Long before the Zodiac and the Son of Sam, there was 3X, The Man Behind the Gun. He killed with a mysterious agenda, communicated in ciphers, and claimed to be part of an international cabal of anti-communist operatives, and, for one long summer in 1930, he kept New York City in thrall.
It began on June 11, 1930, on a secluded lover’s lane near the College Point neighborhood. Joseph Mozyinski, a 39-year-old grocery store owner, and his 19-year-old mistress, Catherine May, were just settling into their romantic business, when they were joined by a mysterious stranger. He was short, slight of build, and spoke with a thick German accent. The man seemed to know Mozynski, as if he had been looking for him. Upon recognition, he shot him twice in the head, killing him. He then rifled through his pockets, locating some papers he was apparently looking for, which he promptly set on fire.
May then claims the man forced her out of the vehicle and raped her. Once finished, he asked her where she lived and walked her to the bus stop. As she was boarding the bus, the stranger gave her a small, folded piece of paper and warned her not to read it until the next day. He rode with her for several stops but disembarked before arriving at College Point. After the man left, she unfolded and read the note. In stamped red ink it said “Joseph Mozynski 3X 3-X-097”
Curiously, May did not report the murder to the police, or to anyone else. Investigators found her jacket in the car and were able to locate her from it. Because of her failure to cooperate, and her inconsistent testimony, she was initially considered a suspect. She was interrogated for three days, giving several different versions of her story in the process, including one where a local mob figure committed the murder. May had been having an affair with Mozynski, who was married with two children, for more than two years, a fact she may have felt she needed to conceal.
Three days later, while May was still in custody, a bombshell landed on the case in the form of a letter written to the New York Evening Journal. It read:
Kindly print this letter in your paper for Mozynski’s friends: “CC-NY ADCM-Y16a DQR-PA . . . 241 PM6 Queens.”
By doing this, you may save their lives. And the women may know where the missing papers are and who has them since they were given to Mozynski. We do not want any more shooting unless we have to.
3X, The Man Behind the Gun.
The letter was postmarked several hours before Mozynski’s body was discovered and, taken with May’s account, there seemed little doubt that it was written by the killer. The Evening Journal ran a story that night on the killing, though they did not include the message from 3X. The following day, another message was received.
Gentleman: For your information, the young lady, Miss C. May, involved in this case is innocent and a victim of unfortunate circumstances. Mozynski was nothing but a rascal – a dirty rat. Not two women as stated in the papers, but six and two young girls, one 14 and one 15, were with him in that same place. I am the agent of a secret international order and when I met Mozynski that night, it was to get from him certain documents, but unfortunately, they were not in his possession at that time. If his relative knew so much of his luck with women, maybe he would tell us what became of the following items: NYX-26-73; NJ 4-3-44; Philadelphia XV 346. These papers must be returned to us at once or 14 more of Mozynski’s friends will join him. Mozynski’s relatives and friends have up to Monday, 12:00 PM to bring these documents to us or to have someone get in touch with us and tell us where to find them. If no answer is received by that time, we will start merry hell for all of them.
3X The Man Behind The Gun
Following his signature, there was a curious symbol made up of an inverted letter V on top of a right side up V. It would not be long before 3X made good on his promise.
On June 16, a Noel Sowley, a 26-year-old radio mechanic, and his girlfriend Betty Ring, 18, where parked in a secluded spot near a salvage yard in the Floral Park neighborhood when they were interrupted by a man with a flashlight. The stranger spoke with a thick German accent, flashing the light in their eyes and asking for Sowley’s driver’s license. He then made a Morse Code like signal with the flashlight to some unseen person in the distance, claiming he was communicating to his colleague that he didn’t need help. The man asked Sowley if he knew Joseph Mozynski, when Sowley answered that he did not, the stranger shot him in the mouth. Sowley gasped through his wound that he was not the one that he was looking for. The man then went to the back of the car, checked the license plates, and returned to Sowley.
“You’re the one we want, all right, and you’re going to get what Joe got,” he said and shot Sowley in the head, killing him.
The man then went through Sowley’s pockets, saying “I have it!” after discovering a particular piece of paper.
As with Catherine May, Ring claims that the killer attempted to sexually assault her, though was dissuaded by her pleas and the religious symbol around her neck. He then walks her to the bus stop, rides a few stops with her, and gives her a folded note, instructing her not to read it until the next day. The note reads, “Sowley 3X” stamped in the same red ink as the Mozynski note.
Evidence from the crime scene dispelled any doubt as to whether the murders were connected. Ballistic analysis confirmed that the bullets that killed Mozynski and Sowley were fired from the same gun. A newspaper clipping about the Mozynski murder was found in Sowley’s pocket. It was marked with the words, “Here’s how”, written in the margin. Also, a roll of cash was found stuck between the pages of a blood-stained magazine.
The next day another letter from 3X was received, this one containing two spent shell casings from the Sowley murder.
Inspector J. J. Gallagher, Lieutenant J. Smith.
For your information, one more of J. Mozynski’s friends was sent to meet him. V-5 Sowley was shot to death near Floral Park and not very far away from police signal station. I enclose the two empty shells. Some of our money was found on his person and the N. Y. document. The girl was, as in the case of Miss May, put aboard a bus and sent home–but no clues were left for you this time. Thirteen more men and’ one woman will go if they do not make peace with us and stop bleeding us to death.
On the morning of June 18, another, ominous note arrived at the Journal:
Tonight one more will go. You may let know 3X is the man behind the gun. He asks for no quarter but will give none. On June 18 at 9:00 PM, I will be at College Point to get WR V-8.
Understandably, the entire city was on edge. Police were out in extra force, lover’s lanes stood abandoned, and mothers kept their daughters home. Despite his previous reliability, 3X did not kill again that night. Instead, he turned up in Philadelphia, mailing another of his cryptic letters to John Mozynski, brother of the first victim. The letter demanded that Mozynski deliver a collection of “stolen” documents to be placed at the Broad Street Station. John Mozynski claimed no knowledge of these documents and was placed in police protection.
Then, on June 21, 3X sent his most intriguing letter yet, again addressed to the Evening Journal:
Dear Sir: The last document, N.J. 4-3-44 returned to us the 19 at 9p.m. My mission is ended. There is no further cause for worry. I do not know Doctor Williams and the others. The first sign means A, the supreme tribunal of the order. The second V, its special agent. The two combined form the Red Diamond of Russia, a secret organization all over the world. Anyone breaking its rules is marked for death. These men were dismissed for treason. They were all our friends but came in contact with a gang of blackmailers and a drug ring and turned against us. One of them stole the documents mentioned before and they tried to use them for blackmailing our men here. Most of us are soldiers and every nation in the world is represented in our ranks.
Word came to us at the supreme council in Russia of the peril in the U.S. Twelve of us picked one card. Mine was the king of diamonds. I was the one selected to punish and inflict death if necessary. I have patiently waited. I have warned them all of danger. Instead of heeding the warning they answered me by blackmail. They were requested many times for the return of the papers but refused to surrender them. It was when Mozynski died that they found out who I am. Now it is all over. The documents in question — one is a military document, another is political and the third one just surrendered is commercial. Who am I? Not much. An ex-German Army officer of the Wilhelm St. Office, Berlin, during the war. Now in the service of the Red Diamond of Russia. Yes the code was addressed to Sowley. Now it is all over. You show me to be brave. Any man who took orders from this 77 is fearless. Your policemen are brave men only they need training. I was watching them at C.P. on the 18th at 9 sharp.
A German officer never breaks his word–yes, right there. Have you heard a plane? It was a monoplane, small, very fast. The plane circled twice over Flushing, C.P. Bayside, then went away. If you did then you will know I was there …. I have no fish eyes. The police have fish eyes. … They have always been wrong from beginning to end. That is why they have lost from beginning to end. For two reasons. One I have stated to you. The other, they are too slow.
I am deeply sorry for having stained your country with blood but let this be a warning to all concerned –treason of one word means death. The next time no mercy will be shown. Death only will be the penalty, but I hope I will not be the one to inflict it next time. We are not maniacs or bandits or robbers–robbery never was the motive and we do not belong to any dope ring. This is final. You know what we want you to know. Quiet your people and tell them that 3 X is no more.
H.P. 12W. A.
Do not let anyone fool you, if any more letters come they are fakes. I am leaving today on my way back to Russia. Please note I do not write USSR. We do not recognize them. There is no one else to begin trouble. It is settled.
H.P. 12W. A.
Though countless imposters and copy-cats sent letters claiming to be 3X, no further communications were received from the killer, nor were there any more murders. Of course, this did little to assuage the panicked citizens of New York and the police continued to work the case long after it had gone cold.
So, who was 3 X? Was he really some secret agent on a mission of vengeance, or just some delusional maniac? Was he a proto-serial killer, getting off by manipulating and taunting the police? Or is there something else, obscured in the nearly 100 years since the murders? Let’s examine some theories.
Can we take 3 X seriously as the member of a clandestine anti-communist resistance group? My research turned up no mention of the Red Diamond of Russia, beyond the 3 X murders. Of course, a lot could happen in 100 years but it seems doubtful that an organization as described by the killer could go entirely unnoticed by history. Also, for a secret group, 3 X sure talks a lot about it. Clearly, he never heard the 1st rule of Fight Club! If his coded messages were ciphers, no translation has ever been discovered, further, they seem too contrived and spy novel-like to be taken seriously. In his final letter, 3 X seems all over the map with his story, making bizarre claims such as observing the police from a small aircraft. Moreover, he goes out of his way to close the book on his story, even so far as to confess his travel plans. Is the secret agent story plausible? I doubt it.
Regardless, 3 X captured the public’s imagination with his story and lingered in their collective memory for years. Just two years later, when Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped and killed, a German immigrant, Brunno Hauptman, was convicted and executed for the crime. Many saw a deeper conspiracy, believing the dim-witted Hauptman could not have acted alone. At the time, Lindbergh was criticized for being a Nazi Sympathizer, making him an attractive target for an anti-fascist leaning group like the fabled Red Diamond of Russia. Theories continue to this day tying 3 X to the crime.
In 1937, when a couple was murdered at a secluded lover’s lane and their bodies marked with a red circle on their forehead, memories of 3 X were invoked again. While the Red Circle Slayings were never solved, the evidence does not support a 3 X killing. This has not quieted those who still draw connections.
Looking at it from a modern perspective, 3 X exhibits many of the classic hallmarks of a serial killer. His letters to the press, his efforts to control the narrative, his superiority complex, all have those familiar elements we have seen time and time again in true crime stories. That said, there are some aspects of his crimes that prove problematic when attempting to profile the killer. Diagnosing the motives for a serial killer’s urges is not an exact science, but 3 X seems to defy convention in his methods. His letters, elaborate identity, and adversarial relationship with both the victims and the police, seem very much in line with what one might expect from a modern serial killer, though other aspects of the crimes pose confounding contradictions. Let’s explore those in our final theory.
What if Catherine May was not a victim, but an actual participant in the murder of Joseph Mozynski? It’s a big leap, I know. No one, least of all me, wants to call a victim into question when it comes to serious crimes like rape and murder. However, in the case of 3 X, it’s worth consideration.
Catherine May did not report the murder or her assault. This, in itself, isn’t damning, though it is extremely odd. Police held her as a suspect for several days, interrogating her, in which time she named a former lover and a known mobster before settling on the story as we know it. The first two 3 X letters were written while she was still in police custody. However, it is not until the Sowley murder, five days later, that the police drop her as a suspect after hearing the testimony of Betty Ring, which was similar to that of May’s.
There are a number of odd things to consider here. First, May and Ring’s descriptions couldn’t be more different. May describes a short, 40-year-old German man while Ring describes a younger man in his thirties, lanky, and over six feet tall. The only similarity being that both spoke with a German accent. The second 3 X letter was written on stationary from May’s place of employment and enthusiastically exonerates her, calling her an innocent victim caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. It goes on to explain what a horrible person Mozynski was and how he had been seen with multiple women on that same lover’s lane, including two minors. Nowhere in that letter does it mention raping her! Considering his openness about the murder and his noble motives, at the very least it seems out of character for the chivalrous 3 X to pause his critical mission to commit a heinous sexual assault.
Then of course, there is the matter of him escorting her to the bus stop and even riding along with her for several stops. This seems like either an extremely brazen act or a ridiculously and unnecessarily risky one. Perhaps, we can chalk this up to an unstable personality or the irrational acts of a madman, though it still runs contrary to self-preservation.
Catherine May had been involved with Mozynski for over two years. What if in that time she became jilted by the fact that he didn’t leave his wife as promised, or that there were other mistresses in the picture. What if she were mad enough to kill? Let’s imagine that she knew she was going to be at that spot, alone with Mozynski, and had a friend waiting there with gun. Then, May’s friend approaches the car and kills Mozynski. Afterwards, the understandably rattled May flees the scene, carelessly forgetting her coat, the key piece of evidence that leads the police to her door. If she hadn’t forgot her coat, would anyone have known she was there at all?
Moving forward, May is taken into custody and is less than cooperative, telling several stories, before landing on the short German man. The only piece of evidence we have to support her story is the folded note with the red stamp “Mozynski 3X-3-X-097.” Two important questions we do not know; when did May turn the note over to the police and was it an actual stamp, or handwritten? Obviously, the note existed in some form as the entire 3 X persona is based off it. Also, we are unsure if May was allowed to speak with a lawyer or receive visitors in the interim before the first 3 X letters.
My hypothesis is that the second murder, that of Noel Sowley, was orchestrated to give credence to the whole 3 X story and to shift suspicion away from Catherine May. The killer need only follow the blueprint set down in May’s testimony. It explains the bizarre theatrics at the crime scene, like the taking of Sowley’s driver’s license. All accounts I have found describe the Sowley 3 X note as being handwritten. This could have easily been done on the scene while checking the license plates. This also explains why Ring was approached, but not assaulted, and why she had to be escorted to the bus stop. An extremely risky endeavor, considering Ring would not be in on the gambit, however a very effective one!
May likely would have been aware of her Mozynski’s brother in Philadelphia, lending the killer even more credibility by locating him. The empty death threat and sudden capitulation with his mysterious demands by even more mysterious entities speaks towards their goal being accomplished. By that point, they had the police absolutely confused, chasing down all the wrong leads.
Again, if we take Catherine May at her word, that she was assaulted, I do not mean to call her integrity into question. Still, considering that we are analyzing a 91-year-old cold case, we have to look at all possibilities, though it remains unlikely that we will ever really know what happened that summer in New York.