August 28, 1963, Upper East Side
n the west courtyard there was a line of windows, which were in the kitchens of individual apartments, and there was a vent, which protruded from a brick wall and led into each of the kitchens. On the second and third floor, the protruding vent was positioned between the window of the kitchen and the window of the service stairwell.
Agitated, the baby-faced drug addict noticed an open window on the third floor and lit a cigarette. Then he paced nervously in the courtyard, taking a long, pensive drag. He studied the prospectâat first casually, then with determination. Sunlight dappled over that portion of the building, so he couldn't get a clear view inside the slender opening. He squinted and lifted his hand to shade his eyes, but he still wasn't sure if anyone was homeânot that the presence of the occupant, particularly if she was attractive, would be a deterrent to his penchant for home burglary. The thief just liked to know what he was getting himself into. Already a career criminal, just shy of twenty, he had become the go-to suspect whenever a burglary went down on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. City cops estimated that he was responsible for approximately one hundred unlawful break-ins, in a losing attempt to gain money necessary to support his drug habit. In fact, just two months earlier, he was paroled from Elmira Reformatory for “good behavior.”
It was muggy out. While temperatures hadn't yet peaked, it felt as if the concrete sidewalks were sizzling. And even though it was a hot summer day, goose bumps formed along his spine as he pressed a paper bag underneath his arm. It contained a pair of pink rubber gloves from the five-and-ten store on East Eighty-sixth Street. He took a few heavy breaths to work up his nerve.
Get it together,
he said to himself,
He stamped out the cigarette, wiped his brow, then walked toward the basement entrance of the building on 57 East Eighty-eighth Street.
Katherine Olsen stepped from the shower in time to hear the doorbell. She draped a robe around her slender figure and rushed to the door, where she accepted a package from Bloomingdale's. Katherine, “Kate” to her friends, called out to one of her roommates, Emily, asking if she wanted to try out the new towels. The bathroom door sprang open. A skinny girl, with thick, dark glasses, wearing a green printed shirt and dark skirt, stood barefoot. Her legs were crossed in a kind of flighty, ballerina stance, and the handle of a blue toothbrush jutted out from her mouth. She muttered “no thanks” and darted back to a white porcelain sink, where she spit her toothpaste out and studied her complexion in the mirror.
“You're missing out, Emily Hoffert!” Katherine called from the kitchen. “You could've been the first to test them.”
Emily blotted her forehead with a tissue and sighed.
Pasty, pale skin, and it's the end of the summer,
she thought, rubbing some rouge into her cheeks. She could hear the sound of Kate's new beige heels marching about in the kitchen. She eventually joined her for coffee. Beads of perspiration were already forming on both girls' foreheads. Emily sat down and pressed her index finger to the bridge of her glasses, attempting to prevent them from sliding down her nose. She poured some milk in her coffee and used both hands to lift her cup to her unpainted lips. Katherine, with a beehive of chocolate brown hair, held a compact in front of her face and pressed her nose. She complained of the heat and how she wished they could afford air-conditioning. Emily complained that she had to return her friend's car, up in the Bronx, where her own green Fiat was parked. Then she said, pointing around the corner, “Heyâdoes she sleep all day or what?”
Kate rolled her eyes and grinned widely. She pressed her finger to her lips, forming a shushing motion. Emily was referring to their third roommate, twenty-one-year-old Janice Wylie. Emily dubbed her “the blond bombshell,” based on her bouffant of blond hair and stints in amateur-theater groups. As it was, Emily had only been living in their 57 East Eighty-eighth Street digs for the month. Kate, her roommate at Smith College, was the one who helped orchestrate the temporary arrangement (Emily was moving downtown with her friend Susan in a few days). In all the moving, they hadn't really had a chance to gossip.
“Do I look like her mother to you?”
“Kate,” Emily whispered, “did youâdid you know she sleeps in the nude?”
Snapping her compact closed, Katherine answered matter-of-factly, “If I had her figure, I would, too. Besides, it's horribly hot.”
Just then the phone rang, reverberating throughout the apartment. Katherine jumped up and marched over to the living room, the heels of her shoes making a loud clomping noise as she went. She heard Janice call out faintly that she got it.
While chewing on a piece of toast, Emily said, “SayâI thought she was going to be in Washington today for the march?”
Katherine walked back to the kitchen and grabbed the garbage.
“Just a secâI always forget to do this first thing.”
Kate walked over to a door in the kitchen that led out into the service stairway. On the stairwell sat an orange garbage pail. She tossed the garbage in the pail and came back inside.
“Her ride fell through at the last minute, apparently. That's probably
on the phone. I think she was trying to get some hours in today.”
Kate sat back down and took a sip of coffee. “I wish I could've gone,” she added.
“No kidding. Is it going to be on the tube?”
“Apparently. In fact, it might be on already.”
“Oh, Kate, let's catch a minute of it, shall we?”
The girls grabbed their coffee and headed into the living room, where Emily flicked on the television. Katherine glanced at her watch and chose to stand rather than sit, as it was close to nine-thirty and she had to get downtown to the Time-Life Building, where she worked as a researcher. In black-and-white images, they watched a sea of people walking along, many with signs. A voice interrupted, announcing that upward of two hundred thousand people were expected to march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Emily sat on a folding chair and inched it closer to the screen.
“Is that wild or what?” she called out excitedly.
Katherine nodded, grabbing her purse and keys off the end table beside the couch. As curious as she was about the March on Washington, she was more concerned with getting downtown to the office.
“Want to walk out together?” she asked, setting her coffee cup down.
Emily nodded and reached for her car keys. She reluctantly turned the knob on the TV until the screen went gray. She remained frozen for a moment, just long enough to see her reflection in the rounded screen. She blinked and pouted her lips. She could hear Katherine tapping her foot impatiently in the doorway. She slowly lifted her purse strap onto her shoulder; then she leapt from her chair and raced Katherine out the door.
Sometime before noon, after having returned from the Bronx with her green Fiat, Emily reentered the apartment and heard strange noises coming from her bedroom. She wandered down the hall in her brown sandals and, distractedly, turned to walk into her room. She saw Janice, naked and panting, with a man on top of her, unbuttoning his pants. Emily stood in the doorway, studying the scene for a moment, before managing to say, albeit under her breath, “Janice?”
Instantly the man turned, frantically climbing off the bed. Emily looked from the man to Janice and back to the man. He was young, possibly her age; he moved toward her intenselyâa pair of rubber gloves covering both hands.
“Janice?” she echoed again.
Janice sat up in bed, pulling a sheet up to cover her body. Emily noticed her eyes were puffy from crying.
“Just do what he says, Emâ”
Emily remained paralyzed and dumbstruck in the doorway. Her glasses stayed perched on her nose while her eyes widened in fear. The man grabbed her hair and pulled her into the room. He ripped the sheet from Janice and pushed her onto the bed. Then he grabbed Emily by the back of her neck and threw her next to Janice, tying them together with pieces of fabric he tore from the bedsheets. As Janice and Emily shook and whimpered, he went to the kitchen. The girls remained whisper silent. Tears rolled down Janice's cheeks as Emily continued to ask her, as faintly as she could, what had happened. Janice shrugged her shoulders and continued opening her mouth, as if to speak, but nothing came. From Emily's vantage point, she could see a jar of Noxzema open and tossed on the floor. She flinched and tried to reassure Janice that it was almost over. As it was, she thoughtâ she hopedâhe might be leaving. Although Emily had only managed to catch a glimpse of him, the man appeared flustered. The girls shook, back to back, on the cool white sheets. Emily could hear Janice reciting the Lord's Prayer.
Then they heard his footsteps gaining. Janice sniffled and began whimpering. Emily tightened the muscles in her legs. He returned with a strange, mischievous grin on his face. Through quickened breaths, Emily managed to say, between gasps of air, that she was trying to remember his face so that she could report him to the police.
The man paused, his smile fading. He asked her to repeat what she had said, but Emily lost her nerve. She opened her mouth, but only a faint whisper came out. The man tore Emily's glasses from her face. She felt the violence in him as his hand grazed her cheek. Tears welled up in her eyes and she tried to tell herself to be brave. He stepped back into the hallway. Emily blinked her eyes repeatedly, but the room was now a blur.
The second hand on the clock ticked quietly from the bathroom, and they could hear water drip from the spigot across the hall. Emily listened to his breathing in the hallway. Janice whispered to Emily that she didn't want to die; Emily told her she wasn't going to. The siren of an ambulance could be heard in the distance as it made its way down Fifth Avenue. The fan on the bedside table oscillated, left to right, then right to left, and back. It whirred gently, blowing Emily's bangs into her eyes.
In the hallway the man paced, up to the living room and back down again. Emily heard a loud thud, as if something was thrown against the wall. A moment passed and she heard it again. The breathing thickened, the footsteps grew louder, until their pace quickened to a horrifying gallop. Janice shivered and cried out. Emily began to sob.
Now, in a frenzy, sweating profusely, with two soda bottles, one in each hand, he moved catlike toward the girls. Then Janice let out a bloodcurdling scream. He lifted the bottle in his left hand and smashed it over her head several times. With the other bottle, he mercilessly struck Emily repeatedly about the head and face. Instinctively, Emily reached out her hands defensively. As she was losing consciousness, words came to her, simple and wholly desperate, which she uttered: “Please, please . . . don't hurt me anymore.” But it was too lateâthe killing had begun.
With knives grabbed from the kitchen, the man stabbed and stabbed, amid the desperate cries and pleadings. He stabbed so many times, in fact, that he broke the nib of one of the knives slicing into the left side of Emily's jaw. He broke another, attempting to thrust a knife into her back. At some point the girls' bodies fell to the hard floor with a lifeless thump. And after what seemed an endless, maddening amount of time, he stopped. The sight of his work and the smell of the blood made him feel nauseous. He stood up and set down two of the bloody, broken knives on a nearby radiator. Then he searched the closet for a shirt he might be able to change into. To his surprise he found a man's brown jacket and a few white T-shirts. Not wanting to stain the clothing with his bloody gloves, he stepped into the bathroom across the hall, dropping the third knife in the sink. He turned on the shower and undressed quickly, trying to avoid staining his clothes any worse. He peeled off the bloody rubber gloves and tossed them in the shower. The killer scrubbed his body swiftly, meticulously. He dried off and re-dressed in the bedroom, throwing on the white T-shirt and brown sports coat, along with his own bloodstained pants. He threw the gloves and his shirt in a brown paper bag. Then he rifled through Emily's wallet, which was resting on the bureau, and ripped off thirty dollars. Finally, just as the heat of the day was breathing in, he charged down the hall, escaping through the service stair door.
An eerie silence followed, interrupted only by the distant cacophony of cars honking and city buses rolling by. Broken glass was everywhere; blood dripped from the walls and soaked into the floors. The clock radio beside the bed remained curiously frozen at 10:37
. The window shade in the bedroom had flecks of blood on it and billowed forward in the breeze, only to snap back, beating the sill. Emily Hoffert lay on the floor, faceup. Her head was turned toward the window, with tears that had streamed down her face. She was nearly decapitated; her glasses rested on the bed, covered in blood. Beside her, in the heat of midday, rested Janice Wylie. She was naked, and her head was also turned toward the window. Her abdomen had been completely disemboweled. It was Wednesday, August 28, 1963.
At six-thirty in the evening, she immediately called out for Janice. Kate Olsen received a call earlier in the day from Janice's mother, who mentioned that
called inquiring as to Janice's whereabouts. This didn't exactly surprise her, as Janice was known to be a bit capricious, but it did surprise Kate that her roommate hadn't bothered keeping her in the loop. Kate stepped into the apartment, closing the door behind her.
“Janice? Janice, are you back there?”
Kate reached up and slipped off her shoes, rubbing a callus that had formed on the back of her right heel. She noticed the door to the hall closet was open; a raincoat, with a hanger intact, rested across its threshold.