The Strange Affair of 3X

The murder of Joseph Moyzynsky did not at first capture the public's eye. The College Point, New Jersey grocer's death was first reported in the New York Times four days after the crime was actually commited. However, after a series of enigmatic messages and the murder of one, Noel Sowley, were linked to Moyzynsky's death, the strange story of 3X and the Red Diamond League of Russia exploded into one of the "widest man hunt[s] in the history of the New York Police Department" ("2000 Police Patrol Queens in Wide Hunt for Slayer of Two." 1).

On June 11, 1930, Joseph Moyzynsky was shot to death as he sat in his car with 19-year-old Catherine May in Whitestone, Queens, New York. The assailant gave the girl a three by seven inch slip of paper with strict orders that she was not to read the note until the next day ("Police Sifting Clue in Queens Murder" 21). He then escorted her to a bus and sent her home.

The police questioned Miss May, and after three days, they retained her under $50,000 bail (which was later reduced to $5,000) as a material witness, due to the conflicting accounts she gave them, including the implication of the Italian gangster Albert Lombardo, whom the police believed to be nonexistant ("Question Girl in Murder" 13). Later, the girl reportedly admitted that her story was untrue.

Moyzynsky's death received no special treatment until Noel Sowley, a young radio mechanic from Brooklyn, was found dead in his coupe on a secluded road in nearby Creedmore, shot twice in the left temple ("Insane Man Hunted in Second Killing" 27). Like Moyzynsky, Sowley was accompanied by a young woman (a Miss Betty Ring) at the time of his death. According to her report to the police, a lanky man with a thin face and sunken cheeks ("2,000 Police Patrol Queens" 3) leveled a pistol at Sowley and, in a German accent, demanded his driver's license. After glancing over it, the man told Sowley, "You're going to get what Joe got" (Insane Man Hunted" 27). He fired twice, and Sowley slumped over the wheel. The killer then searched Sowley's pockets, but Miss Ring was unable to tell whether he took anything. The lanky man gave Miss Ring a slip of paper similar to that given to Miss May and escorted her home on a bus.

Betty Ring's description of the murderer matched Catherine May's description of Moyzynsky's assailant, but the key clue that linked the two deaths was a newspaper clipping that the police found in Sowley's pocket. The clipping told of Moyzynsky's death, and someone had penciled the phrase, "Here's how" on the margin ("Insane Man Hunted" 27). Later, the police's suspicions were confirmed when ballistic tests showed that the bullets used Joseph Moyzynsky and Noel Sowley were shot from the same gun.

Immediately, the police began what was to be a nineteen day search for the killer, involving 2,000 uniformed patrolmen and 425 specialized units ("2,000 Police Patrol Queens" 1). Patrolmen were sent to guard secluded roads and favorite parking spots for young couples, and others combed the area, looking for the killer who they believed, because of the close proximity of the State Hospital for the Insane at Creedmore, was a lunatic.

The deaths of Joseph Moyzynski and Noel Sowley were also linked to a series of strange warning notes, which were sent to a variety of people, including the New York Police Department and the New York Evening Journal. These notes, which frequently mentioned "international papers," foretold of Sowley's murder and warned that "'another body' would be found in Queens and that ' thirteen more men and a woman' would be murdered ("Insane Man Hunted" 27). The notes were all signed with the cryptic signature of an inverted V, followed by the notation "V 3X."

Three days after Sowley was murdered, traces of the killer "3X" appeared in Pennsylvania. A letter written in handwriting identical to that in earlier notes was delivered to Joseph Moyzynsky's brother John, who was living in Philadelphia. The note ordered Moyzynsky's brother to surrender certain documents by placing them in a newspaper and leaving it by the back entrance to the men's room at Broad Street Station on Saturday afternoon. If he did not have the papers, then he was to leave word who had. The note went on to threaten that if if the papers were not surrendered, John Moyzynsky' as well as two others from Philadelphia would pay for it with their lives ("Slayer Now Warns Brother of Victim" 6). Like the others, the letter was signed with an inverted V, followed by "V 3X."

Meanwhile, the $10,000 a day man hunt continued. Every day, police brought in suspect after suspect for Catherine May and Betty Ring to examine, only to be told that each suspect was not the man they were looking for. Policemen continued to control the area. Postal workers were given orders to be on the lookout for suspicious characters. Still, "3X" remained at large.

Finally, on June 21, the police received a letter from "3X," in which he stated that his "mission [had] ended" ("Slayings Are Over, New Letter Says" 24). This letter did much to fill in the gaps concerning the person of "3X," his motives, and his connection with Moyzynski and Sowley.

According to the letter, "3X" was a former officer in the German army, who had become a special agent of the Red Diamond of Russia, an international secret society located across the world and composed of all nationalities. (The inverted and upright V's in the signature on the notes represented the organizations. The subsequent notation "3X" was apparently the author's code name.) Noel Sowley and the Moyzynsky brothers had apparently once belonged to the Red Diamond but were discharged for treason after they "turned against" the league and became involved with a gang of blackmailers and drug smugglers ("Slayings are Over" 24).

According to the letter, one of the men stole three secret documents; one militaru, one political, and one commercial, and was using these documents for the purpose of blackmailing the Red Diamond. After the incident was reported the the Supreme Council in Russia, twelve Red Diamond agents randomly drew from a deck of cards. The author of the letter picked the king of diamonds and was therefore "selected to punish, and to inflict death if necessary" ("Slayings Are Over" 24).

The letter affirmed that the last of the documnets had been surrendered, thereby ending the agent 3X's mission. It purported that 3X was returning to Russia, and that any furhter noted would not be authentic. "It is settled," the author declared ("Slayings Are Over" 24).

The matter was far from settled, though. The police appeared to be of the opinion that the letter was merely a cover, and subsequently, only increased their efforts. The search continued, using nearly every angle imaginable. Police searched for a man masquerading as a woman to hide his identity. They combed the area for a body with the idea that he might have committed suicide. They tried to trace the watermark of the slips of paper that were given the murder victims' companions. Suspects were brought in to be inspected by Miss May and Miss Ring, but all were dismissed as having no connection with the murders. (Some suspects looked so similar to the killer, thta it was only after some difficulty that the witnesses cleared them ["Hunt for Suicide as Queens Slayer" 2N].) Still, 3X went uncaptured. Letters claiming to be from the mysterious killer continued to be sent. (Interestingly, all notes received after the June 21 "final letter," in which 3X dismissed all further notes to be phony, were signed only with the notation "3X." The cryptic symbol representing the Red Diamond of Russia was not used.) Various people had their lives threatened. Queens Borough President Harvey received a telephone call, supposedly from 3X, concerning "government matters" ("Self-styled Killer Phones to Harvey" 9). Mrs. Edna Sanchez, Borough President Harvey's confidential secretary who took the call, told the caller to call back, after which she notified the police. Consequently,her life was also threatened. For over a week, threats continued, but there were no more deaths connected to the slayings. (There was a letter that described the death of an insurance collector, but it was judged to be a fake. The police believed that the note was written in an attempt to throw the authorities off the track of the victim's real murderer ["Find New 3X Note a Fake" 14].) POlice vainly continued to search the area, until the police commissioner finally voiced his opinion that the killer had told the truth when he stated in his letter that his mission was over ("Mulrooney Is Sure '3X' Killer Has Fled" 25). The two hundred patrolmen that had were left guarding Queens roads were withdrawn, but the police investigation continued.

In late August of 1930, Aaron Blattman, a court fingerprints expert, was arrested for making anoymous calls to the police. During these calls, Blattman offered to divulge the name of Joseph Moyzynsky's murderer if the police would post a reward ("Court Aide Is Held in '3-X' Murders" 2). After viewing both Blattman and a friend of his, Catherine May and Betty Ring both agreed that neither man was the one who had shot their companions. Blattman was held under $50,000 bail as a material witness, but he was later released on a writ of habaes corpus "'3-X' Suspect Freed" 7). After the Blattman incident, the 3X case subsided for five and a half years, with just a brief revival in June of 1931. (The police received a note purporting to be from 3X that described the death of an unknown individual and threatened a "Pittsburgh girl between 18 and 25" ["New Death Threat Ends '3X' Silence" 9].)

In June, 1936, almost six years after the murders of Sowley and Moyzynsky, 3X was suddenly thrust back into the public eye when police arrested a young man who confessed to be the puzzling slayer. When questioned, however, the man gave many conflicting accoiunts of the killings, whick caused the district attorney to regard him as a "mental case" ("Officials Doubt '3X' Suspect's Tale" 46). In addition, Miss May and Miss Ring stated that he was definitely not the murderer of their companions, largely because of his age. Upon seeing him, Miss Ring remarked, "The man you want was older in 1930, than this man is today" ("Witnesses Clear Engel, 3-X Suspect" 10). The man was released and committed to the State Hospital for the Insane at Creedmore.

The 3X murders remain unsolved even today. The chief question tthat arisews is who the killer really was. Was 3X the code name of an agent of a murderous underground society, or was it the pseudonym of a delusional maniac? Were all those letters authentic (other than the ones proven to be fake), and if so, why did they contradict each other so much?

Because the 3X affair remains unsolved, there are many theories to consider. Back in 1930, the general public, including the New York Police Department and the New York Times, seemed to reagrd 3X as a madman and the Red Diamond of Russia as "the probably mythical group that, he said, dispatched him on his mission of death" ("Slayings Are Over" 24). This is probably the most realistic theory, especially considering the fact that the Creedmore asylum is located less than a mile from where Sowley was shot (although no inmates were reported missing), but it is by no means the only plausible explanation.

A minor, but potentially important, point to consider is Miss Catherine May's role in the 3X affair. Her initially conflicting reports to the police were never satisfactorily resolved, and no ulterior motive that she may have had was ever established. Due to the lack of information about Miss May, that is a point about which we can only speculate.

By far the most appealing (and possibly the most accurate) theory is, in this case, the most fantastic-- that 3X was, in actuality a secret agent sent by an illegal secret society to retrieve stolen documents from defectors. This theory has the flavor of the classic film noir genre, and is not as preposterous as it might initially seem. According to 3X's "final letter" to the police, the Red Diamod of Russia did not recognige the Soviet Union as a legitimate nation. (It is interesting to note that while the Red Diamond opposed the Soviet Union, it identified itself using an internationally recognized symbol of Communism.) There were many anti-Communist groups in Russia during the early 1930's (Brown), and there is the possibility that the Red Diamond was one of these groups, later destroyed during Stalin's Great Purge.

Several pieces of information suggest the validity of this this theory. For example, the incongruency that characterized this incident occured chiefly after June 21, when 3X declared his mission accomplished. Many 3X suspects and letters were proven false, illustrating the morbid fascination that people can have with the macabre, as well as their hunger for publicity. It is not unreasonable to assume that all letters subsequent to June 21 were forgeries. No deaths occured after 3X supposedly retreated to Russia, despite the many threats that were issued. It may seem strange that a former German military officer would be involved in an anti-Communist underground movement in Russia, but the existance of al-Qaeda terrorist cells in non-Muslim countries such as (ironically) Germany demonstrte the internationality of organized crime.

As an unsolved murder, many questions concerning the 3X killings must remain unanswered. The evidence is presented here; it is up to the reader to determine for himself as the the most plausible theory to explain the strange affair of 3X.

--Prof. Quincy J. Sommerfield

Working Bibliography

"2,000 Police Patrol Queens in Wide Hunt for Slayer of Two." New York Times 19 June 1930: 1, 3

"'3-X' Notes Writer, Demented, Is Taken." New York Times 17 Aug. 1930: 8

"'3-X' Suspect Freed." New York Times 29 Aug. 1930: 4

"'3-X' Suspect Sues Police." New York Times 19 Oct. 1930: 20

"'Best Clue' Fails in Queens Slayings." New York Times 25 June 1930: 6

Brown, Deming, et al. "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." World Book Encyclopedia. 1991 ed.

"Court Aide Guilty of '3X' Call."New York Times 1 Nov. 1930: 21

"Court Aide Is Held in '3-X' Murders."New York Times 23 Aug. 1930: 2

"Fake 'Killer' Goes to Asylum."New York Times 12 June. 1936: 12

"Find New 3-X Note a Fake."New York Times 6 Aug. 1930: 14

"Hear Queens Slayer Is Posing as Woman." New York Times 23 June 1930: 6

"Hunt for Suicide as Queens Slayer." New York Times 6 July 1930: 2N

"Insane Man Hunted in Secong Killing." New York Times 18 June 1930: 25

"Mulrooney Is Sure '3X' Killer Has Fled." New York Times 8 July 1930: 25

"New Clues Found to Queens Slayer." New York Times 26 June 1930: 12

"New Death Threat Ends '3X' Silence." New York Times 29 June 1930: 9

"New Threat Laid to Queens Slayer." New York Times 24 June 1930: 27

"Officials Doubt '3X' Suspect's Tale." New York Times 4 June 1936: 10

"Police Sifting Clus in Queens Murder." New York Times 7 July 1930: 21

"Police Study 3-X Letter." New York Times 5 Aug. 1930: 25

"Question Girl in Murder." New York Times 15 June 1930: 13

"Secretary to Harvey Gets New '3-X' Call." New York Times 29 June 1930: 19

"Self-styled Killer Phones to Harvey." New York Times 27 June 1930: 9

"Slayer Now Warns Brother of Victim." New York Times 21 June 1930: 24

"Suspect Seized in Queens '3X' Murders; Reported to Have Confessed Shooting Two." New York Times 2 June 1936: 1

"Witnesses Clear Engel, 3-X Suspect." New York Times 4 June 1936: 10