Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Twisted Tale of Peter Braunstein

Halloween Assault

On December 23, 2005, Prosecutor Maxine Rosenthal announced the indictment of former fashion journalist Peter Braunstein, 41, for sexually molesting a 34-year-old woman in her New York apartment on Halloween night. He was also charged with arson, burglary and robbery, and may face a charge in Tennessee of assaulting a police officer. His story is a strange one, raising issues of possible mental illness, even insanity. In fact, the attorney whom Braunstein's father hired, Robert Gottlieb, requested a psychiatric examination to determine his fitness to stand trial.

Peter Braunstein
Peter Braunstein

Allegedly, Braunstein pretended to be a New York City firefighter, wearing a uniform he had purchased on eBay with the moniker, "Gulagmeister." On the night in question, he went to the Chelsea area of Manhattan and watched for his victim to come home from work. About 15 minutes after she arrived, he went into the hallway outside her apartment and set two blazes in a mixture of chemicals contained inside Dixie cups.

Smoke filled the place, says Samuel Maull in Newsday, and the impostor pounded on her door and shouted "Fire!" He announced he was from the fire department and awaited her response. When she opened the door, he pounced with a BB gun and a chloroform-soaked cloth, pushing his way inside. Once he had the stunned woman under his control, the fake firefighter gagged her, tied her arms behind her, and bound her to her bed with duct tape. He also produced shackles to use on her and placed a ski mask on himself. As real firefighters arrived to extinguish the fire in the hall, inside the room over the next 13 hours, this stalker kept the woman captive in her home, repeatedly molesting her (although by some accounts there was no forcible rape). According to the victim's report, the man videotaped what he did to her, which included forcing her to put on various pairs of her stiletto shoes. He then gave her a sleeping pill and took one himself, lying down beside her to take a nap. For some reason, he told her his birth date (which she later learned matched Braunstein's). When he awoke around 7:00 a.m., he grabbed money and several items from her apartment and left.

Police released a sketch, which bore similarity to Braunstein early in the investigation
Police released a sketch, which
bore similarity to Braunstein
early in the investigation

Still bound, the victim managed to free herself, calling the police. She had suffered burns on her face and neck from the chemical her attacker had used to subdue her, and she reportedly did not think she knew him (although New York Newsday indicated, perhaps erroneously, that she was a former girlfriend). There had been no past incidents of stalking or making threats, yet she appeared to have been specifically targeted for the assault. Still, when the report was published the attacker's behavior seemed suspiciously familiar to another woman who worked at Fairchild, the same publishing company as the victim, and she called the police to name a possible suspect: former fashion writer Peter Braunstein. He too had worked in these offices and he once had been her boyfriend. He fixated on certain types of women, said associates, and was known to be controlling and obsessive. The police tried to contact him and learned that he was currently nowhere to be found.

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