The first person to call police after Brooklyn murder has gone missing
Police in Brooklyn are making a full-court press to locate a witness who was the first person to come across the body of William Oliver, 61, who was stabbed to death in Prospect Park on Saturday, April 22.
That witness, described as a black man in his 40s and approximately five-foot, nine with receding hair, crossed Flatbush Avenue from the park’s Vale of Cashmere area where Oliver’s body was located to the Brooklyn Public Library, where he phoned 911. That call was placed prior to a cell-phone call that a bird watcher made after he and another passerby joined together to check on Oliver’s condition, and found him unresponsive.
According to Detective Pete McMahon of Brooklyn South Homicide, the unknown witness arranged with police to meet them at an intersection within Grand Army Plaza, from which half a dozen streets emanate, but signals apparently got crossed. After waiting for roughly 40 minutes, the witness got in his car, and proceeded down the stretch of Flatbush Avenue that separates Prospect Park from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and, spying a parks department officer, flagged her down.
When the witness told the parks officer what he had seen, she told him she had just come out of the park and that police were already on the scene. She urged the witness to either return to the scene of the murder or phone the police back to offer his account. The parks officer said the witness assured her he would do so, but police have not heard from him since.
“We believe he saw something,” said McMahon, who contacted Gay City Monday, saying that having interviewed the bird watcher and the other passerby, the police have concluded that the unknown witness is the only person of whom they are aware who may be able to offer clues to who murdered Oliver. McMahon was unable offer any details on how much the witness may actually have seen.
McMahon said that a security camera at the entrance to the library offered a picture of a man wearing a baseball cap and having a hood as well who roughly fit the description supplied by the parks officer, but that she was unable to confirm whether he was the man she met, due largely to the image’s graininess.
The Vale of Cashmere is a heavily wooded, hilly area adjacent to Flatbush Avenue running from the park’s Grand Army Plaza entrance to the zoo, and has for years been a popular gay cruising area, especially among young African-American men.
The bird watcher came across Oliver’s body just after 4:30 p.m. amidst heavy rain. When police arrived, Oliver was pronounced dead. He had been stabbed in the chest.
An itinerant housecleaner for wealthy Manhattan residents, Wilson did not have an apartment of is own, and alternately stayed with his brother, Wilson Oliver, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and his sister, Shirley Puryear, in Flatbush. Prospect Park is along the three-and-a half mile route between the two apartments. Oliver was an avid walker.
Sources have confirmed to Gay City News something first reported in The New York Times, that Puryear and Wilson Oliver told police that they did not know whether their brother was gay.
Another police spokesman told Gay City News that there is “absolutely no evidence” of this murder having ties to a series of knife slashings of gay men in the Vale in 2000, dubbed the “ninja attacks” for the dress of the attacker. Those attacks, which resulted in injuries for five men, happened between midnight and 4 a.m. on weeknights—rather than a weekend afternoon—and the outcome of the slashings were disfiguring scars rather than deep wounds as in Oliver’s murder.
Clarence Patton, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, agreed; a flyer his group is circulating in and around the park states, “There are no indications that Mr. Oliver’s murder was anything other than an isolated incident.”
In its flyer, the AVP encourages any witnesses or people with any other potentially useful information to come forward, but also warns gay men who might want to cruise in the park to be on guard against any further knife attacks but also to be mindful that police presence in the area has been stepped up.
McMahon acknowledged that the witness they are seeking or any others might be reluctant to go to the police, and suggested that anyone with such concerns go instead to an intermediary such as the AVP. Patton encouraged the same, emphasizing that his group has been able over the years to mediate between police and witnesses without endangering their confidentially.
AVP’s bilingual, 24-hour hotline can be reached at 212-714-1141. Those interested in talking directly to the police can call Detective DeJesus at the 78th Precinct at 718-636-6485, or Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS.