Remembering the patrolman who was killed by ‘The Radio Burglar’ in Woodhaven: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

Patrolman Arthur Kenney, was killed in 1926 in Woodhaven while attempting to apprehend the “Radio Burglar.” On Saturday, April 6, he will be honored by having the corner of 80th Street and 90th Avenue co-named in his honor.
Photo courtesy of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society

In 1926, residents of Woodhaven were living in fear due to a brazen criminal who had been breaking into residents’ homes and making off with their radios. At the time, radios were still relatively new, and they were rare and costly to own. So many radios were stolen that homeowners began taking down their aerials in hopes that the criminal the press had dubbed “The Radio Burglar” would leave them alone.

One night well after midnight in early March, a policeman confronted a man carrying a bulky item under a blanket at Woodhaven Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue. When asked what he was carrying at that late hour, the man said, “Let me show you” and placed the bundle on the ground.

When the officer leaned over to look, the man shot him through his overcoat pocket and made his escape. While the officer’s injuries were not life-threatening, the Radio Burglar’s actions certainly were, and the NYPD flooded the area with plainclothes detectives and uniformed patrolmen to pull the plug on him.

At 2:30 in the morning of March 25th, 1926, police were summoned to a home on 78th Street by a housewife who saw a man acting suspiciously outside a neighbor’s home. When the detectives arrived at the scene, they noticed a flickering light inside the home and one of the officers walked down the alley and into the backyard to investigate.

Det. Frank Donnelly of Long Island City was near the back door when it opened and a man, identifying himself as the homeowner, asked “What’s the matter? Is there anything I can do for you?”

Before the detective could answer, there was an explosion and he fell, a bullet lodged in his chest. The burglar had shot Donnelly without removing his hand from his jacket pocket, just as he had a few weeks earlier.

In the chaos, and under the cover of darkness, the burglar escaped and emerged around the corner, with Patrolman Arthur Kenney and another officer in hot pursuit. The chase continued for several blocks, with Kenney closing in, when the burglar disappeared into some bushes.

Patrolman Arthur Kenney followed the suspect’s trail into a dark backyard where he almost collided with a man claiming to be a fellow police officer, also in pursuit.

“I think the man you’re looking for jumped over that fence,” he told Kenney.

Keep in mind that the streets were flooded with plainclothes detectives from all over Queens and they didn’t all know each other. And in that brief momentary pause, the suspect fired his gun from his jacket pocket again, striking Kenney in the neck, before vanishing into the night.

Patrolman Arthur Kenney battled for two weeks before succumbing to his injuries. He was 28 years old and left behind a wife and a young daughter.

The murder of Patrolman Kenney horrified the public and policemen around the city worked overtime to find the killer. While visiting a pawn shop, detectives found one of the stolen radios and paid a visit to the man who had signed the receipt. The man, George Ebert, denied any involvement but said that he had a good idea who had forged his name, an acquaintance of his and career criminal by the name of Paul Emmanuel Hilton.

Hilton was well-known to the police, having been arrested numerous times over the years and soon, every police officer in New York City had seen a picture of Hilton’s mug shot, and were told to keep an eye out for his easily recognizable nose, which had a unique shape.

Two detectives named Pike and Chiquette were spending their day off looking for Hilton. Knowing that he was an avid baseball fan going back to his sandlot days in Brooklyn, they played a hunch and stood by the gates of the Polo Grounds on the Giants’ opening day, April 13, 1926.

Sure enough, Pike recognized Hilton’s nose and asked him to produce identification. When Hilton reached into his pocket the detectives grabbed him and found a gun in that pocket. Hilton was arrested and charged with the murder of Patrolman Arthur Kenney. He would eventually be found guilty and meet his fate in the electric chair.

As for Patrolman Kenney, 98 years after his murder, he has not been forgotten. On Saturday, April 6, he will be honored by having the corner of 80th Street and 90th Avenue co-named in his honor. The ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. and is the work of the Newtown Historical Society, Council Member Joann Ariola and the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society.