Three Dead as Result of Arson Plot
Louis N. Leopold, furniture merchant of Waterbury, Conn., was found guilty in the Superior Court at Waterbury on November 21 on two counts of second degree murder and one count of arson and sentenced to a life term in the Connecticut state prison at Wethersfield by Judge Carl Foster after a trial lasting over six weeks. The crime for which Leopold, the father of six children, must spend the remainder of his life in prison occurred on the morning of February 5 last, at 2 a. m. Leopold hired Sam Weiss and Morris Shelnitz, both of New Haven, to burn the Waterbury Furniture Company’s store on Baldwin street to collect the insurance on the contents.
Two boys, John and Joseph Moynihan, living with their parents in an apartment directly over the store, were burned to death and Weiss was killed by an explosion of gasoline used in the attempt Shelnitz, who was injured, confessed his part in the crime and awaits sentence.
The trial, one of the most bitterly contested in the annals of Connecticut court history, lasted 23 court days. Leopold had a narrow escape from the gallows when State’s Attorney L. L. Lewis perceived that the jury had found Leopold guilty of two counts of second degree murder—which carries a penalty of life imprisonment—and guilty of death by wilful burning which demands execution by hanging, The contradiction was explained and the jury was allowed to change its verdict.
While Leopold was not at the scene of the fire, the state contended that he was the brains of the trio and directly responsible for the loss of the three lives. He was sitting in at a poker game with friends at the time the fire occurred. This, the state also explained, was pre-arranged in order to throw off any suspicion that might be directed against him. It was brought out in the evidence that Leopold did not go to the fire when he heard about it.
Much of the evidence obtained by the state against Leopold was given by Shelnitz, who narrowly escaped death at the fire. The building in which the fire occurred was owned by Leopold’s wife. Several cans of gasoline were carried to the store. A lighted match supposedly used by the dead man Weiss, caused the gas fumes to explode and the building was a mass of flames when the Waterbury fire department was called to the scene.
The explosion was so terrific that the lower part of the building was practically consumed in a few minutes. The two Moynihan boys, asleep in the apartment over the store, escaped from the building but returned again to secure some money left there. They were in the building when the floor collapsed and they fell through and were burned to death. Their bodies, along with that of Weiss, were found by firemen. Several members of the Waterbury fire department, along with Chief Henry H. Heitman, testified during the course of the trial.