True Crime Bay Ridge: The Murder of Patsy Hylan

94th and Marine
94th Street, between Marine and Shore, where Patricia Hylan’s body was discovered. Via Google

Part of an ongoing, irregular series of historical articles called True Crime: Bay RidgeThe following is based on dozens of contemporary newspaper accounts from across the country and more than a thousand pages of trial transcript. Where details from different sources contradicted each other, I tried to choose the most plausible. All the names have been changed out of respect for the descendants of those involved.

On Wednesday evening, April 17, 1957, Helen Marino was walking home from a friend’s house. It was dark, and drizzling, as she traveled the one block down Marine Avenue, toward 94th Street, where she lived. She heard moaning. As she reached the corner, a green sedan came speeding up 94th, hooked a right on Marine, and disappeared. She turned down her block, toward the shore, the way the car had come, and the moaning got louder. She saw something across the road—half on the sidewalk, half in the street.

When she realized it was a person, she ran inside and called the police.

Officers from the 64th Precinct responded within minutes. Ninety-fourth Street, just steps from the waterfront, was just two hundred seconds by car from the station house on 86th Street and Fourth Avenue. The patrolmen were looking for No. 52, which Marino had specified, but they stopped instead a few doors past it, in front of No. 58, a one-family A-frame attached on its west-side to another just like it. It was just before midnight.

The police saw it, too: a woman, lying with her head on the curb and her legs in the road. The block was poorly lighted, its only streetlight about 100 feet away from the woman, but the patrol car’s headlights lit up the scene. Her face looked toward the bay; her feet pointed inland. She wore a single pink glove. Her black mouton coat was open, revealing a light-blue wool dress pushed up above her waist, perhaps as high as her chest; she wasn’t wearing shoes or underwear—not even stockings. Her underpants and girdle were loosely looped around her left ankle. One of the officers tried to pull her coat closed.

She showed signs of life: her knees moved up and down, and she would bend her arms; the officer tried to hold down her hand, to stop it from touching her face, which was covered in blood. Dried blood caked under her hair, and her forehead looked like it had been pushed in. Her left ear was barely hanging on. Her face was black-and-blue, and multiple cuts went down so deep you could touch bone. Brain tissue escaped from above her eyes. She moaned. Cops said she looked like she was trying to sit up, but she couldn’t. Two officers held her down by the shoulders.

The woman—gray-eyed, five-foot-six, 115 pounds—couldn’t answer questions, and the patrolmen used their radio car to call for an ambulance, and for their sergeant. Patrolman Sabbatini remained on the scene while Patrolman Sol Albrecht sped to 89th Street and Colonial Road, about five blocks away, to the nearest call box they knew of, to notify the precinct and request detectives. More patrolmen arrived, as did the detectives, the sergeant, and an assistant DA. One patrolman retrieved a doctor, George Edwards, from his home at 121 Marine Avenue, about a block away. The sergeant sent another to fetch the nearest Catholic priest, on the assumption that the woman was Catholic.

It had been raining earlier, and the street was wet, but now it just drizzled. The doctor thought a heated foyer would be a better spot for the woman than the damp street, so, about twenty minutes after the first responders had arrived, two officers put her body on a stretcher and moved it to the Shore Road Nursing Home, which no longer exists but then could accommodate 25 people on the several lots it occupied a few doors down the block. In the lobby, Dr. Edwards checked her pulse and got nothing; her skin was cold. He and a nurse washed some blood from her head and put a sterile dressing over the wound, which seemed severe—it required several four-by-four pieces of gauze just to cover it, to keep out dirt. She seemed to moan when they removed her turban, but when a priest spoke to her, she didn’t respond.

There wasn’t much else to do but wait for the ambulance, which would bring her to Coney Island Hospital. A nurse there described her as kicking, screaming and incoherent. They had to cut her dress off because of the damage to her head. She was bleeding profusely and in shock; doctors couldn’t find a pulse, and they could hardly detect any blood pressure. She barely breathed. They jammed a shot of adrenaline into her heart; it did nothing. They cut open her chest and massaged her heart with their hands, which kept her alive for five or ten minutes. They put her in an iron lung, which gave her another five minutes. She wasn’t pronounced dead until 3:30 a.m.

Patricia Hylan was 19-years-old.

And his second victim.

78th and Third
78th and Third, where Tommy Hutchins lived with his parents and sisters. Photo by Hey Ridge

Tommy Hutchins was 22-years-old, six-foot-two, blond, husky, lumpen faced. He lived with two sisters and their parents on the third floor of the apartment building on the southwest corner of 78th Street and Third Avenue, though he wouldn’t for long: he was engaged to a blonde from the neighborhood, Elizabeth Cagan, and the wedding was set for May 11 at the family’s parish, Our Lady of Angels. She lived on Ovington Avenue, No. 340, at the end of a series of midblock rowhouses.

On Saturday, April 20, exactly three weeks before the wedding day, detectives dropped in at the apartment on 78th Street. They were looking for Hutchins, who wasn’t there. For the past seven months, Hutchins had been working six blocks away, on Third Avenue near 72nd Street—up the block from PS 102, the elementary school he’d graduated from at the age of 15—doing service and installations for Edward Mayor & Company, which dealt in coal, oil burners and heating equipment; the firm operated (and had been for decades) out of what was then the Bay Ridge Theater building, now a McDonald’s and Rite Aid. Hutchins made $65 a week—sometimes, with overtime, as much as $75.

Bay Ridge Theater
The old Bay Ridge Theater building, 72nd and Third. Photo by Hey Ridge

Detectives John Creel and James Kristiansen found Hutchins at Mayor & Company around noon and asked him if they could see his car. Hutchins drove a green sedan, a two-door 1955 Ford, license plate KB 8602, registered to his boss, Howard Mayor. Hutchins used the car for service calls—when police found it, there was a toolbox on the floor in the backseat—but he had permission to use it for his personal affairs, as well, because he would sometimes need it for emergency calls. Hutchins told detectives it was parked around the corner. As the three walked to the car, Hutchins broke the silence.

“I might as well tell you. The car is messed up.”

“What do you mean, ‘The car is messed up’?” Creel asked.

Hutchins told them it was full of blood.

Three days earlier, on April 17, the day Patsy Hylan was killed, Tommy Hutchins had installed an oil burner at 171 15th Street. He kicked off at the usual 5pm, and by 5:30, Hutchins had dropped into the Melody Room, a bar across the street from Mayor’s offices, once a favorite of Bay Ridge novelists Hubert Selby and Gilbert Sorrentino. Hutchins sat at the bar and drank three or four beers over the next two hours—these were short beers, five ounces, maybe four if it had a head; they cost 15 cents apiece ($1.30, adjusted for inflation)—accompanying each with a shot of Seagram’s 7. He didn’t order any of the pretreated sandwiches the bar offered, even though he hadn’t eaten anything since a sandwich at lunch, around 11am.

Melody Room
Former site of the Melody Room bar, 72nd and Third. Photo by Hey Ridge

His girlfriend was out shopping for their upcoming wedding, he later testified. Hutchins had $120 in his pocket, in case he needed to put down a deposit for an apartment for the two of them.

Hutchins’s closest friend, James Warner—whose brother was married to one of Hutchins’s sisters—showed up about 7pm with his girlfriend, Lynn Eston. Their friend Larry Macduff came in, maybe half an hour later. Hutchins drank probably eight more beers. He played a guessing game with the other customers involving fistfuls of matches. He chatted with the bartender about baseball, and joked about getting married soon. “You must be getting bad now,” the bartender chided him, “you’re starting to count the days left.”

Hutchins bought a belt or two from a partially blind boy who came in, who made his living selling belts from tavern to tavern; he also bought a set of cufflinks and tie clasp from a woman who came in hawking clothes and costume jewelry. Macduff had spent almost an hour in the bar’s phone booth, and when he came out he gathered Warner, Eston and Hutchins for a trip downtown to a cabaret where you could dance to a live band. They left the Melody Room sometime between 8:30pm and 9pm. Hutchins wasn’t drunk, Warner testified. “I’d say he was feeling good, though.”

“Would you say he was feeling very high?” the defense attorney asked at the murder trial.

“I would.”

The group piled into Hutchins’s car, which was parked 100 feet away, near Ovington Avenue, where his fiancee lived. They picked up Eston’s daughter from her home at 345 20th Street, and took her back to her grandmother’s house on Ovington Avenue, between Fifth and Sixth. While Eston ran the child upstairs, the men left Tommy to get cigarettes at the bowling alley on the corner of Fifth (now the billiards hall), and when Eston came downstairs, she waited and chatted with Hutchins for ten minutes or so, during which time, she testified, he was coherent.

Former bowling alley on Ovington, where Hutchins’s friends stopped for cigarettes

When the guys got back, everyone got in the car, and Hutchins took the streets, stopping for red lights along the way, to the Park Terrace Bar & Grill, on Park Place and Flatbush Avenue. But Hutchins and Warner couldn’t get served at the bar, because they weren’t wearing jackets and ties—Hutchins was still dressed in his workclothes: denim jacket, whipcord trousers and a checked flannel shirt; his buddy wore a jacket but no tie.

The group split up. Eston had friends inside; she went in with Macduff while Hutchins and Warner went across the street for 20 minutes into a cabaret and drank three or four whiskeys each, before Warner went back to the Park Terrace to get Eston; they had a fight, and she got in a cab back to Bay Ridge. Hutchins, at this point, was “very ‘high,’” Warner testified, but he still drove the other two fellas home. He drove Warner to Eston’s place on 20th Street (not to his own place, at 7223 Fourth Avenue), then took the highway at Prospect Avenue, got off around Owl’s Head Park, and dropped Macduff at his place, 7504 Third Avenue.

Then Hutchins went back to the Melody Room.

Leon Hylan, Jr., identified his sister’s body on the afternoon of April 18, hours after she’d died in Coney Island Hospital. The 28-year-old worked in the police department, as a patrolman in Manhattan. His father, Leon, Sr., twenty years his senior, was a packer at a chewing gum plant. Junior cried when he saw Patsy’s ring. “I gave it to her myself,” he said. Leon lived with his brown-haired sister and their parents at 552 73rd Street, the keys to which, recovered from the victim, Junior also identified: the long one for the front door of the building, the short one for the front door of the apartment, on a ring, decorated with charms, that Leon had bought Patsy a few years ago for her birthday.

He was relieved of his routine duties after his sister’s murder so he could assist in the investigation.

251 72nd Street
251 72nd Street, where Hutchins’s (green, not red!) car was parked. Photo by Hey Ridge

The following Saturday, April 20, Hutchins and the two detectives walked to Hutchins’s car, parked in front of 251 72nd Street, today a handsome rowhouse with a slanted roof and bay windows. When Hutchins unlocked the door, a detective noted the car had new seat covers—green, with white and yellow stripes, which Hutchins had bought at the Strauss department store on 67th and Fifth the previous day—over the front and back seats, which were indeed stained: dark stains, brownish, or a deep red, mostly on the passenger side of the vehicle, in the front seat and the back, on the floor, the cracks in the floor.

Hutchins told them that on Wednesday night, the night Patsy Hylan turned up on the 94th Street curb almost dead with 17 skull fractures, his car had been stolen, even though he had locked it. He was drinking at the Melody Room, came out around 8pm or 9pm and found his car missing, then went back and had a few more drinks, and came back out at midnight to find it returned, the windows locked, the car full of blood.

Blood-stained seat covers (actual photo), from author’s collection

The detectives brought Hutchins to the station—in his own car, because they’d walked there. Hutchins rode in the front seat, on the passenger side.  

The detectives parked the car out front, and other officers then moved it to the station garage, where a third detective had it photographed, and removed various objects and articles: a pair of workman’s coveralls from the backseat, the stains on the legs of which would later test positive for blood; a screwdriver from the glove compartment, whose handle also tested positive; and a cardboard box of tools from the trunk, including a ballpeen hammer, both of which tested positive, too. So did the backseat of the car. And the work clothes he was wearing when he was taken into custody. Another detective found a woman’s purse under the driver’s seat.

That afternoon, the Hylans were at Joseph Redmond’s, a funeral home at 476 73rd Street, down the block from their home, making arrangements for Patsy.

Present-day site of Joe and Howard’s ice cream parlor. Via Google

On her last night, Patsy Hylan went out. She sometimes went to bars on weekends, at least that’s what some of Tommy’s friends later testified, but this was a Wednesday; she had left her home about 8:30pm, the same time Hutchins was heading downtown, to go shopping, perhaps for an Easter hat, she’d told her mother. Then she walked to a local ice-cream parlor, Joe and Howard’s, half a block south of the Melody Room, on the west side of Third Avenue, No. 7208, which was her regular hangout.

She spotted a few friends, guys, who were having coffee in a booth in the middle of the store, and she joined them for half an hour, maybe less. When she left, she stayed outside to talk with a girlfriend, Alice, then stood by herself in front of the candy store on the corner of 72nd Street. Half a dozen acquaintances saw her outside; some saw her leaning against the front fender of a car, others as she crossed Third Avenue and walked up 72nd Street, toward Fourth Avenue.

“She was choosy about her friends,” a deputy chief inspector told the Associated Press a few days later. “She did not drink. She was clean living. Her relatives and friends insisted that she was not the kind of a girl who would accept a ride from a stranger.” But maybe they were being dishonest, refusing to speak what-they-considered-ill of the dead; the same article describes her dead body as fully dressed.

She disappeared from view to those on Third Avenue as she passed the building on the corner.

That’s where Hutchins caught up with her.

Upstairs at the station house, Hutchins was brought into the squad commander’s office, where about seven detectives, inspectors, captains, and lieutenants had gathered. No one read him his rights; Miranda v. Arizona wouldn’t be decided for almost ten years. Inspector Walter Hanning asked Hutchins to explain the blood. Hutchins said he couldn’t.

“I am not going to kid you,” Hanning told him, according to his testimony at trial. “You are in on something serious, but you might as well tell the truth, because you are not going to improve your position by making us to go through a lot of checks all day, and taking hours to do something we can do in minutes.

“Now, that blood on your car has to be explained. Did you kill this girl?”

“Yes,” Hutchins said, “I did.”

The conversation had lasted about six minutes. Hutchins also admitted that he had killed before. He also reportedly said he had assaulted nine others, two of whom were immediately brought to the station and identified him as their attacker.

News of the arrest worked its way through the neighborhood, and locals began to gather at the precinct house. Police had to erect barricades to keep them on the sidewalks across the street. At least five hundred people had turned up—some estimated the crowd at three thousand.

72nd Street, east of Third Avenue, where Hutchins met Hylan. Photo by Hey Ridge

Hutchins stayed at the Melody Room only for a half hour, enough to drink two or so beers. He left about 10:30pm, got in his car, which he’d parked near a taxi stand on the south side of the street, and was waiting for the light at Third Avenue when he saw Hylan walk across the intersection. When the light changed, Hutchins caught up to her just past the avenue, opened the passenger-side door and asked her if she wanted a ride. She did; her foot was sore, so much so she had taken the day off work from her job as a filing clerk at an insurance company near Columbus Circle. Hutchins knew Hylan from seeing her around the Melody Room the last two months. On the way, she talked about her sore foot. He stopped around the corner from her parents’ place, on Sixth Avenue. They sat in the car and talked. Then they started necking, Hutchins said.

But the block was too bright, so Hutchins drove her down 73rd Street, past Third Avenue, where it starts to get quieter, and stopped near Ridge Boulevard, around the library and the Episcopal church. They started necking again. “I thought like she was going to give out,” Hutchins later told police. She got out of the car, pushed the seat forward, and got into the backseat. Hutchins climbed back there too. She might have taken her underpants off. But every time he tried to take it to the next level, she said, “not yet.” She wanted a few drinks first. She wanted to go to the Melody Room.

The scene of the murder, 73rd Street, near Ridge Boulevard. Photo by Hey Ridge

But Hutchins didn’t. “Later,” he told her. He sat back. She pulled back, then moved toward him again, put her arms around him, kissed him. He put his left hand above her knee, on her thigh. They kissed some more, and she told him, “not yet.” They kissed some more, and she told him, “not yet.” She’d been in his car about twenty minutes.

There was a hammer nearby on the floor, a ball-peen hammer; it weighed about ten ounces, had about a twelve-inch handle. He grabbed it. He didn’t say anything; he just hit her, a few times, at least. He didn’t know how many times. “I blew my top,” he later told the cops. “I went nuts.” But he also said he wasn’t angry. “It was a feeling that got over me,” he said. “I started to shake.”

The murder weapon (actual photo), from author’s collection

The medical examiner testified he hit her at least nineteen times.

Then he climbed back into the front seat and drove. He drove all the way to some block in the 90s, one he didn’t know, then stopped, dragged her out of the car, and laid her out in the street, with her head on the curb. Then he drove home on Third Avenue, parked his car at about 1am, went upstairs and got six hours of sleep.

The entrance to Hutchins’s apartment. Photo by Hey Ridge

In the morning, he tossed her handbag and her shoes in somebody’s garbage can on Third Avenue, at 71st Street, or close to it. (Dozens of sanitation workers and detectives would later search through tons of trash on Staten Island looking for them.) Then he went to work. After his shift, Hutchins went to Strauss and bought new seat covers, and then he went to see his fiancée. He put the seat covers on the next morning, Friday, the day before police would visit him at work.

(During trial, the defense briefly but vigorously cross-examined Detective Peter Fitzgerald—who had spent approximately 75 minutes alone with Hutchins when he was brought in for questioning—and implied he told Hutchins to lie, to say the girl had resisted him, in order at least to save her character; Hutchins would testify to this at length. The detective denied it. This might explain why Hutchins, in a second interview immediately after the first, after a coffee break unrecorded by the stenographer, told police he was the one who took her underpants off, which made her scream, and that he hit her so she would stop screaming, and also so she couldn’t tell anyone what he had done. “I was angry,” he said this time, even though he’d just specifically said the opposite.)

Hutchins wasn’t impotent. He hadn’t raped her. He got no sexual satisfaction from hitting her. He hadn’t spent time in any mental institutions. He hadn’t even been arrested before. He didn’t know why he had hit her, he said.

But she wasn’t the first woman he killed, and maybe not even the second person he’d assaulted.

Sandra Klugman, Hylan’s close friend, told the UP that Hutchins had been stalking his eventual victim since February and had tried to attack her as many as four times as she walked home after dark; he would emerge from dark alleys and try to grab her, but she would scream and scare him off. They never told her family because they didn’t want to worry them. (If this were true, why would she have gotten into a car with him?)

After his arrest, multiple women identified Hutchins as their attacker, and several accused him of attempted rape. Dorothy Bates, 40, said he had broken her nose during a purse-snatching that netted Hutchins $85; when police showed him to her, she said, “that’s the beast that hit me!” and police had to hold her back. (It was her purse detectives had found in Hutchins’s car.) Barbara Campania and Alice McCall, teenagers, accused him of trying to rape them during a week in April. The latter said a tall, blond man had tried, three blocks from Hylan’s home, to drag her off the street at 2:10am into his green sedan—descriptions that matched Hutchins and his car—but he gave up during a struggle.

“James Dolan” (actual photo)

Police were looking for such a suspect when they received a tip from James G. Dolan, a 33-year-old bank teller known as Buddy who lived in the same building as Hutchins, on 78th Street. Dolan described Hutchins as “a nervous, shifty fellow with something on his mind”; he knew Tommy was the man police wanted as soon as he read the suspect’s description in the newspaper. An ex-Marine rejected from the police force for a service-connected ulcer operation he’d once undergone, Dolan told the Chicago Tribune it was a difficult decision: he’d known Hutchins since Hutchins was 10-years-old, and they’d played on the same Catholic Youth Organization basketball team. “But when you come down to it,” Dolan said, “what you care about are those you love. I’m thankful he’s out of circulation.

“God knows who might have been next.”

A different question—who had come before? On May 4, Hutchins was indicted for a second murder, to which he had allegedly also confessed at his initial interrogation: the January 29 murder of Dorothy Cameron, a 53-year-old widow killed in a parked car in Bay Ridge. It was a similar case: Cameron lived at Flagg Court, the immense apartment complex whose main entrance is half a block from the corner where Hutchins had beaten Hylan with the hammer. Cameron had met Hutchins in a bar and offered him a ride; they were parked near where Hylan was beaten when, according to a newspaper, “they petted.” But when Cameron resisted full sexual intercourse, Hutchins beat her with a pair of pliers, hitting her at least six times, crushing her face. He dumped her body in front of 66 73rd Street, not far from Narrows Avenue.

Outside 66 73rd Street, where Dorothy Cameron’s body was discovered. Via Google

The police had previously suspected Mrs. Cameron’s daughter’s boyfriend, Russell Anderson, in her death, and the young couple complained of harassment by investigators—what the Times called “brutality and ‘brainwashing.’” They were cleared of suspicion after Hutchins’s confession, even though the daughter had confessed to the crime, as well. Anderson, blond like Hutchins, and just an inch shorter and 30 pounds lighter, apparently could have passed for the killer’s twin brother. Mary Rasmussen identified Anderson as her assailant but took it back when Hutchins was arrested.

“Coincidentally, Anderson said he met Hutchins in a bar once two years ago,” the Associated Press reported. “‘He seemed like a very nice guy,’ Anderson added.”

“Cameron”‘s daughter and “Russell Anderson” (actual photo)

Hutchins spent the night after his arrest at the station house, and at breakfast he was served an egg sandwich and coffee before he was transported to police headquarters and then to Brooklyn Felony Court. A hundred people gathered outside the courthouse when Hutchins was indicted for Hylan’s murder, less than 24 hours after he’d confessed, and a dozen policemen were on hand to keep order. “It was feared that residents of the Fort Hamilton district, who had been incensed by the murders, might cause trouble,” the Times reported. “None developed.”

Inside, the judge excoriated Hutchins. “Of all the most gruesome crimes conjured in a girl’s hideous dreams,” he said, “you are charged with the most macabre.” Magistrate Albert Schindler ordered him held without bail, and set a hearing for Tuesday—the same day Hylan’s funeral mass would be sung to 1,800 mourners (plus another 300 outside) at Our Lady of Angels, the church where Hutchins was supposed to get married in a few weeks. Hutchins’s fiancée sat in the back of the courtroom and made no sound.

Our Lady of Angels, via Google

Hutchins was placed under 24-hour guard, and they confiscated his belt—possibly one he’d purchased from the partially blind boy the night of the murder.

Hutchins’s sister Catherine Pelz later told United Press that Hutchins had confessed because police “pounded and pounded away at him and he just couldn’t take it. There was no physical beating, but he is a nervous kid.” The crime was picked up by papers around the country, and most depicted Hutchins as a remorseless fiend. But Stars and Stripes ran an article from the syndicated International News Service whose headline called him a “Perfect Gentleman.”

“Hutchins…was regarded as a quiet, hardworking ‘perfect gentleman’ in the area. Informed of his confession, his father cried out, ‘Oh, my God, no. Not Tommy! It can’t be—he’s a good boy.’” A friend described him at trial as “a very quiet-mannered type of person; well respected.” He had no criminal record. “As far as the Hylan girl is concerned,” Pelz told the AP, “his mind is a complete blank.” She added Thomas “couldn’t be in his right mind to do the things they said he did.”

In May, weeks after a judge had thrown out his lawyer’s previous insanity plea, Hutchins again pleaded not guilty to both murders, but not because he didn’t commit them. He claimed insanity—specifically, by reason of epilepsy, which he said sometimes caused him to become violent and left him suffering from memory loss. He said he didn’t remember anything between Hylan’s saying, “not yet,” and a blaring car horn alerting him that he was driving on the wrong side of the road. When he turned back to watch the car that had honked at him, he saw Hylan in the backseat, and figured he ought to drop her off some place. Say, on 94th Street.

“He was always mentally all right,” Hutchins’s father told the Times, “but when he came from the Army he told us he had some sort of neurological treatment in Japan. He told us they had operated on his brain, and I think it had something to do with pressure on his brain. I’m not sure whether he got a medical discharge.”

Hutchins had served in the US Army from May 1954 to June 1956, just after the Korean War, and during this time had been treated at neurological clinics in Japan, which had X-rayed his head when he complained of blackouts and seizures. Hutchins also got into trouble overseas, though it’s unclear if he blamed his epilepsy: the AP reported, on April 24, 1957, that the Army had disclosed that Hutchins had been convicted in a court-martial of assaulting a Japanese girl while serving in Japan; he had been fined and demoted.

Hutchins’s epilepsy had long been a problem—as many neighborhood people were well aware.

The OLA gym. Via Google.

One of the last people to see Hylan alive was also a friend of Hutchins, and this man testified he had seen Hutchins have fits before, like four years before the murder, at an Our Lady of Angels parish dance, in August 1953. “He was swinging his hands and acting, like, you know, he just cracked up. You know what I mean,” Jerome Jones testified.

“Strike that out,” the judge said. “You saw him swinging his hands? … Show the jury how.”

“Just going wild,” Jones said.

Hutchins met up with Jack Rogers about 7pm the night of that dance. They didn’t eat anything—they just drank beers, as many as 15 six-ounce beers, at the Melody Room with a few other friends until they headed up to the church, around 8:30 or 9pm. Shortly after they’d arrived, Hutchins and the boys said hello to Father Huntley, who ran the dances there. Father Huntley asked Hutchins if he’d play basketball for OLA this year, and Hutchins said he didn’t know. The boys wandered off to dance.

In between dancing and talking, the boys kept drinking, in the men’s room, nipping a bottle of Seagram’s 7 they’d bought on the way and snuck in. Hutchins had at least three swigs of that during the night. They also drank cups of Coca-Cola served at the dance.

Around 10:15pm, Huntley asked Rogers if he’d been drinking; Rogers admitted he had. The priest walked away, like it was no big deal, and eventually found Hutchins. He talked to Hutchins for a few minutes, Rogers testified. The prosecutor wanted to make it seem like Huntley had ordered Hutchins to leave, because his breath reeked of alcohol, but Rogers said they just talked about sports. Hutchins at the time was boxing in an amateur league, in fighting shape, and Huntley asked about his training. He asked again if Hutchins would play basketball this year, for OLA or anybody else. Then he walked away and Hutchins joined his friends.

A few minutes later, around 10:30, Huntley told him he shouldn’t drink if he were in training and walked away. Hutchins’s hands began to shiver. Hutchins hit Huntley under the shoulder with his right hand, knocking the priest on his ass. Then Hutchins threw himself to the floor, face forward, landing on his head. He was shaking, punching the floor, hitting his head against the floor. The music stopped.

Huntley got up and tried to hold him, but he couldn’t; then a Port Authority cop who happened to be there intervened, and Hutchins, by this point on his back, swung at him wildly, trying to push him away. The cop wrestled Hutchins and a few other men helped hold him down. Hutchins resisted, trying to use his hands and feet to get them off of him. The cop got on top of Hutchins and handcuffed his wrist, dragged him twenty-five feet to a banister and snapped the other cuff around it.

Hutchins, standing up near the bannister, was near a wired plate-glass window. He put his head and hand through it. Then he hollered for the next 15 minutes, demanding to be released. Finally he quieted down and the cop uncuffed him. People suggested calling an ambulance, but Hutchins refused, saying he felt all right.

He couldn’t remember everything that’d happened. His friends walked him home, along the way informing him that he’d hit a priest. The next day he went to Father Huntley to apologize.

He said he was ashamed.

Several people, including Hutchins’s fiancée, testified to witnessing Hutchins have epileptic episodes throughout the early 1950s, including two while he was deployed in Japan. Among the most notable: a few months after the OLA incident, at Joe and Howard’s, the ice cream parlor where Patsy Hylan was last seen alive, Hutchins met Rogers for coffee. When they went out front after twenty minutes to fool around with some kids, Tommy “started to swing out, and he fell—he put himself on the ground,” Rogers testified. “[He swung] with his hands and head, and anything he had.” The owners held him down until the cops came. When Hutchins came out of it, he didn’t remember what had happened. He asked his friends how he’d gotten the cuts on his hands.

Before both of these incidents, there was an afternoon on which Hutchins had a similar episode. It happened on 72nd Street, around the corner from the Bay Ridge Theater, the block on which he had parked the bloody car he would later show police. This time, police officers, as well as a few friends, had to hold him down while he used profane language and tried to kick them off.

Site of seizure on 72nd Street. Via Google

“He was swinging wild,” Jones, who witnessed this scene as well, said. “He was on the ground, and the cops were pinning him down, and he was, you know, trying to get on his feet again, trying to get them off him.” Before police arrived, Hutchins had been smashing his head against a wall; Warner stuck a lighter in Hutchins’s mouth. The episode ended with police loading an exhausted Hutchins into an ambulance— which took him to Coney Island Hospital, where Patsy Hylan would die a few years later.

Warner stayed a few hours with Hutchins. At one point, a doctor told Warner, “he shouldn’t drink at all.”

Right before the theater incident, Hutchins and Warner had had six or seven beers apiece at the Melody Room; before the church dance, Hutchins had had a few as well. “I could tell,” Warner, who’d split up from the boys for a date, testified. “I smelled it on him.” There were other incidents, too, like the basketball game in Flatbush at which Hutchins started shaking and swinging violently; Warner wasn’t sure if Hutchins had been drinking before that. But before the incident in front of Joe & Howard’s, Rogers had smelled the alcohol on Hutchins.

“He seemed, like, to pass out,” Warner testified about these episodes, which could last from 15 minutes to a few hours, “and he recovered, and he would not know anything that happened to him…He was in a confused state of mind…He didn’t know anything—like, he would ask me what happened.”

In October 1957, during Patricia Hylan’s murder trial, the court staged an experiment. Hutchins was brought to Kings County Hospital for an alcohol provocative test. He was seated in a reclining chair, connected to an EEG, had his blood sugar checked, and then was given three ounces of rye, mixed with three ounces of orange juice and three teaspoons of sugar. Thirty minutes later, he was given another.

Nine minutes after that, “His lips started quivering, his left hand began shaking and the EEG wires came off his head,” according to a summary of the case. “His whole body then went into motion and he slid partially off the chair. He then started shaking his head very wildly and banged it against the chair. He became so violent that four correction officers could not hold him down and had to handcuff one of his arms to the chair. He fought these and other officers and shouted and screamed unintelligibly. His pupils were dilated and his reaction to light was sluggish. After this violent state subsided, defendant was bewildered and dazed. It was not possible to communicate with him for some 30 minutes, and he was confused and exhausted.”

When he came to, he said he couldn’t remember anything that had just happened.

After a three-week trial, the all-male jury deliberated twelve hours before convicting Hutchins of first-degree murder, willful and premeditated. (The verdict was announced at 3am.) They did not recommend mercy, which automatically sentenced him to death in the electric chair, though the formal sentencing did not take place until December, at which point the indictment for Cameron’s murder was suspended.

Hutchins spent the next sixteen months in Sing-Sing before the Court of Appeals ruled, five to two, to reverse the conviction because the court believed the prosecution had failed to prove Hutchins was sane when he killed Patsy Hylan. To be guilty of first-degree murder, the people had to prove that Hutchins had not been having an epileptic seizure when Hylan was killed. Even if Hutchins was a fiend, according to this reasoning, and/or “a high grade moron,” as the psychologists had said, it could be his neurological condition that made him a murderer—not his free will.

Prosecutors began preparing the case against Hutchins for the murder of Dorothy Cameron. A jury had even been selected, and then Hutchins agreed to a plea: he would cop to two counts of first-degree manslaughter, one for Patricia Hylan, the other for Dorothy Cameron. On March 16, he was sentenced to 20-to-40 years in Sing Sing. Two days later, on March 18, he began his term.

He’d be out in fourteen.

The day before Halloween, in 1973, Thomas Hutchins walked out of Sing Sing on parole, after 5,705 days in prison—six years shy of his minimum sentence. A man who had once been condemned to death for the murder of Patsy Hylan instead walked free into a cool and rainy day in Ossining. He was 39-years-old.

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2 comments on “True Crime Bay Ridge: The Murder of Patsy Hylan

  1. April 17, 1957, was about four months before I turned eight years old. My family and I lived at 52 94th Street and I remember the detectives ringing our doorbell and asking my parents if they had seen or heard anything. It’s a little strange reading about this now when I am in my 60s.

  2. WHY were the names changed?….That renders this article almost useless…..
    The Daily News published their great “Justice Stories” for decades on Sundays and they never changed the names….
    Whatever the killer’s name was he DESERVED execution….Is this lowlife filth still alive at about 82?

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