Once upon a crime: Wine bar uncorks Ridge’s bloody history

Extra, extra!: Local historian Henry Stewart pulled harrowing headlines from the newspapers of the past for his lecture “True Crime Bay Ridge.”
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

He is pouring over criminal history!

Bay Ridge was not always the peaceful neighborhood it is today. A local history sleuth will spill open the truth about some of the neighborhood’s grisliest, most ghastly moments in “True Crime Bay Ridge,” at the Owl’s Head wine bar on May 18. The stories are sure to have your hair standing on end while you make your cautious way home, he said.

“The only thing that makes a murder story more interesting is when it’s set on streets you know,” said Henry Stewart. “I think people will be as fascinated as people reading the Brooklyn Eagle were in the 1930s.”

Stewart sifted through hundreds of editions of that defunct newspaper — which has no relationship to the current publication of the same name — to discover clippings of crimes that could come out of a mid-century pulp fiction novel — including one deadly Prohibition-era shootout at a bar with an eerily similar name to the one where Stewart will discuss the deadly encounter.

According to the Bay Ridge historian, two seedy groups of rival bootleggers were negotiating at the Owl’s Head Tavern, which once stood on the corner of 69th street and Third Avenue. When the deal went sour, shots rang out through the watering hole’s windows. The noise attracted a plainclothes cop who charged in, his own gun blazing. When the dust settled, said Stewart, the policeman discovered that he had shot another officer — a corrupt cop involved in the bootlegging biz!

Another bloody story occurred a decade later, when a harmless old woman rumored to be wealthy beyond imagining was murdered in her decrepit Shore Road mansion.

“She even told the Eagle that something could happen to her because of these rumors,” said Stewart. “A couple years later, just before Christmas, they found her body in the cellar, her head smashed in with an axe. It was never solved.”

Stewart will show off newspaper clippings, photos from the scenes of the crimes, and other historical evidence in a slide show during the talk.

Stewart regularly hosts events at the wine bar, telling stories for the R train’s 100th anniversary, discussing the kidnapping of Charley Ross in the 19th century, and hosting regular readings from the Bay Ridge Poets Society. But his latest tales of criminal behavior looks to be the most popular yet, according to Facebook.

If the bar reaches capacity, as social media suggests it might, Stewart plans to repeat his terrible tales of Old Bay Ridge in a few weeks.

“True Crime Bay Ridge,” at the Owl’s Head [479 74th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Bay Ridge, (718) 680–2436, www.theowlsheads.com]. May 18 at 7:30 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlynch@cnglocal.com.

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