Robert Chambers (killer)

Robert Chambers (killer)

Robert E. Chambers, Jr. [cite web| date =October 23, 2007| title =‘Preppy Killer’ in Drug Arrest| work=New York Times| authors =Bruce Lambert and Al Baker| url =| accessdate =2007-11-20] (born September 25, 1966), nicknamed the "Preppie Killer", is an American who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin. He killed her in New York's Central Park during the early morning hours of August 26, 1986.

Life prior to the Central Park killing

Chambers was raised by his mother, Phyllis (née Stanley), a nurse who emigrated from County Leitrim in Ireland to New York City. He served as an altar boy and attended a series of prep schools on scholarship, since his mother could not afford to pay private school tuition. Chambers did not prosper in an environment in which many of his classmates were considerably better off than he, and had problems with poor grades and antisocial behavior, including stealing and drug abuse. Among the schools he attended were St. David's, Choate-Rosemary Hall, and ultimately Browning School.

Chambers was accepted by Boston University, where he completed one semester but was asked to leave because of difficulties, one involving a stolen credit card. He subsequently committed other petty thefts and burglaries in connection with his drug and alcohol abuse.

Unable to hold a job, he was issued a summons for disorderly conduct one night after leaving the Upper East Side bar Dorrian's Red Hand, located at 300 East 84th Street in Manhattan. Chambers destroyed the summons as the police were leaving the scene, yelling, "You fucking cowards, you should stick to niggers!" [cite web| title = A Killing in Central Park: The Preppy Murder Case—Robert Chambers| author =Mark Gado| work =Crime Library| publisher=TruTV |url =| accessdate =2007-11-20]

He later entered and was discharged from the Hazelden Clinic in Minnesota, an addiction treatment center. He lived with his mother in an apartment in a townhouse at 11 East 90th Street.

Levin's death

Chambers' girlfriend, Alex Kapp, publicly broke up with him at Dorrian's Red Hand bar on the night of Levin's death. Kapp was heard to express jealousy regarding the presence of Levin, Chambers' ex-girlfriend, as she ended the relationship. Chambers subsequently left the bar with Levin.

Levin's strangled, semi-clad corpse, covered in bruises, bite marks, and cuts, was found by a bicyclist beneath an elm tree on a grassy knoll near Fifth Avenue and 83rd Street, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [cite web| title=Lawyer Weighs Plea of Insanity in Park Slaying| author=Selwyn Raab| date=August 30, 1986| url=| work=New York Times| accessdate=2008-05-19] Her bra and shirt were pushed up to her neck, and her skirt was around her waist.cite web| title = A Killing in Central Park: The Preppy Murder Case—The Scene | work =Crime Library| publisher=TruTV| author =Mark Gado| url =| accessdate =2007-11-20] The city Medical Examiner's office said that Levin had died of "asphyxia by strangulation," and police officials had said that there were numerous bruises on her neck, both from the strangulation and from her own fingernails as she clawed at her killer's hands. Later, Chambers watched from nearby as police officers investigated the scene. The investigators had found Levin's underwear some convert|50|yd away.

Chambers' arrest

Police were given Chambers' name by patrons at the bar, who had seen him leaving with Levin. When authorities arrived to question him at his home, he had fresh scratches on his face and arms, which he initially said were 'cat scratches'; he was then taken in for questioning.

Chambers changed his story several times: 'his cat had been declawed'; he 'didn't part from Levin immediately upon leaving the bar'; 'she had parted from him to purchase cigarettes'. (It was later discovered that Levin didn't smoke.) In the final version of his confession, he claimed that some time after he and Levin had left the bar, she had asked him for "rough sex," tied the 6 ft 5 in Chambers's hands with her panties, hurt his genitals as she stimulated him, and that she had been killed accidentally when he freed his hands and pushed her off him.

Confronted with this explanation, the examining Assistant District Attorney Saracco said: "I've been in this business for a while, and you're the first man I've seen raped in Central Park." The rape scenario was considered to be highly unlikely, in light of the fact that Chambers was more than a foot taller than the 5'4" Levin, and at convert|220|lb|abbr=on, he was almost double her weight.

Before booking, Chambers was permitted to see his father, to whom he said, "That fucking bitch, why didn't she leave me alone?" [cite web| title =A Killing In Central Park: The Preppie Murder Case—'The First Man Raped in Central Park!' | author =Mark Gado| work =Crime Library| publisher=TruTV| url =| accessdate =2007-11-16]

The trial, in court and in the media

The media had labeled the crime "The Preppie Murder"." Some of the New York media sources had reported the more lurid aspects of the case; for example, "New York Daily News" headlines read: "How Jennifer Courted Death" and "Sex Play Got Rough". Levin's reputation was attacked, while Chambers was portrayed as a Kennedy-esque "preppie altar boy" with a "promising future".

Archbishop Ted McCarrick of Newark, New Jersey, later Archbishop of Washington, wrote a letter of support for Chambers's bail application. He had known Chambers and his mother because Phyllis Chambers had been employed as a nurse by Terence Cardinal Cooke.

Chambers had secured bail through his family and the owner of the bar, Jack Dorrian (who used his $650,000 East Side townhouse to secure the $150,000 bond). [cite web| date =November 25, 1987| author=Associated Press | title =License Is Suspended At Dorrian's Red Hand | publisher =New York Times| url =| accessdate =2007-11-20] He then remained free on bond for the two years of his trial, reporting regularly to family friend Monsignor Thomas Leonard, a former teacher.

Chambers was charged with, and tried for, two counts of second-degree murder. His defense was that Levin's death had occurred during "rough sex."

Chambers was defended by prominent lawyer Jack T. Litman, who had previously used the "blame the victim" strategy in his defense of Richard Herrin for the murder of Yale University student Bonnie Garland. Prosecutor Linda Fairstein stated: "In more than 8,000 cases of reported assaults in the last 10 years, this is the first in which a male reported being sexually assaulted by a female." [cite web| date =October 23, 2007| title =We Remember: Preppy-Killer Robert Chambers|work=Gotham City Insider| url =| accessdate =2007-11-20]

The defense sought to depict Levin as a promiscuous woman who kept a "sex diary"; however, no such diary existed. Levin, instead, kept a small notebook that contained the names and phone numbers of her friends and notations of ordinary appointments. Such tactics were met with public outrage, with protesters (some calling themselves "Justice for Jennifer") demonstrating outside the courtroom.

With the jury deadlocked for nine days, a plea bargain was struck in which Chambers pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of manslaughter in the first degree (a Class 'B' felony), and to one count of burglary (a Class 'C' felony) for his thefts in 1986.

He was sentenced to serve 5 to 15 years, with the sentence for burglary being served concurrently.

In April 1988, the tabloid television program "A Current Affair" obtained and broadcast a home video showing Chambers at a party when he was free on bail. He was shown in the video playing with four lingerie-clad girls, choking himself with his hands while making loud gagging noises, and twisting a Barbie doll's head off, saying in falsetto: "My name is…. Oops! I think I killed it."


Chambers served most of his 15-year sentence at Auburn State Prison, but was later moved to Clinton Correctional Facility, due to his infractions which cost him all his time off for good behavior. He assaulted a correctional officer, and was cited repeatedly for weapons and drug infractions, some of which resulted in additional criminal charges. Ellen Levin, mother of Jennifer Levin, also pleaded before the New York parole board to deny him parole. Nearly five years of his term were served in solitary confinement.

In 1997, Chambers sent an untitled essay he wrote to prison anthologist Jeff Evans. The piece, subsequently titled "Christmas: Present," appeared in the book, "Undoing Time: American Prisoners in Their Own Words" (Northeastern University Press, 2001). Written while Chambers was incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York, the essay is an entry from one of his journals, which he calls "a record of the meaningless hope and frightening losses of a person I don’t even know." [cite book| date =2001| title =Undoing Time: American Prisoners in Their Own Words| chapter =Christmas: Present| pages =pp. 136ff| author =Evans, Jeff| publisher =Boston: Northeastern University Press| isbn=1555534589]

He was released from prison on February 14, 2003, after having served the entirety of his prison term due to his numerous infractions.cite web| date =February 14, 2003| title =In Statement, Chambers Says He Regrets His Actions| work =New York Times| url =| accessdate =2007-11-20]

The owner of Dorrian's Red Hand came to a private settlement with Levin's parents on their claim that the bar had served alcohol to Chambers in excess. A wrongful death lawsuit to which Chambers pleaded no contest provides that he must pay all lump sums he receives, including any income from book or movie deals, plus 10 percent of his future income (up to $25 million), to the Levin family. The family has said all the money it gets from Chambers will go to victims' rights organizations.

Ellen Levin became an activist for victims' rights, helping to secure the passage of 13 pieces of legislation.

After leaving prison, Chambers settled in Dalton, Georgia, with his girlfriend, Shawn Kovell, who was in the infamous Barbie doll video before his sentencing. The two lived there for eight to nine months. He found a job at the Pentafab dye factory.

Chambers and Kovell moved to an East 57th Street Sutton Place, Manhattan apartment in New York when it was left vacant by the death of Kovell's mother in the autumn of 2003. Chambers found a job at a limousine company in Queens, and later in a New Jersey sports trophy manufacturer engraving plant.

Shortly before Thanksgiving 2004, Chambers was stopped in his Saab for driving with a suspended drivers license in Manhattan on Harlem River Drive at 139th Street. A search of the car he was driving found glassine envelopes with an unknown substance. Chambers was charged on November 29, 2004, with possession of heroin and cocaine, driving with a suspended license, and driving a car without a valid inspection sticker.

He pleaded guilty in July 2005, and on August 29 he was sentenced to a reduced sentence of 90 days in jail and fined $200 for the license violation. The judge added 10 days to what prosecutors and Chambers' lawyer had agreed on because Chambers was an hour late for the hearing. He faced up to a year in jail if he had been convicted after trial. [cite web |date =August 30, 2005| title =Drugs Send Chambers, '86 Killer, Back to Jail| work =New York Times| author =Sabrina Tavernese| url =| accessdate =2007-11-20]

2007 drug charges

On October 22, 2007 Chambers was arrested again, this time in his own apartment [cite web| date =October 21, 2007|title =Preppie Killer Arrested| publisher =WCBS NewsRadio 880| url = | accessdate =2007-11-15] and charged with three counts of the criminal sale of cocaine in the first degree, three counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the second degree and one count of resisting arrest.cite web|date =October 23, 2007| title =‘Preppy Killer’ in Drug Arrest| work =New York Times| authors =Bruce Lambert and Al Baker| url = | accessdate =2007-11-20] Kovell was also arrested on one count of the criminal sale of a controlled substance in the second degree. The "New York Daily News" reported:

"Cops said Chambers, 41, struggled with officers who tried to handcuff him on the felony charges. One detective suffered a broken thumb in the fracas."cite web| date =October 23, 2007| title =Preppie killer Robert Chambers, girlfriend in coke bust| work =New York Daily News| authors =Alison Gendar and Leo Standora |url =| accessdate =2007-11-20]

In commenting on his new arrest, former Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein, who had prosecuted Chambers for Levin's murder, said:

"Doesn't surprise me. I always believed his problem with drugs and alcohol would get him in trouble again. He's had the opportunity in prison to detox and take college courses, to straighten out his life, but that clearly is of no interest to him. He's learned nothing in the last 20 years."

Chambers and Kovell are charged with running a cocaine operation out of his apartment. The two were given notices for not paying the rent on the apartment, and the phone was also disconnected. [cite web| date =October 24, 2007|title =Robert Chambers, Shawn Kovell: From preppies to druggies| publisher =New York Daily News| authors =Alison Gendar and Tracy Connor| url =| accessdate =2007-11-20] [cite web| date =October 24, 2007| title =Chambers of Horrors| subtitle =1986 Killer Kept Hi-Rise Crackhouse in Constant Filth: Cops| work =New York Post| author =Laura Italiano, Erika Martinez and Lukas I. Alpert| url =| accessdate =2007-11-20]

He appeared in court on December 18; according to the "New York Post", his lawyer filed "new papers elaborating on his psychiatric defense". [cite web| date =December 19, 2007| title =Preppy Primps for Court Date| work =New York Post| url =| accessdate =2007-12-19]

It was revealed that Chambers was using from 10 to 12 bags of heroin a day as per his lawyer, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg. Chambers, who became an addict at the age of 14, will be pleading insanity. It was also reported that he also used cocaine, was smoking marijuana and taking prescription drugs. Prosecutors have taken a different tack, indicating that he was successfully selling as much as $2,800 in heroin at a time to undercover police. Chambers is facing life in prison on the drug charges.cite web| date=March 12, 2008 |author =Laura Italiano |title =A 'Dirty Dozen' Druggie 12-Bag-A Day Preppy| work =New York Post| url =| accessdate=2008-03-12]

On August 11, 2008, the Manhattan DA's office announced that Chambers had pleaded guilty to selling drugs. They added that on September 2, 2008, he will be sentenced to 19 years and four months' prison time. [] On that date he was, indeed, given a 19-year sentence (press reports don't say anything about the additional four months). []


In 1989, the Chambers case was the basis of a TV movie entitled "The Preppie Murder". It starred William Baldwin as Chambers and Lara Flynn Boyle as Levin.

In 1990, the television series "Law and Order" based the episode "Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die" on the case.

The 2003 "" episode "" was based on both the Chambers case and the Central Park Jogger case.

The song "Eliminator Jr." from Sonic Youth's album "Daydream Nation" was inspired by Chambers.


Further reading

* Benedict, Helen. "Virgin or Vamp". Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-195-06680-4.
* Carr, C. "Who's on Trial?" "Village Voice", 27 October 1987.
* Freedman, Samuel J. "Sexual Politics and a Slaying: Anger at Chambers' Defense." "New York Times", 4 December 1986.
* Johnson, Kirk. "$150,000 Bail Set in Park Slaying Case." "New York Times", September 30, 1986; "Levin's Last Night Recalled by Friend," January 21, 1988; "Chambers, With Jury at Impasse, Admits 1st Degree Manslaughter," March 26, 1988.
* Kunen, James S., Alen Carter, and Kristina Johnson. "Art Imitates Death in the Preppie Murder." "People Magazine", September 25, 1989.
* Margolick, David. "Accused of Putting the Victim on Trial, a Top Defense Lawyer is on Trial Himself." "New York Times", January 22, 1988.
* MSNBC Television. "Headliners and Legends: Robert Chambers". 2001.
* Riley, John. "An Aggressive Defense, or Obscene Quest." "National Law Journal", April 13, 1987.
* Shipp, E. R. "Decision to Bargain." "New York Times", March 26, 1988.
* Taubman, Bryna. "The Preppy Murder Trial". New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988. ISBN 0-312-91317-6.
* Uhlig, Mark A. "Jurors Describe 'Wild Shifts' of Opinion." "New York Times", March 26, 1988.
* Wolf, Marvin J., and Katherine Mader. "The Right Sort of Friends," in "Rotten Apples: Chronicles of New York Crime and Mystery, 1689 to the Present". New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. ISBN 0345362780.
* Wolfe, Linda. "Wasted: The Preppie Murder". New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. ISBN 0-671-64184-0

External links

* [ "Crime Library" article] (detailed coverage)
* [ Interview with Levin's mother] on CNN's "Larry King Live"

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