Four Gay Men Murdered; City Leaders Want Answers

Residents of Central Harlem have been shaken in recent months by a series of murders of gay men. Anxiety rose

Residents of Central Harlem have been shaken in recent months by a series of murders of gay men. Anxiety rose in late October after no suspect was named in the slaying of Nathaniel Tyrone Hayden, a 28-year-old man who was stabbed in his own apartment. But with the Jan. 11 stabbing of another gay man, the fourth since 1997, local politicians and gay advocacy groups are growing more and more frustrated with a police investigation that they view as fruitless and flat-footed.

The New York Police Department “has unfortunately been slow to act to put all necessary resources on this case,” complained State Senator Thomas Duane, New York City’s highest-ranking openly gay politician. “The Manhattan North task force should have been assigned to this case right away … Violence and murder within the gay and lesbian and African-American communities are still not always given the attention they deserve by 1 Police Plaza.”

City Council member Bill Perkins, whose district encompasses at least three of the murder sites, is especially piqued by the small-time publicity the murders have generated beyond the community level–namely, one story in the Daily News . “There has been no publicity whatsoever in any meaningful way about it, though we have been working with the police in terms of trying to get help,” he told The Observer . Mr. Perkins, who visited several Harlem community board meetings in February, has spoken repeatedly about “the connections that make it seem that there is a serial murderer out there.” To address concern in Harlem, he has arranged for a town hall meeting to be held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Malcolm X Boulevard on Feb. 29.

Since the death in early 1997 of Jerry Colella, the first in the series of gay men to be murdered, little progress has been made in the search for a suspect, local officials said. “I think the officers who have been assigned to the case are excellent,” said City Council member Christine Quinn, speaking of Manhattan North homicide detective Daryl Hayes and Lieut. Ellen Caniglia. “[But] they don’t decide how many resources they get. I think if City Hall and the Police Commissioner’s office were truly concerned, they would have more resources.”

She added that she is writing a letter to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, asking that he formally announce a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a perpetrator in the murder of Hayden.

Part of what stirs community concern may be detectives’ reluctance to classify the deaths of Colella, Watts, Hayden and a fourth man killed on Jan. 11 as the work of a serial murderer. The identity of the fourth man, who was not openly gay, has not been released by the Police Department, at the request of his family.

“We found at this time that there are no links between these three or four homicides,” said Walter Burns, a spokesman for the department. “We’re continuing our investigation on the subject, but at this time we’re not linking the four of them together.”

The police were already investigating the murders when a friend of Hayden who worked in Senator Duane’s office triggered community involvement by contacting his boss. Senator Duane then alerted Ms. Quinn and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Antiviolence Project. Those groups have looked closely at the connections between the four murders to raise awareness both in Central Harlem and in the social circles where the victims operated: a South Bronx club called the Warehouse; St. Nicholas Park, a popular cruising spot; and various gay bars in Greenwich Village.

“In terms of the work that we’re doing, the outreach, we’re acting on [the deaths] in concert,” said Clarence Patton, director of community organization and public advocacy at the Antiviolence Project. “The police haven’t officially connected them at all yet. [But] here we have a series of murders, in the same general area, of gay men. Some of the elements of at least three of them are similar … so in terms of what we need to tell the community, they’re not any different.”

Details on the murders themselves are murky, because police have kept most of the particulars under wraps. But Mr. Patton’s group, along with Gay Men of African Descent, Mr. Perkins and other concerned parties, have been attempting to piece together what little they know in an effort to help investigators–and fearful members of the gay community.

The first murder, that of Jerry Colella, who was white, occurred in 1997 in his apartment on 526 West 122nd Street. “From what we understand, he was pretty well connected in the neighborhood,” said Mr. Patton. “He was found murdered in his apartment, stabbed in his apartment … I think he was found a couple of days after he was actually killed. And a lot of the investigative work was kind of canvassing … convenience and liquor stores in his area. He was known to befriend … transients and vagrants in the neighborhood.”

A year later, Ernest (Ernie) Watts, a South Bronx native in his late 30’s, was slain in his studio apartment on the second floor of 15 West 139th Street, one in a seven-building complex known as Delano Village Houses. Watts had no known employment, but was thought to hang out at the Warehouse–where he was apparently last seen–and St. Nicholas Park. Although his body was found, stabbed multiple times, on Aug. 20, it is believed that he had been slain days before–as early as Aug. 16, according to Mr. Patton. When police investigated the murder scene, they found that a telephone had been ripped out of the wall.

Of all the murder victims, the most is known about Nathaniel Hayden, called Troy, who also lived in Delano Village at 630 Lenox Avenue. According to his sister, LaTonya Harris, Hayden had moved to New York some 10 years ago after growing up in Killeen, Tex., and Louisville, Ky. He told his family he was working at the United Parcel Service. (Mr. Patton and others could not confirm that.) “He moved away when he was, like, 13, so we talked off and on,” said Ms. Harris, reached at her home in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she works as a receptionist. She said that she had last spoken to her brother in early October, “a week or two” before his murder. “He [seemed] happy to me,” she said. “He sounded like everything was O.K.”

Carl Stokes, the head of security for Delano Village, said Hayden was known for having frequent visitors to Apartment 11K, the studio where he lived. “Visitors of all kinds: male, female, old and young, middle-aged,” said Mr. Stokes. “He was just into that type of life style. We never got a call about a party. Just a lot of people in and out.”

Hayden’s body was found last Oct. 24 in his apartment, where, again, a telephone had been ripped off the wall. Mr. Stokes said the body was found by a building porter some time after a neighbor on the 11th floor had called in a noise complaint. “A tenant called and said, ‘Listen, there’s something going on. They’re fighting or whatever in the apartment.’ [An] officer … responded to the apartment, responded to the call, knocked on the door, nothing … Later that day, the report came down that there was a body in the apartment.” Mr. Stokes added that it generally takes between one and five minutes for his staff to respond to complaints.

“If there was security, and people were hearing noises and stuff, why didn’t nobody say anything?” asked Ms. Harris. “I understand that’s New York or whatever, but here in the country … we hear something, we call!”

“This happened to my brother in October,” she added. “It is now February, and you’re calling me. Why is that? The only person I talk to all the time is Detective Hayes … It’s just going to be another black man, just gone.”

Four Gay Men Murdered; City Leaders Want Answers