The public is innately fascinated by murder. When reported on the news, homicide is shocking and horrific, but when portrayed in popular media, it becomes a source of entertainment and fascination. We question why people kill, and we are intrigued by the methods used to carry out the deed. While cold cases give out a different feel of fascination onto people’s hearts and minds too.
In our everyday lives, we share a communal understanding of the motivations for crime. After all, empathy is necessary for prediction, prevention and protection. But the interest with homicide transcends far beyond practicality. The story lines of prime-time television dramas and mystery stories are often most compelling when they abandon reality and are framed in fantasy.
New York City is a centrally famed hotspot for some of the most successful murder mystery plots. And while recent crime trends show a decrease in New York homicides, criminologists and the NYPD have no shortage of cold cases to crack. While advances in modern technology have greatly aided in the arrest of guilty perpetrators, the following New York cold cases remained unsolved.
It was Valentine’s Day in 2005 when 19 year-old Rashawn Brazell, a gay African-American, answered the door of his apartment in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, and left with an unidentified adult male. The two men entered the subway at the Gates avenue station and exited at the Nostrand Avenue station in Bedford Stuyvesant. Brazell had plans to meet his mother later that afternoon for lunch, but he never showed, and couldn’t be reached via cell phone.
Three days later, transit workers discovered a bloody trash bag in the tunnel of the Nostrand Avenue station, and it contained Brazell’s right shoulder, right arm and lower legs. Then, on the February 23rd, more dismembered body parts were found, including a piece of pelvis, in a Greenpoint recycling plant. All limbs were cut with medical precision.
New York City homicide detectives have chased hundreds of leads across the cross country, with hunches that range from a serial killer to angry lovers. However, investigators are no closer today to solving the heinous murder. They do know that the perpetrator had intimate knowledge of the subway system and human anatomy.
Abe Lebewohl was a neighborhood celebrity and founder of a kosher restaurant called the 2nd Avenue Deli. As a child, he survived Russian and German invasions in his native country of Poland. But five decades later, Lebewohl was fatally shot outside a bank on East 4th Street.
After 40 years in business without much trouble from ne’er-do-wells, Lebewohl was robbed just a few months prior to his death, when a gunman robbed him at knife point. Lebewohl never experienced this type of trouble before, and so kept his daily routine, where he would take the deli receipts from the night before and go to the bank around 9 am.
Lebewohl was carrying nearly $11,000 in cash when he made what would be his last trip to the bank at East 4th Street and Second Avenue on the morning of March 4, 1996. He parked outside the bank, but he never made it inside. According to New York City crime detectives, the gunman forced Lebewohl back into the vehicle and shot him. The suspect then drove Lebewohl’s van down the block toward First Avenue and parked it haphazardly. After the assailant opened the door to flee, 64-year-old Lebewohl fell, fatally wounded, onto the sidewalk.
Police found the gun used in the murder several days later near the Central Park Transverse at Fifth Avenue and 96th Street. Ballistics testing unveiled that the very same gun had been used in a double homicide only six months prior at a hotel in Westchester County. Another victim in the Bronx had also been shot with the same gun during a robbery, and luckily survived.
Nineteen-year-old Lorraine Snell left her mother’s residence on East 39th Street in Brooklyn on September 25, 1980 to make plans for her engagement party at the Midwood Terrace.
That was the last time she was seen alive. A bartender at the venue recalled Snell was accompanied by James Burrus, the estranged husband of her cousin Barbara, upon leaving the establishment. Snell was later found strangled in the backseat of a car, a cable still wrapped around her neck when New York City police discovered her. The station wagon was suspiciously parked behind a supermarket where James Burrushad once worked. Detectives were never able to conclusively link Burrus to the murder, but he did serve jail time for robbing a cab driver the same night Snell was murdered.
Even more strange, after the murder, Snell’s mother, Pearl, was visited by Wayne Tennent, a district attorney investigator who confided that the NYPD were determined to find her daughter’s killer. Tennent frequently reached out to Pearl with updates about the case, however, it surfaced that Tennent had never been assigned to the case and an important file had gone missing from the NYPD.
Although he was never struck with consequence for interfering and later retired, Tennent reportedly tried to gain access to the case files, but denies any involvement aside from sheer curiosity. The case remains unsolved.
Shane Anthony Walker + Christopher Milton Dansby
Shane Walker and Christopher Dansby are not related, and they did not disappear at the same time. However, the circumstances surrounding their kidnappings are so eerily similar, that they must be mentioned together.
Christopher Dansby was playing at Martin Luther King Towers playground with his mother on May 18, 1989 in New York City, when she decided to go to a nearby store to get some food. Because she did not have a stroller Ms. Dansby didn’t think twice about leaving her almost two year-old son with his relatives who were also at the park, including his grandmother. When she returned, Ms. Dansby discovered Christopher was nowhere to be found. Family members recalled last seeing the boy playing with two other toddlers, a boy and a girl. Passersby reported seeing Christopher with an adult African-American male on a nearby street.
Similarly, only two and a half months later, on August 10, 1 year-old Shane Walker and his mother, Roselee Glover visited the very same Harlem area park from which Christopher was abducted. Ms. Glover sat on a bench while Shane played with two other children, a boy and a girl. Soon after her arrival, she was approached by an African-American man who began a casual conversation about the growing safety concerns in the area. When Glover turned to look for Shane, he was gone. The two children he had been playing with were also gone, but later emerged from a hole in the fencing and claimed they left Shane in the park.
New York City police uncovered that both children lived in the same apartment building, and had been playing with the same two children, a 10 year old girl and her 5 year-old brother in the same part of the park. Dansby and Walker also disappeared on a Thursday between 5-7pm.
Because of their similarities in age, detectives believe the abductions were part of a black—market baby ring operation. However after interviewing the man and the two children, police came up with no conclusive evidence as to their whereabouts.
On May 18, 2004, 21 year-old Sarah Fox went for a jog in Inwood Hill Park, and never made it back to her nearby apartment.
Her deceased body was found a week later, nude and badly decomposed in a remote area of the upper Manhattan park. Surrounding her were tulip petal and branches that police suspected were arranged in a ritualistic manner. And a botanist confirmed the plant material had originated from elsewhere in the park, suggesting the murderer was very familiar with the terrain.
The focus of the investigation had long fallen upon Dimirty Sheinman, a local artist and self-described clairvoyant who was known for wandering the park and starting outbursts with parkgoers. The South African native was never charged though, and eventually proclaimed Fox’s killer came to him in a vision.
The revelation was a dead end – Sheinman provided details the major news stations had already disseminated, and provided a name of a man the police had already interviewed and ruled out as a suspect.
Patrick Kennedy Alford Jr.
Patrick Alford Jr. was last seen on January 22, 2010 at the Vandalia Avenue building in Brooklyn, when he mysteriously vanished without a coat from the apartment unit where he resided in foster care.
Alford Jr. was reportedly taking out the trash when he disappeared. Documents filed in Brooklyn federal court narrated how the 7 year old’s mother had been fighting with the city Administration for Children’s Services over accusations of drug use and other problems in her home, which led to her son being removed from her custody.
While in foster care and before he went missing, Alford Jr. was exhibiting signs of emotional instability and was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
New York detectives believe Alford Jr. is alive, but legally, he has been pronounced dead because he has been missing for over three years.
Initially, police had several credible leads, but resources have been exhausted and Alford has never been found.
Jason Mizell (AKA Jam Master Jay)
One of New York’s most shocking unsolved murders is that of Jason Mizell (aka Jam Master Jay), a member of the groundbreaking rap group RUN-DMC.
On October 30, 2002, Mizell was shot and killed in his recording studio in Jamaica, Queens; He was 37 years old.
In the days following the murder, conspiracy theories arose that described everything from hip-hop feud to a business disagreement between big time crack dealers. Despite the hearsay, New York City police were able to piece together a timeline: at 7:30pm, Mizell and a 25 year-old groupie named Urieco Rincon were playing video games while a female friend watched on a nearby couch. Three other acquaintances occupied the control room.
Two masked assailants burst into the room and one of them shot Mizell in the head. The force of the blast caused the gunman to lose his footing and fall into Rincon’s lap. The gun went off again, shooting Rincon in the ankle. Both intruders fled, and Rincon survived.
Sources told New York City police detectives that Mizell was in debt and having trouble with some connects in the drug industry after several kilos of cocaine were reportedly stolen from him.
After his death, it was found that Mizell owed $500,000 in back taxes. Police are adamant that there is a witness who knows the identity of the shooter, however no one has ever come forward, and no arrests have been made.
An 11 year-old Chinese girl named Wu Quin-Rong was kidnapped less than a hundred yards from her school on May 13, 1997, where she walked to and from by herself every week day. Two weeks later, her body was discovered in the East River. Medical examiners confirmed Quin-Rong’s cause of death was manual strangulation.
One witness claimed seeing a bearded man subdue a wailing Asian girl on a subway train, but New York City police have never had any substantial leads.
The fascination with murder is overwhelming natural because there are so many different perspectives from which to judge each crime. Especially with high profile unsolved crime cases, like the aforementioned famous New York unsolved mysteries, we are drawn to wonder about the victim, the perpetrator and the circumstances – intrigued by the motive and the method and how they got away. But perhaps the most perplexing question is who would be capable of the crime and whether they are “normal” like ourselves, or hopefully very different.
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