Thursday, September 01, 1977

Hanging of “Birdman” in Bronx Pet Shop Break-In Is Being Investigated

“It’s like Agatha Christie,” said Pat Sasso, the detective working on the murder of “the birdman,” who was found hanged in a dilapidated pet shop in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, his hands and feet tied with twine.

The 400 pigeons he was guarding, the only animals in the shop were he was “night watchman”, were gone. The police don’t know how the intruders got into the “fortified” pet store, why the killed 61-year-old Olin Wardlaw, or why they chose hanging.

“I would really like to know who did this, said Wardlaw’s sister/roommate. He was such a nice “boy.” Everybody loved him.” Wardlaw retired last year from a Buick assembly plant in Buffalo and had been filing in for the regular night watchman. (A fill-in night watchman at a pigeon store).

Despite a sign in front advertising monkeys, fish and poodles, the pigeons (and some bird feed were the only things in the store. A hundred of the pigeons were of the homing variety and belonged to the regular night watchman. The others, according to police, were being boarded at the store. Total value was put at $400 – one dollar per bird. The homing pigeons have little value other than to their original owner since they can’t be trained to return to a new coop. The other birds are useful as breeders, or to lure wild birds.

The police doubt that they will end up as squab, and a nearby poultry market reported no new source of supply or increased competition.

The 400 birds are not easy to identify if their leg bands are removed. “It’s like any other animal,” said Charles Herin, a spokesman for the American Racing Pigeon Union. “If you’d had them long enough, you could recognize them, but there’s really no proof.”

Detective Sasso thinks they could be hidden “in a vacant house or down in a basement and they will be purchased.” Even if the original owner recognized his bird, “it would never stand up in court,” he said. The Detective said there were some suspects in the case but would give no details.

The pet shop is still open, selling yellow and brown chicks, which a hand-lettered sign on cardboard taped to the window says are 50 cents each. But the phone was disconnected in mid-July, and the landlord says that for several months the owner, Charles Lehnert has been paying only part of the $275 rent.

“He claims he’s not doing any business because he’s been broken into many, many times,” said Mikita Drakotos. “IF it was anyone else,” he added, “he would have packed it in long ago.” Detective Sasso believes Mr. Lehnert, who he says is 71 years old, will close the store soon.

Excerpt from Matthew Wald Sept 1, 1977 New York Times

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