Michael Alig was released from prison last week. In the months leading up to his release, and the days since, Alig has been interviewed by Vanity Fair.com, People.com, Huffington Post Live, Inside Edition, Rolling Stone, Deadspin and The Daily Beast. He’s scored writing gigs for the New York Post, World of Wonder, and the UK’s Gay Times too.
He’s been received as a celebrity, while the young man he robbed, murdered, dismembered, and, for months, bragged about killing, has been reduced to a mere footnote.
On Thursday, the New York Times delivered its own profile of Alig. That one describes how Alig was scooped up from Mid-State Correctional Facility last Monday in a 15-person party van filled with drunk revelers. One joked: “We were going to bring a Fisher-Price plastic hammer.”
A hammer was the weapon Robert “Freez” Riggs used to hit Angel Melendez over the head, incapacitating but not killing him. It was Alig, his fist wrapped in a sweatshirt, pummeling an unconscious Melendez over and over and over again, that actually finished him off.
The pair then lifted Melendez’s lifeless body into the bathtub of the luxury apartment paid for by Alig’s boss, club impresario Peter Gatien, and doused it in Drano, baking soda and a few liberal spritzes of Calvin Klein Eternity. They left it there for “eight or nine days” before chopping Melendez’s body into pieces, and throwing them into the Hudson.
The details are fresh in my mind because Alig rehashed them in a piece he wrote for the Post on Monday. It’s the same piece in which he characterizes the murder as “a silly, pushy catfight” that started when Riggs poked fun at Melendez’s captain hat.
Since his release, there has been a lot of reminiscing about who Alig was before prison — “king of the Club Kids” — and much talk about his post-prison plans — reality shows, a memoir, an art exhibition — but there has been embarrassingly little mention of the man Alig killed eighteen years ago.
Angel Melendez was once described as a “quiet boy, very shy” who, before falling in with the club crowd, dreamed of becoming an actor and filmmaker. But he was never fully accepted by Alig and his friends, which Alig himself admits several times in his Post piece. Just before he and Riggs beat Melendez to death, Alig recalls Riggs yelling to Melendez: “We only let you hang out with us because you have drugs!”
The night before he murdered Melendez, Alig also remembers instructing bouncers at the Limelight to turn Melendez away from the door, even while admitting he owed Melendez money (“several nights’ wages”) that was kept in the club safe.
Alig’s memory is contradicted by media reports from the time. In his 1996 piece “Murder in Clubland” the Voice‘s Frank Owen reported Alig stole as much as $20,000 dollars from Melendez before and after beating him to death.
According to contacts in the Gatien camp, the conflict with Angel began months earlier when Alig stole $2,000 from the drug dealer… When Angel disappeared, Alig reportedly stole an additional $18,000 from the absent drug dealer’s stash–which he used to refurnish his luxury apartment.
That’s not the only discrepancy between Alig’s recollection, and those of his associates at the time. Consider his response when a Times reporter asked Alig if he thinks of himself as a murderer:
‘No,’ Mr. Alig said the other week before his release. ‘I think of myself as a drug addict who made some really, really, really poor choices, like the worst choices ever. But I wouldn’t say I’m a murderer because we didn’t wake up that day and say, “Let’s go kill Angel.”‘ He laughed at that. ‘I mean, you know, the distinction, it’s very slight. But in another way, it’s like night and day.’
Except that, again, according to reports at the time, he did say that. Owen wrote: “One club kid remembers that two days before Angel disappeared, Alig was in the middle of a coke binge when he started telling friends–jokingly, perhaps–‘I want to kill Angel, I want to kill Angel.'”
For months after the killing–and before a piece of Angel Melendez’s torso washed up on Staten Island–Alig bragged about the murder to friends. Per Owen:
Several confidential sources, only one of whom would speak on the record, claim that former Limelight promoter Michael Alig has told them that, his press denials notwithstanding, he did indeed kill his sometimes roommate Angel earlier this year. They say that Alig has made the stunning confession to a number of people, among them former New York club czar Rudolf, Chicago house diva Screaming Rachel, Calvin Klein model Genitalia, Limelight lighting director Arthur Weinstein, and Alessarndra Kobayashi, Limelight owner Peter Gatien’s business partner and common-law wife.
Alig didn’t forget that part, but he does try to rationalize it away. “I was less terrified about being caught than going to hell. I think that’s why I confessed to Gitsie and some of the other people I knew,” he writes in the Post.
In months that passed after the murder, while Alig boasted about it, Angel’s brother Johnny was pasting posters up around Manhattan, desperately seeking any information about his brother’s whereabouts, and trying in vain to get the police to open a case.
In his own version of the events, Alig dispenses with Johnny Melendez’s anguish in two sentences. Johnny Melendez, he writes, “was badgering [the police] for answers. He was pressing the issue and was frustrated nobody was searching for Angel.”
Eighteen years later, it’s easy to see what’s remained the same about Alig. He is still a shock artist, relishing details like the way he sprayed Calvin Klein cologne over Melendez’s decomposing body, and a shameless self-promoter, enumerating to the Times his plans for shows he’ll pitch to Vice and MTV.
It’s less clear what, if anything, has changed since he went to prison for killing Melendez. He certainly doesn’t seem reflective about his crime. The last sentence in his piece detailing how he murdered Melendez? “I’m glad I’ve survived.”
Of all the media coverage that has been been lavished on Alig since his release, the lone bright spot is a brief aside in the Times that comes after a mention of the memoir Alig is writing: “Sample chapters have been sent to two literary agents, but no deal has been signed. The agents were concerned that the chapters didn’t express enough remorse, Ms. Haynes said.”
La Dolce Musto, April ’96
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 16, 2014