Authors: Richard; Hammer
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The CBS Murders
April 12, 1982
Easter Monday. An ordinary day in Manhattan. The sudden, unexpected spring blizzard that had howled across the city the previous week, leaving in its wake more than a foot of snow and a paralyzed metropolis, was now no more than an unpleasant memory. A few days of warm sun and temperatures well up into the fifties had turned the pristine mountainous drifts into shrinking mounds of gray slush and then into raging rivers of filthy water. With the start of the new workweek and continued bright weather, the rivers had dried and vanished, and the city was warm and pleasant with spring.
In Midtown North, as in other police precincts, it was business as usual this day after the holiday. A polyglot precinct is Midtown North, microcosm of the public picture of New York. It stretches from the Hudson River piers and the decrepit West Side Highway east to the soaring towers and exclusive shops that line Fifth Avenue, from just above the sleaze of Times Square north to the fringes of the glittering mecca of culture in Lincoln Center. Within these boundaries lies the communications capital of North America, the editorial offices and the headquarters of the television network giants, where the decisions are made about what Americans will read and watch. The tastes, trends, and desires of Americaâindeed, of much of the worldâin a hundred different areas are debated and dictated in the skyscraper offices of the multinational corporations that compete for air and ground space along the canyonlike avenues. Through a hundred small, dingy yet impregnably armored offices along one short block of West Forty-seventh Street pass enough gold and diamonds every day to make an ancient Indian mogul feel deprived and to bring delight and riches to the South African mine owners.
That is one face of Midtown North. There is another, a dozen others. For every steel and glass tower there are twenty shabby, ill-repaired lofts housing hundreds of small businesses just barely keeping afloat. For every department store and specialty shop, there are fifty hole-in-the-wall cigar stores, pawnshops, bookie joints, and seedy discount outlets peddling merchandise that seems to evaporate into dust on first use. For every luxury hotel luring out-of-town tourists and business conventions, there are a dozen flophouses and welfare shelters. For every cooperative and condominium and high-priced rental apartment catering to the rich, there are a hundred tenements. For every first-run cinema palace there are five porno movie houses, peep shows, and live-sex-act establishments. For every successful businessman, there are ten shady operators skirting the edges of legitimacy, often with an outward face of respectability. For every tourist and honest citizen wandering through the area or working in it, there is a pimp and his hookers, a pusher and his junkies, to say nothing of the thieves, petty and grand, the hoodlums, organized and unorganized, and all the rest.
That is the surface. But beneath the wealth, glitter, and success, beneath the contrasting poverty, bleakness, and failure, there is a barely concealed stench of desperation and fear. There is the fear of failure, the fear of competition, the fear of strangers, the fear of friends who may not be friends, the fear in the streets, and the fear of the streets. “The mass of men,” Thoreau wrote, “lead lives of quiet desperation.” It is true here as everywhere. But, for some, their fears drive them away from the quiet hopelessness to desperate acts.
In the heart of the area, on West Fifty-fourth Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, stands the forbidding fortress that is Midtown North. Though they are often cynical, talk about their work as just a job, and gripe about the long hours and lousy pay, the men who spread a thin blue shield from this drab building think of themselves as the soldiers of the city, the area's protection, only protection, when desperation becomes overt. Their struggle is unending, and days blend into days, leaving little to mark them from the ones that have gone before.
On this Monday after Easter, they had gone about their work just about as always. There had been only the usual burglaries and robberies, muggings and purse snatchings, rapes and assaults, family arguments and traffic accidents, nothing unusual, nothing to make this day remain fixed in the memory.
What there had not been was a murder. Nobody doubted that there would be one, if not that day, then soon. In Manhattan, where murder is committed on the average of more than ten times a week, Midtown North sees more than its share. Still, that Monday had passed without one and the day was ending, twilight descending over the city, the lights beginning to go on, the stores and offices closing, the commuters from the suburbs and the city's residential areas beginning the long trek homeward.
By six o'clock, halfway through their eight-hour shift, the detectives up in the second-floor squad room had little enough to do but sit around and argue over who would catch the next murder when it happened, as surely it would, supposing it happened during their shift. It was not a job anyone particularly looked forward to. It would mean, if the usual pattern was followed, going out to some rundown tenement where a family quarrel had turned violent, or to some small store whose owner lay in a pool of blood after resisting a robbery, or to some mean street where a mugging had ended in death. It would mean long, endless hours without sleep. And then, no matter how often they had been seen, a dead body, a murder victim, was not a pleasant sight, not something anyone ever completely got used to.
In the room then were six men: Richard Chartrand, John Johnston, Jack Hart, Stanley Shapiro, Robert Patterson, and Jack Duffy.
Richie Chartrand was the oldest and most experienced. He had been a cop for nearly thirty years, a detective for most of that time, in the old homicide bureau for years until the bureau was disbanded and its experts dispersed to precincts around the city. He was a soft-spoken man who appeared, on the surface, mild-mannered and colorless. But he had an incisive and intuitive mind that could cut through obfuscations to the core, and in that muted voice there was often an edge of cynicism and a sardonic wit. Dressed always with neatness and precision, in a suit and tie and, when outdoors, a hat, he looked more like a businessman, or, somebody said, an FBI supervisor, than a cop. He had seen enough murders to last a dozen lifetimes and invariably was the man turned to in times of crisis.
Bobby Patterson was the newest and youngest man on the team. He had been a cop for about fifteen years, since the day he turned twenty-one, and a detective for the past two. Despite an attempt to look older and tougher by growing a moustache, he still gave the appearance of a raw, untried rookie. In the previous six weeks he had handled two murder cases, including the last one to come through the office.
If and when a murder came, everyone agreed, it was Stanley Shapiro's turn to catch it. He hadn't had one in as long as anyone could remember. He was a good cop, a capable detective, but the ideal role for him, he devoutly believed, was second man and not the leader in an investigation, and he had no desire to be out front if something happened that night.
But nothing had happened, and the argument was only desultory and academic. “What the hell,” Patterson said at one point, “I don't care. I can use the overtime.”
“It's Stanley's turn,” the others argued. “A call comes, Stanley catches it.”
Shapiro didn't like that idea at all.
The argument meandered. It could have been settled before it even started if Lieutenant Richard Gallagher, the man in charge of the squad, had been there, but Dick Gallagher was taking the day off, was at home in Rockland County attending to some early spring gardening.
And then the phone rang. Patterson was closest. He picked it up, listened, made some notes. Around him, the argument went on. Patterson hung up, turned to the others. “We'd better settle this right now,” he said. “We've got three dead bodies over on Pier Ninety-two.”
Chartrand looked at him. “Is that some kind of joke, Bobby?” he asked.
“No joke,” Patterson said. “That was the uniform. We've got three dead ones on the pier.”
“Get a confirmation,” Chartrand ordered.
Patterson returned to the phone.
Shapiro rushed for another phone. “Jesus,” he said, “I'd better get hold of the lieutenant.”
Jack Duffy, the clerk in the squad room, beat him to the phone, was already dialing Gallagher's number.
“Stanley,” somebody said, “you're up.”
Shapiro shook his head. He would, he said, wait for orders from Gallagher.
Chartrand sighed. “What the hell,” he said, “we'll take one apiece. Bobby, you had the last one, so you stick around and handle the phones, make all the notifications and the rest of the crap.” He turned to John Johnston and Jack Hart. “Us three,” he said, “let's go.”
A half hour earlier, two blocks north and three west, the S.S.
was just leaving its Hudson River berth at Pier Ninety-two for a week-long Caribbean cruise. Two of the three adjacent piertop parking lots, each about the size of a football field, were emptying out, the visitors who had come to see their friends and relatives off driving slowly down the off ramp, stopping at the gatehouse at the exit to pay the parking fee and then continuing on into the city traffic. In the third, northernmost of the lots, there still were thirty or more cars. But this lot was reserved mainly for long-term parkers who paid $40 a month for the privilege, and it still would be a little time before most of them left work in nearby offices, shops, and factories and retrieved their cars for the ride home.
A silvery 1980 Chevrolet van turned off the roadway under the West Side Highway and started to move along the up ramp toward the parking area, toward the long-term lot. The driver of the van was a burly, bullet-headed man in his late forties with a drooping, nearly blind right eye, the result of a childhood accident. He wore a light-colored windbreaker. He chewed idly on a matchstick. Stopping momentarily at the mechanical gate, he pulled a ticket from the slot, waited for the arm to rise, and then drove through and up the ramp. He passed the first and second lots and then turned into the third, the long-term lot.