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Fordham Murder Case Resurfaces After 22 Years

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Fordham Murder Case Resurfaces After 22 Years

Patrick McNeill was found dead next to a Brooklyn pier in 1997.

Patrick McNeill was found dead next to a Brooklyn pier in 1997.

NIGEL ZWEIBROCK/THE OBSERVER

Patrick McNeill was found dead next to a Brooklyn pier in 1997.

NIGEL ZWEIBROCK/THE OBSERVER

NIGEL ZWEIBROCK/THE OBSERVER

Patrick McNeill was found dead next to a Brooklyn pier in 1997.

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On the 23-degree evening of Feb. 16, 1997, when Patrick McNeill, a junior at Fordham College at Rose Hill, left campus, his family had no idea that they would never again hear from their son.

By the late ’90s, the Dapper Dog, a bar on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, had established itself as a popular watering hole for Fordham students where a lack of ID checks and laissez-faire bartending policies created the perfect environment for underage drinking. Neighborhood residents had issued countless public drunkenness and noise complaints against the bar.

On the night of McNeill’s stop at the bar, one of his fellow classmates was bartending. McNeill’s roommates described him as “a real ladies’ man,” adding, “we’d tease him about his clothes, his cologne, how he had to be perfect.” Fordham professors praised his work, and McNeill himself wanted to one day join the FBI.

In the early hours of Feb. 17, after throwing up in the bar’s bathroom, McNeill announced to his friends that he would be taking the subway back up to Fordham. He waited outside for one of his friends, but when she failed to appear, onlookers noticed him start to stumble up Second Avenue. A double-parked van followed him up the avenue, stopped when he stopped and turned on East 90th Street when he did. After that, no one saw Patrick again.

That is, until after over a month of canvassing Upper Manhattan and hanging up missing person signs, his body was recovered floating next to a Brooklyn pier in the East River. The medical examiner who performed McNeill’s autopsy classified his death as “undetermined.” His blood alcohol content was determined to be 0.16. The NYPD’s official consensus is that Patrick drunkenly stumbled his way over to the East River, fell in and drowned.

Retired NYPD detective Kevin Gannon does not believe this assessment. Gannon was one of the detectives who investigated Patrick’s case. He promised his parents that he would find their son’s killer. Or killers.

Twenty-two years later, he hasn’t given up on this promise. Today, Gannon and his team of private investigators travel from city to city, investigating, case by case, the Smiley Face Killer theory. He suspects that an individual or group stalks, abducts and ultimately kills young college-aged men. The name of the theory derives from one chilling clue: graffiti of a smiley face found near where most every body has been discovered.

In McNeill’s case, Gannon holds that he was “stalked, abducted, held for an extended period of time, murdered and disposed.” While this theory may seem like a stretch, a look at the evidence suggests otherwise.

To end up in the East River from 90th Street, one would have to cross the notorious FDR Drive, a limited-access expressway with fencing on both sides. It seems nearly impossible that anyone sober, much inebriated, could stroll over one of Manhattan’s busiest highways unimpeded.

Further oddities presented themselves during Gannon’s investigation. Patrick’s autopsy suggested that he was bound and burned before being placed in the river.

Fly larvae were found on McNeill’s body — flies do not lay eggs in cold temperatures, such as the night that Patrick ostensibly drowned.

Gannon’s team did not respond to a request for comment.

Most eerily, Larry Andrews, another young college-aged man, was discovered floating deceased in the same location as McNeill almost exactly one year later. However, Andrews didn’t go missing on the Upper East Side. He was last spotted with friends on 42nd Street near Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Since then, hundreds of college-aged males have been found dead in bodies of water across at least 25 cities in the Northeast and Midwest United States. The causes of their deaths were reported as either accidental or undetermined. Is it really this cut-and-dry? Are all of these 20-something-year-old men, many star athletes, drowning accidently after a night of drinking?

Today, many Fordham students are unaware of such a sinister event surrounding the university, but were shocked upon learning about it. “It’s crazy to know that such a strange series of events involved Fordham,” Corbin Gregg, Fordham College at Lincoln Center ’22, said.

Another student, Liam Leahy, Fordham College at Rose Hill ’22, views the deaths as a lesson to college students. “If one is going to part, go with friends. There is strength in numbers,” he commented. “Use pack mentality.”

While we may never know for sure the truth behind these mysterious deaths, the evidence does not suggest that these young men are simply falling into rivers and drowning in hordes. With a new TV series to reinvigorate public interest in the case, Gannon’s team hopes that more police departments will reopen their suspicious drowning cases to allow for further investigation.

To this day, McNeill’s death is still classified as an accidental drowning by the City of New York’s Medical Examiner’s Office.

About the Writer
LEO BERNABEI, Staff Writer

Leo Bernabei, Fordham College Lincoln Center '21, enjoys writing political takes for the Opinions section but dabbles with all sorts of stories. He hopes...

1 Comment

One Response to “Fordham Murder Case Resurfaces After 22 Years”

  1. James Marsh on February 20th, 2019 11:25 am

    Great writing. Enjoyed your article. I have been a journalist for 60 years – also Zach Hutcheon grandpa for 20 of those years. Zach sent me a link to your piece. JM

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