Suspects But No Murderers
On October 16, 1920, Special Officers Preston Anslyn and William A. Moller were following two burglars in the 3800 block of Juanita Avenue during a heavy fog. One or both burglars shot the officers from a gangway as they walked onto the lawn of a house, where they thought the burglars entered.
The officers both suffered fatal wounds, which killed them instantly. As both officers collapsed to the lawn after being shot in the chest, three witnesses saw two men flee from the area. The witnesses said one of the suspects had a peculiar walk like Charles Chaplin. The distinctive walk provided the best clue to the St. Louis Police Department in their attempts to identify the suspects.
A promising lead arose in late November, when St. Louis Police arrested two young brothers, who had committed 14 street robberies over the past few months. One of the brothers, Harlan Downey, lost his big toe, when he was shot in the foot during fighting in World War I. The injury caused Downey to shuffle along like the famous comedian.
However, Harlan Downey was 23-years-old. The witnesses agreed that the shuffling suspect from the Anslyn and Moller murders was about 40 years old.
Harlan and his 19-year-old brother Frank, a Navy deserter, robbed a number of men beginning on October 22, 1920 and ending with their arrest on November 23, 1920. The men carried out most of the robberies within a few blocks of Harlan’s house, 1124 Madison Street. Frank lived with his brother and Harlan’s family.
With most of the robberies occurring on the North Side and the disparity in age between Harlan and the witnesses’ description, St. Louis Police prosecuted them for 14 robberies but dropped them as suspects in the Anslyn and Moller murders.
In July 1921, the St. Louis Police Department received a tip about a much more viable suspect. Oscar Olsen was an ex-convict known to be working as a burglar in early 1920. Olsen was middle-aged and had a distinctive shuffling gate. When he was arrested for casing places in Pontiac, Illinois with another ex-convict named Shaw, St Louis Police thought they may finally have the killers of Anslyn and Moller.
Unfortunately, Olsen was able to prove he left St. Louis before the summer and had an actual job in Chicago, Illinois before returning to crime. Chicago Police were able to verify Olsen was working in Chicago at the time of the officers’ murders.
With Olsen’s alibi, St. Louis Police lost their last viable suspect. Although the case was never closed, they were never able to solve it. The murderers have been dead for a long time. If they were 40 in 1920, they would have been born in 1880. It is one mystery, which will never be solved.
Sources: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 17, 1921 edition, p. 34 and St Louis Star-Times, November 24, 1920 edition, p. 1-2, July 26, 1921 edition, p. 7Pin It