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Edward Larkman

Convicted of the first-degree murder of 45-year-old Ward Pierce, a paymaster of the Art Works Metal Shop in Buffalo, New York, in 1925, Edward Larkman was exonerated eight years later after a Buffalo gangster named Anthony Kalkiewicz, confessed to the crime during an interrogation for his involvement in another crime.
On the afternoon of August 12, 1925, Pierce was preparing to hand out weekly cash salaries to workers. He was standing next to a table upon which rested a metal box containing envelopes of cash. As Pierce called out the roll, workers, who had lined up, came forward and were handed their envelopes.
Workers later told police that when three gunmen entered, the room fell silent. When one of the gunman ordered Pierce to put up his hands, he reached for a pistol instead. Two gunshots rang out and Pierce fell the floor, mortally wounded. An employee, Stephen Fisher, was wounded. Pierce survived briefly before he succumbed to his wounds. He had been shot in the arm and the abdomen.
Witnesses told police that after the shots were fired, another employee grabbed the metal box and hurled it into a corner. The box opened and envelopes scattered on the floor. While one gunman held the workers at bay, the other two scooped up envelopes. All three fled. Witnesses said they got into a touring car that was parked outside with a fourth man acting as a lookout. Police later reported that the robbers escaped with $1,500 of the $8,800 payroll.
The witnesses said one of the gunmen was wearing dark glasses. A newspaper account of the crime listed the names of several witnesses, including Victor Chojnicki.
Two days later, a $1,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction. On August 18, the news media reported that two men had been questioned and had told police they were aware of the plan to commit the robbery. The police said they were looking for 24-year-old Edward Larkin as a suspect in the robbery.
In October 1925, police announced the arrests of eight people on charges stemming from three payroll robberies and the holdup of a jewelry store in Buffalo during a four-month period that year. Four of the suspects were arrested while attending the World Series in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Police said they hoped to the develop information that would help them solve the robbery and murder of Pierce.
On January 29, 1926, police reported that Larkman had been arrested in Detroit and was being extradited to Buffalo. On February 2, 1926, eight employees of the shop were unable to identify Larkman as being involved in the crime. The following day, February 3, a different witness identified Larkman and the Erie County District Attorney authorized a charge of capital murder against Larkman.
Larkman went to trial in Erie County Supreme Court on February 23, 1926—20 days later. Dorothy Littlewort, a 31-year-old school teacher, testified that she was sitting outside the shop at the time of the crime, waiting for her father, who was an employee. She said that when the closing time whistle blew, she saw three men run into the shop. She said she heard gunshots and the men rushed out to a touring car, carrying pay envelopes. The car then sped off. She identified Larkman as one of the men who came rushing out. She said Larkman walked like a man she knew.
The defense was critical of the identification. No line-up had been used for identifying suspects. Instead, Larkman had been forced to stand alone under a bright light and asked to put on and then remove some dark glasses. Littlewort was the only one of nine people to identify Larkman.
Gerald Nugent testified for the prosecution. He had been arrested and charged with being the getaway driver in the crime. Nugent said that Larkman had admitted that when the gunshots were fired, he was standing at the door to the room where the pay envelopes were being handed out.
Pierce's widow testified that before Pierce died, he told her that the man who shot him had been standing in the doorway.
Chojnicki testified that he was among the employees in line for their pay envelopes. He described the holdup and shooting, but said he could not identify Larkman or anyone else involved.
The defense called Edward Lock, an employee of the shop, who testified that the police had offered him $3,000 as well as expungement of his prior criminal record if he would implicate Larkman and another man. Lock said he refused. A news report said that after he testified, Lock was fired because of the revelation that he had a prior criminal record.
Larkman testified and denied any involvement in the crime. He said he fled from Buffalo because he believed that police suspected he was illegally running beer. He said he only learned later from a newspaper account that police considered him a suspect in Pierce's murder. Larkman said he was fearful of being wrongly accused of a crime that carried a possible death sentence.
Larkman told the jury that he spent much of the afternoon ferrying guests from the church to the reception, driving a rented vehicle. He said he was in attendance at the wedding, which was about three miles from the shop, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Four witnesses, including two sisters of the bride, testified that Larkman was present at the wedding.
In rebuttal, two police officers denied that they had offered $3,000 to Lock and to destroy his criminal record.
On March 4, 1926, after 43 hours of deliberation, the jury convicted first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death on the spot.
"Thanks, judge," Larkman declared. "But I am an innocent man."
His defense team soon filed a motion for a new trial based on an affidavit from Nugent recanting his trial testimony. He said that police had threatened him and promised him leniency on an unrelated pending case for his testimony.
However, when called to testify at a hearing on the motion, Nugent recanted his recantation and said his trial testimony was true. He testified that he had felt sorry for Larkman's wife, who had personally visited him. Nugent also claimed that a friend of Larkman who accompanied Mr. Larkman had threatened him. Nugent said the friend said, "If you don't come across with the truth, I will blow your brains out." In September 1926, the motion for new trial was denied.
In November 1926, the Appellate Division, by a vote of 4 to 3, affirmed the conviction with a one-sentence ruling: "Judgment of conviction affirmed." Notably, three of the seven judges on the panel dissented, saying they believed Larkman deserved a new trial.
On January 13, 1927, just 10 minutes before Larkman was to be electrocuted, Governor Alfred Smith granted a reprieve. Not long after, Governor Smith commuted Larkman's sentence to life in prison.
In March 1929, Larkman and three other men broke out of the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York, by sawing a trapdoor in the roof. They dropped out of a line of men going to see a movie one evening, climbed to the roof and dropped over the wall. They were captured a day later and Larkman was sent to solitary confinement.
On May 6, 1929, the Buffalo Courier Express newspaper published a detailed account of a confession by a Buffalo gangster named Anthony Kalkiewicz. The article's headline stated: : "Local Gangster Reveals Wholesale Murder, Holdups to Detective Chief."
During questioning about a robbery at Fedders Manufacturing in which a plant employee man had been fatally shot, Kalkiewicz also was questioned about numerous other crimes. During several hours of interrogation, Kalkiewicz admitted he was involved in the robbery at the Art Works Metal Shop. He said the person who shot Pierce was the leader of the gang, John "Big Korney."
Kalkiewicz told police that Victor Chojnicki had tipped off Kalkiewicz and members of the gang to which Kalkiewicz belonged that robbing the Art Works Metal Shop would be lucrative, and provided details on how the payroll was distributed. After the robbery, Chojnicki had complained that he had only been given $100 for providing the tip. He had demanded a bigger share of the $1,500 that had been stolen.
Kalkiewicz said that over time the gang members had begun to suspect that Chojnicki was going to "squeal" to police as an expression of his dissatisfaction with his treatment. According to Kalkiewicz. In March 1929, according to Kalkiewicz, Chojnicki had been invited to the gang's headquarters in Depew, New York, west of Buffalo. There, Kwiatowski, shot Chojnicki to death because the gang suspected Chojnicki was going to inform police in retaliation for not getting a cut of the Art Works Metal heist as well as two other robberies the gang had committed.
Kalkiewicz claimed he had dug a grave near a small barn in his back yard and that Chojnicki had been buried there.
When police went to the home, they found Chojnicki's body buried in a six-inch shallow grave. He had been shot several times in the back.
In January, 1930, Larkman then applied for a pardon and New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt directed that the case be re-investigated. He appointed Carlos Alden, dean of the Buffalo Law School to head the inquiry.
During Alden's investigation, a witness, Peter Chryzantowski, testified that he was familiar with Kwiatowski's gang, and that he knew that Larkman had not taken part in the Art Works Metal crime. He named the other participants, including Kalkiewicz.
After Alden recommended that a motion for new trial be filed, the defense filed a motion seeking to vacate Larkman's conviction. The prosecution opposed the motion on the ground that under state law such motions have to be made within one year of conviction. In May, 1930, the defense motion for a new trial was denied.
Efforts were made to pass a special bill in the state legislature to allow Larkman to file a motion for new trial that would not be time-barred. That effort failed.
In 1933, when Herbert Lehman was elected Governor of New York, advocates for Larkman approached him seeking a pardon. The Governor appointed Alden to undertake another review of the case.
On December 18, 1933, Governor Lehman granted Larkman an unconditional pardon, and Larkman was released.
Ultimately, Kalkiewicz, Kwiatkowski, and another member of the gang, Steven Ziolkowski, were charged in the Art Works Metal crime. Kalkiewicz and Ziolkowski were convicted. Kwiatkowski was acquitted.
—Researched by Byungkwon Kim and Maurice Possley
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1925
Age at the date of crime:24
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct