Sunday, May 12, 2013

Murder of the Publisher: Who Killed Claude Kendall?

Death on the Eighth Floor
a grim murder mystery
at the Madison Hotel
On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1937, former publisher Claude H. Kendall (1890-1937) was found beaten to death in his room on the eighth floor of the Madison Hotel, at 21 East 27th Street, near Madison Avenue (this is the narrow, mansard-roofed structure on the left side of the photograph to the right).

Around 11:00 a.m. a maid discovered Kendall dead on the floor, a bed sheet wrapped loosely around his neck. Kendall had a black eye, lacerations on the lips, a swollen jaw, hemorrhages on the head and body and lacerations below the knees, the latter probably caused from kicking.

An inebriated Kendall had been put to bed in his room by two friends shortly after midnight.

However, Kendall later emerged from his room and went down to the hotel restaurant, where he joined "a slightly built youthful white man." This other man was "a familiar figure in the Madison Square district where Kendall lived."

Kendall returned with this man to his, Kendall's, room around 3:30 a.m., according to the hotel elevator operator.  About a half-hour later, a tenant on the floor above, a writer, heard noises in Kendall's room like thumping on a heating pipe.  These thumps continued at intervals for half an hour.

When he was found dead later that day, Kendall, apparently a lifelong bachelor whom other tenants described as "a quiet man," had no money in his room.

This is all I have discovered about this real-life murder so far.  Two days after the murder, the New York police predicted a quick arrest, but I have not yet found a news report of one.

Claude Kendall was born in 1890 in Watertown, New York, located in the northwestern part of the state near Lake Ontario.  Kendall's brother Clarence was business manager of the Watertown Daily Times, still in circulation today.  Claude Kendall had left Watertown for New York City around 1910, joining an investment firm.  He also studied for two years at New York University before serving in the navy during the Great War. 

In 1929 he started a publishing firm, Claude Kendall, Inc. Between 1934 and 1936, he went into publishing partnership with William Willoughby Sharp (1900-1955), a former stockbroker, and the firm's name was changed to Claude Kendall and Willoughby Sharp, Inc.  In 1936, the wealthy Sharp seems to have left the firm, and it went bankrupt.  After he was murdered the next year, Kendall was reported to have been employed in the last year of his life a "salesman in a publishing house."

Claude Kendall had a sad fate, but at least he enjoyed some notable years as an independent publisher.  Probably his firm is best known for publishing two popular crime novels of a sort by Tiffany Ellsworth Thayer (1902-1959), Thirteen Men and, naturally enough, Thirteen Women (the latter book was made into a film thriller starring Myrna Loy).  He also published a small number of detective novels, including two written by his publishing partner Willoughby Sharp.  I will be talking about some of these books over the next few weeks.


  1. Looks like he was going the route of what Macaulay specialized in: tawdry sex fiction, titillating topics like drug addiction, and a fascination with the exotic East. I see that British detective novelist Andrew Soutar had one of his books published by Kendall (Secret Ways) as well as pulp writer and screenwriter Wilson Collison, author of the inept The Woman in Purple Pajamas reviewed on my blog a few months ago.

  2. I'll have to look at that, John. Some of Collison's books are classified as "mystery" but they sound more like "spicy" melodramas to me. I notice that his name is connected to a lot of things in Hollywood, including the Harlow-Gable film Red Dust and the Barbra Stanwyck vehicle The Mad Miss Manton.

    I'm going to be sticking to the true detective novels that Kendall published, however!

  3. This is a bit cryptic, although I'm sure it's the fault of the source material. Is it intended to suggest that Kendall was having a gay encounter that went wrong? That's the sub-text I was getting from the description of the other guy. What's your read on this? I was unable to find anything further online and I don't have much in the way of reference material for true crime, so if you can't shed any light it will remain a mystery to me forever LOL.

  4. Noah, it does sound like he may have been killed and robbed by a gay hustler, perhaps? It's very frustrating that the investigation seems to have petered out, so to speak. But maybe something will turn up. In the meantime, I'm going to look at this publishing career!

  5. I've been researching a tree for my friend who has Claude in her family tree. I just recently came across the articles about his murder both in NY and MANY other cities in NY including his birth town of Watertown. I haven't found any follow-up as to the killer other than an article which promised an "early arrest" of the killer but apparently none was ever found.
    I can tell you from my heavy research into old newspapers etc that this might have all been hushed up when it was realized what "caused" the murder. Possibly Claude in his drunken state THOUGHT the young man was a hustler and when he came on to him "gay rage" took over. But the clues in the articles are clear. Claude is frequently described as a bachelor of 46" (actually 47 as he was born in July 1890 and died in November 1937) and the killer described as a "slightly built YOUTH" all seems to suggest that this was a gay (or supposedly gay) encounter. Articles also mention that the suspected killer was a “known habitué” of the hotel restaurant, which implies there was a REASON he was “known” to hotel employees. The first article says the man Claude took to his room was a “stranger to hotel employees” so the fact he WAS known to hotel employees was discovered later.
    I don't know what Claude looked like but Claude had a twin brother, Frederick William Kendall who in his WWI draft card lists himself as "tall, slender and blond with blue eyes" so I assume Claude looked the same,.
    IT is likely IF there was a "gay element" to the murder, it was likely kept out of the newspapers aas NYC was REALLY cracking down on Gay men at the time of Claude's death. Frequent raids on restaurants, bars and especially Auto Mats were done. Auto Mats were a good cruising spot where men could meet sitting at different tables and talking across the aisles then arranging to meet elsewhere at a later time to avoid "detection!"
    THis is reported in the book "Gay New York" and was actually treated in the Broadway play "The Nance" starring Nathan Lane.
    I kow legally these things had to be reported in the paper, however Ive discovered a trick families used by publishing it in a paper FAR from where they lived to lessen the likelihood that neighbors would see it. Another tree I did I found an obit for a great grandfather of a friend in Syracuse, NY which was unusual. THen a few weeks later I stumbled upon another obit published in the Schenectady, NY newspaper saying he had committed suicide!
    SO likely conclusion is that Claude's killer was likely found, and likely confessed (thus no trial) or the trial was kept from the press so as not to "embarrass" the family

    1. Wow - interesting story. I also am part of the Claude Kendall family tree. My father told me the story of his uncle Claude's unsolved murder. His retelling has the crime scene incorrectly has Claude's publishing office, not the Madison Hotel. Perhaps this was an innocent error or perhaps a story his father, Clarence, told the family to divert attention from the fact that his brother was living in a pay-by-the-week hotel rather than an apartment. I strongly suspect that Clarence met with and spoke with NYPD when he retrieved the body and got the whole truth which he hid from his own family. If you are still digging around on this topic, if NYPD could open their archives, you could read the case file, which will give all the details. I'd also be interested in knowing.

  6. Thanks so much for your post.. I would love to hear further from you if you dig anything else up on this. I wrote more about Claude Kendall in my introduction to the Willoughby Sharp mystery reprints. I definitely agree with your take.

  7. Thanks for your comment. DON't know if there's a way to contact me directly through this site but if not I can send you me email address and I can send you the articles I found as I have saved them if you haven't seen them. What is the Willoughby Sharp reprints? A book? I'd love to get a copy for my friend whose family I',m researching.
    Her line goes back through Fred Y. Ingalls whose lder sister was Clara M. Ingalls. Clara married Martin William Kendall and had oldest son, Clarence (mentioned in the articles as he went to NYC to bring Claude's body home to Watertown) Claude Henry and his twin brother, Frederick William were the youngest of four children.
    Thanks, Robert

  8. Hi, Robert, you can get my email address by clicking my profile link on this page or you can message me at my Facebook page, The Passing Tramp. We reprinted the two mysteries by Willoughby Sharp that Claude Kendall originally published, and I talked about Kendall in some detail there. I didn't know he had a twin brother. Claude was a very interesting person.

  9. That's funny! i found the story about Claude while doing a tree for a good friend of mine. Claude is her great uncle, if i remember correctly.
    one thing to comment, apartments weren't a big thing in NYC at the time especially for a single gentleman. many lived in hotels and many catered to bachelor's. the Madison was a pretty nice hotel at the time. plus no cleaning, hotel did that. and just go downstairs for dinner or piece room service.
    plus ther's a possibility he wanted to be in that area since it was apparently a cruising spot for young men. the articles mention the suspected killed was "well known in the area" so likely visited hotels often. but don't think he was poor living in a cheap hotel, it was great for him to really have no responsibilities to care for an apartment!

  10. Well ... there are several indices mentioned by you and The Passing Tramp that point to Claude's lifestyle. In addition, he moved away from small-town Watertown, where, in those days, his lifestyle would have gained the disfavor of the local population, and, I believe, he never moved back or ever visited. On the day of his unfortunate death, he was spending Thanksgiving alone, far away from his hometown and kin.

    I am from the Kendall lineage, as opposed to the Ingalls. If you ever manage to get a hold of NYPD's archives, I'd be keen to learn more.

  11. yes also if you've seen the articles he was celebrating thanksgiving with a few MALE friends in another room of the hotel and got quite drunk and the friends put him to bed in his own room at 12:30 AM and he got back up at 3AM to go to the diner in the hotel where he met the young man. in those days in 30s NYC had a MAJOR crackdown on gays and there were many arrests. in the book GAY NEW YORK i found that men would hang out in diners or automats (cafeterias) and would cruise there and slyly make plans to meet down the street or something so ad not to draw suspicion. i have a sense the hotel might have catered to our ignored there clientele!
    my friend, if i remember correctly is described from Claude 's mother Clara or sister who married into the Ingalls line. she was born in Watertown also.

  12. Thanks for all the fascinating comments, I’ll have more to say when I get back in town.