[This piece originally appeared in the December 20, 2013, issue of Commonweal.]
The single piece of evidence in what may be the St. Louis Police Department’s oldest unsolved mystery hangs in the lobby of the department’s training academy. It is a stunning drawing of the crucifixion. The mystery is who drew it and why.
The story begins on December 24, 1930, a year into the Great Depression. At the time, it was not unusual for Police Headquarters in downtown St. Louis to open its doors to the homeless on frigid nights. Sometime that evening the Central District took in ten or twelve “vagrants” and housed them in Cell Eight, the “holdover” cell. They were not charged with any crime, so they were not “booked”—names were not taken. Drifters and homeless crowded into the cell and slept on steel bunks. Early the next morning they were fed a chunk of bologna, bread, and coffee, and released back onto the streets. It was Christmas Day.
Days later, a porter cleaning the dimly lit Cell Eight discovers the drawing on the concrete rear wall. He reports it to the turnkey, and the discovery soon becomes public.
The drawing is striking in its accuracy. It is four feet high and nearly perfect in proportion. Only the right arm of Christ is not...