A homosexual drifter, Kenneth Neu claimed his first victim on September 2, 1933, in the person of wealthy New Yorker Lawrence Shead. The men met in Times Square, and Shead followed Neu to the latter's hotel room.
Once there, Shead was beaten to death with an electric iron, stripped of money and his suit, which Neu appropriated for his long flight southward, to New Orleans. In the Crescent City, Neu attached himself to Sheffield Clark, a hardware store proprietor, threatening Clark with "exposure" as a homosexual if cash was not forthcoming. The merchant responded by reaching for his telephone, to call police, and Neu strangled him to death before looting the victim's home, departing in Clark's stolen car. Apprehended in New Jersey, the killer was still wearing Lawrence Shead's suit at the time of his arrest.
Tried and convicted of murder in December 1933, Kenneth Neu was sentenced to death. Appeals delayed the execution of his sentence, but the verdict was affirmed, and Neu mounted the scaffold on February 1, 1935. Before the trap was sprung, he treated witnesses to a spirited rendition of an original song composed especially for the occasion. Its title: "I'm Fit as a Fiddle and Ready to Hang."
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Kenneth Neu –
For the kind of small-time thief
that he was, handsome, 25-year-old Kenneth Neu figured out that gay men
must be easy pickings. Pretending to be gay himself, he was invited to
their homes, and once inside he killed and robbed them. He killed
Lawrence Shead in his New York flat with an electric iron, and murdered
Sheffield Clark in New Orleans by strangling him.
Neu was caught by police in New
Jersey in the act of changing the number plates on his car. At his trial
in Louisiana in December, 1934, his lawyer told the court: “ My client
has had sex with hundreds of women, and is now insane as a result of
suffering from syphilis.” Even so, he was found guilty.
About to be sentenced, he tossed
a coin in the air and wished the judge “Good luck.” While awaiting
execution, he sang in his cell and composed a verse, “I’m fit as a
fiddle and ready to hang.” He was duly hanged in New Orleans on Friday,
February 1st, 1935.
Fit As A Fiddle & Ready To Hang
"I'm Fit As A
Fiddle & Ready To Hang" Kenneth Neu chortled, seconds before the
executioner's noose was slipped around his neck. The aspiring nightclub
singer performed his last virtuoso performance for assembled reporters
and photographers and then went to his death seemingly happier than he
had been in many years. Like many other unemployed young men during the
Great Economic Depression of the 1930’s, Neu dreamed of striking it big
as an entertainer. However, his aspirations were coloured by a history
of mental illness; Neu had been confined to the Georgia State Mental
Home for a time.
Advertising himself (perhaps
with more enthusiasm than accuracy) as an accomplished singer and dancer,
25-year-old Neu pestered Manhattan's top nightclub owners for a job. He
claimed to be a multi-talented performer, but the few bookings he was
given did not lead to fame or fortune and he barely made enough to pay
for food and accomodation.
On September 2nd, 1933, Neu's
fortunes were at a low ebb. He was broke and wandering Times Square when
he met a middle-aged man named Lawrence Shead. The stranger listened
sympathetically to the story of his thwarted career ambitions; then said
that he was the owner of a string of theatres in Paterson, New Jersey
and invited Neu up to his room for drinks. He implied that they were
going to discuss show business - but Neu soon realised that Shead really
desired to entice him into a homosexual tryst.
He knocked Shead to the floor,
hit him over the head with an iron and strangled him to death.
Afterwards, he cleaned himself up, took a shower, put on one of Shead's
best suits and took the dead man’s wallet. It contained enough cash to
get him to New Orleans.
A week later Neu was again
looking for work as a singer. Always popular with women, he had used his
charms to seduce a waitress named Eunice Hotte, promising to take her to
New York. "We'll have a big time in the big town" he promised. Only one
thing was missing - a fresh bankroll to finance the journey.
Neu pawned his watch and bought
a blackjack with the proceeds. He used it on Sheffield Clark, Sr., a
Nashville businessman. Earlier, Neu had attempted to blackmail Clark (presumably
threatening to expose potentially embarrassing sexual activities) at the
Yung Hotel. When Clark refused to give in to his demands, Neu used more
direct (and lethal) methods.
After disposing of Clark’s body,
Neu took his victim's car and $300. He and Eunice Hotte then set off to
New York - but they never arrived because Neu made a fatal mistake. Not
content to rely upon speed of relocation and the probability that nobody
was looking out for Clark’s vehicle, Neu removed the license plates and
pasted a handwritten sign on the back that read: "New Car In Transit."
This illegal measure caught the eyes of the New Jersey Police; they
pulled him over. The officers became immediately suspicious because Neu
offered confusing and contradictory explanations for using the sign.
They took the couple to a police station.
Detectives connected Neu with
the death of Lawrence Shead and questioned him at length. To their
surprise, he not only confessed to the murder, but seemed to find the
entire thing amusing. "Sure I killed him" Neu said (with a grin) "This
is his suit I'm wearing now." He also admitted, with equal good humour,
to killing Clark. Neu was extradited to Louisiana to stand trial. Doubts
were expressed about his sanity, but he was judged fit to stand trial.
Deliberations began on December 12th, 1933; he was eventually convicted
of first-degree murder and sentenced to die on the gallows. As he was
led out of the courtroom Neu sang “Sweet Rosie O'Grady”.
He was hanged on February 1st,
1935 - after singing to the journalists who were there to report on his
death, Neu serenaded his executioners with a selection of personal
favorites from his own musical repertoire.
He sang and swung: Finally, Louis
Kenneth Neu was a star
By Mara Bovsun - NYDailyNews.com
April 11, 2010
Louis Kenneth Neu had a handsome face and a pleasant
voice, and yearned for fame in the Broadway spotlights.
Trouble was, it was the depths of the Depression; a
lot of those lights were dim and jobs were scarce. Neu landed one-night
stands in dives, but nothing he could eat on.
On Sept. 2, 1933, the Fred Astaire wanna-be entered a
seedy Times Square nightclub, expecting to emerge with a gig as master
of ceremonies. Instead, he ended up outside on his uppers, again.
While panhandling along the Great White Way, Neu, 25,
caught the eye of Lawrence Shead, a Paterson, N.J., theater manager.
Shead, 35, said he might have a job for the younger man, and the two
headed west together.
On Sept. 10, police found Shead's naked corpse in his
bed. He had been bludgeoned with an electric iron. The dead man's car,
watch, and a suit were gone.
The car turned up a few days later, abandoned in
Charlotte, N.C. Twelve days after that, detectives would learn the
whereabouts of the suit, and exactly how Shead had died, when they
stopped a car on the Pulaski Skyway.
A small detail had piqued police interest. In place
of license plates, there was a hand-lettered cardboard sign that read: "New
Car in Transit." Inside the vehicle were Neu and a girlfriend, Eunice
Hotte, 25, a waitress from New Orleans.
During questioning, a detective became curious about
another detail - red stains on Neu's trousers. When asked about the
stains, the prisoner cheerfully confessed to the Shead murder.
"I killed him," Neu said. "This is his suit I'm
Neu told how Shead had picked him up in Times Square
and lured him out to New Jersey. Liquor flowed freely at Shead's
apartment, and after days of partying, the older man made an unwelcome
Neu responded with his fists, then grabbed the iron
and dealt the fatal blow. He then took a shower, put on his victim's
best suit and watch, and drove to Charlotte in Shead's car. There he
grabbed a train to New Orleans.
In less than a week, he had romanced Hotte, a married
woman with a 5-year-old daughter, and sweet-talked her into running away
with him to New York.
"Be packed and ready," he told her early Sunday
morning, Sept. 17. "We'll have a big time in the big town."
Making good on his promise required money, which Neu
didn't have. So he hocked Shead's watch and bought a blackjack. His
intention, he told the New Jersey police, was to scare people into
turning over their cash.
Later that day, Neu struck up a conversation with
Sheffield Clark Sr., 63, a Nashville businessman, in the lobby of the
Jung Hotel. He followed Clark to his room, and tried to rob him. When
Clark resisted, Neu whacked him with the blackjack, hard.
In Clark's car, with Hotte by his side, Neu fled the
Big Easy and sped back to the Great White Way. During the trip, he
replaced the license plates with the cardboard sign that ultimately gave
him away as he approached the Holland Tunnel.
Charged with two murders, the killer crooner was sent
back to New Orleans to face trial for Clark's slaying, the case most
likely to lead to the gallows.
Serious business, but it didn't seem to scare the
accused. With a captive audience - lawyers, reporters, guards, cops,
wardens, and fellow inmates - Neu blossomed. He clowned, tap-danced, and,
of course, sang.
"Sweet Rosie O'Grady" was his favorite jailhouse
Love-struck women crammed the courthouse during his
trial, which started on Dec. 12, 1933. Neu wore Shead's suit throughout
His attorneys dredged up incidents from his past,
which included a discharge from the Army for "lunacy" and a stay in a
mental hospital in Georgia, his home state. Doctors testified that he
had syphilis, and was showing signs of dementia.
The jury took five hours to find Neu sane and
sentenced him to swing.
Even that didn't seem to faze the doomed man. He just
kept smiling and singing, composing some original songs for the occasion,
like "Fit as a Fiddle and Ready to Hang."
From Death Row, the man the press called the "handsome
singing murderer" began a love affair with a "mystery girl," a beautiful
young woman whose identity he fiercely protected. "Well, it has happened
to me. I am hopelessly in love," he wrote in his prison diary. "For the
very first time in my life, I have met a girl who has made me feel just
exactly like I have always wanted to feel about someone."
She returned his affection, and persuaded him to
convert to Catholicism for the good of his soul. He, of course, sang to
her, their special melody being "Love in Bloom." A day before his date
with the hangman, she sent him a bouquet of roses and one white
Still wearing Shead's suit, and with his beloved's
white gardenia in his lapel, Neu tap-danced to the scaffold on Feb. 1,
1935, warbling "Love in Bloom." His last words were "Don't muss my hair."
The mystery woman was one of three mourners - the
others were nuns - at Neu's funeral, and for years, she tended his
grave. In 1947, she talked to the Times-Picayune. The story, "Gallows,
Grave, and a Girl," revealed that her name was Aline Hull, that she met
Neu through church charity work and intended to forever look after his
final resting place.
This went on until June 23, 1950, when Hull swallowed
an overdose of sleeping pills. Among her belongings, noted Robert
Tallant in his book, "Ready to Hang," her family found a prayer book.
Pressed between the pages was a flower - the crumbling remains of a