Law & Order: The Misdemeanors

Nypd carSome of my high school classmates back in Pittsburgh can't quite fathom the thought of living in Manhattan, but I thrive on the fast pace, and the perceived danger is a bit overblown.  Sure, I've had some experiences with it but, thankfully, nothing serious.  Since moving to New York City in 1981 I've been a victim of a crime six times.  Five of the six occurred in the 1980s, and the last time was in 1998.  Two of my apartments have been burglarized, my wallet has been lifted at work twice and I've been mugged and the victim of a scam one time each.  (Truth be told, I've committed a number of "fashion crimes", but that's the subject for another post.)



April 1981 - At TriBeCa Apartment

This was my first apartment in NYC.  It was in a loft space on Lispenard St. in TriBeCa that I shared with a husband, wife, baby and a vicious cat (whose name was 'Mouse').  The break-in occurred one month after I moved in.  Although the door was locked, the prefabricated wall was knocked down to gain entrance.  The loft was in a building that I was later told the landlord was trying to get renters out of the apartment and turn into a commercial building.  My stereo was stolen along with four rolls of quarters that I hadn't had a chance to take to the bank.  I moved out two months later (as did my loft mates).


Lispenard street tribeca


July 1983 - At West 15th St. Apartment

Like the apartment in TriBeCa, this burglary also occurred one month after I moved into it.  The apartment was on the ground flood and had a garden with a door, but the burglars entered through the front door, using tin snips to cut into the door, then putting their hand through the incision and unlocking the door from the inside.  They stole a vacuum cleaner, our answering machine, some subway tokens and, inexplicably, ate a half grapefruit that was in the fridge, but what hurt most was their stealing of my boyfriend Rick's 35 MM camera,which had a roll of undeveloped film in it with pictures from Memorial Day weekend in Provincetown.

Later in the evening we got a call from the manager of the Lindy's restaurant across the street from Radio City Music Hall.  Someone had tried to charge their meal using my Mastercard, which had been taken out of the pocket of my bathrobe (they were thorough). 



May 1986 - At Jones St. Apartment

This was a scam rather than a burglary.  And it occurred at the front door of my apartment building in Greenwich Village.  A young man with a dog rang the doorbell and I answered.  He told me that he lived on my street and was walking his dog and discovered that he had locked himself out of his apartment.  Although his grandmother had a spare set of keys, she lived in Brooklyn and the young man didn't have money for cab fare.  I gave him $15 and asked if he wanted to leave his dog with me but he said he couldn't because it was abused as a puppy and didn't take well to strangers.  A few hours later it dawned on me that I'd likely been scammed and would never be repaid.

But to my surprise he returned, supposedly to repay the money I had loaned him.  However, he only had a $100 bill and needed change to pay the taxi, which for some reason, was parked a few blocks away.  This time I was onto him so I told him I'd break the $100 if the taxi came in front of my apartment building.  Of course, this didn't happen.  So, although I was still out $15 ($33 adjusted for inflation) I felt somewhat better knowing that my loss wasn't greater.




October 1988 - NW Ayer

On Halloween my wallet was taken from my suit jacket that was hanging behind the door in my office at ad agency NW Ayer.  I had $200 in cash in it and ten credit cards (back then I had cards for department stores in addition to Visa).  A few days later a colleague found the wallet jammed behind the toilet paper dispenser in a stall in the men's room.  It was this incident that got me to start using an ATM card rather than take out money I'd need for the next few weeks.


Stolen wallet cash


December 1989 - Number 1 Subway

This is the only time I was physically robbed.  After a doctor's appointment down in the West Village at lunchtime I went back to my office on W. 50th St. and took the Uptown Number 1 train.  When I got into the car there were three teenagers sitting opposite me.  One addressed me as Inspector Gadget because I was wearing a black trench coat.  Shortly after the doors closed they came over and surrounded me, the ringleader sitting next to me on my right.  He said I looked like I could easily spare my cash and if I didn't give it up I'd have to contend with the fellow standing to my left who had his hand in his coat pocket, suggesting there might be a weapon.  Fortunately, I only had eight dollars on me.  And I was very happy they didn't take my wallet.  After they ran out at the W.23rd St. stop an elderly man sitting across from me chided me for giving them my money as they also tried to get some from him but he refused.  When I got off at my stop I told the token clark (in the pre-MTA card era) and he called the police. 

A month later later I was asked to come to to the Transit Police station in the Port Authority building on 42nd St. to look at photos ("mug shots").  When I told the officer that the perpetrator was white he came back with a rather thin book.  When I expressed surprise he told me with a bit of a weary chuckle that all of the other binders on the shelves contained mug shots of blacks and Hispanics.  I pointed to one guy but after he was contacted he claimed that at the time of the mugging he was attending a parole hearing with his father.  Frankly, I was partly relieved because I wasn't certain the fellow I pointed out was actually the perpetrator.


Subway entrance


March 1998 - Foote, Cone & Belding

Once again my wallet was lifted from the inner pocket of my suit jacket was hanging behind the door of my office (back in the era before "open architecture" work spaces).  This time I only had $27 in the wallet and one credit card.  Then a week later I got a call at home from a customer service person at Omnipoint Communications in eastern Pennsylvania who wanted to verify that I was ordering cellular phone service.  When I told her I wasn't she then confided that she had someone on hold who was attempting this purchase using my credit card.  She became suspicious because the person sounded like a "negro" (her word) and she thought it was strange that he'd have my last name.


Customer service  






















OJ Simpson Freeway Chase Mesmerizes The Nation (June 17, 1994)





The evening of June 17, 1994, a Friday, was warm and muggy and I had just returned to my apartment in Greenwich Village after a five-mile run in Hudson River Park.  Before showering I turned on the TV to check the score of Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.  Instead, what appeared on the screen was a white SUV speeding along a highway.  I thought that perhaps it was a scene from a repeat of NBC's Law & Order, but when I changed channels it was also on ABC, CBS and CNN. 


I soon learned that the white Bronco was carrying OJ Simpson on LA’s 405 Freeway, and it was being pursued by a phalanx of LAPD police cruisers.  It seems OJ, who was the prime suspect in the murder of his 35-year-old wife, Nicole, and her male friend earlier in the week, didn't turn himself in, as he had agreed, and was now sitting in the back of the vehicle holding a gun to his head and threatening to shoot himself.





The chase was so mesmerizing I couldn’t pull myself away to go to the grocery store to get dinner.  I watched for at least two hours waiting for the moment when, befitting this perfect Greek tragedy, OJ was going to end it all.  What sticks with me was the circus-like atmosphere as cars pulled over on the freeway and crowds lined the road and overpasses cheering (or jeering) as he drove by.  And when the Bronco finally pulled into the driveway of OJ’s home another surreal thing happened.  An eyewitness claiming to be across the street from OJ’s house was interviewed on the phone by ABC News’ Peter Jennings but he turned out to be a crank caller who made an inane comment about his allegiance to Howard Stern.


In happier days ...



Fast forward sixteen months to Oct. 3, 1995, the day of the verdict in OJ’s murder trial.  I was eating lunch in my office (at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding) and turned on the radio to listen to the live coverage of the jury’s verdict.  I had decided not to watch the coverage on TV in the conference room with others because I didn’t want to see which co-workers might be happy if he was found innocent.  When I heard the not-guilty verdict I got up and closed the door to my office and sat for a while with my eyes closed trying to process the jury's decision before continuing with the rest of my day.





President Clinton & OJ Simpson Share Center Stage (February 4, 1997)

1995_stateoftheunion_address The verdict in the civil suit brought against OJ Simpson for the wrongful deaths of his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman coincided with President Clinton's State of the Union Address on the night of February 4, 1997 (the first of his second term).  Word that a verdict had been reached came shortly before 7PM but the reading of it was delayed for more than three hours until all interested parties arrived at the courthouse in Santa Monica. 


It was Tuesday night and I was preparing dinner after doing a weight workout at the gym.  Since both events were of high news value NBC resorted to a split screen to show both unfolding.  And although it seemed somewhat disrespectful to the President, truth be told, the verdict was largely the reason I switched on the TV.  Finally, at the conclusion of the President's address the verdict came in.  Reporters inside the courthouse signaled to the crowd gathered outside that the verdict was - guilty!  On one side of the split screen President Clinton was shown shaking hands while and on the other side a defeated Simpson was show leaving the courthouse followed by the triumphant Goldman and Brown families.  I let out a cheer.


Fred_Goldman_PeopleMag For me, this verdict took some of the sting out of the contentious not guilty verdict reached in the criminal trial in 1995.  Shortly afterward I called my friend Marina down in Baltimore to share the news.  She had passed the Maryland bar six months earlier so I asked her to explain why this type of suit could be filed after a verdict had already been rendered in the criminal case, in other words a do-over.  (I still don't understand the legal reasoning.)  Thus ended a tragic case that had been part of the nation's zeitgeist for nearly three years.  (However, it wasn't the last we'd hear from OJ.)


Harvey Milk & San Francisco's Mayor Murdered (November 27, 1978)




November 1978 was a month like few others for the city of San Francisco.  On Nov. 7 voters in California rejected the anti-gay Briggs Initiative which would have banned the hiring of gay teachers.  It was an emotional victory for openly gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk who had put considerable energy campaigning against it.  Then a week-and-a-half later Jim Jones, leader of the People's Temple cult, forced more than 900 of his followers to commit suicide in their Jonestown settlement in the Venezuelan protectorate of Guayana.  Jones and many of the victims were from the Bay Area.


On Nov. 27, the Monday after Thanksgiving, disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White snuck into City Hall during the morning and shot dead mayor George Moscone (pictured, below with Milk) at point blank range and then walked down the hall and did the same to Milk.  In a somewhat bizarre coincidence, Moscone and Milk had a connection to Jim Jones, who a few years earlier was chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority.




At the time I was in my senior year at Penn State University and in the early stages of coming out so Milk's murder was especially sobering for me.  Back than having an openly gay man in such a high profile government position was unheard of, compounding the loss.  In 2009 Sean Penn won an Oscar for his portrayal of Milk in the movie Milk.  The film was based on the biography The Mayor of Castro St. - The Life & Times of Harvey Milk.    






The Hijacker Vanishes: The Legend of DB Cooper (November 24, 1971)

Pittsburgh_penguins The day before Thanksgiving 1971 was a snowy one in the hills of Western Pennsylvania (about 4" fell).  I was in the 9th grade at the time and my dad had gotten four tickets at work to tonight's Penguins hockey game at Pittsburgh's Civic Arena.  I went with my older sister Linda, older brother Darrell (home for the holiday during his freshman year at Indiana University of PA) and a neighbor from down the street.  The Penguins lost to Toronto 2-1 but it was an enjoyable outing nonetheless. 



Snow_covered_street Walking home after getting off the bus we were playing around in the snow and throwing an occasional snowball.  At one point I jerked my head to avoid one being thrown and my glasses flew off.  After looking for them for some time with no luck I ran home to get a flashlight (Mom joined us).  Finally, in the midst of our search a neighbor approached in his car and stopped when he saw our search party in the middle of the street.  He stayed so we could look in the light cast by his high beams and shortly thereafter we found my glasses.  We had been out in the cold for close to an hour.


Db_cooper Meanwhile, while we conducted our search another was about to unfold in the Pacific Northwest.  A passenger named DB Cooper had hijacked a plane, demanded parachutes and $200,000 (about $1 million in today's $) and then jumped from the plane during a rainstorm into the wilderness north of Portland, Oregon.  Although hijackings had become a hazard of air travel since the late 60's, the way this one was carried out made it unique.  And although a bundle of deteriorated twenty-dollar bills was discovered in 1980, and traced back to those given him, Cooper himself was never found. 



(The book D.B. Cooper: Dead or Alive? provides the full story of this mysterious man and his curious caper.)  The following clip goes into greater detail about Cooper.






Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)


Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  




In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.






As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.






Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)




A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:





Time_magazine_ ojsimpson






Patty Hearst Captured (September 18, 1975)

It was Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, 1975, and I was making my first visit home since beginning freshman year at Penn State when I heard the news of Patty Hearst's capture (or was it a rescue?).  The reason for coming home that weekend wasn't because I was homesick, but rather to pick up my high school yearbook (The Voyager) which had just been published (I was its editor).  I was riding in a friend's car when we heard about Hearst on the radio.




Thus ended a fascinating 19-month odyssey.  First came the kidnapping of the 19-year-old newspaper heiress/college student (Univ. of California at Berkeley) in February 1974, followed a number of months later by her participation in a bank heist in which she was caught on camera toting a machine gun.  Then later that spring the LA bungalow where she was supposedly staying at with her captors (from the Symbionese Liberation Army) was surrounded by police and burnt to the ground during a gun battle.  Patty went from being an innocent kidnap victim to landing on the FBI's Most Wanted list.  She even changed her name to Tania, and when booked in prison after her arrest listed her occupation as "urban guerilla".







Hearst will forever be part of the zeitgeist of the mid-70s.  (I still have the TIME Magazine cover saved, shown above, with her hard-bitten mug shot on it.)  A 1988 TV movie (starring Natasha Richardson) and the feature film Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst were made about the kidnapping.  Her defenders said she suffered from Stockholm syndrome, whereby she came to identify with her captors.  As high school students, for kicks we'd occasionally point and yell "Patty Hearst!" when we were in a crowd.  (Of course, "streaking" was a more common activity in those days.)






Years later, after serving nearly two years in prison and becoming an upstanding wife and mother, "Patricia" (as she preferred to be called) made cameo appearances in a number of films by off-beat director John Waters, including Cry Baby and Serial Mom (in which she is beaten to death by Kathleen Turner's demented title character for wearing white shoes after Labor Day.)




(You can read Patricia's account of her ordeal in the book Patty Hearst: Her Story.)    




Richard Speck Murders Eight Nurses in Chicago (July 14, 1966)

Nurses_murdered_by_speck The chilling reality that homicidal maniacs walk among us was introduced to me when I was nine years old on the afternoon of July 14, 1966.  I was bringing in the afternoon paper, the Pittsburgh Press, from the front lawn and saw on the front page the photos of each of the eight student nurses murdered in their Chicago apartment by a man named Richard Speck.  What sticks with me to this day was this chilling gallery of photos of the victims.



There was also a photo of the 24-year-old suspect as well as the one nurse who survived.  She managed to hide while Speck proceeded to rape and murder (in various ways) her roommates one by one.  My young mind was unable to grasp how he was able to pull off such a heinous act considering that he was so outnumbered.  Speck was convicted in 1967 and spent the rest of his life in prison - where he was murdered in 1991 the day before his 50th birthday. 




Then less than three weeks later (Aug. 1) college student Charles Whitman climbed to the top of a water tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and went on a shooting rampage, killing 14.  Again, I remember this event from seeing it on the front page of the newspaper.  (And to think that in both cases all I wanted to read was the comics!)  If you'd like to delve further into the demented minds of these murderers the book Crime of the Century gives a detailed account of the Speck murders, the murderer himself and his trial while A Sniper in the Tower provides disturbing insight into what may have led to Whitman's deadly spree.




The Speck murders were referenced extensively during an episode of AMC's drama Mad Men.  The episode, titled "Mystery Date", aired on April 8, 2012.  In it little Sally's step-grandmother scares the bejesus out of her by talking about the murders.  And then the following week's episode the shooting spree at the University of Texas was mentioned twice. 






Ethel & Julius Rosenberg Executed (June 19, 1953)




The June 19, 1953 execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were members of the Communist party convicted of passing plans about the A-bomb to the Russians, coincided with a milestone for my parents - the purchase of their first home.  At the time my sister Linda was 2-1/2 years old and my mother was a month away from giving birth to my brother Darrell.  Mom and Dad were understandably anxious to move because they wanted to be settled in by the time my brother arrived. 


The new house on Roosevelt Ave. was in McKees Rocks, seven miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh  and overlooking the Ohio River.  It was part of a new development, Hanover Heights, that was very near to the small farm where my father grew up.  Ours was one of the first homes completed and after a string of delays our fledgling family moved in on June 30.  My brother was born a few weeks later and I came along four years after him.  And it's where my mother still lives (as of June 2020).




The early 1950s was rife with paranoia about Russia's plans to overtake the U.S.  Thus, the Rosenberg's actions were portrayed as having seriously comprised the nation's security.  Still, as a young mother, Mom felt some uneasiness over their execution since they had two young sons, Michael and Robert (pictured below), who were orphaned.  The execution of their parents in the electric chair took place at Sing-Sing prison in New York State.





Shooting Rampage at Columbine High School Stuns Nation (April 20, 1999)





What I remember most about the shootings at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 is that I went the entire day without hearing anything about it.  This was highly unusual because I always had the radio on in my office, but I spent this day mostly in meetings in a conference room (at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding).  




It wasn't until I got home and turned on the TV after 7:00 that I heard about it.  It was reported that as many as 25 were dead, but since the school had been locked down until the next morning the true numbers weren't known.  The following morning the death toll was revised downward to 15 (including the two student shooters).




Before Columbine there had been four even deadlier shootings.  They occurred in a post office, two restaurants, and on a college campus.  Columbine, however was the first to have such young targets - and the first to be communicated immediately to the outside world by victims on their cell phones. 




Unfortunately, as with all previous shooting rampages in this country, after an initial outpouring of grief and recriminations, life returned to normal, i.e. a feckless Congress unwilling to buck the NRA and draw up legislation to protect its citizens.  And eight years later, 32 students and faculty were mowed down at Virginia Tech (pictured).  Even that much carnage couldn't change a thing.  And the beat goes on ...  


U.S. Gun Carnage: A Tragic Roll Call

  • 60 murdered at Las Vegas country music festival/Oct. 1, 2017
  • 49 murdered at Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, FL/June 12, 2016
  • 32 murdered at Virginia Tech/April 16, 2007
  • 26 murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT/Dec. 14, 2012
  • 24 murdered at Luby's cafeteria in Killeen, TX/Oct. 16, 1991
  • 23 murdered at Walmart in El Paso, TX/Aug. 3, 2019
  • 21 murdered at McDonald's in San Ysidro, CA/July 18, 1984
  • 16 murdered in Austin, TX/Univ. of TX campus/Aug. 1, 1966
  • 14 murdered at office party in San Bernardino, CA/Dec. 2, 2015
  • 14 murdered at Edmonds, OK post office/Aug. 20, 1986
  • 13 murdered at Columbine HS/Littleton, CO/April 20, 1999
  • 13 murdered at Ft. Hood, TX military base/Nov. 5, 2009
  • 12 murdered at movie theater in Aurora, CO/July 20, 2012
  • 11 murdered at synagogue in Pittsburgh/Oct. 27, 2018
  • 10 murdered at supermarket in Boulder, CO/March 22, 2021
  • 10 murdered in rural Alabama/March 10, 2009
  • 10 murdered in Jacksonville, FL/June 18, 1990
  • 9 murdered in Dayton, OH/Aug. 5, 2019
  • 9 murdered at church in Charleston, SC/June 17, 2015
  • 9 murdered in Red Lake, MN by teen boy/March 21, 2005
  • 9 murdered in Atlanta/July 29, 1999  
  • 8 murdered at Omaha shopping mall/Dec. 5, 2007