Central Park killing: gore, lost innocence near Strawberry FieldsTOM HAYS , Associated Press
May. 28, 1997 1:48 AM ET
NEW YORK (AP) _ The impromptu party began by Strawberry Fields, a garden memorial to John Lennon and a sometime hangout for restless rich kids and middle-age drinkers.
Michael McMorrow, a 44-year-old real estate agent who lived with his mother, was drinking with two 15-year-old private school students _ a millionaire's daughter and a working-class former altar boy.
But with empty bottles on the ground and a full moon in the sky, the outing last week in Central Park turned deadly. By daybreak, after police fished McMorrow's disemboweled body out of a park lake, the teens emerged as suspects in a case mixing disturbing images of excessive gore and lost innocence.
``This was an incredibly brutal murder,'' Assistant District Attorney Carolyn Streicher said Tuesday at the arraignment of suspect Daphne Abdela.
``She's a sympathetic individual charged with a heinous crime,'' George Weinbaum, Miss Abdela's lawyer, said.
McMorrow was buried Tuesday as prosecutors prepared to ask a grand jury for murder indictments against Miss Abdela and Christopher Vasquez. McMorrow reportedly met Miss Abdela at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Police said Vasquez repeatedly stabbed McMorrow during a drunken dispute and then, with coaching from Miss Abdela, mutilated and dumped his body.
Prosecutors quoted Miss Abdela as telling Vasquez the body would need to be gutted for it to sink, ``because he's a fatty.''
Miss Abdela wore a red hooded sweatshirt, bobbed honey-colored hair and a long face in court, where she exchanged anxious glances with her adoptive parents, food-industry executive Angelo Abdela and his wife, Catherine.
She and Vasquez were held without bail, charged as adults with robbery and murder. Vasquez's court date was delayed while he underwent psychiatric tests at Bellevue Hospital.
The suspects' age _ and the scene of the crime _ magnified the case. The New York Times noted, ``A brutal knifing in Central Park is a stab in the heart of New York itself.''
Neither teen's parents have talked to reporters. Neighbors at Miss Abdela's posh apartment building on Central Park West said she went from a sweet girl in flowery dresses to a self-conscious, chubby teen-ager, openly disdainful of her parents and their wealth.
Fellow students at the Loyola School in Manhattan recalled that she often showed up out of uniform and drunk or high.
If Vasquez had a rebellious streak, he kept it hidden in his working-class neighborhood on the opposite side of the park. The Rev. Oscar Aquino, pastor of the Catholic church where Vasquez once was an altar boy, recalled how the skinny, clean-cut youth would escort his grandmother to Mass.
But some said Vasquez was devastated by the breakup of his parents' 20-year marriage. Attorney Robert Fogelnest, who represents Vasquez, said his client was on antidepressants at the time of the killing.
Miss Abdela and Vasquez sometimes sought solace in the parts of Central Park where disaffected teens mingle with drunks and street people.
McMorrow, who lived with his mother and sister in Manhattan, was among the park regulars. A native of the Bronx, he had a weakness for alcohol and laughter, his friends said. John Simpson, a pal since grammar school, described him as a ``want-to-hang-out-good-time guy.''
``That's probably why he hung out at the park, because there were a lot of people there,'' Simpson said.
McMorrow and the teens began downing beer and Zima, a clear malt liquor, Thursday night in the park, where no one had been murdered since September 1995.
Shortly after midnight, an argument erupted. Police believe Vasquez possibly became enraged when McMorrow made a sexual move on Miss Abdela.
Vasquez allegedly used a knife to slit McMorrow's throat. In all, the victim was stabbed as least 30 times, leaving his head nearly severed and his stomach gashed open.
Prosecutors said the teens also tried to burn McMorrow's identification card and chop off his hands in a botched attempt to conceal his identity.
Miss Abdela later called 911, saying, ``My friend jumped in the lake and didn't come out,'' police said.
They traced the call to her apartment, where they found her eating leftovers in the kitchen. They said that's when she described the horrors of the evening.