The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad by Stacy Horn. Viking/Penguin, 2005; $24.95; 320 pages.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Between 1985 and 2004, 8,894 unsolved homicides were committed in New York City. Here is the first ever inside look at the elite NYPD squad that cracks these 'unsolvable' cases.
There is no statute of limitations on murder. No matter when you did it, homicide is one crime you pay for. But first you must be caught. Today thousands of killers who managed to evade law enforcement are still walking the streets, while the dead and those close to them remain in an uneasy limbo, a restless sleep. So what happens after the detectives investigating the crime can go no further? Where does the police department begin when an unsolved case has gone cold? The Restless Sleep is a look at the elite squad of detectives charged with the overwhelming task of solving these crimes, of tackling the forgotten cases languishing in precincts and warehouses around New York, and of seeking closure for the victims and their loved ones.
In this fascinating in-depth narrative, Stacy Horn uses her unprecedented access to the NYPD Cold Case Squad to immerse herself in four unsolved murder cases -- cases going back as far as 1951 -- investigated by three indefatigable Cold Case detectives. Each detective uses his own contacts, informants, and resources and sifts through decades-old evidence, searching for new leads and looking for what others missed. The intuition, determination, and patience involved in tracking down the murderer of the parents of three young children in a drug-related hit in 1996, of the 14-year-old girl who in 1988 was stomped to death on the railroad tracks, of the cop who was killed with a meat hook and his own gun in 1979, or of the young wife strangled in her bedroom in 1951 are nothing short of heroic. These Cold Case detectives are on a constant hunt for the needle in the haystack, and Stacy Horn puts you there every step of the way.
From the grisly circumstances and desperate reconstructions of the crimes, through the endless legwork, the scientific advances that don't always yield hoped-for answers, and the harrowing politics and tangled history of the NYPD, Horn depicts the drama of each case and lays out the puzzle as seen through the eyes of the detectives.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Kirkus Reviews: The old police saying turns out to be true: if a murder isn't solved within the first 72 hours, it starts getting as cold as the body, colder and colder until it becomes a cold case.... Without bogging down the story, Horn provides explanatory detail about everything from gathering evidence and evaluating witnesses to making use of forensic work. She shows how the detectives learn to build relationships with suspects during interrogation and to be articulate on the stand. In the process, she fills us in on the hairy world of intramural police politics. The Cold Case Squad steps on many territorial toes, from station house to One Police Plaza, which sometimes seems as scary as the dark streets of a bad neighborhood. For all the hope these profiled detectives inspire, the reality is that "most cold cases are never solved." A choice piece of police-procedural writing.
Hartford Courant : Horn spares none of the splatter and gore, which is good, because the reader should know the details of these scenes of cruelty and rage, where the homicide detective begins his work.
Horn is an excellent reporter and able writer, and the reader will come away from The Restless Sleep with a better appreciation for the tiring, frustrating job of trying to stop people from getting away with murder.
Entertainment Weekly: While Sleep hardly makes for soothing bedtime reading, Horn's gripping writing and palpable sense of outrage ensure that its narrative trail never runs cold.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stacy Horn, she said, from her apartment in downtown Manhattan, was "technically born in Norfolk, Virginia, because my father was in the Navy. But both my parents are from New York and we moved back to New York when I was three months old [in the fall of 1956] and that's where I grew up. In Huntington, Long Island, which is like a suburban small town, but very pretty. Which I couldn't wait to get out of."
Ms. Horn received a B.F.A. from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and a graduate degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:
"Did you read a lot as a kid?" "No. I started reading when I read The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. I wasn't a bookworm until that book. It's about juvenile delinquents. I identified."
Ms. Horn was not interested in cops-and-robbers television shows as a youngster. "I had no interest," she said, "in true crime. Or even mysteries."
"When did you get to the city?"
"When I was done with college. I always loved the city. My grandfather was a judge, and my grandmother and he showed me the best of New York. It became this magical place to me. Every weekend that I could I would go in there. When I was 16, I was finally allowed to go in alone and so practically every weekend I would be going into the city. I couldn't wait to live there. It was Oz to me."
From Stacy Horn's biography (www.echonyc.com/~horn/restless/bio.html), a reader learns that in 1990, Ms. Horn founded Echo, a New York City-based online service "filled with writers, artists, and professionals who log in everyday to talk about work, love, how hard life can be, and what's on TV." Ms. Horn wrote about Echo and the Internet in a book called, Cyberville: Clicks, Culture, and the Creation of an Online Town."
"What happened to Echo?"
"Still around, but shades of its former self. I'm on Echo every day. But at a certain point, I didn't want to do it anymore in terms of a business. I want it around because it's fun, and I enjoy the people and like having that place to check into every day. I've been running it as people close their accounts, the ones who are using it for Internet access. I tell them, 'Use Time Warner; it's a lot better.' I keep it around for the bulletin board stuff. So it's very small. It's only a few hundred people. Nothing lasts forever. It sticks around -- it's this small, local thing where I get to hang out with interesting people."
"How did you happen to write Cold Case? "
"I've always been attracted to death as a subject, and to people and things that are forgotten. I met this guy who was a cold case detective. I didn't even know what a cold case was, so he had to explain to me what they do. I started imagining these boxes of files in basements that hadn't been opened in forever. He told me that there were warehouses around the city where they had been storing accumulated evidence for over a century. I had to get into these warehouses. I was drawn to cold cases because of that sad aspect of their being forgotten."
"From statistics, it looks like the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be a cold case."
"Also, there's definitely a race element. I looked it up. If you're black, your case is four times as likely to go cold."
"How did you choose the four cases out of the thousands that you found?"
"I didn't want it to be all success stories. I picked cases that I thought gave an overview. I picked the Jean Sanseverino case because I wanted to have several cases that were never solved. Because that's the reality. Most cold cases will never be solved.
"I also wanted to have an old case. Several that I was looking at were from the 1930s. But I thought it would be better if I could find some people still alive to talk to. With cases from the '30s, chances were that I was not going to find anyone.
"I decided to write about Jean Sanseverino because I liked her and identified with her. I felt I could tell her story better. So I was given permission to read through the 1951 detective files -- Jean Sanseverino was murdered in Brooklyn in 1951. In these files detectives were constantly doing things that I didn't understand -- ignoring suspects that I thought were compelling."
With computer search capacity not available to detectives in 1951, Ms. Horn did much research on the cold cases about which she chose to write.
Sylvia Krumholz was Jean Sanseverino's roommate at the time that Jean was murdered. Chances are that she might be alive. "I wanted to find her," said Ms. Horn. "She was my holy grail. I called every Krumholz in the phone book in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Florida. I would say 'Did you have any relatives in your family named Sylvia?' I figured that she might have married and gone by another name. Then I checked all the census records and I found three Sylvia Krumholzes and I tried to track down their families and again, any trace of her had disappeared."
As I read The Restless Sleep, I wondered how Ms. Horn felt, knowing that she lived in a city where there also lived murderers who had never been caught.
"It freaked me out, but at the same time I felt almost impervious because of where people are getting murdered. I have this printout of all unsolved homicides in New York going back to 1985. The print out is three inches high. I looked at my precinct, the Sixth. In the Sixth, the number of unsolved murders would fill maybe two inches on one page. There are perhaps nine unsolved murders -- that's it.
"But then if I go to one of the worst parts of Brooklyn, it's page after page after page after page -- roughly 9,000 names. I became obsessed with studying these names. I looked for patterns. Like how many men, how many women, how many black men, how many white men, how many children. Anything I could think of I counted. I don't fall into any of those categories. There's only one category that I'm going to fall into soon, that of elderly women who lives alone.
"Certainly I protect myself in ways I never used to. Like I used to buzz people into my building without asking, 'Who's there?' Now I ask and if I don't think they're telling me the truth, I don't buzz them in."
"How do the police feel about your book?"
"My two biggest fears were how the cops were going to respond to the book, and how the family members of those who were murdered would respond. I sent all of them copies and then I waited. The cops responded first and they were thrilled. The whole time I was writing it they were saying, 'You're never going to get it right, you're never going to get it right.' When they read the book, however, the police, without exception, said, 'You got it right.' Even when I was critical of something about the police department the police said, 'You were fair and it was true.'"
Ms. Horn's descriptions of relations among workers on cold cases interested me, as did her descriptions of these workers' dress and behavior.
That so many of the police were handsomely, even expensively garbed, came, Ms. Horn said, "as a shock at first. At One Police Plaza [NYPD headquarters], they all are extremely well-dressed and elegant. The closer you get to power, the more attractive and better dressed they are. I've never been allowed on the floor where the police commissioner is. The highest I went was the chief of detectives. Which is pretty high.
"One thing that was funny is this. If you watch TV, you get a sense that there's this rivalry between the FBI and local police. They hate each other. I spent a lot of time in squad rooms, and you can always tell the FBI when they walk into the room. The way they carry themselves, there's definitely an NYPD way, a presence, and there's definitely an FBI presence. You can instantly tell who's who.
"FBI guys, they are so fucking arrogant. They walk in and they act like they own the place. Whenever I see them on TV, where they're basically assholes, it's, 'You do what we tell you to do, and we won't give you any information, but you have to give us information.' It's exactly like that in real life. Exactly.
"The only exception to that is that when the cops that are not jerks and the FBI agents that aren't jerks get past that and don't act like jerks with each other."
"How can you ascertain that it's an NYPD person in the room?"
"Much more casual. Usually friendlier, until they find out that you're liberal and then they're not so friendly."
"How did it change you, doing this book?"
"The only thing I can think of is that 9/11 changed me and made me look at cops differently. Spending time with them solidified that change. On 9/11 I wanted to go down and help. I live in the West Village, not far.
"I walked down the highway thinking that somehow I could sneak in and help. At that time people still thought there were people buried there. They had downtown completely blocked off. I went up to the blockade. I stayed all night. They had a command center and rescue workers would come there. People kept coming up to the blockade to ask if they could help.
"Everyone was stopped at the blockade. Now in New York when the police stop you and tell you you can't go somewhere, normally the reaction is 'Fuck you.' It's always been a battle. But instead, the people would say, 'Okay, fine.' Then, before they turned around and went back up the highway, they would stick out their hands and shake whatever cop's hand was there and say, 'Thank you.'
"I'd be left watching the reaction to the handshake and the 'thank you' and what I saw was that the cops were fighting tears all night long. They had never been thanked, I don't think, in their lives, especially in that neighborhood. They didn't know what to do with it. They are not men used to expressing their feelings. They knew what they were feeling, but they'd say things like 'Fuck, that never happened before,' and then they'd try not to cry. So when I wrote this book I also wanted to write it as a thank you.