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Established New York 1997
Established New York 1997

Field Reports

A Creature Was Stirring: The Christmas Eve Murder Of Brian Boothe

Posted December 25th, 2013 in Archives, Field Reports, Investigations by Bill Jensen

 

On Christmas Day 2002, Brian Boothe was found dead in his apartment in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan, victim of a knife wound to the neck. “Police sources” tagged it a suicide in several newspapers.

 

Boothe’s brother Tommy had committed suicide just three months earlier, pumping carbon monoxide into the car he had been living in outside of his job at Ants and Things exterminators in Bayport. New York newspapers, and perhaps the police, connected those dots: A gay male spending Christmas Eve alone, whose brother had recently taken his own life…it had to be suicide. But Brian had not spoken to his brother in years. None of the Boothe family had.

 

“We kept saying ‘It’s got nothing to do with it,'” says Boothe’s mother, Kay, from her home in Patchogue. “Brian was the least affected by [Tommy’s] death.

Brian Boothe

 

And Brian Boothe, by all accounts, was happier than ever. He would be heading to Long Island for Christmas dinner the next day, relishing in giving his 3-year-old nephew and godson Owen another toy with plenty of loose pieces, a practice that annoyed his sister-in-law. When his friends talked about foregoing their beloved annual ski trip to Aspen, he fiercely objected, charging the $4,000 for the January 19 vacation to his credit card. His friend Lisa Steinbring, who had lunch with him the day before his death, recalls how Boothe was “gleeful [while] describing the soon-to-be arrival of [his brother’s baby girl] Cassidy.” Christmas cards he wrote to his family were full of hope for the new year. To everyone who knew him, Brian Boothe was loving life.

 

But that didn’t stop the New York tabloids from positing suicide. And it took the medical examiner four months to officially declare Brian’s death—the result of a vicious slice to the throat—a homicide. Still, the police are sharing none of the details of the investigation with the family. “They won’t tell me much about the crime scene,” says Boothe’s sister, Donna Kukura of Shirley, “because I’m a family member, and they think it was someone he knew, he trusted.”

 

Friends and family will converge on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan this Saturday, wearing “JUSTICE for Brian” pins on their lapels, for a memorial. Maybe afterward they will caravan out to the Island, to the Ground Round on Montauk Highway in Bay Shore, where Booth #287 is dedicated to Boothe, who was a server there for five years. The family will look warily at the faces in the crowd, as they did at the funeral in December, to spot any odd people or odd behavior. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” says Kukura. “Everyone’s a suspect.” The police put that thought in the family’s heads. Regardless, people will be there to remember a Long Island boy who moved to the city and made good, only to be struck down in the prime of life.

 

A BAKER AND BEEKEEPER
Kay Boothe remembers her son putting on song-and-dance shows in the backyard of their house on Valley Road in Patchogue. She remembers his beekeeping phase, along with the day the bees got loose and flew away (Brian cried). She remembers Brian and his brothers Jimmy, Tommy and Sean going down to River Avenue Park to move turtles from the perimeter of the park back into the marshes, safe from encroaching civilization. She remembers him staying home on Thanksgiving while his family went to the parade—because he wanted to stay in the kitchen and help cook, and the time he waited anxiously as the family tried his fresh-baked cookies, only to see everyone spit them out, realizing too late that he had substituted baking soda for baking powder. Those are the kinds of stories Kay Boothe remembers.

 

“Anyone he touched remembered him,” Kay Boothe says through tears. “It’s a shame whoever did this, to snuff out his life. Because he loved life. And he loved the city. I used to live in the city [and] I kept telling him, times are different and he would say ‘Oh ma, people are out at all hours.'”

 

Boothe wasn’t out at all hours on Christmas Eve. A creature of habit, Boothe was always in by 2 a.m.

 

On Christmas Eve, he left 1 Penn Plaza, where he worked at Seabrook Consultants as a human resources strategist, and went to the Gap to buy presents for his two nieces. “I don’t know [what they are] yet. I haven’t opened the Christmas gifts,” says Kukura.

 

He stopped at a Rite-Aid drug store, then the dollar store to get wrapping paper, before returning to his apartment, where he presumably wrapped the presents. He called his mother to finalize plans for Christmas dinner, and then went out for a drink.

Black and Blonde: The Hideous Sorority of Hollywood’s Black Dahlia and Boston’s Swedish Nanny

Posted October 17th, 2013 in Archives, Field Reports by Bill Jensen

Dahlia_KarinaNoLimbs_JamesJukes

 

I published this story in 2006 when I was editor of the Boston Phoenix. I recently went back to Boston and walked to the site where pieces of Karina Holmer’s body were dumped. With all of the new buildings going up around the Fens, the area is still intact. The alley behind the building is also the same: the Mass Pike below still humming, the sign reading “No Dumping: Police Take Notice” still posted, the bright safety light still shining. 

 

She didn’t need an excuse to go out that night.

 

For the four months she’d been in America, she went out most every weekend night.

 

But June 21 is Summer Solstice. The Americans might think nothing of it. But back in Sweden, the sun is as high in the sky as it ever gets. The day is a robust 18 hours long. Tradition calls for celebration. Party harder. Drink heavier. Dance longer.

 

SolsticeFeast of EponaLithaVestaliaMidsommer. When the little girls in Skillingaryd dance around the Maypoles, pick flowers in the meadows, and put them under their pillows so they can dream that night about the man they will one day marry.

 

For the first part of that night back in 1996, 20-year-old Karina Holmer, who had come to Boston from Sweden to work as a nanny, donned a shiny gray sweater and tight shiny-silver pants, and went to Club Zanzibar on Boylston Place.

 

There she drank. She danced. She sang. She passed out on the bathroom floor. That was the first half of the night.

 

The next half of the night she was tortured, killed, and sawed in two. The top half of her body left in a dumpster in the Fenway. The bottom half deposited god knows where.

 

Karina Holmer came to Massachusetts for a better life and a better party. She wound up in two pieces.

 

Forty-nine years earlier, Elizabeth Short left Massachusetts for a better life and a better party in Hollywood. She wound up in two pieces too.

 

Elizabeth Short’s tale is by far the more famous. That’s because Short was the Black Dahlia, titular subject of James Ellroy’s noir classic, of “true Hollywood stories” and “unsolved mysteries.” Dahlia gets fan Web sites, videogames, and an Australian swing band named after her. This week, she’s getting a feature film directed by Brian DePalma with the tagline: “Inspired by the most notorious unsolved murder in California history” (presupposing that we all know OJ killed Nicole and Ron). She gets commercials airing in prime time and a wide release. She gets the fame she was looking for when she first went to Hollywood.

 

All Karina got was an answer on Jeopardy: “Boston cops were baffled by the murder of Karina Holmer, a Swede working as this French-named type of domestic.”

 

Stick around and I’ll give you the question.

HIT & RUN: THE DRIVERS, THEIR VICTIMS AND ONE LOOPHOLE IN THE LAW

Posted August 20th, 2013 in Archives by Bill Jensen

Originally Published in January, 2005

Messiah Lovelady was killed by a hit and run driver in 2004.

Messiah Lovelady was killed by a hit and run driver in 2004.

For the family of Nine-year-old Messiah Lovelady, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in May, 2004, it’s a light-colored mini van.

 

For Anthony Savarese, it’s every dark-colored sedan, his eyes darting to the grill in hopes of finding the telltale front-end damage that resulted from the impact of striking and killing his 14-year-old daughter Jessica on a road in Franklin Square.

 

In a hit-and-run crime, you don’t have a face to hate. Four wheels and an engine become your boogeyman.

 

Last year, three children were killed by hit-and-run drivers on the roads of Long Island. Only one arrest has been made.

 

The nature of the crime implies speed, blink-of-an-eye action that renders eyewitness accounts shaky at best. In Messiah’s case, he was killed by a light blue or green or champagne-colored van. With Jessica, it was just a large dark car. No one saw the license plate number. No one saw the driver.

 

Often the only clues are the remnants that break off from the car after it hits flesh. And for detectives, that is sometimes all they’ve got. For Messiah, pieces of a front grill and amber lens from the passenger-side turning signal/parking lamp point to a 1991-95 Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge minivan. There are about 15,000 of these vans in western Suffolk/eastern Nassau alone. For Jessica, a piece of a headlight points to a 1989-91 Ford Taurus. There are more than 10,000 Ford Tauruses in Nassau and Queens.

 

At least it’s something.

 

In a study published in 2003 by the National Center For Statistics and Analysis and sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 18 percent of pedestrian fatalities in single-vehicle crashes from 1998 to 2001 were hit-and-run. In 2001, 4,882 pedestrians were struck and killed, 781 the result of a hit-and-run. You can see a running tally of hit-and-run victims in the United States on websites like www.deadlyroads.com. Some days, there have been three, four, five people left dying on a road as a car drove away into the horizon. The variety of the victims, as well as the variety of the drivers (when they’re caught), illustrates that this is a crime that can happen to anyone who crosses a street or gets in a car.

 

MESSIAH AND HIS SNACKS

Messiah Lovelady made everyone smile. Bursting with energy while still respectful of his elders, the third-grader at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School shared a room at home with his two brothers, Aquines, 11, and Christopher, 14. At 4:45 p.m. on May 12, Messiah and Aquines were walking home from Pete’s Deli, where Messiah had purchased $2.25 worth of cakes and cookies.

 

One block away from the crosswalk on Straight Path Road, a four-lane road with a 40 mph speed limit, the two decided to cross.