Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Killing in Central Park: The Preppy Murder Case

A Killing in Central Park

Central Park in New York City (AP)
Central Park in New York City (AP)
On a crisp, sunny morning in August 1986, a dedicated cyclist pedaled her way through Central Park in New York City near the back of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The path she rode led in an easterly direction, twisting through the trees and bushes that grow in the shadow of the museum. Several times a week, Pat Reilly, 34, cycled this route before she left for work. She guided her bike carefully through the area known as Cleopatra's Needle. It was a little past 6 a.m., the day's first light was just about making its way between the canyons of 5th Avenue and E. 82nd Street. Most of the time, the trip was safe and uneventful, but in the park, one had to be aware of the surroundings. As Reilly made her final turn approaching the museum, her eye caught the image of a person lying on the ground. It appeared to be a woman. Not such an unusual sight in the park, but what piqued her interest was the absolute stillness of her body.

She steered her bike over to the spot where the woman lay under a large, leafy elm tree whose branches hung low to the ground. She dismounted and had to walk in order to get closer. Reilly came to a halt about 20 feet away. She was already nervous and knew that something was very wrong. "Her clothes were around her waist and around her neck, but I knew that I was looking at the front part of a naked woman," she later said.

Pat Reilly saw that it was the body of a partially clothed girl. Her mini-skirt was pushed up past her waist and her bra and shirt were pushed above her chest. Nothing was covering her breasts. Her neck had large, red colored bruising on both sides of her throat. There were various items of clothing strewn about the scene. The young girl had short brown hair and looked to have a recent tan. And she appeared to be dead, though without checking her pulse, the cyclist could not be sure.

Pat Reilly quickly sped off and when she came upon a phone in the park, she stopped to call the police. She found all the phones in that area were ripped off their columns by vandals and thieves. She then went to 5th Avenue outside the park to look for the cops, but there were none to be seen. Finally she found a telephone at 90th and Madison Avenue and she was able to reach the police department to report what she found.

And so began one of the most sensational murder cases in New York City's history: the brutal killing of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin that came to be known as the Preppie Murder Case. Its lurid details of freewheeling sex among the city's privileged youth and the often-infuriating conduct of the accused killer and his legal defense kept New York City mesmerized for nearly two years. The city's ravenous tabloid press catered to an insatiable public who couldn't read enough about the ongoing drama that played out daily on the six o'clock news and in the city's courts where justice is frequently mangled. At the center of the storm was a man who told a ludicrous story of a sexual assault committed by a 5'4", 130-pound girl upon a 6'4", 200-pound man. A man who portrayed himself as the poor, unfortunate victim of an aggressive female who was so determined to have sex with him that he had to kill her in order to stop her.


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