Did attack or smack kill Tompkins Square ‘crusty’ woman, 26?

By Lincoln Anderson

A few facts are clear: Responding to a call shortly before noon on Sat., May 9, police found Lesia Pupshaw, 26, unconscious in her apartment at 202 E. Sixth St.; 10 minutes later, Pupshaw was declared dead by emergency medical technicians; the night before, Pupshaw reportedly had been attacked in Tompkins Square Park by a group of local youths throwing bottles, possibly wielding a bat; Pupshaw was known to have used heroin.

A month later, however, Pupshaw’s cause of death has yet to be determined by the city’s medical examiner. As of early this week, test results were still pending. 

“Some testing takes a little longer than others,” an M.E. spokesperson said on Monday. “It’s not unusual.”

However, citing indications police received early on from the M.E., the Ninth Precinct’s commanding officer said police don’t believe Pupshaw’s death was a murder, and are proceeding accordingly. 

“There is no evidence to support” that Pupshaw was killed, said Deputy Inspector Dennis De Quatro. “At this point, it’s not being investigated as a homicide, but as an assault.”

But some of the Tompkins Square Park “crusties” — a loose-knit group of mainly young heroin users and drinkers with whom Pupshaw used to hang out — say Pupshaw’s head was badly injured in the attack and that police aren’t investigating as thoroughly as if the victim had been a “yuppie.”

De Quatro, however, said making things more difficult, witnesses aren’t cooperating.

“There seems to be a reluctance on the part of those in the park to talk to us,” the deputy inspector said. “They can come into the precinct” and tell police what they know, he said.

Melissa Bishop may know the most of anyone. Speaking in the park two weekends ago, she said she was questioned by police, and was, for a short time, the prime suspect in Lesia (pronounced Leh-shuh) Pupshaw’s death.

Bishop, who lives on Long Island, hangs out with the crusties and volunteers with the Tompkins Square Park maintenance crew — “because I love the park,” she said — and reportedly hopes to eventually land a job with them. 

A former crack user from Atlantic City, she said she’s been clean of crack nine years. She said she did three years in jail for Percoset possession, taking the fall for her mother. She claims to have escaped being choked to death by the main suspect in the murders of four Atlantic City hookers in 2006.

“I used to do what I had to do,” she said. “I’m not going to lie. My past is ugly. … Atlantic City is a black hole — it sucks you in.”

May 8 was Bishop’s birthday. She and Pupshaw weren’t on good terms because Bishop’s ex-boyfriend, Greg, had broken up with her to go out with Pupshaw. Bishop had been pregnant by Greg, but miscarried. Bishop has a tattoo on her forearm in memory of her lost baby.

“She didn’t like me because I was carrying [Greg’s child],” Bishop said of Pupshaw.

Bishop, 29, already has two children, 15 years old and 11 years old.

Pupshaw’s presence in the park on Bishop’s birthday was not welcome. The two had words.

Bishop said she cursed out Pupshaw, then turned on her heel and started to walk off. Immediately afterward, she said, she heard glass breaking. Turning back around, she said she saw Pupshaw getting up off the ground and heard her say, “Look at my eye. Look at my eye.”

“I got a good look at three of ’em,” Bishop said. The suspects are Hispanic, or black with medium skin color, she said.

“They’re saying she OD’d,” Bishop said of police. “She had a concussion. I could see from her eye.” At a later point, she added, “They had a bat — I saw it.” Asked if it was a metal or wood bat, Bishop said it “looked wooden.”

Bishop gave a brief description of the suspects’ clothes: “A black, white and gray hoodie, cargo pants, cargo shorts, boots… .”

Bishop said she helped another victim of the attack, Adam, whose shirt was all bloody, into an ambulance, but that Pupshaw refused medical treatment — then lied about the incident to her boyfriend.

“She went home and told Greg I beat her up,” Bishop said. She said Pupshaw also accused her of  paying the attackers to beat her up.

Meanwhile, Bishop said, she believes a gang called the Cash Money Boys, from Avenue D between Third and Fifth Sts., are behind the assault. 

“I’m going to find out who these kids are,” she vowed. “They turned my life upside down for a couple of hours — and they could have ruined my life. 

“I’m a Marine’s niece,” Bishop declared. “I want them to come at me — and I’m going to show them what I’m trained to do. I want them to come at me, and they won’t — because they go for the weak.”

A group of neighborhood youths and the crusties had clashed a few times earlier in the week before the violence on the night before Pupshaw’s death. The attacks reportedly had started out with things like water balloons, then escalated to broken bottles and blood.

According to a local blog, subsequent to May 8, more attacks are said to have occurred by a roving gang of local youths, but police don’t necessarily agree. 

“As for documented incidents, we have that one weekend back in the beginning of May involving this group,” De Quatro said. 

An older man with a gray beard hanging out among the crusties in their usual area on the benches near the park’s southwest corner two weekends ago, said he knew Pupshaw for some years.

“I’m Bob — they call me Uncle Bob,” he said. “I’m an old stagehand, tech. … Lesia used to be out with us. She drank. She did a little heroin from what they say. The police want to just write it off as heroin. They want to close the case. They don’t want to prosecute people. I think she was killed by these punk kids. … The water balloon kids haven’t hit while I’ve been out here.

“She was just a drunk,” Bob said. “She was just a girl out here like any other girl in the neighborhood. Family life wasn’t that good, so she came out here.”

As for Bishop’s saying she was the prime suspect in Pupshaw’s death, De Quatro said that may just be her opinion.

“I can’t say by whose definition she was a suspect,” De Quatro said. “She might have considered herself a suspect because she was being questioned.”

Bishop angrily said police aren’t taking Pupshaw’s death as seriously as if she was “some yuppie-ass rich woman.”

“Absurd” was De Quatro’s response to that accusation. “It’s our duty to investigate the assault. If you are assaulted today and you die in an automobile crash in New Jersey tomorrow, we still investigate. One’s got nothing to do with the other.” He added, “It potentially becomes more difficult [to investigate] if you don’t have a complainant.”

De Quatro said, however, that police obviously would devote fewer resources to an assault compared to a homicide.