The CBS Murders: A True Account of Greed and Violence in New York's Diamond District

The CBS Murders: A True Account of Greed and Violence in New York's Diamond District

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by Richard Hammer
Winner of the Edgar Award: The gripping account of a gruesome mass murder in gritty 1980s New York and the relentless hunt for a coldblooded killer.
On a warm spring evening in 1982, thirty-seven-year-old accountant Margaret Barbera left work in New York City and walked to the West Side parking lot where she kept her BMW. Finding the lock on the


Winner of the Edgar Award: The gripping account of a gruesome mass murder in gritty 1980s New York and the relentless hunt for a coldblooded killer.
On a warm spring evening in 1982, thirty-seven-year-old accountant Margaret Barbera left work in New York City and walked to the West Side parking lot where she kept her BMW. Finding the lock on the driver’s side door jammed, she went to the passenger’s side and inserted her key. A man leaned through the open window of a van parked in the next spot, pressed a silenced pistol to the back of Margaret’s head, and fired. She was dead before she hit the pavement.
It was a professional hit, meticulously planned—but the killer didn’t expect three employees of the nearby CBS television studios to stumble onto the scene of the crime. “You didn’t see nothin’, did you?” he demanded, before shooting the first eyewitness in the head. After chasing down and executing the other two men, the murderer sped out of the parking lot with Margaret’s lifeless body in the back of his van.
Thirty minutes later, the first detectives arrived on the scene. Veterans of Midtown North, a sprawling precinct stretching from the exclusive shops of Fifth Avenue to the flophouses of Hell’s Kitchen, they thought they’d seen it all. But a bloodbath in the heart of Manhattan was a shocking new level of depravity, and the investigation would unfold under intense media coverage. Setting out on the trail of an assassin, the NYPD uncovered one of the most diabolical criminal conspiracies in the city’s history.
Richard Hammer’s blow-by-blow account of “the CBS Murders” is a thrilling tale of greed, violence, and betrayal, and a fascinating portrait of how a big-city police department solved the toughest of cases.

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The CBS Murders

By Richard Hammer


Copyright © 1987 Richard Hammer and John Richard Wales
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3907-9


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 America — indeed, of much of the world — in 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. Rotterdam 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.

His name was Donald Nash; he had been born Donald Bowers but had adopted his mother's maiden name, according to stories around the West Side docks where he was long a familiar figure, at the insistence of his relatives, the overlords of the International Longshoremen's Union's "Pistol" Local 824 during its heyday, who considered him unworthy of bearing the same last name.

He drove slowly through the lot. He knew precisely where he was going and what he was going to do, what he had been hired and paid to do. He had thought about it and planned it meticulously for a long time. If all went as he had worked it out in his mind — and he knew no reason why it wouldn't, for he had been in that lot, a long-term parker himself, often enough over the past week to know when people came and left and where they parked their cars — then he would have done what he had come to do and departed within the next thirty minutes. And after that, if anybody looked for him — and there was no reason why they should — he would be where anybody could find him and nobody would ever think of looking. He would be serving a twenty-day sentence in the Manhattan Correctional Center.

About halfway down the lot, he spotted what he was looking for, a 1980 Blue BMW 320i. He slowed, started to turn in next to it, on the driver's side. And then he was faced with the first unexpected hitch in his carefully conceived plan. Nearly every day for the past week, he had been in and out of that lot, morning and evening, observing the regularity with which people arrived and departed, noting that most invariably left their cars in precisely the same location every day. He had been counting on those inbred patterns. But now, for the first time, the spot on the left side of the BMW was taken. He stopped the van, considered, made his decision, threw the gears into reverse, backed a little, and then turned head on into the spot on the right, the passenger side of the BMW; it was, at least, still unoccupied. He might have made things a little easier for himself had he backed in, but every other car on the lot was parked head in, and his van, the only one on a lot filled with sedans, was conspicuous enough as it was without making it stand out even more by parking the wrong way.

He turned off the engine, got out, walked around to the driver's side of the BMW. Taking the match-stick from his mouth, he jammed the matchstick tightly and deeply into the lock, far enough in so it could neither be seen nor easily removed. He returned to the van.

While he waited, he finished his preparations. He made certain the sliding panel door on the right side of the van was unlocked and slid open easily. Within the protection of the driver's seat, he removed a .22-caliber automatic from its hiding place, removed a silencer from his pocket, and fitted the pieces together. He loaded the automatic, then placed it on the seat next to him. He settled back. He knew he did not have long to wait.

Two blocks south, on West Fifty-fourth Street just in from Twelfth Avenue, thirty-seven-year-old Margaret Barbera, an attractive, dark-haired woman with strikingly large dark eyes, was closing her desk, saying good night, and starting out the door of the Camera Service Center. For just a week, she had been the company's bookkeeper. Nobody in the firm knew much about her, though. She kept to herself, had lunch alone, arrived in the morning and left in the evening right on time, and revealed nothing about her personal life. But, then, she had never been one to open herself to strangers, and she had few friends. Ruth Clapp, the office manager who had interviewed and hired her three weeks earlier, would say later that Barbera had answered an ad in The New York Times for a bookkeeper, and though nobody had yet had time to check out her references, they had appeared on the surface to be more than adequate, and she had demonstrated in her week of employment that she had known how to deal with figures and account books. About the only other thing that Mrs. Clapp knew was that Barbera had asked for a delay of a couple of weeks before she started the job. She had had some trouble with her last employer, she explained, not going into what kind of trouble, and probably would have to appear as a witness against him in some pending court case, and further, she wanted time to clean up work she was doing for her own personal clients. Her request had been granted, and she had begun work on Monday, April 5.

If Barbera was worried or if she had any premonitions of danger as she walked out the doorway that night, she kept them to herself. The last sight anyone in the camera shop had of her was as she passed through the doorway and turned west, heading for the parking lot at Pier Ninety-two, where she had reserved a monthly space the previous week, to retrieve her BMW and drive home to her apartment in Queens.

At almost the same moment, three blocks north on West Fifty-seventh Street, Leo Kuranuki, Robert Schulze, and Edward Benford were just leaving their jobs at the CBS studios in the middle of the block between Tenth and Eleventh avenues and heading for their cars at Pier Ninety-two. All three were in their fifties and all were veteran employees of the network, Kuranuki as a studio maintenance manager, Schulze as manager of videotape maintenance, and Benford as a broadcast technician. Both Kuranuki and Schulze were bachelors and sedentary men, somewhat overweight and out of shape. Benford, married and with an eighteen-year-old son in college, was a skier, hiker, and golfer in his spare time, though his activities had been somewhat curtailed after a heart bypass operation a couple of years before.

They had just about reached the ramp to the parking lot when another CBS employee, Angelo Sicca, who worked in the construction shop and knew Schulze well, came around the corner about fifty yards behind them, saw them, and called out for them to wait up for him. Apparently they didn't hear his shout and continued up the ramp, Sicca following at a distance.


Excerpted from The CBS Murders by Richard Hammer. Copyright © 1987 Richard Hammer and John Richard Wales. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Richard Hammer is the author of more than twenty fiction and nonfiction books, as well as numerous short stories, articles, and essays for major publications worldwide. He has won two Edgar Awards for Best Fact Crime, for The Vatican Connection (1982) and The CBS Murders (1987), and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Court-Martial of Lt. Calley (1971). Both the New York Times and the Washington Post named One Morning in the War (1970) and The Court-Martial of Lt. Calley one of the ten best books of the respective years in which they were published. Hammer’s first book, Between Life and Death (1969), explored the case that led to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland and its repercussions. He wrote and narrated the Academy Award–winning documentary Interviews with My-Lai Veterans (1970), and has been involved in many TV films and motion pictures. Before becoming a full-time freelance writer, he wrote for the New York Times and its Week in Review section, where he covered the war in Vietnam, the civil rights struggle, and most other major stories of the times. A native of Hartford, Connecticut, Hammer attended Mount Hermon School, earned degrees from Syracuse University and Trinity College, and did postgraduate work at Columbia University. He and his wife currently reside in New York City.

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The CBS Murders: A True Account of Greed and Violence in New York's Diamond District 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous 4 days ago
This was like reading a police file, not at all like a novel, Too many facts and details that really did not affect the outcome and very little character developement It was a tedious read