My sister is a researcher by day on Who Do You Think You Are and by night a researcher of old family murders.
The Crime Scene of My Relative’s Murder, Photographed by Weegee the Famous
His name was David “The Beetle” Beadle and he was murdered at 1:30AM on December 9, 1939 at the age of 32. He was my paternal great grandfather’s first cousin and, in the 1930’s, a prominent figure in Manhattan’s overpopulated neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen—where my Irish, Italian, and German ancestors had lived since the 1870s. Beadle was a longshoreman, a boss on the west side docks along the Hudson River, and a gangster. If you’ve seen or heard of the movie On the Waterfront, then you are at least a little bit familiar with the kind of world this man lived in.
I have been interested in this story since the first time my Dad told me about it. I had seen one photo of the crime scene. Recently, my curiosity flared up and I wanted to see the photo again and I found it on corbis images. While looking at the photo, I noticed that the photographer was the famous Weegee. I found three more photos from the crime scene; Weegee was in two of them. In one he is bent over the body, perhaps readjusting it for a photo. In another, he stands back from the body with the police. The other two photos were both photographed by Weegee: the one of the Beadle’s body sprawled out on the sidewalk in his own, his blood in the street, his fedora obstructing his face; and the one of the murder pistol tossed under a car wheel half a block away.
My sister Irene and I had seen a collection of incredible Weegee photos earlier this year at Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles at MoCA in downtown LA. The exhibit was great; Weegee’s photos ranged from sad, to poignant to funny, and they were all memorable and intimate. If you are not familiar with his photos, I really recommend looking him up. In some of his self portraits we noticed that he looked a lot like many of our older family members who lived in Hell’s Kitchen. He’s not related at all, but he was indeed at the same place and same time. The coincidence struck a chord with me. I told both Irene and my Dad about my find, that Weegee had photographed our relative’s crime scene, and they were as excited as I was. For Irene and me, our excitement over Weegee reignited our interest in David Beadle’s life. We spent the last week discussing and hypothesizing with each other over gchat. We vowed to dig up police and court records about this the next time we are in New York City together.
With some new research, I found out that Beadle had been arrested in 1927, at the age of 19, for robbing a taxicab driver in Brooklyn, but he was released at $1500 bail. In 1930, at the age of 22, he was accused of killing two men and shooting a third in an 11th Ave speakeasy, just to “show how tough he was”. All three of the men he shot were brothers; all three had criminal records and were known as dangerous characters. Apparently, Beadle was never charged. Who knows what the Beetle did between 1930 and his death in 1939, but I’m sure it was a continued path to destruction.
From several different articles I was able to piece together what happened that night, the night he was killed. The 32 year old Beadle had gone to a dance party with his wife, his brothers and their wives. On his way home around 1:00AM he stopped off at a 10th Ave bar and grill called “The Spot”, because he had a heart condition and needed to take his pill with a glass of water. There were about a dozen customers there at the time. He ordered a glass of water and drank it with his pill. Then, he stepped outside of the bar. He then walked out and started south on 10th Ave. He had gone only a few feet when a taxi pulled up alongside of him. Two men stepped out and fired simultaneously. Beadle dropped dead with several bullets in his head, and the men re-entered the cab and continued south. Waiting for Beadle a short distance away on 10th Ave was his brother, Richard. The gun was found in the street.
Police said they thought his slaying might be the beginning of dock warfare. Or it might just be that Beadle didn’t take care of somebody when he was asked to—didn’t put somebody to work on the docks. They said he had been arrested seven times, but the police never could make the charges stick. The articles indicated that Beadle was a fairly well-known waterfront character, the leader of a small gang of strong-arm men and had been in the “loan shark” and policy businesses, he was a former rum-runner and had been involved in a longshoremen’s racket.
A year later, detectives revealed that the killing was the result of a controversy as to who should control work on the docks. Throughout the investigation 52 detectives worked on the case. Two years later, there were still articles about his murder stating frustration from the detectives because many of their potential witnesses were being killed.
I do not know any more than that. I do not know when the case ended, how it ended, what happened to his family, nothing. No one ever talked about it. No one ever talked about him. The only photos I’ve ever seen of him are these from his crime scene, bullet holes through his face. My father has always been curious about this story, but he also knows very little. He knows that at one point, my great grandfather worked for him on the docks, that his aunt and uncle, and even his father, my grandfather, probably attended Beadle’s funeral. But, my Dad has never been able to get a complete answer from his older relatives who were kids at the time. There was a very real fear of talking about this is in the neighborhood that remains in them even to this day. It’s understandable. In some ways, by writing about this, I feel something in the pit of my stomach that tells me I am transgressing, that I am breaking some kind of sacred code of feigning ignorance in order to protect one’s safety. But I also have a deep desire of needing to know and needing to share.