The Butcher of Tompkins Square Park

Last weekend I learned about the story of Daniel Rakowitz, an eccentric well-known in the East Village in the early 1980s as a marijuana dealer and for the pet rooster that often accompanied him around town. He called himself “The New Lord” and founded his own religion called the Church of 966 (which, from what I gather, preached Satanism). Rakowitz came to my attention after his photograph appeared on The New York Hardcore Chronicles with the caption: “The Butcher of Tompkins Square Park.”

According to a post over at Party In Hell: “In 1989, Daniel Rakowitz cannibalized his girlfriend, Monika Beerle, after accidentally killing her during a sadistic beating in her apartment in New York’s Lower East Side. ‘I killed her and boiled her head,’ he told a friend. ‘Then I made soup out of her brains. It tasted pretty good.’ A small-time drug dealer and devil worshiper, Rakowitz enjoyed his cannibalistic transgression so much that he scrawled on the door of his apartment, Is it soup yet? Welcome to Charlie Gein’s Ranch East… Home of the Fine Young Cannibals. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity on February 22, 1991.”

According to Ephemeral New York, Rakowitz bleached and hid Beerle’s bones and “left her skull in a storage area at the Port Authority Bus Terminal (in a bucket of cat litter no less).” In 1991, Rakowitz was found innocent by reason of insanity and sent to the maximum-security Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Ward’s Island, where he still lives today. Over the last decade, however, Rakowitz has appealed to be moved to a less secure facility. In a July 2004 retention hearing, Rakowitz, then 43, was deemed “mentally ill but not dangerous” by a jury in Manhattan. Though his request to be moved was denied. In June of  2010, the court again decided he would remain in maximum security.

Each time I learn about a violent murder like Beele’s, it knocks a little wind out of me. I think of how I would feel if I knew the victim — if she were my wife, daughter, sister, or friend. It’s a tendency that’s become problematic given the instantaneous access to global information — i.e., there’s news of so much tragedy at my fingertips, the sorrow and hopelessness is often staggering. That such a gruesome crime exists, of course, is not that shocking. Murder is obviously a constant in American society, and the world at large. But the sheer volume of stories like the Rakowitz case that are out there can be disheartening. That Rakowitz had ties in a community that I once identified with, hardcore and punk, somehow makes the incident more disturbing.

(Photograph: NBC New York. Caption: Daniel Rakowitz, 30 years old at the time, sits in court during the 6th day of deliberations by the jury in his murder trial in New York, February 19, 1991.)