Monday, June 11, 2018

Grand Theft Auto: Schenectady

Arrested in 1927, Louis Sulzer (aka Louis Sulsona)of 19 Eagle Street in Schenectady was quite a prolific car thief. It was estimated that Sulzer and his ne'er-do-well associates stole well over 100 cars during their criminal career. An article from the March 16, 1928 issue of the Beacon News described how Sulzer stole that many cars. The article profiled Arthur Davis, the head of the stolen car department of the NYS motor vehicle department, on a new technique where car thieves manage to register cars weeks before they steal them. The thieves would dupe motorists into giving them their motor number (probably similar to a modern VIN). They would also take the tags from cars, cut them in half, and solder different parts together. Unwary automobile buyers would have no clue that anything was wrong. Davis was the first to suspect that Sulzer was selling stolen cars and mentions that he was found with 94 cars registered in just three weeks.

Sulzer would travel to New York City and New Jersey to steal the cars, then drive them back to Schenectady to sell them. Sulzer was fond of Fords and mainly stole Ford Coupes and Tudor Sedans. He was arrested in Albany on May 9 and it was alleged that over 2 years, Sulzer sold more than $100,000 (almost $1.5 million today) worth of stolen cars. He and his associates would advertise in local and out of town papers. This turned out to be his downfall as he was arrested in the office of Albany's Knickerbocker Press while waiting to place an advertisement. An article in the May 16, 1927 Schenectady Gazette stated that "Agents of the detective agency...declare that the changing of the motor numbers on the machines Sulzer is alleged to have stolen is one of the cleverest pieces of work in this line that they have ever seen." Agents from the Automobile Underwriters Detective Agency were called to process the engine blocks in order to figure out the actual motor numbers of the stolen cars. This wasn't the first time Sulzer had been caught either, he served a two-year term in the Great Meadow Prison in Comstock for stealing cars in New York City. After skipping bail and missing his court date, Sulzer was found in Atlantic City and sent to Albany County Jail without bail.

An illustration of Sulzer and Deere's
daring escape from the Albany
County Jail. From the August
25, 1927 issue of the Albany
Evening News, courtesy of
Sulzer's saga wasn't finished when he was sentenced though. About 3 months after being sent to Albany County Jail, Mr. Sulzer and fellow inmate Wray Deere decided they had enough and flew the coop. The guards came back from chapel services to find the inmates missing and bars from the window sawed off. How Sulzer and Deere managed to get hacksaws into the jail is up to some speculation. It was suspected that hacksaws were thrown through the window of the recreation room at some point prior and collected by Sulzer. They would then cut through the bars of a window in the recreation cell every Sunday as they skipped chapel servies. The window was nine feet from the floor and had "massive inch-and-a-quarter rods." Heating pipes ran along the wall and it was suspected that they climbed the pipes to gain access to the window. Ten minutes before they escaped, everything seemed normal and guards noted that Sulzer and Deere were seated on a bench underneath the window, a bench that they would use to help them escape.

Soon after the prisoners were suspected missing, Schenectady and Albany police searched Sulzer's house, as well as every known place that he associated with. Schenectady police soon found out that not only was Sulzer and his wife, Eva, not at their Eagle Street home, but apparently never resided there according to the owner. Days passed and the prisoners were still nowhere to be seen. Reports came in that the men were seen walking around Lincoln Park and Myrtle Ave. in Albany but these reports were discounted. What seemed more likely to the police is that they had help from the outside and were transported across state lines shortly after their escape.
Picture of Wray Deere (top-left) and Louis Sulzer (bottom-right) as well as their path from prisoner to escapee. From the August  25, 1927 issue of the Albany Evening News, courtesy of
In the August 25, 1927 issue of the Albany Evening News, Sheriff Claude C. Tibbets stated that Sulzer was a model prisoner and went on to describe him as "A brainy man...He appears capable and shrewd, never giving me any trouble. always genial, sometimes smiling, but ever on the alert for the main chance." Sulzer's choice for a companion didn't make sense to Tibbets and offers that Sulzer may have just wanted some company, or possibly needed Deere's help to escape. Deere was declared mentally insane and had previously escaped while serving an indefinite sentence at Matteawan State Hospital. He was caught in Philadelphia and brought back to Albany and declared sane.
The August 25, 1927 issue of the Albany Evening News described Sulzer as 39 years old, 5'7" and weighed 170 pounds. He wore a striped green suit, blue hat with a light blue band, and tan shoes. Courtesy of
By August 26, Sheriff Tibbets had offered a $200 reward for Sulzer's capture (along with $50 for Deere). Tibbets called off the investigation of the jail and the guards, convinced that the guards took every precaution to prevent an escape. Police continued to search in New York City, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia, all prior hangouts for either Sulzer or Deere. Tibbets made capturing the two men his sole purpose before his term as sheriff was over. By the 27th, private detectives all over the country engaged in a nation-wide search for Sulzer and Deere with the search focusing on Mrs. Sulzer. Details about what Sulzer was up to during his time as an escapee were scarce, but Deere had quite an interesting time while on vacation.

Deere was supposedly seen in Middleburg, NY and was believed to have separated from Sulzer. The sighting was reported by a mechanic in Middleburg who said that Deere headed out towards Catskill after asking how to get to Preston Hollow. The mechanic noticed the photo of Deere in the Albany Times-Union and was positive that the man he saw was Wray Deere. This sighting led authorities to believe that Deere did not have a car waiting for him after his escape. Despite this sighting, no sign was found of Deere in Catskill.

The Times-Union poked a bit of fun at the situation with a humorous article, calling Deere a lothario and saying that Mabel Elder "is down-right 'mad with' Wray while Daddy Elder "says: I told you so." From the October 18, 1927 issue of the Albany Times-Union, courtesy of
It wasn't until mid-October that Wray Deere was found all the way over in Gettysburg, PA where he assumed the identity of Wray Kane. Deere kept himself occupied, even managing to get married while on the lam. After a whirlwind month-long romance, Deere married 20 year old Mabel Irene Elder on October 6th against the wished of Mabel's father. Although he was busy courting Mabel Elder, he wasn't doing much else of consequence besides passing worthless checks in local stores. He was about to be arrested on this charge when authorities saw a clipping from the Albany Evening News describing Deere and he was "snatched from the side of his bride" according to the Albany Evening News.Of course, Deere denied that he was the "Wray Deere" However, his alias folded after being threatened with fingerprint and Bertillion records. Deere was sent back to his "little room" at the Albany County Jail.
Lewis Sulzer's Inmate Admission Ledger from the Clinton Prison Admission Ledgers, 1851-1866, 1926-1939. Courtesy of
As for Sulzer, the details on his capture were hard to track down and might take some deeper digging. It seems like Sulzer enjoyed a bit of time away from the Albany County Jail as the most we could find was an article in the April 19, 1931 issue of the Times-Union stating that Louis Sulzer's trial was set for "Wednesday." Library volunteer Erin Hill-Burns found an inmate admission ledger for Clinton Prison with Sulzer's signature as well as a wealth of personal information about Sulzer. Interestingly, it looks like he is just doing 40 days for one of the car thefts. Erin also found out that he spent some time in Sing-Sing in 1913 for burglary.

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find much about Sulzer's capture. Send our librarian an email at if you can find anything about Sulzer that we haven't mentioned. We can't offer a cash prize, but you'll be acknowledged in our blog.