Palm Sunday Massacre

On Palm Sunday, 1984, police responded to a report of shots fired at 1080 Liberty Avenue. They found 2 women and 8 children dead of point-blank gunshot wounds to the head. Two elements made the scene especially macabre: one, the victims were seated or reclined in a gruesome still-life, a few lounged in front of a television, another in the bedroom had been napping, and one woman held a tin of pudding and a spoon; two, a 13-month-old baby girl crawled among the corpses’ feet, crying. She was the only survivor.

After 9 days, the police investigation turned to Christopher Thomas. A cocaine addict with 3 priors for assault, Thomas often bought drugs from the home’s owner, Enrique Bermudez. Thomas had also accused Bermudez of sleeping with his wife.

Thomas’s defense attorney, Martin Schmukler, argued that what came to be known as The Palm Sunday Massacre was a case of manslaughter and not of murder, as Thomas’s history of depression and addiction to cocaine constituted sufficient emotional duress to account for his actions.

The jury agreed. Christopher Thomas was convicted of 10 counts of first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 to 50 years. He has been eligible for parole since 2009, but as of this writing, he remains incarcerated.

The surviving toddler, Christina Rivera – having lost her mother, 2 half-brothers, and several cousins – was taken from the murder scene by Joanne Jeffe, one of the first responding police officers. Jeffe eventually adopted her.

Nathan Giles Jr

Nathan Giles Jr. was first convicted of murder when he was 16. He and a friend stabbed an old woman to death with a screwdriver while burglarizing her apartment. Giles did 14 years of his 20-year-to-life sentence.

Then he got parole.

On November 24, 1978, Bonnie Anne Bush was on her way to work at Mount Sinai Hospital. Nathan Giles jumped into her car and tried to rob her, but Bush ran. Giles chased her, caught her, dragged her into an abandoned building, forced her to disrobe, shot her twice in the head and set her body on fire.

Bush’s death caused uproar in the city. The parole system was maligned as ineffective and downright dangerous, while Nathan Giles – captured after a car chase and shoot-out with police – received 62½ years to life.

But part of the reason for New York City’s outcry might have been tied up with guilt, for as Bonnie Bush ran for her life along West 102nd Street, a woman watched the unfolding drama from her window and continued cleaning her apartment. A bread truck deliveryman swerved around Bush and kept driving. A man in a parked car watched Bush arrive at his window, listened to her beg for help. This was when Nathan Giles finally caught up and dragged her off to die. “This witness,” quoted the Times, “said that ‘after a minute or two’ he started his car and drove away, passing but not stopping a police patrol car at the intersection of the street where Miss Bush’s captor had taken her.”


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