Monday, May 12, 2014

Bert Harger -- A Lover's Spat

As one-half of the ballroom dance team of Harger and Maye, the 39-year-old dancer appeared with great success before the crowned heads of Europe.  Currently billed at New York City's Biltmore Hotel as "the dancing toast of the continent," the team previously performed at the St. Regis Room and the Cotillion Room of the Hotel Pierre.  Harger was last seen on August 19, 1945 by his lover, Walter H. Dahl, Jr., a 30-year-old Pennsylvania Railroad freight representative, at the apartment they shared at 43 West 46th Street.  Police suspected Dahl in the disappearance, but could make no headway in the case until a dismembered torso was found floating in the Hudson River off Rockaway Beach.  Dahl examined the body part in the morgue and declared it not to be Harger's because it lacked an identifying birth mark.  Immediately afterwards, he made a hasty trip to Philadelphia to post telegrams under Harger's name to himself and the man's dance partner, Charlotte Maye, informing both that he planned to leave the business.  In late August 1945, Dahl notified authorities that he was in receipt of a letter from Harger with a Chicago postmark in which the dancer wrote that he was going to visit his brother in California.  Police checked with Harger's brother who had heard nothing from the man.  After Dahl moved from the apartment on West 46th Street, detectives scoured the rooms and found minute blood splotches on the bathroom floor.  Taken into police custody on October 6, 1945, Dahl finally confessed to killing Harger with a hammer when the dancer attacked him with an ice pick during an argument.  Afterward, Dahl dismembered his lover's body with a razor and butcher knife in the bathtub then dropped the packaged arms and legs off the Weehawken Ferry and the bundled torso off the Staten Island Ferry.  On April 26, 1946, Dahl pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  The lesser plea was accepted after the district attorney declared that it would be difficult to convict the killer on a charge of first-degree murder.

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