Who killed Henryk Siwiak?

Henryk Siwiak Photograph New York daily News

Henryk Siwiak Photograph New York daily News

Henryk Siwiak‘s homicide is the only unsolved homicide on record in New York City from September 11, 2001. The City doesn’t include the over 3000 deaths from the terrorist attacks in their official crime statistics.

Case overview

Henryk Siwiak (46) saw the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. He was in lower Manhattan that day. A few hours later, someone shot and killed him.

Siwiak (1955 – Sept 11, 2001) was a Polish immigrant. He was unfamiliar with New York City and its public transportation system. He got lost in Brooklyn while he was on his way to his new job as a midnight cleaner at a Pathmark supermarket.

Motive

His widow Ewa Siwiak has a theory why Henryk was shot. The City was in turmoil and people were scared. There is a possibility that Siwiak was killed by accident. He may have been mistaken for some of the people who were at that time suspected of the terrorist attacks. His looks may have come across as Middle Eastern. Siwiak had a dark complexion. He also spoke with an accent and his English was poor.

The day he was killed he wore the army fatigue jacket from the picture with camouflage pants. In this article police themselves state that this theory cannot be “discounted,” Detective George Harvey of the 79th Precinct told the Daily News about the conjecture. “It hasn’t been proven either.”

But it isn’t impossible and that is the key here. Ewa remained in Poland with their two children while Henryk emigrated to the USA.

Murder

Siwiak was killed shortly before midnight. He had three $20 bills, two $5 bills, a single and $4.16 in change in his pockets. That seems to rule out robbery. I have not read anything about jewelry he may have had on that night such as a wedding ring or a watch. Another possibility offered in the public domain is gang initiation. I have not read anywhere that this option was discounted.

There are no witnesses, there was no camera footage from home security systems, and there is no forensic evidence. The evidence-collection technicians were able to retrieve seven spent shell casings from the .40-caliber handgun that was used to kill Siwiak. The shooter had fired seven times but had hit him only once in the chest and lungs. The gun that killed Siwiak was never implicated in another crime. I have not read anywhere it was ever found.

Understaffed

From Wikipedia: “The NYPD could not bring its full investigative resources to the intersection since so many other officers were needed elsewhere due to the attacks.

Normally, in the case of a homicide, its Crime Scene Unit would secure the area and collect forensic evidence, but its members were not available. Instead an evidence-collection unit, normally used only on nonviolent property crimes such as burglaries, performed those tasks. And where as many as nine detectives might canvass the neighborhood, talking to potential witnesses and looking for evidence away from the scene, the NYPD could only spare three, at most.”

With everything that happened on September 11, we cannot help but understand that the authorities were stretched thin and that other crimes that happened that day didn’t receive the attention they normally would have gotten. We can also understand that people were scared so when they heard arguments in the streets they probably bolted the doors, hid inside, and didn’t look through the windows to see if anyone needed help. I can see why people didn’t open doors when a man knocked and cried for help. Everyone was scared to death on 9/11 but so was Henryk.

The area

Siwiak walked west along Fulton Street toward Albany Avenue. He was seen there by a witness. At the Albany intersection, he took a right to go north, instead of taking a left to go south as his directions said.

That area where he ended up, the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, was not a safe area. It is known for criminal activity. On September 11, this may have sealed Henryk’s fate. But he didn’t know where he was and he was not out to commit any crimes. After all these years, maybe it is time to speak about what we saw and heard that night.

Witnesses and fear

From the Daily Mail comes this witness story: Sharonnie Perry sat in front of her building at 7 Albany Avenue.

‘It was 9/11, everything had just happened that day, and people were just outside still in awe about what had taken place,’ she said. Like most in the city, Perry (now in her 60s) wasn’t ‘focused’ that night, but she does remember spotting Henryk. His camouflage fatigues were out of place, and ‘nobody could understand him; he didn’t speak English,’ she said. ‘I’m assuming he was just lost.’

After he wandered around for a while, ‘I saw [Henryk] coming down the block,’ continued Perry. ‘I saw these guys behind him.’ Perry knew most of her neighbors personally or by appearance, but she didn’t recognize the group she believes was following Henryk on Albany Avenue.

Now, nearly two decades later, she can only recall they were ‘three or four’ African-American men. Beyond that, ‘it just didn’t register,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what they looked like. I don’t know what they were wearing. It was dark outside and they were on the opposite side [of the street] from where I lived.’

Perry said she heard men ‘talking, arguing.’ Then chaos erupted. ‘All I heard was the gunshots,’ recalled Perry. ‘People just started scattering all over the place, because you didn’t know where [they were] coming from and you didn’t know what was going on.’

Henryk’s attacker shot seven times with a .40-caliber pistol. One bullet ripped through his chest and lung. Dripping blood, he staggered across the street, climbed up the stoop of 119 Decatur and rang the building’s buzzer.

‘I heard the bell ringing, but I wasn’t answering it after I heard those shots,’ a resident of the brownstone reportedly told investigators.

Call to action

Now we know who was behind the Twin Tower attacks. Now we know what happened to the planes and how that was done. We know which people were involved. Henryk had nothing to do with all that.

If you were in the neighborhood where this father of two was killed, if it was your door he knocked on, please contact police, and tell your story. Any detail, any sound, any smell, any sense of familiarity, any voice recognition, anything can help them to try and do justice to this man’s unsolved murder.

If you have any information that can help Henryk Siwiak’s case please call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential. There is a $12,000 reward.

Note:

Hat tip to Elizabeth Bramon (@Hargitay1NY on Twitter) who is a future Forensic Psychologist. She helps veterans and police officers cope with PTSD and especially, to prevent suicide. Elizabeth’s father was a WWII Navy Veteran. Her mother was her “shining star.” Liz previously guest blogged about the case of Melissa Millan. She is the one who alerted me to this cold case. Thank you, Liz.