Despite reading Bonfire of the Vanities, seeing news reports about “wilding” in Central Park, listening to Lou Reed’s New York album, and watching a 60 Minutes segment about the heroin epidemic in the city, I still moved to New York in late 1989.
I first visited the East Village shortly after I settled in New York. Geez, I thought, this place looks like Dresden after the bombing. You had to play hopscotch instead of walk to avoid all the dog shit and garbage on the sidewalk.
Every odd character in the Tri-State area congregated in the East Village and the adjacent cesspool, “Alphabet City” (Avenues A –D). Of course, this area is now home to luxury condos and hipster shops. In the ’80 and early ‘90s, the East Village was filled with beatniks giving impromptu poetry readings, drug dealers, old hippies, punk rockers, Goths, sideshow freaks, pseudo-religious groups, and the homeless in their tents in Tompkins Square Park.
The bizarre crime du jour around this time was the murder of dancer Monica Beerle and the grotesque disposal of her body. Daniel Rakowitz, nicknamed “The Butcher of Tompkins Square” killed his dancer roommate by punching her in the throat. He boiled her head, then made a soup from her brain and distributed it to the homeless in Tompkins Square Park. (One of the homeless men allegedly found a finger in his soup.) Then Rakowitz dismembered her and put a bucket containing her skull and her bones in a storage locker at Port Authority Bus Terminal.
A transplant from a small town in Texas, Rakowitz came to the East Village in the early ‘80s. He sold meth and marijuana and walked around the Village with a rooster. He would sometimes serve chicken and potato soup to the homeless people in Tompkins Square Park. He dabbled in Satanism and got involved with a group called The Church of the Realized Fantasy.
Not content with being a follower, he founded his own religion, the “Church of the 966”, which relied on animal sacrifice. Rakowitz sometimes left chicken blood on walls as a trademark for his religion.
Unsurprisingly, Rakowitz had a history of mental illness, and had received shock therapy and anti-psychotic medication as a child. (He refused to take this medication as an adult.) He had also watched his mother die in a hotel room in France. His father married his wife’s sister three months later.
Years after the crime, a friend of Daniel’s strict father called young Daniel a “mental case.” When Daniel was a teen, his father threw him out of the house. (It was about this time, according to the family friend, that Daniel got into the whole “Jesus thing.” When Rakowitz was 23, he married a 14 year old girl. (Apparently, this was legal in Texas at the time.) Rakowitz beat his young wife, and would chain her to the refrigerator before he’d leave the house. He had also bragged to his wife about strangling a prostitute and decapitating a dog.
After moving to New York, Rakowitz answered an ad for a roommate, and stayed with a couple for a while. Unfortunately, when the couple broke up, Rakowitz was unable to secure a new lease on his own because he didn’t have a legitimate job. (Marijuana dealer in Tompkins Square Park didn’t count as a reference.)
He met Monika Beerle in Tompkins Square Park around this time, and she took on the lease. When they lived together, she dated other guys, and was somewhat of a free spirit, which Rakowitz didn’t like. Beerle and Rakowitz may or may not have been boyfriend and girlfriend – it’s hard to tell whether they were romantically involved or just friends with benefits. Like Rakowitz, Beerle used drugs.
Visitors to the apartment were greeted with a sign on the door that read “Welcome to Span Ranch East”. In the one widely-circulated photo of Rakowitz, he looks like an East Coast Charlie. When Beerle tried to kick him out of the apartment, he killed her.
He dissected her in a bathtub and made soup out of her brains. He tasted it, liked it, and thereafter referred to himself as a cannibal. He bragged about the murder to his friends in Tompkins Square Park. Eventually, some of the park’s inhabitants contacted police, who arrested Rakowitz on September 13, 1989, about a month after Monika Beerle’s murder.
Rakowitz confessed to police. (There’s an interview with Rakowitz available on Amazon.com. ) Along with a play-by-play description of how he dismembered the body, Rakowitz claimed Beerle killed his cat. (There was some suspicion that Rakowitz didn’t act alone in the dismembering and disposal of Monika’s body.)
In February 1991, Daniel Rakowitz went to trail for the murder of Monika Beerle. The jury found Rakowitz “not criminally responsible due to mental disease or defect” after nine days of deliberation. “I hope someday I can smoke a joint with y’all,’ he told the jury after the verdict. He also offered to smoke a joint with the judge. The New York Times headline read “Man Acquitted of Killing, Boiling Roommate.”
Rakowitz was committed to the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island. He is a diagnosed paranoid-schizophrenic.
In 1992, a member of The Church of Realized Fantasy, Randy Eastherday, was arrested on charges that he helped Rakowitz kill Beerle and dissect her corpse. In a strange addendum to this bizarre crime, former Diner and Dirty Dancing actor turned journalist Max Cantor died of a heroin overdose while researching the case.
As of April 2020, Rakowitz is still in Kirby Forsenic Psychiatric Center, despite several requests to be transferred to a less secure facility over the years. (Rakowitz’s ex-wife testified at one of the hearings.)
There’s not much information available on Monika Beerle. She was from Switzerland, studied dance at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and worked at sleazy dive bar Billy’s Topless to pay the bills. Her father was deceased at the time of her death and her mother lived in Switzerland.
R.I.P Monika Berlee