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Robert Emmet CHAMBERS Jr.






A.K.A.: "Preppy Killer"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 26, 1986
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: September 25, 1966
Victim profile: Jennifer Levin, 18
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty of manslaughter. Sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison on March 22, 1988. Released on February 14, 2003. On August 11, 2008, pleads guilty to selling drugs. Sentenced to 19 years on the drug charge on September 2, 2008

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Robert Emmet Chambers, Jr. (born 25 September 1966) is an American murderer, nicknamed the Preppy Killer. He killed 18-year-old Jennifer Levin in New York's Central Park during the early morning of 26 August 1986.

Early life

Robert Chambers was raised by his mother, Phyllis (née Shanley), a nurse who emigrated from County Leitrim in Ireland to New York City. He served as an altar boy and attended a series of prep schools on scholarship, since his mother could not afford to pay private school tuition. Chambers did not prosper in an environment in which many of his classmates were considerably better off than he, and had problems with poor grades and antisocial behavior, including stealing and drug abuse. Among the schools he attended were Saint David's School (New York City), Choate-Rosemary Hall, The Browning School and ultimately York Preparatory School. Chambers also attended Wilbraham Junior High in Massachusetts during middle school.

Chambers was accepted by Boston University, where he completed one semester but was asked to leave because of difficulties, one involving a stolen credit card. He subsequently committed other petty thefts and burglaries in connection with his drug and alcohol abuse.

Unable to hold a job, he was issued a summons for disorderly conduct one night after leaving the Upper East Side bar Dorrian's Red Hand, located at 300 East 84th Street in Manhattan. Chambers destroyed the summons as the police were leaving the scene, yelling, "You fucking cowards, you should stick to niggers!"

He later entered and was discharged from the Hazelden Clinic in Minnesota, an addiction treatment center. He lived with his mother in an apartment in a townhouse at 11 East 90th Street.

Levin's death

Chambers's girlfriend, Alex Kapp, publicly broke up with him at Dorrian's Red Hand bar on the night of Levin's death. Kapp was heard to express jealousy regarding the presence of Jennifer Levin, Chambers' secret lover, throwing a bag of condoms at him and yelling "You can take these back because you're not using them with me!" as she ended the relationship. Chambers subsequently left the bar with Levin.

Levin's strangled, half-naked corpse, covered in bruises, bite marks, and cuts, was found by a bicyclist beneath an elm tree on a grassy knoll near Fifth Avenue and 83rd Street, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her bra and shirt were pushed up to her neck, and her skirt was around her waist. The city Medical Examiner's office said that Levin had died of "asphyxia by strangulation," and police officials had said that there were numerous bruises on her neck, both from the strangulation and from her own fingernails as she clawed at her killer's hands. Later, Chambers watched from nearby as police officers investigated the scene. The investigators had found Levin's panties some 50 yards (46 m) away.

Chamber's arrest

Police were given Chambers' name by patrons at the bar, who had seen him leaving with Levin. When authorities arrived to question him at his home, he had fresh scratches on his face and arms, which he initially said were "cat scratches". He was then taken in for questioning.

Chambers changed his story several times: "'his cat had been declawed"; he "didn't part from Levin immediately upon leaving the bar"; "she had parted from him to purchase cigarettes". (It was later discovered that Levin did not smoke.) In the final version of his confession, he claimed that some time after he and Levin had left the bar, she had asked him for "rough sex", tied the 6'5" Chambers' hands with her panties, and hurt his genitals as she stimulated him, and that she had been killed accidentally when he freed his hands and pushed her off him.

Confronted with this explanation, the examining Assistant District Attorney Saracco said: "I've been in this business for a while, and you're the first man I've seen raped in Central Park". The rape scenario was considered to be highly unlikely, in light of the fact that Chambers was more than a foot taller than the 5'4" Levin, and at 220 lb (100 kg), he was almost double her weight.

Before booking, Chambers was permitted to see his father, to whom he said, "That fucking bitch, why didn't she leave me alone?"

The trial, in court and in the media

The media had labeled the crime "The Preppie Murder". Some of the New York media sources had reported the more lurid aspects of the case; for example, New York Daily News headlines read: "How Jennifer Courted Death" and "Sex Play Got Rough". Levin's reputation was attacked, while Chambers was portrayed as a Kennedy-esque "preppie altar boy" with a "promising future".

Archbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick of Newark, New Jersey, later Archbishop of Washington, wrote a letter of support for Chambers' bail application. He had known Chambers and his mother because Phyllis Chambers had been employed as a nurse by Cardinal Terence Cooke. McCarrick was close to the Chambers family and had served as Robert's godfather at his baptism.

Chambers had secured bail through his family and the owner of the bar, Jack Dorrian (who used his $650,000 East Side townhouse to secure the $150,000 bond). He then remained free on bond for the two years of his trial, reporting regularly to family friend Monsignor Thomas Leonard, a former teacher.

Chambers was charged with, and tried for, two counts of second-degree murder. His defense was that Levin's death had occurred during "rough sex". He was defended by prominent Harvard-trained lawyer Jack T. Litman, who had previously used the temporary insanity defense on behalf of Richard Herrin for the murder of Yale University student Bonnie Garland. Prosecutor Linda Fairstein stated: "In more than 8,000 cases of reported assaults in the last 10 years, this is the first in which a male reported being sexually assaulted by a female."

The case popularized the strategy later colloquially termed, the "rough sex defense". The defense sought to depict Levin as a promiscuous woman who kept a "sex diary"; however, no such diary existed. Levin, instead, kept a small notebook that contained the names and phone numbers of her friends and notations of ordinary appointments. Such tactics were met with public outrage, with protesters (some calling themselves "Justice for Jennifer") demonstrating outside the courtroom.

With the jury deadlocked for nine days, a plea bargain was struck in which Chambers pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of manslaughter in the first degree (a Class B felony), and to one count of burglary (a Class C felony) for his thefts in 1986. He was sentenced to serve 5 to 15 years, with the sentence for burglary being served concurrently.


In April 1988, the tabloid television program A Current Affair obtained and broadcast a home video showing Chambers at a party when he was free on bail. He was shown in the video playing with four lingerie-clad girls, choking himself with his hands while making loud gagging noises, and twisting a Barbie doll's head off, saying in falsetto: "My name is…Oops! I think I killed it."

Chambers served most of his 15-year sentence at Auburn State Prison, but was later moved to Clinton Correctional Facility due to his infractions, which cost him all his time off for good behavior. He assaulted a correctional officer and was cited repeatedly for weapons and drug infractions, some of which resulted in additional criminal charges. Ellen Levin, mother of Jennifer Levin, also pleaded before the New York parole board to deny him parole. Nearly five years of his term were served in solitary confinement.

In 1997, Chambers sent an untitled essay he wrote to prison anthologist Jeff Evans. The piece, subsequently titled "Christmas: Present," appeared in the book, Undoing Time: American Prisoners in Their Own Words. Written while Chambers was incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York, the essay is an entry from one of his journals, which he calls "a record of the meaningless hope and frightening losses of a person I don’t even know."

Chambers was released from Auburn Prison on February 14, 2003, after having served the entirety of his prison term due to his numerous infractions. His release was a media circus, with news media staking out prime sections of sidewalk opposite the prison as early as 13 hours before his 7:30 a.m. release time.

The same day, a documentary was aired on Dateline, interviewing Chambers. Chambers, continued to claim that he strangled his victim Jennifer Levin accidentally in a desperate attempt to stop her from hurting him during rough sex in New York's Central Park. He also denied that he had been in disciplinary trouble in prison. However, he had numerous infractions, including assaulting a member of the staff and was caught with heroin in his cell.

The owner of Dorrian's Red Hand came to a private settlement with Levin's parents on their claim that the bar had served alcohol to Chambers in excess. A wrongful death lawsuit, to which Chambers pleaded no contest, provides that he must pay all lump sums he receives, including any income from book or movie deals, plus 10 percent of his future income (up to $25 million), to the Levin family. The family has said all the money it gets from Chambers will go to victims' rights organizations. Ellen Levin became an activist for victims' rights, helping to secure the passage of 13 pieces of legislation.

After leaving prison, Chambers settled in Dalton, Georgia with his girlfriend, Shawn Kovell, who had appeared in the infamous Barbie doll video made before his sentencing. The two lived there for eight to nine months. He found a job at the Pentafab dye factory. Chambers and Kovell moved to an East 57th Street Sutton Place, Manhattan apartment in New York, when the death of Kovell's mother in the autumn of 2003 left it vacant. Chambers found a job at a limousine company in Queens, and later in a New Jersey sports trophy manufacturer's engraving plant.

Drug charges

Shortly before Thanksgiving 2004, Chambers was stopped in his Saab for driving with a suspended drivers license in Manhattan on Harlem River Drive at 139th Street. A search of the car he was driving found glassine envelopes containing an unknown substance. Chambers was charged on November 29, 2004, with possession of heroin and cocaine, driving with a suspended license, and driving a car without a valid inspection sticker.

Chambers pleaded guilty in July 2005, and on August 29 he was sentenced to a reduced sentence of 90 days in jail and fined $200 for the license violation. The judge added 10 days to the time prosecutors and Chambers' lawyer had agreed on because Chambers was an hour late for the hearing. He faced up to a year in jail if he had been convicted after trial.

On October 22, 2007 Chambers was arrested again, this time in his own apartment, and charged with three counts of the criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first degree, three counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the second degree and one count of resisting arrest. Kovell was also arrested on one count of the criminal sale of a controlled substance in the second degree. The New York Daily News reported:

Cops said Chambers, 41, struggled with officers who tried to handcuff him on the felony charges. One detective suffered a broken thumb in the fracas.

Commenting on his new arrest, former Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein, who had prosecuted Chambers for Levin's murder, said:

Doesn't surprise me. I always believed his problem with drugs and alcohol would get him in trouble again. He's had the opportunity in prison to detox and take college courses, to straighten out his life, but that clearly is of no interest to him. He's learned nothing in the last 20 years.

Chambers and Kovell were charged with running a cocaine operation out of the apartment. The two had previously been given notices for not paying the rent on the apartment, and the phone had been disconnected. Chambers appeared in court on December 18; according to the New York Post, his lawyer, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg, filed "new papers elaborating on his psychiatric defense". The filing claimed that Chambers had become an addict at the age of 14 and was, by 2007, using 10 to 12 bags of heroin a day. It was also reported that he also used cocaine, was smoking marijuana and taking prescription drugs. Chambers planned to plead insanity. Prosecutors countered that Chambers was a drug dealer and had sold as much as $2,800 in heroin at a time to undercover police. Chambers faced life in prison on the drug charges.

On August 11, 2008, the Manhattan DA's office announced that Chambers had pleaded guilty to selling drugs. On September 2, 2008, he was sentenced to 19 years on the drug charge.

In popular culture

  • The song "Eliminator Jr." from Sonic Youth's album Daydream Nation (1988) is about the Chambers case.

  • In 1989, the Chambers case was the basis of a TV movie titled The Preppie Murder, starring William Baldwin as Chambers and Lara Flynn Boyle as Levin.

  • In 1990, the television series Law and Order based the episode "Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die" on the case.

  • Mike Doyle has stated that his character, Adam Guenzel on Oz, (1997–2003) was based on Chambers.

  • The 2003 Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Monster" was based on both the Chambers case and the Central Park Jogger case.

  • The Killers' Murder trilogy songs from their 2004 album Hot Fuss ("Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf", "Midnight Show", and "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine") - are based on the Chambers case.

  • The case is briefly mentioned in Kerry Cohen's memoir Loose Girl (2008).

  • In the novel American Psycho, Patrick Bateman mentions trying to start a defense fund for Chambers


Chambers Speaks

Exclusive Interview With Troy Roberts

Feb. 26, 2003

(CBS) On Valentine's Day, Robert Chambers walked out of a prison in upstate New York as a free man, but one still pursued by his own infamy.

In an exclusive interview with 48 Hours Investigates correspondent Troy Roberts, Chambers apologized for the way he lived his life and took Jennifer Levin's.

"Every day, something reminds me of her, reminds me of her family," Chambers told Roberts. "And every day, I know that I'm in prison because somebody died, and I'm responsible for that. It's not an easy feeling. You don't get comfortable with it. And it's part of my life for the rest of my life."

Rehearsed lines from a con artist? Or genuine repentance?

In four-hour Feb. 17 interview session in a hotel outside of Washington, D.C., Chambers gave his version of exactly what happened the night in 1986 that he strangled Jennifer Levin and the time he spent in prison, during which he was charged with 27 rules violations. He served every day of his sentence.

Over and over again, he denied that he was faking remorse and playing the role that he had perfected as a teen-age prep school student.

"People say, 'I don't believe he's changed; I don't believe he's grown up; I don't believe he's going to be any different,'" Chambers says. " I will. I really will. I mean, it's a wake-up call. You know, you may not wake up immediately, like people want you to, but towards the end, there's something that clicks in your mind, and you realize, you have to change."

Chambers said he would prefer to spend time in solitary confinement than be interviewed . "I'd choose solitary in a second," he says. "It's a lot easier than this. I don't want to be here."

He repeatedly denied that he was playing a role. "Would I like to be forgiven? I wouldn't even think of asking for that," he said. "Would I like the opportunity to apologize for my actions? Yes. Am I acting? I don't know how to act. I'm too scared to act right now. You say I'm well mannered and everything. I'm here holding my hands. I'm scared."


The Story Of The Summer Of '86

Fateful Night In Central Park

(CBS) After 15 years, Robert Chambers walked out of prison 12 days ago a free man, still pursued by his own infamy. 48 Hours Investigates correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports.

He’s 36 now but people still remember him…from the summer of 1986 when he was 19. In New York, a city where killers get titles, Robert Chambers quickly became known as The Preppy Murderer. He looked the part. His face was everywhere. The story of how he strangled a beautiful 18-year-old named Jennifer Levin in Central Park was the talk of the town.

Chambers and Levin had dated before and met the night of Aug. 25 at Dorrian’s Red Hand, a bar that catered to the sons and daughters of the rich. Friends say that Robert and Jennifer left Dorrian's together around 4:30 a.m. Two hours later, a cyclist in Central Park found her lifeless body under a tree.

Chambers became a suspect within hours when police interviewed him, as they had Levin's other friends, about what she had been doing the previous night.

"He came out of the bedroom and the minute the two detectives- homicide detectives - saw him, they saw deep, fresh, bloody scratches on both sides of his face," says Linda Fairstein who prosecuted. Chambers She's now a 48 Hours consultant. "And in their minds, without saying anything, they - their immediate thought was this guy has to explain those scratches."

His explanation that the cat scratched him fell apart under questioning and he admitted killing Jennifer. The story he told police, seeming to blame Jennifer, was a shocking and graphic one about rough sex in the park. He claimed Jennifer was hurting him and the blow he gave her to make her stop hit her in the neck and killed her.

"Well, I can tell you that everything he said in that statement about how she died is absolutely untrue," says Fairstein, citing evidence of a violent struggle. The prosecutor said they argued bitterly about something that night, and Chambers squeezed Levin's neck very hard for a long time.

Chambers was charged with 2nd degree murder. His preppy good looks gained him some sympathy until a videotape, taken at a party he attended when he was out on bail, surfaced. In it, he is surrounded by girls wearing lingerie and holding a doll, appearing to mock Jennifer Levin's death.

"I was horrified when I saw it, but in a way I was also glad that he showed himself for what he really was," said Jennifer's mother, Ellen, in a TV interview at the time.

After almost three months of testimony and nine days of deliberating, the jury appeared unable to reach a verdict. So Fairstein made a deal. Chambers pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, a step down from murder. But as part of the agreement, Chambers had to admit in open court that he intended to hurt Jennifer when he killed her.

Today, Chambers wants to apologize.

As for the videotape that sealed his image with millions of American, he admits it was a mistake, even arrogant of him, to attend the party. "Everybody was just acting silly," he says, "and I acted silly. Reenacting a crime? Certainly not."

Of the murder, he clings to the story he told at his trial.

"My story hasn't changed," he said. "There is nothing to change. It's not a story that's pleasant. It's not a story people like. It's not a story that fits into people's perceptions. You know why? Cause it's not a story. It's the truth."

He denies that the scratches were inflicted as Jennifer fought for her life.

"While we were talking, she became upset about one thing," he said. "And the one thing was that I did not take her seriously. I did not take her feelings seriously. And I guess, in a way, I degraded her feelings. And with that, she scratched me. There was not a struggle for life. There was not an all-out war in there fighting for her life."

Fairstein believes Chambers hasn't changed very much despite all the time he spent behind bars.

"He's done 15 years of hard time, made harder because of his own drug abuse in state prison," she says. "I'm not willing to buy his words. I'm looking forward to seeing what his actions are in the next-- next 15."


The Deal And The Sentence

Chambers Copped A Plea And Did The Max

(CBS) Robert Chambers' murder trial had all the electric buzz of a New York City media event. As 48 Hours Investigates correspondent Troy Roberts reports, the newspaper columnists were dissecting his entire life.

"Sure. Just as they will when they see this," says Chambers today. "They will look at every time I move my thumb. If I jiggle my leg, if I sit forward, if I lean back, they’re gonna look for it."

The trial lasted three months and included a visit to the crime scene for the jury and for Chambers. After nine days of deliberations, the jury would deadlock, unable to agree on a murder conviction. The impasse forced the D.A’s hand, and Chambers was offered a deal.

Chambers recalls, "My attorney entered the room, and he said, 'The district attorney is offering you 5 to 15.' I didn’t like the deal."

The plea bargain required that Chambers admit in court that he intended to harm Jennifer Levin, something he had and always continues to deny. On March 25, 1988, Robert Chambers pleaded guilty to manslaughter one.

In prison, he told Roberts, Chambers was not assaulted in any way. But, still, he said, "It’s rough. It’s dangerous. It’s scary."

Chambers says the older inmates taught him the ropes. But how he actually did his time cuts straight to the heart of his story, and perhaps his character -- and the question of whether or not Robert Chambers will ever stay out of trouble.

He had 27 disciplinary violations for everything from weapons possession, drug possession, assault, disobeying direct orders. Chambers says many of the charges were minor, even trumped up. But, because of his poor disciplinary record, he would spend more than four years in solitary confinement.

Robert Chambers is a free man now, still being chased by the media, trying, he says, to get on with his life. He has a girlfriend, someone he met after his arrest in 1986, who has supported him ever since. She didn’t want 48 Hours Investigates to show her face… or divulge her name, but she says that Chambers has learned now how to be a friend.

Chambers claims to have no money of his own. He says he wants to earn a college degree…and find steady work. He owes the Levin family $25 million, the result of an uncontested civil suit. And if he lands a job -- any job -- 10 percent of his pay goes to the Levins for the rest of his life.

"This is real life, this is real death," says Chambers. "Somebody is dead. There has to be some action after the words. My action of doing 15 years. No… That’s just the beginning, it’s not an end. The trial didn’t end. The trial lives with me. Every day, I’m on trial."

But the Levins have never accepted any apology from Robert Chambers. For them, time stopped cold for their daughter Jennifer. This year, she would have been 34 years old.



'Preppie Killer' Robert Chambers arrested in drug sting

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

New York (AP) -- Robert Chambers, the so-called "Preppie Killer'' who served 15 years in prison for strangling a woman in Central Park during what he said was rough sex, could be back behind bars for the rest of his life following his arrest on charges of selling cocaine out of his 17th floor Manhattan apartment.

At a hearing Tuesday, State Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon jailed Chambers without bail until Thursday after Chambers said he did not have a lawyer and could not afford to hire one.

Chambers -- tall, lean and unshaven -- wore a black T-shirt with black sweatpants and dirty white sneakers with no laces and no socks. With his hands cuffed behind him, he looked alert and calm, and answered the judge's questions in a clear voice.

Chambers was arrested Monday after an undercover investigation that began with complaints from neighbors about drug sales in the doorman building in midtown Manhattan.

Police said undercover officers had purchased roughly a quarter kilogram of cocaine, with a street value of around $20,000, in eight buys over the summer. During the raid, police said they recovered 10 crack pipes and five small bags of cocaine.

"There was considerable traffic to his door,'' said police spokesman Paul Browne. "He was pretty indiscreet about it.''

Chambers is facing 14 counts of drug possession and sale, and will likely be charged with resisting arrest and assault. Police said he struggled violently with police.

Assistant District Attorney Dan Rather estimated that Chambers could be sentenced to 150 years in prison if convicted on the most serious drug charges.

Chambers, 41, became tabloid fodder after he was accused of killing Jennifer Levin, an 18-year-old graduate of the exclusive Baldwin School, during a tryst in Central Park in 1986. The slaying was splashed across the headlines as the story of a handsome, privileged, prep school youth gone bad.

In 1988, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison. He ended up serving the maximum term because of discipline problems behind bars, including dealing drugs.

A year after his release from prison, police arrested him for misdemeanor heroin possession and unlicensed driving. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 100 days in jail and fined $200.

In the latest incident, police used a battering ram to break down the door of the apartment Chambers shared with his girlfriend, Shawn Kovell.

Kovell, 39, was arrested on a charge of criminal sale of a controlled substance. Kovell has no prior record, but "was directly involved in the sales,'' said District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. She appeared in court Tuesday without a lawyer and was ordered held without bail until Thursday.

On the night Levin was killed, she and Chambers left the trendy Upper East Side bar Dorrian's Red Hand around 4 a.m. and walked to Central Park, stopping behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Two hours later, a bicyclist found Levin's strangled, battered and nearly naked body under a tree.

From a patch of grass across the park roadway, Chambers watched police investigate the area where his victim's body was found.

Hours later, police picked Chambers up at his home a few minutes' walk from the slaying site. His face was covered with scratches.

Chambers first claimed the scratches had been made by his cat; he later said he killed Levin accidentally after she hurt him during rough sex.

Prosecutors said he was drunk and high on drugs and killed her in a rage when he was unable to perform sexually.

Chambers' trial on a charge of second-degree murder lasted 11 weeks. John Zaccaro Jr., the son of 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, testified that he had been bartending at Dorrian's that night, and had known Chambers since elementary school.

After jurors said they were deadlocked, the defense and prosecution struck a deal that allowed Chambers to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter and receive a second-degree manslaughter sentence.


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