More Pearl Mystery

The former tenants vanished in 1997 and have never been found

 LOCATION Financial district
RENT $3,200 [market]
SQUARE FEET 1,600 [loft on top floor of 1840s former sailmaker shop]
OCCUPANT Patrick O'Rourke [owner, Big Apple Lights]

How was the loft when you moved here in '98? [Patrick] Everything had been gone through with a fine-tooth comb. Boards pried up. Camden's mother had taken a lot of her stuff.

Camden was from Cape Cod, studied art at Hunter. Michael came from Chicago. He had a sister there, I think. At the point I was given the lease, I turned over Michael's effects to his power of attorney. I paid his back rent, certain legal fees.

photo: Brian Kennedy

Michael was poor, people said. When there was no water in the building, he washed in the fire hydrant. He moved to Pearl Street in the late '70s. There's a Thomas Struth photograph of the street from then—desolate. It was very different years ago. The streets were very dark.

Michael was such an artist of that time, financially able to hang on. He ran off one year, joined a circus. Camden's day job was selling property to the affluent, who were ultimately pushing out people like Camden and Michael. When they vanished, they were paying $304 a month, one-tenth of the market worth. This was governed then under the city Loft Board rules—slightly different from rent stabilization.

This street was called Pearl because it was paved with oyster shells. Early on, it marked the water's edge. Captain Kidd lived nearby in 1696. He did?

In a mansion with Turkish carpets and chairs from the East Indies. Clipper ships came and went with silk and gold. This was a sail manufacturing building. Sails were pulled up, through the floors, to be inspected for safety.

Thus the giant wheel near your kitchen. I was thinking about Rodriguez, the landlord with the lock shop downstairs, who was the focus of scrutiny, though police never found a clue. It is so incomprehensible that on a bustling Friday afternoon one person could either shoot two strong people in a ground-floor store or kidnap them. It just never made sense. Let's say a person's in a rage because tenants are complaining about heat. The tenants threaten to go to the law about his business problems—maybe Michael's come across incriminating mail that's been accidentally put in his box. [The landlord did serve time later for tax evasion and fraud.] And let's say the person snaps and screams, I've heard enough about the friggin' heat, and pulls out a pistol. There would be blood everywhere. How could one person dispose of two bodies? Of course, if someone had a hold over undocumented workers who could help . . . I don't know. Also, the tenant to silence would be Chuck Delaney, who's the Loft Board representative. But the whole tenant-landlord struggle, New York's most tired joke, was overplayed in the media. This crumbling building was freezing long before Rodriguez owned it and nobody disappeared then. [We reflect.] Things seem pretty calm around here now except for some unexplained spots in the photos you took, the lights that go off without explanation, the bottom of a glass that fell out when a dinner guest wouldn't stop talking about the case, and the—wait. What's that sound?The air conditioner.

And how about the fire? The Thursday before last Halloween, the building next door was gutted. It took four and a half hours to put out. It was an electrical fire, according to the Red Cross. They thought this building would go. They woke us at two and we had to evacuate.

I'm still perplexed. People just don't disappear in bourgeois bohemia. Though there's a Chicago story: A well-liked 40-year-old filmmaker fell in love out of the blue with a woman no one knew. To his friends' surprise, he moved West with her in 1993. Two years later, he vanished. It took five years but they found him. His remains were in the crawl space of a basement in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He'd been shot to death. Police believed the woman was the murderer. It turned out she was in a cult. You never know.


schlesinger@villagevoice.com

 
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