A treasure trove of rare New York City criminal records—from the late 1960s and early 1970s—literally went south last week when they were mistakenly shipped to a southern paper mill instead of to the city’s municipal archives.
Some 1000 boxes of records from the offices of the Manhattan district attorney were scheduled for release to the public after being kept confidential for more than 25 years.
Instead, in a goof that has historians and researchers wincing, the files were pulped up and destroyed, officials told the Voice.
The records cover the years 1967 to 1972, a period when Manhattan prosecutors were pursuing a major bribery case against then water commissioner James Marcus and his mob pals and alleged bombing plots by the Black Panthers.
“That’s sad and appalling,” said John Jay College professor Mike Wallace, coauthor of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.
The files were supposed to be trucked from a city warehouse in Queens to a Brooklyn location maintained by the Municipal Archives. But someone in the city’s Department of Records and Information Services filled out the wrong form, officials said, sending the files to a New Jersey pier and on to a southern mill that buys old paper from the city.
On learning of the error, the distraught head of the archives, Kenneth Cobb, raced to the pier to rescue the files. “I was climbing around inside containers at Port Elizabeth [New Jersey] looking for them. Unfortunately they were already gone,” said Cobb.
The archivist said he had assured himself the error was “a clerical mistake, not intentional. The records department has learned its lesson.”
The loss of the six years’ worth of records breaks up an otherwise perfect set of case files accumulated by the archives dating back to the last century, Cobb said.
All may not be completely lost for historians, however.
Cobb believes duplicates of many of the records may be in the hands of the state supreme court. “I’m going to make it my business to get the supreme court files,” he said.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 13, 2000