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SANITY HEARING REVISITS KILLING
AND DISMEMBERMENT IN EAST VILLAGE
By COLIN MOYNIHAN
|in: New York Times, June 15, 2004|
In August 1989, Daniel Rakowitz, 28, a self-styled marijuana guru living in the East Village, killed his girlfriend, 26-year-old Monika Beerle, by striking her in the throat.
After hauling her corpse into a claw-foot bath tub, he dismembered her and stored her bones in a locker in Hell's Kitchen. Later, as rumors of the killing swirled through the neighborhood, he was said to have cooked her remains into a soup that he served to the homeless inhabitants of nearby Tompkins Square Park.
Two years later, Mr. Rakowitz was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island. Yesterday Mr. Rakowitz was in a fifth-floor room at 111 Centre Street as a hearing began to determine whether he is still insane.
"You are about to enter the dark, disturbed, dangerous mind and world of Daniel Rakowitz," Assistant District Attorney Gary Galperin told the jurors in his opening statement.
Mr. Rakowitz, known for roaming the streets with a Bible in his hand and a live rooster on his shoulder, was a pot dealer and part-time cook from Texas. Acquaintances said he started his own religion, in which marijuana was a sacrament.
The bizarre killing became a symbol of the depravity and disorder that suffused the neighborhood during the 1970's and 80's. Since then, much has changed. Blocks where drug bazaars were common are now dotted with boutiques. Some resent the gentrification, but few would relish a return to the dangerous days.
Sherri Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office, said that state law gave Mr. Rakowitz the right to a jury review and rehearing every two years to examine his current mental state. The last time he did so was 1995, when a jury returned him to the Kirby center. If a jury determines that he is mentally healthy, he could be released pending further legal procedures.
Mr. Rakowitz denies killing Ms. Beerle, a Swiss woman who studied dance at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. But prosecutors insisted yesterday that Mr. Rakowitz was a psychopath who still experiences severe character pathology. Donald Graham, a lawyer representing Mr. Rakowitz, countered that his client has not been involved in a violent act while on Wards Island and is no longer mentally ill or dangerous.
Although Mr. Rakowitz exhibited odd behavior during his initial trial (telling the jury, "I hope someday we can smoke a joint together"), he sat quietly in the courtroom yesterday.
Mr. Rakowitz has been off the streets for 15 years, but his misdeeds have continued to reverberate through his old neighborhood.
Many see the episode as pivotal in the neighborhood's history, and some compare it to the 1967 murders in an Avenue B tenement of James Hutchinson, known as Groovy, and his girlfriend, Linda Fitzpatrick.
While those murders were later described as marking the advent of a wave of violence on the Lower East Side, the death of Ms. Beerle was seen by some as marking the nadir of that long era.
"It was the absolute low water mark of social decadence," said Clayton Patterson, who has photographed and filmed the Lower East Side for 20 years. Nevertheless, Mr. Patterson says he believes that Mr. Rakowitz disposed of the corpse but did not commit the killing.
A few days ago, as jurors were selected for the trial, Eduardo Arrocha, 42, sat in Tompkins Square Park.
"I moved to the neighborhood right as the murder happened and everybody in the park was talking about it," he said. "I heard a lot about the soup, but I never tasted it."
For some residents today, a mention of Daniel Rakowitz elicits only a bewildered frown. But some newcomers know the story.
Eddie Newton, 37, who moved to the Lower East Side in 1998, said that he read about the killing while he was living in North Carolina.
"It was completely emblematic of how scary and weird this place was back then," he said. Three months after moving into an apartment at East Ninth Street and Avenue C, Mr. Newton found out that he lived in the building where the grisly crime was committed.
"It was creepy," he said.