Two Men Murdered & Sat on Box with Body In It; Hyman, Tal, Balabin, Brodsky

Scene from the murder trial of Shlomo Tal and Pinhas Balabin. From left to right: defendant Shlomo Tal, his attorney Steven Hyman, defendant Pinhas Balabin, and his attorney Abraham Brodsky. Tal and Balabin were convicted of murdering jeweler Pinchos Jaroslawicz. After murdering Jaroslawicz, the two defendants put his body in a box and sat on it.




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James Troiano

Following the 60s’ and 70s’ relative permissiveness with regard to recreational drug use, the 1980s saw a dramatic shift with the advent of crack cocaine, as well as hyper-violent drug-fueled homicides in the suburbs.

Ricky Kasso grew up unremarkably in Northport, Long Island, but after discovering drugs as a teenager, he ran away from home. Nicknamed “Acid King” for his love of PCP, LSD, and mescaline, Kasso dealt small-time with his sidekick, James Troiano, and dabbled in devil worship. He was arrested for grave robbing at age 16, stealing a skull and a hand for use in Satanic rituals.

Gary Lauwers, also a runaway, stole some of Kasso’s PCP at a party. Kasso confronted Lauwers, Lauwers paid, but Kasso wouldn’t let it go. On June 16, 1984, Kasso lured Lauwers to the woods to get high. Troiano came along and held Lauwers down while Kasso stabbed him at least 32 times with a pocketknife.

In the following 2 weeks, the boys led anywhere from 15 to 30 friends to see the skeletonizing remains, until someone overheard the talk and tipped the police. Kasso and Troiano were charged on July 6. Kasso was found hanged in his cell on July 7.

At trial, defense attorney Eric Naiburg contended that hallucinogenic drugs made it impossible to determine what happened that night in the woods. The jury deliberated 3 days and acquitted Troiano on April 26, 1985.

William Prout and Peter Grassia

Just after 9 p.m. on Monday, January 15, 1979, 18-year-old William Prout received a court summons for jumping a subway turnstile instead of paying his 50-cent fare at the Broad Channel elevated IND station. A tollbooth attendant had reported him to a Transit Authority police officer.

The next night, Prout returned to the same tollbooth, accompanied by his friend, 16-year-old Peter Grassia. Linda Krauss, 18, played lookout. Inside the booth, clerk Regina Reicherter was early to work, and Venezea Pendergast was finishing a shift. Prout and Grassia sprayed a mixture of gasoline and propane into the booth’s robbery-proof coin slot. The booth exploded in flames. Reicherter was burned on over 60 percent of her body, Pendergast on 27 percent. Neither woman had been on duty when Prout jumped the turnstile.

Prout, Grassia, and Krauss were in custody by Thursday. By Saturday, Reicherter was dead. Pendergast died on February 2. Prout and Grassia entered guilty pleas on November 5. A week before, Krauss had pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter and agreed to testify against them. She was sentenced to 1½ to 4 years. Prout and Grassia got 15 to life. 

In 2009, Newsday interviewed Linda Krauss 30 years after the murders. She lives in Queens with her children. Grassia did 10 years and resides quietly in Brooklyn, while Prout has been denied parole 8 times for disciplinary problems. Krauss, the aider and abettor of two innocents’ firebombing, said of her crime: “Unfortunately, it was something that took place.”

William Phillips

The Knapp Commission was a Federal sting uncovering police corruption. Its star witness was William Phillips, an officer who, on May 12, 1971, was captured on audiotape accepting a bribe. Phillips turned informant, and his testimony before grand juries led to the indictments of 17 policemen.

By summer 1972, Phillips was in pre-trial hearings for the murder of a prostitute and her pimp at an East Side brothel on Christmas Eve 1968.

Phillips insisted he was being framed. He secured F. Lee Bailey as his attorney, but John Keenan, chief of the homicide bureau at the Manhattan DA’s office, served as prosecutor. The trial was frequently packed with lawyers, eager at “a chance to see a case tried right.”

Bailey picked at qualifications in eyewitness’s identification of Phillips, but when Phillips took the stand, Keenan masterfully fed the defendant just enough rope to hang himself in a lie. On August 10, 1972, the jury returned without a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial.

Bailey dropped out of Phillips’s retrial, begun in August 1974. This time, Phillips was convicted and sentenced to 25 to life in 1975, but the conviction was overturned in 1980, because Keenan learned one of the jurors had applied for a job with his office a week before the verdict was read. On January 25, 1982, the Supreme Court ruled 6-to-3 that the overturned conviction was an error on the part of the lower Federal courts.

Phillips served 32 years and was released in September 2007.

Lyricist Gail Pappalardi on Trial for Murder of Husband Felix

People v. Pappalardi, 470 N.E.2d 876 (N.Y. 1984)

Felix Pappalardi was a record producer who worked with Eric Clapton and Joan Baez. He and his wife, Gail Collins Pappalardi, kept a series of live-in girlfriends, one of whom would describe the arrangement—while on the witness stand—as “a magnificent relationship.” Gail was less amenable to Felix’s exploits away from home, where he kept yet another mistress.

On April 17, 1983, Gail shot Felix once in the neck with a .38-caliber Derringer. Police recovered the weapon and pronounced Felix dead. Pappalardi was charged with second-degree murder.

Pappalardi took the stand twice in her own defense: the first time, she tearfully described her and her husband’s kinky sex life by reading passages from her diary; the second, she contended Felix was teaching her how to use the gun and it went off by accident.

The jury acquitted her of second-degree murder and manslaughter but found her guilty of criminally negligent homicide. She was released on parole in April 1985. 


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