Number of victims: 8
Date of murders: 1935-1941
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Washington DC / New York, NY
When 26-year-old waitress Evelyn Anderson was found strangled to death in a New York alleyway on August 4, 1941, the police picked up a clue almost right away. Anderson’s watch had been stolen and it turned up in a pawn shop in the Bronx just days later, hocked by a man named Charles Woolfolk.
Under questioning, Woolfolk said that he received the watch from a lady friend, Hazel Johnson. She in turn said that it had been given to her by a man named Jarvis Catoe, a resident of Washington, D.C. Catoe, a 36-year-old black man, was arrested on August 29. Under questioning he admitted to killing Anderson, then dropped a bombshell, admitting to seven more murders
Catoe’s murder spree had started years earlier when he raped and strangled Florence Darcy in 1935. After that murder he lay low for four years before killing Josephine Robinson on December 1, 1939. Three more murders quickly followed. Lucy Kidwell and Mattie Steward were killed in September and November 1940, before Catoe strangled Ada Puller on January 2, 1941.
So far the murders had attracted little attention as the victims were all black. But once Catoe shifted to Caucasian victims, there was a predictable outcry. Rose Abramovitz had been married for just one month when she was killed in her home on March 8, 1941. Then Catoe committed a murder that attracted even more attention. Jesse Strieff, a secretary at the War Department, was picked up by Catoe during a downpour in Washington on June 15. Presuming he was a cab driver, she got into his car. Her nude body was found the following day, discarded in a garage. She’d been raped and strangled.
Yet despite a massive investigation by the Washington police, Catoe remained at large until his arrest in New York. Had he not confessed, the murders of Jesse Strieff and others would likely have gone unsolved.
Tried on eight counts of murder, Catoe was found guilty, the jury taking just 18 minutes to deliver its verdict. He was executed by electrocution in the District of Columbia on January 15, 1943
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