Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Alig: The Life and Death of the Party

Confessions of a Body Hacker

Michael Alig
Michael Alig

Shortly after the New York Post ran a story about another torso found in the Harlem River, a cop in Staten Island had an epiphany. They had also found a torso, but it had been misclassified as being of Asian descent, and had been sitting in the morgue for months.

It took two months for police to confirm it was Angel — a full nine months after they had recovered the body. Finally, on November 2, 1996, the pieces were put together, literally and figuratively, and an official murder investigation began.

As soon as the police realized that the body in the Staten Island morgue was Angel Melendez, they picked up Freeze for questioning. After just a few hours under questioning, he spilled the details of the murder in three handwritten pages. The story was self-defense. Angel attacked Michael, he helped stop Angel, and they accidentally killed him in the process. The rest of it — the Drano, the chopping of the body, the dumping — was all attributed to panicking in a drug-induced haze.

Moving to arrest Alig, though, the cops had a small problem: they couldn't locate him. He was back in the city, but they didn't know where. They paid a visit to his friend and drug dealer Brooke Humphries at the Chelsea Hotel, and arrested her for selling cocaine. When Humphries wouldn't volunteer Alig's whereabouts, they simply looked at a bulletin board in her apartment which contained a note that had Alig and his new boyfriend's hotel and room number in Tom's River, N.J. The next day police arrested him; the same day, Freeze gave his full, signed confession.

When Alig was finally arrested, the District Attorney's Office and the DEA were in a death match over Alig, whom the DEA hoped would be a star witness. The DEA had been building a case against club owner Peter Gatien for months, and hoped Alig would be a key witness. If Alig was a convicted or suspected murderer, his testimony wasn't so valuable. If his trial happened after the Gatien case went to trial, the DEA would have a better case. In the end, Alig recanted all of his testimony against Gatien.

But there were several other problems with prosecuting Alig: for one thing, there had been a little-mentioned fourth person in the apartment the night of the Melendez murder: Daniel Auster, son of writer Paul Auster, who was also a heroin addict. The younger Auster's various stories conflicted with those of Freeze and Alig. He contended in one version that the killing was premeditated and that they intended to rob Angel from the beginning, and that Alig had made several comments about how he wanted to kill Angel. However, Auster proved unable to settle on a story which did not show holes. Daniel had stolen $3,000 from the stash himself. Prosecutors saw that these conflicting narratives might cloud jurors' decision-making.

Additionally, Alig's story of self-defense was buttressed by forensic evidence: his own blood was found at the crime scene. The panicked back-and-forth scuffle between Alig and Angel did appear to have happened, and reinforced the story that he and Freeze were telling the police.

Prosecutors decided the case wouldn't be as open and shut as they would have liked, and offered Alig and Freeze a plea deal — ten to 20 years for manslaughter in the first degree. Alig, who had always shown a knack for latching onto a good deal when he saw one, took the deal.

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