From the Publisher
“Gripping, first rate . . . beyond the outright suspense here . . . is a meditation on the very essence of crime.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“This terse, eloquent book reminded me of many of the classic European novels, because the expected end is not the end at all. The mystery, it turns out, is not how these murders occurred or how the killer was caught but, rather, the nature of crime itself.” Scott Turow
“Part study of the criminal mind, part appraisal of the strange mechanics of justice, it is a trenchant, pithy, atmospheric book.” Times Literary Supplement
“The book's province lies somewhere between those of Cain and Camus . . . Matthew Arnold said a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life . . . An inversion applies here: a piece of life by Philip Gourevitch is a work of art.” Jonathan Kiefer, San Francisco Chronicle
“Gourevitch is one of the finest journalists working today; his portrait of gangland in New York in the 1960s is brilliant.” Sebastian Junger
“Using a snappy, terse prose style that mimics a police procedural . . . A Cold Case is a lively, vastly readable book.” John Freeman, The Denver Post
Philip Gourevitch has written an absorbing book about an obscure double murder that occurred in 1970. This dated, supposedly "routine" multiple homicide didn't involve any sports stars or media celebrities: Its victims were a pair of restaurateurs from the South Bronx, Richie Glennon and Pete McGinn. Nor was this case a knotty whodunit: From day one, the police knew that Frankie Koehler, a bad-tempered ex-con, was the culprit. Indeed, the lure of this narrative is the ordinariness of the case and the exceptional attention it received from one man, Andy Rosenzweig, the chief investigator for Manhattan's district attorney. In 1997, 27 years after the twin killings, Rosenzweig decided to reopen this long-deactivated case. This account has the appeal of a vintage crime-stopper story.
Almost 30 years after Frank Koehler murdered two men and disappeared, Manhattan D.A. investigator Andrew Rosenzweig rediscovered the case and set out to solve it. His interest wasn't just professional; Rosenzweig knew the two murdered men and had been on the fringes of the slightly sordid world from which both the victims and the murderer came. New Yorker writer Gourevitch (We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families) covers not only the way investigators attack a "cold case" but the lives of both Koehler and Rosenzweig and how a similar milieu could birth both a dedicated lawman and a cold-blooded killer. Koehler's statements about his life, both as a small-time hood and as a good citizen while he was in hiding, are both fascinating and chilling. Gourevitch does a splendid job with this short, focused book, which should find a home in public libraries with true-crime collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/01.] Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
A Cold Case
Dead or Alive
ON NOVEMBER 15, 1944, an Army deserter named Frank Gilbert Koehler was arrested for burglary in New York City. Frankie, as he liked to be called, had no criminal record. He had walked off his post at Fort Dix, New Jersey, after suffering unsustainable financial reversals in a crap game in the latrine, and when it was discovered that he was fifteen years old and had lied about his age to enlist, he was sent to children's court, declared a juvenile delinquent, and returned to military control. Six monthslater, KoehlerAWOL again, and for goodshot and killed a sixteen-year-old boy in an abandoned building on West Twenty-fourth Street. The next day, he surrendered to a policeman on a street corner and was taken to a station house, where he confessed. In consideration of his "extreme youth" and lack of "parental guidance"he had left home at thirteen, following the death of his father, a burglarthe district attorney reduced his charge from homicide to murder in the second degree. In court, Koehler pleaded guilty, and the judge sent him upstate to spend five years at the Elmira Reformatory. He was released on May 17, 1950, and remained a free man for nine months and twenty-six days until he was found by police, at four in the morning, hiding on the catwalk between the tracks of the Third Avenue elevated train line at Thirty-fourth Street, after robbing a nearby bar and grill at gunpoint. As he was led back to the station platform, Koehler called out to a man standing there in the predawn gloom as if waiting for a train, "Arthur, save me, save me, tell them I was with you." So that man, too, was taken into custody. Koehler and he had indeed been together all night. They'd met at a Times Square cinema where the poster said THRILL CRAZY, KILL CRAZY, and thepicture was Gun Crazy, a story of fugitive lovers on a crime spree hurtling to their doom.
A news photograph of Koehler taken minutes after his arrest showed him to be a slight, dark-haired man, rather handsome and sharply dressed in an overcoat, business suit, white shirt, necktie, and handcuffs. When the picture appeared in the Daily Mirror, he was recognized by Carmella Basterrchea, the bookkeeper of a Murray Hill construction company, as one of two gunmen who had, a month earlier, stepped into her office late on a Friday afternoon, then, saying, "All right, lady, this is a heist," and, "Don't move or I'll plug you," made off with her payroll. Koehler admitted to both stickups, and once again he was sent upstate, this time to Green Haven Prison in Stormville, with a sentence of ten to twenty years. He served eleven and a half and was paroled in August 1962 at the age of thirty-three, having spent most of his life "away."
Before the year was out, Frankie Koehler had a wife and legitimate employment in a machine shop. Later, he found union work as a stevedore on the West Side docks, then on the crew at the New York Coliseum on Columbus Circle, and he did not come to the attention of the police again until February 18, 1970. Around eight o'clock on that evening, he was having drinks at Channel Seven, a restaurant on West Fifty-fourth Street, when he got into an argument with the owner, Pete McGinn, and a friend of McGinn's named Richie Glennon. The issue was a womanthe wife of a mutual friend. Koehler had been having an affair with her while her husband was in prison, and she was now pregnant. McGinn declared that knocking up a jailed friend's wife was about the lowest thing a lowlife could do, and Glennon seconded this judgment. Koehler came back with the opinion that they were a couple of scumbags themselves. So it went. Koehler spit in McGinn's face, and the three men were soon out on the sidewalk, where Glennon watched as McGinn and Koehler had at each other and Koehler took a severe beating.
Frank Koehler, under arrest for armed robbery, March 1951. Photograph from the Daily Mirror
After that, McGinn went home, Glennon returned to the bar, and Koehler picked himself up off the pavement and went his own way for a while before returning to Channel Seven. Glennon was still there. Koehler had a drink with him and proposed that they sit down with McGinn to put their quarrel behind them in a gentlemanlyfashion. Glennon agreed, and phoned McGinn to say they were coming over to his place, which was a block north of Channel Seven, in what the next day's News described as a "luxury apartment building ... just up the street from Gov. Rockefeller's New York office."
Richie Glennon and Pete McGinn had known each other from boyhood in the South Bronx, and both had found success in the restaurant business. McGinn's Channel Seven was a popular watering hole for disc jockeys and anchormen from the nearby studios of ABC television and CBS radio, and Glennon owned a bistro on the Upper East Side called The Flower Pot, which was doing well enough for him to have taken the night off. Glennon had been having dinner at Channel Seven with his girlfriend, a nurse, and when he left with Frankie Koehler, she accompanied them. "We went to McGinn's apartment, and rode up in the elevator," she told me nearly thirty years later. "It was the fourth floor. Richie told me to stay in the hall, and I waited out there till I heard these loud bangs. I thought they were fighting again, throwing things around. I heard the noiseI didn't even know they were shots, I just heard bangsand I opened the door. Frankie Koehler was running away with his smokinggun. I said, 'Where's Richie?' There was Richie on the floor."
Glennon lay on his back with his legs crossed comfortably at his ankles, his overcoat and suit jacket twisted beneath him, his left arm flung out, and the left side of his shirt bunched and soaked in blood from shoulder to waist around a small round hole over his rib cage. His girlfriend didn't notice that Pete McGinn was at the far end of the room, clad only in a bathrobe, with his right foot in a slipper and his left foot bare, lying facedown and dead in a puddle of blood on the parquet floor. "I remember a big dog hopping around," she told me. "It wasn't a small dog. It was a big dog." Beyond that, she was conscious only of Glennon. She didn't want to believe he was dead. She tried to pick him up and ask him where it hurt.
Koehler told her to shut up. He was still hovering over her with his gun, and it occurred to her that he must be afraid. She said, "I'm not gonna tell anybody," and he said, "Don't open your fucking mouth. Just sit there." With that, he left. He took the elevator down to the lobby, fished a handkerchief from his pocket, and pretended to be coughing into it to hide his face as he walked past the doorman. And then Frankie Koehler disappeared.
A COLD CASE. Copyright © 2001 by Philip Gourevitch. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.