JOHN T. AQUINO – A Fiction Writer Penning a Fact-Based Story

I am an author, attorney, and retired journalist. My last journalism employment was covering legal cases for the Bloomberg Industry Group. I was the publisher and editor of several trade magazines, including Waste Age, Mortgage Banker, and Music Educators Journal, and vice president of finance and production for Hanley-Wood Inc. My short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Shakespearean Whodunnits, Royal Whodunnits, Jacobean Whodunnits, A Matter of Crime No. 2, and Malice, Matrimony, and Murder, as well as the UK publication Crimeupcopia: Rule Britannia, Britannia Waves the Rules. My  books include Truth and Lives on Film: The Legal Problems in Depicting Real Persons and Events in a Fictional Medium ( ) and The Radio Burglar: Thief Turned Cop Killer in 1920s Queens (

Apart from my journalism work, most recently on court cases for Bloomberg Industry Group, the writing on my own has mostly been fiction, primarily short stories. (The most recent one appears in the anthology Malice, Matrimony, and Murder.) I took on my true crime book—The Radio Burglar: Thief Turned Cop Killer in 1920s Queens–for a personal reason that blossomed into the pursuit of a good story.

My wife’s mother was in the process of dying. In order to keep her mind occupied and entertained, I asked her to tell me the story of the Radio Burglar. For years, she had casually mentioned when the dinner-table conversation turned to crime that her uncle, Patrolman Arthur Kenney, had been killed in the line of duty by the Radio Burglar. Most of us were unsure what that really meant. But when I asked her to tell me the story, she described how the burglar had been so named because he had primarily stolen radios, which in 1926 were the most expensive item in homes and had the unfortunate attribute of calling attention to themselves—“Hey! This house has a radio!”

The burglar’s actions terrorized all of New York City and prompted the formation of police manhunt units. Kenney was part of one that spotted the burglar; he pursued him and was shot. He died a week later in the hospital. The manhunt intensified with the death of a member of the force. Two detectives picked up a clue—the New York Times later compared their work to Sherlock Holmes—and captured him at a celebrated sports event with Mayor James J. Walker in attendance.

The Radio Burglar confessed and tried. His confession forced his attorneys to employ an argument that had been offered in the trial of the accused murderer of President James Garfield in 1882. Kenney’s wounds had become infected at the hospital, and the defense contended that he had been killed not by the burglar’s bullet but by hospital malpractice. There was a conviction, an appeal before renowned Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo, and a trip to Sing Sing Prison.

But the story and the trauma suffered by the Kenney family didn’t end on death row. Nine years later, the Kennedys, the NYPD, and the city were involved in another sensational murder trial.

By the time of her death, I was able to show my wife’s mother a partial manuscript, which pleased her because she had always wanted to write a book. But there was more to do. My Bloomberg experience enabled me to pursue century-old court records to flesh out the story more, especially the trial transcripts. I interviewed other family members and their children. I almost lived at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., searching for and reading long, out-of-print memoirs of police officers and detectives who were involved in the case. And most important of all was the ability to access, online and on microfilm, the daily reports of over a dozen New York City newspapers that covered the events daily, as well as accounts on the trial from across the country.

When the book came out, I had good friends saying kindly and almost confidentially, “You have all this dialogue and comments. You must have made some stuff up.” I assured them that the quotes were all from the trial transcripts and newspapers, with the quotes documented in the notes. Even small stories, such as how a teenager told the police she was the burglar’s girlfriend and had accompanied him on his crime spree, actually happened. She was ultimately discovered to have made it up.

I think it is essential that the reader be comfortable in a book describing a “true crime” that the events actually happened as related. (I have another book, Truth and Lives on Film: The Legal Problems in Depicting Real Persons and Events in a Fictitious Medium, which explores how “based on a true story” can mean something different for filmmakers.) But I found out in writing The Radio Burglar that not only my legal reporting experience but also my storytelling background came into play, not in making things up but in making the faintly remembered real. For example, I was able to visit, either in person or through Google Maps—street view, some of the locations where the crimes and trials took place. But all I saw was how these places look one-hundred years later. The trial transcripts included photos of the crime scene and the backyards where the bullets were fired. But these were flat and faded. And so, I tried mentally to enter the images and imagine the feel, scent, and sounds of those backyards, remembering helping my mother hang laundry behind her house, going through neighborhoods in Long Island and Queens where my wife and her family lived, and hearing the scratchy music from 45 rpm records seeping out of the house next door. For the chase where Patrolman Kenney pursued the burglar, I recalled being pursued in alleys in tough neighborhoods of downtown Washington, D.C., with the gravel scattering and pinging as I ran.

After ten years of research and writing, the book was finally completed and published. I believe it’s an exciting story worth the retelling. I hope you think so, too.

 I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the Mid-Atlantic Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the National Press Club (Silver Owl–+25 year member).

For contact information: .




  1. Candace Hardy

    This book sounds fascinating, fun to write, and even more fun to read.

  2. Michael a. Black

    Wow, John, his sounds like one hell of a good book. I’ll have to check it out. Best of luck to you.

    • John T Aquino

      That “wow” makes a great deal to me, Michael. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Marie Sutro

    Thank you for sharing the story of The Radio Burglar. I’d never heard of it – such a fascinating case!!

    • John T Aquino

      Thanks for your comment, Marie. I appreciate your taking the time and letting me know.


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