Some Mighty Cold Cases

The city’s Medical Examiner is either a stickler for justice, simply trying to keep himself busy, or just kinda nuts.

By Jim Knipfel

On August 30th, 2014, Brooklyn resident Anthony Defonte, 69, was found unconscious by his girlfriend in their Midwood apartment. She immediately called paramedics, but he was declared dead at the scene. The initial cause of death was cited as pneumonia and related complications.

Then this past Monday, some 16 months after Defonte died, the city’s Medical Examiner declared his death a homicide. No, no one was pointing any fingers at the girlfriend. It’s not nearly as simple as all that.  Defonte, see, was a paraplegic who’d been left paralyzed as the result of a shooting. Tricky thing is, according to Defonte, he was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire during a shooting at a New York nightclub in 1979. Although the NYPD seems to have no record of the incident, the only evidence being a 1988 interview in which Defonte mentioned the shooting in passing while talking about the recent theft of his car, well, it’s the NYPD’s problem now. They have yet to indicate how they plan to proceed with the investigation.

The day after he declared Defonte’s death a homicide, the M.E. declared 79-year-old East Harlem resident Roy Evans’ March 15th death a homicide as well. Although the initial report cited diabetes and hypertension as the primary mitigating factors in Evans’ death, the real heart of the matter, the M.E. concluded, could be traced back to a stab wound Evans received during a scuffle at a 179th St. bar back in 1968. The stabbing apparently resulted in damage to his torso and spine, and the lingering effects of the stab wound is what eventually killed him almost five decades later. Again, the only record of the incident seems to take the form of vague family memories, and even they admit the bar is long gone, but that’s good enough for the M.E., who has passed the case on to the NYPD.

In the summer of 1992, Charlene Thomas was shot inside an apartment building in the Bronx. She survived, but her assailant, Eric Shaw, was charged with assault, attempted murder, and unlawful imprisonment. Although no direct cause of death was reported for Thomas when she died on November 11th at age 65, the M.E. figured that, too, must be a homicide and declared it as much on December 31st. It’s unclear if Shaw was ever convicted that first time around, but the Department of Corrections sure has no record of his whereabouts now.

On a roll by that point, on Wednesday the M.E. likewise declared the April 6th death of Gladys McCormick a homicide. McCormick, 98, died in her sleep at the Good Samaritan Nursing Home in Brownsville. But in 1928, a 13-year-old neighbor kid slammed a then-10-year-old McCormick’s fingers in a door, breaking her pinkie. That’s what McCormick, who had suffered from dementia for over a decade, told a nurse’s aide anyway. After hearing the story and upon further investigation, the M.E. was able to determine that a microscopic bloodclot, caused by the trauma and undetected at the time, slowly worked its way through her system over the next 87 yards until causing the aneurysm that killed her. Police are currently trying to track down the neighbor kid, who is estimated to be 102 years old at this time.

And finally on Thursday, the Medical Examiner declare the death of 32-year-old Kew Gardens resident David Goodrich a homicide, too. Goodrich, a middle school teacher who had recently been accused of sending inappropriate tweets to several students, jumped in front of a south-bound 2 train at the Christopher Street station in the West Village on December 3rd. The M.E. has placed the blame for the death squarely on Goodrich’s mother for giving birth to him in the first place. If that never happened, the M.E. said, Goodrich never would have died. Ms. Goodrich, a 57-year-old resident of Tacoma, Washington, has since been taken into custody and is awaiting extradition to New York to face charges.

Published January 13th, 2016

Jim Knipfel is the author of Slackjaw, The Blow-Off, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and several other books.