The Cases that Haunt New Yorkers

For whatever reason I forgot to link to this yesterday, but S.J. Rozan had an excellent article in Sunday’s NYT about iconic cases in New York in the wake of Imette St. Guillen’s murder:

The crimes that become iconic etch themselves into the collective

consciousness because they suggest a frightening truth: that the

universe does not rely on cause and effect. If that is true, there’s no

possibility of control, and that thought opens an abyss of despair.

People speak of “senseless” killings, but every crime makes sense to

the criminal who commits it. Iconic crimes are those that are senseless

to the victims, and to the public. They are a reminder that there is no

way to guarantee safety. If a police officer mistakes you for someone

else, you can be shot 19 times. If you go for a jog, you can be raped,

beaten and left for dead. If you send your child to school, he may

never come back.

And if you linger over a drink after closing

time, your battered, empty body can turn up in a desolate place, under

a lone streetlight, far away.

Roseann Quinn. Jennifer Levin. Lisa Steinberg. These were all names I knew all too well growing up, because I tended to pay attention to New York News (and even though Quinn’s murder took place before I was born, I read Judith Rossner’s LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR and learned more about what happened.) But say the name Etan Patz and there’s a particular stab in my gut that comes back every time. Why him, and not other missing kids like Holly Hughes, Tiahease Jackson, and Alice Pereira (who were likely taken down by a serial killer working Staten Island in the 70s and 80s?) Hard to say. Maybe it’s Patz’s smiling face on the posters, the milk cartons. Maybe because his disappearance changed much about the way such cases were handled — or more accurately, mishandled — by law enforcement.

Or maybe because he was a little Jewish boy and it just seemed to hit close to home.

The St. Guillen case is a long way from resolution, indictment or not. But even if it is, I do suspect it will linger just as long as those other cases Rozan wrote about.