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©1999 - 2005
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

THE BARGE CAPER

Monday, October 13, l975, Tour 0920hrs X 1810hrs
Assignment: Sergeant, Anti-Crime Supervisor, 123rd PrecinctAnti-Crime Unit: Detective Richard Salfelder, Police Officer Edward Sampel

The girl was painfully thin with long unkempt straight blonde hair.  Her face was pale with no makeup.  She wore faded and tattered bluejeans and an equally worn plaid shirt, which drooped, on her frail frame.  The sleeves were unbuttoned and were too long for her stick-like arms.  Her lips were chapped and she rolled her coated tongue from side to side as she was introduced to me in the muster room of the Precinct stationhouse.

Dewey Morrow, 123rd Precinct,  had conducted a preliminary interview of the girl.  She had walked into the stationhouse alone and had the good fortune to do so when Morrow was on duty.  Officer Morrow was a veteran detective. He was assigned that day to the duties as Stationhouse Officer. Dewey had been previously assigned to Manhattan detective squads.

123prcdoor1The "One-two-three" was located at 116 Main Street in the town known as Tottenville. It was located at the very southernmost tip of Staten Island. The 123rd Precinct covered a large suburban area, which included a number of other towns with names such as Eltingville, Huguenot, Annadale, and Prince's Bay. The area still had the appearance of a rural small town in the Midwest. Turn of the century Victorian houses dotted the area along with more modern ranch and cape cod dwellings. Main Street was a mixture of houses and small retail stores, the post office, and a bank or two. It was primarily populated by white middle-class residents and was considered by the NYPD to be the backwaters of the Department. It was a low crime area and many police officers resided within its borders.

Dewey Morrow was a man in his forties, of moderate build and stature. He had the look of maturity and exuded an air of authority which resulted from his background in detective work.  Morrow was in charge of the proceedings inside the stationhouse in the absence of a ranking officer. His post was behind the imposing main desk, which, as in many of the older NYPD buildings, was a large solid oak desk. The desk was elevated on a platform, which fronted a large receiving room known as the "muster room". It was so called because each platoon of officers would muster for inspection there. The clattering of typewriters in the adjoining clerical office known as the 124 room and the radio transmissions of the patrol cars coming over the desk radio set added to the din of the muster room.

The girl entered through the doors of the stationhouse and glanced around nervously at all the trappings of police authority in the muster room. The large American flag that was displayed on the wall behind Officer Morrow added to his command presence behind the imposing main desk. He glanced up from the Command Log as he was making a routine entry and greeted her with the usual perfunctory questions as he observed her condition.  She was clearly highly agitated as she paced nervously to and fro.  He could see how emaciated she was, and the extreme dryness of her lips and mouth indicated the use of a controlled substance. Dewey's trained eyes noticed the dark track marks on her scrawny arms as she pulled her sleeves up to show him her arms. He always could spot drug users and track marks were a dead giveaway. She was either hooked on speed or horse he thought to himself.

 Morrow was a good listener. All good detectives were excellent listeners. His experience as a detective had taught him how to conduct an interview of a complainant. He instinctively refrained from asking too many probing questions. He walked from behind the desk and led her into the privacy of the adjoining sitting room of the stationhouse. He sat her down and began to establish a rapport with her. Was she hungry? Could she use a drink of soda or coffee? His age served him well. He was a father as well as a police officer and his human instinct as a parent blended with his vast detective experience.

As she warmed to his paternal manner, she blurted out her tale of humiliation. She had met this guy, an older man who also came from her home State. He was into "Speed". He had kept her supplied with as much of the stimulant drug as she could use. In return, she had given him all the sexual attention he could use. She was sixteen years of age, but she had seen as much as most see in a lifetime of degradation. She was totally addicted to the drug and was enslaved by it and the man who so willingly kept her under its control.

 I was assigned as the Anti-Crime Supervisor with Police Officer Edward Sampel and Detective Richard Salfelder, we were working as the 123rd Precinct Anti-Crime Unit. They had disbanded the Precinct Detective Squad in the early l970s when Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy had revamped the entire Detective Bureau. The Precinct anti-crime cops worked in civilian clothes on a daily basis, so the local citizens frequently provided them with information. Nobody wanted to be seen talking intimately with a uniformed cop. Richie and his partner Police Officer Eddie Sampel were a good team. I felt very comfortable working with them. We had just come off routine patrol when Morrow brought the girl to our attention.

 She sat at the large table in the center of the room and seemed very young and vulnerable. The story she told us was hard to believe. She drank lots of water as she continued her narration. She had been on a floating barge, which was anchored at a makeshift pier.  She was quite angry with her male friend who had thrown her off the barge so that he could be alone with another young lady. It was evident that she was still under the effects of a narcotic. The old adage was true: " hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." She was out for vengeance against this guy.

The girl then began to emotionally relate all that had been done to her by the male friend.  He had given her large amounts of methamphetamine over a period of time until she was using it intravenously. He had induced her to perform various sexual acts in return for the drug. He was, she insisted, a major dealer in stolen property which was delivered to him on the barge. The entire barge was filled to capacity with such stolen property. He was armed with many types of handguns, she alleged, and was also a dealer in large quantities of methamphetamine.

"Meth" or "speed" was the street names for amphetamines, which were powerful stimulants. It was manufactured in drug labs using so-called "precursors of controlled substances" or chemical compounds, which when properly processed, resulted in an extremely dangerous drug. The girl had been addicted to "speed" and was shooting it directly into her veins by means of hypodermic syringes. The "tracks" or discolored veins in her arms indicated extensive use of the drug.                                                                  
That particular substance was the drug of preference on the Pacific Coast and in rural areas of the country. However, it was showing up here on Staten Island with more frequency.

We contacted her parents who were overjoyed to hear from us. Apparently, the girl had been a runaway for some time.  A short time later, they came to the stationhouse and were appalled at the physical appearance of their young daughter. They were shocked as she revealed the life she had been leading since she had left home. The parents were more than willing to press a complaint against the suspect on the barge for the crimes that he had committed against their daughter.

bargeThe barge was located within an old shipyard on the shores of the Arthur Kill Waterway. The only means of access was by way of a driveway and gated entrance.  We would have to be guided to where the barge was moored to an old unused pier.  The girl agreed to lead us after which time we would return her to the stationhouse.

We placed her in an unmarked anti-crime car and she led us to the entrance behind a house on a little used road. The location was almost in the shadow of the Outerbridge Crossing, a bridge which connected Staten Island with New Jersey.  The Arthur Kill was only about a half-mile across at that point and Perth Amboy could be plainly seen from the shores of Staten Island.

  An elderly snaggle-toothed and grizzled watchman challenged us from behind the chainlink fence. He eyed us suspiciously as we identified ourselves as police officers. A ragged looking mixed-breed watchdog barked incessantly at his side. Finally, he acquiesced to our demands and opened the gates.

We entered what turned out to be quite a large shipyard filled with the dilapidated remains of naval vessels.On all sides were the wrecks of various types of shipping. The frames and rotting hulks of tugboats, and many barges littered the site. We slid out of the police car and turned down the volume on our portable radios as we followed the girl through a maze of twisted metal and decaying wooden planks.

Finally, she pointed to one particular barge, which was moored with other watercraft. It appeared to be in better condition than all the other vessels in the yard. We thanked her and had her escorted back to the stationhouse. We assumed that the suspect was present with the other woman. There was a large sliding door at one end of the barge, which the girl had told us was the entrance. We positioned ourselves on either side of the door with our revolvers drawn.

 I glanced over at Detective Salfelder.He was an old timer with plenty of street smarts. He had made a load of arrests in his time on the job. For a guy who worked the slow 123rd Precinct, he was quite active. As a result, lots of "snitches" gave him timely information. Salfelder was a very thin man who appeared to be in his early forties. He had the habit of chewing on either sunflower seeds or other small edibles. His six shot .38 caliber revolver was almost silver as the sun glinted off the barrel. Years of use had worn the factory blueing off the weapon. Richie was very intent now as he eyes focused on the door of the barge. The girl had stressed that the suspect was armed and a drug user. My mouth dried up and my heart raced as my body prepared me to meet the anticipated threat of violence. The adrenaline pumping into my bloodstream sharpened my senses as my eyes darted everywhere to take in all they could as we readied ourselves for the unexpected.

 We knocked loudly on the wooden entrance door. The voice of a man responded. We couldn't force the door, as it was too solid and heavy. There was an uneasy quiet as we nervously waited. It seemed a long time when the door slowly began to slide sideways.  The mustachioed face of a middle-aged man with frilly hair poked out of the doorway. He was tall but extremely thin and we had apparently surprised him by our visit as he wore only a pair of trousers. In confusion, he stuttered and his eyes darted from side to side. I looked past him and saw weapons and hypodermic syringes lying next to a round bed. With a .38 Caliber S&W revolver in his face, he backed into the barge. Detective Salfelder pushed past the suspect and we cuffed the suspect up while taking a quick visual look about the huge interior of the barge.

 As this was happening, Officer Sampel observed the female climbing out of the rear door of the barge and attempting to escape on foot. She was barefooted and clambering over the splintered wooden decks. Sampel brought her back to our location. Eddie was a tall slender Officer in his thirties. He had premature gray hair and always seemed to have a smile on his face. With a twinkle in his eye, he presented us with the runaway female who regarded us with contempt. 

 She was a woman in her early twenties. Her dark hair was shoulder length and she stood about five-two. She had a trim figure and an attractive face. She was not too happy with her present situation. Now that we had both of the suspects under control, we could examine the interior of the barge more carefully.

There was a large window immediately to the left of the sliding door through which we initially entered. Streams of sunlight shone through the layers of filth on the windowpanes and illuminated a large circular waterbed with various photographic equipment nearby. The waterbed was still tossing from side to side as the liquid mattress settled down. We had apparently interrupted a sex session. It also appeared that the action was being video taped. A camera was pointed directly at the waterbed. There were two handguns lying adjacent to the undulating waterbed on small tables and syringes with dark liquid still inside the tubes. Drug related arrests frequently would involve such evidence. The dark liquid inside the syringes often would be the drug mixed with the blood of the user. The needle would be injected into the vein and to receive repeated jolts of pleasure, the addict would slowly inject a small portion of the drug and then pull the syringe plunger outward pulling blood into the syringe. Junkies referred to this as "making gravy". The process was then repeated at will until the user was satisfied with the continued thrills as they repeatedly injected their systems with the drug. Heroin users also used this technique. Drug addicts that I interviewed would tell me that it was like continuously experiencing multiple sexual orgasms.  At least at first. Later, when they had become hopelessly addicted to the drugs, they needed the drug just to avoid the horrible effects of withdrawal. That was the end of orgasms. Now there was just unbelievable pain.

  Glancing about the cavernous interior of the barge we could see quantities of cameras, and photographic equipment stacked high and suitcases of various types and colors piled up to the ceiling of the vessel.

Supreme Court decisions on search and seizure required that we safeguard the barge during the application for a search warrant, so we had a uniformed officer stationed at the entrance of the barge. Due to the late hour, we would have to apply for the search warrant in the morning.

We took the suspect named and the dark haired young lady into the 123rd Precinct and charged both of them with possession of weapons and dangerous drugs. The male was also charged with Rape and Endangering the Welfare of a Child.  Morrow winked at me as he booked the suspects in the Command Log.

 We now had an opportunity to further debrief the girl victim. She spoke with us candidly and gave us more information about the suspect. She left with her parents and promised to appear at any court appearances. We felt that the arrests could lead to the solving of quite a few of the burglaries, which had been committed on Staten Island and elsewhere.

The next morning, we drove to the 120th Precinct located at 78 Richmond Terrace in the St. George area of Staten Island. The Saint George Precinct was an imposing stone structure with a panoramic view of the Manhattan Skyline and the Upper New York Harbor. The Staten Island Ferry slips are located a short distance from the Precinct.

 The area was and still is the civic center for the Borough of Staten Island. All of the various courts are located in the immediate area of the Precinct.  We met with Judge Vito Titone, a Supreme Court Justice who listened to our application for the search warrant. I personally knew Judge Titone as I was pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice at St. John's University. He taught me a course in Drugs and the Law recently, so he recognized me as one of his students. He was a no nonsense Judge with a certain kind of street smarts which I found refreshing in a member of the bar.

He listened to us intently and questioned us in depth regarding the various elements of the application. It must be emphasized that search warrants are not given out based on mere suspicions or generalities. All the requirements of the US Constitution prohibiting unlawful search and seizures are jealously guarded by members of the Judiciary. The police must show probable cause to justify the issuance of a search warrant. We were granted the Search Warrant and hurried back to the barge to execute the order. We felt that there must be large quantities of methamphetamine on the barge.

We were disappointed. After thoroughly searching the interior of the barge, we came up empty as far as large quantities of the drug. There was however, a well-like opening in the middle of the barge itself into which we could see the seawater lapping at the bottom of the shaft. A drop of about fifteen feet into the water was probably where the suspect had dumped the drugs as we waited for him to open the barge door prior to his arrest.  We were, however, overwhelmed by what we found inside the barge. Now that we could take our time in examining the contents of the voluminous quantities of equipment and luggage, we found more weapons, and quantities of drugs and drug paraphernalia. In addition, we found many videotapes which would require viewing to ascertain their character. Still photos were seized which depicted the suspect injecting the speed into the veins of his penis.

There was something else. While we were searching the barge, we found what appeared to be a small living area with the clothing of a woman. They were old and out of style as well as foul smelling. Most of the clothes were black in color. A sense of evil permeated the area of that section of the barge. My skin crawled as I examined them.  We never could connect those items of clothing with a living person.

All photographic equipment was seized and inventoried along with the weapons and drugs. Those items were being used to make pornographic material. The luggage could not be identified. All name tags and other means of identity had been either removed or scrapped off the bags and cases. There were grips, which appeared to have belonged to medical doctors also among the piles of luggage.

Later, when we again questioned the girl regarding the photos she stated that the suspect had indeed injected the drug directly into his penis. He told her that it kept him hard for extended periods of time enhancing his sexual prowess. She said this enabled them to have marathon sex sessions by using the drug to increase their sexual appetites.I wondered what effects these experiences would ultimately have on this young girl in later life.

The arrest was covered in the local newspaper, the Staten Island Advance. However, the nature of the arrests must have interested other members of the press. A TV reporter came to the Precinct. She was a very beautiful woman. Her name was Joan Lunden. She was new to the New York Press Corps and her classy good looks evoked quite a reaction among the cops in the precinct as they gawked at her from various points in the sitting room and muster room. She looked more like a fashion model than a news media reporter.  Her career subsequently took off and years later I watched her career with great interest, as she became the anchor of "Good Morning, America".

As was usual in cases of newsworthy arrests, the entire evidence seized from the barge was exhibited in the sitting room of the 123rd Precinct. Joan had been escorted to the barge itself prior to coming to the stationhouse. The story was featured on national television that night. Needless to say, quite a few of the local people were surprised by the details of the arrest. Major drug dealing in such a suburban setting didn't fit the mold as portrayed in films and television.

The criminal record of the male suspect was quite lengthy, with numerous arrests in the State of New Jersey. He had never spent any time in prison for those prior offenses. His lawyer attempted to suppress the evidence which we seized incidental to the arrest. We defeated that motion. Then he attempted to taint the evidence, which we seized under the search warrant. That too failed. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.

An interesting epilogue to this story is that later, perhaps less than a year after the sentencing, the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized large quantities of chemicals, which are called "precursors of dangerous drugs" from the house located near the barge. A report of the incident stated that vicious attack dogs were inside the premises when the FBI entered .The building was in fact a factory for the manufacture of methamphetamines.

Had our prisoner given up the location of the drug factory perhaps in return for a shortened prison sentence?I only wish I had known of the factory at the house when we made the arrests on the barge. To this day, I laugh whenever cops refer to the 123rd Precinct as a place where nothing ever happens. Its rural atmosphere renders the area ideal for the processing and cutting up of large quantities of narcotics. Today, we know that some unethical farmers in our farming states are now growing vast quantities of marijuana plants, or are allowing their lands to be used for manufacture of drugs such as Methampetamine. I was told that the large quantities of photographic equipment which was seized as evidence was put to good use by the NYPD.

In the February 1998 issue of The Police Chief, which is the official publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the problem of methamphetamine has again moved to the forefront of drug abuse.  The articles postulate that the easily manufactured methamphetamine is replacing crack cocaine as a drug of choice. For my part, I never looked at those isolated houses in the rural sections of Staten Island in the same way again.....

About a year or so after this incident, I received a card from the parents of the girl victim in which they expressed their appreciation. It was gratifying to know that she was working out her problems and that she would have another chance to start life anew.

© Copyright 1999 Edward D. Reuss

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