"To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours, and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the rest."
It was the 25th of August 1986. A Monday. Eighteen year old Jennifer Levin was out with some friends at Dorrian’s Red Hand bar on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, New York, United States. Jennifer had a great life and she knew how lucky she was and that's why she lived her life to the fullest. Jennifer lived in Soho with her father, he was a successful Soho property agent and she attended private schools in Manhattan. When she wasn't studying, Jennifer liked to party. And that's exactly what she decided to do on the 25th of August.
Jennifer had been partying in the Hamptons with friends the week prior to that date and had returned to Manhattan that evening. She met up with two friends for drinks and went on to Dorrian's bar around midnight.
At Dorrian's bar, the night was a typical fun night. The bar was popular with young people, all from the same sort of background and who had the same sort of lifestyle as Jennifer. It was a hot summer night that night and plenty of Jennifer's other friends, all part of the rich Manhattan crowd, were at the bar too. Nothing seemed unusual or different about that night until the next morning when it was discovered that Jennifer had not made it home.
On the 26th of August, just after 6am, a cyclist noticed something on a grassy knoll in an area of Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum Of Art.That something was the partially clothed body of a young woman. That woman was Jennifer Levin. From the scene and the position of Jennifer's body, it looked like she had been violently attacked. It was easy to identify her as her learner's driving permit and a birth certificate was found in her wallet. Her permit had her date of birth and the birth certificate had been changed to include a different date of birth, one that made her four years older.
Jennifer's bra was found twisted around her neck. Her short pink skirt was pulled up around her waist and her white sleeveless blouse was at her shoulders.
Jennifer was badly bruised and her underwear was found more than 100 feet from her body. There were numerous cuts and marks on her neck. The cuts on her neck were caused by her own fingernails and it appeared she struggled to free herself from whoever or whatever was strangling her.
Police began an investigation. They spoke to her friends who were at the bar with her that night. They told the police that Jennifer left around 4.30am and she seemed fine. She left with a man but that man wasn't a stranger, he was someone she knew and had been involved with on and off for a few months. Nineteen year old Robert Chambers. Robert was well known in the area. He too was from an affluent family and area and went to private schools and partied with the elite. Police went to his house to speak to him.
When police arrived at his house, they immediately noticed that he had scratches and bruises on his body. He told them they were from his cat. Robert agreed to go to the station with them and provide a statement.
Robert had been at Dorrian's bar the night of the 25th of August but he wasn't having as good a night as Jennifer was. He was in a bad mood that night.He was supposed to meet his girlfriend at a bar earlier in the evening but he didn't go. Robert told a friend that he was depressed because he found out that someone he knew had commit suicide. When Robert was at Dorrian's bar, his girlfriend arrived to confront him. She threw a bag containing condoms in his face and said:
"Use these with someone else, because you're not going to get a chance to use them with me."
At some point after that, he got taking to Jennifer. They were seen flirting with each other at the bar and left together around 4.30am. Even though Jennifer had had a few drinks by that stage, she had been so long at the bar that she had almost sobered up.
At around 5am an Upper East Side doctor was out jogging. He jogged past the same couple twice. The first time, it looked like they were together, there was nothing unusual and everything seemed fine but the second time, which was around 20 minutes later, he heard a sound that sounded like a cry. The jogger asked:
"Are you all right?"
He received a reply. "Yes, everything is okay."
The time of Jennifer's death was estimated at 5.30am.
When police questioned Robert further at the station, he admitted that his cat did not cause the scratches. Jennifer did. He told police that he killed her but it was an accident. According to Robert, Jennifer wanted rough sex and as they engaged in a sexual act,which according to Robert took place without his consent, she hurt him which caused him to push her off. Robert said that Jennifer had his hands behind his back and when she hurt him, Robert told police he struck Jennifer's neck with his arm to get her off him and that one move killed her. But it wasn't intentional.
The Medical Examiner who performed the Autopsy seemed to disagree. Jennifer died from pressure applied to her throat for at least 20 seconds.The Autopsy revealed there were "pintpoint hemorrhages" in the soft tissue around Jennifer's eyes which showed evidence of compression of her neck. The Medical Examiner determined such hemorrhaging could be caused by a constriction of the blood vessels in the neck. The official cause of death was "asphyxia by strangulation."
Robert was charged with second degree murder.
Despite there being almost 2000 murders in New York that year, Jennifer's murder received extensive media coverage. The case included rich young children from affluent families who should have had bright and exciting futures ahead of them but one night in Central Park led to one of them dead and the other facing life in prison.
The media and public seemed fascinated by the story and by Robert Chambers in particular. Robert was a tall and handsome young man, a Varsity jock. He had been described as "Kennedy-esque" in the media several times and they dubbed him the Preppy Killer. Robert even received hundreds of love letters from members of the public.
Even though Robert was a former altar boy, he was not going to Court with clean hands. He had been in trouble before. He'd been kicked out of several prestigious and private schools and had a history with drugs. His parents sent him to rehab to try to get him help but it did not stop his partying and drug taking.
As Robert awaited his Trial in relation to Jennifer's death, he was released on bail. During his time on bail, a home video emerged. It showed a smiling Robert surrounded by four women in lingerie. They were laughing and the footage showed Robert choking himself with his own hands while making gagging noises. He twisted a head off a Barbie doll and said:
"My name is… Oops! I think I killed it."
At Robert's Trial, there was no disagreement as to who was responsible for Jennifer's death. It was whether there was any premeditation or not that had to be determined. Robert admitted that he killed Jennifer and plead guilty to manslaughter. But he claimed that it was an accident.
It was the Prosecution's case that Jennifer's death was no accident. They called the Medical Examiner to testify to say that Robert's version of events was not consistent with Jennifer's injuries on her body. There were marks on Robert's body also which were consistent with a violent struggle having taken place and the belief that Jennifer had fought for her life. They also referred to how Jennifer's body was found, her torn clothes and the fact that Robert just left her there and went home to sleep.
It was the Defense's case that all those marks on both Jennifer's body and on Robert were the result of rough sex. Their strategy was to make Jennifer look promiscuous. Everything about Jennifer was scrutinized , from how she lived her life to what she wore. They claimed the marks on Jennifer's neck were caused by Robert's watch. In his closing argument, Robert's lawyer said:
"It was Jennifer who was pursuing Robert for sex. That's why we wound up with this terrible tragedy."
The Jury were deadlocked for nine days. Not knowing which way it would go, Robert and the Prosecution struck a deal. He could plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter in the first degree. He agreed and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Robert served the full 15 years. He got no time off for good behavior as he caused trouble in prison with a few disputes here and there. In 2003, he was released from prison but just one year later, he was arrested again after he was caught driving with a suspended license. Police also found trace amounts of heroin and cocaine in his car. For that crime, he was sentenced to 100 days in prison.
That wasn't the last time Robert was in trouble. He faced further charges in 2007 when he was arrested on charges of selling cocaine out of his apartment. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison for that crime and the earliest possible date for his release is January 2024.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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