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Murder Book Looks at Historic Killings on Staten Island

By Nicholas Rizzi | October 2, 2013 9:52am
 Historian Patricia Salmon's new book, "Murder and Mayhem on Staten Island," will detail 12 grisly murders in pre-World War II Staten Island.
Historian Patricia Salmon's new book, "Murder and Mayhem on Staten Island," will detail 12 grisly murders in pre-World War II Staten Island.
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Patricia Salmon

STATEN ISLAND — The murderous history of Staten Island is being highlighted in a new book.

Historian Patricia Salmon's latest book, "Murder and Mayhem on Staten Island," will detail a dozen grisly cases from the borough's pre-World War II history.

"The 12 murders are not related, but they did make news around the country when they occurred," she said. "Some of them, people are still talking about. Eight or nine are long forgotten."

Salmon, 53, a teacher at Wagner College and retired history curator for the Staten Island Museum, pored over newspaper clippings for a year for the book, narrowing down the killings she found to  the dozen most interesting.

"It was a matter of what really struck me as being interesting and, in some cases, said something about our society," Salmon said.

One case, the earliest talked about in the book, was the 1843 "Witch of Staten Island" case, where Polly Bodine was accused of murdering a mother and her young daughter, and pilloried in the press for her unorthodox lifestyle, Salmon said.

"She and her husband had been divorced, she was living with a man without getting married," Salmon said. "For that time period, she was considered very, very bold There's some people who feel that she was being picked on."

After a house fire on Christmas Day in 1843, investigators found the dead bodies of Emeline Houseman and her 20-month-year-old daughter, Ann Eliza.

Bodine was accused of brutally murdering the Housemans in their home, then setting it on fire to cover her tracks, Salmon said.

The story made national headlines. Bodine was dubbed "The Witch of Staten Island," and the case was covered by famed author Edgar Allen Poe when he worked as a crime reporter.

Salmon said Bodine was tried three times and eventually found not guilty.

While it might be the most famous case in her book, the most interesting for Salmon happened in 1924 a block from where she grew up.

Maude Vauer was forced to drive off South Avenue to avoid a truck.  Leaving her mother and two daughters in the car as, she went to find help, Salmon said.

After a motorist stopped, Vauer got in the car to grab a rope to pull her car out. She was found 10 minutes later with two bullet holes in her head, Salmon said.

Her accused murderer, Harry Hoffman, a film projectionist, was tried four times and eventually found not guilty, but Salmon said in her research all signs pointed to him being the killer.

"That was one that struck me, from the evidence I saw I think he was the guilty party," she said.

In the coming months, Salmon will give talks around the borough to book clubs and other events about the cases in her book. She will be at Wagner College on Nov. 14.

Salmon, who has written two other books about Staten Island, said she plans to continue to work on local history and has enough material for a second murder book.

"I've found that a lot of people had a real interest in local community history, and it's not always so easy to get quality information about our Staten Island community," she said. "

"Murder and Mayhem on Staten Island" will be published by The History Press on Oct. 8.