Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Twisted Tale of Peter Braunstein

On the Run

Alberto Braunstein
Alberto Braunstein

For six weeks after the Halloween night incident, Braunstein was a wanted fugitive. A $12,000 reward was posted for information leading to his arrest, and his 72-year-old father, Alberto, pleaded with him on television to give himself up and get the help he needed. When a New York shop owner insisted he had sold coffee to Braunstein in November, the police brought in tracking dogs, a SWAT team, and a helicopter, but they failed to locate him. They took a bomb-sniffing dog into the Fairchild offices but got no trail. From security camera videos at a Midtown motel, they were able to learn at least where Braunstein had been, if not where he actually was. He had purchased a subway fare card with his credit card, and his use of that was tracked. Thus, detectives knew that he had remained in the city for a few weeks after the incident. But then he showed up in late November at a bus station in Columbus, Ohio, so he was clearly on the move.

Braunstein settled for a few days in Cleveland, where he booked a room in the Town House Motel and placed an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer for a driver. As he was being chauffeured around, he gave out stories that he was a television producer scouting locations and asked to be taken to Christie's Cabaret, a strip joint that features lap dancing. He was also spotted drinking vodka at Moriarty's Pub. In one place, he was said to have flashed a U. S. Marshall's badge, another eBay souvenir. Still, he remained at large.

Badge & wallet for sale on ebay
Badge & wallet for sale on ebay

Next, Braunstein turned up in Memphis, Tennessee. There he sold blood on November 29 to make $20, using his real name and passport to register. He told the receptionist that he was a journalist on his way to Kansas. Instead, he found a room at the local Y and sought other ways to get some money, such as looking for a lost dog for which a reward was offered. He also entered Graceland, the mansion once owned by Elvis Presley. "It's what you do when you're in Tennessee," he was later to say. It set him back $22, probably worth it to a man who had made his living on pop culture fads. The New York Post reported that he had told a detective that he'd also considered making his way to Louisianan to pose as a Hurricane Katrina victim.

For whatever reason, he wandered onto the University of Memphis campus on December 16, which unfortunately for him had cleared out for the holiday break. He'd been watching all the fuss about him in the New York tabloids, and was even aware that he'd been featured on America's Most Wanted, but what he did not know was that an avid viewer of that program was standing not twenty feet from him, talking on a cell phone to her sister. She looked up and recognized Braunstein from the photo flashed on television. Thinking quickly, she flagged down a campus police officer.

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