(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this date in 1943, serial killer Jarvis Theodore Roosevelt Catoe was fried in the federal chair for the murder of Washington D.C. resident named Rose Abramowitz.
The 25-year-old victim, who had married only a month before, had hired Catoe to wax her kitchen floor.
Instead he raped and strangled her, left her sprawled on her bed and made off with $20.
Abramowitz wasn’t Catoe’s first victim and she would not be his last — although she was his first white victim; the previous ones had been black like Jarvis himself. This article summarizes Catoe’s career: homicides in New York City and Washington, beginning in 1935, as well as multiple robberies, rapes, indecent exposures and attempted kidnappings. To add insult to injury, an innocent man, James Matthew Smith, was convicted in his first murder and had already served several years of a life sentence by the time of Catoe’s arrest.
Time magazine called him a “one-man crime wave.” The D.C. police’s failure to catch him resulted in serious public embarrassment for the department and a dressing-down before Congress. Not bad for a killer so obscure his name isn’t even in Wikipedia.
Catoe’s last victim was Evelyn Anderson, a waitress in the Bronx. After he strangled her and left her body in an alley he took her purse and watch and gave it to a lady friend, who gave it to another friend, who gave it to a man who pawned it for $20. The New York Police, who had been checking the local pawn shops, found the watch and traced it through its various handlers, finally landing on Catoe, who had moved back to Washington by then.
He confessed to seven murders that he could remember, but reckoned the real body count was “about ten.” Most, but not all, of his victims had been sexually assaulted. A classic sexual sadist, Catoe stated he suffered from “spells” where he had an uncontrollable urge to kill. These spells tended to happen after he’d been reading detective stories and looking at pornography.
Catoe later retracted all his statements, saying he’d been “sick and weak” and the police and badgered him into making up stories. The jury didn’t buy it: in the Abramowitz trial, they were out for only eighteen minutes before voting for conviction and the death penalty.
He walked into the death chamber singing.