Sunday, December 04, 2022

December 4, 1965: The Patrolman, the Medical Student, and the Dead Woman in the Motel

Rodna's Friends

Rita Shea, age 32, lived a Long Island, New York apartment building in December of 1965. She worked part-time as a receptionist at a doctor's office. She had dropped her married name, Gaus, after having either separated or divorced 14 years earlier.

Her close friend, 33-year-old Rodna O'Connell, lived in Far Rockaway and worked at a car rental agency at Kennedy Airport.

Rita confided in Rodna that she was pregnant. Rodna arranged for her to undergo an illegal abortion. 

Shorter news reports had made it seem that Rita became pregnant while having an affair with 42-year-old Queens patrolman Howard Bailey, a 19-year police veteran and a married man with children. However, it turns out that the two only seemed to have crossed paths at the motel. Bailey had brought his lover, a 22-year-old separated woman, to Lockhard for an abortion. Like Rita, the 22-year-old was one of Rodna's friends. Her abortion had also been arranged by Rodna.

The Abortion and Aftermath

Rita and Rodna drove in Rita's car to a hotel sometimes identified as Statler Hilton Motel and sometimes as Seaway Motel. It was located near the airport where Rodna worked.

Waiting for the women was a man sometimes described as a medical student and sometimes as a physician: 34-year-old Benjamin Lockhart of Medical Arts Hospital in Houston, Texas. 

Lockhart began the abortion at about 4:00 am. Rita died suddenly during the procedure. At around 5 am, Rodna and Lockhart carried Rita's body out to her car and drove it to Long Island, parking it outside Rita's apartment building and moving her over to the driver's seat. They left her slumped over the steering wheel.

John Hickey, age 38, a bartender who lived in the same apartment building, had found a note from Rita the previous evening saying that she'd be back in a few hours. He found her body as he exited the building at around 10:00 in the morning. Hickey was described in some coverage as Rita's "boy friend," so he might have been the father of her baby. 


Rodna was arraigned December 6 and charged with conspiracy to commit and abortion. She was held on $5,000 bail. 

Bailey, age 42, was a married man and 19-year police veteran. He had evidently arranged an abortion to keep his affair with the 22-year-old a secret. He paid a portion of the abortion fee, which was between $100 and $300 (between $875 and $4,400 in 2022).

Bailey was charged with abortion and conspiring to conceal knowledge of an abortion. It's unclear if the charges against him were purely related to the abortion on the 22-year-old or if they also related to the death of Rita Shea.

Baily was suspended from the force during the investigation. 

The Attempted Shakedown

Bailey said that after his arrest and suspension he got a phone call from a woman saying that for $1,000 she could take care of any witnesses against him. Bailey reported the call to Detective Lt. James Cunningham. Bailey got a second call saying he could accept the offer but could only pull together $700. She said to put the money in an envelope, take it to Pennsylvania station at 12:30 pm and place it in a particular locker. 

Police traced the call to a phone booth in Menlo Park, New Jersey. They helped Bailey prepare a faked envelope with paper inside in stead of money. They staked out the station. At 1 pm Victor L. Genz, 23-year-old morgue attendant from Fords, near Menlo Park opened the locker and took the envelope. When police moved in to arrest him, he leaped over luggage and bowled over some people fleeing when the police approached, but they were able to apprehend him. He said a woman had given him $5 to collect the envelope. He had only a single $10 bill and Bailey's phone number in his wallet and refused to say anything. He was held on $3,000 bail on a grand larceny charge.

No Justice for Rita

Charges were dropped against Howard Bailey and Rodna O'Connell in exchange for testifying against Lockhart, only for the charges to be dropped against Lockhart for lack of evidence. Nobody was ever brought to justice.

Watch The Fatal Go-Between on YouTube.

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