MEMOIRS OF A MARKED WOMAN - 1986

TO CATCH A PURSE SNATCHER AND SEE THE POLICE LET THE DRIVER OF THE GET-AWAY CAR...WALK



I came to New York from Paris, France, on August 8, 1983 at age thirty. I met John Lettieri at Hanratty’s, the local watering hole at Amsterdam and 96th in Manhattan. He was a musician, he played the organ in a church and was the musical director. We talked a few times about classical music. He often played tennis in Central Park, he was cute with fine features, curly light brown longish hair and blue eyes. He was about three years younger than me. In July of 86, John proposed to me. He said that he understood how hard it was for me to find work without a green card. One of his best friends had got hers through a sham marriage, he said, and it was only fair for him to do the same thing for me. At the time I was without a job and dead broke. From the fall of 84 to June 86 I had worked for an immigration lawyer, C. H. Kleefield, at $7 per hour off the books as a tri-lingual paralegal, and after all this time he still refused to sponsor me for my immigration papers so I quit. So John made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, therefore I accepted.


Shortly after he proposed, on July 26, 1986 John invited me to go to Jones Beach the next day. That night I was invited to a farewell party for Toos, a Dutch woman. She had arrived in New York a few months before. I felt a link with her because we were both European and I talked to her a few times but she wasn’t interesting. Though blonde with blue eyes she wasn’t pretty, she had an ugly mouth, yet she had found a rich man to marry her, reportedly the brother of a fat, wealthy and loud Jewish woman who often came to the bar. He was gorgeous: tall, slim, very good-looking with short brown hair and dark blue eyes, as I discovered when I showed up for the farewell party. So they were going to get married and live on the West coast where he was established, and the icing on the cake said “Adios Toos.”



I had a few free drinks and started to feel tipsy so at 11 PM I left. As I was walking home on West 96th Street from Amsterdam to Columbus a young blond man appeared suddenly about twenty feet away, coming towards me. I looked at him as we neared each other and when we were about eight feet apart he did something strange with his eyes, rapid movements in all directions. A moment later he jumped next to me, grabbed the strap of my shoulder bag and started to run across the street. I held on to the strap but it broke. I was very pissed off so I ran after him. He climbed into a gypsy cab that was waiting for him and took off.


I was at the corner of Amsterdam and just then an empty cab showed up. I took it and told the driver “Follow this car” just like in the movies. I told him that if he wanted to be paid for the fare he had to catch up with the car because my money was in it. We saw the car go up Amsterdam for a block or two then make a left. “They’re going to take the West Side highway,” the cabbie said, and he continued on West 96th so the robbers wouldn’t know they were being followed, took the highway going north and sure enough, there was the brown car, easy to spot because the plexiglass partition was illuminated by the car lights behind it.


We followed at a normal speed and after a while found a police car that was cruising north like us. I told the cabbie I wanted to speak to the police so he positioned his car in the proper manner, me speaking to the police driver from the back seat of the cab. I showed the brown car to the cop, they followed a few cars behind just ahead of us, and when the brown car took the 139th Street exit, the police started their lights flashing and ordered the car to stop, which the robbers did on the exit ramp. I told the cops my bag was white and there was about sixty dollars in it. They got it from the passenger and gave it to me. Neither of the robbers got out of the car so I didn’t see the driver’s face. Then I paid the cabbie, gave him a big tip and thanked him a lot but forgot to get his name. I wish I had. The cops let him go without speaking to him.


They gave me a ride to the 100th Street station and I made a report, all the while expecting to see the perps come in in handcuffs to get booked but it didn’t happen and I didn’t ask any question. I felt uneasy because I was an illegal alien and the only ID I had was a bunch of business cards for translation work.


Then the cops drove me home at 95 W95th. By then it must have been 12:30 AM. I had just started undressing, maybe fifteen minutes after getting home, when there was a buzz at the intercom. It was the cops again. They had forgotten to make me sign my report. So I went down from the 34th floor and signed the paper in the lobby. So everything was in order now, right?


The next morning I was on time for my appointment with John. The next day I ran into a former co-worker I didn’t like much, Priscilla Lins, who gave me a ride with her boyfriend driving and to whom I told my adventure. I could tell she was drinking in my every word because she was so erect in her seat, her neck was so stiff. I didn’t mention that the perps hadn’t been brought into the station because I assumed that the cops were doing their job. She didn't utter a single exclamation, comment or question. A few days later I wrote my parents about this extraordinary event in which I had played a heroic part and expected some congratulations in return but my mother never replied to this letter.


John and I got married at City Hall in September and right away I prepared the immigration papers and got permission to work. I did some temp work. I remember the Blood Center on Amsterdam in the Sixties. I worked for a guy who contacted big businesses to get them to do a “blood drive” in their headquarters. He seemed to favor defense contractors for some reason: Martin Marietta on Long Island, Grumann, General Electric... He and my other co-workers weren’t nice. They were SINISTER: ugly, badly dressed, bad hair, no sense of humor, never a smile. It was depressing and I hated to go to work every morning. All I heard was “blood, blood, blood.” All I typed was “blood, blood and blood.” “We need more blood!” “We have to have blood!” One day I told my boss his company was a big vampire.


At the same time I had a night job for a while, doing word-processing in French at this big law firm Sullivan & Cromwell on Water Street, at the southern tip of Manhattan. I went there after dinner from the Upper West Side and worked four or five hours. I didn’t have an imposed schedule, it was up to me and I liked that. I signed in and out, the hourly rate was good. I worked in a pool of about twenty work stations. I had never done word-processing before but I said I didn’t know the program they were using, WordPerfect, I knew Wordstar. So a kind young woman showed me the basics: everything between turning the computer on and starting to type, plus how to save and print. The mouse hadn’t been invented yet and there were key combinations to move around a document and I thought word-processing was really neat.


What I typed was an oral translation into French of some S.E.C. regulations, so it was hyper financial-technical, and since it was an oral translation it was very clumsy. There were repetitions, bad sentence constructions, it was wordy, convoluted, and the speaker, a French lawyer named Janoray, insisted on referring to the S.E.C. as “la ess-ee-cee” every single time when he could very well have said “la SEC” as in “just a sec”, I mean, I’m not stupid, I would have understood. So I was paid $17 per hour to type French garbage.


I took a one hour break around 1 AM and went out. I walked in the Wall Street area looking for a suitable bar. I found one on lower Broadway that was jam packed, smoky, raucous, full of young men in suits with their tie loosened. It was the era when Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky were Wall Street’s darlings, when the New York Times spoke of mergers and acquisitions, greenmail, leveraged buyouts and hostile takeovers without explaining what they were, as if everybody was supposed to know.


In a small street I found a quiet bar and had myself a scotch and a smoke. I went there every night. Once a man about my age talked to me. After meeting him two or three times at the same spot I gave him my phone number, then didn’t see him again.


At Sullivan & Cromwell I started to do a little editing. Instead of listening, memorizing then typing bits of sentences I started to listen to the whole sentence, then I reworded it in a concise version. But it wasn’t good enough because many times there were redundancies in the following sentences. So I listened to a whole paragraph, cut out the crap and typed the essence of the idea in a contemporary language. As soon as I started doing some editing the woman lawyer, who was French, about my age and very soigné reacted very strongly. I mean, she was smiling, condescending and all that but she was adamant that I couldn’t do that, I had to type what was on the tape word for word. I couldn’t explain to her that it was killing me to type this bad French and that what I did was a great improvement. So I said OK but I couldn’t bring myself to revert to the word-for-word and I continued rephrasing the text. I really enjoyed doing it. It was a challenge to reduce all this mish-mash to the most concise expression. It went on like this for a week or two: every night when she brought me the tapes she said I had to type word-for-word, I said OK but I kept editing, I was compelled to do it, until one day I was terminated. I never got another job from the employment agency that got me that one.


After I’d left the man I met at the Wall Street bar at 1 AM called to invite me to a party. In so many words he said that it was a sex and cocain party with good friends of his, and to make it more attractive because I didn’t rush to accept the invitation, he talked about the computers he had in his apartment. I was non-committal. He called a few days later, renewed the invitation: friends, sex, drugs and computers, and this time he told me a different story about his computers. I told him: “But last time you talked about your computers you told me...” and I repeated to him what he had said, which couldn’t coexist with what he was saying now. He mumbled an answer and I never heard from him again.


In early December 86 Patricia Meyers, the Assistant District Attorney asked me to come and meet her to prepare my testimony for the Grand Jury regarding the purse-snatching incident. After a few questions about my pedigree, the date and time of the incident she came down to brass tacks:


Q. “So he grabbed your bag by the shoulder strap and then what happened?


A. I held on to it but it broke and he ran across the street with my bag.


Q. And when did you see your bag again?


A. When the police arrested him. They gave me what was in the bag but they kept it for evidence.”


“What about the car chase?” I wondered. “My favorite part, she completely cut it out!”

But what did I know about the criminal justice system? I was new in the country, I was afraid to make a fool of myself by asking stupid questions and I didn’t want to appear impertinent by questioning the way she was doing her job. I received two subpoenas to testify before the Grand Jury on December 18, 1986: [March 2006 Note: the shop-owner who scanned the three documents linked here without asking gave them a very high resolution so that each one is very, very slow loading]one for 9 AM and one for 2 PM. I was surprised to learn that the young blond man had a Hispanic name: Eddie Santos.


I testified along those lines before a bug-eyed Grand Jury in the matter of the People of the State of New York against Eddie Santos, Docket # 6N075659. At that time I had an interpreter job at the Family Court in the Bronx and showed the office manager, Mr. Jamet, the subpoenas to absent myself. My memory of the trial is very vague. Whereas I remember testifying before the Grand Jury I don’t remember testifying at trial. I wasn’t sitting in the witness box, I was standing in the courtroom. The judge was on my left. I didn’t see the young blond man. I wasn’t cross-examined. There was no cop. It was over very quickly. At the end I had a feeling an injustice had been done so I approached the judge and started to speak to him but I was restrained and pulled back by the guards.


Pacho, a black Hispanic man and the boyfriend of the fat wealthy Jewish lady told me he knew about a job opening as an interpreter at the Bronx Family court. He gave me the name and number of someone to contact and I was hired. As I rapidly learned, the overwhelming majority of the cases that went before the judges were cases of juvenile delinquency. Whatever country they came from, whatever language they spoke, they all said “No! Not Spofford! Don’t send me to Spofford!” Spofford was a juvenile detention center. The other cases were divorces and child visitation rights issues.


We were about four interpreters and took turns. We had a room to ourselves and waited for the phone to ring and we were told what courtroom to go to. Then one day, maybe after a month, it wasn’t the usual voice, it was a woman who asked who I was. She asked if Mrs so-and-so, an interpreter, was around so I handed her the phone. They talked for a while like old friends and after she hung up Mrs so-and-so told me that it was the interpreter who had left and whom I was replacing, and that she wanted her job back so I had to go on very short notice.


It was the second time I lost a job this way. The first time had been my very first job as a secretary, for a lawyer at Worth street and Broadway, a “condemnation” specialist dealing with Eminent Domain expropriations. He was sharing office space with Lofton Holder, a black criminal lawyer, whom I had been introduced to in Hanratty’s by Bruce Skapier, and it was Lofton who got me the job in December 84.


It happened that Pacho, who got me the interpreter gig, was a friend and collaborator (I never knew exactly what he did for a living) of Lofton. The reason I lost the job with the condemnation lawyer was that his secretary who had quit wanted to come back after three months.


At the Bronx Family Court I interpreted for French and Spanish speaking people. I remember clearly sitting next to a Mexican youth near the courtroom door, far removed from the judge since I had to make an effort to project my voice and to hear what the Judge and the “corporation counsel” (the D.A.) were saying, and still wonder why the youth who was the defendant appeared without a lawyer, and why he didn’t sit in front of the judge at the defendant’s table. Now that I think of it (September 2003) I NEVER sat at the defendant’s table and I NEVER saw nor spoke to any lawyer representing the defendants I interpreted for.


Could all the people involved in this interpreter gig have been acting a part to make me believe that the “trial” of Santos in the purse-snatching incident was the real thing? That justice was rendered even though the accomplice driving the get-away car was not prosecuted? It could only be this.


In 87 I received a letter from Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney himself, dated September 8, 1987 informing me that Eddie Santos (index #9627/86) had pleaded guilty on August 21, 1987, to the crime of attempted robbery and would be sentenced on December 4, 1987. I still didn’t know much about criminal justice American style so I didn’t understand this letter. But now I know that Santos plea-bargained: he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense: attempted robbery in the second degree, versus robbery, in order to avoid trial. So what was this “trial” I went to in the Criminal building?


The only purpose of all this courtroom make-believe was to conceal from me the identity of the driver of the get-away car. It was deemed so important to keep me in the dark about the driver's identity that to this end, every one involved in law enforcement and criminal justice turned the US Constitution on its ear: instead of the accused having a right to confront his accuser, the victim was not allowed to learn the identity of her assailants. One thing is certain: if the identity of the driver of the get-away car hadn't been hidden from me, none of what followed would have happened.


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