This week’s trip down the rabbit hole comes courtesy of Ed Nagy who recently handed me a copy of an article from the May 1978 edition of “Headquarters Detective,” a sleazy magazine laced with stories told by retired cops with fuzzy memories to journalists who needed to cover their rent. It’s the kind of magazine sold in bus stations in places like Kingman, Arizona – something to read for entertainment while you wait for the 1:56 AM bus to Yuma. When the cover story reads. “4 and 20 Tarantulas Baked in a Pie…” you know you’re not about to read a Pulitzer Prize Award contending piece.
But as fascinating as the tarantula pie article sounds, that’s not the subject that Ed was showing to me. No, this one was more mundanely titled, “The Case of the Getaway Car that Talked.” It was a “true” New England crime classic that took place right here in little-old Easton, Connecticut. How could I resist reading it?
The illustrious author was listed as “Sgt. Irving T. Schubert, Late of the Connecticut State Police, as edited by Curt Norris.” What the magazine forgot to mention was that the sergeant was really a lieutenant and that he was also late of the living, having passed on to that great police barracks in the sky some two years earlier at the age of 79. So, exactly when Curt edited Irv’s tale or if he even met with the ex-state trooper remains a mystery.
So, I read the story with trepidation – a lot of trepidation. I knew most of the surnames and the positions they held in Easton in 1932. While less than half of the first names were even remotely close to being correct, the rest of the identifying information seemed rather accurate. Perhaps this story was going to turn out to be real.
I read the entire article twice. Over six full magazine pages in length with only a few ads for useful items such as Madame Zarina’s Talisman, which would bring the wearer “money, wealth, happiness, love and prosperity,” all for only $2.00. Of course, that’s for the aluminum version, you could always upgrade to bronze for $4.00 or even splurge for sterling silver for only $8.95!!! Since I wasn’t sure that Madame Zarina was still working out of Montreal (after all the article was written in 1978), I reluctantly read on hoping I would still live a happy life without the magical benefits of such a reasonably priced objet d’art hanging around my neck.
Now, as fascinating and informative as I found this article to be, I’m not one who often takes things at their face value. I needed to fact check this article, perhaps not as carefully as a political speech, but certainly with more scrutiny than a Dave Barry column on colonoscopies.
But this was not going to be easy. Prior to 1937, Easton had no organized police force; hence, no local police records were kept, no matter how serious the crime. Some cases were investigated by the county sheriff, some assisted by the police department in nearby Bridgeport, and some by the state police. This one appeared to have been handled primarily by the state police out of Westport, so any 90-year old records that might still exist would be buried somewhere in the state archives. I figured that at 75 now, I’d probably turn 80 before I located them. So, on to the next source.
Newspapers. If you think today’s journalism standards are low, you have probably never read a daily newspaper written prior to WWII. If it was almost spelled correctly and it sounded in the least bit interesting, print it! Corrections or retractions could always be made in the next edition which was usually only about twelve hours away. Wire services were somewhat more reliable since the newspapers printing their work were paying a fee and wanted at least some of the information in each edition to be correct. Given that wire service articles were generally shorter than locally written stories, there also wasn’t as much need to be verbose; so less chance of being totally wrong.
The issue with local news events between 1928 and 1947 is the lack of digitization of Bridgeport’s print news sources. While many of the news articles in those in-between years are available on microfilm, that medium is only searchable by loading entire editions and scrolling through them one copy at a time. Accessing those old newspaper articles quickly becomes an extremely time-consuming affair. Added to that, the only local source of a large selection of Bridgeport newspapers is the Bridgeport Public Library; an institution with an extremely helpful staff, but also one whose microfilm reader dates back several decades, making it a slow and tedious process to load and then browse through – assuming you can get it loaded correctly and working at all.
In this case the date range was short. Between March 11, 1932, and October 10th of the same year. Luckily the case was widely publicized, and both the Meriden Daily Journal and the Hartford Courant covered the crime and ensuing trials rather thoroughly. Both of those daily papers are available online and are easily searched.
After a few hours of scouring multiple newspapers, I was able to put the pieces together and believe the following accounting represents an accurate portrayal of what transpired all those years ago.
It was shortly after 9:00 on a cold and cloudy morning, March 10, 1932, when Mary Barney looked out of her kitchen window and noticed a blue sedan roaring out of the driveway to the old Homer Logan farm next door. The farm had been empty for several years, having been taken by eminent domain by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company when it expanded Easton Lake in the mid-1920’s. Of late, the company had leased out the barn to Gabor Nagy for storage of some of his hay. But the car she saw was heading in the opposite direction from the Nagy farm and it was travelling at a much higher rate of speed than Mary would have considered normal.
The reason soon became obvious to Mary. The old barn was on fire; smoke billowing out of the large doors at the front of the building. She yelled for her husband Nick to call the Easton Volunteer Fire Department.
The Logan farm was located on Everett Road; there were no fire hydrants; and Easton’s lone firetruck, a recently purchased Sanford, was quite small and incapable of holding enough water to completely douse a burning barn. Arthur “Turb” Bush was the fire chief, and Ed Knight was the town’s only paid constable. Both were on the scene within ten minutes of Nick Barney’s call.
While fighting the fire, a man’s body rolled out of the hayloft. The volunteer firemen dragged it out of the burning building. While charred, there was still enough of the dead man’s clothing intact to provide some evidence of who he might be. Inside one of the deceased man’s pockets was a postcard addressed to Frank Buda, 1135 Hancock Avenue, Bridgeport.
Having no organized police force of his own to help with the investigation, Constable Knight called the state police at the Westport Barracks. He then put in a call to the Fairfield County medical examiner, Doctor H. Le Baron Peters of Bridgeport. Peters was soon on the scene to examine the corpse to determine if the man had perished in the fire or if he was dead prior to the blaze.
Doctor Peters initial investigation showed that the corpse appeared to have been shot in the back of the neck and that he would have most likely been dead prior to the fire starting. From all indications at that point, it appeared that the police had a murder/arson on their hands.
When the state police arrived at the Hancock Avenue address later that morning, Matilda Buda told them that her husband had left their home shortly before 7:00 AM. Frank was a carpenter and he had been hired by John Journey, the owner of Journey’s Inn on Fairfield Avenue, to sand and oil the floors of the banquet facility.
After the trooper asked for a description of the clothes her husband had been wearing that morning, it became clear that Frank Buda was not going to found at Journey’s Inn that day. He was by then laying in the morgue in Bridgeport.
The preliminary autopsy performed by Dr. Peters confirmed his gun shot theory. The victim’s neck contained several shotgun pellets. By the time the doctor was jotting down his notes early that afternoon, Chief Bush, Constable Knight, and the state police had discovered a shotgun in the still smoldering ruins of the old barn and a spent shell on the grounds outside. It was by then obvious that Buda had been shot from behind, his body dragged inside and tossed in the hayloft, and the barn set on fire with the hopes of covering up the murder.
By late afternoon, the police were at Journey’s Inn just east of the Fairfield town line. Mary Journey greeted the officers and when they inquired about the whereabouts of her husband John, she led them into the back where an obviously inebriated John Journey was sitting alone. Asked if he had seen Frank Buda that day, he replied in the negative. Asked if he owned a blue sedan, he answered, “Yes,” but offered that it was parked in the garage behind the inn and that it hadn’t been driven that day since he didn’t drive after he had been drinking. Mary Journey corroborated her husband’s story.
Journey admitted he knew Buda. That the two were friends and that Buda had done work for him in the past. He claimed he hadn’t seen Buda for several days and when asked about the job Matilda had claimed her husband was supposed to do for Journey that day, he denied any knowledge of it.
By the end of the day, the state police were notified that Constable Knight up in Easton might have a lead for them. Two troopers met with Knight at the Blue Bird Inn where they were introduced to Fred B. Candee. Candee owned and operated a school bus in Easton, and he told the troopers that he had seen a blue sedan travelling at a high rate of speed while returning from his bus route from Staples Elementary on Morehouse Road. Candee provided some other information as well. The car’s doors were emblazoned with the name “Journey’s Inn.”
Further investigation the following day revealed that an attendant remembered filling Journey’s car shortly after 7:00 on the morning of the tenth at the service station where he was employed on the corner of Kings Highway and the Black Rock Turnpike. The attendant knew Journey and his description of the man sitting in the passenger’s seat of Journey’s car matched that of Frank Buda. The attendant also remembered seeing a shotgun laying on the seat between the men.
Journey had provided state police investigators with the names of two vendors who he allegedly met with at his inn on the morning of the murder. Neither man remembered seeing Journey that morning.
Three days after Buda’s death, the police laid out all the evidence they had against Journey during an extensive grilling of their prime suspect. Trooper Stanton asked Journey if he finally wanted to tell the truth about what happened on the morning of March the 10th. Journey supposedly replied, “Yes.”
“Are you guilty, Joe?” Stanton asked.
Stanton then asked Journey why he killed Buda.
“I had no reason to do it,” was his answer.
On the 12th of March, Joseph Journey was charged with murder in the first degree in the killing of Frank Buda.
In the weeks leading up to the trial there was much speculation as to the motive of the crime. It was known that Buda and Journey had been friends and that Buda had worked for Journey on several occasions when he needed carpentry work done at the inn. Word was that Buda, an affable fellow, carried large amounts of cash on his person. Some offered that he was sometimes seen carrying more than a thousand dollars in the pockets of his pants or jacket. While the robbery theory had been considered from the beginning, no evidence was ever found that Journey had robbed Buda.
Journey’s alleged confession was offered by the prosecution at his trial. It was neatly type-written but lacked Journey’s signature or that of any witness. At the trial, Joseph Journey denied having ever confessed to the murder of Frank Buda, but the circumstantial evidence produced by the state’s attorney appeared to be overwhelming. Fred Candee’s testimony about seeing Journey’s car less than a mile from the murder scene seemed to seal the innkeeper’s fate.
On April 22, 1932, after only two hours and thirty-four minutes of deliberations, the jury found Journey guilty of first-degree murder. The mandatory sentence at that time was death by hanging. The judge set the date for Journey’s execution for July 20, 1932 and the prisoner was taken to Wethersfield Prison to await his fate.
When the news was broadcast on the local radio station, John Sabo of Pine Street in Bridgeport was sitting in a bar with several other patrons. He immediately jumped up and screamed, “I can’t stand it any longer! If they won’t talk, I will!”
On the 23rd of April, the state police reopened the case, but could find no evidence to corroborate Sabo’s statement indicating that someone else had been involved in Buda’s murder.
Journey’s legal team fought get a stay of execution while they appealed his conviction. In the early summer, Connecticut Governor Wilber Cross granted that stay while Journey’s appeal was heard by the state’s Supreme Court of Errors. The three-judge panel ruled that Journey’s so-called confession had been “…far from a confession of a willful, deliberate, premeditated murder,” and a new trial was ordered.
In October of 1932, Journey was again tried for Buda’s murder. But this time the charge was lowered to murder in the second degree. Since the prosecution had presented no clearcut motive during Journey’s first trial and the confession that the police claimed Journey had made was not allowed to be introduced in the second trial, the initial charge of murder in the first, would have been a difficult sell the second time around.
It was likely that only the testimony about Journey’s automobile would have convinced the jury that Journey had driven Buda to Easton back in March. Everything else was too circumstantial in nature. The police had found no money in Journey’s possession or in a search of his inn and outbuildings on the day the crime had been committed. They produced no evidence that Journey and Buda were anything other than friendly towards one another. The shotgun used in the murder couldn’t be connected to Journey as there were no usable fingerprints on the weapon and all the normal identifying marks had been filed off. While Journey’s alibi was full of holes, the testimony from Fred Candee and that filling station attendant put Journey and Buda in Journey’s car and that car in Easton only a few minutes after Buda had been killed.
Once again, Journey was found guilty, but this time his life would be spared and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Joseph Journey died in 1953, all the while maintaining his innocence. His wife Mary continued to run the inn, changing the name to Mary Journey’s Inn. Mary died in 1964.