Phantom of Vailsburg

by Charles McGrath


While Lord only knows we have enough problems today , let me share this "old" one with you for diversion. We all know about the "Phantom of the Opera " but how about the "Phantom of Vailsburg". Back in 1952 A.D. Vailsburg was a very quiet peaceful place to live .Anyone could go anywhere, anytime, even late at night without the fear of compromising one's safety. But suddenly this all changed. Women started reporting that they were being followed by a strange looking man.

My wife's aunt worked for Robert Hall in Irvington in 1952. Most of the time her husband would pick her up from work and drive her home. She lived on Sandford Avenue near 18th Avenue. One night he was unable to pick her up so she had to take the bus home. She took the #94 Stuyvesant Avenue from Irvington to Vailsburg. It left her off at the corner of Stuyvesant and 18th Avenues. That was next to Komishane's Pharmacy. It was after 900 P.M. when she got off the bus and she started walking up 18th Avenue. While it was dark out she didn't feel intimidated because it was Vailsburg; however, when she reached Sandford Avenue things changed. Her aunt sensed that someone was behind her. In looking back she saw a short man around 40 years old following her. She started walking faster and faster as he closed in on her. Then she finally ran the last few steps and was able to get into her house and lock the door. I believe she called the police and he disappeared into the darkness of the night.

As time passed it changed from stalking to violence. If my memory serves me right, I believe there were three assaults committed on women by the "Phantom". One was on Vermont Avenue in a short distance from South Orange Avenue. I'm pretty sure this poor woman was killed by the "Phantom". As one could imagine everyone was concerned for the safety of the vulnerable. The police were all over. They would walk the streets, "walk the beat", which was never seen before in Vailsburg.

A long time passed and nothing further happened. Eventually people stopped worrying about their safety and they moved on. Not unlike today where we soon forget about dangers with the passing of time.

I spoke to my father (he was a member of the N.P.D.) about it in the late 1953's. I said what happened to the "Phantom" ? I said nothing had been heard of him in over a year. He told me that it was thought by law enforcement that the "Phantom" was a city employee. He indicated that he was an alcoholic and that he had committed suicide.

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Reply from Carole Suesser Henderson

I grew up on So. Munn Avenue south of Plymouth St across the street from Vailsburg Park. I graduated from Alexander St School in 1953 and the murder of the woman by the "Vailsburg Phantom" took place while I was in high school. She was killed a few houses north of Plymouth St on Columbia Avenue. My friend and I would take the #31 bus up So. Orange Avenue from Arts High School, and walk down Columbia Avenue because she lived on Isabella Ave. We would stand on the corner of Plymouth and Columbia to talk and then we would go our separate ways. (I know it was after l953 because I did not meet my friend until I was in high school.) The story at that time was a couple who lived on Columbia Avenue had a relative visiting and the man walked her out to So. Orange Ave to take the bus home. They passed a woman coming in from So. Orange Ave and saw on the other side of the street a very large woman walking in the same direction. She was big enough that they discussed her size. The man found the victim when he returned from the bus stop. If I remember correctly she was killed very close to her home on Columbia Avenue.

I also seem to remember that the comedian Jerry Lewis' cousin was attacked by someone who was thought to be the "Vailsburg Phantom". This took place in Irvington, but I don't know what area. I remember the police searching Vailsburg Park and the sewers for the murder weapon. Needless to say, my friend and I never stood on that corner, or any other one, at night after that. It was certainly a change in the life style of many people in the Vailsburg section.

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Reply from Mark Sugalski

What a treat to find your posting. I remember my mother telling me a story about a stalker. She was originally from Brooklyn and married in 1952 and moved to Isabella Avenue with my father. Happily nothing ever happened to her, other than my father playing a joke ( or so he thought ) following her home from 18th Avenue after she got off the 54 bus coming from her job in lower Manhattan. He thought he would scare her ( he can have a weird sense of humor ) and he did......... she wanted to kill him.

Your posting is the only other time I have ever heard of the Vailsburg Phantom, thanks for posting.

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