In a glass-walled gazebo-style cottage at Old Westbury’s colonial era Milleridge Inn this past Sunday, several hundred Long Islanders gathered as part of Parents of Murdered Children’s annual candlelight vigil remembering crime victims from Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
With the trees outside coming into full bloom, the sun drenched the room’s white wooden pillars and ceiling and a host of readers named nearly 500 murder victims in alphabetical order. Periodically, a group of participants would rise, as the reading of their loved one’s name approached, to come forward and have their candles lit.
It was a ritual of mourning reminiscent of the 9-11 anniversaries at Ground Zero and of innumerable name readings held when the AIDS Quilt has been displayed around the country.
The list of those murdered included nearly two dozen identified as police officers. Several names in the program were followed by the notation (WTC).
The name “Lisa Marie Steinberg” brought back memories of Joel Steinberg’s horrific 1987 murder in Manhattan of a six-year-old girl whom the perpetrator illegally adopted from a 19-year-old Long Island woman, Michele Launders.
Harvey Milk, who spent his formative years on Long Island and went on to become San Francisco’s first out gay city supervisor, was also named. Milk was murdered along with Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco’s City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White in November 1978.
Another gay man whose name was read was Brian Boothe, a 35-year-old Patchogue native who was stabbed to death in his Stuyvesant Town apartment in the early morning hours of Christmas Day, 2002. The crime was never solved and Manhattan’s 13th precinct says that “the investigation is pretty much at a standstill.”
Boothe’s immediate family––his mother Kay, his father Thomas, his brothers Jimmy and Sean, and his sister, Donna Kukura––and numerous friends and colleagues attended, and Kukura, who has been tireless in prodding the NYPD and the New York County district attorney’s office for action, delivered the vigil’s keynote address.
“Brian had a smile that lit up the room, an infectious laugh, a silly giggle, and a heart of gold,” she recalled, adding that after three decades living on Long Island her brother moved to Manhattan to savor the “excitement of city.”
Not all of Kukura’s recollections were pleasant, however. She talked about how it took nearly three months for the crime to be classified as a murder, despite the fact that Boothe’s body was found in his bedroom and the murder weapon in a bag of Christmas gifts on the living room couch, with no blood stains in between. In several initial tabloid and TV reports, his death was reported as the suicide of a gay man. Kukura’s husband Joe and her brother Jimmy found Brian’s body several hours after he failed to arrive in his customary punctual style at her home for Christmas dinner.
Boothe had spent the hours before his death at several gay clubs in the East Village, including the Phoenix, the establishment then known as the Wonder Bar, and finally the Cock, where he was seen leaving alone at 1 a.m. Christmas morning.
In a Gay City News interview in December 2003, Kukura described the police’s early indifference and insensitivity as “homophobic.” She recounted months of efforts to have the Medical Examiner’s results released, press the police to follow up on leads gleaned from Boothe’s telephone, cell, and e-mail records, and get NYPD approval for a wanted poster first circulated late last Spring with the help of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP).
Basil Lucas, AVP’s coordinator of hate crimes and police relations substantiated the thrust of Kukura’s concerns, terming the early police response “very strange.”
Talking about her brother being gay in her speech at the vigil, Kukura left open the question as to whether his death had anything to do with his sexuality, though in conversations with her it is clear that she believes it has been an impediment to solving the crime.
In recent weeks, detectives at the 13th precinct, in response to Kukura’s requests, have made themselves available to discuss the case.
Though Boothe’s body was found naked wrapped in a blanket, there is no evidence that he and his murderer engaged in sex, consensual or otherwise, prior to his death, according to Sgt. Mike Plante, who heads up the investigation. The police officer did not specify a blood alcohol level for Boothe, but said his body’s condition was consistent with his having had drinks at several bars during the evening prior to his death. There was no evidence of drug ingestion.
Plante said there were no signs of forced entry and that there is no fire escape attached to the apartment. Despite Kukura’s statement that the murder weapon was found in the gift bags Boothe had set aside to take to his sister’s house in Long Island, and her suspicion that things were missing from those bags, Plante said the bags showed no signs of pilfering. He specifically said that two men, unknown to Boothe’s friends and family with whom Brian had lengthy, late night cell phone calls in the days prior to his death, were interviewed and cleared of suspicion or knowledge of the murder.
“The investigation is pretty much at a standstill,” Plante conceded. “It will be very difficult unless there is someone out there who saw him leaving the clubs with somebody. Somewhere down the line, somebody may get in trouble and may want to come forward.”
Kukura certainly hopes that somebody is out there with useful information who will yet come forward. AVP is working with her to place a new group of wanted posters around Manhattan, especially in the East Village neighborhood that was home to Boothe and the nightclubs where he spent his final hours.
The management of Stuyvesant Town has consistently turned down Kukura’s request to place the posters in the apartment complex, and even declined to place a memorial tribute to Boothe in its tenant newsletter.
Anyone interested in helping AVP distribute flyers should call AVP’s Emily Beiber at 212 714 1184, ext. 52.
Anyone with information about the murder of Brian Boothe can call AVP’s 24-hour bilingual hotline at 212 714 1141, Sgt. Plante at the 13th precinct at 212 477 7444, or the NYPD’s confidential tip line, 800 577 TIPS. A $12,000 reward has been posted in the case.