The granddaddy of all Baltimore manhunts


LIKE all cities, Baltimore has had its share of manhunts (precious few womanhunts). No doubt the dramatic, 30-hour hunt for Dontay Carter a few weeks ago ranks near the top, and no doubt it will become a bigger manhunt in the retelling.

Surely that was the case with the Veney brothers manhunt of 1964, which some say made the Carter hunt look like a game of hide-and-seek. After Samuel and Earl Veney killed a police sergeant and wounded a lieutenant, according to police reporter Bill Talbott, entire shifts of 60 men worked double and triple shifts to catch the murderers. Three hundred doors were said to have been felled by angry cops. The hunt ended in an out-of-state arrest.

But even that may have been a piker. The biggest manhunt in the city's history may have been in the summer of 1922, when police went all out to capture Jack Hart and Walter Socolow.

The hunt began minutes after the infamous two, in company of a small gang of accomplices, robbed and then murdered William B. Norris on Madison Street near Park at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 18, 1922. What made this a particularly egregious crime was that Norris, secretary and treasurer of the Hicks, Tase and Norris Co., was carrying the company payroll, $7,263, a whale of a lot of money in 1922. And a bookkeeper who was with him was severely beaten with a blackjack.

Six members of the gang were arrested immediately, but the hunt didn't end until Hart was captured Sept. 17 and Socolow Sept. 18. In the intervening month or so, the city was in a convulsion of rage; the public demanded that the culprits be captured. A daylight murder of a respected citizen on the streets of Baltimore was unacceptable. A lynch-mob hysteria grew, and the Norris case became political. Police Commissioner Charles Gaither was said to be soft on crime, even though his force had moved quickly to arrest most of the gang's members.

Gov. Albert C. Ritchie got in the act. Pressured by an irate electorate, he telephoned Gaither to urge immediate action. He posted a $250 reward. The Sun and The Evening Sun pledged $5,000, while the Fidelity and Deposit Co. (the Hicks, Tase and Norris insurer) and Boumi Temple of the Mystic Shrine offered smaller awards. The dragnet was out for a New York gunman named Jack Hart and a Baltimore hood named Walter Socolow. The city newspapers competed with each other with headlines: "Whole Coast Guarded in Hunt for Two Men Accused of Mur der." "Even Canada Helping in Search for Hart and Socolow."

The chase took a bizarre twist when about Aug. 22 a young man named John Keller came to police to say he had information that Hart and Socolow were not the culprits, but men named "Chicago" and "Boston" were. But under questioning, Keller cracked, admitting he was trying to throw police off the trail. It was he who eventually led authorities to Hart and Socolow. He told police he had been taking food and newspapers to the two in their hideout, a place, he said, "within the city limits."

Police sent out four cars, with Keller piloting. The hideout turned out to be a vault in the "Home Sweet Home" cemetery in the northeastern suburbs. Guns drawn, the police broke down the heavy iron door. Inside, they found newspapers, scraps of food, remnants of a fire. But they didn't find Hart and Socolow. Believing they may have headed north, they looked in Cecil and Harford counties, to no avail.

The trail grew warm again on Saturday, Sept. 16. Police got an anonymous tip that Hart was holed up in an apartment in Washington, D.C. Within minutes, five Baltimore officers were rendezvousing with D.C. police. In two cars they headed for the Auburn Apartments at 22nd and Pennsylvania.

A detective was sent into the building and determined the location of the apartment where Hart was believed to be hiding. The men rushed to the second floor and divided into two groups. One went through another apartment and approached the suspect's apartment from a back porch. The other headed straight for the front door. Police kicked in the door, pistols leveled. Hart was sitting in a chair, smoking a cigarette. He looked for an escape route, but when he saw three men in the window with pistols aimed at him, he changed his mind.

In an hour or so, Hart was in the courthouse at Calvert and Lexington (the same one from which Carter escaped 70 years later). A huge crowd gathered. Word was flashed through the city: "They've caught Jack Hart!" The next day it was Socolow's turn.

In New York City on the night of Sunday, Sept. 17, a young man approached a newsstand at the corner of 6th Avenue and 42nd Street. He asked for and got a copy of The Baltimore Sun. While he was scanning the headlines, two men came alongside. Each took one of the man's arms. One said, "See anything interesting there?" The man looked up and asked, "Do you know me?" "You're Walter Socolow. You're wanted in Baltimore."

And all of this 30 years before television!

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