In Search of
the American Sherlock Holmes:
Tracking down Ellis Parker and the Second Lindbergh Kidnapping.
A literary true adventure by John Reisinger
Chapter 1- Ellis Who?
Like most people, I had never heard of Ellis Parker, and I certainly had no intention of writing a book about him. My previous literary efforts involved Civil War blockade runners in the Bahamas (Nassau, published in 2000), and the attempted escape of a German POW from a Canadian camp in 1941 (Evasive Action, published in 2001). One thing I learned from writing historical novels was how much research was necessary, so I decided my next work would be non fiction. I had a few vague ideas, but nothing that really excited me.
 Then one day I was cleaning out some old paperbacks and found The People's Almanac, by David Wallechensky and Irving Wallace, a book of assorted quirky facts and true stories. There were rundowns of great inventions, the sex lives of famous people, weird records, and a potpourri of other topics. As I thumbed through the book I came across a section called "Great Detectives and Their Most Spectacular Cases", a series of two page summaries of certain real life detectives and the crimes they had solved. The very first entry was entitled "Ellis Parker and the Pickled Corpse Case." Well, who could resist a title like that?
 The story told of Ellis Parker, the Chief of Detectives of Burlington County New Jersey, and how he solved a baffling murder in 1920. A bank messenger disappeared and his body was found over a week later buried in a shallow grave. The medical examiner determined the man had been killed within the last 48 hours, even though the most likely suspects had perfect alibis for that time. But Ellis Parker noticed something about the body the others had missed. He announced the medical examiner was wrong and the body had been there for over a week. Using his brains and a simple device, he proved he was right. The suspects did not have alibis for the real time of death, and Parker soon got enough additional evidence for a conviction.
 This amazing story of Sherlock Holmes quality sleuthing made me curious about this detective, but the end of the story was the clincher. According to the article, Ellis Parker later became involved in investigating the Lindbergh case and came to the conclusion that the kidnapping was not the work of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the illegal German immigrant who had been convicted of the crime. What's more, Parker had found a man he considered the real kidnapper. He even got a confession!
I read the story again. This was amazing. Why had I never heard of this guy? I wanted to read more, so I searched the web for books about Ellis Parker. To my amazement, there were none. Nobody had ever written a book about the life of this fascinating figure. Well, maybe there were some articles at least. I entered the words Ellis Parker into a web search engine and found a string of sites. This was more like it, I thought. But it soon became clear that the sites were actually about Ellis Parker Butler, a writer and humorist. (His most famous work was entitled "Pigs is Pigs".) They had nothing to do with Ellis Parker the detective.
 Except one.
 One site was dedicated to Ellis Parker and his life. It had newspaper articles, pictures, and a wealth of other information. Ellis Parker, it seemed, was a real life version of TV's Columbo. He was short, soft spoken, and decidedly rumpled in appearance, looking more like the owner of the local hardware store than a master detective. He often focussed on things other people missed and asked questions that seemed pointless. But then he would reveal the solution and invariably be proven right. He was skilled at observation, deduction, and psychology, often playing the "good cop" to coax a confession out of a suspect. All in all, he was a fascinating character, the kind people write books about. As I clicked through the site, I became hooked. I had to know more. I had to write a book about this man.
The website turned out to be the work of Ellis Parker's grandson, who was keeping the flame alive. The guest book revealed a number of people had strong feelings about Ellis Parker, and especially about his role in the Lindbergh case. There seemed to be more interest in Ellis Parker than I had thought. I decided to contact the grandson, but first I had to find out enough to at least ask reasonably intelligent questions.
A trip to the library yielded several books about the Lindbergh kidnapping; The Lindbergh Case, by Jim Fisher, Lindbergh; The Crime, by Noel Behn, and The Airman and the Carpenter, by Ludovic Kennedy. The first two books devoted several pages to Ellis Parker and his part in the investigation. Parker, the authors claimed, was almost crazy with resentment because he was not asked to be a part of the official investigation, and decided to crack the case on his own. The official investigation was in the hands of the New Jersey State Police under H. Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the Gulf War general. For reasons that were not made clear, Parker soon turned up a different suspect and even got a confession from him.
Well, this was certainly an interesting tale, but there were too many unanswered questions, and too many conflicting versions of what happened. Why had Parker investigated on his own? Was it really just resentment, or a thirst for justice? Why did he suspect the person he did? With his formidable knowledge, he must have had good reasons. How had he gotten the confession and what did it say?
But there was an even bigger and more intriguing question; was Ellis Parker right? Did he somehow find the truth everyone else had missed? Now I was more determined than ever to find out what really happened and tell about it.
 My search for Ellis Parker had begun.
What really happened to America's greatest detective?
Who was telling the truth, and who wasn't?
And how do you find out?
Don't miss Chapter 2-  The Game is Afoot.
Chapter 2