The Disappearance of Sonny Von Maluski

The Disappearance of Sonny Von Maluski

The mystery of the disappearance of Raimonde Von Maluski, 3 years old, believed to have been kidnapped a week ago near his Washington Heights home, continued unsolved yesterday. Seventy detectives under Acting Lieutenant Edwin England continued the hunt, searching again through High Bridge and Fort George Parks and canvassing Houses.

The New York Times, April 6, 1925

SonnyRaimonde Von Maluski III, known as “Sonny,” was last seen on the sidewalk near his family’s apartment building on West 178th Street. The day, Sunday, March 29, 1925, was clear but far from warm, with an afternoon high of about 45 degrees. The small boy was outside on his own, apparently watching a Salvation Army prayer meeting and parade that took place in the street. Washington Heights, where the Von Maluski family lived, is in the narrow northern strip of Manhattan bordered by the Hudson River to the west and the Harlem River on the east.

By sometime on Sunday evening Sonny’s parents, Raimonde and Alice, realized that their three-year-old was gone so they alerted the police. Despite a massive search of the area, which included dragging a nearby City reservoir and the Harlem River, the child was nowhere to be found.

Initially the police theorized that Sonny had been kidnapped for ransom because the building where his family lived was home to some fairly affluent people. However Sonny’s family lived in the basement — his father was the building superintendent. With three young children — 5-year-old Gertrude and baby Robert — in addition to Sonny, there was no money to pay a ransom. In fact the family also had a lodger. Harold Jones, aged 25, worked as a handy man for Raimonde and lived with the family in their cramped apartment.

Mary Jones newsOne day into the search for Sonny, Harold suggested that his 40-year-old estranged wife, Austrian-born Mary Jones, might have been responsible for the boy’s disappearance. He said Mary had become mentally unbalanced the previous year when their baby died shortly after it was born. Harold claimed that Mary held a grudge against Sonny’s father because Raimonde informed the police that she’d stolen something from the building. During a visit to Harold, Raimonde had thrown Mary out of the apartment house due to a display of what Harold described as “disorderly conduct.” Harold claimed Mary was a bigamist, with two prior marriages but no divorces from her previous husbands.

The police arrested Mary, who lived alone in a flat on 3rd Avenue in the East Village. She insisted that she knew nothing about the child’s disappearance but the police charged her with kidnapping Sonny.

HaroldHarold told the police that he believed his wife contacted a man named Alexander Albert and offered him $100 to knock off Raimonde. Alexander was questioned and told police that the information was true but he’d declined the offer. Harold named several other “Bowery stew bums” (homeless alcoholics) he believed Mary tried to bribe to harm Raimonde. Police located the men but could find no evidence of a plot so they were released.

Sonny wasn’t mentioned as a target of Mary’s revenge.

At Mary’s grand jury hearing a ten-year-old girl identified her as the woman she’d seen in a cab that followed Sonny during the parade. However a woman who’d also been nearby failed to identify Mary. A cab driver named William Mahon testified that he’d picked up a woman he identified as Mary, along with a young boy who matched Sonny’s description, near the Von Maluski’s building on the evening the boy went missing. He said the boy was crying. He testified that he’d driven them over a bridge and dropped them off near a vacant lot in the Bronx.

Sonny’s mother, Alice, testified that she and Mary argued about why Harold had moved into her family’s apartment. Alice said that Mary told her she thought Harold moved in so he could carry on an affair with another woman. Alice also admitted that Mary had offered her children toys when she’d visited their apartment, but Alice hadn’t allowed the children to accept them.

The grand jury indicted Mary for the kidnapping of Sonny Von Maluski.

The prosecution witnesses at the trial consisted of cab driver Mahon and another cab driver. The second driver claimed a woman approached him several weeks before Sonny’s disappearance and offered him money to “get a sick child away from a dopehead mother and a drunken father.” He refused the offer but he identified the woman as Mary. A man described as a “volunteer witness” (apparently he wasn’t called by the prosecution but he was allowed to testify) said he’d been in a cab behind the Mahon cab and had gotten a good look at the woman and child who got in the cab. He swore that the woman was Mary.

Mary displayed no emotion throughout her short trial and was the sole witness in her own defense. She admitted she’d been married three times but insisted she wasn’t a bigamist. On that Sunday she had lunch with friends at the restaurant below her apartment, then attended services at nearby St. Ann’s Church. After church she said she went home and took a nap until 9 p.m. Then she woke up but decided it was too late to go out again, so she got undressed and went to bed.

The jury deliberated for just 20 minutes before finding Mary guilty of kidnapping. At her sentencing the judge stated, “I believe you are utterly bad. I believe you killed that child.” He sentenced her to 20 to 40 years in Auburn Prison. He demanded Mary tell the court where the child’s body was hidden. In reply, Mary said, “Why don’t the Von Maluskis tell the truth?”

The family

The following year Mary wrote to the Von Maluskis from her prison cell and promised to tell them what she knew about Sonny’s disappearance if they would visit her. The couple had given up hope of finding Sonny alive, but they went to Auburn hoping to discover the location of his body. However all Mary told them was that she believed he was alive and living near East 51st Street in Manhattan. Prison officials noted that Mary frequently rambled and seemed to be losing her grip on reality.

In 1927 a woman in Hagerstown, Maryland reported to the police that a year or so earlier she’d taken in an abandoned young boy. She heard about the Von Maluski case and wondered if her boy might be Sonny. The woman and the Von Maluskis exchanged photos and descriptions and Raimonde visited in person. Sonny had a large burn scar on his chest, but the Maryland boy didn’t have a scar and he didn’t recognize Raimonde. It was decided that the boy wasn’t Sonny.

Harold Jones moved to Mills House #3 on 36th Street in Midtown Manhattan by 1930. The Mills hotels (there were three in NYC) offered spartan accommodations for working men. Harold is listed on the 1930 census as a 29-year-old unmarried man who worked odd jobs for a living. Harold’s whereabouts after 1930 could not be determined.

Alice gave birth to a daughter, Adele, in 1926. By 1939 Alice either died or she and Raimonde divorced, because he married 32-year-old Enid Whitney in May of that year. The following year the couple had a little boy they named Frederick.

Mary was moved to Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Dutchess County, New York, by 1940. During the 1940s, Matteawan inmates were subjected to electric and insulin shock treatments. The facility also housed more than three times the number of people it had been built to hold. Mary’s date and place of death are currently unknown, but my research into her later life is ongoing.

Alive or dead, Sonny Von Maluski was never found.

Featured photo: news photo of Mary Jones at her grand jury hearing, April 1925. Collection of the author.

18 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Sonny Von Maluski

    • Great question Jim! Obviously I like stories where it isn’t clear if someone is guilty or not. Eye witness testimony can be very unreliable and it seems to me that the case against Mary was built mostly (except for her husband who may have had his own agenda) on eye witness testimony. I’m pretty sure that, like most women then, when she went out she wore a hat. I would wonder if anyone could have recognized her with a hat like that helmet-style she wore at her grand jury hearing. It’s true that she didn’t have an alibi and she apparently bore a grudge against Sonny’s father, but there was no history of her saying she wanted to hurt Sonny. If I had been on the jury I would have voted not to convict Mary. I can imagine several scenarios that didn’t involve Mary, but it’s all speculation at this point! Her story reminded me of the Lindbergh kidnapping which happened a few years later. A German-speaking immigrant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, ended up convicted in that case and he was executed because the laws related to kidnapping had changed by the 1930s.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Such a sad story. Wonderful research, Shayne. It is extraordinary that Sonny was never found. Even a child’s body isn’t so easy to hide, so what opportunities would Mary have had to dispose of Sonny so thoroughly? Was that explored in her trial? I can’t help feeling that she was a vulnerable woman scapegoated by a lazy police investigation.

    Just an aside, would a child’s body that had been buried some 90 years, still be identifiable? I’m just wondering if there would be anything left of the tiny frame of a three year old. I guess what I’m thinking is that Sonny’s siblings and their descendants would still be affected by his abrupt disappearance. The sadness would be passed down. I’m hoping that there might still be the possibility of a resolution to this case with the extraordinary forensic tools at our disposal now.

    As with all your posts, I hope for a bit more information to be published here, as your research chips away at revealing the story.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Kate!

      I think the fact that his body was never found means he may not have been killed after he disappeared. It would not have been easy to hide a body, even a small one, in a busy, crowded city like NYC. I would think that even if it hadn’t been found at the time it would have eventually been discovered.

      If Sonny was killed then and his body was recovered now there should still be DNA available. If a living close relative was located and the DNA compared to that person then his body could still be identified.

      I’m hoping I can find out a bit more about what happened to Mary, though it may not solve the mystery of what happened to Sonny. The records of the asylum where she was sent have been scanned and are available at the New York State Archives.

      Liked by 3 people

      • That would be an extraordinary resource to delve into. I do hope Sonny lived with a loving family if he was perhaps kidnaped by someone desperate for a child.

        Speaking of asylum archives, do you know the Willard Suitcase Project by Jon Crispin? If not, I think you will love it as I do.

        https://www.willardsuitcases.com

        I’m thinking out loud again, I wonder if the Ancestry.com DNA project has or will produce some answers to missing children or any missing person mysteries of the past? With so much information being cross referenced and people finding out they have no genetic links to forebears, surely that might be a source of answers in some minority of cases?

        Glad you liked my email btw!

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Willard Suitcases looks interesting!i spoke to the NY State Psychiatric Center today and all patient records, including historic records, have been closed for an indefinitely.

        If Sonny’s siblings or their kids have taken a DNA test, and if Sonny survived and he or his kids take a test too they may find each other. Wow, that would be amazing! It’s a hopeful thought.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is disappointing about the archive being closed. Has the funding been cut?

        Glad you found the Willard project interesting.

        Yes, so many mysteries waiting to be solved with our new and emerging sciences. They recently were able to tell what Utzi (?) the 5000 odd year old iceman mummy had for his last meal in incredible detail and the approximate time he ate it before his death. If they can work that out, then anything is possible with more recent mysteries.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No problems with funding. They simply aren’t allowing anyone access to the records due to health record privacy laws. Honestly it makes no sense for people who are long dead.

        I tried to look at the Willard Suitcases web site again and keep getting a “forbidden” message. Weird!

        Like

      • Very true about all the future mysteries to be solved! What about Taman Shud! I read that they aren’t allowing his remains to be dug up for DNA comparison to possible living family members. That doesn’t make any sense!

        Like

  2. I think Mary was innocent. I rarely trust eyewitness testimony, and her saying she would tell the parents what happened to Sonny if they visited…well, she was probably desperate for attention and contact with someone outside the prison. If she’d done it, I believe she would have told them.

    So many other possible perpetrators…like Harold! He could have killed the boy, knowing he could blame it on his estranged wife.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe she had mental illness and was an easy target for that reason. The state of New York has a really restrictive policy on releasing records of the people who were held in its asylums and I don’t think I’ll be able to see any of her records, but I’m continuing to try to access them.

      As to what happened to Sonny, I agree that Harold should have been considered as a suspect (but he was being so helpful to the police). Sonny might have died accidentally at home and his parents would have had a motive to cover it up out of fear of losing their other children. He could have wandered off and been by snatched a stranger. It’s also possible that Mary took him because she thought he wasn’t well-cared for and gave him to someone who wanted a child to raise.

      Like

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