This isn’t my normal type of post, and since I rarely update this blog anymore it’s a shot in the dark that someone with information will see it, but just in case, I feel compelled to reach out to anyone who might ease the pain of the family of Chaim Weiss, a Long Island Yeshiva student who was murdered in the school’s dormitory in the early morning hours of November 1, 1986 by helping to find his killer. Anyone having any information about the case should contact a special hotline set up by the Nassau County Police at 1-800-244-TIPS.
This is a video from Unsolved Mysteries that goes into greater detail about the case –
Here is an October 4, 2017 podcast about Chaim’s case on Robin Warder’s “The Trail Went Cold.”
After listening and reading about Chaim’s case, I can’t help but hear so many details taken as fact that don’t make sense to me. Without the benefit of more information other than what’s been published in the media, this is my armchair detective take on things as they stand – which could be completely wrong – but I wonder if anyone else reading this from the perspective of the orthodox Jewish world noticed these things too. I am also going to add in a detail that goes against what has been reported in the press thus far.
There are a lot of strange bits of information in the case.
For example, the memorial candles lit in Chaim’s dorm room for the shiva period. First of all, only immediate family members sit shiva for a departed loved one (these would be Chaim’s parents and siblings), and they are the ones to light the memorial candle (they have large 7 day candles for this purpose, so you don’t usually keep lighting individual candles). Second of all, you wouldn’t light such a candle at the place of the departed’s death (like Chaim’s room), but rather, most likely in the family home where you are sitting shiva (in a place safe for lighting candles and perhaps on a nice tray and a place of visual prominence).
The second off detail is how much of a prominent role the idea that Jews are targeted for violence on Halloween plays in the push to consider that the killer was a random non Jewish stranger. This is a common paranoia in more insular orthodox Jewish communities, because historically, there were times when Jews were harmed on Halloween. However, in 20th and 21st century America, almost no one else outside of the orthodox Jewish community would associate Halloween as a “kill the Jews” day.
Generally speaking, I don’t believe that in America, there is a great uptick in violent crime against Jews during this largely “dress up in costumes, watch scary movies, and eat lots of candy” cultural version of Halloween as it is celebrated today. I can’t say if a Yeshiva, with its group of boys, might attract other groups of non Jewish boys for general mischief like egg tossing, but certainly, I can’t recall any murders or mayhem happening specifically to Jews on Halloween in recent times in America. My son went to an out of town dorm Yeshiva and so did my husband and they didn’t experience crime or harassment specifically on Halloween. Maybe they got lucky.
My point is, only someone with a firm belief that it’s widely accepted that Jews are targeted for violence on Halloween would feel that police would also think it a reasonable motive for a non Jew to murder a random Jew on that day. To anyone outside the enclave, that theory seems pretty far fetched and without recent precedent. Which is why I personally think this was an inside job perpetrated by someone in the community.
The third inconsistency I see is the widely reported detail that Chaim was one of only two students with his own room. This is the part of the story where I have heard the opposite of what has been reported. I mentioned my husband went to a dorm Yeshiva. In 1986, my husband was in a Yeshiva in Baltimore. Shortly after Chaim Weiss’ murder, one of Chaim’s classmates joined my husband’s Yeshiva. Not just any classmate, but Chaim’s roommate.
He told the boys that he had been spending that Shabbos at home when Chaim was murdered. His parents were so freaked out by the situation that they never sent him back to the Long Island Yeshiva and transferred him to Baltimore.
Now keep in mind that at that time in 1986, Chaim’s murder had a huge impact on the orthodox community all over America – especially in the Yeshiva world. It was all anyone talked about. So, it is possible, that a newly transferred high school student, anxious for friends, attention and clout, might exaggerate his level of involvement with the victim. Certainly, roommate or not, I can see why his parents would have panicked and removed him from the school. However, if he really was the victim’s roommate, how might that change things? Why would the school have told police that he had his own room?
Certainly, if this was a premeditated murder, waiting until Halloween might seem like a good night to claim that an antisemitic stranger bent on murder randomly struck down Chaim. But maybe the Halloween part was incidental and the murderer picked a night when the roommate would be gone and surely wouldn’t return until after Sabbath? Of course, there is always the possibility that this roommate had something to do with Chaim’s demise and the school covered it up and allowed his parents to shuffle him to another Yeshiva (this theory seems unlikely, as my husband didn’t say this kid was a troublemaker or behaved strangely in any way).
The other odd mention was that there was no dorm counselor present during the night – dorm counselors are usually younger unmarried guys (early 20s) and there have been unofficial (read unreported) cases of abuse between dorm counselors and students in the past. Where was the dorm counselor that night? He wasn’t around during the night to detect an intruder or hear the sounds of murder and the subsequent movement of the body and cleanup, but he was around the next morning to find his body and tell everyone to get out of the building?
Which bring me to what I see as the smoking gun that the murderer was a staff member – Chaim’s hysterical crying phone call from camp during the summer before school started, asking his father to bring him home. As with the murky accusations about abuses in dormitories, there have likewise been reports (both official and unofficial) of kids being abused in Jewish camps by staff. Most cases are never reported much less convicted. We can thank the internet for bringing attention to such accusations, but of course, you can only believe what you hear about on the internet so much. However, in terms of opportunity, it is so much easier to abuse a child in a mountain camp in the outdoors – no parents, much less supervision than in a school setting, and many more places to go to commit the crime unseen.
Apparently there are online sleuths who feel that Chaim was likely abused at the school or camp (it was mentioned that this was a camp run by his school with the same staff as during the school year), and by the time his father came to the camp a week later, after returning from Florida, the staff and/or possibly the perpetrator had already convinced Chaim not to tell. The fact that the yeshiva’s principal was so anxious/nervous to speak to Chaim after camp ended (probably to make sure he didn’t talk outside of the influence of himself or other staff), and also convinced Chaim not to reveal the contents of their conversation to his father, is all the more suspicious. An odd detail reported in a 1986 New York Times article on events that happened at the school shortly before Chaim’s murder –
Also, last summer, a mattress was found burning at one of the yeshiva dorms, according to Rabbi Chaim Wakslak, a local Orthodox leader.
My opinion is that Chaim’s murder was an inside job, but none of the people involved, nor those close to them, will talk. It’s not because they have a moral obligation not to accuse someone unless they are certain, which is what potential witnesses have told media and authorities. It’s because they have a moral obligation not to be an informant against another Jew to secular authorities. This is misguided, as respected rabbis have rules that in cases of abuse (how much more so murder) a Jew is required to go to authorities. But many religious Jews still feel that reporting a Jew to non Jewish authorities is still worse than whatever crime the Jew committed. Of course, the actual murderer(s) exploit this belief because it’s to their advantage not to be turned into the authorities.
These are just my theories and opinions based on what I’ve heard and read about the case. I came across another article that discusses a taunting letter sent to Chaim’s family eight years after his death in 1994. One commenter on that article said the Yeshiva had suggested that the school’s Polish janitor committed the murder and then fled back to Poland, sending the taunting letter years later. This version could be true, or the letter could be a plant by the true killer trying yet again to put forward a theory of an outsider (non Jew) as the murderer who conveniently skipped the country and couldn’t be questioned. Was there even actually a Polish janitor?
I would be interested to hear your perspectives and who you think might have committed this atrocity. Chaim’s family is in agony even to this day. His parents are getting older, and it would be a terrible thing for them to leave this world without ever knowing who killed their son and to know that they will never get justice unless the murderer is found.
Again, the hotline is Nassau County Police at 1-800-244-TIPS