A longtime Bay Ridge writer has penned a book about the dark side of his neighborhood over the past century.
Henry Stewart, vice president of the Bay Ridge Historical Society and a community Board 10 member, has always been a writer. After researching various historical findings of the neighborhood, he became inspired to write True Crime Bay Ridge, a collection of 11 historical stories of murder, kidnapping and more, all set in his backyard ranging from 1874 to 1957.
“I write a lot about non-crime related Bay Ridge history and I would be digging through newspaper archives looking at articles like the development of Shore Road and every once in a while I would come across an adjacent story that was about a murder or a kidnapping and they always distracted me from what I was trying to do,” he said.
The neighborhood stories is what separates this collection of heinous crimes from other works of the genre.
“I would say I’m interested in crime stories as much as the next person but it’s certainly not something that I used to really associate Bay Ridge with,” Stewart said. “Certainly there have been instances of crimes in the neighborhood. I think they’re quickly forgotten. It’s not something people in Bay Ridge tend to associate the neighborhood with. Yet there is this rich history of murders and shootings and kidnappings. It’s fascinating for people who live here because it’s not just the allure of a crime story but one set on the streets that you walk everyday so it’s more personal.”
Stewart also thinks readers will get a feel for just how much Bay Ridge has changed over time by reading his book.
“The interesting thing about the book is that the crimes are arranged chronologically so, between the lines, if you’re reading it, you’re experiencing the way that Bay Ridge is changing,” he said. “The different kinds of people that are here now, the different ways they are travelling, the different jobs they have and homes they live in and ways they spend their free time. So you’re not just reading these tawdry stories about people getting killed, but you’re also getting a little piece of the history of the neighborhood as well.”
Stewart got the idea for the book while looking for information on an old bar called the Melody Room from the 1950s.
“There are local novelists that used to hang out there and I was curious,” he said. “I was doing a lot of Googling and I ended up finding this trial transcript that Google Books had scanned and they mentioned where the bar was but I didn’t care anymore as I was reading this testimony about this woman who had been murdered. That was the first one I started working on.”
Some of the crimes were especially troubling and fascinating, both for Stewart and his readers.
“The last chapter I wrote and discovered was very troubling,” he said. “It was a man who beat a woman to death with a hammer and dumped her body on 94th street, right off Marine, and by the time they arrested him a week later, they connected him to a similar murder that happened earlier that year as well as several muggings in the street and attempted assaults. So there was a would-be serial killer walking the streets of Bay Ridge in the late 1950s. That’s something that has totally been forgotten and people aren’t telling.”
The book, released in March, also has the potential to put the neighborhood’s current state into perspective for readers, Stewart said.
“I think sometimes when a crime happens in Bay Ridge today, the response can get a little hysterical especially on social media that the neighborhood is falling apart and that it’s not safe anymore,” he said. “I think the book is a good reminder that crime is a part of every community but isolated incidents don’t define a community; that Bay Ridge can be a beautiful and safe place to live and also the setting where terrible things can happen.”
Stewart will be hosting a reading and signing of his book at The Bookmark Shoppe, 8415 Third Avenue, on Saturday, May 12 at 2 p.m.
The book is currently available on Amazon.