Robert Chambers (criminal)

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Robert Chambers
Born (1966-09-25) September 25, 1966 (age 54)
Other namesPreppy Killer
Known forKilling of Jennifer Levin
Criminal charge(s)Manslaughter
Selling a controlled substance
Criminal penaltyFirst-degree manslaughter: 15 years
Selling a controlled substance: 19 years
Criminal statusReleased after serving manslaughter term; currently (as of 2020) incarcerated for selling a controlled substance
  • Robert Emmet Chambers, Sr. (father)
  • Phyllis Chambers (née Shanley) (mother)

Robert Emmet Chambers Jr.[1] (born September 25, 1966) is an American criminal and convicted killer. Chambers was dubbed the Preppy Killer and the Central Park Strangler by the media after the August 26, 1986 strangulation death of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin in New York City's Central Park, for which he was originally charged with second degree murder. Chambers changed his story during the course of the ensuing investigation, ultimately claiming that Levin's death was the accidental result of him pushing her off of him when she caused him pain as she sexually assaulted him, an account that was characterized by media accounts as one of "rough sex". Chambers later pleaded guilty to manslaughter before his trial could go to a jury.

Early life[edit]

Chambers was accepted by Boston University, where he completed one semester but was asked to leave because of difficulties, one involving a stolen credit card. He subsequently committed other petty thefts and burglaries in connection with his drug and alcohol abuse. Unable to hold a job, he was issued a summons for disorderly conduct one night after leaving Dorrian's Red Hand, a bar located at 300 East 84th Street in Manhattan. Chambers destroyed the summons as the police were leaving the scene, yelling "You fucking cowards".[2]

Killing of Jennifer Levin[edit]


Levin and Chambers briefly dated. The day of the murder, both were at Dorrian's Red Hand.[3]

Finding of the body[edit]

Jennifer Levin's half-naked corpse, covered in dust, and bite marks, was found by a cyclist in Central Park near Fifth Avenue and 83rd Street, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[4] Clothing from Levin's upper body had been pushed up around her neck, and her skirt was around her waist. The medical examiner's office determined she had been strangled. Police noted there were numerous cuts and bruises on her neck, both from the strangulation and from her own fingernails as she clawed at her killer's hands.

Later, Chambers hid and watched as police officers surveyed the scene. Investigators found Levin's underwear some 50 yards (46 m) away.[5]

Arrest and trial[edit]

As he was Levin's boyfriend, police apprehended him for interrogation. Afterward they noticed the numerous scratches on his arms and face, which he blamed on his cat before admitting Levin and he separated after leaving the bar, with her going to buy cigarettes. On being told she wasn't a smoker, he claimed she died during an aggressive sexual encounter in the park.[3]

Before booking, Chambers was permitted to see his father, to whom he said, "That fucking bitch, why didn't she leave me alone?"[6]

Archbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick of Newark, New Jersey, later Archbishop of Washington, wrote a letter of support for Chambers' bail application. He had known Chambers and his mother because she had been employed as a nurse by Cardinal Terence Cooke. McCarrick was close to the Chambers family and had served as Robert's godfather at his baptism. In 2019, he was defrocked for sexual crimes against adults and minors.[7] Chambers had secured bail through his family and the owner of the bar, Jack Dorrian, who put up his townhouse as collateral for a bail bond.[8]

Chambers was charged with, and tried for, two counts of second-degree murder. His defense was that Levin's death had occurred during "rough sex". He was defended by Jack Litman, who had previously used the temporary insanity defense on behalf of Richard Herrin for the murder of Yale University student Bonnie Garland. Litman claimed Levin was promiscuous, saying she had a sex diary and that her sexual history was admissible as evidence, prompting headlines such as "How Jennifer Courted Death" (Daily News). On remand, he was filmed twisting off the head of a Barbie doll and saying "Oops, I think I killed her".[9]

Prosecutor Linda Fairstein stated: "In more than 8,000 cases of reported assaults in the last ten years, this is the first in which a male reported being sexually assaulted by a female."[10][11][12]

When the jury failed to reach a verdict after nine days of deliberation, the prosecution allowed Chambers to plead guilty to manslaughter, and he received a sentence of 15 years.[3]


In 1997, Chambers sent an untitled essay he wrote to prison anthologist Jeff Evans. The piece, subsequently titled "Christmas: Present", appeared in the book Undoing Time: American Prisoners in Their Own Words.[13] Written while Chambers was incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York, the essay is an entry from one of his journals, which he calls "a record of the meaningless hope and frightening losses of a person I don't even know".[14]

Chambers was released from Auburn Prison on February 14, 2003, after having served the entirety of his prison term due to his numerous infractions. His release was a media circus, with reporters staking out prime sections of the sidewalk opposite the prison as early as thirteen hours before his 7:30 a.m. release time.[15] The same day, the NBC News program Dateline NBC interviewed Chambers, who continued to claim that he strangled Levin accidentally in an attempt to stop her from hurting him during rough sex. He also falsely denied that he had been disciplined in prison.[16]

The owner of Dorrian's Red Hand settled with Levin's parents on their claim that the bar where Levin and Chambers had been before they went to Central Park on the night of her death had served too much alcohol to Chambers. A wrongful death lawsuit, which Chambers did not contest, provides that he must pay all lump sums he receives, including any income from book or movie deals, plus ten percent of his future income (up to $25 million), to the Levin family.[15] The family has said all the money it gets from Chambers will go to victims' rights organizations.[17]

Drug charges[edit]

Chambers pleaded guilty in July 2005, and on August 29 was sentenced to a reduced sentence of 90 days in jail and fined $200 for the license violation. The judge added 10 days to the time prosecutors and Chambers' lawyer had agreed on because Chambers was an hour late for the hearing. He would have faced up to a year in jail if he had been convicted after trial.[18]

On October 22, 2007, Chambers was arrested again, this time in his own apartment,[19] and charged with three counts of selling a controlled substance in the first degree, three counts of selling a controlled substance in the second degree, and one count of resisting arrest.[20] Kovell was also arrested on one count of selling a controlled substance in the second degree. The New York Daily News reported:

Cops said Chambers, 41, struggled with officers who tried to handcuff him on the felony charges. One detective suffered a broken thumb in the fracas.[21]

Commenting on his new arrest, former Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein, who had prosecuted Chambers for Levin's death, said:

Doesn't surprise me. I always believed his problem with drugs and alcohol would get him in trouble again. He's had the opportunity in prison to detox and take college courses, to straighten out his life, but that clearly is of no interest to him. He's learned nothing in the last 20 years.[21]

Chambers and Kovell were charged with running a cocaine operation out of the apartment. The two had previously been given notices for not paying rent, and the phone had been disconnected.[22][23] Chambers appeared in court on December 18; according to the New York Post, his lawyer filed "new papers elaborating on his psychiatric defense".[24] The filing claimed that Chambers had become an addict at the age of 14 and was, by 2007, using 10 to 12 bags of heroin a day. It was also reported that he also used cocaine, was smoking marijuana and taking prescription drugs. Chambers planned to plead insanity. Prosecutors countered that Chambers was a drug dealer and had sold as much as $2,800 in heroin at a time to undercover police. Chambers faced life in prison on the drug charges.[25]

On August 11, 2008, the Manhattan DA's office announced that Chambers had pleaded guilty to selling drugs. On September 2, 2008, he was sentenced to 19 years on the drug charge.[26] As of March 2021, he is at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, New York State Department of Corrections DIN (Department Identification Number) #08A4763. His earliest release date from prison is January 25, 2024. His latest possible release date is October 15, 2026.[27]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Lambert, Bruce; Baker, Al (October 23, 2007). "'Preppy Killer' in Drug Arrest". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  2. ^ Gado, Mark. "A Killing in Central Park: The Preppy Murder Case—Robert Chambers". Crime Library. TruTV. Archived from the original on October 25, 2007. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c Harris, Chris (August 26, 2019). "Everything to Know About 'Preppy Murder' Case 33 Years After N.Y.C. Teen's Death in Central Park". People. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  4. ^ Raab, Selwyn (August 30, 1986). "Lawyer Weighs Plea of Insanity in Park Slaying". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved May 19, 2008.
  5. ^ Gado, Mark. "A Killing in Central Park: The Preppy Murder Case—Robert Chambers". Crime Library. TruTV. Archived from the original on October 25, 2007. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  6. ^ Gado, Mark. "A Killing In Central Park: The Preppie Murder Case—'The First Man Raped in Central Park!'". Crime Library. TruTV. Archived from the original on October 26, 2007. Retrieved November 16, 2007.
  7. ^ "Comunicato della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede, 16.02.2019" (Press release). Holy See Press Office. February 16, 2019. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  8. ^ "License Is Suspended At Dorrian's Red Hand". The New York Times. Associated Press. November 25, 1987. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  9. ^ Denninger, Lindsay (November 14, 2019). "Where Is The Preppy Murderer Now?". Refinery29. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  10. ^ Wolfe, Linda (October 31, 2017). The Linda Wolfe Collection: Five True Crime Classics. New York City: Open Road Integrated Media. p. 140. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Ethier, Bryan (2010). True Crime: New York City: The City's Most Notorious Criminal Casess. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books. p. 113. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Bono, Sal (November 10, 2019). "The 'Preppy Killer' and the Tabloid Sensation Still Defining 1980s New York Today". Inside Edition. Archived from the original on November 11, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2021.
  13. ^ Northeastern University Press, 2001
  14. ^ Evans, Jeff (2001). "Christmas: Present". Undoing Time: American Prisoners in Their Own Words. Boston, Massachusetts: Northeastern University Press. pp. 136ff. ISBN 1-55553-458-9.
  15. ^ a b "In Statement, Chambers Says He Regrets His Actions". New York Times. February 14, 2003. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
  16. ^ "Coming up on Dateline NBC". Dateline NBC. February 14, 2003. Archived from the original on December 7, 2003. Retrieved 2010-10-14.
  17. ^ Wolfe, Linda. Wasted: The Preppie Murder. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. ISBN 0-671-64184-0
  18. ^ Tavernese, Sabrina (August 30, 2005). "Drugs Send Chambers, '86 Killer, Back to Jail". The New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  19. ^ "Preppie Killer Arrested". WCBS NewsRadio 880. October 21, 2007. Archived from the original on October 26, 2007. Retrieved November 15, 2007.
  20. ^ Lambert, Bruce; Baker, Al (October 23, 2007). "'Preppy Killer' in Drug Arrest". New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  21. ^ a b Gendar, Alison; Standora, Leo (October 23, 2007). "Preppie killer Robert Chambers, girlfriend in coke bust". Daily News. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  22. ^ Gendar, Alison; Connor, Tracy (October 24, 2007). "Robert Chambers, Shawn Kovell: From preppies to druggies". Daily News. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  23. ^ Italiano, Laura; Martinez, Erika; Alpert, Lukas I. (October 24, 2007). "Chambers of Horrors: 1986 Killer Kept Hi-Rise Crackhouse in Constant Filth: Cops". New York Post. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  24. ^ Italiano, Laura (December 19, 2007). "Preppy Primps for Court Date". New York Post. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  25. ^ Italiano, Laura (March 12, 2008). "A 'Dirty Dozen' Druggie 12-Bag-A Day Preppy". New York Post. Retrieved March 12, 2008.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision". Retrieved Sep 7, 2020.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g Gunderman, Dan (August 26, 2016). "A look at pop culture references to the 'Preppy Murder' tragedy that rocked New York 30 years ago". Daily News. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  29. ^ Finley, Karen (1990). Shock Treatment. San Francisco: City Lights SF. pp. 64, 88. ISBN 0-87286-252-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Benedict, Helen. Virgin or Vamp. Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-506680-4.
  • Carr, C. "Who's on Trial?" Village Voice, October 27, 1987.
  • Freedman, Samuel J. "Sexual Politics and a Slaying: Anger at Chambers' Defense." New York Times, December 4, 1986.
  • Johnson, Kirk. "$150,000 Bail Set in Park Slaying Case." New York Times, September 30, 1986; "Levin's Last Night Recalled by Friend," January 21, 1988; "Chambers, With Jury at Impasse, Admits 1st Degree Manslaughter," March 26, 1988.
  • Kunen, James S., Alen Carter, and Kristina Johnson. "Art Imitates Death in the Preppie Murder." People Magazine, September 25, 1989.
  • Margolick, David. "Accused of Putting the Victim on Trial, a Top Defense Lawyer is on Trial Himself." New York Times, January 22, 1988.
  • MSNBC Television. Headliners and Legends: Robert Chambers. 2001.
  • Riley, John. "An Aggressive Defense, or Obscene Quest." National Law Journal, April 13, 1987.
  • Shipp, E. R. "Decision to Bargain." New York Times, March 26, 1988.
  • Taubman, Bryna. The Preppy Murder Trial. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988. ISBN 0-312-91317-6.
  • Uhlig, Mark A. "Jurors Describe 'Wild Shifts' of Opinion." New York Times, March 26, 1988.
  • Wolf, Marvin J., and Katherine Mader. "The Right Sort of Friends," in Rotten Apples: Chronicles of New York Crime and Mystery 1689 to the Present. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. ISBN 0-345-36278-0.
  • Wolfe, Linda. Wasted: The Preppie Murder. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. ISBN 0-671-64184-0

External links[edit]