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  • Writer's pictureLinda A Cowdrick

The Murder of Louis Penella

In 1925, Hempstead taxi owner and driver Louis Penella was murdered by Philip K. Knapp with a .45 caliber gun. Penella was found on July 1, 1925 buried beneath debris at Camp Mills. Nassau County police had Knapp under suspicion and claimed Knapp's murder was very similar to the Loeb and Leopold case in Chicago where two young men killed a boy for fun.

Philip Knox Knapp was born June 5, 1901 in Elmira, NY to William H. Knapp, a wealthy manufacturer of Syracuse who lived at 209 Lincoln Boulevard. Philip was the oldest of 5 children. He had striking curly blonde hair and blue eyes. He attended Cornell University but left and joined the aviators of Mitchel Field as a private. By trade, Phil was a motor mechanic. Fellow soldiers of Knapp claimed he often talked of suicide and death. They said Knapp would say that you couldn't enjoy the sensation of suicide because you would die. However, if you committed murder you could enjoy the "kick." To this note, Knapp's family claimed that he was unhappy as a sailor and as an aviator and that he would likely commit a great crime or suicide for a sensation. Knapp deserted his position with the army the night before Penella's murder. Knapp took all of his belongings and also stole a .45 revolver.

Knapp is next found at Paul Peterson's garage on Howard Street in Garden City Park. Knapp had Penella's blue Buick car. The car had been externally washed so at that time, the blood stains on the inside were not noticed. The next day Knapp sold the car in Manhattan for $100. The salesman of the transaction, Edward Walsh, was able to positively identify Knapp from a photograph.

The police were trying to find Knapp and found that he was writing letters and so used those letters to try and locate him. One letter from Knapp spoke of his loss of money playing poker at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City. Only July 8, 1925, Knapp wrote from Albany to a pal, William E. Browkow, at Roosevelt Field that he was going to stay in Albany for a few days. On July 11th it was thought that Knapp may have escaped to Canada. He had been seen in Glen Falls, NY a few days prior. By the 24th, Knapp had still not been captured and agencies across the country were asked to be on the lookout for the murder suspect.

By July 14th, every trail the police had taken to find Knapp had gone cold.

The police were convinced that Knapp was the murderer in this case and that he acted alone. Penella was much smaller than he was and was covered in slabs of stucco when he was buried. Knapp actually put his own picture over Penella's taxi license.

6 years later, Philip Knapp (alias Alan K Phillips) was arrested at 35 Ridgehurst Rd in West Orange, NJ under his assumed alias. He was married to Eleanor Hill Phillips. Phil was sentenced on September 28, 1931 for 2nd degree murder of Louis Penella and admitted to Sing Sing Prison. His crime was attributed to temporary insanity.

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