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Paul A. Pfeffer

22-year-old truck driver Paul A. Pfeffer from Brooklyn, New York, was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison for the second-degree murder of Edward S. Bates, a navy pipefitter, in 1953.

On a ten-day furlough, Seaman Edward Bates spent the evening with his cousin before returning to his car, parked in Queens, New York, where he planned to sleep on the night of August 22, 1953. The next morning, Bates’ body, with his head bludgeoned by a blunt weapon, was discovered in his convertible, which was parked on a dead-end street in Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York. Bates’ wallet remained in his pocket, so no motive could be determined, nor could any weapon be located.

Fitting the description given by several witnesses of a man seen near Bates’ car the night of the crime, Paul Pfeffer, who was in violation of his parole, was suspected of the murder. Police located Pfeffer in an apartment in Brooklyn on August 27, 1953, and arrested him. Pfeffer initially told police he knew nothing about Bates’ death and that, on the night of Bates’ death, he had been with his girlfriend at a movie and then back at her father’s house until after the time of the crime. However, after nine hours of interrogation by the police, Pfeffer confessed to murdering Bates. Pfeffer said an altercation with Bates had turned violent and that he had hit Bates on the head with a lug wrench.

When he was arraigned on a first-degree murder indictment the following month, Pfeffer entered a plea of not guilty. His trial, in January 1954, was before Judge Milton Wiltse and a jury in Queens County. The jury found Pfeffer guilty of second-degree murder on January 29, 1954, and he was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison.

Pfeffer and his attorneys were preparing for an appeal when John Francis Roche, who had been arrested in connection with four murders, confessed that he had murdered Bates as well. Following this confession by Roche, Pfeffer took several lie detector tests, all of which indicated he was innocent of murdering Bates. In July 1954, Pfeffer’s conviction was set aside as a result of Roche’s confession and Pfeffer was released on bail. Notwithstanding Roche’s confession, in October 1954, a grand jury again indicted Roche in the killing of Bates.

On August 24, 1955, the day Roche was to be executed for one of the homicides he had committed, Pfeffer’s attorneys obtained a stay of execution so that Roche could testify at Pfeffer’s retrial in January 1956.

On October 24, 1955, prior to Pfeffer’s retrial for the murder of Bates, Pfeffer was convicted of the second-degree murder of handyman Mellon Byrd. The following month, Pfeffer was also convicted of the assault and robbery of 45-year-old porter Harry Meyer. Both these crimes took place while Pfeffer was free on bail. In December 1955, Pfeffer was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Byrd and twenty to forty years in the assault and robbery of Meyer, with the two sentences to run consecutively.

In January 1956, Pfeffer was set to begin his trial for the manslaughter of Bates. On the first day of his trial, the manslaughter charge against Pfeffer for the death of Bates was dismissed.

– Researched by Hillary R. Noll
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1953
Sentence:20 to life
Age at the date of crime:22
Contributing Factors:False Confession