90 Years Ago: Woodhaven’s Unsolved Murder

By Ed Wendell


“Local Man Is Held On Double Murder Charge” read the headline in the Leader Observer 90 years ago. Here’s the story behind that headline.

It began in March of 1933 when police were called to the offices of the Waxcraft Candle & Crayon Company on York Street in Brooklyn. There they found one of the owners, Hyman Berson, shot to death. Nearby they found his nephew Charles, also shot and clinging to life.

Charles was able to identify their assailant, Hyman’s partner in the business, Simon Stern. Stern lived at 94th Street and 86th Road in the Brooklyn Manor section of Woodhaven, Queens.

Police traveled to the Stern household, a lovely attached home on a beautiful tree-lined street where they found the businessman eating dinner with his wife and son. They brought Stern to the bedside of Charles Berson where he pointed to Stern and, again, identified him as the killer just before dying from his wounds.

Stern was arrested and incarcerated without bail at the Raymond Street Jail, the notorious Brooklyn prison which operated from 1836 through 1963.

The trial began in November of 1933 and the prosecutors wasted no time laying out the case against the businessman.

First, they noted that Stern had ample motive to murder his partner, Hyman. Their business had been foundering and they were in debt. But the two businessmen had both taken out insurance policies worth $20,000 with each partner serving as the other’s beneficiary.

Next they told the jury that Stern owned a revolver, the same kind that would have produced the wounds that killed the two men. However, Stern was unable to produce the gun, claiming it had been lost in early 1932 when he lost a bag on the Sutter Avenue Bus in Brooklyn.

The driver of the bus testified that Stern did indeed report a lost bag on his bus but that Stern did not mention a gun when reporting the contents of the lost bag. Furthermore, Stern renewed the permit for his revolver with the local precinct in late 1932, months after he claimed to have lost it.

Woodhaven’s Simon Stern may have escaped justice in the 1933 slaying of Hyman and Charles Berson, but fate caught up with him on a lonely road in 1938 outside of Goshen, NY.

And finally there was the deathbed statement from Charles Berson, who stated in front of witnesses that Stern was the gunman.

Stern’s defense was led by Leo Healy, a former Brooklyn District Attorney and Homicide Court Judge appointed to that position by Mayor Jimmy Walker. Healy had resigned for health reasons shortly after being cleared of charges of corruption and spent the rest of his career as a famed defense attorney.

Healy told the jury about candle and crayon trust racketeers who had paid Charles Berson $150,000 to stay out of the candle business only to be double-crossed when he resumed business under a dummy name with Stern and his uncle.

Healy dismissed the missing gun, maintaining that it had been lost on that Brooklyn bus, explaining Stern’s permit renewal as an effort to retain pull with the local police when pulled over for traffic violations.

And finally, Healy noted that Berson’s dying declaration that Stern was the shooter was of no value because Berson had not been made aware that he was going to die. The law at the time stated that any person giving a dying declaration be fully aware that they were dying with no hope for recovery.

The jury spent three hours deliberating Stern’s fate before leaving prosecutors stunned by coming back with a verdict of Not Guilty.

Stern waited until the crowds left the courthouse before leaving. Outside, he was attacked by Charles Berson’s widow Sadie who, according to news accounts “punched, bit, kicked and battered him into a bloody pulp” before police could intervene.

Stern declined to press charges against the widow, saying “Probably if I were in her place I would do the same thing.” Stern returned to his Woodhaven home a free man.

The arrest of businessman Simon Stern of 94th Street and 86th Road in Woodhaven made headlines in the Leader Observer 90 years ago in 1933. The trial would keep Woodhaven riveted until a verdict was reached later that year.

Over the next few years, prosecutors kept investigating the murder while Stern opened a shoe store in Brooklyn. Stern was under secret indictment for the murders and the state was preparing to retry him in 1938 when he was killed in a head-on automobile collision outside of Goshen, in Orange County, New York.

And with that, the case was closed; the secret indictment was quashed and no one else was ever charged in the murders of Hyman and Charles Berson.

King Manor Hosts Celebration for Jackie Robinson

Commemorating Robinson Making History by Joining the MLB

By Pamela Rider


On last week’s balmy Spring Saturday, the staff at the Rufus King Manor recognized the late, great Jackie Robinson through educating attendees on his monumental impact for civil rights and the culture of Major League Baseball.

While it was not the turn out that was expected, the attendees were taught insightful information about Robinson, as King Manor assistant coordinator Sajade Banu spearheaded the decoration and preparation for the event.

On April 15, 1947, Robinson broke through a major barrier in American society when he became the first African American to play for a major league baseball team, The Brooklyn Dodgers.

Assistant coordinator Sajade Banu. Picture by Pamela Rider

Due to baseball being one of the most popular forms of entertainment in 1947, all of society watched as Robinson’s heroism paved the way for other people of color to achieve new heights.

Assistant director George Colon was very warm, inviting and informative as he led the people on a tour of the Mansion. He left no questions unanswered by all who asked. Colon was very in tune with the history not only about Jackie Robinson, but also the history of the Mansion and Rufus King.

Even before his baseball career, throughout his life, Jackie Robinson stood up for fair treatment, social justice and equality for all. In 1946 he married his wife Rachel, and Robinson had to endure racial injustice at every turn. His example and activism that they set led to a positive change that still has an impact and inspires many up to this day.

Robinson believed that “the right to every American to first class citizenship is the most important issue of our time,” as the leader once said.

Robinson attended John Muir Technical High School in California, where earned a place on the annual Pomona Tournament All-Star Baseball team and won the Southland class long jump title with a 23 foot 1 inch leap. He also captured the junior boy’s singles championship in the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament. He then enrolled in Pasadena Junior College where he continued to be an athlete.

Branch Rickey, the president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team signed Robinson to play with the Royals, the minor league team affiliated with the major league baseball club.

On Sept. 26, 1947 Robinson was nominated by The Sporting News Awards as Rookie of the year. In 1987, it was renamed “The Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award.” By the end of his rookie year, Robinson had 12 home runs, a .297 batting average, and led the league in steals with 29. He distinguished himself  throughout his decade-long career with an impressive .311 career batting average.

On Dec. 8, 1956 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), announced that Robinson will receive its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, which was given annually to an African American whose achievements brought credit to the race.

In 1957, Robinson had made up his mind about changing his career. The Brooklyn Dodgers were trading him to the New York Giants, but to their amazement, Robison publicly announced his decision of becoming Vice President of Personal Relations for the Chock Full o’ Nuts corporation.

During his time Robinson chaired the NAACP”s Fight for Freedom Fund, which raised money to fight for equal rights for people of color, and convinced the company to support those efforts.

In addition to raising funds for the NAACP, Robinson traveled extensively in 1957 to raise funds for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organization, which defended equal rights for people of color. SCLC”s mission was to end all forms of segregation. Today the organization remains focused on economic justice and civil rights for people of color.

In 1966, Robinson was appointed by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to the position of Special Assistant for Community Affairs. Due to all of the outstanding accomplishments achieved by Robinson, The U.S. Postal Service first commemorated Robinson with a stamp in 1986. It then issued additional stamps honoring his life in 1999, 2000 and 2013.

Number 42 was retired throughout baseball in 1997. President Clinton and MLB Commissioner Alan “Bud” Selig made this decision which honored Robinson’s number as the only number in baseball history to have been retired across the league. The Number 42 is displayed on the stadium wall of every major league ballpark in the United States.

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