Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Killing in Central Park: The Preppy Murder Case

The Interview

When Detectives Al Genova and Frank Connelly of the N.Y.P.D. tracked down Robert Chambers on the morning of the murder, they had no idea what to expect. They went to his home at 11 East 90th Street, just off 5th Avenue and next door to the Carnegie mansion, where Phyllis Chambers answered the doorbell. Det. Genova explained that a girl was missing and they needed to talk with Robert. When he emerged from the bedroom, the police were momentarily shocked at his appearance. He had scratches on his face and arms. And they were very fresh.

Det. Genova said that a girl was missing and that he would like to talk with Robert at police headquarters. Robert agreed. Within minutes, he and the two detectives drove over to the Central Park precinct. Phyllis, perhaps accustomed to dealing with the police, decided to wait it out at home after she was assured that Robert was needed to help the cops find the missing girl. It was just about 3 p.m.

The Central Park precinct, known as the "two-two" in the police world, was built in the 19th century to shelter horses for the park maintenance crew. During the 1920s, the building was converted to a police precinct and little by little, furniture, desks, communications equipment and the bare essentials for a police station were brought in. But the building itself retained its original design and charisma, which was unique in New York. It was constructed of dark, dingy brownstones and from the outside, it looks like a small castle from some distant era.

Chambers under Arrest
Chambers under Arrest
"Did you notice the scratches on Robert's face?" Genova asked Det. McEntee at the precinct. Everyone who saw Chambers that morning noticed the blatant injuries to his face and hands. It was a detail that spoke silent volumes of what may have happened the night before.

"How did you get those scratches on your face?" asked Det. McEntee.
"Oh, my cat scratched me," Chambers said.
"What happened to your hand?"
"I was sanding floors for a woman who lives upstairs from me, and the sanding machine jumped around and cut my fingers," replied Chambers without missing a beat.

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, Chambers maintained his composure, exhibited confidence and seemed to be cooperating fully, even if some of his answers strained credibility. At about 5 p.m. that day, in another room at the station house, a throng of reporters had gathered for a press conference about the murder. They had no idea that a suspect was being questioned a few feet away. But the story was already gaining momentum in the media.

By early evening, Manhattan North Detective Mike Sheehan and A.D.A. Steve Saracco joined in the interview. Chambers offered several explanations concerning his movements the night before. At first he said that Jennifer left Dorrian's without his knowledge and he never saw her again. Then he said that she walked across the street to buy cigarettes. But Jennifer did not smoke. After the detectives expressed doubt, Chambers said he walked outside the bar with her and she left for the night. Chambers changed his story several times to conform to the questions he was asked. Sheehan developed something of a rapport with Chambers and began to express sympathy for the young man. The seasoned detective knew that sometimes the best way to elicit a confession from a suspect is to express empathy. Chambers seemed responsive to Sheehan although he insisted that he last saw Jennifer when she left Dorrian's alone. Sheehan told Chambers that he had witnesses that placed him and Jennifer together leaving Dorrian's.

"Yeah, well I did leave the bar with her, I guess," said Chambers. For the first time, Chambers seemed taken aback. His eyes filled with tears. He shifted uneasily in his seat and seemed unsure of his words. It was the beginning of a long and detailed confession that would leave detectives speechless and shaking their heads in disbelief.

 

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