2003-12-10 / Star Journal

Murder, Perjury And A

Park Mark December 1921
Murder, Perjury And A Park Mark December 1921

Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you’re likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star-Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper’s name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).

Welcome to

December 1921!

In the middle of a busy holiday season, Queens residents found time to go to the silent movies that were becoming increasingly popular. Rudolph Valentino was breaking female hearts as "The Sheik," Mary Pickford was starring in "Little Lord Fauntleroy," and the 1914 action movie "Call of the North" with Douglas Fairbanks was being revived. Meanwhile in Long Island City a real-life drama at the Queens County Courthouse was attracting a good deal of attention.

The Sheik (Rudolph Valentino-Agnes Ayres) Movie Poster.  Gazette photo Queens County Court, L.I.C.  www.nyise.org/moore/ Clement C. MooreThe Sheik (Rudolph Valentino-Agnes Ayres) Movie Poster. Gazette photo Queens County Court, L.I.C. www.nyise.org/moore/ Clement C. Moore

In one of the most sensational Queens murder trials, 22-year-old Augusta (Gussie) Humann entered the courtroom on December 12. The Star—Journal’s headline announced "Girl in Garbe Slaying Calmly Views Court Proceedings—Shows No Fear as Death Penalty is Mentioned."

"The trial of Gussie Humann, charged with the murder of Henry Garbe, her one-time lover, at Ozone Park on October 27, opened this morning in the Queens County Court before Judge Burt Jay Humphries. Scores of spectators were turned away at the door of the court room because of lack of space. Gussie Humann has been in jail since the shooting of Garbe. She says she is 22 and is therefore the youngest woman to go on trial in Queens for a capital crime." Indicted with Humann was Joseph Libasci, a Brooklyn electrician, who according to the prosecution, was her current boyfriend.

Garbe, who had quarreled with Humann about a year before the shooting, was attempting a reconciliation with her at the time of the murder. "Garbe was in a lonely spot on the Woodhaven Road near Rockaway Road with a young woman when someone jumped from ambush and fired two shots at him. He was taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital, Jamaica, where he died three days later. ‘Look for Gussie Humann,’ is what the detectives and District Attorney Dana Wallace declare Garbe said in hospital. ‘I was walking with her when I was shot.’"

Humann’s story was that she and Joseph Libasci spent the evening of the shooting at a dance in Brooklyn. "The detectives had gone directly to her home from the hospital after talking with Garbe. She arrived with Libasci and both were arrested. Miss Humann was taken to the hospital and confronted with Garbe. In his opening for the prosecution, District Attorney Dana Wallace "was brief and pointed. In dramatic tones Mr. Wallace described the denunciation of Gussie by Garbe as he lay on a cot in St. Mary’s Hospital, Jamaica, and Gussie’s reply to the dying man, ‘You lie!’"

As the case proceeded on December 13, ‘D.A. Wallace made special efforts to establish beyond doubt that the accused girl was in the vicinity at the time the crime was committed. To this end he called four witnesses, all of whom testified to having seen her early in the evening. One of the witnesses, however, was not positive, and another admitted that she did not know the girl to speak to."

On December 14, the Star—Journal ran a story in which Gussie Humann predicted that she would be freed in time for her father’s birthday party. And as events turned out, she was right. The judge directed the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. "When Judge Humphrey directed the deletion of the dying statement made by Garbe, it was admitted by District Attorney Wallace that a hard blow had been struck at a vital part of the people’s case. Later in the day Mr. Wallace showed further astonishment when the statements made by Miss Humann and Libasci of their movements on the night of the shooting were ruled out of evidence by Judge Humphrey."

With the acquittal of Gussie Humann, the Star—Journal predicted that the case against Joseph Libasci for firing the fatal shots at Garbe might be dropped. Events took an unexpected turn early in 1922, when a friend of Libasci’s came forward to testify against him and he was put on trial for murder. Humann testified on his behalf, insisting that she and Libasci had been together at the Schwaben dance hall in Brooklyn on the night of the shooting. After the Libasci jury was unable to reach a verdict, Gussie was arraigned for perjury.

As Humann went to trial for the second time, Libasci then surprised everyone by pleading guilty to second-degree murder. Later he tried to recant, claiming that both he and Humann were innocent and that he had only confessed to the murder to avoid the possibility of the death penalty. Humann’s jury found her guilty of perjury in record time—only 47 minutes--and she received a sentence of seven to 15 years in prison. She broke down in court after the verdict and allegedly afterwards confessed to the judge her complicity in the murder. In April 1924 she was pardoned by Governor Al Smith.

Gussie Humann was luckier than another Queens woman who would be tried in the Long Island City courthouse. Ruth Snyder and her lover, Henry Judd Grey, would be executed in 1928 for the murder of her husband, Queens Village resident Albert Snyder, after a trial in which D.A. Wallace was once again a prosecutor. But that was all in the future. As Christmas approached, Star—Journal readers on December 21 were interested to learn that Elmhurst residents were petitioning the city to purchase part of the Moore estate for a park.

"There are about 5 acres in the plot and it is admirably located for park purposes. The property is one the historic places in Queens. Part of the house now standing on the place was erected in 1663 and the remainder in 1770. The property was given to the early settlers on the Newtown section to a son of the Rev. John Moore as a memorial to the father. He was the first preacher in Newtown." A descendant of the family, Clement Clarke Moore, is the man generally credited with the authorship of the holiday classic poem, "The Night Before Christmas", or as it is properly titled, "A Visit From Saint Nicholas". It has been suggested that Moore was inspired to write the poem by memories of Merry Christmases at his grandparents’ house in Newtown. The Moore homestead was long ago demolished, but there is a Clement Clarke Moore playground in Elmhurst, and every year his name is remembered at Christmas.

That’s the way it was in December 1921.

Compiled by Clare Doyle, Librarian, Greater Astoria Historical Society.

For more information, contact the Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.

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