Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Trunk Murder in Detroit

The murderous trap drummer
by Robert A. Waters

On the afternoon of September 20, 1934, ten-year-old Lillian Gallaher left her tenement home in Detroit to sell tickets to a school benefit. Several neighbors said they saw her walking door-to-door with her tickets. Then she vanished.

Police mounted a search the likes of which the city had never seen. For seven days, more than ten thousand cops, volunteers, and boy scouts searched for the child while her parents endured the sleeplessness of the lost.

As soon as local media announced that the child was missing, leads began pouring in. A man was said to have been “chasing little girls” near Lillian’s apartment, but investigators found no one who matched his description. After a bloody handkerchief and looped wire were found near Lillian’s home, detectives scoured the area for further clues. None were found. Cops later determined that the handkerchief and wire were unrelated to the case.

Mayor Frank Couzens implored every family in the city to explore their property for Lillian or clues to her disappearance. He ordered city workers to check all vacant lots and yards in their territory as they made their rounds. Tailors and laundry workers were asked to call police if blood-soaked clothing or shoes were brought in.

The Ludington Daily News reported that “public interest in the case has reached such a degree police have been assigned to the Gallaher home to hold back the crowds of curious constantly gathering there.”

Although her father, Frank Gallaher, worked as a laborer for a lumber company, the family’s financial situation was dire. He had no money for a ransom, the father said. Police suspected something far more sinister, that his daughter been kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Mrs. Gallaher, bed-ridden, could not bear the emotional strain of knowing her daughter might be in the hands of a kidnapper.

Finally, a week after she went missing, Lillian’s little body was found. It would have been her eleventh birthday.

Clyde Burgess, a janitor at an apartment complex six blocks from Lillian’s home, made the discovery as he cleaned a vacant apartment. The child’s body lay stuffed inside a trunk, strangled and "criminally attacked." Her hands and feet had been bound and a towel tied across her mouth as a gag.

The former tenants of the fourth floor apartment were identified as Merton Ward Goodrich, and his wife, Florence. Newspaper accounts revealed that police believed Lillian “knocked on the door of a degenerate who had induced her to come inside, then had attacked and killed her.”

In the room, investigators discovered a drum set and a grand piano. Flyers distributed by police stated that Goodrich had been employed as a musician in “cheap clubs and beer-gardens.”

As the hunt for the killer intensified, detectives searching the apartment discovered an assortment of obscene pictures. One official told reporters that "there is no doubt that whoever committed this hideous crime had been going over its details for a long time and probably had been lying in wait for some victim suited to his purpose to fall into his hands." A search of the room also revealed newspaper clippings describing the police search for Lillian.

Police quickly learned that Goodrich had escaped a few months before from Lima (Ohio) State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He'd been committed in 1931 after attacking another little girl. In fact, over the years he’d been committed and released three times.

Mrs. Ethel Goodrich, mother of the suspect, claimed that her son had been “mentally deficient” since childhood. She stated that on each occasion she had opposed his release. Doctors at the hospital refused to publicize what condition he was being treated for.

The Sandusky Register wrote that “the warrant [for Goodrich’s arrest] accused the 26-year-old trap drummer of strangling and beating to death the unsuccessful little salesgirl whose futile efforts to sell chances on a punchboard for her school brought her to the door of the Goodrich apartment last Thursday afternoon, with only one sale to show for five hours of pitiful endeavor.”

Because Lillian's parents had no money, police took up a collection to provide a “fitting” burial for the girl. She was interred in a local Catholic cemetery.

For ten months, cops chased a ghost. Then, on July 2, 1935, the Associated Press announced that the fugitive had been caught: “Goodrich, sallow and weasel-faced, was arrested for indecent actions as he watched children playing in the wading pool behind the Central Park zoo” in New York. His wife, Florence, was also arrested.

Goodrich quickly confessed to murdering Lillian and hiding her body. In his statement, he said he lied to his wife about an altercation he'd had with the piano player in the orchestra he played with. "This fellow has been chiseling [me]," Goodrich said. "I told my wife that we got into a fight and I showed her bloodstains on the piano in the apartment and told her I didn't know how badly he was hurt.

"We had about $10 and I persuaded her to leave Detroit at once with me for Pontiac, Michigan, by bus. Then we went to Port Huron, hitchhiking. Then we went to Kincardine, Ontario, and from there to Montreal. We crossed the border again and went to the White Mountains in Vermont working in summer resorts and on farms along the way. We next came down to Boston and Hartford and arrived in New York in January."

On July 19, Goodrich pled guilty to murder. Since Michigan had no death penalty, he was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor.

His wife, Florence, was charged as an accessory after the fact and held without bond for ten months. A judge finally released her, ruling that a wife couldn’t be "charged as an accessory against her husband."

Lillian Gallaher was quickly forgotten. The child's pathetic story now lies buried in the dank archives of several Michigan newspapers, testimony to the fact that child predators have always walked among us.


joeagle950 said...

I found an old Detroit Times paper of sept. 22 1934. It had the original story of Lillian missing after trying to see tickets.. I noticed that she went to the same school as my mother only she was 3 or 4 years younger .. I thought to look up her name to see if there was any more on this story. How sad to see the results of this .

purdy said...

My gramma knew Clayton Gallagher who is Lillians brother. He had to ID the body at this time. My mom remembers my gramma telling her to never go door to door for anything and to never enter a home you don't know. My heart aches for this little girl and her family.

Unknown said...

My mother was a Gallagher . This little girl was my mothers cousin . So sad God rest her soul .

Tom Harris said...

I am the grandson of Thomas Harris who was a police officer in New York. While working in central park, he arrested Goodrich for loitering around the wading pool. Later, he went to Detroit to receive a reward and while he was there he met with Mrs. Gallaher and gave her half of his cash reward.

purdy said...

My Uncle Eugene is Claytons brother-in-law, married to Mary, Eugenes sister.