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The Tragedy of Louis Scarcella

Louis Scarcella, right, leading David Ranta out of the 90th Precinct in August 1990. Ranta was convicted in May 1991 despite no physical evidence connecting him to the murder of a Brooklyn rabbi.
Alan Zale

Another day, another murder, another suspect refusing to talk. The precinct caught maybe half a dozen homicides a week. This was 1993, and this was north Brooklyn. For every case solved there were plenty more cold ones on the books. But the young precinct detective was skilled and lucky on this one. He had good street sources and he had a lead within hours of the shooting. It led to an arrest.

The precinct detective sat across the table from the suspect in a small, windowless interrogation room in the far corner of the precinct. He knew the suspect would not crack easily. The man was not some stickup kid who'd botched a robbery, not some crack fiend looking for quick cash, not some corner boy settling a score. The man, the detective believed, was a leader of the neighborhood's most powerful gang. An hour or so into the questioning, the suspect held the line.

The door opened. Two men in suits walked in. The man in front was a broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, thin-waisted, thick-haired fellow with deep-set, dark eyes and an icy glare. The precinct detective knew this man. He'd seen him around the precinct. It was hard to miss him. He looked, colleagues often said, how a detective in a movie looks. And he played the part well. His suits were tailored. He always seemed to be chomping his trademark cigar, whether at the station, on the streets, or at the bar after hours. He had a booming voice thick with a Brooklyn accent. He had a hearty laugh and a respectable handshake. He loved to buy others drinks and trade stories. He was the friendliest and warmest man many of his peers had ever met, and he was quick to cut himself down with abundant doses of self-deprecation. It was hard not to love Detective Louis Scarcella.

Read the full story in this week's Village Voice


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