The people who brought you the Brooklyn Noir crime-fiction collections return with another talented literary lineup—this time contributing chilling, and sometimes heartbreaking, stories of real-life crimes in this densely populated and diverse borough of New York City.
Brand-new nonfiction by Robert Leuci, Dennis Hawkins, Tim McLoughlin, Thomas Adcock, Errol Louis, Denise Buffa, Patricia Mulcahy, C.J. Sullivan, Reed Farrel Coleman, Aileen Gallagher, Christopher Musella, Kim Sykes, Robert Knightly, Jess Korman, Constance Casey, and Rosemarie Yu.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In which members of one group at one end of the block try to find and capture hiding members of an opposing group. A captured player is dragged into a chalk circle on the pavement at mid-block, by a hunter who holds him/her there long enough to holler, Ring-a-Levio, 1-2-3!"
A SPRING AFTERNOON IN THE MEADOW, THAT "LONG, LOUD SCREAM"
BY CONSTANCE CASEY
Who" is important in this story: a man and four teenaged boys.
"What" is easy to answer: a bike and a gun.
"When" is a sunny afternoon in June.
"Where," in this case, is unusually significant.
Our location is Prospect Park, the green heart of Brooklyn. Of the five boroughs of the city of New York, Brooklyn is the one with the least green space per person. On a map, the park is a bit to the west of Brooklyn's dead center.
On the afternoon of June 1, 1993, a forty-two-year-old drama teacher named Allyn Winslow rode his new trail bike to a boulder near the top of Prospect Park's Quaker Hill, where he'd often gone for picnics with his wife and two children.
He may have stopped atop the hill to lean against the big rock and savor a friendly, familiar place. He may have noticed he was just up from the Quaker cemetery where fellow actor Montgomery Clift is buried. He may have paused to adjust his bike seat or take a drink from his water bottle.
There's no way to know.
Four teenagers surrounded him suddenly and tried to steal his turquoise bike. Winslow resisted by attempting to fend them off with a tire pump, and when he got on his bike and rode away, one of the teens fired a .22 caliber revolver — three shots into Winslow's back, one into his buttocks.
Winslow, who had run three New York City marathons, made it down the hill and into the park's Long Meadow — a bit less than half a mile — where he fell to the ground and died.
Three of the gunshot wounds were superficial. The fourth bullet angled up through his right lung to sever his aorta, the vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
"I was trying to scare him," said the shooter, sixteen-year-old Jerome Nisbett. This he told the police after his arrest a few days following the fatal shooting. His finger got stuck on the trigger and the gun just kept firing, he said.
At Nisbett's trial, a police ballistics expert effectively rebutted that excuse: "In a revolver, the trigger has to be pulled one time for one shot to be fired, and then pulled again for the next shot to be fired."
Winslow's death generated enormous publicity, as well as understandable sorrow and sympathy among Brooklyn residents. Especially for those who used the park, the killing also generated considerable fear.
That a pack of African American boys, albeit a small pack, attacked a white man hit a raw, racial nerve. Although four years had elapsed between the crime at Quaker Hill in Prospect Park and the 1989 case of a white female jogger in Manhattan's Central Park — in which a pack of five black youths out "wilding," as it was called, raped their victim and then beat her nearly to death — memories were quickly revived.
Amidst high public emotion around Winslow's death, arrests were made in a week and personally announced by the city's first black mayor, David Dinkins.
That the four suspects were so young, said the mayor, "boggles the mind and crushes the heart."
The murder of Winslow was a particular blow to those who lived on streets adjoining Prospect Park. Violent crime in their park had actually gone down in the 1980s and early '90s, a brutal time elsewhere in the city, and Brooklynites had begun to relax — and to enjoy the woods and hills and water and lush green of Prospect Park.
Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) designed both Central Park, opened in 1858, and Prospect Park. Although the former is better known to the world, landscape historians consider the latter to be Olmsted's masterwork. When Prospect Park opened to the public in 1870, Olmsted wrote to a friend, "The park in all its upper parts in the East Woods, the Dairy District and the Nethermead, is thoroughly delightful, and I am prouder of it than of anything I have had to do with."
Both parks hit their nadirs in the 1970s. With the city's finances in disorder, park maintenance was down at the same time crime was up. The number of visits to Prospect Park hit an all-time low in 1979, a mark all the more dramatic when one considers that Brooklyn's population in the late nineteenth century was roughly a quarter of what it was in the late twentieth.
The salvation of both parks came about through the creation of public-private institutions — in Brooklyn, the Prospect Park Alliance — that raised endowment funds from government, community groups, and private donors to keep them from falling into disrepair again.
In an early account of the Winslow murder, a New YorkTimes reporter wrote that the teacher died "in a meadow." Gardeners and park historians know the place not as a meadow, but as the meadow — namely the Long Meadow.
Of all the fine features of Prospect Park, the Long Meadow most pleased Olmsted. (It still is the largest meadow in any U.S. urban park.) He was inspired by the grand sweeps of lawn designed for the landed gentry of eighteenth-century Britain. Olmsted modified the lawn idea, making the grassy area shaggier and edging it with native trees: oak, American elm, sugar maples, wild cherry, tulip, sassafras, and Osage orange. Before Olmsted, most European and American urban parks were more pavement than woods, usually focused on a fountain or statue surrounded by tight little combinations of domesticated ornamental plants, tidily fenced in.
Olmsted's idea was that the park would strengthen democracy; that in a leafy setting, under the sun and in the pure air, the divisions between rich and poor could melt away. His forests and meadow — wild-seeking, but actually planned down to the last shrub — would be a source of what he called "peace and refreshment" for all classes; a retreat from the crowding, dirt, and noise of city life.
Opponents argued that a wooded park with secluded areas would encourage, as one contemporary editorial writer put it, "riotous and licentious habits."
On the day of his death, Winslow's four-mile ride from his Bay Ridge home, past Green-Wood Cemetery to Quaker Hill, probably took about a half-hour.
His four assailants — Robert Brown and Gregory Morris, each fourteen, and sixteen-year-olds Chad Jackson and Jerome Nisbett — were supposed to be in school that day. They bumped into one another at a laundromat around 1 o'clock in the afternoon and decided to go to the park because, as they later said, Gregory Morris didn't have a bicycle whereas the other three did. In their minds, evidently, Prospect Park was the place to go to acquire a bike.
The group — three boys pedaling bikes with Gregory Morris astride handlebars, or sometimes just running alongside — first approached a woman practicing martial arts near the park's band shell. Morris started "messing with" her bike, Robert Brown said at trial. The woman told the boys to get lost and rode off quickly. Then the four thought of stopping a Latino on a bike, but he too hastened away.
About half-past 3, they walked up Quaker Hill and spied Winslow and his bike. Brown testified that Morris said, "Let's get him!" Brown further testified that Morris handed a gun to Nisbett.
There were no witnesses to the shooting, but people walking in the Long Meadow heard a popping sound.
"I hope that was fireworks," one man said to his friend as they sat beside a nearby pond. But, he added, "Then I heard that long, loud scream."
Allyn Winslow, who came to New York by way of Texas, was fully involved in the life of his adopted city. His two children, ten-year-old Jessica and eight-year-old Drew, attended public schools. On the morning of June 1, he'd walked his son to school from their Bay Ridge brick house — the one in which his widow, Marcy, had grown up. The couple had been thinking about moving to Park Slope in order to be closer to Prospect Park.
Winslow, who held a master's degree from Trinity University in San Antonio, had performed on stage in several venues, including the Dallas Theatre Center. He had also acted in small film roles and several television commercials. Of late, he'd been spending more energy on his teaching and journal writing. According to his journal, the New York City marathon in November 1993 would be his last.
Shortly before his death, Winslow had started a vacation from his job at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, housed in the ornate Ansonia Building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. During the week prior to his death, he'd ridden nearly two hundred miles on his new bike — which he'd bought, along with one for his wife, in April.
Marcy Winslow was a legal secretary at the Manhattan law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. In her statement at the sentencing hearing following the trial of her husband's killer, she demonstrated poise and familiarity with courtroom procedure as she broadened the picture of Allyn Winslow.
"The press only characterized my husband as a father of two and a drama teacher. He was more than that," she said. "At [the drama academy] where he worked, he was not only a teacher but he was a counselor and a mentor. He was the person who gave the first-year students their welcoming speech. Many of the students told me how inspired they were after hearing his speech and were excited about having him as their teacher."
Marcy Winslow concluded, "Jerome Nisbett will never know how much suffering he caused on June 1, 1993, and every day thereafter."
Could Frederick Law Olmsted, with his vision of the civilizing influence of his woods and meadow, have imagined a fourteen-year- old handing a gun to a sixteen-year-old for the purpose of robbery?
A year before Winslow's death, a published survey of New York City public high school students carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that seven percent carried handguns. One wonders about the truthfulness of the responses. Were some students afraid to admit they carried a gun, or were some ashamed to admit they didn't?
The U.S. arrest rate for juveniles climbed sixty percent in the decade before 1994, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Youth crime of that period tended to involve wanting something in aid of popularity or prestige: A shiny new mountain bike made an even more attractive target than the latest pair of Nike sneakers.
As he delivered Nisbett's sentence, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Francis X. Egitto said, "I have seen youngsters in this courtroom take a life for designer jeans, for earrings, and now for a bike ... I say this to young people: When you take a gun out on the street for robbery, are you prepared to pay twenty-five years to life for the crime that you commit?"
Which is exactly what Nisbett got as the trigger boy tried as an adult. He is today an inmate at the Eastern Correctional Facility at Napanoch, New York.
In return for agreeing to testify against the others, Robert Brown pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced as a youthful offender to sixteen months to four years. Chad Jackson likewise received a light sentence — two to six years — on his conviction for attempted robbery.
Fourteen-year-old Morris, the boy who wanted a bike, was convicted of murder and sentenced as a juvenile in Brooklyn Family Court, where the sentencing standard is considerably more lenient. Additionally, Morris benefited from an oddity in state law, whereby additional leniency is granted in the event a murder is committed during a failed robbery; after all, Winslow's mountain bike got away.
* * *
When Nisbett was taken off to prison, Marcy Winslow told a reporter that she was satisfied with the sentence, but no, she did not feel better: "My husband is dead."
Nisbett's court-appointed lawyer, Edward Friedman, has strong feelings about the trial after more than a decade.
"Who knows if he's ever going to get out of jail?" said Friedman of his client. "The ringleader was a juvenile," Friedman added, as if the trial had just ended. "My client had a bike; it was Morris who wanted a bike. Morris passes the gun to Nisbett and says, in effect, Show you're a man."
Friedman himself grew up in East Flatbush. He remembers being a kid walking home from summer evening concerts in Prospect Park in the late 1960s and feeling apprehensive, holding tight to his father's hand. He has moved away from Brooklyn to a suburban town on the south shore of Long Island. So has Marcy Winslow.
Jerome Nisbett was barely literate, as evidenced by his written confession introduced at trial. At the time of the murder, he lived part-time with his mother in Bushwick and part-time with his aunt in Crown Heights. His father was a minister somewhere in the West Indies.
Attorney Howard Weiswasser, who represented Robert Brown, was asked how fourteen-year-olds like Gregory Morris acquire firearms. "Often, they literally find them on the street because someone has thrown away a gun used in a crime," he said.
Attorney Howard Kirsch defended Morris. After trial, he said of young offenders in general, "These are the most dangerous kids in the world. They have no conscience, no control over their impulses. Their sense of morality hasn't developed."
Exactly how were Morris and his buddies caught?
"Like a lot of these kids, they couldn't stop talking about it," Kirsch explained. "They did it for street cred, to show how tough they were. If they had any brains, they'd keep it to themselves." He added: "Once they're caught, they sing like canaries."
"Because they're kids, because they're stupid. Basically, they're punks."
Is there any defense against punks?
Olmsted's biographer, Witold Rybczynski, was asked a few years ago what part of the designer's personality we should emulate today. He responded, "It would be this sense of time, this sense of both patience and looking ahead, of saying there are certain things that take time and you have to plan for them and you just have to be patient."
A park is a long time in the making, and is never complete. Olmsted planted many trees not much bigger than a broomstick; in placing them, he had to think years, even decades ahead. After construction and planting, Olmsted didn't walk away. He monitored park maintenance and fretted over any modification of his plans.
The design of a garden, let alone a whole park, is not a game for those requiring instant gratification. There's an old saw that defines gardening as the slowest of the performing arts — a philosophy that might surely have amused and pleased a drama teacher like Allyn Winslow.
Then there is Olmsted's philosophy, which in the context of Winslow's murder is ironic. For Olmsted once wrote:
No one who has closely observed the conduct of the people who visit the Park can doubt that it exercises a distinctly harmonizing and refining influence upon the most unfortunate and most lawless classes of the city — an influence favorable to courtesy, self-control, and temperance.
SWEET CHERRY: R.I.P.
BY CHRISTOPHER MUSELLA
Spider-Man was ready to save the girl again. Right there in front of the movie theater, the Cobble Hill Cinema. It was a warm night too; I don't know how he does it, wearing that mask, and I have to wonder if those tights are made of that breathable fabric pro athletes wear. Behind the barricades, beyond the movie cameras and production crews, throngs of Brooklynites stood patiently in the warmth of the first night of summer, just to catch a glimpse of the actor Tobey Maguire donning the web slinger's red and blue costume, and the damsel-cum-diva, Kirsten Dunst, waiting to be rescued. Meanwhile, in Sunset Park, not far from Cobble Hill, another piece of Brooklyn was waiting to be rescued that night.
Over on 3rd Street there was a block party. The johnny pumps were wide open. In Brooklyn, to beat back the clamoring heat of summer, we open up fire hydrants — what we call johnny pumps — and they spray out a stream of wet, cool relief, a break from the humidity and staleness called city air.
All along the riverfront — Brooklyn Heights, that is, where the famous span anchors us to lower Manhattan — families strolled along eating Grimaldi's pizza. (Okay, fine, call it Patsy's. The regulars have been fighting about that name for years.) And some were licking ice-cream cones. Everybody was taking in the last rays of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. With the longest day of the year, you end up with the shortest of nights.
This was all happening on the night of June 21, 2006, in the greatest borough in the world — Brooklyn. Home to Coney Island, Di Fara Pizza (better than Grimaldi's), Prospect Park, and, if you believe a four-year-old named Gianna Maria, it's where they make the balloons.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Brooklyn Noir 3"
Copyright © 2008 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
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.
Table of Contents
PART I: RING-A-LEVIO,
Constance Casey Prospect Park A Spring Afternoon in the Meadow, That "Long, Loud Scream",
Christopher Musella Sunset Park Sweet Cherry: R.I.P.,
Robert Leuci Atlantic Yards The Ghetto Never Sleeps, Mister Policeman,
Thomas Adcock Brownsville The Morgue Boys,
PART II: JOHNNY-ON-THE-PONY,
Errol Louis East Flatbush Fun-Time Monsters,
Robert Knightly Bushwick Getting to Know Mad Dog,
Dennis Hawkins Brooklyn Heights True Confessions,
Patricia Mulcahy Fort Greene The Body in the Doorway,
PART III: DEATH STEP,
Tim Mcloughlin Kings County Supreme Court Snapshots,
Reed Farrel Coleman Coney Island No Roses for Bubbeh,
C.J. Sullivan Bensonhurst The Brooklyn Bogeyman,
KIM SYKES Weeksville Slaves in Brooklyn,
PART IV: SKELSIES,
Jess Korman Crown Heights The Creamflake Kid,
Denise Buffa Borough Park Mommy Wears a Wire,
Rosemarie Yu East New York Beef Kills,
Aileen Gallagher Cobble Hill Sesame Street for Grown-ups,
About the Contributors,