Tom Donaghy| The Atavist Magazine |September 2023 | 1,531 words (5 minutes)
This is an excerpt from issue no. 143, “Who Killed the Fudge King?”
The fudge sold at Copper Kettle was so creamy, so sweet, so beyond compare, that many candy shops on the Ocean City boardwalk didn’t even sell fudge, because there was no point. During summer vacations to the Jersey Shore in the 1970s, my father would take my brother and me as a treat, when we behaved. A pretty girl in a pinafore would greet us outside with a tray of free shavings. We’d load up on them until her smile strained, then proceed inside. Once we popped actual cubes of the magic stuff into our tiny mouths, we were as high as kids are allowed to be.
For decades, Copper Kettle lived in my head as a kind of childhood memory-scape: the salt air coming off the ocean, the shiny vats of molten fudge, the too much sugar all at once. Then, during the pandemic, my family decided to return to the Jersey Shore for my mother’s birthday, so everyone could gather outside. I told my brother we should make our way back to Copper Kettle, and he informed me that it had long since gone out of business. He had some more information too: about what had become of Harry Anglemyer, the man behind the fudge.
In the early 1960s, Harry had a string of Copper Kettle Fudge shops up and down the Shore. So revered were his stores that Harry was known far and wide as the Fudge King. He was even in talks to build a fudge factory—something that would’ve taken his Willy Wonka–ness to the next level—when he was savagely beaten to death on Labor Day 1964. His body was stuffed under the dashboard of his Lincoln Continental, parked at an after-hours nightclub called the Dunes. The case was never solved.
I spent the next two years sorting through a trove of whispers and accusations around the murder. At first I was just curious, but the more I learned about Harry—a figure beloved by friends and strangers alike—the more intent I was to identify his killer.
I scoured blogs, Facebook groups, newspaper archives, and thinly veiled fictional accounts of the crime. As one local put it, over the years a veritable “Jersey Shore QAnon” had blossomed around the murder, raising questions of culture, class, sexuality, and hierarches of power. I discovered a plausible myth, a trove of red herrings, and, finally, what appeared to be the truth.
Almost six decades on, I wasn’t sure anyone wanted to hear it. When I visited Ocean City while reporting this story, a shop owner I engaged about Harry Anglemyer lowered her voice and said, “You know he was murdered, don’t you?”
I admitted that I did.
She responded, by way of warning: “You sneeze in this town and everyone hears it.”
Harry Anglemyer, a stocky charmer out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was born in 1927. His high school summers were spent in Wildwood, New Jersey, where he apprenticed at Laura’s Fudge Shop. He was told that this was a little sissy. He didn’t care.
He left high school to join the Navy, served two years at the end of World War II, then returned to the Shore to open his own fudge shop in 1947. In those days, Ocean City seemed postcard perfect. Ten blocks at its widest, situated on a barrier island about 11 miles south of Atlantic City, it was lined with boarding houses, deep porches with rattan rockers, and striped canvas awnings that softened the summer sun. It called itself—and still does—America’s Greatest Family Resort.
The author Gay Talese, who grew up there, once described Ocean City as “founded in 1879 by Methodist ministers and other Prohibitionists who wished to establish an island of abstinence and propriety.” Prohibitionists remain. To this day, you can’t buy booze within city limits. Or have a cocktail at a restaurant. Or go to a bar, since there are none. If you want to bend an elbow, you must belong to one of the few private clubs that allow it. You can also import your own adult beverages, stopping at the Circle Liquor Store in Somers Point before entering town across the Ninth Street Bridge.
You would think that such a gauntlet might encourage at least a semblance of abstinence and propriety, but a 2017 USA Today article deemed Ocean City the drunkest city in New Jersey. It was and is a place of contradictions.
Just like Harry Anglemyer was a man of contradictions. He donated generously to civic causes and charities, including religious ones. He sat on the city’s planning board at the behest of the mayor. He joined the Masons and the chamber of commerce. He befriended prominent men and their wives, whom he squired to social functions when their husbands were busy. He hobnobbed with local luminaries, including the Kelly family of Philadelphia, who kept a summer cottage in Ocean City that Grace Kelly visited—first as a child, then as a movie star, then as a princess. Harry was so well regarded that 1,500 people showed up at the Godfrey-Smith Funeral Home in September 1964 to view his body. Businesspeople, politicians, and socialites came to pay their respects, packing the place with flowers.
Many of them also knew of Harry’s other, less civic-minded side. When he wasn’t delighting families with his fudge or charming the local elite, he liked to go out. He shut down bars. He was a fixture at Atlantic City’s racetrack, where he played the horses. He spent time at the nearby Air National Guard base. During the summer of 1964, he seemed to have acquired boyfriends from both locations.
Harry was, in fact, a little sissy.
Which everyone kind of knew. He was 37 and handsome, he’d never married, and he dressed fastidiously. He had a small dog, acquired on a trip to Fort Lauderdale—which, he confided to a friend, was perhaps “too obvious.” He once had a girlfriend who wondered why they weren’t having sex. She seems to have been the only one in the dark. Men both known and strange came and went from his large suite of breezy, ocean-view rooms above Copper Kettle, right on the boardwalk, where he lived in the summer.
Harry took no pains to hide any of this, an astonishing fact given the pre-Stonewall, postwar pinko-homo panic. In the early 1960s, and especially in small towns like Ocean City, which had a population of about 7,500 during the off-season, men were expected to find a girl and put a ring on her. Especially handsome men with killer smiles, fitted jackets, and penny loafers that shined like onyx.
But something saved Harry from too much scrutiny—for a time, anyway. He was an entrepreneur, and he elevated the boardwalk’s game. He saw the future, which might have been his shield. Other local business owners looked past his sexuality. They wanted even a little piece of his magic.
Harry placed gleaming copper kettles in the windows of his boardwalk shop, poured in liquid fudge, and positioned above them teenage boys with bronzed skin and sparkling white teeth, gripping big wooden paddles, churning and churning. Outside on the boardwalk, children panted as they watched, their faces cracked from too much sun, their bare feet sandy, their eyes wet and hungry. They wanted that fudge so bad. At night, after the last box was sold and the shop had closed, the kettles remained pin-spotted from above like Ziegfeld girls.
Money surged in like the tide. Soon Harry had shops in Atlantic City, Sea Isle City, and Stone Harbor as well. The Fudge King became one of the richest men for miles, with no qualms about flashing his wealth. He purchased a two-story colonial in the Gardens, Ocean City’s fanciest neighborhood, where he lived in the off-season, and kept two cars: the Lincoln Continental where his body would later be found, and a Chrysler Imperial purchased just months before his death.
Most spectacularly, he acquired a blinding ring: five emerald-cut diamonds, approximately eight carats total, set in a band of white gold. It was valued at about $10,000, almost $100,000 in today’s dollars. Harry wore it everywhere. Which was quite a big deal. With the exception of a few families, including the famous Kellys, whose fortune came from brickmaking, Ocean City was for the most part a resort of the working class. Its tourists and year-round residents had likely never seen such jewels except on television, worn by the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor. Or Liberace.
Harry’s success made him an object of allure and envy, though by all accounts he shared his fortune with others. He frequently bought dinners for his staff. He gave loans to friends and told them to take their time paying him back. (After his death, his family found a drawer full of IOUs.) He even had a brand-new clothes dryer delivered to a young mother burdened by a bad marriage. She wept knowing there was at least one good man in the world.
That’s what most people said about Harry: how good he was, generous and kind, fun-loving and curious. But in the summer of 1964, they noticed something else about him. The Fudge King was uncharacteristically on edge.