Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Neptune Murders

Picking Up the Pieces

Weapons used by Cowan during the siege
Weapons used by Cowan during the

New Rochelle Police eventually executed a search warrant at Cowan's home on Woodbury Street. Found during that search was a terrifying array of Nazi mementos that astonished the police and gave an indication of just how disturbed Cowan had become. When Det. Harris first entered the room, he was shocked. "I didn't know Fred, but his family were very nice people. I didn't know how a person could go that way, have such negative feelings about Jewish people and blacks," he said during an interview. Inside the attic apartment police found eleven cans of gunpowder, shotgun shells, primers, three antique muskets, one rifle, shell casings and equipment to make bullets, thousands of rounds of ammunition, one machete, at least 20 knives, eight Nazi bayonets, military helmets from World War II, five posters of Adolf Hitler, dozens of Nazi books, literature and many SS items, flags and belt buckles.

Headline on February 15, 1977
Headline on February 15,

Over the next few days, newspapers published a wide assortment of stories about the incident at Neptune. "Sniper Hated Cops, Note Says" wrote the New York Daily News. The New Rochelle Standard Star was more direct: "Gunman Idolizes Hitler and the Nazis." The New York Times focused in on the racial aspects of the incident "Police Link Slayer of Five To a Militant Racist Party." Follow-up police investigation suggested that Cowan was a member of the National Sates Rights Party, a militant racist organization that encouraged the use of uniforms among its members. The group was founded in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1958 and was based on Marietta, Georgia in 1977. The organization took on a lightning bolt image as its logo and also published a newsletter called "The Thunderbolt." Copies of the newsletter were found in Cowan's apartment during the police search. The thunderbolt was also the emblem of Hitler's youth organizations in Germany during the 1930s. But in America it's not a crime to join such radical, unorthodox groups. Police Commissioner Hegarty emphasized that point when he told reporters: "This kind of act can never be prevented in this kind of society, where people are protected by the Constitution and a variety of laws" (Feron, p. B6).

New York Daily News headlines
New York Daily News headlines

On Thursday, February 17, a funeral was held for slain Police Officer Allen Mcleod. Over 4,000 police attended, some from as far away as Georgia.

Funeral procession for slain police officer Allen McLeod (AP)
Funeral procession for slain police
officer Allen McLeod

A wave of blue paraded down city streets as the tears flowed for the cop's young wife, Donna, and her two fatherless children. Few events are as heart wrenching as a murdered cop's funeral. Maybe it's the tragedy of a life taken so young and for reasons that never seem good enough. Maybe it's the concept of death in the service of honor, the sacrifice of oneself for the common good. Or maybe it's just the utter senselessness of it all. Bagpipes played their mournful sound, the stirring verses of "Amazing Grace" sweeping over the multitude between the tears and the grief, its haunting melody lingering in the air until each person felt the bitter lump in their throat, the cold chill down their spine. The long, solemn procession led up Mamaroneck Avenue, past Stepinac High School where Cowan once attended classes and into the City of White Plains. He was laid to rest, Police Officer Allen Mcleod, 32 years old, whose only fault was being a good cop. He paid for the privilege with his life.

Six weeks after Cowan shot himself on the second floor of Neptune, he claimed his last victim. Joseph Russo, 24, who was shot in the cafeteria on the morning of February 14, died at New Rochelle hospital of his wounds.

Today, nearly 24 years later, a great deal has changed in the City of New Rochelle. The Neptune complex has long since been torn down. A massive Home Depot store has been built in its place and many who are not familiar with New Rochelle are not aware it even existed. Most people today never heard of the Neptune shootings, although in New Rochelle, it is well remembered. Seven plaques hang on the wall of the police station memorializing officers who died in the line of duty over the years. A plaque is dedicated to P.O. Allen Mcleod, one of the 93 police officers who were murdered in America during 1977.

A wave of lawsuits and litigation arose from the Neptune incident and continued for many years. P.O. Fitzgibbons retired as a result of his wounds at the warehouse. P.O. Satiro, who tried in vain to save Mcleod's life, was later promoted to Sergeant but suffered continually from leg pain. He died in 1997 while jogging. P.O. Schraud was severely injured when he fell down a flight of steps while chasing a burglary suspect in 1986. He was forced to retire. Cancer claimed the life of Sgt. Bill Augustoni in the mid-eighties. Detective Robert Harris retired safely in 1989. Officer Juliano is in his 28th year as a police officer in the City of New Rochelle. Neptune Worldwide Moving Company shut its doors during the early 80s and Commissioner William Hegarty later became the police commissioner of Flint, Michigan.

According to all the available information, some people in the neighborhood knew about Cowan's hatred and his adoration of Nazism. But no one thought that he would ever act on those beliefs. Not many people even believed that Cowan was a violent man. A neighbor once told reporters: "I've known him over 30 years. I saw him grow up. He was always very quiet and you couldn't find better people than his parents" (Cavanaugh, p. 1).

By the year 2001, in a nation still numb from the shock of incidents like Columbine, Oklahoma City and other mass killings, the Neptune incident seems remote by comparison. But it was rare in 1977 for America to witness such violence committed in the name of Nazism, a horror for which the world spilled an ocean of blood only a generation before. Cowan became a symbol of a frightening trend in society that was just beginning during that era. The white supremist groups like Ayran Nation, National States Rights Party and the Neo-Nazi movement were not widely publicized in 1977, though such organizations were already known to the police. After Neptune, law enforcement began to pay special attention to these militant groups and their frightening potential for violence. In the police search of Cowan's attic apartment on February 14, a thick metal belt buckle was found among his belongings. Inscribed boldly on the front of that buckle were these prophetic words: "I will give up my gun when they pry my cold dead fingers from around it!"

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