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True crime. Casually done.

The 3X Murderer: The Case That Was Never Solved…

Written by Kevin Jennings

              I’m sure none of us are strangers to getting a little frisky in the back seat of a car. It’s a time honoured tradition, dating all the way back to prehistoric times when a young Fred Flinstone would take his steady gal Wilma to the drive in theatre. Well, maybe it’s not that old a tradition, but it’s certainly existed for as long as cars have been widely available to the public, more specifically to horny young teenagers.

              For most of us, the biggest threat in such a situation is coitus interruptus, brought upon by a police officer knocking on the window and politely requesting that you move your car. Embarrassed and downtrodden, there is no course of action but to comply and be glad you didn’t just get signed up as a registered sex offender. Certainly not a pleasant experience, but hardly a newsworthy event.

              Now imagine that the knock on your window isn’t a police officer, and instead you find yourself staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. This isn’t a chance encounter, either. You weren’t just in the wrong place at the wrong time, you are exactly where and when he knew you would be. This man has targeted you specifically, and at least in his mind, you know exactly why.

The Don Juan Groceryman of College Point

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            It was June, 1930, less than a year after the stock market crash. The worst of The Great Depression had not yet fully gripped America, but people were already feeling the strain on the economy. With disposal income at an all time low, it’s no wonder that so many people were frequenting secluded hookup spots in their cars. It was the most fun they could have for free, and it seemed relatively harmless, so long as the girl’s father never found out. Enter one Joseph Mozynski, a 39 year old groceryman from New York.

              On Wednesday, June 11, Joseph had driven to a secluded lane near Whitestone Landing in the College Point district of Queens with his girlfriend of two years. It should have been harmless fun, but there were just a few issues. First, car sex is a young man’s game. Granted cars were larger back then, so the potential contortionism and resulting back pain may not have been a concern. More notably was that Joseph’s girlfriend of two years was the 19 year old Catherine May; I’ll let you do that math yourself. Even if we assume they had refrained from any inappropriate behaviour until Catherine turned 18, there was still one other quandary. The man she was seeing was not only 20 years her senior, but was also married.

              The couple began their session of making out and heavy petting, when an unknown man approached the car. He ordered Joseph to get in the front seat and start the car, taking his place in the back next to Catherine. No sooner had the car started than the man fired his gun next to Joseph’s right ear. When he spun his head around, the second bullet went right through his mouth. The man then ordered Catherine out of the car and rummaged through Joseph’s pockets. From them, he removed a few pieces of paper which set on fire outside of the car. This assassin thought of himself as a gentleman, so the papers he burned bore Catherine’s name on them. He did not want the police to get her involved in this situation, as she was an innocent victim in all this and not his target. Ever the gentleman, the assassin then raped Catherine against the side of the car. I dare not venture to guess how he rationalized this act, suffice to say he must have felt entitled to it for being such a nice guy.

              The gunman, now oozing with incel energy, asked Catherine for her home address. He walked her to the nearest bus stop, and the two boarded together. While they sat on the bus, the man handed Catherine a note, warning her not to read it until the next day. When the bus arrived at the terminal, he escorted her onto a trolley home and the two went their separate ways. With the man now gone, Catherine opened up the note. Stamped, not handwritten, in red ink was the message “Joseph Mozynski 3X 3-X-907”. She was too terrified to go to the police, both for her safety and because she didn’t want her family to find out she had become entangled with a married man. Catherine returned home, hoping to never speak a word of this to anyone.

              That was not to be, however. When authorities found Joseph’s body early Thursday, they were able to track Catherine down from the blood drenched coat she had abandoned in the car.  Police arrived at her house with the stained jacket, and she immediately admitted having been there with Joseph when he died. She freely gave them her entire story, and handed them the note, adding that she did not believe he could have written it at the scene. The police weren’t having any of it, and were confident that Catherine had been involved in planning the murder of her lover. She was taken to the station for questioning.

              Catherine was held on $50,000 bail, almost $850,000 in today’s money, because she was a material witness. Even if rape kits existed back then, I don’t imagine the police would have given her story any more credence. She was a woman living in 1930 that was known to be morally depraved enough to engage in a sexual relation with a married man, so any evidence of sexual assault would have be chalked up to her own questionable character and disregarded. The past was the worst.

              After hours of police interrogation, Catherine became frustrated and decided to change her story in the hopes of expediting her release. Probably not a good idea when they already consider you an accomplice. She declared that the murder had been conducted by Italian mobster Alberto Lombardo from Manhattan. It took very little time for the police to disprove this accusation, probably because that person didn’t exist, but Catherine was no longer interested in their bullshit. She admitted to fabricating that story and went back to her original account of events. Police continued to push her, still believing she had known the assailant, but she calmly stood by her story, refusing to be confused by their interrogation methods.

While I thought this was entirely a product of the internet age, Catherine began correcting the poor grammar of the police interrogators. Considering both the night she just had and the questionable nature of many police interrogations, something that I can only imagine was even worse back in 1930, to possess both the mental and emotional fortitude to stand up to her inquisitors like this means that surely Catherine was a fucking legend with balls of steel.

Ultimately, she was deemed not a suspect and released, but the police had a theory. A former admirer of hers named Joseph Moisset was held for questioning in Chicago. I am not fluent in 1930’s puritanical journalist slang like “admirer”, but that it is as clear as any sources made their relationship.

The next morning, newspapers would break the story of the murder. The Times, not concerned with the death of a random grocer, printed a single paragraph on the topic. The Evening Journal, however, was filled with moral outrage. They printed the story on the front page of the paper, not because they were concerned that there may be a murderous psychopath on the loose, but because the couple had been caught “flagrante delicto” as they put it. Tabloids would go on to describe him as the “Don Juan Groceryman of College Point.” The Evening Journal also noted that Joseph was believed to have two mistresses with whom he would engage in these unsavory acts in his car. They would go on to print a correction to this statement, but it wasn’t in their own words.

The Letters Begin

              Really, what’s the point in murdering someone if you can’t write letters about it to your local newspaper? Perhaps the assassin was familiar enough with both papers to know how much interest each would have had in the story, because it was the editor of the Evening Journal that would receive a letter on his desk that afternoon. The letter read: “Kindly print this letter in your paper for Mozynski’s friends. By doing this you may save their lives. We do not want any more shooting unless we have to.” The letter contained a code intended for Mozynski’s supposed friends, and it was signed “3X, The Man Behind the Gun.”

              Editors receive letters like this all the time, so it was thrown into the “crackpot letters” pile and ignored. Had he paid more attention, he might have noticed that the letter was postmarked roughly 8 hours before the murder took place. The next day, the editor at the Evening Journal received another letter in the same handwriting, this one much longer. It contained many details of the case, including the aforementioned correction regarding Joseph’s extramarital affairs. I mentioned earlier that car sex was a young man’s game, apparently it was also a young girl’s game.

              “Gentlemen: for your information the young lady, Miss C. May, involved in the case is innocent and a victim of unfortunate circumstances. Mozynski was nothing but a rascal – a dirty rat. Not two women as stated in the paper but six and two young girls, one 14 and one 15, were with him in that same place. I am the agent of a secret international order and when I met Mozynski that night it was to get from him certain documents but unfortunately they were not in his possession at that time.”

              The letter went on to describe and give code names for the three documents. One was political in nature, one military, and one commercial. The writer went on to accurately describe the make and model of the gun used to kill Joseph, as well as give the warning that if the documents were not returned by noon on Monday (two days later) that “fourteen more of Mozynski’s friends will join him.” The fourteen were described as being thirteen men and one woman. Once again, the letter was signed “3X, The Man Behind the Gun.” This time, however, the letters 3X were preceded by an inverted V followed by a regular V, both underscored, a symbol the killer would explain later. It really is helpful when assassins tell the press their codename and the secret organization they work for, takes a lot of the guess work out of policing.

              This second letter was written on stationary from the Civil Service Bureau at College Point where Catherine worked. While the original letter could have been a prank, this one was clearly much more significant. The letter was turned over to the police. It was thought it may have originated from a friend of Catherine’s in a misguided attempt to help her. However, 3X had given a deadline, and time was about to run out.

The Second Murder

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              It was now Monday evening, hours after the deadline that had been handed out by 3X. A 26 year old radio technician named Noel Sowley had taken his sweetie out for a romantic and amorous evening. Which is to say that they were parked by a desolate auto junkyard. His companion was Betty Ring, the daughter of a policeman in Queens. This time the tryst was much less scandalous. They were described as having once been very friendly (again, take that 1930s phrasing however you want), but she married someone else. The marriage was short lived, however, and they were now seeing each other again. Still, the Daily News did report this as cheating since she was originally married less than a year before this event.

              A man appeared at the window of the car, pointed a flashlight at Noel, and demanded his driver’s license. Noel asked what was wrong, as the man walked to the back of the car, flickering his light in Morse code. When Noel asked what he was doing, the man said he was signaling to his friends on the hill that he did not need assistance. The man asked if Noel knew Joseph Mozynski. When he said no, he was shot in the mouth. Despite the wound, he was able to profess “I’m not the man you’re looking for.” The man walked to the real of the car and shone his flashlight on the license plate before walking back to the window. “You’re the guy we want all right. You’re going to get what Joe got.” He then fired a bullet directly into Noel’s skull.

              With the target now deceased, 3X again began rummaging around his target’s pockets. He took a piece of paper and proclaimed “I got it.” He then turned his attention on Betty, reaching over to try to kiss her. When he did, he saw a medallion of St. Joseph around her neck. He pulled back and asked “Are you Catholic?” When she confirmed that she was, he said “Well it’s lucky for you that you are. I wouldn’t hurt you for anything. God is the only one I fear.”

              Once again, 3X escorted the young woman to the bus stop and rode with her for the first leg of her return journey. Before parting ways, he handed Betty a slip of paper, similar to the one that was given to Catherine. This paper had “Sowley” stamped on it in red ink, followed by “3X”. Betty did not go to the police until after Noel’s body was found, once again likely out of fear.

              3X was a bit of an impatient attention whore, so he was up bright and early the next morning to check the newspapers. His crusade was not getting the publicity he desired, so he wrote and mailed two more letters, both postmarked before 8 am that Tuesday morning. The first letter was sent to the police, the other once more to the Evening Post. The letter to the police was addressed to Inspector Gallagher and Lieutenant Smith, and contained two empty bullet casings. It read:

              “For your information, one more of J. Mozynski’s friends was sent to meet him. V-5 Sowley was shot to death near Floral Park and not very far from the police station. I enclose the two empty shells. Some of our money was found on his person and the N.Y. document. The girl was, as in the case of Miss May, put aboard a bus and sent home – but no clues were left for you this time. Thirteen more men and one woman will go if they do not make peace with us and stop bleeding us dry.”

The Investigation Begins

              The police had already found Noel’s body by the time the letter arrived. Ballistics experts were able to confirm what they already knew, that both Noel and Joseph were killed by the same gun, and that the empty casings would have been for the correct bullets for that gun. What had started with just a random murder was now becoming a sensational drama. It was the type of crime that normally grips the public consciousness; it had multiple murders, a secret international organization (allegedly), letters taunting the police, and two young women who were described by contemporary newspapers as “attractive” far more times in a single article than I am comfortable with from a legitimate news outlet. Keep it in your pants, Clark Kent.  

              The Evening Journal had finally decided to publish all of the 3X letters, and on the morning of June 18th, they received another letter. This was the most direct letter thus far: “Tonight one more will go. You may let know that 3X is the man behind the gun. He asked for no quarter but will give none. On June 18 at 9:00 pm, I will be at College Point to get WR V-8.” Mothers locked up their daughters, and all of the usual makeout spots were abandoned that night. The police were out in full force, and they were determined to catch 3X. A reported force of 425 detective and 2,000 patrolmen were deployed to try to find the madman terrorizing their borough. There was no murder that night.

              Of course, 3X wasn’t going to be easy to find. He said exactly where he’d be, and he had allowed not one but two witnesses to see his face for an extended period of time. The police were armed with the descriptions they had given, but…well let’s just say there there’s a reason that eyewitness testimony is considered extremely unreliable. Both women had seen this man up close, and for much longer than a fleeting moment. They both rode on the bus with him. These are the descriptions they each gave, each description being given the morning after the woman’s encounter with him:

              Catherine described 3X as “Forty years old, 5 foot 6 inches, 125 pounds, pale complexion, wrinkled face, dark clothes, dark gray soft hat, speaks with foreign accent.” Short, simple, and to the point with some pretty specific details.

              Betty’s description of 3X was “Thirty years old, 6 feet, 165 pounds, pale complexion, thin face, sunken cheeks, lanky build, little hump on the bridge of his nose, small eyes, thick lips, peculiar teeth, wore black suit, black bow tie, white shirt, soft white collar and black fedora hat with telescope brim. Speaks with accent indicating German extraction. Wore a small round bronze button on left lapel of coat marked ‘Rifle Association’”.

              They agreed he was a thin, pale, German man with a hat, so that’s something at least. The difference between 40 with wrinkles and 30 is pretty remarkable though, as is six feet versus 5’6. Speaking with a German accent in 1930s Queens was also not as identifying a characteristic as one might have expected. This was the composite that the police sketch artist came up with based on their descriptions.

              I appreciate the sketch artist’s attention to detail with how the hat would obscure 3X’s face in shadows. It shows a real love for their craft and a dedication to authenticity. It also does fuck all to show anything about his face that might be considered identifiable. I can say with absolute certainty that both the police and the average citizen will understand that people are harder to see in the dark, and this was not nearly as helpful as it could have been. Also, the sketch has him wearing a necktie instead of a bow tie, so there’s that too.

              Armed with these descriptions, the police set out rounding up anyone they could find who vaguely resembled either description, but Catherine and Betty were unable to positively ID any of them.

              They did have other evidence besides just the two eyewitness accounts, however. Inside Joseph’s pockets had been a bloodstained baseball pool ticket, basically a receipt from gambling on baseball. It was big money, too. He had wagered $2,500 and won $3,700. His winnings in today’s money would have been over $60,000. He had also recently deposited $8,000 in the bank, roughly the equivalent of $135,000 today. Those are massive amounts of cash, especially for The Great Depression.

              Noel also had a wad of cash rolled up in a bloody magazine in his car. In his pockets, police also found a newspaper clipping about the death of Joseph. Stamped on it in red ink was the name “Mozynski”, and written in pencil in the margin were the words “here’s how.”

              The police also investigated the possibility that the murderer was an escaped patient from the nearby State Hospital for the Insane at Creedmore. This makes perfect sense as a lead to follow given how insane 3X’s proposed reality was. But the asylum had not experienced a breakout. Catherine and Betty were taken there to inspect every patient and staff member, but they were confident it was none of them. Unfortunately, the simplest solution had just been ruled out completely.

By Thursday, June 19, these murders were on the front page of every newspaper and tabloid. The Times, which had previously only dedicated a short paragraph to the death of Joseph Mozynski, was now covering this on the front page. The letters from 3X were being reproduced in mass for the viewing public to read. At long last, 3X was finally getting the attention he had been demanding. With the promised murder not taking place the night before, naturally it was time to send the Evening Journal another letter.

That afternoon, they received a letter which read “WR V-8 of [College Point] has returned the Philadelphia XV346 to me tonight after reading your paper – also $37,000 of blackmail money – thanks to God – if I may use his name.” This letter also listed the code designations of the 14 individuals that he had marked for death. There were initials next to the six that were spared because of the return of this document, but the other eight he wanted to give no clues about. He also made sure to note which of the now spared individuals was the woman that had been set to die at his hand.

I really could have sworn he said that all of this was tied to a secret organization. Still, he reminded everyone that there was still the matter of the one document and $39,000 that were still missing. Since 3X was already so forthcoming with all this information, perhaps he could have given even more specifics, but for now he had to take a road trip.

The same day, John Mozynski, Joseph’s older brother, received a letter from 3X. John was a plumber living in Philadelphia, which is precisely where the letter was postmarked from. The letter threatened his life if he did not return the document and money, or if he did not tell those who had it to do so. John claimed to have absolutely no idea what any of this was about and denied any involvement or knowledge of secret organizations. He was given police protection while all of Philadelphia waited in earnest for the killer to strike.

A Farewell to Arms

Two days later on Saturday, June 20th, the police received a long letter from 3X. I’d give it more of an introduction, but as lawyers love to say “res ipsa loquitur: the thing speaks for itself.

“Dear Sir: The last document, N.J. 4-3-44 returned to us the 19th at 9. My mission is ended. There is no further cause for worry…The first sign means A, the supreme tribunal of the order. The second V, its special agent. The two combined form the Red Diamond of Russia, a secret organization all over the world. Anyone breaking its rules is marked for death. These men were dismissed for treason. They were all our friends but came in contact with a gang of blackmailers and a drug ring and turned against us. One of them stole the documents mentioned before and they tried to use them for blackmailing our men here. Most of us are soldiers and every nation in the world is represented in our ranks. Word came to us at the supreme council in Russia of the peril in the U.S. Twelve of us picked one card. Mine was the king of diamonds. I was the one selected to punish, and inflict death if necessary. I have patiently waited. I have warned them all of danger. Instead of heeding the warning they answered me by blackmail. They were requested many times for the return of the papers but refused to surrender them. It was when Mozynski died that they found out who I am. Now it is all over.”

Well that was a nice secret organization they had once. It seems 3X gave away the entire story of who he was and why he was there. He claimed to have been randomly selected for this mission and did not want to kill unless necessary. My favourite part of this story is how believable it is, that he is a member of an elite secret organization of ex-military personnel that has no problem advertising their existence in newspapers. And let us not forget that, this deadly organization always asks treasonous members who are blackmailing them to polite stop it before they complete their assassinations. The letter continued:

“Your policemen are brave men only they need training. The police have fish eyes… They have always been wrong from beginning to end. That is why they have lost from beginning to end. For two reasons. One I have stated to you. The other, they are too slow. I am deeply sorry for having stained your country with blood but let this be a warning to all concerned– treason of one word means death. The next time no mercy will be shown. Death only will be the penalty…This is final. You know what we want you to know. Quiet your people and tell them that 3 X is no more.”

Here we can witness the fragile ego of 3X. One of the witnesses described him at one point as having fish eyes, and he seems to have been deeply hurt by this attack on his appearance, so he recycled their insult to use on the police. While this egomaniacal vigilante was writing his tell-all biography to the police, he probably should have including an apology to Catherine for the sexual assault. In previously letters he commented on how strong and courageous the two women were, yet he never comments on his own actions towards them the way he does the murders, as if he doesn’t feel that they’re in any way wrong or deserving of an apology. There was one final piece of the letter that remained…

“Do not let anyone fool you, if any more letters come they are fakes. I am leaving today on my way back to Russia. Please note I do not write USSR. We do not recognize them. There is no one else to begin trouble. It is settled.”

The police weren’t buying this shit for a second. They dismissed the story as a smokescreen for the killer’s true goals and intentions, and did not believe the killings would cease. Police increased their efforts and patrols to try to track down the elusive 3X, but to no avail.

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Fruitless Investigations

            The manhunt went on for a full 19 days, longer than the time between the first murder and the final letter from 3X. Finally, the police commission voiced his opinion that 3X was telling the truth and that his mission was complete. The patrols ended, but the investigations did not. Countless leads were followed and tactics employed, but the police continued to come up empty handed. They brought in over 50 men for questioning, but all of them were rejected by Catherine and Betty.

              The closest they came to something substantial was the interrogation of a Russian sexton named Nicholas la Roche. He was a narcotics addict who somewhat resembled the descriptions of 3X, and his handwriting, obtained from a forged narcotics prescription, bore some similarities to the handwritten 3X letters. It took Catherine and Betty half an hour to decide, but they agreed he was not the man they were looking for.

              Countless letters and threats continued to flow in to news outlets and the police, and the mayor even received threatening phone calls from someone purporting to be 3X. Despite all the threats and warnings, no more murders took place. Further, after the final letter from 3X, none of the other letters contained the inverted V and regular V before 3X, the symbol of the Red Diamond of Russia, that had appeared in all of 3X’s genuine letters.

              Eventually, interest in the case waned. Despite having many of the hallmarks of cases that capture the public’s imagination for decades like the Zodiac Killer and Son of Sam, the 3X murders were fading into obscurity. It wasn’t until six years later that any interest in the case would reemerge.

              In 1936, a young man came forward to confess to the 3X murders. Predictably, he gave many conflicted accounts of events with lots of incorrect details across all the various tellings. Furthermore, Catherine and Betty both immediately dismissed him as the murderer, with Betty saying “The man you want was older in 1930 than this man is today.” The young man was deemed a “mental case” and committed to the facility at Creedmore.

              That was the last lead there would be in this case, and to this day the identity of 3X remains a complete and total mystery.

Mo Money Mo Problems

            So did 3X belong to a secret, international group known as the Red Diamond of Russia that contained members all over the world, despite no one in recorded history having ever heard mention of this group outside of 3X’s references to it in this particular case? In a word, no. In two words, fuck no.

              Even in 1930, no one believed this. Hats off to the general populous back then for assuming he was a madman and that the Red Diamond was a mythical creation; the last thing Americans in the Great Depression needed to deal with was QAnon conspiracies. But if his entire story was a lie, then who was he?

              I already said that the mystery is unsolved, but there are still things we know, and there were a lot of theories. Probably the most important things we know are the things that 3X knew. He knew about Joseph Mozynski. He knew a lot about Joseph Mozynski. He knew where Joseph went to have his affairs, how many women he had been with, where his out of state brother lived, and so on. 3X spoke of him in the papers as being a rascal (presumably much more insulting in 1930) and a rat, but didn’t seem to speak of Noel at all.

This would tend to indicate that either Joseph was the real target and Noel was just an unfortunate victim used to publicize the elaborate cover story, or that at least Joseph was a much more personal target for the killer. 3X seemed overtly desperate for publicity. It probably didn’t matter how ridiculously unbelievable his cover story was, he just needed people to be too focused on the myth and the possibility of a mass murderer to give Joseph the proper amount of scrutiny.

We also know that 3X was, for lack of a better term, a pathetic incel. He liked to speak highly of women, but he clearly had no respect for them at all. He also had some strange religious and moral code of his own making. Papers at the time referred to his as a “cabalistic zealot, who believes himself consecrated, by some deity of his own fancy, to the extermination of lovers.”

A less important fact is that 3X had fish eyes. This isn’t particularly relevant, I just wanted to hurt his feelings. It does definitely feel like something the sketch artists could have done a better job of capturing, however.

Probably the most relevant piece of evidence is the baseball pool ticket that was found on Joseph’s body.

Does something immediately jump out at you, Simon? The original note that 3X handed to Catherine read “Joseph Mozynski  3X 3-X-907.” This ticket says 067 instead of 907, but that’s still really, really similar. In fact, all of the codes for the documents he was allegedly after were strikingly similar to the types of codes printed on baseball lottery tickets. I wish I could take credit for digging this all up on my own, but these facts were widely reported and would surely have been investigated by the police. Then again, police said they weren’t expecting the third murder to take place on the expertise of several detectives who were acquainted with the effects of the moon on lunatics, so who knows what law enforcement was actually up to.

Joseph was known to bet on baseball, and he had just deposited $8,000 into the bank that his family had no way to account for. Noel also had a large sum of money in his car at the time he died. The most likely solution seems to be that these two were targeted for death for something related to sports betting. Perhaps they owed money to the wrong people. Given how much money Joseph had deposited, the fact that he had this winning ticket on his person when he died, and how much more personal his death felt, maybe his crime was winning too much. Remember Joe, the house always wins.

Wrap Up

              Nearly 100 years later, it is highly unlikely that this case will ever be solved. While the Red Diamond of Russia never existed, the murderer and rapist 3X was unfortunately very real. With so much of his own attention placed to his ridiculous cover story, his true motives are impossible to determine. For how strong the evidence is that it was tied to gambling, we can’t discount the fact that this was purely a sick, sadistic individual who really did not like adultery. While it’s depressing that such a monster could go on to live the rest of his life with no repercussions, at least I can take solace in the fact that he’s long since dead now.

Dismembered Appendixes

              These are all from one page of one news article. Seriously, it’s only like 500 words.

              This was supposed is to be a piece of journalism about two people who were murdered, not an editorial piece on how pleasing to the eye their lovers were. Kindly keep your 1930s era misogyny out of my research. The people come here for murder, despair, and maybe the occasional heist, not for your disgusting chauvinism.  

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