It was 11:15 p.m. on a warm June night in 1950, and the area of Times Square was buzzing with people leaving the theaters.
Suddenly, in the midst of traffic appeared an odd-looking man, about 30 years old. He wore mutton-chop whiskers and quaint clothing that had gone out of style decades before.
The man gawked at his surroundings, and then tried to dash away from the cars. He was struck by a cab and killed.
Police found on the dead man antique currency, business cards in the name of Rudolph Fentz, and a letter addressed to Fentz postmarked in 1876.
Assuming the man was Fentz, police sought the next of kin. But Fentz wasn’t listed in the telephone directory, and no one at the address on the business card and letter knew him.
Capt. Hubert V. Rihm eventually turned up a 1939 phone book listing a Rudolph Fentz Jr. When Rihm located the junior’s widow, she told him her father-in-law had vanished in 1876 after going out for a smoke.
That knowledge in hand, Rihm dug into old police files and found the missing-person report from 1876. The address given was the same as that on the dead man’s business cards.