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NYC murder cases: Etan Patz to Malcolm X

There’s nothing like a shocking murder to focus the attention of New Yorkers.

Extreme, bizarre, outrageous killings send the tabloids and blogs into a frenzy of sordid headlines and each new revelation in a murder case is scrutinized like plot points in a living crime novel.

Of course, a murder in New York City couldn’t ask for a better backdrop, and themes of race, class and sex often tinge the most ferociously operatic murders the metropolis has witnessed.

Here are 13 murder cases that have riveted the attention of New Yorkers over the years, from the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz to the assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X.

Socialite’s murder of her autistic son

Gigi Jordan, a multimillionaire who gave up her
Photo Credit: Getty Images / AFP / Stan Honda

Gigi Jordan, a multimillionaire who gave up her lucrative career in healthcare to care for her 8-year-old developmentally disabled autistic son, Jude Mirra, was convicted of killing him at the five-star Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue in February 2010. Prosecutors charged that she forced him to swallow a lethal cocktail of alcohol, painkillers, tranquilizers and pills.

Mirra’s body was found in a prescription pill-strewn room. During her 2014 trial, Jordan told jurors she deliberately gave the boy the drugs in a mercy killing out of fear that one of her ex-husbands might harm the child if anything were to happen to her. And she planned to kill herself as well. “I couldn’t see any way out of the situation,” she said.

Subway token booth clerk set on fire

Harry Kaufman, a 50-year-old subway token clerk, was
Photo Credit: Getty/Spencer Platt

Harry Kaufman, a 50-year-old subway token clerk, was working an overtime shift at the booth of the Kingston-Throop Avenue station in Brooklyn on Nov. 26, 1995, when two men approached. One of them proceeded to use a bottle to squirt a flammable liquid into the slot of the booth's window, and then light it.

The booth exploded, and Kaufman was burned over 80 percent of his body. Weeks later, he died from the burns.

Two men were convicted in the killing, but both had long proclaimed their innocence. And one of the men, Thomas Malik, said he confessed only after a detective beat him.

Murder at a subway station

Before the end of 1990, the city would
Photo Credit: Handout

Before the end of 1990, the city would record 2,245 murders — the highest number in the books.

Brian Watkins, a tourist from Provo, Utah, became one of the statistics when he tried to protect his parents from a subway station mugging in September of that year. He was stabbed once in the chest at the 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue station and died on the way to the hospital.

The death spurred a public outcry and led City Hall to aggressively fund anti-crime strategies and hire more police officers. Eight members of a gang were charged in Watkins’ murder, all but one confessing to the killing. Seven of them were convicted.

Preppy murder

On Aug. 26, 1986, Jennifer Levin, a graduate
Photo Credit: Newsday / Tom Kitts

On Aug. 26, 1986, Jennifer Levin, a graduate of the Baldwin School, was found sexually abused and strangled behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Robert Chambers, a 19-year-old who had attended Manhattan private schools, was arrested in her slaying. Tabloid media called him the "Preppy killer" and never let up in their sensational coverage of the trial of Chambers, who claimed the killing happened accidentally during rough sex.

During jury deliberations, Chambers agreed to a plea bargain and was released in 2003 after serving 15 years in prison.

Stan Patz disappearance: The boy on the milk carton

On May 25, 1979, 6-year-old Etan Patz left
Photo Credit: Handout

On May 25, 1979, 6-year-old Etan Patz left his SoHo apartment for a short walk to catch a school bus and was never seen again. His disappearance drew national attention to the plight of missing children, and his face was the first to appear on milk cartons around the country.

For decades, authorities had pursued leads in the case. In 2012, a reinvigorated investigation into the child's disappearance led the FBI to dig up the concrete floor of a Manhattan basement of a building that Etan may have passed on his way from the apartment.

Shortly after the dig, a suspect, Pedro Hernandez, was arrested in the case. Authorities contend he confessed to killing the boy though his lawyers say his confession is false. Etan's body has never been recovered, but he is presumed dead.

Hernandez went to trial in 2015, but the jury was deadlocked 11-1. His retrial began in October 2016.

'Son of Sam' killings

Anyone who lived in New York during the
Photo Credit: Newsday

Anyone who lived in New York during the 1970s remembers the terror during the months when a serial killer named David Berkowitz began targeting single women and couples.

When his murder spree was finished, six people were dead and several other were injured. The "Son of Sam" killings, as they came to be known, began on July 29, 1976, and ended with his arrest on Aug. 10, 1977. He is incarcerated at Sullivan Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

From prison, Berkowitz has become a Christian and even maintains an official blog where he has posted an apology for his crimes.

Assassination of Malcolm X

The assassination of Malcolm X at the Audobon
Photo Credit: Getty/AFP/STF

The assassination of Malcolm X at the Audobon Ballroom in Washington Heights on Feb 21, 1965, shocked the nation and traumatized the civil rights movement. So it was no surprise that the trial of the Nation of Islam members accused in his slaying received unflinching scrutiny.

One of the men, Thomas Hagan, admitted his role in the slaying of the iconic leader. He was paroled in 2010. Two other men found guilty in Malcolm X’s slaying both received 20 years to life while proclaiming their innocence. One was paroled in 1985; the other in 1987.

Murder on the roof of the old Madison Square Garden

Famed architect Stanford White was watching a performance

Famed architect Stanford White was watching a performance on the roof of the old Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1906, when a man by the name of Harry Kendall Thaw walked up to him and shot him in the head three times with a pistol.

It quickly became clear to the police and press that Thaw was dangerously jealous over the relationship his wife, Evelyn Nesbit, had with White before their marriage.

Some referred to the case as the "Trial of the Century," stoking sensationalism around it. But how could it not be fodder for the media, with a lethal love triangle involving the city's wealthy?

A first jury did not return a verdict; a second found Thaw not guilty by reason of insanity. He was incarcerated at an asylum.

A 'sweet' chorus girl’s love affair ends in murder

Nan Patterson was tried three times for the

Nan Patterson was tried three times for the murder of lover, Ceaser Young.

The lovers were traveling in the back of a cab down West Broadway on June 4, 1904, when a gunshot rang out. Young was fatally wounded, with the revolver used in the shooting in his pocket.

Patterson would claim that Young, despondent over his marriage, took his own life and that she hadn't seen the shooting.

Authorities couldn't see how Young could have shot himself, given the angle of the wound. Nevertheless, her trials ended without a conviction. "The prosecutor concluded that no jury would unanimously believe that such a sweet young thing could commit so brutal a crime," New York Magazine wrote in 1988.

Arsenic-laced clam chowder

On Aug. 30, 1895, a 10-year-old girl named

On Aug. 30, 1895, a 10-year-old girl named Gracie dropped off a batch of clam chowder to her 53-year-old grandmother, Evelina Bliss. Hours later, Bliss became violently ill; even after a doctor was called her condition worsened.

She succumbed to her surprising illness. Poison was immediately suspected, and the Times headlined its story: “MRS H.H. BLISS POISONED: She Dies after Eating Clam Chowder and Pie — Said to Have Accused Relatives.”

Mary Alice Livingston Fleming, the mother of little Gracie, was accused of orchestrating the murder with an arsenic-laced batch of chowder to gain Bliss’ inheritance.

Major newspapers covered her trial with rapt attention. In spite of the attention and what appeared to be a strong case, she was found innocent of all charges.

'The Witch of Staten Island'

On Christmas night 1843, a home on Richmond

On Christmas night 1843, a home on Richmond Avenue in Staten Island became engulfed in flames. Neighbors scrambled to help anyone who might be inside, but rescuers were too late. They found the bodies of Emeline Van Pelt Housman and her baby daughter, Ann Eliza, under a mattress in the kitchen.

Investigators later determined that Emeline had been bound and her limbs broken; the baby's skull had been crushed.

Authorities' attention quickly focused on Polly Bodine, the sister-in-law of Emeline and aunt of Ann Eliza and suspicions that Bodine and a lover were seeking to profit from selling the Housmans' belongings.

The subsequent trials of Bodine -- there were three --riveted the attention of Gotham and she was dubbed "The Witch of Staten Island."

Even Edgar Allen Poe, writing for Columbia Spy in 1944, felt compelled to comment on the case. "This woman may, possibly, escape," he wrote. "For they manage these matters wretchedly in New-York."

He was right: Though she had spent two years in jail on the charges, Bodine was freed after jurors in a third trial found her not guilty.


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