‘Preppy Killer’ 1986 case: Who was Robert Chambers and what happened?

Robert Chambers, charged with the murder of Jennifer Levin, being taken from central booking in Manhatten on Aug. 26, 1986.
Robert Chambers, charged with the murder of Jennifer Levin, being taken from central booking in Manhatten on Aug. 26, 1986. Photo Credit: Black Paw Photo

It was a warm early morning on Aug. 26, 1986 when a bicyclist in Central Park came across the body of Jennifer Levin, strangled and nearly nude, according to reports.

That witness, who later testified against Levin’s killer Robert Chambers, said she spotted her first glimpse of the man who would be dubbed the Preppy Killer, wearing khaki pants and lingering near the crime scene.

What Happened

Levin, 18, started the night innocently enough: she met up with Chambers, 19 at the time at Dorrian’s Red Hand, an Upper East Side bar, according to a New York Magazine article from the same year. The pair had dated in the past and spent the next few hours flirting at the bar before leaving together around 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 26, 1986.

But less than two hours after the pair left the popular hangout spot, Levin’s body was found in Central Park, her clothing disheveled, and her underwear and lipstick case about 40 feet away from her body in a gruesome strangulation death that shocked the city, according to reports.

Hours later, police picked up Chambers, according to New York Magazine, who then admitted to causing Levin’s death. But Chambers said he didn’t mean to hurt her, instead it was rough sex that got out of hand. He then reportedly said he stayed near the body, sitting on a wall behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, waiting for police.

After he was arrested, Jack Dorrian, the owner of the bar, put up his $650,000 East Side town house for Chambers’ $150,000 bail, according to The Associated Press.

Who was Robert Chambers

Chambers was born on Sept. 25, 1966. He lived in Jackson Heights, but moved to Park Avenue in 1975 and later to an apartment in a brownstone on East 90th Street, according to New York Magazine.

He grew up with an Irish immigrant mother and a life of privilege.

He was an altar boy at his church, a member of the Children of the American Revolution, and attended private schools.

But he started using drugs as a young teen and got hooked. Just three months before killing Levin, he had gotten out of a drug rehabilitation center and was talking about trying to get into Columbia University, according to New York Magazine.

His father, who suffered from alcoholism and split from his mother two years before Levin’s murder, and was never home, friends told the magazine.

And to pay for his drugs, Chambers’ friends said the teen started to steal. He would take jewelry, cash, and even ski equipment from his friends’ parents, according to the magazine.


Nearly two years after killing Levin, Chambers pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, according to The New York Times. His plea brought an end to a complicated trial, after the jury deliberating second-degree murder charges remained deadlocked for nine days.

And in April 1988, he was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison, of which he served all 15 years.

During his sentencing, according to The New York Times, Chambers said he was sorry and asked for forgiveness from his parents as well as Levin’s family.

While in prison, Chambers committed 26 disciplinary infractions, according to People magazine, including drug possession and punching a guard. And when he was finally released from prison in 2003, Levin’s mother couldn’t help but wonder what her daughter would have been like had her life not been snuffed out so early.

“If he continues along the course he’s been on he will be his own worst enemy,” Ellen Levin told People. “My fear is for girls who don’t know his past. I want to warn them about who he is.

“I think about the grandchildren I won’t have,” she added. “Her dream was to be a designer, but that’s gone now. And all that loss runs deep.”

After Chambers completed his sentence

In 2004, Chambers was arrested when traces of heroin and cocaine were found in his car, and he was found to have a suspended license, according to The New York Times. He was sentenced the next year to 100 days in prison.

Then in October 2007, Chambers and his girlfriend, Shawn Kovell, were arrested for selling cocaine out of their East Side apartment, busted after undercover cops bought thousands of dollars in drugs, according to the New York Daily News.

They apparently sold to police eight times, according to the Daily News.

Ten months later, Chambers pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of 19 years, according to The New York Times and the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision.

His earliest release date is 2024, with a parole hearing scheduled for November 2023. He is currently serving time in Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, NY, just under 30 miles east of Buffalo.

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