had coolly explained that Mrs. Kauffman and Mrs. Spector both had offered to mend many of the officer’s and crew’s clothing during the month and a half long voyage. Maybe there was more to it, Captain Fallon thought as he looked at it hanging in the closet. His mind raced. He closed the closet and the detectives left the cabin. It was again locked. The three detectives then called upon the officers and crew and once again questioned them. The hours passed.
The questions that swirled in Captain Fallon’s thoughts remained unanswered to his level of satisfaction. Someone aboard knew more than they were admitting. He had the dead body of a young woman floating off a small island in Boston jurisdiction that, according to the harbormaster, must have entered the water no later than six forty-five on the evening of the 19th. Had the body entered the water any later or earlier, the tides would not have permitted the body to land near Spectacle Island. But, he continued to ponder. Mrs. Spector and then one of the steward’s heard her voice a few minutes before seven and a few minutes after seven. Or had they? Everyone on the ship between the hours of six and eight o’clock was accounted for and had alibis. It must have been a suicide he contemplated. Captain Fallon stood up from the chair and motioned for his colleagues to follow suit. He wanted to go to the U.S. Customs House to investigate the seven pieces of luggage of Mrs. Kauffman for clues.
While Captain Fallon and his team were scouring through luggage for any shred of information, reporters were also asking questions. Mrs. Spector, who had flown home with her husband, related a previous encounter, or so she thought, that might be of interest to the investigators. A few minutes after six on the evening that Lynn disappeared, less than fifty minutes before she called upon Mrs. Kauffman to join her for dinner with the Captain, Mrs. Spector thought she had heard a voice calling “Nita, Nita.” Mrs. Spector was not sure but she had thought it was Lynn calling for her. Mrs. Spector called back through the bulkhead that separated their two cabins but received no reply. Mrs. Spector thought nothing of it and thought that she must have imagined the voice calling her name.
Lingering through Captain Fallon’s thoughts were the statements from Dr. Michael A. Luongo, the Boston Medical Examiner who, based on his examination of the body believed that Mrs. Kauffman had been severely beaten before being tossed from the ship into the water and subsequently drowning. The injuries to her head, brain and body “left him no doubt that Lynn had been beaten severely at some time immediately prior to death, probably to the point of unconsciousness.” This was no suicide, he contended. Fallon was perplexed and believed that Mrs. Kauffman had learned of some bad news and then leaped to her death. As she was falling, her body must have hit the gangway, causing her bruises, and then she tumbled unconscious into the water where she subsequently drowned. It was plausible, he contended. Until he had a motive and a suspect, he had nothing else. He continued to dig. Then he found what he was looking for in the diary and notes of the deceased.
Late in the afternoon, Captain Fallon and his team pulled the radio officer in for another round of questioning. The S.S. Utrecht, having been bound to New York due to two storm systems, quietly tossed off her lines and proceeded to her next port of call – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Twenty hours later, on September 30th, 1959, Captain Fallon stepped out of the interrogation room and closed the door behind him. [1] He stepped over to a secretary and asked for a long-distance connection to Boston, Massachusetts. The secretary dialed the operator and once connected, handed the phone to Captain Fallon. After a brief conversation, he hung up the phone and returned to the interrogation room. A few hours later, a murder warrant had been signed by Chief Justice Elijah Adlow of Municipal Court. Captain Fallon, long in the belief that Mrs. Lynn Kauffman had committed suicide, now felt that he had identified her murderer.
The very officer who had alerted authorities that Mrs. Lynn Kauffman had disappeared, the radio operator Mr. Willem Marie Louis Van Rie, had been shielding quite a few secrets from the investigators. During the marathon questioning, the radio operator eluded that he and Lynn had been involved in a shipboard romance. It was a heated affair of the heart that, upon their arrival in Boston, was to come to an end. He confided in her that he was married and that the affair aboard the S.S. Utrecht had come to closure. When he confronted her in her cabin on that last night of her life, he asked why she was so upset. He inquired if she was ill due to being pregnant. That, he explained, was when she attacked him. He defended himself, he explained, from her repeated attacks. He left the cabin, she in a distraught and physically exhausted state. When he left the cabin to report back to his post, she was very much alive. Maybe he thought, she was upset that he had extinguished her hopes at furthering their romance once the ship returned to the United States. To that point, he could only offer his smug and conceited conjecture.
The legal counsel of the Dutch Consulate was not pleased with the strong-arm tactics utilized by the Boston and New York detectives to get an alleged verbal confession. They voiced disdain in their client’s nearly twenty-hour grilling under the lights and stress of the police officers. They immediately went on the defensive indicating that the radio operator had difficulty in the language and had been placed in a precarious position. Furthermore, they reminded the court, the radio operator did not provide a written statement and short of offering that he had been intimate with the young woman, he repudiated any and all alleged statements that they had quarreled in her cabin and that he had struck her. While the Dutch authorities lodged complaints, Captain Fallon learned that there were more than a handful of passengers and officers aboard the ship who knew, all along, that there had been a tryst between Lynn and the young radio officer. Fallon was shocked that no one had decided to offer that information during any level of the previous questioning.
On October 5th, Willem Van Rie was indicted for first degree murder by a Suffolk County, New York grand jury. Two days later, Mr. Van Rie stood before a Massachusetts judge. He entered a plea of innocent. Mr. Van Rie was provided three weeks prior to the trial to prepare his defense with his attorneys.  The trial would be delayed and jurors were not picked until February 10, 1960. The prosecution’s opening statement indicated that the dashing young and handsome radio officer had deceived the naive young woman and had taken full advantage of his position on the ship to woo her into a romantic and intimate affair as the cargo ship lazily steamed from port to port. When the romance was to end, on his terms, she was upset. When she got upset, the attorneys alleged, he manhandled her, beat her senseless and unconscious and then pushed her tiny body through a porthole in her cabin.
Prosecutors weighed heavily on the expert testimony of Dr. Michael Luongo, the Boston Medical Examiner. The doctor pointed out the various injuries utilizing photographs from the autopsy. The injuries, he explained, were consistent with strikes from a fist. The prosecutors contended that “Van Rie struck her with his fists and knelt on her chest and pummeled her. He then stamped on her and battered her across her shipboard cabin…the girl dropped unconscious at his feet and, thinking her dead, Van Rie hoisted her through a port hole in her cabin,” where she subsequently fell into the water and drowned. There was no way, the doctor contended, that she could have committed suicide. “In your opinion was the deceased, Lynn Kauffman, capable of performing a voluntary or purposeful act?” the lawyer inquired. “No sir,” Dr. Luongo replied. “A person would be unconscious and incapable of performing a purposeful act.”
On cross-examination, the defense attorney attempted to provide some doubt for the jurors. The defense team argued that while the fight may have occurred, it was Mrs. Kauffman who decided to end her life by leaping from her porthole after realizing her romance with Van Rie was over. The attorney attempted, through various questions, to have Dr. Luongo admit that the injuries sustained to the deceased could have been incurred when her body struck a gangway that was below her cabin. The Doctor indicated that anything was possible but that he doubted highly that injuries to Mrs. Kauffman’s chest and head – based on the extent of the trauma– could have occurred from a single fall.
On February 24 and 25th, 1960 Van Rie took the stand. For several hours each day, he vehemently denied any involvement, short of the romance, with the deceased. He then alleged that his statements had been coerced by the detectives after countless hours of questioning. He alleged that his last conversation with Mrs. Kauffman had transpired through an open porthole earlier in the day that she disappeared. When questioned on whether or not he had been intimately involved with Mrs. Kauffman, he indicated that they had and that Mrs. Kauffman had come to his cabin “seven or eight times” during the voyage. During the testimony, he looked out at his wife, Nella, who had decided to stand by her husband despite his underway infidelity.
On March 1st, Willem Van Rie stood before the jury. “As God is my witness, I am not guilty.” He continued to explain that he was guilty of committing only one sin – adultery – but that was all. He then offered to the jury that “God will direct your minds in reaching a verdict.” If he was found guilty, he continued, “Maybe God has more punishment in store for me.” The judge, having afforded Mr. Van Rie the opportunity to make the unsworn statement of innocence addressed the jurors as to their charge of responsibility in rendering a decision. The jurors, after a two hour explanation of the six possible verdicts they could reach, adjourned to deliberate.
The following morning at twelve minutes past nine o’clock in the morning, the jurors returned their verdict after fifteen hours of deliberations. The jurors acquitted Willem Van Rie. He was a free man. As he was escorted to the exit by court officers, he thanked the members of the jury. Reunited with his wife, they posed for press photographers. When asked about the verdict, he replied that he wanted to relax with his wife. As he left the courthouse, throngs of women offered their love and support to the vindicated debonair and handsome radio operator. Smiling and waving to those who supported his version of events, he stepped into a waiting car and was whisked off to obscurity. On March 11th, Radio Holland, the employer of Van Rie, indicated that he had quit his job when he returned to the Netherlands.
For the family and friends of Mrs. Lynn Kauffman, there was no closure. Only questions remained as to how the pretty and vivacious twenty-three year old woman spent her final moments alive. She had been badly beaten and then, either threw herself to her death or was pushed through a porthole to where she drowned in the waters off of Boston. Captain Fallon had pulled it all together but the jurors had wanted more before they sent van Rie to the electric chair for first degree murder. Sadly, as Captain Fallon must have realized as having been the Chief of the Homicide Squad in Boston, there was only one person who knew what happened in those final moments. She had maintained her silence and offered few details for those who attempted to piece together the last moments of her earthly existence when she was found lifeless, floating face down in the shallows off of Spectacle Island. And though she never reached her final embarkation point, her alleged murderer had, when his ship docked in our waters.
 

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