Murder He Wrote: Gruesome Tragedies That Shook the Village
Friday the 13th in October tends to bring to mind more thoughts of ghouls and goblins than Greenwich Village, but that doesn’t mean the neighborhood hasn’t had its fair share of historic horrors. Jason may have taken Manhattan in the film franchise of the same date, but in the Village our gruesome and gory come with stories that reflect the times and character of our neighborhoods. Below are a few of the standout examples of murders that shook both the Village and the public memories of the area.
The Butchery on Bond Street
On January 31st, 1857, dentist Harvey Burdell was found stabbed to death in his quarters at 31 Bond Street, igniting one of the most famous murder scandals in New York City’s history. Emma Cunningham, his ex-lover and landlady was immediately accused of his murder in a case that filled the headlines for months on end. The newspapers covered the case in salacious detail, and, at Cunningham’s trial, more than twelve times the usual number of prospective jurors were summoned, so that the case could be heard without prejudice. The murder of an upper-middle class professional in the sanctity of his own home, coupled with the accused murderess’ unceasing efforts to wreak vengeance is both a cautionary tale as well as a look into the lives of middle class in NoHo in the middle of the 19th Century. In March 2016, GVSHP did a program about this murder where author Benjamin Feldman talked about this gruesome incident and his book, Butchery on Bond Street – Sexual Politics and The Burdell-Cunningham Case in Ante-bellum New York.
The Groovy Murders
18 year old Linda Fitzpatrick was by all accounts a good girl from Connecticut, but what was she doing in an East Village flop house? On October 8th, 1967, Linda’s body was found, along with another gentleman, James Hutchinson (nicknamed “Groovy”), on a cot in the boiler room of 169 Avenue B. They were naked and dead, their heads had been bashed in with a brick. As horrific the incident had been, the story around Linda made it even more bizarre. To her friends and family in Connecticut, Linda moved to the Village to pursue a life as a painter, living with a nice girl at a nice hotel on Washington Place. The other Linda though, the one in the Village, was living the counter-cultural life, one filled with “crash pads, acid trips, freaking out, psychedelic art, witches and warlocks.” In many ways, this dichotomy represents what the Village has always been about: a place for freedom, the avant-garde, and being against the norm. While Linda’s particular circumstances are probably not unique, her story was famously published as the New York Times piece “The Two Worlds of Linda Fitzpatrick.”
The Butcher of Tompkins Square Park
Daniel Rakowitz was a marijuana dealer, an East Village eccentric, and a cannibal. In 1989, Rakowitz killed his roommate and girlfriend, Monika Beerle, a Swiss student at the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, and a dancer at Billy’s Topless. The horror doesn’t stop there, as Rakowitz was said to have then dismembered her body, cooked it into a stew, and served it to the homeless in Tompkins Square Park. He went around Tompkins bragging about his deed; an observer then reported his rantings to the police, where he was arrested and Beerle’s remains were found in the Port Authority Bus Terminal storage area. In recent years, the cannibalism claims around the murder have had some doubts, but in hindsight the story and surrounding elements paints a clear picture of the East Village of the 80’s, a place that was filled with homeless, tent cities, squats, but also a breeding ground for radical ideas and individuals, many thankfully not as extreme or violent as Rakowitz.