One cold December evening, a Columbia University security guard is shot execution-style, with no suspect, motive or clues in sight. Twenty-seven years later, his family is still seeking answers and one retired detective is determined to solve this mystery.
It went down to eleven degrees the night of December 20, 1988. Garry Germain, a newly hired security guard, had started working for Columbia University just six weeks prior. He was stationed at the Graduate School of Journalism. After finishing dinner, and with two hours left on his shift, Germain returned to his post at Pulitzer Hall. Standing inside the lobby to escape the cold, he kept a watchful eye on the courtyard, in particular towards the entrance of Furnald Hall grocery store, which had been held up twice in the past month.
Germain was last seen at ten p.m. near the marble floor inscription of newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer – who dedicated the school “in memory of his daughter Lucille.” By 10:20 p.m. he had been shot dead.
The 34-year-old security guard was found in a pool of blood; radio, notepad and nightstick still on his body. There appeared to have been no struggle; the police reports indicated the murder was quiet and precise.
Police arrived on the scene at 10:47 p.m. Medics then took Germain to nearby St. Luke’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. A shot from such close range, behind the left ear, guaranteed death.
Although the murder happened on an Ivy League campus, inside the nation’s premier journalism school no less, there was little media coverage surrounding the event. Long before Twitter and Instagram, it merited just a minor story in the metropolitan section of The New York Times, and a few in the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper.
In subsequent weeks, detectives found no forensic evidence, no weapon, and no discernable motive.
“They didn’t have CCTV back then—” says Denis O’Sullivan, a Manhattan North detective who worked the case, “—made things a lot harder.”
The location of the homicide proved a tough one for forensics too. Pulitzer Hall, a grandiose, taupe lobby with a luminous marble floor and rococo-style ceiling, is the only entrance to the journalism building. Many people pass through it, and thousands of fingerprints get imprinted there every day.
O’ Sullivan and then-partner Al Genova joined the investigation on the third day. O’Sullivan says that although there were plenty of homicides around Morningside Heights at the time, the Columbia grounds were considered a safe environment, and very well patrolled.
O’Sullivan, 71 and now retired, cuts the figure of a classic New York cop; short, stocky, he always walks with his hands in his pockets. “It’s a habit I picked up on the job — never let your hands touch a crime scene.”
Originally from Ireland, O’Sullivan came to the States when he was just twelve, and grew up in the north Bronx. He speaks at an incredible pace and has acquired a special kind of Bronx twang.
The detective who originally caught the case was Julie Reyes, a John Jay Criminal Justice alum. O’Sullivan says that she was a young detective who put an enormous amount of work into it.
“She was excellent, but it was so different back then – you were here one day and the next you were gone, because there was so many homicides.”
In 1988 New York City’s murder rate climbed to a staggering 1,896. To give some perspective, in 2014 the number of homicides in all five boroughs totalled 328. This, the detective admits, made the job a lot harder, “With that volume of work, and no DNA testing? You kiddin’ me,” says O’Sullivan.
After serving 26 years on the police force, O’Sullivan retired in 1990 and began working as an associate director of Columbia University’s investigations unit. His interest in the still-unsolved Germain case kept growing every day, as he walked by the Journalism building.
“I couldn’t help it. The guy was a decent human being, and he gets executed. For what?” exclaims O’Sullivan.
* * *
Originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Garry Germain came to the United States in his early teens. His ambition had been to study abroad.
This was during the François “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier era, when political persecution and fear of death caused Haitian professionals, the middle class and students to leave the island in large numbers.
After finishing high school and earning the love of his sweetheart, Marlene Jones, Garry enlisted in the Army and was deployed to West Germany. He spent the good part of three years working in the communications unit — fitting telephones lines, fixing broken masts and so on. There was no war, and according to his best friend — and fellow Haitian in the military, Jerome Boutin — it was a fairly pleasant stint.
Upon returning to the states briefly in 1977, Garry married Marlene. They wed on a snowy New Year’s Day in New York surrounded by friends who had attended Louis Brandeis High School on the Upper West Side, which back then enrolled a large number of Haitians.
When Germain finally finished his service, the young family moved from an apartment in the city to a white-panelled house in Queens Village; with a garden for their three young children to play in, and a driveway where Garry could work.
Garry Germain was a car junkie. From the age of thirteen on, he could be seen fixing engines and toying with gears. He had a real genius when it came to automobiles.
While stationed in Germany, Garry bought a 1972 red-orange “Duster” that he eventually took to the States. It was one of a kind, and he couldn’t miss the opportunity to have it.
But Garry’s fondness for fast cars didn’t make him reckless — he never had so much as a speeding ticket. A humble man, Garry dreamed of opening up his own mechanic shop and moving to the coast of Florida
Jerome Boutin, who today lives in Palm Coast, Florida, says Garry bought a lot not too far from his, shortly before he died.
Boutin says Garry was a kind and very generous man; he would later give the Duster as a gift to his older brother, Max, to whom he was incredibly close.
“He looked up to his brother. They were like this,” Boutin says, crossing his fingers. “With Max around, you couldn’t touch Garry.”
“He liked to be around his family – it’s really all he liked to do,” adds Garlene Germaine, Garry’s eldest daughter.
At the time of his death Garry Germain left three young children behind: Garlene, eight, Vicky, seven, and Christopher, four. Like his father, Christopher also later served in the Army, before dying in a car accident in 2005.
“He was everything. He cooked, he did the laundry, he took care of the kids — that guy was a father,” says his brother Max Germain.
Max is a man with a mischievous grin and raspy voice. He wears his glasses on the tip of his nose, and has one large protruding tooth in the center of his smile. If Garry was quiet and reserved, Max is gregarious — a teaser, a talker, the center of attention, particularly with the ladies.
Growing up with three sisters, the boys formed a close bond early on. After they both moved to New York, they shared an apartment on 105th Street and Amsterdam Avenue until Garry left for the Army. When he moved to Queens, Max also relocated his own family nearby.
“Every Sunday morning, we had to have breakfast together. I make sure I got my chocolate and OJ ready, he’s coming with the beef patty or small biscuits. E-ve-rry Sunday,” says Max, emphasizing each syllable.
However, Mrs. Germain was not part of the family breakfasts. Marlene claims that from the beginning, Garry’s family displayed an animosity towards her. She was never accepted, mostly, she says, by her husband’s brother.
Marlene believes this was because she wasn’t the customary “Haitian housewife.” Garlene, the eldest daughter, says it was more complicated than that – Garry and Marlene had met young, and his family didn’t get time to know her properly. Garry also came from a strict Catholic background, while Marlene is a born-again Christian.
“She was a slim, doll-faced, flamboyant girl, who drew a lot of male attention,” recalls Jean Augustin, a family friend of the couple, (and one-time drummer in Marlene’s church band), “Sometimes, she played on it.”
Whatever her relationships were, Marlene says she never kept them a secret, and openly spoke about her boyfriends, including a “blondie” whom she was particularly fond of and who called her “his chocolate milk.”
Marlene says Garry had girlfriends too, and it was just the way they chose to live. (Max disputes the claim that Garry had lovers). She says she could never see herself with anyone else; she and Garry were partners in every sense of the word.
After settling in Queens, Germain worked as a security guard at the VA Hospital in Downtown Manhattan for nine years, while Marlene ran the family business: a restaurant called “Le Triumphe” on Jamaica Avenue.
“I named it that, for luck,” she remembers, heavily drooping her head. Although the restaurant belonged to both of them, Marlene says that Garry didn’t like to hang around much; his family would often come over and cause friction between the young couple. “We both owned it, but I was in charge,” says Marlene.
In the summer of 1988, the security firm that Germain worked for folded and the young father of three was left down and out. Max, who had already been working for several years at Columbia University, as a café porter, told Garry he could pull a few strings and get him a job as a campus safety officer. It would be steady work with decent pay, averaging $30,000 a year, added perks like life and health insurance, and a free education too. The brothers would now work close together, too.
“Everyone knows me at Columbia,” says Max, “so when Garry started here he was accepted straight away.”
One evening towards the end of October, two months before Garry Germain’s murder, Marlene and her father were stacking chairs at the end of the workday at Le Triumphe, when a young male entered the restaurant through the front door.
“He started beating me, asking me for money,” Marlene recalls, pointing to the scar on the left side of her forehead. “I told him I didn’t have the money. He was crazy! Probably on drugs.”
After a fourteen-day search, police arrested nineteen-year-old Anthony Chapman for attempted robbery and assault. The boy was charged, but Marlene’s mental and physical state was affected; she had suffered severe blows to the head that bed-bound her for weeks.
Garlene recalls that her father was extremely worried about the health of his wife, but his family was not so — labeling her as irresponsible and inept. According to Marlene one sister went so far as to say, “Oh how fresh is Marlene, she let something like that happen to her.”
Later, police investigated Chapman as a possible suspect in Garry Germain’s murder but found no link.
Then, two weeks before Garry’s death, Marlene says that she had a foreboding dream.
“There were two guys sitting on a back seat of a car. I said ‘please, help, help, call police, can you see I just got shot?’ They shook their heads. It was on 103rd Street and Broadway, and nobody seen anything. Garry got killed on 116th and Broadway.” She pauses, “Can you believe that?”
* * *
On December 20 Garry was working the four p.m. to midnight shift; he liked those hours as he could spend the day with his children, while Marlene attended the restaurant. It’s how he spent his final day.
“I spoke to him on the phone last. He said he was going to work but was making the kids some spaghetti,” Marlene recalls. “I asked him if he needed me to bring something. He just said, ‘make love to me later.’”
Garry drove to work that day, in a silver Chrysler he’d fixed for a friend of his brother’s, Eely Clark. He parked the car on 116th Street and Morningside Drive, ready for Clark to pick it up the next day. Garry also withdrew $500; according to police reports, his brother said the money was probably to purchase parts for the car. Marlene is unsure why the money was withdrawn, but assumes it was for presents, since it was just five days before Christmas.
The shift supervisor for Columbia security on the night of Garry Germain’s death, was Ivan Arevalo; a tall, well-built man with a personable smile. Arevalo says that nothing unusual happened that cold December evening — he’d been patrolling the campus with another guard when he went to sign Germain’s shift book, at around ten p.m.
“Did we even say anything to each other?” his voice peaks as he tries to remember, “apart from the usual, ‘is everything OK?’”
Arevalo says he and the other guard then left Garry and continued on to the other buildings of their route. They would return twenty minutes later to find Garry dead.
“We’d almost reached the fountains on Low Library Plaza when we got an alert for an officer down. We then doubled-backed, and ran towards Journalism,” says Arevalo.
Their first concern was trying to revive Garry.
“We couldn’t even find where he was shot,” says Arevalo, looking down at his hands. “We tried to stop the flow of blood but it wasn’t happening.”
Although he and his colleagues took a quick look around the lobby, Arevalo estimates it may have been ten to fifteen minutes before an actual search of the building began. “There was no one there as far as I can remember,” says Arevalo. “If there was, we would have detained that individual.”
Back at home, Marlene received a call at eleven p.m. telling her that her husband had been killed. After the initial shock, she dressed the kids, hailed a cab and headed towards St. Luke’s Hospital in the black of night.
Garry had been listed as an organ donor, so by the time Marlene and the children arrived in Manhattan, it was too late to even see his body. They were escorted to the waiting room, where they sat for almost ten hours before they were let in to see him.
“The whole time we were in the taxi I just kept repeating, and praying, and repeating that we’d be able to see him, just one more time,” recalls Garlene.
Early the next morning, Max Germain arrived at the house, and without any explanation moved his brother’s Datsun from the driveway. Max didn’t go inside to see his brother’s family. Marlene assumes he came over to rid the car of any notes from girlfriends past. But Max asserts this is nonsense, and says his brother had given him a set of keys in case his own car ever broke down – which it had that morning.
* * *
There are many possible scenarios explaining how Garry Germain was killed. None lead to any conclusive suspects or motivations, and as of today there is still no predominant theory.
O’Sullivan says that the case has passed through the desks of more than 22 detectives. After 27 years, Germain’s case remains officially open in the State of New York. It never went to the Cold Case Unit because of a lack of DNA evidence.
At any given time there are approximately 9,082 unsolved murders in New York City, dating to 1985, according to “The Restless Sleep” – an online cold case resource run by former NYPD officers. With roughly 150 to 200 being added to that figure every year, try as they might the police are not solving very many. But a murderer pulling off a perfect crime, on an Ivy League campus, and disappearing without a trace, still seems extraordinary. Denis O’Sullivan cannot fully comprehend how it happened, but he thinks there are people out there who could point in the right direction.
After retiring from the NYPD, O’Sullivan continued to work over the years with district attorneys who took on Germain’s case.
In December 2014, O’Sullivan, working independently, plastered homicide posters around the Columbia neighborhood in the hopes of renewing interest in the case.
“Somebody always talks about it, or somebody saw something that they didn’t think was important. There’s always something there,” says O’Sullivan.
A detective from the 26th precinct currently has the case and is trying to make Crime Stoppers cards offering a $10,000 reward for any new leads. O’Sullivan feels that the cards will be more successful, since they’ll be pocketsize, and therefore, easier to distribute.
* * *
Garry Germain was by all accounts a mild man, with no known enemies. So, suspicion first fell upon his wife, because of Marlene’s tangled love life. According to O’Sullivan, several of the detectives theorized that one of Marlene’s lovers most likely executed Garry.
In one police report, Norma Germain — Garry’s older sister — states Marlene had confided in her that she’d received two calls the night of Garry’s murder; one from Columbia University telling her Garry was dead, and another, shortly before, from an unrecognized male voice stating that her husband would be killed.
Marlene has never reported the second anonymous call. Although Detective Reyes subpoenaed the phone records at the time, O’Sullivan states that back then, phone companies would only release outgoing calls so it has never been verified. Today Marlene denies any such phone call took place.
During the preliminary police interviews, detectives also noted that Marlene didn’t seem incredibly shaken or upset. Perhaps this was why investigators initially concentrated their search on her. Needless to say, people grieve in different ways. But no evidence pointed towards Marlene and she was never named a suspect.
Marlene has since remarried, but says she thinks about her first husband all the time.
“I was a widow for eleven years,” she says, “Because all that time, I was always looking for Garry in any relationship. I will never find that man again.“
Apart from Marlene, no other family member has ever been scrutinized by the police. Max Germain, who after 46 years still works in the café opposite the Journalism building, has remained in contact with detectives throughout. He says he is unsatisfied with Columbia’s commitment to the investigation.
“I never left [Columbia] because I was always hoping that if one day, they find out who kill my brother, I’d be as close to them as possible,” he states under his breath.
Another theory that has been explored is robbery, particularly because of the two armed robberies at Furnald Hall grocery. However, Garry Germain didn’t hold anything valuable on his person. He was found with $9 and a photo of a Catholic saint in his back pocket. “That’s what they gave me when they handed me his clothes,” says Marlene. Police have never verified the $500 he withdrew from the bank, but believe he did not have it on him when he was killed, as there were absolutely no signs of struggle, and according to O’Sullivan there was no indication of a robbery.
The time of the killing is also noteworthy. Ivan Arevalo signed Garry’s shift book at around ten p.m. If the assailant had entered the building from the outside, the guards would most likely have seen him. This is why O’Sullivan believes that the gunman may have already been inside the building.
The Journalism school was locked after a certain hour – Arevalo cannot recall exactly when — and the only people with keys were the security guards, plus the fellows and staff of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowships, whose offices were located off the Pulitzer Hall lobby.
The only witness to have seen a man exit the Journalism building at that time, in what he described as a hurry, was an associate of the business journalism fellowship program, Fred Johnson.
Johnson, now deceased, was an assistant to the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship director. Johnson was studying at school late on the night of the 20th, when he decided to go for a jog near Riverside Park. Johnson saw Garry Germain standing in the lobby as he left the building, around ten p.m. By the time he came back, Garry was lying dead on the floor. Those fifteen or twenty minutes are the crucial time frame in which the shooter struck.
In police reports, Johnson says that as he walked back towards the Journalism building, he saw a six-foot-tall black male, who he guessed weighed around 200 pounds, wearing a dark trench coat and hastily moving east, towards College Walk. Johnson never got a good look at the guy’s face; it was dark and he was wearing a hood.
Once he entered journalism and saw Garry injured in the lobby, he immediately rushed up to the third floor and dialed public safety. Shortly afterwards, Ivan Arevalo and two other guards arrived on the scene.
Garry was found lying on his left side, facing inwards towards the staircase. Police suspect the perpetrator came from behind, entering the lobby from the basement stairs.
A female student also described seeing a man who fit the description of the suspect lurking behind the Journalism building in that time frame, near a dark corner where there were telephone boxes at the time. In police reports she is quoted as saying the man looked as if “he was hiding.”
However, no evidence indicates the two sightings were connected. The female student claims the man she saw was wearing a light trench coat and Johnson specified a dark one. Furthermore, it was winter, and many people would have been wearing overcoats.
Fred Johnson was interviewed at the scene and then again later at the precinct. Both times he relayed the jogging story according to police reports. But his alibi could not be verified, and raised some eyebrows.
On the night of December 20, 1988, temperatures dropped to sub-freezing, so jogging outside would have been an odd choice. Not only was it late and cold, but Riverside Park was extremely dangerous in the 1980s; many people wouldn’t want to walk in the park alone during daytime, much less jog there at night.
Perhaps Johnson didn’t go jogging, and was doing something nefarious and unrelated, that he didn’t want to tell police about. But this is only speculation and has never been confirmed.
Pamela G. Hollie, Johnson’s superior and Director of the Knight-Bagehot program in 1988, was quoted in a New York Times article as saying that Johnson was studying for final exams that night.
“Fred saw a man leaving who could have been leaving the building,” Hollie said, “but there’s no way of knowing if that was the guy or not.”
Today Pamela Hollie, states she has no recollection of the murder.
“I’m not even sure why I was in that article to start with,” she says, laughing. “But suffice it to say, it doesn’t sound like I was even in the building, which doesn’t certainly count for much. I certainly wasn’t an eyewitness, and it involved someone’s name who I don’t even re-recall…”
Police have never interviewed Hollie.
Nothing was stolen from the Journalism building, so it can’t be branded a robbery. But perhaps the school itself is beside the point; there is an alternative way into the building, via the pipe tunnels.
Columbia University sits on top of an extensive underground tunnel system. Some tunnels even predate the university; the oldest built in the nineteenth century when a mental asylum used to exist in Morningside Heights. These tunnels are small, tight and extremely hot, with a poignant smell of burnt rubber and muddy puddles from leakages. In the past, both students and non-students used the tunnels to navigate around campus. They were especially popular during the 1968 Columbia protests, when the insurgent student radio station used the tunnels as a way to tap into wires.
According to Arevalo, the security shift supervisor, a maintenance door from the journalism school into the tunnels was always broken, so guards would regularly patrol the area to make sure everything was in order.
“Folks who are not residents would come in; they would use that as traffic to go underneath College Walk, do what they were gonna do, and come all the way back out of journalism, and exit from Furnald Gate,” says Arevalo.
If the tunnel were indeed a point of entry for the assailant that night, it suggests that it was somebody familiar with the building and more importantly, the tunnel system.
Both Arevalo and O’Sullivan claim that all the petty thieves who’d grown up around Columbia played in those tunnels, and later as adults used them in order to steal from inside.
Something else that was well known on campus in the ’80s was that Columbia’s security guards would often “rough up” thieves in order to warm them not to come back. O’Sullivan, who extensively interviewed many of the “neighborhood guys,” says some people thought perhaps Garry Germain’s murder was payback to the security guards. But O’Sullivan points out that others state they’d have heard if it came from within the neighborhood.
This leads to another theory — that perhaps Garry Germain was the victim of a mistaken identity.
“There was a Jamaican guy who started around the same time as Garry, had the same height and build. This individual dealt in some questionable things in the past. We thought it could’ve been a mix-up,” says O’Sullivan.
When later interviewed by detectives, the guard claimed he had no trouble with anyone, and in the months after, although police maintained a close eye on him, they found no leads. He was eventually fired from Columbia for reasons unrelated to the murder investigation.
On the night of his murder, Garry Germain was stationed at the Journalism post for the duration of his eight-hour shift. If the execution was the work of a hit man, it would have been sloppy of the assailant not to locate the right target.
* * *
As another winter passes, Garry Germain’s family members are no closer to finding out exactly what happened. Who killed Garry? Was it just a random robbery or was it a hit job?
Marlene and the children lived in the Queens house for another nine months after Garry had died, finally deciding to start anew in Florida, where he had once envisioned moving his family.
O’Sullivan still works for the same office where Garry Germain once worked. Inside, there is a plaque that commemorates Garry for his service, both in the Army and as a security guard for Columbia. The remembrance hangs in the middle of a wall made up entirely of wooden boards. The varnish is now peeling, and the color has faded; it too sits in the past. A small ceremony was held in 2009, when the plaque was put up in Garry’s honor. Both the ceremony and the plaque were organized by O’Sullivan. The inscription reads:
“END OF TOUR: 20 December 1988. Officer Germain made the ultimate sacrifice serving the Columbia University Community.”
* * *
Sitting by the window at a Starbucks outside Disney World, Marlene Germain retells the story of her love affair with Garry. Shielding her eyes from the seeping afternoon sun, droplets of water run down her face as she recollects.
Without hesitation, she pulls out a thick folder, where she keeps all of Garry’s documents — photographs, letters and paper clippings of articles that were written at the time. The photograph in the homicide poster shows him as stern and serious, but in almost every other photo, he is soft and charming.
“What’s strange, after so many years my son Christopher also died on Broadway,” Marlene laments, stroking a photo of the two of them. “I said ‘God I don’t understand but I don’t want to ask why.’”
O’Sullivan says that every background check, every previous employer, each search led to no criminal history or corrupt activity on Garry Germain’s part. “Everybody we spoke to said he was just a real good guy, y’know?”
Many Columbia students today and even their professors do not know about Germain’s murder, or that it happened in the Journalism School lobby. O’Sullivan says he thinks the school prefers it that way.
The retired detective believes that whatever happened that night had nothing to do with Germain. In his opinion, in didn’t matter who was standing in Pulitzer Hall, somebody was going to get shot and it was probably a random act of violence. Yet he holds out hope that the answers are still out there.
“I think the media is going to solve this case. If this thing gets in the papers, and especially where it happened — the School of Journalism,” laughs O’Sullivan “Are you kidding me? If this isn’t news media then I don’t know what is.”
* * *
This case is being investigated by the 26th Precinct in Manhattan. Anyone with information on the case is urged to call Detective Nate Coniglio at (212) 678-1353.
Antoaneta Roussi is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She is a freelance reporter and photographer, and lives in New York. Her work has been published in Reuters and The Occupied Times, among others. You can follow her on Twitter via @antoanetaroussi