In the history of crime in America, if it ever gets written, there will probably be one large chapter headed "The Case of Arnold Schuster." The last sentence should run like this: "And so, through shortsightedness, lack of imagination, and strict adherence to 19th Century methods, the police never found who shot Arnold Schuster."
New York City detectives have blandly proved to the world that the long arm of the law can't see beyond its short nose, at least so far as the Schuster case is concerned.
Pressed for a quick answer to give the press, the inspector settled back in his chair, puffed on a cigar, and said, "It's obvious boys. Schuster puts the finger on this guy Sutton. Sutton has him killed. See?"
But when the inspector read the story in the papers next morning, he was so surprised at his own genius that he fell for the line himself and turned out every man on the force to look for the friend of Willy who killed Arnie. If the inspector had read further than the front pages that day, he would have found some curious facts on Arnie, facts that could have saved the department some frustrating weeks and perhaps drawn out something more, and something bigger, than the Schuster slaying.
Industrious reporters had these interesting notes to add on Arnold Schuster. Before moving to New York, he had lived obscurely in Boston for several years. While there, he had associated with what Boston police called "questionable characters." He moved away as suddenly and as silently as he had come.
His new neighbors in Brooklyn said that the honest, hard-working, little suit salesman, who had sen Willie Sutton by chance and turned him in as any civic minded citizen would do, seemed to be living beyond his known means. These sidelights were just filler to pad out the hot story of the day. But they were interesting filler.
Once the police had Sutton the Celebrated, they tried to tack on him every big, unsolved robbery in the country. The first was the famous Brink's case. They decided that if anyone had master-minded the artful dodge, it was the Actor. But Willy didn't give them much help. He remained silent after a short denial. And the police couldn't find any other link between Sutton and the masked marauders. But there was another sort of link. And under the circumstances, it's hard to escape these conclusions: 1) Willy Sutton had nothing to do with the planning or execution of the Brink's robbery. 2) Arnold Schuster did, or at least knew about it. 3) Schuster was getting money to keep his mouth shut. 4) Willy, out of a job, had stumbled on to something, too. Schuster knew of Sutton's whereabouts, and turned him in to get rid of him and keep his own racket exclusive.
It is, of course, possible that Willy might have had Schuster shot in retaliation. But a supposition like this proves that either the police didn't know Sutton very well, or that Sutton had changed since the days of his Philadelphia jailbreak. As the youngest comic-book fan of Gangbusters will testify, Willy was never a man for violence, especially killing.
It is far more likely that the Brink's gang, not Sutton, had Schuster shot for two reasons: to get him off their necks and to put suspicion for the Brink's job on Willy. Since the police were already trying to pin it on him, the murder would seem to be Willy's way of warning people not to testify at his trial. It almost worked.
There is some argument that by killing Schuster, the Brink's crew would be scaring away witnesses who could put Willy on ice. But anyone who could testify effectively against the Actor probably was informed why Schuster was killed and was assured that he would be safer taking the stand than shying from it. For Willy, times had not been good. He never did have an organized gang; he had only universal sympathy and respect in the underworld.
But there are some organized crime syndicates working in this country--groups that make the Mafia and the old Murder Inc. look juvenile. They are headed by men who are clever enough to keep the Suttons out of their way. As the case stands now, Willy will end his days behind stone walls, lips sealed--not because he won't talk, but because he has nothing to say. Sutton knows how to save his skin, and if he knew anything about Schuster's death, he'd spill it. Honor among thieves is a phrase as out-dated as the cliche about criminals returning to the scene of the crime. In a few months police will stamp "Unsolved" on the folder of Arnold Schuster and tuck it away in an already bulging file. The Brink's case, the biggest lead on it ignored, will get a similar treatment in Boston. And the syndicates will move on.