by Robert A. Waters
Seventeen-year-old Mary Imelda Coyle desired nothing more than to be a nun. Deeply religious, she attended several Catholic services each week. Despite the attentions of male classmates, Mary followed her own path.
She lived with her mother and older sister on a shabby houseboat in New Rochelle, New York. Her father, a drunkard of the worst sort, had deserted the family, although he made sporadic and unwanted visits.
On the evening of October 11, 1938, Mary walked over the nine-foot-plank that connected the houseboat to land, and started toward St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church. “She left home at eight o’clock,” Mrs. Coyle later told police. When Mary hadn’t returned by midnight, Mrs. Coyle began searching for her. She found a neighbor who had a telephone, and began calling churches and friends of the girl.
Finally, when she was unable to determine the whereabouts of her daughter, Mrs. Coyle’s neighbor drove her to the New Rochelle Police Department. A skeptical desk sergeant rolled his eyes when told that Mary had no boyfriends, didn’t go to parties, didn’t speak with strangers, and had no reason to run away. In fact, all of that was true.
At 8:30 on the morning of October 12, Mary’s body was found a mile from her home, just over the city line in Larchmont. The site was near the path that led to Mary’s houseboat home. Her blood-soaked coat was found underneath a tree a few hundred yards away in New Rochelle. According to news reports, this ignited a firestorm between the two police agencies, each claiming that the other was responsible for investigating the case. Finally, the Westchester County District Attorney called a conference of all police agencies in the county and attempted to nice-talk them into working together on the case. To help smooth the way, the county put up a $5,000 reward and loaned five of its best detectives to New Rochelle and Larchmont.
Still the friction existed. When Mary’s beret and stepins were found in Larchmont, local police insisted that the girl must have been killed in New Rochelle because there was no blood underneath the items. Therefore, according to the Larchmont police chief, New Rochelle should take the lead.
In-fighting between the two agencies continued throughout the investigation.
An autopsy confirmed that Mary had been “criminally assaulted.” She had died when the killer drove a “metal wedge two inches into the girl’s skull.” The Burlingame Times and Daily News Leader reported that “despite the brutality of the slaying the perpetrator arranged the body with extreme care. He placed it in a spot where passersby would be sure to see it the next morning. The coat, dress, and underclothes were carefully smoothed out.”
Investigators questioned 200 “sexual delinquents.” They checked “thousands” of automobiles for bloodstains. Detectives visited all laundry establishments in the area searching for someone who may have cleaned bloody clothes. Nine men wanted for various crimes in other states were rounded up. None, however, emerged as suspects in Mary’s murder.
Gossip swirled around the case. An inebriated ship’s captain informed New Rochelle bar patrons that Mary had been the victim of a love triangle. The captain stated that a wealthy lover became angry when Mary chose a pauper for her sweetheart and killed her in a blind rage. Investigators jumped on the lead, but it quickly fizzled. In truth, Mary had no lovers.
Within a few months, the case went cold.
Ten years after the unsolved murder, the Syracuse Post Standard summed up the case. “Many who have studied the Mary Coyle case,” the editors wrote, “believe that Mary was stopped only a short distance from her home by a man she knew who induced her to get into his car. Eventually, so the theorists say, they drove east along Palmer Ave., for more than a mile, lined with wild brush and scrub without a single habitation. Somewhere along Palmer Ave., so the prevailing theory runs, Mary was criminally attacked and then killed. The slayer, acting coolly, deliberately wrapped Mary’s battered head in her own coat and loaded her body into his car.
“After taking the girl’s body to the Larchmont lot, the murderer drove south to the Boston Post Road, where he threw away her torn stepins, beret and rosary (never found.) Then, [thoroughly] familiar with the lay of the land, he swung on the heavily traveled present Post Road, turning into the quieter Old Boston Post Road and dropped the coat at Lispenard Ave. It was but coincidence—or so it is conjectured—that he left the coat only a few hundred yards from Mary’s home.”
Mary’s wayward father died in 1946, eight years after her murder. Her mother and sister soon moved away, disappearing into oblivion.
In 1948, the Post Standard reported that “the houseboat still stands, empty and silent, a crumbling monument to a girl who had no real chance in life and to officials who argued while a murderer fled.”