A thrill-seeking kid and the ‘underage’ middle-aged man—David McConnell recounts a true story in which innocence and experience aren’t what they seem for Document's Spring/Summer 2013 issue.
On March 22, 2009, a Sunday, the actual drama—murder, flight, capture—was almost over. But the news was coming out faster and faster, like the spokes of a wheel going blurry, then oddly static: there was too much information to process. Everyone involved, down to the accused murderer’s family cat, Fluffy, had a presence on the Internet. MySpace, Craigslist, YouTube, twistedsiblings.com, georgeweber.net, ibeatyou.com, XTube, vampirefreaks.com.
A body was found in the parlor-floor apartment of a brownstone in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, right around the corner from the 76th Precinct house. This wasn’t the fanciest section of rapidly gentrifying Carroll Gardens; the buildings on this stretch of Henry Street weren’t all fussily restored. The area looked a lot like neighborly New York of a long time ago. Indeed, many old-timers still lived there, and newcomers had adopted their habit of weekend stoop sales. You got a few dollars and unloaded junk like LPs, that ironic Elvis plate, or a birdcage spray-painted gold. But the March Sunday when the body was found was too early in the season for the sales to start. It was cool. The street was empty. Stubborn brown leaves from the previous fall hung on the ends of twigs.
For the rest of the day it was cop cars, news vans, the medical examiner’s truck, yellow tape, idling videographers. A man in a white jumpsuit appeared at the front door and ushered out two others in ME windbreakers, who maneuvered gingerly down the stoop carrying a body in a thick black vinyl bag lashed to a spine board.
Because it was the weekend, the story began the old-fashioned way: information was gathered by reporters who called up police press officers and wrote squibs for newspapers and wire services. The local TV stations made a chopped salad of old images of the victim, of the black bag coming down the stairs, of God-I-can’t-believe-it interviews with neighbors. As those images shuffled in the background of one broadcast, a plummy voice-over droned the usual platitudes: “A man who lived for the news, who, with his tragic death, is now making the news . . .” Because, ironically, the victim had been a reporter too.
The victim, it turned out, was well-known locally. He had that hale-fellow-well-met retail fame that prompts the owners of your favorite bars and restaurants to ask if they can hang your picture on the wall. (Best Lasagna in New York!) He was an ABC Radio newsman, George Weber. He even had a jaunty trademark, George Weber, the news guy. So, fairly or not, the news was already a little newsworthier than your average murder.
Mainstream reporters got the hard information efficiently. Weber was 47 (48 if he’d lived until Monday, his birthday). He’d worked for about 12 years on various shows at the big New York affiliate WABC NewsTalkRadio 77. On Monday, the police fanned out around the Henry Street brownstone. But the end came quickly. By Tuesday, with his own father’s agonized participation, a suspect was captured (in Middletown, New York, about halfway to the Catskills).
When the suspect was driven back to the 76th Precinct from Middletown, he was apparently talking pretty freely. A Brooklyn assistant DA, Marc Fliedner, showed up at the precinct house to discuss charges. He spoke to the father. He interviewed the suspect on video. The city’s police commissioner himself, Ray Kelly, gave a press conference describing in appropriately staid terms what sounded a lot like a gay hookup gone awry or even a hustler murdering his john. Apparently, the suspect had confessed.
“ SIXTEEN! ROUGH SEX! MURDER! FAMOUS NEWSMAN! Even the dourest observer must have felt a shiver of tabloid fascination.”
Details started coming out that hinted at a salacious underside to Weber’s eulogies. It had already been reported that he was stabbed anywhere from 10 to 50 times, including defensive wounds to his hands. A witness had seen a man on a cell phone pacing in front of the Henry Street brownstone on Friday night. A neighbor had later heard a thump.
Now reports came out that the victim’s legs, or both his hands and legs, had been bound with duct tape. An informant mentioned rough sex. There was no evidence of forced entry, so the victim knew his killer or at least opened the door for him. Word got out that drugs and alcohol were involved. Erotic snapshots were found in the apartment.
TV cameras were trained on the ’60s modernist 76th Precinct building when the Middletown captive was led out. A young, thuggishly handsome man, shaved head, olive skin, handcuffed, he wore a teenager’s, or criminal’s, default expression of scorn. He looked at the cameras with black-eyed indifference. His upper lip was swollen, injured during the capture in Middletown. His black sweatshirt and khakis were oversized, though not in the fashionably baggy way. In fact, the police had given him these clothes. They kept as evidence what he’d been wearing when caught.
The kid was John Katehis (the middle syllable is stressed and rhymes with “say”), and, though he looked older, he was only 16, a minor. SIXTEEN! ROUGH SEX! MURDER! FAMOUS NEWSMAN! Even the dourest observer must have felt a shiver of tabloid fascination.
The media and gossip website Gawker, an aggregator and commenter on the news, had already noted Weber’s murder over the weekend. The site, which is famous for half-put-on/half-real Manhattan dreadfulness, has a keen moralistic streak invisible to many of its readers and, especially, to the targets of its scorn. Hamilton Nolan wrote a rueful post imagining the Daily News’ description of the suspect as a male “companion” (his ironic quotes) and expected the Post to up the ante to “Sex Slay” in the title of a Tuesday article. “Not what . . . you would want your legacy to be immediately after your untimely death,” he noted.
Tawdry or not, Nolan pursued the story with the you-decide completism of modern Internet journalism. He found Katehis’ eerie MySpace page and countless photos of the accused killer posing with items from his very scary collection of knives. Nolan posted everything on Gawker, including links to Katehis’ childish YouTube videos of himself: the boy giggles helplessly while listening to the crank phone calls he made for his site JSKCranks. In another he boasts with tough-guy profanity about a $75 bottle of “fucking” absinthe he just bought, kisses it and concludes, “Now I’m gonna go try me some of this fucking shit.”
“Here was a kid who would break your neck if you dissed him.”
Nolan even put up a link to the diciest item Katehis had online. As “greekjohn92,” Katehis had posted on XTube a 46-second video of himself with the descriptive title, “Wanking my semi-soft uncut cock.” From a steep overhead angle, against a background of dun carpet, the faceless video shows an olive hand doing exactly what the title says to a darker olive penis. “Semi-soft” may betray a touch of cautious underselling from an otherwise cocky boy, but the video is just what you’d expect from a kid showing off his junk. A Gawker commenter pointed out that since everyone now knew greekjohn92 was 16 instead of 18 (as his XTube profile claimed), maybe it was best to leave the link alone for legal reasons. Gawker removed it.
What kind of a 16-year-old was this? Would his MySpace self-portrait really be so eerie except in retrospect?
My name is John, I am sixteen years of age and live in Queens, New York. I enjoy long conversations, drinking, bike riding, hanging out, roof hopping, hanging off trains, any type of Parkour exercise, Extreme Violence (chaos, Anarchy, ect..) Video Games, Violent Movies and listening to my ipod. I am a very easy person to talk to. I like to do crazy and wild things. I’m like an adrenaline junkie, I’m always looking for a big thrill, I’m a big risk taker and like to live life on the edge. I am an Extremist, an Anarchist, and a Sadomasochist. As long as you show respect for me i will show respect for you, if you disrespect me, then i will fucking break your neck. To learn more about me just send me a message or catch me on aim, my screen name is johnkatehis92, my yahoo is firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and my msn is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can ask me any kind of questions, I am always happy to chat with a new person. Oh and be sure to check out my crank call videos at youtube.com/JSKCranks, and see if u can beat any of my challenges or beat my scores at challenges, at ibeatyou.com my screen name is crazyjohn92. [sic throughout]
The “92” that keeps showing up refers to his birth date, June 26, 1992.
It’s simple to identify the quotes that caught journalists’ attention. Here was a kid who would break your neck if you dissed him. But maybe it wasn’t as scary as that. XTube has convenient switches to indicate your own sex and the sex of the person you’re interested in. Katehis was signed up as an 18-year-old male interested in women. His hobbies were buying swords, playing video games, fighting and sex. His self-presentation, including flaunting his penis, makes him look like a precocious and arrogant 15-year-old trying to intrigue dream-babes. Since he hadn’t logged on for a year, the babes must not have been beating down his door.
“How seriously can you take a 16-year-old’s infatuation with Satanism?”
Based on his confessions, the story came out that Katehis had responded to Weber’s “Adult Gigs” post on Craigslist. That could have been a one-time thing, an easy 60 bucks. What really seemed strange was Weber’s fetish. The title of his post was “Smotherme.” He liked to be smothered, and that’s what he’d hired this risk-taking kid to do.
Soon this material was all over news sites, and Internet commenters started to weigh in. Katehis had to be at least bi. He was gay and obviously couldn’t deal with it. No! Weber was the criminal! A 47-year- old pedophile having sex with a kid. He deserved it. Katehis just went over on a lark and freaked out. But look at those pictures of him with his machetes! What about his parents? Anybody who would do that is obviously a demented fag. Good riddance to both of them. Some, who claimed to know Katehis or to be fellow students of his, said, “He was quiet,” “He’s not a tough guy,” “It’s so weird.”
To most people, Katehis seemed troubled and troubling. He went to a special school in Westchester. Online he claimed to be a satanist. As “John Psychedelic,” he put up a page on twistedsiblings.com (a Goth-oriented social site linked to but not affiliated with MySpace) that included a self-description more or less identical to the MySpace one. But instead of breaking necks, he warns, “I don’t take shit from anybody, so if your [sic] looking for problems, fuck off !” And between “anarchist” and “sadomasochist” he adds that he’s a “LaVeyan Satanist.”
John Psychedelic’s twistedsiblings page is a red and black symphony of pentagrams, a horned devil and a large background photo of Anton LaVey. There’s an image of a lapel button with the slogan I HATE christians.
But how seriously can you take a 16-year-old’s infatuation with Satanism? Even with the tattoo. Heavy metal music and antisocial anger are part of the classic teenage bag of tricks. Furthermore, Katehis specifies LaVeyan Satanism.
Though books on Satanism were found at his family home (Katehis’ father later tells me they were his own), it’s unlikely Katehis could have read deeply about an occult practice that has hardly any depth to begin with. LaVeyan Satanism isn’t what it sounds like. A 1960s Hollywood invention of Anton LaVey, it began as more of a Playboy Mansion party than a coven.
“[George] Weber’s social world revolved around his beloved dachshund, Noodles, and, for more articulate intimacy (and sex), hustlers.”
The satanic details are beside the point. If Katehis had been going to Exeter, say, instead of a school for troubled kids in Westchester, he might well have fixated on Nietzsche. Katehis’ LaVeyan Satanism is the masculine ideal of perfect self-reliance. Many boys are drawn to that fantasy. For them, the simplistic seems stronger than kryptonite. When they read, “Anything that doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” they feel like they’ve been struck by intellectual lightning. How serious could this boy be?
At the same time, George Weber now appeared before the public completely exposed. You just couldn’t get more naked. He would have hated it. He would have raged or died of shame. First off, he didn’t think of himself as gay. Besides harboring a different set of desires, he had the waning white-picket-fence hopes that often afflict very cheerful, very public personalities.
Apart from the bar friends and the media friends and the neighbors, Weber’s social world revolved around his beloved dachshund, Noodles, and, for more articulate intimacy (and sex), hustlers. They talked to him. And he talked to them. It was friendly. He explained to one that the smothering thing started when he was a kid. An older boy had wrestled him to the ground and put his hands over his mouth. Somehow Weber remembered liking it—the scare, the contact eroticism. For an irrepressible talker like him, a story was a much better explanation than anything as dryly descriptive as “autoerotic asphyxiation.”
In any case, smothering worked for him. One guy who answered his “Smotherme” ad on Craigslist explained that Weber never even took his clothes off. He would lie supine on the bed, maybe gripping the thin steel bars of the headboard. The hustler said all he had to do was straddle him, clamp down on Weber’s mouth and nose, and Weber, staring at his own reflection in a cheval glass tipped over the bed, would eventually come. Meanwhile, the hustler gazed at a black-and-white art photograph of a movie house marquee hanging on the wall over the bed. If he got bored, he confessed, he might press down a little to make George come faster. But that was it. It was hardly sex at all.
George went on, though. He got into light bondage. Sometimes he was short of cash. Perhaps, every time he had sex, he felt a self-disgust as elaborate, as ceremonial, as his sexual practices had become. But outwardly he was a sweetheart, loved by neighbors, coworkers.
His secret hustler family liked him too. In fact, the hustlers worried about his getting into trouble. All was innocent enough while George sat watching wrestling on TV until he was aroused, but then he’d lead any stranger into the bedroom where everything was set up. One of his regulars, a young man who bore a striking resemblance to John Katehis, said he talked with friends about the danger George ran of meeting the wrong guy.
“One guy who answered his “Smotherme” ad on Craigslist explained that Weber never even took his clothes off. He would lie supine on the bed, maybe gripping the thin steel bars of the headboard.”
After he was tackled in Middletown, John told police his name was Nick Smith. The playacting didn’t last long.
As Detective James Normile tells it, he explained to his prisoner that it was going to be a long drive and that John could ask for a bathroom stop if necessary. John began to relax. He said he was 16. This was apparently his first truth. Maybe he believed it would make a difference in the long run. When asked what he wanted to be called, he told Normile his real name was John. And he said he’d killed Weber by accident, because the man had pulled a knife, and . . . At this point, Normile says, he told John they could get into the story back at the 76th Precinct (Miranda and all that). So the exchange turned to small talk.
John may have been a little disconcerted to find the detectives so unvengeful. Asked if Middletown was quiet, he told the older men about the area’s demographics. A lot of Mexicans lived there. When a marked law-enforcement vehicle appeared on the highway next to them, he noted their own car was going over the speed limit and wondered jokingly if the Impala could make a getaway if this turned into “hot pursuit.” By the end of the trip he was laughing now and then. He was still handcuffed.
The DVD shot back at the 76th Precinct opens with a shot of what looks like an old movie clapper. A hand appears and writes in black marker, “0423”—the time. The hand then moves to the space for the name of the interviewee, “Jonathan Katehis,” and crosses out “Jonathan,” replacing it with “John.” The camera pans to show who’s in the room. After that, it’s one long, unflinching shot of John.
John is wearing a black bomber jacket over a T-shirt. He speaks with a trace of the tough guy’s “d’ese”-and-“d’ose” outer-borough accent. Sometimes his voice rises in a staccato “ha-ha-ha” of nervous laughter. A man-among-men baritone returns abruptly. Throughout the interview he has a blustery confiding tone, as if he believes that, through sheer energy, he can make his listeners understand what it was like to be in his shoes.
While his right hand, the injured one with an immobile, slightly curving forefinger, is surprisingly kinetic, his left hand is even busier. Whenever he isn’t making explanatory gestures or stroking the side of his nose, which he does a couple of times (a tic reputed to betray liars), John uses his left hand constantly to dust donut crumbs from himself. He does this with an unexpected, aristocratic finickiness. He doesn’t often pick up a piece of the broken donut. He takes a bite two or three times at most. But his elegant fingers twiddle endlessly over the plate as if his hand were an infinite source of crumbs or stickiness.
In response to assistant District Attorney Marc Fliedner’s questioning (on the DVD the ADA comes across as abundantly patient and relaxed yet serious), John tells the story, some details of which were soon to leak.
John says he sold a Sidekick and another smartphone on Craigslist and he was checking around the site and found a “smother thing” in the “Adult Gigs” section. He figured it would be an easy $60. He and George exchanged pictures. George’s weren’t explicit, just hands over his mouth and nose, and John thought he could do that. They had a back-and-forth about setting up a time, and John finally took the subway to Carroll Gardens on a Friday afternoon. He picked up a pack of M&Ms and a Stewart’s root beer (probably at the Rite-Aid next to the subway entrance on Smith Street). He says he followed George’s directions to 561 Henry Street, which was a straight shot past Carroll Park, down President Street.
In front of the Henry Street brownstone, John continues on the DVD, he phoned George. George came to the front door and let him in. John was still carrying his root beer, but he must have been about finished, because George offered him a Bud Light as soon as they got in the apartment. In an odd detail that must refer to Noodlepalooza 2, John says the older man joked that he had a lot of beer left over from a party. His friends had run through all the hard stuff. George was drinking something himself, but John doesn’t know what. It was in a red plastic glass later found in the bedroom—maybe rum-and-Coke. After a minute of beer talk, George said, “Let me show you what’s going on in the other room.”
“‘He’s lying on his back.’ He leans back. He raises his voice a bit: ‘Both of our hands were on the knife. We were fussing over this knife.’”
On the bed in the bedroom (here, John speaks to the ADA and detective Normile with a buddylike expression of shared distaste) were mirrors, black duct tape and rope and scissors. George explained how he like to be smothered, and John tried it, gingerly putting his hand over George’s mouth and nose without pressing down.
After that delicate introduction to his fetish, George led John back into the living room. George had a chest he used as a coffee table. According to John, the inside of the chest was strewn with loose cocaine. On the DVD John tries to be helpful: “I assume it was cocaine. You guys have got to test it.” George took some out and cut three lines for John but had none himself. “I was hyperjumpy after that. I don’t take drugs. I’m—I got super paranoid.” He says George explained that he wanted “the stuff you use to clean VCR tapes” sprayed on a sock and held to his mouth. (In the written statement he’d called this stuff “poppers.”) “VCR tapes?” the ADA wonders. John lets out a high-pitched laugh, “VCR, yeah, I thought it was extinct.”
George and John returned to the bedroom. They were both clothed. George got on the bed. John says he wrapped the duct tape around the man’s ankles three or four times. Helpfully again, he explains that if police found any tape on his hand it must have been from when George was trying to get it off his ankles later, after the struggle. But George was on his stomach at this point. John says the older man turned over and pulled a knife from his pocket, probably just to show it off or something, but “I’m jumpy as shit from what I just told you.” On the DVD he examines his dirty nails for a moment.
Fliedner asks, “Are you on the bed?” John shakes his head and spits out a fleck of something before saying no. Then, in order to demonstrate how George must have pulled the knife from his right pocket after turning over, John briefly makes as if he’s George lying on the bed. He says he (John) freaked out and grabbed for the knife.
Like someone patting a ball of dough into shape, he mimes their wrestling for the knife with his hands. Pressed, he says, “I’m leaning over the bed.” He leans. “He’s lying on his back.” He leans back. He raises his voice a bit: “Both of our hands were on the knife. We were fussing over this knife.” He was cut himself in the struggle. He holds up the injured finger.
More questions: “What were you talking about? Was there any conflict?”
In a striking flash of anger, John raises his voice: “NO! It was like I just told you. We were fussing over the knife and it slips and goes into his neck and he starts cursing and shit.”
John is at once calm again. He returns to the scene. “I’m bleeping paranoid. Here I don’t remember the sequence.”
Now, on the DVD, the wheels of John’s chair squeak suddenly. He leans forward and grabs his right thigh. He’s felt a shooting pain. Fliedner asks if he wants to stand up or stop. But John says the pain is “from the antibiotics or something.”
Meanwhile, in court, while the DVD is being played, John’s cheeks have turned distinctly red under his terra cotta complexion. No one enjoys seeing themselves “played back.” John’s father, Spiro, has scuttled from one side of the courtroom to the other to get a better view of the video. He can’t stop sniffling, sobbing almost, as he watches.
The video interview continues. “It’s all out of sequence,” John says. “This dude’s fucking stabbed and I’m bleeding the hell out of my hand . . .” He says he “ran around searching for shit.” He took a bottle of whiskey and “chugged” some, but stopped because he wasn’t sure if it might thin his blood and make the bleeding worse.
“I don’t know how I did it so fast,” he explains when asked why he went through George’s collection of children’s lunch boxes—20 of them lined up atop the kitchen cabinets. He found “like just sippy cups” inside, “Ha-ha-ha!” Up on the countertop he started to feel dizzy. He ran water from the kitchen faucet over his deeply cut finger.
He went into the bathroom and tried to rinse the finger again but the water was too hot, so he took the lid off the toilet tank to soak his hand in cold water. He found some gauze bandages and tape in “the— like—the—” he makes an oddly elegant movement with his left hand and Fliedner supplies the word “mirror.” “Yeah.”
“John doesn’t know what his ‘stats’ are, and he says his dick measures five inches, which sounds perfectly realistic but too honest for an experienced hustler.”
His clothes were bloody, so he took them off. He didn’t want to get blood on his sneakers or on his Harley jacket. Mentioning this, his hands gesture toward his lapels. “That jacket?” Fliedner asks in a how- bout-that tone of voice. Yes. John was trying to keep blood off the very jacket he’s wearing during the interview. He explains he sprayed himself with some Axe body spray he found in the bathroom and dressed in some of George’s clothes. He wore one of George’s leather jackets and carried the Harley jacket in his left hand.
“I’m tripping, I’m paranoid,” he emphasizes repeatedly. He says he went back into the bedroom where George was still mumbling. He reached into George’s pocket and took $60, “what he was going to pay me for this smothering garbage.” (It’s a different sounding dismissive from when the judge picks the phrase up later.) As John reached into George’s pocket his hand dragged the older man’s pants down, and the body, or still-softly-vocalizing man, fell onto the floor.
“He still has his boxers on,” John answers Fliedner’s question with a little frown of propriety. He says he picked up the knife and took it with him, a flip-knife with a tiny knob on the three-inch blade so it could be opened with one hand. In the written statement he’d judged it a pretty good knife but added that he had a nicer one in his own collection. (“Yeah, I like my swords and knives,” he admits defensively to Fliedner on the DVD.)
“I close the door behind me. That’s something I do everywhere.” At the foot of the brownstone’s steps, he
says, he turned right, then right again on President Street. “I dispose” of the knife by throwing it by a tree. “I was walking calmly. I was walking quickly.”
Whatever John had used to bandage his finger wasn’t holding. He’d severed a small artery, so blood pulsed out with every systole. He’d need stitches or a tourniquet to stop it. In the subway, he says, a “Hindu” couple swiped a MetroCard for him at the turnstile. He took the G train north, back toward Queens. He moved from car to car; his bleeding was attracting too much attention. Wherever he sat, his throbbing forefinger filled the shallow depression of the plastic subway seat next to him with blood. A stranger fished a fresh sock from his gym bag and handed it to him to stanch the flow.
“‘Hey dude, i would come over and jack off for you. is that all ur asking for?’”
In Long Island City, at Court House Square, John left the G line to switch to an eastbound 7 train. That would take him to 90th Street and Elmhurst Avenue, the stop closest to home. At Court House Square, an elevated station, an MTA functionary wasn’t as helpful as the Hindu couple. He refused to buzz John through the emergency exit for $2. He sold him a single-ride MetroCard instead. John made it up to the platform, but by now he’d lost so much blood that another MTA worker promptly sat him down and called 911. An EMT later testified that his pulse was undetectable. He lost consciousness several times and was, in fact, near death. But he recovered quickly as soon as the injury was treated.
So why did he flee to Middletown after getting stitched up at the Cornell Medical Center? “I was reading all this shit about like 20 stab wounds and no mention of the coke, so it looks like he was killed in cold blood. I panicked.” He says he spent a night in Penn Station before taking the train to Middletown where he had friends. He got a call from his father, who told him he’d finagled a ride upstate from somebody for $50 and would bring $300 to John. “You know the rest.” In Middletown, Spiro called John from a parked Ford Explorer with tinted windows. John approached. Even before the three detectives got out, he could see his father wasn’t alone. He ran. There were four other cars, ten or twelve detectives in all.
On March 18, John posted an ad on Craigslist: “Iphone 3G 16gb Unlocked . . . Also comes with alot of games. $500. Call me at 347 612 6013. Anytime after 6pm. or reply to this message.” A few minutes later he posted another ad offering to sell “my Sidekick 08 for 120 bucks, phone only.” Apparently he needed money. Six hours earlier, giving Craigslist the same reply email, greeksatan92@yahoo. com, he’d posted in the “Casual Encounters” category, “I Blow 4 Cash – m4m.” Though John had to enter 18 as his age for the system to take the ad, the body of his post read, “I am a 16 yo dude looking for quick cash, im bi, white, and uncut. but im only into oral play. will blow guy of any age. but only 4 cash.”
Within 15 minutes he got a reply from George Weber. He got other replies, too. In his responses he presents himself as young and sexually savvy, but the details shimmer a bit uncertainly. “Hey dude, i would come over and jack off for you. is that all ur asking for? im in need of serious cash, im an uncut white male, 19 yo . . . lol u can even take pics or record if u want.” “hey dude, im a 17yo white greek irish and italian dude, uncut 5inch dick, but I only like oral play . . .” In a message to one guy the next day, the day before the murder, John sounds almost plaintive: “Hey whats up dude? don’t you wanna meet me and have some oral fun. do u have a car? im available today from5pm…”
Only the exchange with George seems to have gone anywhere.
John: ok ok. cool. how much are you willing to offer. im available everyday . . . i attached a few pics.
George: cool . . . thanks for getting back. i have a few guys who [do] this tie up/smothering thing on me and I usually do $60 for 30-minutes. let me know if ur interest . . . oh and what r ur stats?
John: oh yea dude. im totally interested. what do you mean by stats????
George sends some smothering pictures to see if “Satan Katehis” is all right with it.
John: lol yea I saw the pics, pretty cool stuff. im aprox 150lbs, 5foot 11inches.
They have some trouble setting up a time. At one point John teases the older man, “youve been a bad boy eh. lol . . .” First the meeting is set for Thursday, then Saturday, then Friday. The last message from John comes Thursday, the one in which he gives George a new phone number.
A couple of oddities stand out in these emails. Though he gets the sexual lingo down (as anyone could who’d spent a few minutes looking through ads of this kind), John doesn’t know what his “stats” are, and he says his dick measures five inches, which sounds perfectly realistic but too honest for an experienced hustler. Unless John was underplaying his measurement, because he had a notion that submissiveness in dick size, age and all the rest is a plus in attracting another man (an idea one could argue was curiously masculine, even straight, since gay men are more used to the paradoxes of sissified or boyish tops and hairy, big-dicked bottoms).
“I am an extremist, an anarchist and a sadomasochist. As long as you show respect for me i will show respect for you, if you disrespect me, then i will fucking break your neck.”
Furthermore, the photos John sent of himself don’t look quite right for a hookup. He’s fully dressed and doesn’t appear particularly friendly. In one he leans back like a rock guitarist making double devil’s horns with his hands by his thighs. In fact, the whole “I Blow 4 Cash” premise is a little odd, since guys like John, if they’re straight and at all experienced, know they can get at least 60 bucks for just standing there while someone else blows them.
A slight aura of inexperience means nothing when it comes to the business of sex, of course. Everyone’s a beginner at some point. But it raises two interesting, contradictory possibilities: maybe John was a little into the idea of sex with a man, or maybe he was trying to entice a victim based on an imaginary version of gay sexuality. Either way, he wasn’t responding to George’s ad as he later claimed. George was responding to his.
When he was found by EMTs at the 7 train station, John was in shock, sweating, pale, cool to the touch. The EMTs elevated his legs, raised his bandaged hand, and took him in a scoop stretcher to an ambulance where they gave him oxygen. He soon had a detectable radial pulse. The whole time he was being treated John couldn’t stop worrying about a bag he’d been carrying. “I need my bag. Please don’t forget my bag,” [EMT] Valerie Vera-Tudela recalls him saying over and over. He explained that he’d came from Coney Island where he’d cut his finger on a Snapple bottle. (Later he said something about juggling bottles.) He told her he’d had no drugs or alcohol. His pupils looked fine.
On the ride to the hospital, Valerie says, John’s color came back, and by the time they reached Cornell he was even laughing a bit and “flirting” with her. Routine toxicology testing on John’s blood showed no traces of alcohol or cocaine.
As for the white powder found in George’s chest and other places in the apartment, it tested negative for cocaine and opium alkaloids. Furthermore, a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry test showed no “extra peaks” that would indicate any other controlled substance or medicines like aspirin or acetaminophen.
Aring of black duct tape was found around one of George’s wrists. It isn’t plausible, as John casually suggested on the DVD, that this was a piece of tape George tried to get off his ankles. The duct tape around his ankles was still intact.
The ring of black tape around George’s wrist was sticking to the skin on one side, loose on the other. The medical examiner reported it slipped off with ease. The loose side of the ring was badly stretched and twisted. It seems obvious that the tape originally bound both wrists and that George was able to free one of his hands during a struggle. In a coup de théâtre, the prosecutor, Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, began her summation by claiming John had admitted as much. She cued the DVD interview to the moment Fliedner asks John how George was holding the knife when the struggle began. John mimes George’s starting position by bringing his wrists together and raising them to just under his chin. “He was like this . . .” The prosecutor paused the DVD at the image.
“If Katehis had been going to Exeter, say, instead of a school for troubled kids in Westchester, he might well have fixated on Nietzsche.”
Thirty or forty crime scene photographs were introduced into evidence. Hundreds were taken. Tavis Watson of the 76th Precinct was what’s called the “first officer,” the first cop on the scene of a crime and the one responsible for securing the area. He was the one who came to Henry Street at 8:30 that Sunday morning.
George’s door was locked, but Watson and his partner roused a neighbor in the ground-floor apartment and made their way to the backyard. At the top of a few steps, the door to George’s parlor-floor apartment was unlocked. As soon as he entered, Watson says, he recognized the smell of a dead body.
In the bathroom the water in the tub was running onto a crumpled pair of black jeans. A bloody washcloth and a bloody gauze pad were on the edge of the bathtub. An oval rug on the floor was splattered with blood. There were also bloody spots and partial footprints all over the tiny hexagonal floor tiles. More gauze pads and their Johnson & Johnson paper wrappings were strewn on the rug along with a bloody towel.
The kitchen was a mess. Ordinary stained wood cabinets, all agape, lined the walls above and below a counter cluttered with kitchen equipment. Paper bags and dishware, apparently from the ransacked cabinets, littered a narrow kitchen rug. (A closet in the short hall back to the bathroom also spilled its contents.)
A bottle of Dewar’s scotch was on the floor. A DNA swab later confirmed this was the whiskey John had chugged. In the sink, inside a large cooking pot, were an empty can of Stewart’s root beer and another of Bud Light. Twenty nostalgic lunch boxes lining the top of the cabinets were in disarray. Each had been methodically opened.
Though blood swabs were taken from many places in the kitchen, the room’s true “bloodiness” only showed up after the surfaces were painted with leucocrystal violet and photographed under UV light. All over the wood floor, all over the white countertop, dense footprints of stockinged feet glowed in an eerie blue. You could all but see someone—someone with a spade-shaped big toe—shuffling along the counter opening lunch box after lunch box.
There were more signs of a ransacking in the living room. The bedroom, too, was in complete disarray. Closets and armoire drawers spilled clothing. At the foot of the bed, a chest with a flowered paper interior had been emptied of everything but the ubiquitous white powder. The walls in the bedroom were painted a glossy ox-blood red. The real blood all over the floor was redder. The bed, front and center between two shaded street-facing windows, had a barred metal headboard and footboard. Miscellaneous objects were strewn across the bed’s brown-striped sheets: an empty camera box, a bottle of Nic bug powder, an empty Verizon phone box, a paper bag, an encyclopedia, an empty vodka bottle, scissors, a roll of duct tape, a length of rope, a cylindrical black plastic container, a bottle of lube. On the floor were a bloodied cable box, a pile of folded white T-shirts, one stamped with a bloody shoe print, aspirin, snippets of rope and scraps of black duct tape.
George was on his back in a pool of blood. He lay under the heap of a tan comforter which was partially blackened by blood and which must have slipped or been pulled from the bed. Only his duct-taped ankles and feet were visible. When the comforter was raised, George’s face appeared covered with a dense scattering of white pills—aspirin. An aspirin bottle rested by his head.
“His secret hustler family liked him too. In fact, the hustlers worried about his getting into trouble.”
George had been stabbed 50 times front and back. Some of these wounds were random cuts and slices, but the majority weren’t. Both hands were injured in a messy way consistent with warding off a blade. From under his left ear to the area of his Adam’s apple, there were four stabs and three incised wounds (wounds made by slicing). The carotid artery had been cut. The left temple had been stabbed, as well as the right cheek, a deep stab that penetrated George’s cheek and tongue. There were also two incised wounds and a stab to the back of the head and one behind the right ear. The haphazard nature and changing angles of these injuries suggested to the ME that the victim was alive and struggling when they were made.
On the pale-as-flour skin of George’s back, six stab wounds were grouped at his left shoulder and eleven on his right side below the scapula. These were up to two inches deep, and some went through his ribs to penetrate his chest cavity. The ME explained that clustered wounds like these are made when the victim is not (or no longer) moving. Seven more stab wounds formed a cluster in the middle of George’s chest, including a deep one near his heart. Finally, six gaping incised wounds, roughly parallel, running down George’s pale left arm, made it look like a ghastly version of an unbaked baguette.
George was wearing a black T-shirt which had been pushed up over his chest. His pants were unbuckled, unbuttoned and unzipped. They were pulled down below his knees. So were his boxer shorts. The shaft of his penis was bruised from possible squeezing. An additional circular area of bruising to the head of the penis was reportedly consistent with a bite.
The scene as described differs so much from a single accidental poke to the neck that left George still mumbling and cursing when John disappeared that night.
After almost a year, during a stretch of heartbreakingly golden late- fall weather in November 2011, John Katehis was tried a second time in Brooklyn Supreme Court. The first trial ended with a hung jury. John was 18 now and had been moved from the Robert N. Davoren Complex (detained male adolescents) to the Otis Bantum Correctional Center (detained male adults), both on Riker’s Island. An 11th grader when he went in, he’d passed his GED while imprisoned (with very high scores, Spiro insisted to me proudly). There’d also been a serious fight and a stretch in isolation.
Along with the sense of hurry came a sort of callused energy. Much more horrible photographs were introduced this time than in the first trial. The language was more graphic. Defense was more aggressive about disparaging George Weber’s behavior. We even saw a shocking picture of the bruised (bitten?) penis. As the actual murder receded into the past, memory seemed to grow colder, more brutal. “I just need five more minutes, judge,” Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi snapped at Judge Firetog before her summation. Then she delivered her speech with stiff passion.
Though this time they were given the option of a second, lesser charge—manslaughter—the jury was slow. Perhaps they couldn’t forgive Weber’s strange sexuality. Or they couldn’t bear throwing a young man’s life away. You could see the strain on jurors’ ashen faces and imagine their weariness. They chose murder in the second degree, finally, the more serious charge (and the highest possible in New York, where first-degree murder has to involve “special circumstances,” like a police officer victim, multiple murders or torture).
They’d decided John meant to kill. Until the foreman spoke the atmosphere had been heavy. Now Spiro looked faint, cameras chittered like squirrels, glances collided and retreated in the courtroom’s suddenly frictionless air. John’s mild self-confident expression froze. Poked on the shoulder by a court officer, he turned to give his father a big those-are-the-breaks smile and a shrug. A tough guy.