On December 22, 1931, Omaha Fixture and Supply Co. Owner Harry Lapidus left a meeting of the executive committee of the Talmud Torah, Hebrew school, at the Jewish Community Center around 11:20 pm. His destination was his home on 2205 South 32nd Street. At 11:30 pm, police received reports of a shooting on Park Avenue, east of Hanscom Park. When they arrived, they found Lapidus slumped under the steering wheel with a cigar clenched between his teeth. [i] The car’s left front door was open, and his left foot hung out the open car door. Assailants shot him in the head three times. People reported a car speeding away, turning east on Creighton Avenue.[ii] The courts never was convicted anyone for Lapidus’ murder.
Police had several theories about who killed Lapidus. The first was that the city’s liquor interests hired someone kill Lapidus because he was trying to rid the city of their criminal activity. Attorney General C. A. Sorensen heard rumors that the, “Kansas City or St. Joseph gangsters has planned to come to Omaha and were ‘planning something big.”[iii] The shooting and getaway of killers also supported this theory.[iv] Lapidus’ death was the culmination of seven gang slayings. The newspaper said that, no one, “knew more about the inside story of Omaha gangdom than Lapidus.” He was behind most anti-gang activity in Omaha for the last 20 years. He received several threats from the underworld establishments for years. In 1918, he was instrumental in James Dahlman’s loss to Edward Parsons Smith. People saw him as a, “wholesome influence in Omaha affairs.”[v]
Detective Inspector Paul Sutton believed that the shooting was a failed gang-kidnapping attempt. Anthony Fetheim and Frank Kroupa, two Omaha boys, sat on a bench in Hanscom Park that night. Around 11:00 pm, they saw two nervous looking men walk toward Park Avenue. A Chevrolet coup turned onto Park Avenue from the north. To Sutton, this sounded like a common kidnapping technique where kidnappers planted two men at the scene that approached the victim’s blind side after the assailants forced the victim to stop their vehicle by the kidnappers’’ car in front. The car coming down the street informed kidnappers that the mark was near. George Lawson, who lived at 1732 Park Avenue, said that he heard car breaks screeching outside his house at the time of the shooting.[vi] Sutton’s theory never led to any arrests.
Some individuals had personal reasons to want Lapidus dead like Jack Deport, an itinerate artist from Brooklyn, New York. Bess Nepomnick, his former girlfriend, said he threatened to kill Lapidus because her father asked him to break up the relationship; the family did not trust Deport because they could not verify anything about his past. After the murder, he called Nepomick saying, “Well, I suppose your family is broken up over the Lapidus shooting.”[vii] He denied threatening to kill him. The police cleared him because he was with two friends at a theatre until 11:30 pm that night.[viii]
Police arrested Gerald Cunningham, the stepson of C.E. Weldy, on December 23, 1931. Lapidus’ car struck a Schlutz Baking Company Truck in which Weldy, a route supervisor, rode in on May 13, 1931, four miles north of Missouri Valley, Iowa. The truck turned over on its side into a 12-foot ditch. The impact crushed Weldy’s head under the side of the driver’s cab.[ix] Witnesses said that Lapidus ran the truck off the road. The county attorney charged Lapidus with manslaughter, but freed him when the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence.[x] Police failed to connect Cunningham to the crime.
On a late December’s night in 1931, Harry Lapidus met his end on Park Avenue around 11:30 pm. The police had many theories. Sorensen believed that the liquor interests perpetrated the act. Sutton believed that it was a botched kidnapping. Others thought Deport or Cunningham may have committed the crime for personal reasons. No evidence supported any of these theories. Today, Lapidus’ death still remains a mystery.
[i] Paul Williams, “Who Killed Harry Lapidus? His Death One of the Mysteries” (1 August 1948), Omaha World- Herald, pg. 14.
[ii] “Sutton Holds Lapidus Salin by Kidnapped Gang” (23 December 1931), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 3.
[iii] “Lapidus Murder Blamed to Ring” (24 December 1931), The Lincoln Star, pg. 10.
[iv] Paul Williams, “Who Killed Harry Lapidus? His Death One of the Mysteries” (1 August 1948), Omaha World- Herald, pg. 14.
[v] “Mayor, Towl Confer on Lapidus Probe” (24 December 1931), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 4.
[vi] “Believes Gang Killed Victim Who Resisted” (23 December 1931), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 1.
[vii] “Reward Spurs Hunt in Omaha Slaying” (26 December 1931), Daily News, New York, New York, pg. 255. https://www.newspapers.com/image/414616732/?terms=Harry%2BLapidus
[viii] “Brooklyn Man Questioned in Omaha Slaying” (23 December 1931), Lincoln Journal Star, pg. 1.
[ix] “Auto Kills Omahan; Coroner Investigates” (14 May 1931), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 3.
[x] “Prominent Omaha Man Found Shot to Death in Car” (23 December 1931), The Lincoln Star, pg. 1.