A Little Bit Murdered
New York's Sherlock Explores a Mystery at 425 Sixth Avenue
Crimes & Whispers Make Greenwich Village Residents Anxious
• • At 425 Sixth Avenue unexplained wounds and heart-stopping damage are now a real-life version of "CSI." Coroners are using science, creative thinking - - and even a Beta version of Pro-Quest - - to try to answer the question many are asking: Who or what killed Jefferson M. Landmark? With evidence that's been misfiled or hidden away, witnesses who fled the state, and an overworked police department, at least one official says the mystery may never be solved.
• • "We don't know if it is a case of intentional murder, wanton destruction, criminal neglect, or an accident," said New York preservationist Cynthia Mulry-Angle. "Though we have our suspicions and educated guesses, in fact, we may never know."
• • • • Where Sixth Meets Suspicion • • • •
• • Several officials close to this case reported that a cover-up is afoot.
• • According to Carol Greitzer, a former City Councilmember, years ago, local community board members who were close to Jefferson M. Landmark had been serving on what was a very effective branch library council, which met monthly under the aegis of NYPL Branch Libraries Director Ed Holmgren. This group dealt with budget issues, building repairs, and other matters, bringing up concerns of the individual branches, and reporting back to the communities. This activist group has been disbanded, to be replaced by the Borough Advocacy Committee, which meets only twice a year. When Greitzer asked for a list of the committee members, she was told that, “on advice of counsel,” no names could be released.
• • Forensic experts admitted that a cover-up always indicated guilt and deeper problems. They added that those who are examining bodies and structures recovered in and around New York do occasionally find something suspicious - - a bullet lodged in a bone, a wound that could match a knife blade, and more subtle clues. When that happens, they set the bodies or the buildings aside for a closer look, and notify the police and district attorney, said an assistant to New York State's leading architectural preservation detective. Often an architect or a family's lawyer has advised relatives not to speak to reporters.
• • The 425 Sixth Avenue mystery case is in limbo until Jessica Schmidt, a Landmarks Preservation Commission violation officer, or L.P.C.'s small forensic staff can re-examine the structure for clues. When the investigation does begin, the forensic team will face challenges: rainfall and recent snowstorms not only washed away evidence from the crime scene but also forced both perpetrators and potential witnesses to flee. [To report new info, contact Landmarks Commission Violation Officers: Tel 212-669-7948.]
• • Still, Dr. Fred Seidenbaum, a prominent forensic pathologist and his staff predicted that no one will get away with a landmark crime because there's one piece of evidence that time and natural elements did not wash away: the corpse. "Don't forget that the building itself is a crime scene. Always," this source emphasized. Dr. Seidenbaum added, "There is evidence we hope to find: masonry scratches maybe or limestone nicks that don't belong there."
• • And not all human-inflicted wounds lead to murder. Architect Callie Withers said he examined the structure of a builder who died during a fire who police believe had been slain. The condition of a building can make the immediate determination of the cause of death difficult, according to Withers. Often, buildings can become so badly deteriorated that there are no fingerprints on them of people who are still alive, or sometimes injuries were sustained by encounters with debris during natural disasters.
• • Preservation violation officers try to rule out foul play by looking for - - and not finding - - obvious signs: bullets, hatchet marks, arson, suspicious stains, and structural fractures.
• • But Margot Gayle, a prominent preservationist, indicated that she has never seen such a beloved building in such bad condition and said that forensics can only determine so much. "I think in many incidents, it's going to be impossible," she said. To her, the best service Greenwich Village residents can offer in this situation would be witness statements, letters, and other testimony.
• • Still, Marilyn Bank-Streeter, spokesperson of the Greenwich Village Block Associations [and also a part-time crime stopper], said her group is counting on the politicians, preservation organizations, and law enforcement to do everything they can to solve the mysterious death. "There will be justice. It just may take a while," she said. "Nothing is being forgotten." Bank-Streeter added, "Most crimes, despite what you see on 'CSI,' are not solved by forensics. Most crimes against landmarks are solved by people talking. Especially in Greenwich Village, people talk." (The Greenwich Village Block Associations is a non-profit organization representing 35 local block associations.)
• • Illustration: "Sixth Avenue Elevated at Third Street, 1928" • John Sloan
New York Public Library