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Detective Ellis H. Parker

 

Grandson Andrew Sahol stands in front of a portrait of Grandfather Detective Ellis H. Parker (lived 9-12-1871 to 2-4-1940)  that was painted by his cousin Steve Ferenzi.  Detective  Parker of Mount Holly, NJ was commonly referred to as America's Sherlock Holmes during his life.  He solved 288 of the 300 major crimes he worked on during his career obtaining signed confessions in more than half of them.  He earned an international reputation for his uncanny sleuthing abilities.  His fame reached across America from coast to coast.  In 1935 Detective Parker sat down with Fletcher Pratt to collaborate on the book " The Cunning Mulatto".  The 12 cases described in the book were serialized in many newspapers.  This is a great place to start if you want to learn about Ellis's crime solving abilities and ground breaking techniques.  His unparalleled record of solving crimes earned him recognition from organizations like Scotland yard, the Surete (Detective branch of the French police) and many other countries.

Andy Sahol points out "You know, there's a street in Manahawkin, NJ named for my Grandfather?  There should be a statue of him in Mount Holly to acknowledge his contributions to law enforcement."

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The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping Case

 

Detective Ellis H. Parker will forever be associated with the Lindbergh baby kidnaping case.  American hero Charles Lindbergh's 20-month-old son was kidnapped, and later murdered, after being taken from the Lindbergh mansion on March 1, 1932 through a 2nd story window.  Charles Jr. was one of 6 children the famous pilot had fathered with Ann Morrow Lindbergh.  The police arrived to find that the kidnappers left the ladder used to access the nursery leaning against the home.  America was shocked to learn of the abduction, fearing for the child.  The media coverage was intense.  The case stands with the Manson murders, the Kennedy assignation and the OJ Simpson trial as contemporaries.  The Lindbergh case became known as the "Crime of the Century" because of the resulting publicity and media coverage.  The initial investigators found a ransom note, but they had no leads on the baby's whereabouts.  Eventually Ellis Parker was asked by the then NJ Governor, to join the investigation after Bruno Richard Hauptman was sentenced to death for the crime.  This was because the governor had his doubts about the right man being executed.  The case prompted the United States Congress to upgrade kidnapping from a state crime to a federal crime once the kidnapper crossed state lines with the victim.

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"He was a genius" said Grandson Andy Sahol of his Grandfather Ellis H. Parker "who lived in houses that still stand on High and Garden Streets in Mount Holly.  I admire him.  He's become my role model in every way.  I feel his presence in me.  I picked 4 codes of his to emulate:  1.) Simplicity, he strived to be uncomplicated.  2.) Patience, do a slow analysis of each situation.  3.) Use the intelligence around you.  4.) Perseverance, never give up.  That's how he lived his life.  That's why he was a brilliant Detective."  

Detective Ellis H. Parker's Story

During over 40 years of service, Detective Parker came to be called America’s Sherlock Holmes. He was a brilliant and celebrated New Jersey Law Enforcement Officer. For 67 years his reputation was legendary. His 68th and final year was heartbreaking and should not be his final judgment. But for being asked to investigate the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case by the Governor of New Jersey, Detective Parker would have spent his last years in honorable retirement, with his loving family. Instead, Detective Parker agreed to help with the case and ultimately died in the Lewisburg, PA Federal Penitentiary, after a deeply flawed trial for a crime he didn’t commit.

The Legendary Detective was born to Quaker parents on a Wrightstown, NJ site that would later become a military base known as Fort Dix. Ellis’s conduct as a dedicated husband, father and Detective was a testament to the Quaker teachings of peace, humility, community, kindness and respect his parents exposed him to.

In his early teens, young Ellis became a masterful player of the fiddle. Ellis would play nearly every weekend at barn dances for the sheer joy of it. At one of these performances, young Ellis emerged from the barn to find his horse and buggy missing.

Ellis Parker with Anna Bading in Ellis's preferred mode of transit.

The criminals soon found out that this was the wrong horse and buggy to steal. Ellis was distraught over the loss. Using his innate wits, at this early age, he investigated the crime and uncovered the culprits.

"There was no police officers or constables for miles, so Ellis began sleuthing for himself." read the 1940 obituary in the Camden Courier-Post newspaper.

His common sense, reasoning, and deductive abilities were already refined to serve him well. Ellis found his horse and buggy intact, very quickly. The Burlington County Persuing Society, hearing of Ellis’s horse and buggy incident and other similar successes offered Ellis (at the tender age of 20) a position. He was employed on a case by case basis to help catch thieves and other criminals while working from his base in Mount Holly, NJ. The Society couldn’t afford a full-time investigator at the time.

In 1897, Ellis was hired as the first full-time Chief of Detectives for the county of Burlington, New Jersey. He moved into a Mount Holly office in the County Courthouse located just next to the Prison on High Street. The city of Mount Holly had been the County Seat of New Jersey’s Burlington County since 1796. Ellis looked over the impressive Prison (opened in 1811 and now a museum) from his Courthouse office window.

The Mount Holly, NJ prison built in 1811.

The Mount Holly (Burlington County) court house with Ellis Parker's office on the 2nd floor.

Detective Ellis H. Parker on the Mount Holly prison steps.  He is on the lower right hand corner.  Joseph Fleetwood is on the upper right hand corner.  Henry Worrell is in the center and King (?) is on the upper right.  Can anyone help identify the rest?  Especially the dog!

Over the next 40 years, Ellis Parker’s desk would become surrounded by file cabinets containing his notes on each of the over the 300 major crimes he had worked on. His evidence safe was also in a prominent position and is still on display in the Mount Holly Prison. Ellis truly treasured his loyal assistant Anna Bading. Anna, a talented detective herself, helped Ellis organize everything for most of his years. In some ways, Anna can be defined as Ellis’s Watson (of Sherlock Holmes fame).

"Ellis Parker was a Detective who was looked down on by professional law enforcement as somebody who had not received formal training in investigated techniques.  Yes he was quite the folk hero." noted Paul Schopp, a professional historian who lives in Riverton, NJ.

Ellis Parker's famous evidence safe is still on display at the Mount Holly prison museum.

Ellis Parker with Anna Bading (his Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame).

Ellis Parker solved 288 of the 300 major crimes he investigated, racking up an almost impossible conviction rate.  The case were filed in his office (see Ellis Parkers famous cases or read “The Cunning Mulatto written by Fletcher Pratt in 1935). During Ellis career, he sent many criminals to prison, the gallows, or the electric chair. The gallows were conveniently located in the yard behind the Mount Holly Prison; just a short walk away. When and if you visit there, you will feel the electricity in the air that sends chills up and down your spine.

This 1935 book by Fletcher Pratt describes many of Ellis Parker's most famous cases.  It is highly recommended!

Ellis’s competence at solving complicated crimes gradually became well known to reporters and newspaper readers. Ellis was named the “Sherlock Holmes” (fictional English Detective first published in 1891) of the United States because of his impressive record. He wisely friended reporters and frequented Newspaper offices to keep the public informed of his progress during exciting, complicated, or unusual cases. Ellis would often cleverly create and release wanted posters to local Newspapers to aid in locating or capturing suspects or escaped prisoners.

The story of the last execution at the Burlington County Prison is a tale retold many times. It was the double hanging of Rufus Johnson and George Small. The two men were convicted of Murdering Florence Allison of Moorestown, an English-born governess, at her refuge for homeless children. Arrested within days by the famous and celebrated Detective Ellis H. Parker, the men were hung on March 24, 1906, two months after the crime. A piece of the rope used still hangs in a prison hallway.

"My Grandfather solved the Johnson Small case in days.  On his way to the gallows Johnson said to my Grandfather "I hold no malice to you, Mr. Parker."  He said that because, during his arrest a mob had tried to lynch him, and my Grandfather handcuffed himself to Johnson to prevent it." Andy Sahol.

Ellis’s unparalleled record of solving crimes earned him recognition from organizations like Scotland Yard (in England), the Surete (the Detective branch of the French Police), and many other countries. He was credited with solving crimes by deduction without leaving his desk. He only had to examine the data and the evidence to identify the suspect.  Ellis was also a profiler before profiling was universally recognized.  He either invented or refined the good cop-bad cop technique and the use of chemical analysis in crime solving.  Ellis turned Science into an important tool.  When called in 1920 to investigate a body found in water, he sought help from a chemist.  Detective Ellis learned that the acidic content of the water had helped preserve the remains.  That meant that two men that had been eliminated as suspects were ruled back in.  The pair soon confessed.

Ellis was a short, stocky, bald man except for a small mustache and a fringe of hair that turned white as he aged. He was exceptionally agile, robust and powerful. Ellis’s strength and fitness would prove useful more than once during arrests that went sideways. One death row prisoner broke free while being led to the prison yard scaffolds to meet his maker. He made it up and over the prison wall to flee down Burlington-Mount Holly Road. Ellis caught up and overcame the criminal from behind, tackling him to the ground. The errant felon was cuffed and returned to the prison yard. There he met the hangman’s noose and his maker in short order.

Ellis smoked a pipe throughout his adult life and was partial to a cigar.  He was rarely seen without his pipe.  His tobacco of choice was “Sir Walter Raleigh.” He preferred to use wooden matches to light it. Ellis was known to forget to shave when engrossed in a complicated case. The highlight of each day was taking his lunch at the Mount Holly Elks Club which was only a short walk from his office. Elk members could eat and drink, but true to his Quaker teaching, Ellis never drank. Seated in the club, Ellis would spend his time reading the Trenton Evening Times and any other newspaper he could get. Newspaper reading was a passion of his. He would also enjoy playing cards with the other Elks members. These pursuits helped to relax, and re-energized Ellis daily, keeping his wits and deduction abilities sharp.

Ellis Parker with his always present pipe.

Ellis at his favorite pastime.  Reading the daily papers.

Unfortunately, in the last year of his life, Ellis made the wrong decision by becoming involved with the Lindbergh “Crime of The Century” baby kidnapping case. It had quickly become known as this due to the resulting publicity and intense media coverage.

On March 1, 1932, an American national celebrity and “hero” Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son was kidnapped from the 2nd story of their newly built mansion in Hopewell, New Jersey. A ladder was found leaning on the house just under the nursery by the arriving police officers.

The Lindbergh baby.

The initial investigators found a ransom note, but they had no leads to the baby’s whereabouts. On the 15th of March 1932, New Jersey Governor A. Harry Moore wrote to Detective Ellis Parker, asking for his help. Ellis Parker agreed.

On May 12, 1932, the presumed body of the Lindbergh baby was discovered not far from the Lindbergh home dead of a massive skull fracture.   The nation was in shock.

The baby's remains were found not far from the Lindberg home.

The shocking photo stolen from the morgue.  Charles Lindbergh had his son cremated after seeing this image.  He released the ashes into the air from his airplane.  He was afraid his sons burial site would be disturbed by souvenir hunters.

Late in 1934 German immigrant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was apprehended by the police. He had foolishly passed some of the bills (currency) that had been given to the supposed kidnappers by Charles Lindbergh in payment for the baby’s release. Hauptmann was soon prosecuted as the sole suspect by the State of New Jersey.

Richard Hauptman.

The Lindbergh case remains in dispute to this day. Suspects, theories, and conclusions are a dime a dozen. Even Lindbergh himself was suspected because his baby son had been diagnosed with rickets and supposedly this troubled him, but it is doubtful because rickets was common at the time. The fact that one of the baby’s nannies (or minders) committed suicide (by drinking arsenic) when the police came to question her a second time makes us wonder about a possible conspiracy in the house that could have even included the baby’s parents or other members of the Lindbergh’s staff. This may sound cruel, but this possibility has been raised many times over the years.

Violet Sharp sitting next to her sister.  What was she so guilty of that she would take her own life with arsenic rather than be questioned again by the police.

Yes, the stakes were high. Ellis Parker would love to have been the Detective who solved the Lindbergh case, who wouldn't have? His fame would last forever and he was obsessed with finding the real killer. But Ellis’s behavior and conduct during his life make one doubt that he would have manufactured false evidence willingly. The record of his life and character speaks out loudly. Had Ellis refused then NJ Governor A. Harry Moore’s request to look at the case, Ellis would have lived out the rest of his life with his reputation intact.

Paul Wendel, a savory character that Ellis had known for years, showed up at Ellis’s Mount Holly office with an offer to share inside information that could help find the Lindbergh baby.  This information would come from Wendel's "connections", meaning the Mob (organized crime). Of course, Wendel, a disbarred NJ lawyer and criminal, wanted to be compensated for this information.

Paul Wendel, the unsavory character.  Ellis Parker may have been right.  There is reason to believe that Wendel was in on the Lindbergh baby snatch.

Unfortunately, Detective Parker’s examination of additional leads, including those provided by Paul Wendel, was at odds with and challenged the official NJ prosecution led by David Wilentz, who had publicly convicted Hauptmann as the one and only perpetrator, sentencing him to death.

New Jersey Governor Hoffman sought to delay Hauptmann’s execution to give Ellis Parker time to investigate Wendel and the Lindbergh case. To combat this, the Grand Jury dropped all charges against Wendel and ordered that the execution of Hauptmann be carried out. Hauptmann was strapped into the Electric chair on April 3, 1936 then eternally silenced. Hauptman was a man that had professed his innocence from the beginning.

The New Jersey Electric chair that took Richard Hauptman's life is displayed at the NJ State Trooper's Museum in Trenton.  A visit to the museum is highly recommended.

Ellis and his son, Ellis Jr. were accused of kidnapping Paul Wendel and of crossing state lines to hold him captive. The irony of this is that when released from his alleged captivity Paul Wendel asked to be driven to Ellis Parker’s home in Mount Holly, NJ thereby crossing over state lines making it a Federal case! The car’s driver was Murray Bleefeld who was later offered a deal to testify against the Parkers to avoid kidnapping charges. During Wendel’s captivity, Wendel signed a 25-page confession to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and described disposing of the body! So, maybe Ellis Parker did, in fact, solve the Lindbergh kidnapping? Wendel even implicated his wife and children in the plot! What type of man does that? Subsequently, Wendel recanted his confession with the claim that he had been forced to write it under duress. Ellis Sr. and Ellis Jr. were indicted for Wendel’s kidnapping and transportation over state lines. New Jersey Judge William Clark presided over the trial. Clark should have recused himself for having a personal relationship with Wendel, but he didn’t. On top of that, Paul Wendel had been previously convicted of perjury, was a former mental patient and was a currently a fugitive for several counts of embezzlement, and the passing of bad checks. Yet, he was the prosecution’s star witness against a law officer and public servant with 45 years of exemplary service. It is also unbelievable that Wendel was given luxury accommodations (paid by the prosecution) for months while awaiting the trial.

"The irony of this was Paul Wendel, the man whose testimony helped convict my Grand Father would visit him at his Mount Holly house whenever he was in trouble.  My Mother, her brothers and sisters and her friends ,remembered him coming to the door.  Wendel accused my Grandfather of being the mastermind of a plan to kidnap him and coerce a confession over a 10 day period by torturing him."  recalls Andy Sahol.

Ellis Parker and Anna Bading arrive for court.

“My Grandfather and my uncle (Ellis Jr.) were tried in Newark, NJ by Judge William Clark. Grandfather’s lawyers had argued unsuccessfully for a change of venue to the place of the so-called crime, Mount Holly, NJ, as was the common practice. The trial incredibly saw over 250 witnesses being called, many of them sympathetic to my Grandfather, his brilliant law enforcement career, and his service to the public.  At sentencing Judge Clark spoke out against the practice of presenting character witnesses, particularly public officials. He felt the defenses’ purpose was to influence the jury, as if his amazing life and career no longer mattered.”   Grandson Andy Sahol adds.

Ellis Parker Jr. with his father Ellis Sr.

Ace Detective Ellis Parker and his son, Ellis Parker Jr. were convicted in Judge William Clark’s court. Ellis Sr. was sentenced to a six year term. Ellis Jr. was sentenced to a 3-year term. They were both sent to serve their time at the Lewisburg, PA federal penitentiary on June 30, 1937. Detective Parker, now close to his 67th birthday was in rapidly failing health due to the strain of the trial, as well as seeing his family fortune spent and depleted to finance his defense.

Ellis Parker with grandson William Fullerton at one of the shore properties that he was forced to sell to finance his defense.

Grandson Andy Sahol comments "My Grandfather was later found to have a cerebral thrombosis on the right side of his brain.  It was responsible for his decline.  I (and Forensic Phycology experts) believe it affected his judgement and that it should have been taken into account by the authorities.  I'm angry at the way it was handled.  My Grandfather's condition was not allowed to come out during the trial or sentencing by those running it.  They blocked it.  Even after the trial, when a pardon was proposed, the same individuals fought it.  They wanted assurances that he was dying first.  What were they afraid of?  My grandfather had become increasingly childlike and insecure during his final years.  He lost his photographic memory, and other county workers were compensating for him.  He was rambling and argumentative when he had always been calm, collected and precise.  He met every criteria of diminished capacity.  He should have never been tried.  None of us are the same when reaching his stage of life.  God forbid that anyone suffers from dementia, but it is a very common medical condition that strikes with no mercy.  Should we forget that individual's contribution to law enforcement and society?"

Many friends, luminaries, politicians and law enforcement officers of the era that were convinced of Elis’s and his son’s innocence pleaded to president FDR for clemency. Unfortunately, before mercy could be put in motion, Detective Ellis H. Parker died behind bars at Lewisburg 6 months later, on February 4, 1940.

"When Ellis Parker died, the New York times ran an obituary on him, and they don't run obits on County Sheriffs." (Dave Kimball-VP of the historic Burlington County Prison Museum Association.)

"It was an inglorious end to the most brilliant career in crime-detention history outside the annals or fiction"  said the Courier Post newspaper obituary.

Ellis and his wife Cora's graves in Mount Holly, NJ.  Hundreds of people turned out for Ellis's burial ceremony to honor his life.

Ellis Parker's loyal assistant Anna (Yoos) Bading lived a long and productive life.  Her contribution was enormous.  She was buried in 1972 next to her husband Herman.  Herman spent time working for Ellis Parker and as a NJ State Trooper.

Ellis H Parker Jr. was paroled on October 12, 1941, after serving two years confinement. He was granted a full pardon on January 30, 1947, by President Harry Truman. But sadly, it was too late for Ellis H. Parker Sr. who had died in 1940 after exhausting his savings, selling his properties, and all his investments to finance his defense. His descendants are suffering this loss till this very day.

The 2006 book written by John Reisinger was instrumental in creating an explosion of interest in Ellis Parker. The book “Master Detective, the life and crimes of Ellis Parker, America’s Real-Life Sherlock Homes” is an excellent source of information for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of Ellis’s life. However, we must caution you that Reisinger’s book talks about the Lindbergh baby case in detail. His book is far from the definitive look at Ellis Parker’s life. We disagree with his conclusion that Ellis was “A Good Man Gone Bad.” Mr. Reisinger has sided with the public record, but we believe it will be proven to be a flawed record.

John Reisinger's excellent book "Master Detective" is highly recommended.

There were many reasons to expedite the death of Richard Hauptman for the Lindbergh kidnapping. Reputations and future promotions would go to those men that accomplished it. Their haste is suspicious. It is evident that Richard Hauptman must have had help if he was involved. A quick end to the case was necessary to favor the reputations of those that apprehended him. Ellis Parker did not believe that Hauptman acted alone. This made Ellis very unpopular with those that wanted swift justice and wanted to enhance the standing and reputation of those who had high political ambitions. Appointment to high offices was at stake. Was there a conspiracy to keep Ellis in prison as long as possible? It seems that a pardon would only be considered if there was proof that Ellis was terminal.

When Ellis was tried for transporting Paul Wendel over state lines, the chief prosecution witness was the previously mentioned Paul Wendel, a disbarred NJ lawyer, and criminal. In his confession, he told of witnessing the Lindbergh child's death. Amazingly, the judge at Ellis Parker’s trial (judge Clark) was acquainted with Paul Wendel and did not recuse himself from the case. Paul Wendel’s entire life was full of poor decisions. Mr. Wendel had been previously convicted of perjury and had spent time in the NJ State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He also had outstanding warrants for fraud, embezzlement and the passing of bad checks. The warrants were outstanding while he testified before the court that was deciding Ellis’s fate. It is possible that he was promised immunity for his cooperation and testimony?
For many frustrating years, the Parker family has been requesting that Ellis H. Parker receives a posthumous pardon like his son, Ellis H. Parker Jr. did. We believe that Ellis H. Parker’s conviction should be vacated instead of pardoned. We want to see this happen soon for Ellis Parker’s grandson Andrew Sohal and the entire Parker family. Andrew has been working passionately to see justice done for many years. This burden weighs heavily on him and all of Ellis’s descendants. It is a tragedy that Ellis H. Parker is not remembered and celebrated as one of the United States greatest law enforcement officers.

"He should be honored, It's my goal to free him completely.  Not just have him pardoned, but put on a pedestal where he belongs." says Grandson Andy Sahol.

Andrew Sahol
Russell Lloyd
Stephen Chiang

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