A Murder Outside the Bay Ridge Theater

Lawrence Million and Dorothy Calucci
Via Life, 1937

Part of an ongoing, irregular series of historical articles called True Crime: Bay Ridge.

Dorothy and Eugene Carlucci, married for roughly twenty years, left their home at 356 89th Street, one of a row of six-family houses, on Sunday, June 13, 1937. It was about 7pm, and they were going to see a movie with her sister, Margaret Wilson. They strolled the 1,500 feet to the Harbor Theater, on 92nd and Fourth, today converted into a Harbor Fitness gym, where Dorothy realized, looking at the display signs, that she’d already seen the feature picture there. So they walked down to Third Avenue and caught the trolley northward, toward the Bay Ridge Theater.

The Bay Ridge Theater was the neighborhood’s first proper movie theater, excepting the sites of roving exhibitions in the medium’s early days. It was also the grandest. It opened in 1915 with almost 2,000 seats, and stayed open, in one way or another, until the 1960s. The building still stands, at the corner of 72nd and Third, housing a McDonald’s, Rite Aid and New York Sports Club. It was the setting of a raucous short story, “Double Feature,” by Hubert Selby, who grew up across the street.

That night, there was also a double feature: “The Good Old Soak,” a now-forgotten B-movie with Wallace Beery, and “Personal Property,” a romantic comedy with Robert Taylor and Jean Harlow—who had just died the week before, prematurely, of kidney disease.

The threesome left the theater around 10 o’clock. Frank Lofrisco, a local patrolman, was on duty that night, guarding the theater’s cashier, preparing to visit the bank with the day’s deposits. Lofrisco was idling near the ticket window and watched the three head down the street. Then he saw a woman fall to the ground. She cried, “I’m shot! I’m shot!”

He rushed toward her. No one had even heard a gunshot.

Lawrence Million
Lawrence Million, via Brooklyn Eagle

Lawrence Collette Million, a 18-year-old recent graduate of New Utrecht High School—Fort Hamilton High School wouldn’t open for another four years, and Bay Ridge High School wasn’t coed—lived above a grocery store at 6809 Third Avenue, where he worked as an errand boy; today, it’s a car-service dispatch. Million dreamed, he later said, of becoming an expert in ballistics. (It had been a field of study since at least the 19th century, but just the year before ballistics evidence had prominently been used to clear police involvement in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, leading to the creation of the city’s first crime-detection laboratory.)

Million, whose friends called him Larry, spent the afternoon of Sunday, June 13, with seven of his friends in Coney Island, most of it at a shooting gallery. There, Million pocketed a cartridge, a .22; he had bought a rifle of that caliber two weeks earlier for $3 (roughly $50, adjusted for inflation). He also owned two pistols, a derringer and a double-barrel, the kind gamblers used in the Old West.

He ended that Sunday up on his roof, pointing his .22-caliber rifle, loaded with the Coney Island bullet, at the electric lights of the Bay Ridge Theater almost four blocks away—almost 1,000 feet. He wanted to test the range of his new gun. He aimed five feet above the marquee.

Bay Ridge Theater
Bay Ridge Theater, ca. 1959, with electric lights

The bullet had entered Dorothy Carlucci’s body under the left shoulder blade, went through her left lung and her heart and stopped in the membrane around her right lung. The medical examiner at Kings County Hospital said it had been fired levelly and not from a nearby rooftop—probably not imagining it could have come from a rooftop four blocks away.

Dorothy had been arm-in-arm with her husband and sister when hit, and she collapsed to the ground. “I’m shot, Gene!” she screamed. Patrolman Lofrisco picked her up off Third Avenue and took her back inside the movie theater, to the office of manager Samuel Rose, and a doctor was summoned from Norwegian Hospital (a precursor to Lutheran, then on 46th and Fourth). Almost two thousand people were still inside the theater, unaware that a woman was dying in the office.

Dorothy Carlucci would be carried out dead. She was 39.

Dozens of police officers were quickly engaged, but investigators were initially baffled. No one saw anyone running from the scene. No one had heard the shot. At 6am, police began searching nearby roofs and cellars, but turned up no weapons or clues. Her husband, Gene, insisted he had no enemies, even though he owned a trucking business on Renwick Street in Manhattan, near the Holland Tunnel; he hadn’t even been called to testify in a recent high-profile trucking-racket investigation.

“How am I ever going to break it to him?” Gene kept saying. “The poor kid, the poor kid.” He was talking about their son, Eugene Jr., a 20-year-old studying agriculture at Cornell.

Lawrence Million arrest
Million (right) with Detective Brierton (left), via Brooklyn Eagle

Despite the medical examiner’s report, the initial theory was that someone had been shooting at the marquee lights; tenants of a nearby apartment house recalled two boys “taking pot shots with a rifle from the roof,” the Eagle reported, and a tailor with a storefront at 7217 Third Avenue that a year earlier a shop window had been smashed in a similar way.

It took the questioning of neighborhood boys to find Million. After firing his shot, he had seen the crowd, gone rushing downstairs and learned from his friends, three of them, who had been near the theater to see the effects of the shot, told him what had happened. His friends promised “they wouldn’t give [him] over,” he later told police.

But it took less than a day for Detective James Brierton to find him and arrest him. Million wore “a well-worn pair of dungarees and a shirt without a necktie,” the Eagle reported. “When he appeared at the lineup his wavy brown hair and boyish appearance was a distinct departure from the usual types which come under the brilliant glare of the ‘quiz platform.’”

The police who interrogated him reportedly liked him, or at least appreciated his frankness and sincerity. “The youth never shed a tear during his entire ordeal,” the Eagle reported, “but it appeared to be the tearlessness of the deepest grief.”

Such sympathy for Million pervaded much of the Eagle’s coverage. Less than a week after the shooting, the paper ran an item about the boy’s mother, Marie (also, like Dorothy, married to a Eugene, though hers had died), who had a heart condition and had collapsed when she heard the news about her son. She attended Dorothy’s funeral and announced that the new widower had told her he would not press homicide charges; that he would “offer sufficient aid to make it unnecessary for me to hire an expensive attorney”; and “do what he can to obtain [Larry Million’s] freedom.”

Larry was being held at the Raymond Street jail (once the borough’s main prison, “Brooklyn’s Bastille,” closed in 1963; Raymond Street was later renamed Ashland Place). His mother was trying to raise the $10,000 bail, even though he had told her not to. “This has always been a respectable family, and I’ve never gone through anything like this” she told the Eagle. “Oh, how I hope to God this thing had never happened!”

A few days later, Larry’s old boss at the grocery story said he would rehire him.

“There seems to be a lot of misplaced sympathy for Lawrence Million,” A LAW-ABIDING CITIZEN wrote to the Eagle that July. “But what about Mrs. Carlucci’s relatives? I haven’t seen or heard any sympathy expressed for them.

“I do hope this boy gets the limit of the law. What earthly right did he have to be shooting out electric lights on a theater? Electric signs are private property and he is old enough to respect the rights of others.”

Lawrence Million trial
Million (right) in court with Brierton (left), via Brooklyn Eagle

On June 30, Million was indicted on charges of first degree manslaughter, and his bail was lowered to $1,000. Almost five months later to the day, on Monday November 29, just four days after Thanksgiving, Million pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, likely the result of a deal.

When Marie heard he’d pleaded guilty, she had to be led from the courtroom, screaming.

Two weeks later he was sentenced. The defense asked for leniency. Larry had a good reputation. If he were sent to jail, it would devastate his widowed, hard-working mother. Plus, “the specter of the tragedy is always before Lawrence. He has repeatedly told me so. He is remorseful, repentant. The shooting was entirely accidental. The pangs of conscience he will always suffer should be punishment enough.”

“You have drawn a pathetic picture of the family,” Judge Peter J. Brancato said. “But you have not included all the factors. The death of Mrs. Carlucci was caused by malicious conduct. The defendant admits he was firing at bulbs at the theater, and that act alone constituted a violation of the law in utter disregard of the rights of others.”

The judge sentenced Million to an indefinite term in the New York Vocational Institution, in West Coxsackie, New York.

Lawrence Million turns up once more in the Brooklyn Eagle archives, almost seven years after his sentencing—on August 9, 1944. He has lost the haunted, wounded look he so often possessed in photos at the time of the shooting; his face is fuller, older, and his hair is shaggy.

It’s in a column, “From Overseas,” and Million had just received the Air Medal in England. He was serving as a tail gunner on a Flying Fortress, and had been overseas since May of that year. There’s no mention of his crime, or of whether he was released to fight in the war or if he had been released earlier. (Newspapers often do a decent job of reporting on crimes and the justice system, but they rarely follow through.)

All we have is this photo of him—smiling a goofy grin.

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Lawrence Million
Via Brooklyn Eagle