A Trusted Friend: The murder of Rose Gendler

22-year-old Rose Gendler left her part-time job at M. L. Parker Co. in downtown Davenport a little after 9:00 p.m. on December 21, 1932. She had worked a full day in the toy department and still had to catch the Bridge Line streetcar to Rock Island. She had an important dress fitting scheduled before heading home for the night.

Rose’s friend, Maurice “Morris” Meyer, was unable to pick her up that night from the store located at 104 W. 2nd Street. Rose was seen on the Bridge Line streetcar by a neighbor and her daughter. The pair got off the streetcar before Rose’s stop. The daughter turned and waved to Rose as she stepped off.

Rose soon stepped off the streetcar at her usual stop at Fifteenth and Third. She then vanished into the cold, dark December night.

Rose Gendler was born October 16, 1909, in Russia. She immigrated to the United States with her parents Kalmen and Ella Gendler about 1914 and settled in Rock Island, Illinois. We know Rose was one of five children born to Kalmen and Ella. She was the only child to survive into adulthood. Rose’s father died May 25, 1919, after a short illness. Her mother remarried in July 1920 to widower Jacob Mark.

Rose, her mother, stepfather, and two stepbrothers lived at 820 11th Avenue in Rock Island after the marriage. Rose attended and graduated from Rock Island High School in 1927. She was a popular and serious student. She participated in speech and debate; numerous intellectual and benevolent organizations associated with school and Beth Israel synagogue; and was noted for her musical talents including her beautiful soprano voice.

After graduating high school, Rose took on temporary jobs and continued to take part in benevolent societies. She was deeply involved with her synagogue including sharing her musical talents in performances and leading pageants for children. Rose was said to have had many unofficial suitors to escort her to outings, but centered her life around her family, friends, and religious societies.

Rose had relatives throughout the United States and spent time visiting them in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York City after graduation. In 1930, Rose moved to Chicago to work and live with relatives. She came back frequently to visit and attend weddings of family and friends. She was even maid of honor for one of her closest friends, Sally Jane Meyer, in August of 1931.

The Meyer family included parents Soloman (Sol) and Anna (also immigrants from Russia) and their children Edith, Maurice, Sarah (nicknamed Sally), and Abe. Rose was particularly close to Sally who was two years younger than her and Maurice who was a year older. It was not unusual for Maurice to pick Rose up from her part-time job, spend time reading and discussing books with Rose at her house, and be invited over for meals. He was even one of Rose’s unofficial suitors to events.

Jacob Mark is listed as a peddler and Sol Meyer as a junk dealer in census and directories of the time. Maurice had embarked on his own career as owner of the Ideal Overall Cleaners at 1614 23rd Avenue in Moline, Illinois. Rose filled in at the M. L. Parker department store in Davenport during their busy times and volunteered at synagogue and in the community. Rose and her mother had some savings in the bank from property left to them after the death of Kalmen Gendler. Not much but rumored to be about $2000.

Neither family was wealthy, but they seemed to be surviving the Great Depression through hard work and close friendships.

Rose had only been living back at home for a few weeks before she disappeared on December 21, 1932. It was late November when she returned to take on her part-time job. There was a secret Rose and her family kept from all but their closest friends. Rose was engaged to Mr. Jerry Gordon from Chicago. The dressmaker was working on Rose’s trousseau and the engagement was to be announced on New Year’s Eve.

When Rose had not returned home by 10:00 p.m. that night, her mother became worried. She called the dressmaker to find that Rose had never shown for her appointment. Ella Mark quickly called the Meyer family and spoke to Maurice. He told her he was unwell and had stayed in all night, but to let him know if Rose didn’t return. Maurice said he knew she would come home soon.

As the hours passed, Rose’s mother panicked. She kept walking to the streetcar stop looking for Rose. Jacob and Ella then called their good friends the Meyer family for help. The Meyer house was at 1015 11th Avenue near the Mark home. Sol and Anna quickly arrived about 2:00 a.m. Sol noticed a piece of paper on the screen door as they walked in, but thought it was an advertisement someone had placed there.

The frantic household telephoned the police about 3:00 a.m. to ask about accident victims with no success. It wasn’t until daylight that the note was once again noticed on the outside screen door. It read “We have your Rosie. We want $2,000 ransom. Don’t worry, she’s all right. Don’t tell the cops.” A relative of the family took it to police even though family was against it.

It was about 10:00 a.m. on December 22, 1932, that Hugo Freed aged 16 and Jack Rahn aged 12 left their Moline homes to hike to the town of Coal Valley. They had to walk across a bridge that spanned the Rock River on their way. They noticed drops of what looked like blood on the wooden bridge planks. Curious, they peered over the railing. They were horrified to see two legs sticking out of a burlap sack on the ice below. Panicked, they quickly located Harry Beck who was camping nearby. The police were summoned, and newspaper reporters swarmed the crime scene as well.

It was the body of Rose Gendler. She was lying face down on a sheet of ice. She had wounds to her skull, a gag in her mouth that was tied in place with a tie, her face and neck were wrapped in rope, with her arms tied behind her back. Her shoes had scuff marks as though she had been dragged.

Dr. Paul Youngberg did the autopsy. He found a six-inch skull fracture at the base of her skull, broken neck, lacerations of the face and scalp, and lacerations causing her right lung to collapse along with a laceration of the liver. It was his belief that Rose was alive when she was dropped off the side of the bridge. The heat from her body had caused the ice to melt a few inches before she was found.

The police noted the ice that Rose landed on was the only portion on the river not completely covered with snow. In the dark it would have appeared to have been an open area on the river. Whoever had done this intended for Rose’s body to sink in the water and be covered until Spring, if it was found at all.

Who would have done this to Rose and why? Was it kidnappers who heard rumors about Mrs. Mark and Rose’s bank account?

The burlap sack had “Decatur Milling Company” stamped on it and the ransom note was identified as the type of paper used for newspapers.  A co-worker at the Parker store said Rose used the telephone during her break at 6:30 p.m. and had a conversation with a male asking if he was picking her up that night. The response appeared to have been no and Rose caught the streetcar home.

The police began to question the family and quickly cleared them. Both of Rose’s stepbrothers were older and lived outside of the home by 1932. Rose had a cordial relationship with her stepfather. While not overly affectionate, Jacob Mark was devastated by the murder of Rose. Her mother Ella became bedridden from the shock and a nurse was hired to attend to her along with extended family. The police obtained Rose’s diary but found no clues inside it.

On December 25, 1932, Rose Gendler’s body was taken to her family home for a brief service. The service was kept simple due to the Chanukah holiday being celebrated. Rabbi Solomon L. Levitan conducted the service at the gravesite of the Tri-City Jewish Cemetery in Davenport. Newspapers reported that Rose’s mother was so distraught at the gravesite she attempted to jump into the grave. Before then she repeatedly demanded for the coffin to be reopened to see and kiss her Rosie. Over 600 people were reported to have attended the funeral.

The case soon went cold. The burlap sack was traced to Mr. S. Boxerman of Rock Island. He bought a batch of them from the Ucano Candy Co. of Davenport. His occupation was reselling sacks and he sold about 13 of 25 of that lot with mixed in with other sacks.

The Rock Island Police Department decided to bring in new scientific equipment to help solve the murder. The lie detector had been in use since 1921, but not used by local departments. Many of Rose’s family and friends were brought in and questioned using the machine. Originally Rose’s stepfather was called in for a second questioning and then passed. Family friend, Maurice Meyer, was also called in for further questioning after he declined to answer certain questions on the first round. When they went to locate him for further questioning, the police found that he had cashed his checks and left the state in a rented automobile on January 12, 1933. His father paid the owner of the car $200 when it was not returned which is why a report with the police was never filed for it being stolen.

Maurice was stopped by police in Abilene, Texas for a traffic citation. Instead of being placed in jail, the police agreed he could spend the night in a local motel and appear in court the next morning. By the next morning, Maurice was gone.

He went to California. At the pleading of his family, he returned to Chicago to visit his brothers-in-law who were both attorneys. He then returned on February 14th, 1933, to Rock Island where he went straight to the District Attorney. He was taken to the police station and after many hours of questioning, Maurice finally told his story of that night.

Maurice stated he was not feeling well during the day of December 21st. He went home about 5:00 p.m. from work, ate dinner, and then rested. About 8:30 p.m. he got up and went to the Hickey Brothers cigar store at 19th Street and 3rd Avenue in Rock Island. He happened to see Rose getting off the streetcar and offered her a ride home. Rose asked to see a picture Maurice had told her about of Maurice’s niece. Maurice said it was at his store and drove them there to get it. He and Rose talked about Christmas presents along the way. He went into his shop to grab the picture and his watch which he left there earlier in the day while Rose waited in his work truck.

Upon leaving the shop he found Rose lying next to his truck in the back alley. Maurice presumed she had gotten out of the truck for some reason then slipped and fell. It appeared to him she hit her head on the side of the building as she fell.

Maurice quickly took her back into his shop to try to awaken her. He couldn’t feel her pulse or hear a heartbeat (he admitted never opening her coat while listening). He panicked that he would be blamed for her death, so he shoved a rag into her mouth, tied her head and neck with rope, tied her hands and legs (though her legs were not tied when found), and took her to his truck. He found the burlap sack and placed her in it to move her more easily. He began to drive around and eventually found himself on the bridge.

It was difficult to get her body over the railing and he lost his grip. Her heard her body strike the metal supports as she fell. Maurice stated he returned to his shop and cleaned the blood off his truck and the shop floor as Rose’s head wound had been bleeding. He grabbed a piece of paper and wrote the ransom note. Then he drove near the Mark home and placed it on the screen door. He then went to a diner and had a hot lemonade because he felt his cold was getting worse.

The police said that Maurice went to the Mark home later during the day of the 22nd and helped her cousins search the outside of the house for any evidence of who left the note. He even sat with Rose’s mother and talked about who could have hurt her Rosie.

The police asked Maurice if it was true that he had tried to borrow over $700 from Rose the night before her murder which she turned down. He denied that had happened along with denying his shop was in trouble from lack of business.

A grand jury was quickly convened and indicted Maurice Meyer on 15 counts including the murder of Rose Gendler. He did not go before a jury trial but was tried in front of a judge. The trial being moved from the city of Rock Island, Illinois to the nearby town of Cambridge at the request of his lawyer.

While in Rock Island County jail, Maurice was caught twice passing notes. Once to his brother Abe and another time to two inmates who were recently released from the same jail. Both times the notes begged them to smuggle in a gun to him. Maurice said both times it was to commit suicide and not to escape.

By the time of the trial, six of the charges were dismissed leaving nine charges Maurice faced. A packed courtroom waited for the trial to begin on April 10, 1933. The main question seemed to be if Rose Gendler was dead before or after she was thrown by Maurice Meyer off the Rock River bridge. Was this a case of an accidental death and a young man panicking or was it premeditated with a cold-blooded killer disposing of Rose’s living body onto the ice of the river below.

The prosecutor brought in Rose’s family and friends. They testified to Rose and Maurice’s friendship, Maurice’s behavior before and after the murder, and knowledge of financial troubles Maurice was having. The doctors testified that all evidence showed Rose was still alive when thrown from the bridge and most likely the fall caused her death.

The defense tried to show that Maurice had no financial issues and Rose’s death was a simple tragedy that temporarily caused Maurice to respond in panic. Maurice testified on his own behalf of the terrible accident that had happened. Their doctors testified that the fall at the shop was most likely the cause of Rose’s death and that she was deceased before she was thrown off the bridge.

When both sides rested, Judge Leonard E. Tellgen had to consider a verdict including the death penalty. On May 9, 1933, Maurice Meyer was found guilty on just one count. Count Nine was that Meyer had inflicted mortal wounds on the head and body from which Rose Gendler died. The Judge sentenced Maurice Meyer to 90 years in state prison. In June of 1933 he was moved to the Illinois State Prison at Joliet to serve his sentence.

Maurice appealed his conviction and lost. He then tried over the years for executive clemency. In 1949, Governor Adlai Stevenson did lower his sentence to 85 years after Meyer participated in a malaria study in prison.

Meyer was granted parole in October 1961 after twelve attempts at clemency. He eventually settled near his siblings in Broward County, Florida. We found two marriages for Maurice Meyer. To Gilda Kaplan on December 1, 1977, in Broward County, Florida. She died March 20, 1987. Another marriage was to Seena Kramer on January 7, 1989.

Maurice Meyer died July 30, 1995, in Broward County, Florida. He is buried next to his wife Seena Meyer in Forest lawn Memorial Gardens North in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Many people believed that Maurice Meyer willingly murdered his childhood friend, Rose Gendler, for money. When Rose turned him down for a loan on December 20th, Maurice came up with the plan to murder her and send a ransom note to her parents. Knowing how loved Rose was by her mother; he would have had no doubt Ella would have turned the money over for Rose’s life. Rose could not live as she would be able to identify him as her kidnapper.

With Rose’s body in the Rock River trapped beneath the ice, Maurice may have thought he would get away with the plan. The plan fell apart as Rose’s body landed on the ice and was discovered the next day.

Or was it as Maurice’s family always believed. A horrible accident made worse by the panicked actions of a heartbroken young man.  

We will leave it up for you to decide.

(posted by Amy D.)

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1 Response to A Trusted Friend: The murder of Rose Gendler

  1. TarnishedCopper says:

    Very well-written Amy!

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