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Murder, In the Barroom, With the Potato Peeler

December 2nd, 2015

Wulff's Hotel, at the corner of State and Factory Streets in Rochester; the scene of a notorious murder on December 18, 1920. [IMAGE: From the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY.]
By Mike Governale

While doing research for a recent story on the Rochester Marshmallow Company, we came across another interesting story right around the corner. This one had nothing to do with marshmallows. Wulff’s Hotel (shown above) at the corner of State and Factory Streets, was the scene of a notorious murder case…

The bar room inside Wulff's Hotel, at the corner of State and Factory Streets in Rochester; the scene of a notorious murder on December 18, 1920. [IMAGE: From the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY.]
Early the morning of December 18, 1920, Thomas Cleary, 44, had given his paycheck to Otto L. Wulff, the hotel’s proprietor. Cleary asked Wulff to hold his check until he could return in the afternoon to cash it.

When Cleary returned around 2 p.m., the bartender, Harold “Ducky” Holmes, 32, gave Cleary the check. But here’s where the story gets nuts.

Supposedly, for some reason, Holmes called Cleary a “stool pigeon”. At that point Cleary became incensed. According to newspaper reports, Cleary walked into the kitchen, grabbed a sharp knife used for peeling potatoes, returned to the barroom and quietly called Holmes over to him. When Holmes came near, Cleary ran the knife through his throat.

The blade made a wound about an inch and a half, severing the jugular vein. Holmes walked a short distance before falling to the floor where he quickly bled to death.

The corner of State and Factory Streets today. [IMAGE: Google]
Cleary, coming to grips with what he had just done, ran out into the street to a nearby beef house where he asked some people to call the police. When police arrived a few minutes later he “calmly admitted to the stabbing, and declared that not only was he perfectly sane but that he would do the same thing again under similar provocation.”

When interviewed by detectives, the few men who were in the barroom and kitchen said they heard no argument prior to the stabbing. Cleary and Holmes had been friends for a year or so before. And while someone claimed of hearing Cleary ask Holmes how much he owed him, Cleary insisted that he owed no bar bill. He did, however, have a “home brew” earlier in the day. Cleary had previously served jail time for public intoxication and vagrancy.

One of the poor kitchen workers would later tell the District Attorney how he regretted having left his potato peeler “in such a convenient spot.”

• • •

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015 at 10:02 pm and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Responses to “Murder, In the Barroom, With the Potato Peeler”

  1. Ruth Nederlk says:

    How terrible Never heard about it. Guss this evil has gone on forever.

  2. Carl says:

    Umm..if you “peal” potatoes you cause them to ring, like a bell? Personally, I would probably “peel” potatoes.

  3. BIG CARL says:

    WOW -SOUNDS LIKE THE RED BARON –JUST DOWN THE STREET


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