As he begged outside Brooklyn synagogues, Howard Frank was always regaling people with stories of his past, proudly referring to his distant esteemed rabbi relatives.
But suddenly Frank’s tales took a much more sinister turn – he told friends – and anyone who’d listen – that someone was out to kill him and that he urgently needed thousands of dollars.
He even started saying his farewells to friends.
However, as he was always a bit strange, people simply dismissed his frantic behaviour and wild tales.
‘He’d say that someone is out to kill him. He said he needed $17,000 right away,’ a friend, Abie Maltz, told the New York Post.
On June 28, Frank was discovered floating face down in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal.
The NYPD said 55-year-old’s death was not a homicide and began investigating it as a suicide or an accident.
Already shrouded in mystery, Frank’s death became all the more mysterious as it turned out that the beggar was sitting on a vast collection of entertainment photographs – worth an estimated $1 million.
Collected over his lifetime, the photos were of TV and film stars from the 1950s to the 1990s.
The eccentric beggar would reportedly rather buy photos than food and it is thought his collection reached 1 million. His pictures of comedienne Lucille Ball – his favourites and the most valuable – alone numbered tens of thousands.
Friends and family said Frank needed cash to pay off storage fees, as he kept his massive collection of photos in a warehouse.
However, a friend of his – Henry Hewes – told the New York Post that he had been paying the storage fees for the last five years with the agreement that when the photo collection was brought – or Frank died – he would be paid.
About a week before he died, Frank put a lien for $78,000 on his photo collection to cover his storage fee debts.
On the night of June 27, Frank left the Landau synagogue much earlier than usual, members told PIX11.
His business partner of recent years, Frank Pohole, had let the collector stay at his home. He said that Frank never made it back to the apartment that night.
Pohole suggested to PIX11 that Frank may have been killed after crossing the wrong rabbi because he was controversially sharing information about Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community with others.
Robert Frank, who spoke to the Post, also thinks that his brother may have angered the wrong rabbi or loan sharks in a bid to own his photos outright – free from Hewes.
Many say Frank would never kill himself and testify that he was terrified of water.
Investigators found that Frank’s lungs were full of water – showing that he was still alive when he entered the canal.
However, some of Frank’s acquaintances believe he did kill himself – pointing out that he was forced to close his photo shop following the economic downturn after 9/11 and had to leave his apartment.
NYPD spokesman Sgt John Buthorn told the MailOnline that there was ‘no apparent criminality at this time’ in Frank’s death.
The Medical Examiner’s Office did not conduct an autopsy – reportedly on the family’s orders – as autopsies are typically against Jewish law.
The Examiner’s office are now relying on crime-scene photographs and X-rays to try and determine the cause of death, Ellen Borakove, an Office spokeswoman told the Post.
And whether Frank’s death was an accident, or if he committed suicide at the prospect of losing his photos or was killed after crossing the wrong people will be all the harder to determine with no autopsy.
‘The manner of death might be undetermined if there isn’t enough evidence,’ Borakove said.
Source: The Daily Mail