Strangler Jack’s Final Bout

Article about William Grace

Although boxing was beginning to overtake it as one of the nation’s most popular sports, in the first decade of the 20th Century wrestling was still a huge draw for sports fans.
 
It almost goes without saying that the sport of professional wrestling around the turn of the 20th century was much different from the sport we know today. Back in the day, professional wrestlers were athletes first and entertainers second. The sport was relatively clean and there was an established ranking system which made it clear who was the champion and who deserved a legitimate shot at the title. As professional athletes, wrestlers in the first decades of the 20th century were household names, although usually on a regional basis.
 
In 1911 one of the more successful pro wrestlers was Jack Grace from Walden, New York, who was known on the circuit as “Strangler Jack” and was once the New England wrestling champion. At 32, Jack was married with children and semi-retired from the wrestling circuit. He apparently had success in the ring, because Jack lived a life of leisure surrounded by friends, none of whom could be found to say a bad word about him when the story of his murder hit the newspapers.
 
Jack came from an average New York family, all relatively successful in their lives — except Jack’s brother, Anthony, who preferred to be called William. Call him Anthony, William, the black sheep, the bad seed or whatever; it does not matter. Jack and William were polar opposites.
 
The one thing that everyone who knew Jack agreed on was that he enjoyed showing off his wealth by carrying a large bankroll and wearing a diamond stickpin and matching diamond ring. When Jack was killed, he was carrying $320, which is equal to about $7,500 in current dollars.
 
“William Grace, on the other hand, at 30, appeared to be plodding, sober minded and practical,” is how one news report put it. “Walden saw the contrast quickly when William soon established himself as a painting contractor, while the wrestler, apparently living on his past purses, led a life of ease and enjoyment.”
 
Behind the “plodding, sober minded and practical” facade, William was a lifelong con man who was not afraid to break the law if it suited his purpose. At the time his brother was murdered, William was practicing bigamy, having a pair of wives in Massachusetts, and was engaged to a third woman in New York.
 
In Fall River, (hometown of Lizzie Borden) in 1905, William — as Anthony — married Annie J. Jones, with whom he had three children. He left her and she was forced to take a job in nearby North Westport as a domestic servant.
 
In Lowell, five years later — as Arthur Brooks — William married Jennie Shrigley, got her pregnant and subsequently abandoned her, stealing thousands of dollars from her and her family after they accepted him as a partner in the family grocery store.
 
“Before a son was born to them, Brooks or Grace is alleged to have deserted his wife and disappeared,” reported the Lowell Sun in 1912. “Some of the money of the firm was missed about the same time.”
 
As a testament to William’s character, when she was advised she was a victim of a bigamist, Jennie wanted nothing to do with him and declined to prosecute.
 
“The second wife seems indifferent about prosecuting him, as she does not know of the first marriage,” wrote the Fall River City Marshal to the murder investigators. Annie, however, was interested in pursuing past due child support.
 
After abandoning his second wife, William moved to Walden where he began calling on Miss Fanny Andrews and marked her as his next target. Fanny came from a reputable family that was comfortably set if not well-to-do; William’s claim of his coming into a large inheritance helped the family overcome its initial reticence to having Fanny marry a house painter.
 
“Frequently before his marriage he represented that his mother had died in Fall River and that when he was 35 years old he would inherit $40,000,” The Sun reported. “Chief Ronk (of the Newburg police department) has learned that the mother of the Grace boys is alive.”
 
The two brothers belonged to a social group in Walden, the 20th Century Athletic Club, which had its headquarters not in a gymnasium as one might expect, but in a set of rooms above a cigar store.
 
“As a regular thing, it met weekly, on Saturdays, and the ‘meetings’ consisted mainly of a ‘feed’ and card games among the all-men membership,” wrote Lewis Thompson in American Weekly magazine.
 
It was at the 20th Century Club that Strangler Jack fought his last bout: A death match with his younger brother, William. The brawl that ended in Jack’s murder and with William in the electric chair soon after for the crime was over a woman, or, more specifically, William’s collection of women.
 
A few days prior to Jack’s death, William announced to his family that he was going to wed Fanny Andrews on Wednesday, September 11. The announcement of the impending nuptials angered Jack and he told his wife he was going to stop the marriage because of William’s planned polygamous marriage.
 
“I am going to Walden to Will,” The New York Times reported that Jack said to his wife the last time she saw him. “I am not going to let him marry that girl. He already has two wives living.”
 
Jack left Newburg for Walden, wearing his diamond stickpin and ring, and carrying more than $300 in cash, all of which he placed in the safe at the Metropolitan Hotel. Prior to seeking out his younger brother, Jack had withdrawn his valuables from the safe. Later that evening witnesses put him in the company of his brother in a Walden bar near the 20th Century Club. Some noted that they appeared to quarreling.
 
“The meeting between the two, the bartender said, had not seemed a particularly happy one,” the American Weekly reported. “Their conversation, though obviously tense and strained, was nevertheless conducted in tones inaudible to anyone but themselves.”
 
Police could not find anyone who saw him after that Saturday night.
 
On Wednesday afternoon, the wedding — a low-key affair because William recently lost his mother — went off without a hitch. William explained away his missing family saying they were still in mourning for his late mother. Following the ceremony, the Times reported, the two took off for New York City via automobile, at the time quite a luxury.
 
The local gossips pointed out that William must have received his inheritance in the last few days as he was clearly flush with cash despite having to borrow $5 the previous week from a friend.
 
William and Fanny were barely on their way to New York City when Jack’s body was discovered by the 20th Century Club custodian. His head had been cleaved nearly in half by a large knife, which was located near the body. His jewelry and the cash were gone; all police found on the body was 21 cents.
 
Police discovered a photograph of Annie Jones — William’s first wife — in with Jack’s belongings back at the Metropolitan Hotel. At the time her identity was unknown to them, but there was the name of a photographer on the picture which, in turn, broke open the bigamy aspect of the case.
 
Obviously the Walden cops wanted to speak with William, but he and Fanny managed to keep their honeymoon hotel location a secret. Chief Ronk turned that problem over to New York’s finest and waited.
 
He did not have long to wait; the news of the murder spread to New York City quickly and came to the attention of William Grace. The newlywed said he was cutting short the honeymoon and was heading back to Walden.
 
When he arrived at the police station for an interview, William did not know that he was walking into a trap set by investigators who had already convinced themselves that William was their man. The circumstantial evidence was strong: In addition to the bartender who observed the brothers’ quiet yet heated conversation, the clerk of the Apollo Cigar Store beneath the club said he saw William come down the stairs of the club with a bundle of clothing in his arm and a bloodstained handkerchief in his hand.
 
This backed up a story from two other witnesses who saw someone in the club “rubbing the blood spattered window with his elbow,” The Times reported.
 
William admitted seeing his brother at the bar, but said they parted around midnight. When shown the picture of his wife Annie, William feigned ignorance and suggested that she was a former paramour of his brother’s. That was enough for the police and they placed William under arrest for his brother’s murder.
 
More evidence was discovered in William’s suitcase that he took on his honeymoon. Two diamond rings and a diamond stickpin were identified by Jack’s wife as those the wrestler always wore. They were concealed in a shaving mug partly filled with soap. Later, bloody clothes belonging to William were found in a trash can.
 
William’s family disowned their murderous relative shortly after his arrest.
 
“Joseph Grace of Fall River arrived in Newburg to-day, and visited Grace in his cell,” the Times reported. “They quarreled bitterly, and only the presence of the officers prevented a fight.”
 
The Times said Joseph told William: “Things look bad for you. We have washed our hands of you. Mother sent me on to bring poor Jack’s body home.”
 
After this meeting, William resigned himself to his fate and told authorities what had occurred in the club. He and Jack did quarrel in the bar over William’s impending marriage, with Jack eventually threatening to go to the police to stop his brother’s plan. The brothers continued their argument in the club rooms (every member had a key) and when he became convinced that Jack would never allow the marriage to take place, William became enraged. He grabbed a cleaver from the club kitchen and attacked his brother.
 
The trial was a mere formality, and on August 17, 1913, William Grace died in the electric chair at Sing Sing.