It started with a 2015 phone call from New Zealand to the NYPD’s Cold Case Squad answered by Detective Bob Dewhurst.
Trish wanted to know if anything could be done to find her brother’s murderer from more than two decades earlier.
It’s a case that touches on fears shared by gay and straight people alike who meet a stranger and discover they want to have sex. For Bill Bottiggi, this scenario apparently played out in the dead of night in Midtown and went terribly wrong.
Bottiggi is described by friends and family as brilliant. He loved to listen to a story and then recast it into a new tale by adding his own flourishes while sitting in his tiny kitchen smoking a joint and sipping a beer.
In an email message, one friend wrote, “Bill loved everyone. He had a welcoming attitude to people, a huge heart. He brought a dwarf to our house once, someone he’d recently met. He had a rare quality of empathy that you don’t see much anymore.”
Bill Bottiggi, found dead in Eighth Avenue apartment, last seen in Midtown bar
According to Trish, when Bottiggi’s parents held a memorial service for their dead son in Cleveland, more than 500 people paid their respects. “I tell you, he was well loved,” she said.
If you were to mention films, Bottiggi would talk about the old black and white film noirs with both affection and detail. Among work completed by Bottiggi that Trish has copies of are a detailed study about the movie “Chinatown,” in which he compared it to older films, particularly the Humphrey Bogart classic “The Maltese Falcon,” as well as a draft of a semi-autobiographical piece.
Bottiggi was a credentialed man, with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and a master’s in English Lit from the University of Kentucky in Lexington. As a gay man, Manhattan was a natural place to hang his hat.
Even more so because “he was kinky as fuck,” according to a male friend who shared stories and intimate details. This often meant after-midnight cruising and anonymous partners.
Bottiggi found his niche editing Stag, a magazine that started by publishing men’s adventure stories but gradually turned into a stroke publication with pictures of women and articles about straight porn. It was one of many publications put out by Charles Goodman. Bottiggi also did freelance work for a wide array of other publications. His wages meant he could afford a walk-up at 916 Eighth Avenue, a few blocks below 57th Street, and in the era before Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s cleanup it was sketchy and cruisy at night.
Stag offered its own temptations. In the back of the magazine, the personals were filled with letters from prisoners looking for pen pals and benefactors who were turned on by hot letters from sexy guys often promising true love or incredible sexual fantasies. Bill, also known as Cha, followed these ads closely.
Life was stressful in the late 1980s and the start of the ‘90s. AIDS gripped the city and closed the backrooms and specialty sex clubs that had sprung up during the heady days of gay emancipation when the city’s financial crisis meant landlords rented to any tenant who could pay the rent.
Bottiggi was one of the thousands of gay men and lesbians who marched in Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ annual AIDS Walk, and he reached out to his friends from college and his sister for contributions.
He was last seen when he closed down a Midtown bar called McGee’s at 4 a.m. one spring morning. After not showing up for work, a neighbor entered his apartment on June 19, 1991 and found his dead body with multiple stab wounds.
His parents in their 70s faced the grim reality that they had lived longer than their 40-year-old son, and Detective Dewhurst notes that his mom is 97 and still waiting to find out what happened to him.
The NYPD collected evidence and had a suspect, but could not build a strong enough case to charge, and there the matter rested until Trish called Dewhurst. In the 27 years since the homicide, the ability of police to screen evidence — the precise nature of which the police are not discussing — has improved markedly, making Dewhurst eager to hear from anyone who knew Bill Bottiggi. If the information leads to the arrest and conviction, it would bring a reward of $2,500.
The phone number for anyone with information is 800-577-TIPS.