The 3-X Madman
by Robert A. Waters
In 1948, the phrase “serial killer” had yet to be invented, so writers used many different terms to describe the Ted Bundys, Jeffrey Dahmers, and John Wayne Gacys of the day.
An Associated Press article described a “chain killer.” He was a “non-professional who kills more than once [and] usually is demented. That, investigators agree, makes him the hardest type of criminal to catch. He kills without apparent motive, or with a motive obscured by the distortions of his own mind. His trail can lead anywhere.”
The article recalled an old unsolved case as an example of the chain killer.
On June 12, 1930, a man and woman sat parked in a Queens, New York lover’s lane. The blazing heat of the summer was matched only by the passion of Joseph Mozynski and Catherine May. Suddenly, a stranger came out of the shadows and stepped up to the car window on the driver’s side. May heard a popping sound and watched in horror as her boyfriend slumped over in the seat, dead. He’d been shot in the head.
May was jerked from the car and raped. Then the madman escorted the traumatized girl to a bus stop and helped her board a trolley.
Newspapers reported that investigators “are seeking a shabbily dressed man of about 40, five feet, six inches tall, who talks like a cultured man, but with a foreign accent, and stares at his victims with the cold, unblinking stare that betrays a deranged mind.” The surviving victim stated that he wore a black suit, bow-tie, and black fedora.
Cops considered the story so bizarre they didn’t believe it. Catherine May was arrested and held as a material witness in Mozynski’s murder. Investigators believed she had set up the murder with a former boyfriend.
Four days later, on June 16, a second bloody killing eliminated any doubt. At another isolated lover’s lane, or “trysting spot,” Noel Sowley sat in a car with Elizabeth Ring, described as policeman’s daughter. Once again a man appeared at the window. He shouted, “You’ll get it like the other fellow.” With that, he fired two shots, killing Sowley. The killer then placed a newspaper on the victim’s body and rummaged through his pockets. Cops later discovered the newspaper contained articles about the Mozynski murder.
Ring told investigators the madman yanked her from the car and began to rape her. Thinking quickly, she held a “religious medallion” in front of her attacker’s face. As suddenly as he'd begun, he ended his attack. The killer then escorted Ring to a nearby bus stop.
By now, even the dullest of investigators realized that Catherine May had not been lying. The innocent girl was released.
In the meantime, a series of strange letters began arriving at police headquarters. All were signed “3-X.” The writer took credit for both murders. He claimed to be a member of a foreign faction sent to assassinate Mozynski and his friends. He threatened to kill 14 more people. The letters were filled with strange crytograms and symbols containing threats and weird ramblings.
For instance, one missive stated: “I am the agent of a secret international order. The papers must be returned to us at once.” Another stated: “Kindly print this letter in your paper for Mozynski's friends: CC-NY ADCM-Y16a- DQR-PA...241 PM6 Queens. By doing this you may save their lives. We do not want any more shooting unless we have to.” Because the writer provided details unknown to the public, investigators declared that the letters were definitely from the killer.
Police conducted what was at the time the largest manhunt in New York history as they searched for a Son of Sam-type killer. Although several crackpots confessed, no real suspects emerged. In the teeming millions of New York, police seemed to be chasing a phantom.
Two weeks later, a final missive arrived at police headquarters. The 3-X killer stated that his mission had been accomplished. He would never be heard from again, he said.
No other letters were ever received and the killer was never caught.