Who is Sherita? A Brooklyn Mystery
Plus: Eric Adams Watch! Items of Interest!
Welcome to ISSUE #28 of CAFÉ ANNE!
A few weeks ago, I got the best kind of email from a reader—someone asking me to investigate a Brooklyn mystery. The note, from William T. in Bed-Stuy, was so delightful, I’m quoting it in its entirely:
I am a big fan of your newsletter which I just discovered and read all ok most of the back issues of. It occurred to me after reading the cart donut piece that you might be the only person to be able to unravel a mystery I have been wondering about for years although it’s probably still rather unlikely.
There is a billboard on the corner of Classon and Atlantic over Flat Fix Tire & Rims that on the right side has a picture of this glamorous Seussian…lady creature whose name is Sherita. I am attaching one pic I took of her and one of the business off of Google maps as well as a map of the location. I am too scared to go into the business and ask if they have any idea who Sherita is but I am so so curious and have been for years. Sherita is bewitching and if you find any information out about her I would be elated.
All my best and thank you for entertaining and informing me!
Here are the photos William so kindly attached:
William, challenge accepted!
I figured the best strategy would be to just head over to the flat fix shop and start asking questions. But first, I needed to fuel up with an iced coffee from my local bodega.
It must have been my lucky day, because guess who I ran into? My friend Peter “Nut Truck” Morales, who I haven’t seen in years. While he now lives in Staten Island, Peter grew up in Brooklyn and owns a truck route delivering candy and nuts to stores all over the borough. He knows everything about Brooklyn. If I were a detective, I’d have Peter on retainer.
I showed Peter a photo of the billboard. He recognized it right away.
“It’s right on Atlantic Avenue, opposite the storage place, right?” he said. “At Classon Avenue?”
He didn’t know who Sherita was, but said that whoever erected the sign, which advertises home heating oil delivery to landlords, probably owns the building beneath.
“And it’s an Orthodox Jewish company, by the way,” he added.
“How do you know?”
“I just know,” he said. “I just do. I’ll bet everything I got on that! The picture tells me. The style of the thing. That they don’t fix the graffiti. All of it! The building that it’s on, which I’m sure they own. That whole neighborhood is owned by the beards. They bought them in the 70s, when nobody wanted them. They had the vision.”
“How about the flat fix place?” I asked.
“It’s been there forever,” he said. “I fixed a flat there once, on a truck.”
“Will they know who owns the building?”
“I’ll tell you the truth, half those buildings, they don’t know who the owner is,” said Peter. “It’s usually a PO Box, a management company. A guy named Schlomo comes by every month to pick up the envelope.”
One iced coffee and a short bike ride later, I was standing outside the flat fix shop. I could see why William felt intimidated about going in and asking questions. A sign on the door clearly stated, “EMPLOYEES ONLY.”
I decided to start by asking around the neighborhood. Maybe the locals knew the Sherita story. No luck! I must have shown the billboard photo to twenty people. Most were familiar with the flat fix shop, but said they had never noticed the billboard, let alone wondered about Sherita.
“I wish I knew. Looks like a bunny,” said Clevoa, who works at the hat store on Fulton Street.
“Is it supposed to be you?” said a mom tending her son at the slide at Crispus Attucks Playground. “It’s you!”
I am pretty sure I am not Sherita.
The next guy got my hopes up.
“I’ve heard who she is,” said Woody, a middle-aged man pushing a baby on a swing.
“WHAT!” I was yelling. “No kidding! Can I ask you a couple questions for my blog?”
“Hahaha!” said Woody. “Not right now!”
“Can we talk off the record then?”
“What did you hear?”
“I forgot,” said Woody. “I forgot. I remember, but I forgot what it’s about. It’s old. Very old. I knew who she was. I’ve forgotten it though. Who is it? I have no idea who she is. I’m going to shut my mouth right now.”
Elisa, sitting on a park bench, suggested that Sherita was the name of the artist who painted the billboard. “It looks like a bunny to me,” she added.
Saul, a tall man in a dress shirt standing outside the Jesus Christ Universal Church, said he believed Sherita was a doll “with a fork in the head.”
“This has spiritual meaning,” he added.
My favorite was the guy who approached me on the street. “What are you looking for?” he asked.
I showed him the photo and he nodded. “I’ve been getting my tires fixed there 15 years,” he said of the flat fix shop. “But I’ve never noticed that sign. How long has it been there?”
“Oh, decades,” I said.
He shook his head at my folly. “Sherita’s dead!”
It was time to try the flat fix shop.
No one was outside, and my knock went unanswered, so I let myself in. The dark shop was the size of a closet. All the repairs, it seems, are done curbside, from a selection of used tires arrayed on the sidewalk.
“Hello!” I called.
A short man covered in grease appeared from behind a metal wall.
Did he know anything about Sherita?
Did he know anything about the sign?
Did he know the landlord who owns the building?
No. He just worked at the shop. He didn’t know anything. And he didn’t know anyone who might know anything.
This was not going well.
The next day I launched an online investigation.
The first step, of course, was to Google “Sherita.” It is an old French name, it turns out, meaning “one who is dearest.”
I also found a photo of the billboard taken back in 2015, before Sherita’s body and half the words were covered with graffiti.
The earlier photo revealed two important clues. First, that the home heating oil business was formerly housed where the flat fix shop is now. And second, Sherita is clearly not a rabbit. She is a dinosaur.
Next, I did a search on the street address, 1025 Atlantic Avenue, to find out who owns the building. NYC Department of Building records listed an entity named 1025 Atlantic Realty Corp, owned by one Mr. Robert Thomas.
There are thousands of people named “Robert Thomas,” so next I searched on “1025 Atlantic Realty Corp.” That turned up an address for a PO Box in East New York. Just as Peter Nut Truck predicted!
And then, oh boy! A search on the PO box address turned up a promising lead: a web site for a home heating oil business!
The business had a spectacular name: “Home Heating Oil.”
“With fewer fuel-releated [sic] services calls and lower fuel costs, it's now [sic] wonder that Home Heating Oil's customers enjoy theri [sic] Oil Heat!” the site boasted.
That’s when I clicked on the web site’s “about us” tab and read perhaps the strangest story ever told—a 1200-word tale presented in 10-point font with zero paragraph breaks.
It was the story of a boy named Salvatore whose family “traverses the continent of Europe to escape political turmoil.”
In Italy, thieves attack the family and kill the parents. Local townsfolk find five-year-old Salvatore and his younger brother in a secret compartment in the back seat of the car they were traveling in. No one can identify them and they are taken to live in a nearby orphanage. “There both children were giving [sic] a Christian upbringing.”
When Salvatore is eleven, he and his brother are adopted by an American oil tanker captain named Louis Thomas.
Aha! Thomas! The same surname as the Robert Thomas who owns 1025 Atlantic Realty Corp!
The father takes the boys aboard to live with him on the oil tanker. But when Salvatore is 17, tragedy strikes again: both his adoptive father and his little brother are killed in a crazy storm at sea: “Their bodies of were never recovered [sic].”
Salvatore, “sustained by faith and prayer,” takes charge of the oil tanker he inherits, “and within a few short years he commanded a fleet of five tanker ships which transported petroleum needed by the growing economy of the United States.”
“During one of these trips to the port of New York,” the story continues, “the young captain while eating at a restaurant met a young woman and fell madly in love and got married.”
Could this be the glamorous Sherita?
Our hero sells his tanker fleet, settles down and buys a New York trucking business. Fast forward to 1973: “Suddenly after OPEC announced the oil embargo Salvatore couldn’t buy fuel for his trucks and faced a business disaster...In a moment of reflection he called on his old contacts and learned that a tiny refueling vessel was docked in Freeport Bahamas and could be had.”
The upshot? “It didn’t take long for his neighbors to find out that fuel was available and this was Salvatore’s start in the home heating oil.”
Hmm! It seemed likely that Robert Thomas was Salvatore’s son and had inherited the home heating oil business. Vibrating with excitement, I dialed the business number on the web site.
A man answered the phone: “APRA!”
The speaker, alas, wasn’t Robert Thomas. It was a man named Jerry. Home Heating Oil was no more, he said. Now it was APRA Energy Group, Inc. He’d only been there a year. He didn’t know anything about the sign, or Sherita.
He did, however, cop to knowing Robert Thomas: “He’s one of the owners. He’s not here anymore.”
He agreed to ask Mr. Thomas, to call me, but I didn’t feel satisfied.
Another online search turned up the name of Mr. Thomas’s Brooklyn lawyer, Daniel Sully, who had represented 1025 Atlantic Realty Corp in several lawsuits. I made another call.
“Law office!” a man answered the phone.
It was Mr. Sully himself!
Yes, Robert Thomas was his client. I told him about my quest to learn the story behind Sherita.
“I’ll give him a call,” said Mr. Sully, not unkindly. “Whether or not he want to speak with you is up to him.”
That was Thursday morning. Since then, my heart leaps every time the phone rings. But it’s never Robert Thomas.
William T., I am so sorry I let you down. But I’m not giving up! I have a lead on what I believe to be Mr. Thomas’s home address. (How creepy would it be to show up at his door?) And of course, there’s always a chance that somehow Mr. Thomas will read this, and take pity, and give me a ring.
Or maybe, just maybe, I really am Sherita!
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On Style, Sibling Superiority and Ghosts at Gracie Mansion
I’m still enjoying the exploits of New York City’s new mayor, Eric Adams. As a recent profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Here, round-up #4 of the mayor’s doings:
May 2: The Mayor Tweets a video of himself getting pedicure at Cuccio Nail Salon in Washington Heights in preparation for attending the super swanky Met Gala. “I didn’t go to a Met Gala until I got the city under control,” former Mayor Rudy Giuliani tells the The New York Post. “People should stop inviting him to events.”
May 2: Mayor Adams shows up at the ball dressed in the most astonishing tux! It features MTA subway line symbols on the lapels and cuffs. "You know I walk around with swagger in my pocket because I like to share it," he tells Eyewitness News.
May 7: In his latest TikTok video, the Mayor honors artist Jane Walentas by riding Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn. He looks oddly subdued astride the wooden horse. A viewer comments, “This is how horror movies begin.”
May 8: Mother’s Day! The Mayor Tweets, “Mom loved all my siblings but she adored me.”
May 11: Paying a visit to the press box at Yankee Stadium, Hizzoner breaks the news that Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York’s mayors, is haunted. “Listen, they’re creeping around,” he says. “I don’t care what anyone says, there are ghosts in there, man.”
ITEMS OF INTEREST
CAFÉ ANNE is a weekly publication reported and written by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. If you’re enjoying the newsletter, please consider a $5-a-month paid subscription.