Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Samuel Renick Buys His Own Murder – Podcast #39

As I have probably mentioned in previous podcasts, I live on the outskirts of Albany, NY. For that reason, today’s story is one that initially grabbed my attention simply because it involves a former Albany, NY jeweler named Samuel Resnick. After researching a bit more, I realized that I had stumbled upon a long-forgotten, yet very unusual, story from the early 1960s.

So, let us do the time warp back to March 4, 1962. Here we find a real estate agent out for a morning ride on his horse when he makes a grizzly discovery. Lying next to a little-traveled dirt road about 10 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona was the lifeless body of 61-year-old Resnick.

His wife said that the retired jeweler had gone out for a walk after dinner on the first, but never returned. Investigators initially determined that he had been kidnapped, his body beaten and strangled, and robbed of about $6,000 in jewelry. An autopsy determined that the cause of death was strangulation by a rope.

And this is where the story takes a strange turn. It turns out the police knew all about the murder long before any crime was ever committed. Believe it or not, not one, not two, but three different men had previously called the police to let them know that Resnick was seeking to hire someone to kill him.

Samuel Resnick and his wife.
Samuel Resnick and his wife. Image appeared on page 6 of the Dec 30, 1962 publication of Parade magazine.

One of the callers to the local sheriff’s department spoke to a sergeant, but the officer dismissed the call as just plain ludicrous and referred him to the Phoenix city police. But they also thought the tipster was a crackpot and did not pursue it any further.  Even if it were true, they couldn’t do anything about it – Resnick would surely deny the claim and clearly, no crime had been committed – at least not yet.

One caller had mentioned that Sam Resnick was answering the Situations Wanted classified ads – particularly those that indicated they would do any type of work.  Could Sam really have interpreted anything to really mean anything, including murder?

So, they decided to follow up on the ads in the classified section. This led them to a guy named Clemmie Jackson, who had just moved to Phoenix from Crockett, Texas in search of work. He was staying with his brother R.E. – that’s it – the letters R and E – where they found a car owned by their uncle. Inside there was a length of rope that could have been used in the murder. 

Five young men were arrested shortly after. Arrested were Clemmie Jackson (19), brother R.E. (21), Ernest Spurlock (29), John Henry Lewis Jones (21), and Jesse Tillis (19). One would think that five men would tell five different stories, but they were all remarkably similar. Not only did they all admit to committing the murder, but they also made the same exact claim as the earlier callers that Sam Resnick had hired them to bump him off.

So here is their version of the facts in the case:

Resnick had contacted the younger Jackson, Clemmie, a few days before the murder on February 25th. Clem had run an ad that started with “Service attendant or anything else… Resnick offered Clem $6,000 in jewelry and $200 cash to murder him. Sam claimed that he had been dying from incurable cancer and heart disease. He was in unbearable pain and wanted to end his life, but it needed to look like a murder so that his wife could collect $50,000 in life insurance.

Clem was stunned and just left. Resnick called him again later that night, but Clem turned him down once again. But his brother R.E., however, was interested and sent Clem back to find out more. Resnick requested that he be shot in the head from a speeding car, but none of the guys owned a gun. In fact, none had ever fired a weapon.

It was arranged that Resnick would take a walk right after dinner on March 1st. He then climbed into a 1952 Studebaker with the other four men. They drove out to the desert location where his body was ultimately found.

With two men on either side, they looped an ordinary clothesline rope around Resnick’s neck and pulled. They must have had crumby rope because it snapped. Resnick then doubled up the rope and explained how it should be done. They pulled for 2 or 3 minutes until Resnick fell forward on his face.

It was prearranged that they would make it look like a robbery by turning his pockets inside out. They took his jewelry, which consisted of several diamond rings and a watch, but they never got the $200 Resnick promised. This was the only part of the story that varied among them – they only found between 25 and 80 cents in his possession. A trivial difference.

R.E. Jackson led a sheriff’s officer to the backyard of his home to show him where he buried the missing jewelry. As soon as he handed the loot over to an officer, he took off on foot. For fear of hitting innocent bystanders, no shots were fired, but they caught him shortly after that.

At a preliminary hearing, medical authorities made a shocking announcement. They said that they found no sign of cancer, heart disease, or anything unusual for a man of Resnick’s age.

The trial began in late June and confessions from four of the accused were read to the jurors. The judge would not initially allow the last confession signed by John Henry Lewis Jones to be read because he was illiterate, but it was later allowed.

The attorneys for the accused claimed that Resnick was a willing victim and that there was no evidence of malice or willful intent. Yet, in the eyes of the law, whether Resnick wanted to be killed or not made no difference in the case. It was still premeditated murder and all five faced a possible death sentence for the crime.

During the trial, a retired Air Force Sergeant named James O’Grady testified that Renick responded to his October 29th classified ad and insisted that he go to Renick’s home. Resnick told O’Grady that he had incurable cancer and his wife would get double indemnity on the insurance – $100,000 instead of the $50,000 – if he was murdered. O’Grady turned the offer down.

Then a Phoenix truck driver named Alfred Schroeder testified that he had advertised in the same paper that he would do anything legal for $1,000. Resnick asked him to shoot him in the back of his neck in exchange for three diamond rings. Schroeder, instead, reported it to the local sheriff’s office,

Even Resnick’s barber Floyd Musgrave testified that Sam wanted him to slice his throat with a razor. When Floyd refused, he asked the barber to find someone else to kill him, but he again said no.

After 19 days of trial and another 19 hours of deliberation, the eight-woman, four-man jury returned their verdicts. Clemmie Jackson, the guy who did not actually participate in the murder – the go-between- was found innocent and set free. The remaining four were all found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment.  

As you would expect, since his death was not an accident, Lloyd’s of London did not pay on the life insurance policy.

But that was not the end of the story. The jewelry that Resnick offered as payment for his killing became the subject of a legal tug-of-war. It seems that R.E. Jackson, one of the murderers, gave the jewelry to his lawyer Frank Gibson as payment for his services. But Mrs. Resnick and her son Martin felt that they were entitled to it. On April 26, 1966, more than four years after the murder, the court ordered the return of the jewels to the Resnick family.

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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