Ruth Cruger was one of hundreds of girls swallowed by wicked Gotham that year, but her father knew Ruth was no runaway. He contacted the police, and together they traced her last steps to a bike shop on 127th Street, where she'd gone to have her ice skates sharpened. (Photo: Ruth's senior picture.)
They questioned the owner, who was cooperative but unhelpful. Alfredo Cocchi was known as Al to the NYC police, as he repaired all their bicycles in his shop. Even so, the police searched every floor of his shop -- without result.
Based on eyewitness accounts from neighboring businessmen, the police believed Ruth Cruger was lured into a taxi in front of the shop.
The national press picked up on the story after several days, because Ruth Cruger was attractive, white, and upper-class. The Washington Post ran this piece:
Early leads in the case went nowhere, and days turned to weeks, then months, and the case was officially closed as unsolvable.
Enter Grace Humiston. Hired by the missing girl's father, Mrs. Humiston, a New York attorney, wife of another attorney as so many female lawyers were at the time, retraced Ruth's steps back to the bike shop. She discovered that Mr. Cocchi had returned to his native Italy, but his wife remained behind to run the bike shop. Mrs. Humiston persistently questioned the woman and did what the New York police could not do -- solved the case.
Under Mrs. Humiston's supervision, police officers reluctantly returned with shovels to the dirt basement of the bike shop. On June 16, more than four months after Ruth disappeared, she was found dead and buried beneath a heavy table in a corner of the basement.
The coroner examined her remains and found that she was not raped. Or in the language of the times, it was not a "ripper murder."
The devastated Cruger family lashed out at the police. Henry D. Cruger, the dead girl's father, demanded the police chief's resignation. He didn't get it, but the protracted and public inquiry into the botched investigation made the police look foolish and turned Grace Humiston into a national heroine.
Al Cocchi, the bike shop owner, was tried and sentenced in Bologne, Italy, because that country refused to extradict him; he was incarcerated for a 27-year term for the murder of Ruth Cruger. Initially he tried to pin the murder on his wife, but later confessed that he murdered Ruth with a massive blow to the head. He described it as an impulse killing. (Photo: Al Cocchi on trial, Mrs. Cocchi in corner)
The lawyer who found the body became known as the "feminine Sherlock Holmes." If it weren't for Mrs. Humiston, said the Washington Post, "it is doubtful whether this case ever would have been solved." She became famous for solving the mystery and before she knew it hundreds of families came to her for help. She launched herself into the saving of runaway girls and even opened an Office for the Protection of Women, in which many society women, including luminaries like Mrs. Charles Dana Gibson, volunteered to help solve the disappearances and murders of young women in New York and across the country.
Grace Humiston went on to solve a number of other murders, and she also freed two men from prison, one of them from Sing Sing's death row. She was by one account the first woman ever tapped to become a federal prosecutor, appointed by Teddy Roosevelt to investigate peonage cases and "white slavery" in the South. Mrs. Humeston, in disguise, penetrated a slave labor camp that had kidnapped young women and even entire immigrant families, forcing them into remote work camps in Alabama and keeping them by violence.
Not surprisingly, there's next to nothing in print about this once-famous lawyer and the cases she solved. In fact, newspaper articles about the Cruger case that were printed in the 1950s changed the lawyer's name and gender! Apparently the story read better that way to them. One can't help but favor the original and wonder if Mrs. Humiston will ever get her due beyond this little "Clew."