Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Neptune Murders


At the Neptune parking lot, Cowan slammed down the trunk of his car while he held the assault rifle close to his side. He hugged it with two huge hands as he marched over to the entrance of the Neptune office building. Once inside the hallway, he immediately confronted Joseph Hicks who was still talking to Fred Holmes. Cowan quickly raised the assault rifle to his side and fired a lengthy burst at the men who were too shocked to react. Both fell to the floor dead. Other employees who were in the hallway fled in panic. Within seconds, the first of many phone calls was received by the New Rochelle Police Department from terrified Neptune employees who managed to get to the phones.

Cowan stormed down the hallway toward a large area off to the right, the driver's room. He saw James Green inside and opened fire, hitting him in the back. He was instantly killed. The other drivers ran for their lives. Next, Cowan entered the dispatcher's office, also on the first floor. He held the SACO rifle at the hip and sprayed the room with gunfire. Joseph Russo, 24, was hit in the stomach and chest. He fell mortally wounded. He would survive this day but would die six weeks later from his wounds.

Ronald Cowell, 39, was a Neptune employee who came face to face with the rampaging killer. But he was also a good friend to Cowan. As he tried to escape from the cafeteria, Cowan caught him by the exit door and placed the assault rifle inches from his head. "I had one foot out the door, and I was staring at the muzzle of the rifle he was carrying" he later told the reporters. "I started saying "Please!" and he (Cowan) said: 'Go home and tell my mother not to come down to Neptune.' I didn't look back, I just kept on running!" (McFadden, p. 28 NY Times 2/16/77).

"Where is Norman Bing?" Cowan snarled. "I'm gonna fuckin' blow him away!" he screamed. When Cowan reached the cafeteria where employees were having morning coffee, they were already in a panic. They saw the huge man, wrapped in bandoliers and handguns, bracing himself in a combat stance and firing at random. "It's Cowan! He's gone crazy!" some of them screamed. The cafeteria doors were quickly locked. One witness, Ed Miller, crouching in terror, saw Cowan fire a burst through the front door. Cowan then reached inside to unlock the door and cut his left hand on the shattered glass. The employees locked themselves in various offices and closets to escape from the madman. Cowan fired several bursts into the cafeteria striking the walls and furniture.

Neptune employee Howard Schofiled later told The Standard Star: "People were screaming and everyone was either seeking shelter or bolting out the doors. When I saw bodies on the floor in the office, I ducked under a desk with another worker. We cowered there expecting the worst" (O'Toole, p. A2).

Cursing loudly and screaming for Norman Bing, Cowan continued down the hallway. Near the stairwell, he saw Pariyarathu Varghese running from the area and immediately shot him. Varghese died on the spot. Meanwhile, Norman Bing had already jumped behind a desk and was down on his hands and knees. Lucky for him, Cowan didn't notice. He was busy wrapping his bleeding hand with a rag. Bing, who was Cowan's supervisor, suspended him from his job two weeks before. He had refused an order to move a refrigerator and Bing decided he could not ignore the situation. Cowan was supposed to return on February 11 but didn't show up. As he lay hidden beneath an office desk, Bing could hear Cowan stalking through the hallways, indiscriminately firing the rifle into the walls and offices. "If I hadn't walked out of my office, he would have gotten me. I heard the shots and I knew he was after me, he made that clear" he later said to reporters from the Times (Thomas, p. 28 2/16). But Bing had another reason to worry: he was Jewish. To Cowan, that was enough.

Cowan marched off into the rear portion of the Neptune office building and climbed the empty stairs to the second floor. He proceeded to the north end office of Vice President Richard Kirschenbaum, which was abandoned. He removed two handguns from his holsters and laid them on the VP's desk. The windows of this office, as was the entire Neptune building, were coated with a tinted Mylar composite, which filtered out the sunlight. It worked very well. Although people inside the office could see out, people outside could not see in. Cowan felt safe behind the tinted glass. Although in pain, he straightened his back, mindful of the correct posture of a good Nazi soldier. He tended to his wounds, seething, brooding, scowling at the world with an anger that never left him. A world that never behaved in the way he wanted it to. And for that reason, he blamed the police, the Jews and the blacks.

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