The Squonk & The Hag

The Butcher of Tompkins Square Park

Monika Beerle had recently moved from St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1988 to study on scholarship at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Her friends recall that she was always attracted to the outrageous and that her dance style, as well as her taste in men, was edgy. Sometime after her arrival she became fascinated by the city’s underbelly, where she found many sketchy dates. To make ends meet, she began working at a topless dive bar called Billy’s Topless in Chelsea, Manhattan before getting into drugs on the lower east side, an area that’s often called Alphabet city due to the single letter avenues, many locals refer to this area as Alphabet Soup because it was “always boiling over.”

Just a few years before Monika had arrived in New York, Daniel Rakowitz was making a name for himself. Rakowitz was born on December 24th, 1960, in a Missouri military installation known as Fort Leonard Wood where his father served as a criminal investigator for the U.S Army. Due to being a military family, they traveled a lot. On one of their trips to France, when Daniel was only 3, his mother, Velma Rakowitz, suffered a heart attack and died in front of him. Just three months later, his father, Anthony Rakowitz, got remarried to his late wife’s sister. The family eventually settled in Rockport, Texas where Anthony served as a deputy sheriff. 

Daniel had a very rocky relationship with his father and suffered from various mental illnesses which led to him spending time in seeing many mental health specialists when he was a young teen and even endured shock therapy at 14 as well as receiving antipsychotic medication. Around this time Rakowitz started using drugs and was eventually kicked out by his father when he discovered marijuana in his room. His father then took him to the local police station and had him booked for possession.

When he turned 19, Rakowitz enlisted in the army where he became an expert rifleman, followed by 14 weeks in army law-enforcement school. Once he was discharged, he tried to become a deputy alongside his father but was turned down. Rakowitz stated that “On April 3, 1983, I made a prayer that I would have a dream to learn future events. Six days later, I did indeed have the dream and it told me I would come into the total possession of a 14-year old girl who two weeks later became my wife. And before we got married, I said, ‘According to the dream, you’re gonna leave me and I will go to New York and find a blond-haired woman and get married. Some day I come back and, according to the dream, you come back to me but you have another man’s child.’” 

Rakowitz allegedly moved to New York sometime in 1985. For the next few years Rakowitz was a bit of a drifter, he worked as a part time dishwasher in some of the local restaurants and eventually settled in with the homeless population in Tompkins Square park where he sold marijuana as a side job with his pet rooster that just so happened to be named Rooster. 

Rakowitz was also interested in satanism and became involved with a local organization called The Church of the Realized Fantasy. After some time with them he became restless, not happy with being just a follower, he founded his own religion, The Church of the 966, Rakowitz said in an interview that “I was born on Christmas Eve 12/24/60, which equals 96, and I have 18 letters to my name. I was born in the 21st hour, which is 9:02 p.m., which they say signifies the coming of the Lord Jesus, according to what the bible says.” He also stated that he became aware of his divinity in 1966, when he was 5 “Three Lords looking like Jesus floated out of the wall one at a time, one wearing a purple, one wearing a yellow, and one wearing a blue robe.” His religion focused on animal sacrifice and Rakowitz often left chicken blood on walls as sort of a trademark. He was also fascinated with Hitler and his German edition of Mein Kampf due to his belief that the book had “evidence of the supernatural,” on page 696. The supposed evidence was not in the text but in a diagram that was on a folded piece of paper between the pages; a blotch of ink in the center, a 9 to the left of it and a 6 on the right. Rakowitz believed this diagram to be evidence that he was the second coming of Christ. He later explained that when he looked at the diagram he saw a cow’s head with two horns coming out toward him through the ink. Upon rotating it 90 degrees he stated “It turns into my entire image, my face, my hair, my beard, my shirt, my coat, my pants.” The Daniel in the diagram has dog paws instead of feet and off to one side he claims to have seen “a blond-haired woman looking at me coming toward her.”

(the names Sylvia and Shawn were changed for privacy)

During one of his drug deals, he met a 27 year old nursing assistant named Sylvia. Rakowitz would eventually move in with Sylvia and her boyfriend Shawn. The couple was originally from Morris Plains, New Jersey and had been living in the small two bedroom apartment for a couple months when Rakowitz moved in with his rooster and three cats on the agreement that he would pay half of the $500-a-month rent. Sylvia described Rakowitz’s behavior as erratic and odd but despite this, Rakowitz was known to be very compassionate and routinely made large meals to feed the homeless in Tompkins Square. He would often visit the Key Food on Fourth and B and wait by the door to ask shoppers for donations and without fail, they would buy him whatever he wanted. He would then go back to the apartment with 30 or 40 pounds of food and cook it all up for the people in Tompkins Square.

Not long after Rakowitz had moved in with them, Sylvia and Shawn began having issues with their three-year relationship. They eventually broke up and Shawn left, Sylvia got tired of the city after a while and also left, leaving Rakowitz alone with the apartment and the rent, which had risen to $605. Rakowitz was afraid of being kicked out and began looking for a new roommate to split the rent. When Sylvia had left Rakowitz insisted on having the lease put under a friend’s name instead of his own, for unknown reasons, Daniel didn’t want his name on anything.

A few weeks later, Rakowitz met 26 year old Monika Beerle, who had been moving from place to place and was now looking for a new place to stay. Rakowitz took Monika back to his apartment where he made his offer to split the rent with her, after she accepted the two celebrated with a couple of joints from Rakowitz’s personal stash. Sylvia had met Monika the night before the lease changed over. Sylvia recalls that Rakowitz was slow to open the door but when he did he was in the middle of zipping up his pants, Sylvia stated “He never had women up there, I’d never seen him with a woman. So I’m saying to myself, ‘All right, Daniel, I know that you’re just trying to goof on me and make me think that you just went with this woman.’ So I went in there and he introduced me to her, and he says, ‘Yeah, she’s gonna move in and she’s gonna take over the lease.’” In the beginning of August, Monika brought her belongings to the apartment and Sylvia recalls that “Daniel had cleaned up this place so immaculate before she moved in, just for her, I asked her the next day-because I thought Daniel was playing a joke-I said, ‘Daniel told me that he went with you.’ And she goes, ‘He did.’ point-blank in an answer to me.” Some say that Rakowitz was under the impression that Monika was his girlfriend when in reality she just needed a place to stay, while others say that Rakowitz was the one using Monika to pay his back rent so he wouldn’t get kicked out. Either way, Monika set things straight almost immediately, she began bringing home other men, one of which was a rastafarian who Monika had invited to stay the night. Rakowitz had unintentionally surprised the two and later spoke to Sylvia about it stating “Sylvia, she has a black man in there.” Sylvia stated that he looked hurt and mad because that was one of the people he hated, for unknown reasons, Rakowitz hated gay people and black people. Sylvia replied with “Daniel, what do you want me to do about it?”

Monika’s friends were startled by Rakowitz’s erratic behavior and said that she should throw him out and in mid August, roughly a week after she had moved in, she told Rakowitz that he had two weeks to move out. Rakowitz pleaded with Sylvia saying “Please, Sylvia, don’t let her throw me out. I have nowhere to go.” to which Sylvia replied “Daniel, I told you this was gonna happen.” Rakowitz was doing everything he could to stay in the apartment but Monika was firm in her decision. Sylvia recalls that at this point Rakowitz was very upset by this and all day he would go from saying “I’m gonna kill her.” to “No, I love her, I’m not gonna kill her.” in a matter of minutes. This would go on for several days and because of Rakowitz’s wild behavior, no one thought he was serious. Around August 12th, Sylvia told Monika that Rakowitz had threatened to kill her and at this point Monika chuckled and walked up to Daniel in front of Sylvia and said “I’ll kill you first.”

Thursday evening on August 17th, Rakowitz and Sylvia were sharing a joint as they walked to the PATH train when he told her that he couldn’t deal with Monika anymore and that he intended to kill her the following day, and he even asked Sylvia to come back and help him dispose of the body. Sylvia recalls telling him “Daniel, what are you, crazy? I ain’t gonna help you with anything.” Sylvia didn’t return on Friday and had disregarded what Rakowitz had said but on Saturday night, she could see the dark apartment from the street and she knew something wasn’t right. She made her way up to the apartment and she could hear the tv loudly playing inside as she went up the stairs. When she went inside she noticed his tv was in the kitchen and everything was dimly lit. She went to her old room to check on her stuff as she was leaving it there until she was able to come back for it. She knocked on Monika’s door and got no response, so she went to the kitchen where she noticed a pot on the stove and inside was the burnt head of Monika Beerle. Shocked at what she had seen, she walked to the bathroom where horror continued, Sylvia stated the following in an interview; 

“I walked to the very tip of the bathroom, I didn’t go in. And I saw in the bathtub what was, like, a ribcage, with everything off, just the bones, just the ribs. And it was full of blood. And there was, like, guts. So I left, and I couldn’t even lock the door I was shaking so bad. But I locked the door ‘cause I thought, ‘Jesus, if anybody sees this …’ I went to a phone booth on Avenue A and I called up Daniel’s beeper number. And I said, ‘Daniel, you did it?’ And he said, ‘You saw it, Sylvia?’ And I said ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘I’m sorry you had to see it, but I had to do it. Come up to the apartment and smoke a joint with me.’ And I said, ‘Daniel, meet me in Tompkins Square. I’m not going to the apartment.’ So he met me in the park. And he was apologizing. ‘Sylvia, I’m sorry, I had to do it, I had to do it.’ And he started telling me what happened.”

Rakowitz had stated he didn’t act alone, he said a friend from a satanic church in Brooklyn had helped him. Rakowitz claims that Monika said “You have to leave by tomorrow, and if you don’t get out, my friend with a pit bull is gonna come and get you out.” before going to her room. After this, Rakowitz’s friend stated “what, you haven’t killed her yet?” Upon hearing this, Monkia left her room and started arguing with Daniel’s friend. During the argument, Rakowitz claims he came up behind her as she was walking back toward the bedrooms and wrapped an extension cord around her neck. He also stated that as he was strangling her she scratched him, he then rolled up his sleeve, showing Sylvia the long scratches down his arm. Rakowitz had choked her to death, stomped on her head 10 times and stabbed her over 30 times. He said that when he was dismembering her he used her chest as a carving board to hold various parts as he cut. He used a 13 inch carving knife as well as a solid steel pole to break her bones. He cut the body into small pieces which he flushed down the toilet.

A few days later Rakowitz told Sylvia that everything had been cleaned and that it was ok to visit the apartment. When she got there she saw that he had cleaned the skull and several bones that were still in the apartment. Rakowitz claimed that whenever he got angry at Monika he would spit on the skull and even told Sylvia “she looks more beautiful now than she ever did.” Rakowitz would eventually take the skull and bones in a bucket of cat litter to a storage facility at 43rd street and 11th avenue before moving it to its final home, the baggage check facility at Port Authority. It is widely speculated that Rakowitz had eaten part of Monika’s body and another wild rumor is that Rakowitz had boiled the brain into a stew which he served to the homeless community in Tompkins square. While there’s no evidence of this, many of the people in the park say that Rakowitz did bring them soup sometime after the murder, whether the soup contained human meat or not is unknown. During Rakowitz’s trial one witness testified that one of the homeless had found a finger in his soup.

Rakowitz seemingly wanted to get caught, as he bragged about the murder to everyone he met. He lived in the apartment for about a week after the incident but Sylvia convinced him to move, stating that he would be found out by the police. After he left the building, Sylvia’s ex, Shawn, informed the building superintendent about what had happened to Monika. When the detectives arrived at the apartment to collect evidence and question Shawn, they found graffiti on the door written in black magic marker that said “IS IT SOUP YET?” and “WELCOME TO CHARLIE GEIN’S SPAUN RANCH EAST.” a combination of the names Charlie Manson and Ed Gein, “spaun ranch” is a misspelling of spahn ranch, which was the home of the Manson family. They also found the words “broken hearted about you” (the “hearted” being a drawing of a heart with a jagged line through it rather than the word itself) They found no evidence of a murder. The detectives contacted Rakowitz through his beeper asking him to come to the 9th precinct to answer some questions. He never admitted to or denied killing Monika, instead he said “If I’d have killed her, I would have cut her up into lots of pieces and flushed her down the toilet.”

The following Sunday, Detectives returned to the apartment and ripped out the toilet but found nothing, they told Shawn that the only good thing he had in that apartment was the plumbing. But the investigation didn’t end there, Shawn had informed them about a storage bin belonging to Rakowitz near the Port Authority bus station. On Monday, they went back to the apartment again where they found Sylvia, they told her they had a written statement from Shawn and a woman who lived across the hall. This convinced Sylvia that they had enough evidence already so she told them everything she knew and five hours later, they apprehended Daniel and he confessed. It appears that Rakowitz may have known what he did was wrong, when the detectives picked him up he said “I need some help.”

After being arrested, Rakowitz brought the detectives to the baggage storage room at Port Authority where he pulled out a claim ticket for an army duffle bag, inside the bag was the white plastic bucket containing the skull and bones. They never located the friend that was supposedly present at the time of the murder, instead they believe this “friend” was in his head and wasn’t actually there. When questioned about the report of the other man at the scene of the crime, an officer that knew the case well stated, “I don’t believe that for a second.”

In February 1991, Rakowitz went to trial, the jury deliberated for nine days before declaring that he was “not criminally responsible due to mental disease or defect” After the verdict, Rakowitz stated to the jury “I hope someday I can smoke a joint with y’all.” he even offered to smoke a joint with the judge. During the trial, his ex-wife testified against him, stating that she was 14 when they got married and that Rakowitz was controlling and chained her to the fridge when he went to work and even bragged about some of the horrible things he had supposedly done. Rakowitz was sent to Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island where he remains as of April 2020, despite several requests to be moved to a lower security facility over the years. He has been diagnosed as a paranoid-schizophrenic.

Sources: (bonus rabbit hole),_Manhattan

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