The Neptune Murders
On Broadway, the play Godspell was going strong and Chorus Line was on its way to becoming a legend in American theater. The biggest movie that year was Network starring Peter Finch. The Oakland Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 at the Super Bowl in January and the jobless rate in America was 8.4%. A controversy erupted when the film Death Wish appeared on TV for the first time. One of the biggest hits on television that year was Police Womanstarring the gorgeous Angie Dickinson. Kojak was in its heyday and President Carter was taking heat for his January pardon of Viet Nam era draft dodgers. At the Hollywood Sportatorium in Florida, 42-year-old Elvis Presley, appearing paunchy in a white sequined jumpsuit, sang his heart out before thousands of screaming fans. It was Valentine's Day, February 14, 1977 and in New Rochelle, New York, a massacre was about to happen.
At about 7:00 AM in New Rochelle, a small city of 90,000 just outside the Bronx, Police Officer Chris Schraud, 29, sipped his coffee in a parking lot of the Thruway Diner, a well-known eating spot for interstate truckers who travel I-95. Schraud, a four-year veteran of the police department, worked the midnight to eight shift. It was his habit to enjoy a final cup of coffee before being relieved of duty by the day shift, due in at 7:45 AM. It was cold during the night, the temperature dropped a few degrees below freezing. As he looked out from his patrol car, he could see the first sunlight rising over the apartment buildings along Beechwood Avenue a few blocks away. A street sweeper truck, its steel brushes grinding into the pavement and kicking debris into the air, passed in front of the diner on its way up Boston Road. The driver absently waved to Schraud as the noisy machine lumbered past his patrol car. Across the street and behind him, the Neptune Worldwide Moving Company prepared for the hectic week ahead. Huge trailers were busy pulling in and out of loading docks, gearing up for their assignments for this busy Monday morning. The Neptune Company consisted of a large, two story office building facing the street and a huge warehouse and garage located in the rear section of the property. Over 300 people worked for the company in 1977. At this hour of the day, there was probably less than half that number actually on the job.
In the city streets, rush hour traffic continued to build as Officer Schraud placed the hot coffee cup on his dashboard and re-attached the lid. A smart cop never throws the coffee lid away because he realizes that in the next 30 seconds of his life, anything can happen. And somehow, cops believe that spilling coffee on their uniform is one of the worst things that can happen to them. They trivialize hand-to-hand combat which they see as a necessary part of their job, yet will bitch to high heaven if they are forced to change their uniform before the end of the tour. Officer Schraud took a few sips of coffee again and then eased the patrol unit out of the lot. As he made the right turn onto Main Street and began the five-minute trip to the police station to make his relief, Schraud thought about the warm bed waiting for him at home.
At the same time, a few blocks away from the young patrol officer, a brooding and angry man was driving his red 1971 G.T.O. down Weyman Avenue toward the Neptune Moving Company. Although he loved the feeling of power in a car like a G.T.O., he drove purposely slow. This was one morning he did not want to be stopped by some nosey cop. In the trunk was a fully loaded, expertly cleaned Saco .308 HK-41 semi-automatic assault rifle, the kind NATO troops carried. He was a large man, very large: 250 pounds, over 6 feet tall, 18-inch biceps and a massive chest. He had a skull and crossbones tattoo on his left arm and lots of other tattoos that depicted Nazi themes on different parts of his body. He was wearing khaki pants, a U.S. Army field jacket and a military style beret with the "death's head" insignia embroidered on the front edge, the symbol of the dreaded Nazi SS. Underneath the jacket he wore a white "T" shirt bearing the emblem of the National States Rights Party, a thunderbolt, with the words "WHITE POWER" emblazoned on the chest. Tucked inside his belt was a 9-inch hunting knife, honed to a fine sharpness. He wore two .45 caliber automatic handguns and two other 9mm automatics, all fully loaded, in double shoulder holsters. On the front seat of the G.T.O. were also hundreds of rounds of various types of ammo, including .45 caliber, 9mm and 7.62 mm rifle cartridges in bandoliers. This rolling arsenal made its way up Weyman Avenue and turned slowly into the parking lot of Neptune where employees, scurrying around in their various jobs and responsibilities, barely took notice.
On the ground floor of the main building, employee Joseph Hicks, 60, an African-American, was walking through the hallway and saw his friend, Fred Holmes, 55, also black, approaching. "Hey Joe, morning to ya!" he called. Hicks had worked for Neptune for 25 years. The men stopped and exchanged greetings. Upstairs on the second floor, dispatcher Norman Bing, 31, sat in his office reading the daily runs. He usually arrived a little early on Mondays to plan for the week ahead. In the driver's room, where most Neptune employees gathered before leaving for the day, employee James Green, 45, also an African-American and a company mover, picked up some papers and studied his route. He had caught a ride to work that morning with Joseph Hicks. Both men liked to be on the job early. On the first floor, sipping a cup of tea was electrician Pariyarathu Varghese, 32, who came to America from India the year before to get married. This was his second week at the job. His wife was employed as a nurse in the New Rochelle Hospital. Joe Russo, 24, a mover's helper, was in the cafeteria, as were dozens of other workers shooting the breeze and doing what people do before they begin their workday.
The angry man parked his rumbling G.T.O. directly in front of two phone booths attached to the Neptune office building. Next to the phones, a double set of glass doors leading into a long hallway were slightly ajar. He opened his car door and stepped out into the parking lot, his military boots making a definite rapping sound on the cold pavement. His name was Fred Cowan.