Goodnight Mr. Lewis: Death Mask Murderer Up For Parole, Clubdom Gasps

Photo via Newsday

The parole hearing of the convicted murderer 31 years into his 25 years to life sentence went relatively unnoticed. On February 23, 1985 Bernard LeGeros tortured to death club goer, model and aspiring fashion designer Eigil Dag Vesti in what was sensationalized as the “Death Mask Murder.”

The leather S&M mask preserved the face of the burnt and animal eaten corpse, allowing for identification in a pre-DNA world. It was the murder of the decade until a year later when the murder of Jennifer Levin in Central Park by Robert Chambers, the so-called “Preppy Murder” eclipsed it. Bernard LeGeros was not alone, but he was the only person convicted of the crime. “One Percenter,” Andrew Crispo was accused of masterminding the crime. The investigation led police into the S&M clubs that thrived in the old Meatpacking District. It opened up their eyes to a culture and society thriving underground, sometimes literally. Places like the Mineshaft where Eigel was picked up, catered to patrons that put themselves at risk as a way of life. The death of Eigel was still a shock.

Limelight VIP host Fred Rothbell-Mista was a target for Andrew Crispo and his lapdog Bernard LeGeros. Fred recounted to me, many years ago, how they tried to seduce him into leaving with them that evening. Drugs and sex were the bait, but Fred said he just didn’t feel comfortable. His gut told him it wasn’t right and he decided to find his action elsewhere. He told me he came close. Rumors of the death chilled the hot crowd. Some said his heart was cut out while he was still alive, while others said a large sex toy was still lodged in the corpse. Andrew Crispo’s drug-fueled forays into S&M had become legendary and now there was a body. They couldn’t pin it on the art mogul, but over the years other charges stuck. There was a threat to his lawyer to kidnap her child, there were other beatings, a tax rap. He did go to jail, but not the 30 years prosecutors wanted. He got out many years ago, while Bernard stayed locked away.

Years after the crime, I was in a 7th Avenue restaurant featuring a Chelsea crowd. It was a scene place and the scene at the bar was loud and cruisey. I was in mid-sentence when a communal gasp followed by the loud whispers stopped me cold: “It’s Andrew Crispo.” Every head turned, every conversation stopped. Joy turned into stone, as the guy that got away was shown a table. It was that kind of impact the murder had on nightlife—hard to pick up someone at a bar having heard of Eigels fate.

But death was no stranger to nightlfe. It was a war with casualties counted just like any
war. It was measured in deaths, wounded or missing in action. Drugs, AIDS and a crime ridden NYC had taken a massive toll. A creative generation was wiped out. Where are the Haring’s, the Warhol’s, the Basquiat’s today? The mean streets of New York bubbled out that vibrant art scene, as well as new genres of music like punk, hip-hop and house that had only percolated in the deep underground.

Those who were there remember the early to mid ’80s as a sort of golden age for club life. It had a speedy numbness like a Cocaine rush. Looking back at that time, old school patrons talk of how mixed the clubs were with celebrities and Euro-trash hobnobbing with skateboard punks, artists and the fashion set. Clubs had become inclusive as even the most exclusive ones looked to curate a smorgasbord of tastes, styles and classes. Gays hung out with straights, rich with poor, Blacks with whites, all in the same room. Transgender people used any bathroom they wanted to and nobody complained. New drugs replaced, or at least cooperated, with old drugs. Looking back, it looks like heaven, but really wasn’t. Part of the problem was the party never ended and nobody was keeping track of the cost.

After hours clubs, some as big as today’s mega clubs, flourished on weekends. During the week, there were countless regular hours places to go to and smaller joints that went till noon. Mondays were great and Tuesdays amazing. Many went out every night. Many enjoyed sex, drugs, alcohol and sleepless nights that merged seamlessly with annoying days. Sunglasses were part of a night crawler’s ensemble, as much as dancing shoes and condoms. Clubs were often located in seedy neighborhoods where nobody would complain. The local entrepreneurs scored big time by selling whatever was wanted—drugs, women, late night sandwiches—to the stumbling masses. Bad decisions went with distractions. We all made them, but Eigel paid the price.

Bernard ultimately stopped the party. He was Jack the Ripper, a subconscious demon, a pause to think in that mindless moment when the drugs, music and urges didn’t want to. The parole hearing has been postponed until November. When I saw his face on my computer the other day, I sensed the breath of that demon once again and worried that he will soon walk among us.

Why Michael Alig Is Still In Jail

Friday evening was spent going back in time as yet another camera crew sat me comfortably and asked me about the Club Kid era and specifically the murder of Angel Melendez by Michael Alig in 1996. An hour turned into three as the story of that very bad thing that happened back in the good old days continues to be a hot topic. One thing that I tried to get across was that although Michael and his cohorts were indeed a colorful cult that jumped in front of every lens and went out of their way to be seen and heard, there were many other players succeeding in creating wondrous nights at all the Gatien venues outside of Michael’s scope. Disco 2000, the insane Wednesday party that everyone refers to and remembers, was only one night a week at the Limelight.

Michael’s influence on the other nights at Limelight was limited. There were four clubs running simultaneously in that empire: Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel, and USA. And although Michael deserves a great deal of credit for mucking things up at the end, he certainly had a run of brilliance that could have and should have been remembered for creativity and fashion and a good time had by all. His Times Square design executed by Eric Goode at Club USA was iconic. The mixing of his club kids with the ravers, the model crowd, the art crowd, and the hipsters at Tunnel and Palladium looked easy at the time, but is rarely duplicated today.

Michael remains locked up. He continues to fuck up in jail and continues to delay his inevitable return to the street. I think he is afraid to join the living. I haven’t seen him in a while. His constant antics, which have resulted in more and more time behind bars, have pushed me away from his drama. I have decided to visit him soon now that he has been moved closer to home. Friends who have seen him recently say he is in good shape both mentally and physically. He is in solitary again but should be out in December.

Anyway, this afternoon these good folks are looking for club kids, people who were there then to talk on camera. It’s just today so hurry up. Dig out the clown nose and put on the polka-dot makeup. They want to go back… again. Here is their story:

Calling all Club Kids

Date: Monday November 19, 2012
Afternoon: 2:30PM – 4:30PM
Discovery ID is revisiting the Club Kid era that lead up to the Angel Melendez murder of 1996. The show will include an interview with Michael Alig and other fabulous people from the era. Producer Steph Watts is looking for Club Kids to come down to Secret Lounge (525 W. 29th St.) from 2:30pm to 4:30pm on Monday, November 19 to reminisce on the time. Feel free to email Libby Segal for more details and to schedule a time:  libby.segal@liontv.us

To contact Michael Alig:

Elmira Correctional Facility
Michael Alig #97A6595
P.O. Box 500
Elmira, New York 14901-0500

My Meeting With Michael Alig At Elmira Correctional Yesterday

This Mayan thing right in the middle of Christmas shopping is very annoying. I’m messengering everything just in case. Fed-Ex might not do. On the other hand, I think I only know one Mayan. He’s an actual priest and and lives in Guatemala. I saw him in Puerto Rico a few weeks ago and he assured us that we "had nothing to worry about." But then again, he doesn’t speak much English so maybe he was telling us something completely different like "the end is near so there’s nothing to hurry about." I’m not believing this end of the world stuff, but I am finding myself peeking up at the sky a bit more often lately and I haven’t been putting money aside for January’s rent.

Speaking of world’s end and such, yesterday I visited that good ol’ party monster and dear friend Micheal Alig at his place of confinement: Elmira Correctional Facility. I hadn’t visited Mike in a minute. His last address was 12 hours away and that meant overnight stays at cheap motels and I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime. Elmira is a mere 4 1/2 hours away. I stayed up from the night before and depended on my nightlife stamina and sugar-free Red bull to get me there and back again. 

We started out arguing as we often do. He was upset at me for believing the last charge he caught which guaranteed his parole denial and a life spent mostly in solitary. In retrospect, the concept of Michael smoking pot is ludicrous. He hated the stuff, always opting for the more sensational. 

He has used his isolation well. He looks better than he ever has…a major concern for him. He has lost close to 50 pounds and has been working out like a fitness model in a late-night info-mercial. He showed me his six pack and his bulging biceps. His mind is sharp. He is making art and refining his book Aligula. When I’m with him he picks my brain for clarification of events of yore and people’s names as he is striving that this tome be an accurate account of his era. He will have a chance to join the living as early as this year if the cards fall right and the Mayan thing doesnt get in the way. 

Michael has media projects in mind and a good attitude. He is genuinely remorseful and ready and willing to do all he can to right as many of his past wrongs as possible. He understands that Angel will still be dead and that he can’t expect to ever crawl out from that. He understands that a whole lot of good-doing won’t get him close to even. But it’s been 15 years and the man who is eventually coming out is not the same as the one who pranced in. I believe in Michael and think that a great deal of his story is still ahead of him.

I traveled and visited with Victor P. Corona, Ph.D., a sociologist at Hofstra University. Victor teaches courses on culture and gender. He earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia and a B.A. in sociology from Yale. His work is available here. He is currently writing a book that traces a social and aesthetic lineage from the Warhol Superstars to the Club Kids and the current generation of performers, artists, and nightlife personas in New York. In addition to ethnographic research, he has interviewed Warhol Superstars like Jane Forth and Ultra Violet, former Club Kids like Walt Cassidy and Zaldy, and current nightlife stars like Darian Darling and Ladyfag, among many others.

Victor was a great person to have in a car for nine hours of driving. He picked my Red Bull-racing brain to better understand the feel of what happened back then and who the players were. It’s impossible for any individual to grasp or define a huge scene that was taking place in numerous clubs during numerous nights. The scene was 24 hours, with real work being done during work hours. Most pedestrians believe that nightlife just happens; no, nightlife is planned, adjusted, tweaked, and theorized in offices during the day. Operators diagnose mistakes or think of ways to support successes while the sun is up. People are hired and fired, and concepts are floated. 

I was part of that inner circle – as was Michael. During those meetings, the supreme leader of the so-called Club Kids was a formidable brain and contributor to business meetings…although sometimes he would get up and pee in a cup right in front of everyone. I had always thought of Andy Warhol as the second coming. I believed at that time that Michael might be the 3rd. I still have hope. He claims he has a zillion ideas that will blow my mind. He is ultra-aware of our culture, despite being locked away in very dark places for so very long. He has never used a computer or cellphone, but has absorbed our world through magazines and information sent to him from his ever-loyal followers.

Victor and I spent a great deal of time debating Michael’s role with his fans. I have always preached that Michael must avoid his cult followers and embrace friends who can help him further his art and establish a positive media presence. The Michael I visited yesterday was sharp and focused on the important things of his future. I told him I believed he is finally ready to join the living.

Visiting Michael Alig In Prison: His Past, Present, & Soon-To-Be Future

I visited Michael Alig at the place of his incarceration: Elmira, N.Y. It’s about a four-hour drive unless you stop at Friendly’s or Dobb’s Country Kitchen to commiserate with locals. On the way, I stop a lot. I get gas. I buy cigarettes. I buy Redbulls, coffee, water… mixed nuts too. I pause to watch the rapid waters of the Susquehanna roll by. If I had seen roses on the way…I’d have stopped to smell them too. 

Part of me hesitates heading up to a joint. Elmira Correctional Facility is nice compared to other such places. Even the concertina wire and steel gates seem less foreboding than at Coxsackie or Rikers or the other places where Michael has been rehabilitating over the last 16 years. It’s been 16 years. 

Jeter was Rookie of the Year when this started. The Taliban had just taken Kabul. Tupac had just died. The O.J. trial had begun. Braveheart was best picture. Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was caught. The Summer Olympics was in Atlanta, and Yassar Arafat and the Israelis dropped the removal of each other as a plan. Peace seemed at hand. Clinton was president and some people were talking Whitewater. A cloned sheep named Dolly was the buzz, and Motorola introduced it’s easy-to-handle StarTAC cellphone. The world was changing fast as Michael was forced to slow down.

Michael went in an asshole, a murderer, an out-of-control drug maniac. I had long stopped being a friend. He needed to be locked up. His world of wonder, glamour, glitz, destruction, and self destruction ended the hard way. Michael rarely chose the easy way. His moment in the sun has been filmed and written about and discussed in magazines and on the world wide web, which he has yet to experience firsthand. 

People tweet for him, spewing out his snarky, daring, and eyebrow-raising takes on everything. He is very prolific. He has a lot of time on his hands. He paints a lot. He sent me home with a bunch of good ones. He has become an artist while inside. The guard at the desk on the way out told me "we have a lot of artists in here." There’s some sort of scandal going on with some of his paintings. I’ll get to it soon, but want the opportunity to talk to "Mary" who allegedly sold some of Michael’s work, claiming they belonged to her. Life has taught me that there are at least two sides to every story. 

Michael looks better than ever. I met him back in ’83 when he was a busboy at Danceteria. He threw some small parties and rose quickly. Me and mine picnicked in Central Park with him and his. We took day trips to farm country, saw concerts at night. Drugs and the scandals that rocked our worlds would come later. We were very naive.

He is healthier now. Muscular and trim from working out in his spare time. Everything except working on his book, painting, and flirting is spare time in the joint. I am amazed at how focused and coherent he is. His incarceration seems to have rehabilitated him mentally as well. He laughs and tells tales of days of yore – the good days, not the chaos – and hate at the end. Everyone who meets with him or corresponds with him looks for remorse as a measure of the man who may soon join the living.

Around me, he is wholeheartedly remorseful. I believe in him fully, knowing that he knows remorse is the price of admission for a continued friendship with me. I wasn’t born yesterday and will judge Michael on his actions till our end. 

He is finishing a drug program aimed at preparing him for life in the real world. The real world is scary. He is worried how he will be viewed. When told "so and so" won’t want to see him again, he is visibly upset. The desire to have everyone love him which drove him to massive success and a massive crash and burn still runs deep. He needs to be loved and hates being hated almost as much as not being noticed. Although supremely informed about tech stuff, cell phones, social media, reality TV, and the internet – he has never experienced these things directly. 

We who love him for the most part understand him and fear the bombardment of food, sex, and media that awaits. I have a feeling on a possible release date, but will just cross my fingers and say a silent prayer. i don’t want to jinx it. Release is inevitable. There are those that will never accept his return to society. They have a right to their stance. They have lived for 16 years without Michael, but without Angel Melendez as well. 

A new life is Michael’s fate, while no such fate belongs to Angel.There will be books and films and TV shows. There will be interviews and public appearances. Someone is even trying to bring a musical about it all to Broadway. Those who haven’t been blessed with Michael and his charms will be made aware of them. 

Old friends and companions hopefully have outgrown the "old" Michael. The fans, zealots, and losers who worship at the old alter must not have a say. Michael will be lifted in a sea of attention. 

Will all this attention unleash the long-buried, controlled-by-incarceration Party Monster, or will the Michael I hung out with on visiting day with Victor Corona and Amanda Noa emerge? We’ll see.

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