The Murder of Bruce Bailey

The Murder of Bruce Bailey
Shoe Leather

 
 
00:00 / 33:34
 
1X
 
Photo of Bruce Bailey
Photo of Bruce Bailey, The New York Times

By: Josh Lash & Anmargaret Warner

Bruce Bailey was a tenants rights activist who dedicated his life to fighting landlords on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He was a husband, a father, a graduate of Columbia College, and in June of 1989, he was brutally murdered. His dismembered body was found in trash bags on a street corner in the South Bronx.

And his case was never solved.

We set out to find the story behind Bailey’s killing. What could have motivated someone to murder and mutilate an activist? How has this case stayed cold for three decades? And what is Bruce Bailey’s legacy, thirty years after his death?

 

TRANSCRIPT

Sound of Hunts Point industrial noise – train horn

JOSH LASH
We’re on the corner of 156th Street and Garrison Avenue in Hunts Point. It’s an industrial neighborhood in the South Bronx that juts out just a little into the East River. During the week, this place is full of all sorts of commercial activity. The blocks are lined with chemical plants, foundries, auto-shops, warehouses.

ANMARGARET WARNER
But on this cold Saturday afternoon in early March it’s quiet. Except for the occasional roar of an 18-wheeler and the squawk of a seagull.

Sound of truck roar, seagulls squawking

You’d never know that this neighborhood had such a violent past.

Two men speaking in Spanish

We’re talking to a couple of workers. One of them grew up around here.

GABRIEL
Basically, what y’all you want to know around here?

LASH
A cop made a claim that this used to be a popular spot for dumping dead bodies.

JORGE
Oh! Back in the 80s!

WARNER
Yeah.

JORGE
Back in the 80s, I heard about that. But I was a little baby at that time.

LASH
What did you hear about it?

JORGE
I heard that they used to find bodies in the train tracks and stuff, around the waters, stuff like that.

ANMARGARET WARNER
That’s what brought us here. Thirty-one years ago, a man’s dismembered body was found on this street corner. He’d been cut into pieces. And stuffed into trash bags. His head was never found.

JOSH LASH
His name was Bruce Bailey (BAY-LEE). He was a 54-year-old tenants’ rights activist who’d spent decades fighting landlords on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He was a well-known figure in New York City’s left wing political circles. A graduate of Columbia College. A husband and a father.

And, on June 14th, 1989, Bailey was the victim of one of the most brutal murders in New York City’s history. And his case was never solved.

WARNER
Yeah it was big news at the time, you know, a lot of papers were writing about it.

JORGE
Of course, I can imagine because it’s like the first time that you’re going to see some stuff going on like that, body parts, what the hell, who had the guts to do some stuff like that? You know?

JOSH LASH
That’s exactly what we wanted to know. Who would have the guts to commit a crime like this? What could have motivated someone to murder and mutilate an activist? And after more than three decades as a cold case, why has this murder gone unsolved?

Music in: Squeegees

I’m Josh Lash.

ANMARGARET WARNER
And I’m Anmargaret Warner.

JOSH LASH
This is Shoe Leather, an investigative podcast that digs up stories from New York City’s past – to find out how yesterday’s news affects us today.

This is season one, New York in the 90s.

The Murder of Bruce Bailey.

Music out: Squeegees

ANMARGARET WARNER
The name Bruce Bailey is no longer a familiar one to most New Yorkers. But if you work your way back through the newspaper archives, it’s not hard to find him. Partly because Bailey was a public figure – the president of a tenants union. And partly because the details of his murder were so gruesome.

Bailey’s family, friends, and others in the city’s housing activism scene demanded answers about his killing. But few came. The NYPD investigated for about a year before shelving the case in 1990.

Josh and I pieced together what we could from news coverage at the time, to try and figure out what happened.

Music in: Illa Villardo

Here’s what we know:

JOSH LASH
On the evening of June 14, 1989, Bruce Bailey and his wife Nellie go to the 8th-grade graduation of one of their sons. Then they come home and have dinner together.

But Bailey isn’t done with his day. A group of renters at a building up on 125th Street up in Harlem need help with a negligent landlord. At around 6:30, Bailey says goodbye to Nellie and his son and walks to his car. This is the last time his family ever sees him alive.

Music out: Illa Villardo

Street sounds, cars, wind

ANMARGARET WARNER
We decide to visit Bailey’s old apartment – to retrace some of his steps on the day he disappeared.

The apartment is tucked into a row of stone buildings, each about four stories high. It’s on a quiet, residential street between two busy avenues. The Columbia campus is about a five minute walk away. And you can hear the bells at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, just around the corner.

Sound of bells chiming

LASH
He had dinner with his wife at this apartment and then he walked to his car.

ANMARGARET WARNER
When Bailey heads to his car, it’s early evening. And it’s mid-June, so the sun is still out.

LASH
And it was somewhere along this, what is this? 200 feet. It was on this little…

WARNER
I mean, room for one…room for seven cars to park. Parallel park.

LASH
Yeah within this stretch, he was abducted.

JOSH LASH
Bailey was 6 foot two. 225 pounds. How does a guy like that get abducted right off of a busy avenue – on a summer evening when the sun hasn’t set yet – with several businesses in sight. And no one sees or hears anything?

Music in: Secret Pocketbook

This was one of the many things that confused investigators about this case back in 89. Lieutenant John Sebring, the cop in charge of the investigation, told the New York Times that “every aspect [of the case] was puzzling.” But most puzzling? “Bruce has been annoying people for twenty years, why now have they decided to kill him?”

Music out: Secret Pocketbook

ANMARGARET WARNER
When Josh and I started looking into Bailey’s murder, we requested the incident report from the NYPD. Theoretically this would have all of the details about the case that the police collected at the time. What they knew. What they didn’t. Wrapped up in one file – that we, as members of the public, could ask for. And hopefully it would give us a clue as to who was on the police’s short list of suspects. But we were told that those requests can take months to process, or even longer for a crime this old.

JOSH LASH
And we were having no luck getting updates from the NYPD. Despite calling nearly every day.

NYPD VOICEMAIL
Hello! Thank you for calling the New York City Police Department. No one is available to take your call right now. Please try your call at a later time. Goodbye!

Sound of a frustrated sigh

JOSH LASH
Then, I got a call.

JOHN SEBRING
Hello Josh?

LASH
Yeah, Hi.

SEBRING
You were looking for Lt. Sebring and the relation to the Bruce Bailey case?

JOSH LASH
That’s John Sebring (SEA-BRING). In 1989, he was the squad commander of the 41st Precinct, where Bailey’s body was found.

Back then, the 41st Precinct dealt with so much violent crime, it was known as Fort Apache. There was even a movie made about it in 1981, starring Paul Newman.

MOVIE CLIP: FORT APACHE, THE BRONX
Paul Newman has gone straight, in the most commanding role of his career…a cop with no place to hide but himself…New York’s 41st precinct. They call it Fort Apache, the Bronx. It’s a tough place for an honest cop.

SEBRING
I remember when I had the 41, we had Hunts Point and we would find these dead bodies out there. We had no way of even identifying them.

ANMARGARET WARNER
Sebring joined the NYPD in 1961. He’s been retired for more than two decades now. He’s 87-years-old and he lives in Florida.

JOSH LASH
Sebring led the NYPD’s investigation into the murder, and he remembered just about every detail of this case. Kind of like a walking, talking police report.

SEBRING
He was found out in Hunts Point on the way to a radio call. He was in three different trash bags. His torso were in one, his arms were in one, and his legs were in another. We never found the head.

ANMARGARET WARNER
It’s amazing Sebring can recount all of this from memory. New York City saw a record number of killings in 1989. And Sebring had his hands full in Hunts Point.

WARNER
How many homicides did you typically work on in a year when you were on the force as a lieutenant?

SEBRING
In the 41, I averaged about 60 homicides a year.

ANMARGARET WARNER
Last year, the 41st precinct had only 5.

WARNER
Was there anything that stood out to you about this case in particular that was interesting?

SEBRING
Well it was the way he was murdered. That’s unusual. Usually people just stab somebody or shoot them and that’s the end of it.

ANMARGARET WARNER
That was another puzzling thing. Who would go through all that effort to kill Bailey, but then leave his body in trash bags on the street corner? Especially when the East River is just a five minute drive away?

JOSH LASH
One hypothesis is that whoever it was didn’t just want Bruce Bailey to go away. They wanted him to be found like that.

EVE WOLFSOHN
This is an interview with Bruce Bailey conducted by Eve Wolfsohn on October 17 1987. Okay, well, can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up? First of all, I know it was in Ohio but what kind of a town it was?

BRUCE BAILEY
Toledo, Ohio, the town I grew up there. It was a town of about 150,000…

ANMARGARET WARNER
This interview was recorded thirty-three years ago. Two years before Bailey’s murder. It was recorded by a friend and held at the Columbia University Library. We had it digitized.

When we first heard Bailey speaking in these tapes, it felt like we were sitting down and talking with him. And he was agreeing to share his story with us.

BAILEY
I wanted to accomplish something…So it’s partly in my personality, I guess not being a genuine pacifist at heart.

EVE WOLFSOHN
Are you calling about the Bruce Bailey oral history that I did?

ANMARGARET WARNER
You might recognize Eve Wolfsohn’s (WOLF – SON) voice – she was the one who interviewed Bailey in 1987.

Wolfsohn knew Bailey well.

WOLFSOHN
He also had this booming voice and this booming laugh, very sort of dark sense of humor. And he was really known in the neighborhood. You know, he was a real character, by everybody in the neighborhood at that time.

ANMARGARET WARNER
She edited the Heights and Valley News – a newspaper for the group Bailey headed – the Columbia Tenants Union. Or CTU. And they were friends.

WOLFSOHN
It was horrible. I mean, you know, when they found they found his body and he’d been, you know, you know about that, right?

WARNER
Yeah.

WOLFSOHN
That was just really horrible. I just remember sort of not being able to watch, you know, TV shows that I used to watch because there would be crime shows, you know, that ordinarily, I’d watch like, Oh, this is entertaining. And suddenly it just seemed very real. It seemed like something had happened. This man had been murdered. This man who I knew had been murdered.

JOSH LASH
Bailey told his life story to Wolfsohn in that interview. How he grew up in the Midwest, roaming around the Irish Hills in Michigan.

BAILEY
The Irish Hills in Michigan…so I had kind of a semi rural upbringing.

JOSH LASH
Before coming to school at Columbia in New York City:

BAILEY
Also I had a kind of a romantic idea of the big city…So going to college in big city, I see a big city and learn something about and go to college at the same time.

Music in: Milkwood

JOSH LASH
These little details – they’re what started to draw me further into Bailey’s story. They made me see him not as a random victim, but as a person that I could’ve known. You see, I grew up in the Midwest, just thirty minutes from Bailey’s hometown of Toledo. And I moved to New York, because I was fascinated with the big city. And I started school at Columbia.

We have our many differences, of course – but these little similarities, they hooked me deeper into Bruce’s story.

Music out: Milkwood

ANMARGARET WARNER
As a student, Bailey was introduced to leftist politics. He was a conscientious objector during the Korean War.

After he graduated in 1959, Bailey stuck around in New York City. He started hanging in neighborhood bars with writers and intellectuals – key figures in the counterculture movement.

BAILEY
I met people like Kerouac.

ANMARGARET WARNER
Jack Kerouac – the author of On the Road.

BAILEY
I knew his friend Neal Cassady out in California too…And Ginsberg was around there too…

ANMARGARET WARNER
Allen Ginsberg – the poet who wrote Howl. Bailey does a lot of name dropping in this interview.

He read socialist philosophy.

BAILEY
I subscribe wholeheartedly to the Marxist view, that Engles expressed over and over again that there will be no human society until there’s socialism…[lower]

JOSH LASH
And eventually his politics led him to a career in housing activism. His first big fight was against his alma mater, Columbia University.

BAILEY
We decided to found the Columbia Tenants Union together with a couple of neighborhood activists.

WOLFSOHN
And what year was this?

BAILEY
1973…our main focus was Columbia Housing.

JOSH LASH
At the time, Columbia was buying up affordable housing in Morningside Heights and converting it into dorms, leaving the tenants with nowhere to go.

DON GUTTENPLAN
What was happening then, we can see in retrospect was a kind of first wave of gentrification.

JOSH LASH
That’s Don Guttenplan (GUT-EN-PLAN). Today, he’s the editor of the Nation magazine. Back in 1989, he was a general assignment reporter for Newsday.

Guttenplan covered Bailey’s murder and grew familiar with the housing rights landscape in New York. And he sees what happened to Bailey as a particularly brutal moment in the history of gentrification in the city.

GUTTENPLAN
You know, this is something that happened in, all over, all over the city…it certainly happened around Columbia. I mean, you know, the reason that the Columbia Tenants Union was formed was because Columbia University was in those days, the largest private landowner in the city…

JOSH LASH
In terms of properties owned, they still are.

But back then, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Columbia was far from the only landowner jacking up rent prices in Morningside Heights and Central Harlem. This left long term tenants suddenly unable to pay their rent. They were often evicted and forced into tenement buildings with landlords that just didn’t care.

GUTTENPLAN
You know, there’s an intrinsic antagonism, which is made much more vicious, when you’re talking about not like, maybe somebody’s having a nice paint job in their apartment. But whether their heat works. Or whether their stove is going to poison them with carbon monoxide. Or whether they’re going to get electrocuted because the wiring is shot, you know. Or whether the rain comes in on their kids bedroom in the winter, so, you know, it’s high stakes, it’s high stakes. It’s a high stakes conflict that will probably go on as long as there are tenants and landlords.

ANMARGARET WARNER
Seeing gentrification happen in real time, attracted people to the CTU’s mission like Michael Smith.

MICHAEL SMITH
Ok well my name is Michael Smith. I came to New York in 1978.

ANMARGARET WARNER
Smith worked with Bailey and also edited the group’s newspaper – the Heights and Valley News. The two were close friends. And Smith and Eve Wolfsohn were married at one point.

SMITH
You know, gentrification was big business. And, you know, that, you know, that line of, I think it’s Balzac said somewhere that there’s: behind every great fortune, there’s a great crime. A lot of money was made in the gentrification boom, and the co-op boom, in those days and a lot of crimes lie behind it.

ANMARGARET WARNER
Bailey became well known for a tactic to get landlords to fold: rent strikes. That’s when you get all the tenants in a building to stop paying rent until housing conditions improve. It was a way to hit landlords in their wallet without waiting for housing court to step in.

SMITH
You know, he’d go into these little lobbies and ratty buildings in Harlem. And, you know, they’d be a group of a dozen, you know, totally frightened, intimidated tenants, you know, who were just at the end of their rope. And, you know, before the night was over, he’d have him on rent strike, even though they were scared to death of the landlord and what he might do and what reprisals he might bring to bear. He was really an amazing, had an amazing gift for putting heart into people.

JOSH LASH
It was stories like this that made Guttenplan admire Bailey’s activism.

GUTTENPLAN
When I first went into the story I thought of him as, as just a hero.

JOSH LASH
But the more Guttenplan learned about Bailey, the more he saw him as a complicated – and sometimes controversial – figure.

Music in: Slow Line Stomp

GUTTENPLAN
One of the things that set…one of the things that sets CTU apart is that they always had a slightly dodgier reputation than some of the other groups…

JOSH LASH
In his reporting, Guttenplan outlined some dark spots on Bailey’s record. In 1979, Bailey and his wife were convicted of filing for $14,000 in illegal unemployment benefits.

In the early 80s, Bailey was accused by the New York Attorney General of embezzling funds from the CTU treasury. In 1982, Bailey, Michael Smith, and another CTU official were accused of assault.

Both of these cases were eventually dropped. But they were enough to get the CTU removed from the Metropolitan Council on Housing – it’s an umbrella organization for tenant advocacy groups.

Guttenplan also heard from renters that the CTU would take over a building and not follow through on promised repairs. Landlords alleged that Bailey regularly accepted bribes to ease pressure.

People close to Bailey dismissed these charges as slander. Nellie Bailey, his wife, even called it her husband’s second dismemberment.

But Bailey’s friends admit that he could be abrasive.

Music out: Slow Line Stomp

WOLFSOHN
You know he wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy person.

SMITH
Yeah Bruce was, he was a very direct guy. I will say that I mean, he didn’t, he didn’t pull his punches and he didn’t indulge in euphemism very much. But he wasn’t a mean person and he wasn’t…he could be very gentle…but you know he had a low tolerance for bullshit.

SMITH
He really didn’t like seeing the strong bully the weak. He really didn’t like seeing that at all.

WARNER
The bullies in Bailey’s world were landlords. So when he turned up dead in the summer of 1989 those who knew him all thought pretty much the same thing.

SMITH
I don’t think there was ever any doubt in anybody’s mind that it was a landlord. I mean, that was you know, it’s like motive, means, and opportunity, right?

Music in: Secret Pocketbook

I mean, they certainly had the motive. I mean, he cost, Bruce had cost these guys a lot of money over the years. And they don’t take kindly to that. You know? And some of them just see it as a cost of doing business, and they shrug it off and they’re like white collar guys. And some of them take it a lot more personally.

JOSH LASH
Here’s what Guttenplan wrote back then.

GUTTENPLAN
Bailey targeted a landlord’s pocketbook for the same reason he tried to take their buildings away. He knew he had to win to keep the tenants with him. But it may have been this very aggressiveness that cost him his life. “Bailey was a pusher,” said one investigator. “He kept coming at you. And we have to think he pushed somebody out there too hard.”

Music out: Secret Pocketbook

JOSH LASH
After all of his reporting three decades ago, he says he hasn’t able to get what happened to Bruce Bailey out of his head.

It’s always bothered him that Bailey’s murder went unsolved. It’s like Humphrey Bogart’s line in the Maltese Falcon, he tells us…

MOVIE CLIP: MALTESE FALCON
When a man’s partner was killed, you’re supposed to do something about it.

JOSH LASH
That when a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it.

MOVIE CLIP: MALTESE FALCON
It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.

JOSH LASH
The NYPD figured that whoever killed Bailey might have been a landlord trying to send a message. There was a Village Voice article from August of 1989 that listed three plausible suspects. All were landlords.

And according to Lieutenant John Sebring, the police had their eye on one in particular.

SEBRING
We got another suspect because Bruce Bailey was a tenant activist. And he had trouble with this fellow. His first name was Jack. I can’t remember his last name.

LASH
Was his last name Ferranti?

SEBRING
Could be. I can’t remember.

JOSH LASH
It is. I knew the name Jack Ferranti but I didn’t know how to pronounce it. Because I had only seen it in print. In Don Guttenplan’s reporting on Bailey’s long list of enemies.

GUTTENPLAN
Jack Ferranti, who lost ownership of four tenements on 147th Street – after Bailey organized a rent strike – has an arrest record, police sources said. In 1984 Ferranti was arrested after a high speed car chase. At the time, he had accumulated more than $500,000 in fines, and had one of the longest records of housing violations in the city.

JOSH LASH
And then we found his name again. In 1995, The Village Voice ran a five page profile on Ferranti and his misdeeds. They named him as “New York’s Baddest Landlord.”

SEBRING
He owned a lot of buildings. And apparently, Bruce Bailey was a thorn in his side…I figured this guy Jack for it because this was an anger thing. And he was really, really pissed off at Bruce Bailey.

ANMARGARET WARNER
According to Sebring, Ferranti made public threats against Bailey in the weeks before his murder. That was enough for police to get a search warrant for a garage Ferranti owned in East Harlem.

SEBRING
We searched the whole place. We were looking for the…we thought we’d find whatever machine had cut Bailey up…but we didn’t find anything that would incriminate him to Bruce Bailey’s murder.

And there was an informant who was willing to say that Ferranti killed Bailey, but….

SEBRING
He was terrified. He said to my Sergeant, and he said, this guy will not just kill me he’ll kill all my family. So he refused to give him up.

JOSH LASH
To be clear, Ferranti was never charged with Bailey’s murder. Or arrested. In fact, he was never even questioned about it by police.

LASH
Did they ever bring Ferranti in for questioning?

SEBRING
No, we never did…if you tell somebody you’re bringing them into investigation, and they tell you they’re not gonna come in, nothing you can do about short of arresting them and what are you going to charge him with?

SEBRING
So I’m convinced that this guy Jack was the killer but exactly how he killed him, we’ll never know.

ANMARGARET
If Sebring and the NYPD were so sure about Ferranti, why did this case go cold?

ANMARGARET WARNER
To help answer that question, we called Joe Giacalone (JACK – O – LONE). He’s a retired NYPD Sergeant and he used to head up the Bronx Cold Case Squad. He wrote a book on cold cases.

JOE GIACALONE
A lot of times police departments might put a timeframe on it, like if you haven’t made an arrest in a year, so they would consider it a cold case. But it really has to do with an active lead. And an active lead could be a person of interest, waiting on forensics, those kind of things would keep a case active. If you don’t have any of those things, you have no suspect, you have no forensic evidence, or DNA or video surveillance or telephone records and subpoenas and all that other stuff, then we would fall in the cold case category.

A cold case doesn’t mean a closed case. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

But remember – when Bailey was killed, it was 1989. DNA, video surveillance – that’s hard to come by in a case like this. And without any physical evidence, the NYPD couldn’t consider Ferranti as an active suspect.

Even so, Sebring says he kept tabs on Jack Ferranti for a few years. And then, in 1992, something happened.

LASH
A fire was deliberately set at an apartment building in Queens.

Sound of a firetruck siren – Lt. Tommy Wiliams tribute

Lieutenant Tommy Williams – a firefighter on the scene – fell to his death trying to escape the blaze.

It was one of Ferranti’s buildings. He had ordered it set on fire to collect some insurance money. He was arrested in 1994. Two years later he was sentenced on 19 counts – including arson resulting in death.

During his sentencing, prosecutors brought up his connection to the Bailey murder. And they alleged that his younger brother – Mario – was also involved. But this was dismissed by the judge as hearsay.

 

Jack Ferranti Sentencing Transcript
A portion of Jack Ferranti’s sentencing transcript, alleging his involvement in the Bailey murder.

 

SEBRING
When he went to jail, that was pretty much the end of the trail for us because he was our prime suspect…we did all we could but while we’re still investigating him, as I say, he got locked up for arson homicide. And that took care of him. I think they put away for life. I think.

Music in: Slow Line Stomp

JOSH LASH
Not quite. Today, 67-year-old Ferranti is in a low security federal prison in Pennsylvania. With time off for good behavior, he is due to be released in 2026.

ANMARGARET WARNER
We reached out to Ferranti – we mailed him a letter. We haven’t heard back.

But we do know he has petitioned for an early release from prison – as recently as this winter. He asked to serve out the remainder of his sentence at home. The request was denied.

Ferranti appealed. His attorney argued that there is quote “no evidence in Ferranti’s past…of any history of violence.”

In April, the judge again dismissed Ferranti’s request for early release.

JOSH LASH
Not everyone who was close to Bailey buys the NYPD’s story – that they tried as hard as they could but ultimately there wasn’t enough evidence to charge someone with his murder…

Music out: Slow Line Stomp

Bailey’s friend Michael Smith – from the Heights and Valley News – is one.

SMITH
You know, I don’t think they made much of an effort, honestly.

ANMARGARET WARNER
In talking to Lt. John Sebring, we got the sense that he did all he could. But that may have not been enough. The Bronx DA could have offered protection for Sebring’s informant. The Manhattan DA could have issued search warrants for more of Ferranti’s buildings. The mayor could have made this case a top priority for law enforcement. None of that happened.

RON KUBY
The reason why it didn’t go anywhere is nobody really gave a shit.

JOSH LASH
Ron Kuby (COO-BE) is a civil rights lawyer, who represented Bailey’s family after the murder. Kuby made overtures to the New York Attorney General, asking for the FBI to get involved in the investigation. But he never got an answer.

KUBY
I mean, Bruce didn’t exactly make himself popular with anybody. This was not a time where you know irritating tenants organizers were winning any friends. I mean New York City was trying to recover, was still in a, in a recovery program as it were. And it’s prognosis was uncertain. And nobody was going to get anything by, by pissing off the real estate industry and like, siding with tenant organizers. On anything.

GUTTENPLAN
I think it’s true that nobody powerful cared. I mean, I cared…I think, I think Lieutenant Sebring cared. I’m sure Nellie Bailey and their sons cared. But you know, he was a tenant organizer. So in New York City that meant he was working for the powerless as opposed to the powerful.

Music in: Milkwood

ANMARGARET WARNER
The mysteries surrounding Bailey’s murder – they aren’t unsolveable. Some answers might be in a case file somewhere, where they’ve been gathering dust for thirty years. Other answers may lie with a witness – someone who saw what happened to Bailey that night in June, or played a part in his abduction. According to our cold case expert Joe Giacalone, getting any of that will take a lot of time and even more luck.

GIACALONE
Well, if you have a case that’s been open for 30 years, you don’t close it within you know, 45 minutes and three commercials.

GUTTENPLAN
I think, partly what’s significant about it is it takes us back to a much rawer, a more raw period in New York City history. You know, when gentrification didn’t mean a Whole Foods opening up down the block. When it meant that, that your landlord either brought in criminals into your building or burned it down. You know, and when people weren’t just displaced sometimes they were beaten or murdered.

We reached out to some of Bruce Bailey’s family. They didn’t want to be a part of this story. But Bailey’s youngest son did tell us over the phone that he sometimes wonders whether his father’s work has had a lasting impact all these years later.

JOSH LASH
It’s a question Michael Smith has been grappling with for years.

Music out: Milkwood

SMITH
I spoke at his funeral. And it was, forgive me, it was a little difficult, because I was extremely fond of him and admired him immensely…

He was the only guy I had ever known – well known personally in my own life – known, you know, as a friend, as a colleague, whom I would call heroic.

WARNER
Do you still think about him at all?

SMITH
A lot. A lot. I look around, you know, what the neighborhood has become. And, you know, there’s a lot of places that are that still, for me have associations with him. The former Columbia Tenants Union office, I think is now some kind of a gym or a pilates studio or something like that…So a lot’s changed…And, you know, a lot of the changes that have happened were the very things that Bruce was trying to prevent. So it’s a little, you know, it’s a little elegiac and mournful sometimes to see, that you know, that we were so roundly defeated, really. I mean, there’s no getting around it. We fought the good fight and we lost. But there’s something to be said for fighting the good fight anyway, I think. And that’s what Bruce would have told you. You know, it doesn’t, you know, you’re not necessarily called to prevail, but you are called to do your duty. (7:16)

Music in: Milkwood

JOSH LASH
We don’t really know what Bailey would have told us about the good fight. But we do know what he told Eve Wolfsohn, back in 1987.

That before the CTU, before Jack Ferranti – before any of that, Bailey had always felt the need to fight for the powerless. Even as a sophomore in college, in his dorm at Columbia.

BAILEY
Then they would pick on certain guys. There was this poor kid…from Michigan…and for some reason the guys on the, the pre-meds on my floor, started picking on him…that’s bullshit, you know…And I remember I had a fight with some guy because he’s picking on because of course that I got all self righteous you know. You know I guess I you know I figured…I mean not figured, instinctively…Gave me some importance to be a defender of the weak…so then I had fights with these guys, you know…I remember I grabbed one I was going to do damage to him, but and so I, so I moved out of there.

Music out: Milkwood

Music in: Squeegees

ANMARGARET WARNER
Shoe Leather is a production of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. This episode was reported, written and produced by me Anmargaret Warner.

JOSH LASH
and me Josh Lash.

ANMARGARET WARNER
Joanne Faryon (FAIR-EE-ON) is our executive producer and professor. Dale Maharidge is our co-professor. Keshav Pandya (PAHN – DEE – YA) is our technical advisor.

JOSH LASH
Special thanks to Columbia Journalism Librarian Kristina Williams, Columbia Digital Librarian Michelle Wilson, Peter Leonard from Gimlet Media, Rachel Quester from The New York Times, The Daily, Emily Martinez and David Blum (BLOOM) from Audible.

ANMARGARET WARNER
Madeleine Baran (MAD – EL – EN BARE – EN) and Samara Freemark (SAAM – ARA FREE-MARK) from American Public Media, In The Dark. Susan White from Garage Media, Nate Di Meo (DA – MI – O) from The Memory Palace, Jonathan Hirsch (HERSH) from Neon Hum Media, Clint Schaff (SHAF) from the LA Times Studios, and Stuart Karle (KARL) for his legal advice. Shoe Leather’s theme music – ‘Squeegees’ – by Ben Lewis, Doron Zounes (DUH – RONE ZOO – NEZ) and Camille Miller. Other Music by Blue Dot Sessions.

JOSH LASH
To learn more about Shoe Leather and this episode, go to our website. Shoeleather.org

Music out: Squeegees

WOLFSOHN
Let’s go back a little bit to the, to the newspaper to, when…

BAILEY
You know, I don’t have, I don’t have energy for this debate, you know, I think that that to go…

WOLFSOHN
I know, it’s already been almost two hours.

BAILEY
Yeah, I can’t. And I haven’t had breakfast and I’ve also got this kid with the small with the chicken pox. I think if we’re going to do that I have to do it another day.

 

© Josh Lash & Anmargaret Warner, 2020

To contact the authors of this podcast please reach out by email. Josh: jnl2132@columbia.edu. Anmargaret: anmargaret.warner@gmail.com.

Thank you

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