Strange history: 384 Fordham Parkway, Part 1

384 Fordham Parkway in 1938. This is a press photograph by the Cleveland News of photograph presented as evidence in the Love Nest case.

Long before the sensational Sheppard murder case there was another infamous criminal case in Bay Village. In 1938, Mrs. Christine Ritchie was arrested for operating a “house of ill fame” in what was labeled the “Love Nest Case” by the Cleveland News newspaper.

Dr. David Francati, of Bay Dental, the current owner of 384 Fordham Parkway, told me a number of stories about the home he has shared with his wife, Sheila, since 1993. He said that it was supposedly built by the owners of a brewery. That it was once known as a “love nest” in the 1930s. That it was then an orphanage where some of the kids crossed an open porch to sleep in the attic. That it then had a fire and was repaired and turned back into a single-family home. Could all of this be true of one 3,600-square-foot home tucked away along Lake Erie next to Cliff Drive in Bay Village, Ohio?

Dr. Francati shared with me a newspaper article from 1938 which corroborated the “love nest” part of the story. The article involved the case of an Elyria policeman who was arrested Jan. 18, 1938, leaving the property with a woman who was not his wife. He was charged with “entering a house for immoral purposes.” Anywhere from 20 to 50 cars were stopped leaving the premises that one day.

The policeman who was arrested said that he had gone to the home with the woman that he was with to get a glass of beer. He testified: “Mrs. Ritchie told me when we got there that the place was being watched and that we could have a glass of beer and go right out.” The woman testified that she knew he was married and had been with him once previously to the Ritchie home. Mrs. Ritchie is described as the “gray-haired widow of a former lake captain” in the article.

The article concludes by stating: “Mrs. Ritchie, who maintained that she is operating a legitimate tourist home, is plaintiff in a $25,000 slander suit against Mayor Weiger, and is also plaintiff in a pending injunction suit to prevent police from interfering with persons entering and leaving her property.”  

We were able to confirm that Christine Ritchie purchased property on Fordham Parkway with her husband, William, 10 years earlier in 1928, constructed a home about 1929 and sold or lost the home by 1940. However, the home she purchased was not the subject home but was located at 462 Fordham Parkway. This home, a craftsman bungalow, was owned by Bay police officer Ferrell Cleary from 1981 until 2003 and the joke I heard (because he was a police officer) was that it had been a “house of ill repute” with old telephone jacks in every room. Perhaps it handled overflow from her lakefront location?

Four months after the 1938 police stakeout, but before the trial, Christine purchased a home on Detroit Road in Dover. It was located where the McDonald’s near Columbia Road is located today. She may have anticipated that the “jig was up” – this might have been her planned “retirement” home?

Her husband, William Ritchie, was, in fact, a sea captain. The 1920 U.S. Census has his occupation listed as a master seaman for a steamship company, “master” means the same as “captain”. A master is the highest responsible officer, acting on behalf of the ship’s owner. At the time, he and Christine were living on Edward Street in Lakewood, providing a home for his uncle, a salesman, as well. Christine’s occupation is listed as housewife. By the 1930 U.S. Census the household has moved to their new home at 462 Fordham Parkway, valued at $12,500 and no employment is listed for 63-year-old William, 51-year-old “E. Christine Ritchey” and the 77-year-old uncle.

Unfortunately, William Ritchie died in 1932. According to his death certificate it occurred days after a herniotomy to correct a strangulated hernia. Contributing to his death was an accidental fall that had occurred “at home some time ago.” The cause of death is listed as a cerebral apoplexy (stroke or bleeding of the brain). He is buried in Lakewood Cemetery.

By the April 1940 U.S. Census, Christine lives alone at 462 Fordham Parkway. Her house transferred to the West Side Saving & Loan Association by August 1940. Was she a desperate widow with few options to support herself during the Depression or were she and her husband part of a crime syndicate, smuggling booze on Lake Erie during prohibition and operating multiple brothels for organized crime? While it is clear that she never actually owned the subject property and just operated the “business” there, some things are nearly impossible to determine from the paper trail.

William Krause

William R. Krause, AICP, retired as the Assistant Planning Director of the City of Westlake in 2020 after over 30 years with the city. He also served on the Bay Village Planning Commission for 5 years. He is currently a trustee with the Bay Village Historical Society and a former board member of the Westlake Historical Society. He was chair of their Lilly Weston Committee and is a member of the Reuben Osborn Learning Center Steering Committee. He is also currently a Trustee of the Western Reserve Architectural Historians. He has been married to Debra for 40 years and is the father of three grown children, grandfather of five and owner of a Shih Tzu named Cammy.

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Volume 13, Issue 17, Posted 10:41 AM, 09.08.2021