Monday, March 10, 2014

A Long-Ago Tale of Murder, on Empire Boulevard in Brooklyn

580 Empire Blvd. today. Photo: Google Maps

On March 17, 1931, the Brooklyn Standard Union reported a sensational tale of jealousy and murder in Brooklyn. (The story is reprinted in Brooklyn Genealogy and also reported in the St. Petersburg Times and Brooklyn Eagle.)

It's not a complete story, however, so be prepared to have some questions unanswered.

Entitled "Police Accuse Woman After Long Grilling,"  we read about Mrs. Mamie Diller, 34, wife of Herman Diller. Mrs. Diller was arrested and charged with homicide.

"The widow, whose husband was found beaten to death with a hammer yesterday in their apartment at 580 Empire Boulevard, had been grilled by detectives for twenty-four hours, but steadfastly maintained her innocence of the murder," the paper reported.

Mrs. Diller was variously described as "dark and plump" and "drab and pudgy." Poor dead Mr. Dillard was a "wealthy pharmacist."

The assistant D.A. ordered her arrested. She was fingerprinted, photographed and "placed in a cell in Empire Boulevard station."

A certain Miss Hanna Bershon, "self-confessed sweetheart of Diller"  was released by police that afternoon. She had told police that Diller "lived in fear of his wife, that he planned a divorce and that she and Diller were going to California after the divorce."

Police thought that Mrs. Diller killed her husband in a fit of jealousy. Then they learned that Diller's nine year old son, Martin, kept a diary -- a single page of paper apparently torn from a notebook.

The boy's one page diary was entitled "The Life of Martin Diller." All in capital letters, it was written with a pencil, and police said "it showed signs of having been edited by an older person."

St. Petersburg Times
The diary described the ups and downs of his life (you can read the whole thing here) and  ends with the words, "One day I heard my mother quarreling with my father. I did not know what was the matter. As soon as the fight was over and my father went to work, I asked my mother what was the matter. She said I should swear to tell no one."

Exhausted by the police, Mamie "became physically sick and semi-hysterical."

The police also questioned Miss Mary Freely, 20, of 1201 Union street, until recently a maid in the Diller home. The maid said the couple frequently quarreled over his lover.

When the assistant D.A. searched the Diller home, they found a hammer handle and a claw-hammer under Mrs. Diller's bed. Both instruments showed traces of blood, but appeared to have been washed.

Police admitted they knew the hammer and the handle were in the apartment, "but said they did not think they had been used in the murder as the wounds on Diller's head indicated a hatchet had been used." The police changed their minds eventually.

It was believed that Diller carried a large sum of money home with him over the weekend. But the motive of robbery was discarded with the discovery of jewelry and $60 in cash in the apartment.

It was learned that Diller had been away from home both Saturday and Sunday night and that Mrs. Diller was upset over this. When questioned, the girlfriend, Miss Bershon, "repeatedly pointed an accusing finger at Mrs. Diller" and exclaimed: "She did it! She did it! She's threatened to kill us both. I know she did it!"

The body had been found by Mrs. Diller lying on the floor between the two beds, with signs of a fierce struggle. Diller was described as "a powerful man weighing 225 pounds." Chairs were broken in the room, the bed completely disarranged and the mattress lay on the floor, stained with blood in many places."

The index finger of his left hand had been badly cut. "Diller's pajamas were in shreds and he was scratched about the body, indicating the fierceness of the struggle."

"Clerks Tell of Revels"

Two soda clerks at Diller's drug store told police that Diller frequently went to an apartment he shared with them and, according to the clerks, took women companions with him. (Refer to the original post for more details.)


PART 2:  

The next day, March 18, the Brooklyn Standard Union (as reprinted by Brooklyn Geneology) picks up the story again.

The story is entitled, "Slain Druggist Buried as Wife Is Sent to Jail"

Mrs. Mamie Diller was held without bail while funeral services were being planned for her husband, over the protests of her attorney. She had been in policy custody for 48 hours without speaking to her lawyer.

The elevator boy in the Diller apartment building said that Mrs. Diller did not leave her apartment until 9:40 A.M. Monday, the morning of the murder. Mrs. Diller told police that she left home shortly after 8:30 to visit her sister.


 PART 3: 

 The Brooklyn Eagle is sympathetic to Mrs. Diller, pointing out she worked 18 hours a day in her husband's drug store, ruining her health and her looks until she became the "drab, pudgy widow" now pacing in her cell.

"Her aged mother at this time was heard to observe that she could not live much longer. In this, the woman now facing a charge of murdering the father of her children, is quoted by a cousin, Samuel Cohen, as saying: 'But you must live, mother. You know the doctor says I'll surely die If I have another child. That may happen any time, and I'd gladly die if I could bring another life into this world. But if that should occur you, mother, would have to take care of it, so you must make up your mind to live for a long time yet.' Strange words from the lips of one with murder in their heart."



On March 19, the Brooklyn Standard Union reported a third woman:

 "A mysterious Madam X, the third woman" to enter the picture, was being sought by police after "she was named by Mrs. Diller" as one of the victim's former loves.

Then police announced that they now believed that two persons had attacked Diller and killed him in his bed.

"They pointed out that the hammer with which Diller was beaten to death was found under Mrs. Diller's bed and expressed the belief that it might have been put there by the slayer to help turn suspicion toward Mrs. Diller. Had Mrs. Diller used the hammer, they said, she hardly would have placed it under her own bed."

"Her face heavily veiled and weeping hysterically, Mrs. Diller attended funeral services for her husband" after her lawyer obtained an order releasing her from jail for the services.

When last we hear of Mrs. Diller, she was about to be arraigned in Homicide Court. 

 PART 5: 

We have no idea what happened at her trial, or if anyone was ever found guilty of the murder. If she had help, was it one of the girlfriends? The maid? Two other people entirely?

But we think it may have worked out for Mrs. Mamie Diller.

While we can find no more mention of her trial, on July 24, 1934, there is this one short announcement in the Brooklyn Eagle:

"Mamie Diller [named] as administratrix of the estate of Herman H. Diller."

It doesn't seem likely she would be administering her husband's estate from jail, so we believe her story had a happy-ish ending, in spite of her unhappy marriage...

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Anonymous said...

What's the relevance as to why you posted it now? There are lots of murders and interesting old stories out there in the naked city.

I'd suggest getting former NYTimes reporter Judith Miller to find out the answers to the many questions :)

mcbrooklyn said...

This is one of a number of "real history" stories that caught our eye because of the vividness of the drama. It's a story that everyone living at that time knew but is fading -- or has already faded -- into crumbling pieces of newspaper.

Other real history posts include:
* Pepper & Potter on Flatbush (
* The Love Life of Guglielmo Marconi (
* A Bit of Philip Livingston's Garden Wall Still Exists In Brooklyn Heights (
*Time Travel: Washington Street, Downtown Brooklyn,1906 (

We like to remember those who lived here before us, in the same buildings but during earlier eras. They have left secrets behind for us to discover, like little time capsules.