By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
On a warm, summer morning, before the sun was up two men came across the fully-clothed body of a woman thrown along the Harlem River Speedway.
July 20, 1937 NEW YORK
The corpse, discarded besides the Harlem River Speedway turned out to be a French maid, named Irma Louise Pradier, age 35. She'd been thrown from a moving automobile, after being shot twice at close range. One bullet entered the left breast and the other one under her heart; so close it scorched her flesh.
What was strange and thought inconsequential, but which later turned out to be very important, were six lumps of sugar found in the pocket of a leather jacket she was wearing.
It was a label inside her clothing which gave police a clue as to her identity and background. From 1930 to 1932 she worked as a domestic at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind.
Detectives scoured employment agencies hoping to find the place where she worked, but they only came across records from immigration that showed she arrived in the United States in 1927, coming from Enghein-les-Bains near Paris. She went to live with nuns and immigrant young women at the Jeanne D'Arc Home at 253 W. 24 St. A nun from there was the one to definitely identify her.
Within two days of the murder, police were looking for a "pea-green sedan" for questioning in the murder.
Investigators found that the attractive French woman had quit her job the previous Monday, to leave on a wedding trip which turned into a gangland-type execution. She withdrew $300 from the bank, and told her friends she was leaving for California to be married. She worked at the Mt. Sinai Hospital. Her purse, along with the money was missing.
A week later the investigators started to look within their ranks for the mystery fiancée of the dead woman. Secret orders were issued for a number of mounted patrolmen to appear at headquarters for a lineup.
A friend of the murder victim, whose identity was being kept secret, said the relationship developed when Irma use to feed candy to the patrolman's horse during her lunch hour in Pelham Park. However she did have a fiancée in California, and perhaps this was just an innocent flirtation.
The last night of her life, she'd been dropped off by a cab at Grand Central Station. The cab driver said she was waiting in front of the hospital talking to a man in civilian clothing inside a late model Chevrolet. The auto followed them to the train station. The cab driver said he was surprised to see her get out of his car, and jump into the green sedan and drive off.
After then, no one saw what happened to Irma Pradier, until her body was found on the side of the speedway between 165th and 166th Streets.
The bullets were removed from her cadaver and analyzed. They were found to be the type used in police service revolvers.
Police theorized her killer was someone who got angered she was leaving and marrying someone else.
About 300 mounted police were questioned, and finally a suspect was identified. It was the lumps of sugar Irma had in her pocket, which apparently were meant to feed her sweetheart's horse, that coupled with other information, led authorities to look within their ranks.
The police were ready to run ballistic tests on all the guns of the mounted patrolmen. Initially his identity was kept secret, but it was revealed he was attached to Troop C which stabled their mounts at the Squadron A Armory of the New York National Guard, on 94th St and Madison Ave.
This certain officer was seen with Irma Pradier on three different occasions. The first time was on July 4, when she met him at 125th St and Lenox Avenue and he was dressed in civilian clothes, then on July 5, they met in front of Mt. Sinai Hospital, and then the last time when the cab picked her up.
She told a girlfriend she planned to marry a "mounted policeman".
A month before, when the police were rehearsing at Madison Square Garden, Irma showed up there and paid particular attention to a handsome mountie who sang as well as rode. This man answered the description of the one who she met in front of the hospital the last day of her life.
At this time, all the mounted police who owned an auto had to submit a complete description of their cars.
On August 7, patrolman Arthur H. Chalmers of Troop B, married and father of two children confessed to the murder. He said the crime happened during a lover's quarrel.
He evaded being on the lineups because he was on vacation. Apparently he started on his vacation two days before the murder, and after he killed the woman, he left for Old Orchard Beach, Maine and from there went to Montreal. He left his wife and two daughters, age 8 and 11, behind at home.
In his confession, he confirmed what the police suspected originally was the motive. They had met for a couple of dates, and at their last meeting she had a trunk and two handbags and told him she was going away. According to him the cab was called because her trunk would not fit in his car.
The confusion lay in whether she was leaving to be with her fiancee in California. Her friends though said she told them she was leaving to elope to California with a "handsome mounted patrolman."
One friend asked her, "How do you know he'll marry you?" She replied, "Even if he doesn't it'll be a fine trip." An hour passed, and he hadn't shown up. She told the roommate, "If he doesn't come, I'm going to the tallest building I can find and jump off."
Once at Grand Central Station, she checked in the trunk and then they drove to Kensico Dam in North Castle, New York. They parked there for a while and then returned to Manhattan, and parked on the Harlem River Speedway. According to him, she insisted that he accompany her to California, and he kept explaining he couldn't leave his family. Then she reached "into a compartment in the dashboard where he kept a pistol. She pointed the weapon at him and threatened to shoot him unless he agreed to elope with her."
In the struggle between them the gun discharged and hit her.
The police pointed out she'd been shot twice, and a third bullet pierced the car.
After she died he pushed her body from the car, then threw the two bags and the pistol into the Harlem River.
He admitted they had an intimate relationship, but denied taking her money.
A guard at the hospital was the one who told police that Irma had a penchant for feeding sugar to an officer's mount, and recalled that when she turned in her uniform she remarked that the policeman she was going to wed was "on vacation."
Then a married woman, Vera Lorden, said she started on 8-day motor trip two days after Chalmers shot and killed Irma Pradier. She said he had very little money to spend on their impromptu excursion. He also borrowed $150 from his brother just before the trip. This substantiated the accused's claim he didn't kill Pradier in order to use the money on his vacation with another woman.
After the story broke in the newspapers about Chalmer's arrest, Mrs. Lorden confessed to her husband, "John, I have something to tell you. While you were on your vacation, I went away with Chalmers."
She had known the policeman for a little more than a year. He would come into the restaurant at 40th Street and Madison Avenue where she worked as a waitress. Eventually he asked her to have a few drinks. Then they would go out every now and then. She told police, "I always knew he was married and had children. That was why I didn't go out with him very often. When his vacation came, he suggested that I go with him on a trip. My husband had gone on his vacation alone to visit his relative, so I thought it might be a good idea. We were gone about eight days. We drove to Bennington, Vermont and Old Orchard, Maine and Montreal."
Chalmers' wife was near destitution at their home in Jackson Heights, while he vacationed. His two daughters Gladys and Doris, were in seclusion at the home of relatives. During the time she was being questioned Mrs. Chalmers collapsed. In the garage the police found the pea-green car described by witnesses. They examined the front seat and found a patch, with glue inserted which indicated a bullet had been fire into the padding.
Patrolman Chalmers was indicted for murder, and by the end of August they still had not been able to locate his gun, which he said he had thrown into the Harlem River. He insisted the murder occurred when they wrestled for his revolver.
Irma Pradier was laid to rest in September 1937, in a potter's field grave after both Mt. Sinai Hospital where she worked, and the French Consulate failed to provide a final resting place.
While spending time in the Tombs awaiting trial Patrolman Chalmers was forgiven by his wife, who claimed he was innocent, and he decided to write a play. By January 1938, the play titled, "Taken From Life" dealt with the fates of two boys, a "a good boy and a bad boy." It was scheduled to be tried out at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on January 24 and 25, and if well received would immediately be brought to Broadway. There were plans to produce it by the end of the month. It was a failure
In April 1938, he was found guilty and sentenced from 20 years to life for the second-degree murder of Irma Praider, to be served at Sing Sing. During the trial the defense tried to smear the victim, and referred to her as "Frenchie". It didn't work.
The papers did keep track of x-cop Arthur Chalmers when he was promoted from porter to cell-block clerk in Sing Sing. In 1939, he appealed his conviction, but it was unanimously upheld.
While serving time he decided to study law, and in 1946 opened new legal battles for his friend in prison. This included filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus for his own case. He charged that the late General Sessions Judge Morris Koenig erred in permitting the District Attorney's office to change its charge from 1st degree murder to second degree in the midst of his trial, after the state had been unable to prove premeditation. No indictment for second degree murder had been returned. According to Chalmers in absence of such an indictment, he contended he became legally a free man when the judge dismissed the first degree charge, and that all subsequent proceeding were invalid.
That didn't work.
In 1950, the former "Adonis" of the New York mounted policeman wrote another play titled "Idle Tongues." It was scheduled to be released that year and several producers expressed interest in it. By 1951, he was still behind bars but had been promised a job with the Newsdealers Association of Greater New York upon his release.
Arthur Chalmers died in 1961.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer