On the night of November 19, 1980 Ronald Crumpley 38, a former Transit Authority policeman and son of a minister, spent the evening cruising the streets of New York’s Greenwich Village in his father’s stolen blue Cadillac. He fired three shots from an automatic handgun at Sim’s Deli shortly before 11:00 p.m. wounding at least three people and shattering the front plate glass window. Minutes later, he drove to Christopher Street and stopped in front of two gay bars, Sneakers and Ramrod, which were next door to each other on the West Side Highway (West Street).
According to witnesses Crunpley waited about two or three minutes in front of the bars then drove around the block, returned, stepped out of the car calmly, walked up to the curb and shot a man standing on the curb waiting for a cab. The man fell to the ground, then he shot another guy who ran around the corner. He then started spraying both bars through the plate-glass windows with an Uzi machine gun. Then he got back into the car and drove off.”
After Crumpley drove off, he stopped again at 10th Street and Greenwich Avenue not far from The Ninth Circle and fired eight more shots at another group of men. This time his shots missed, and as police cars approached he sped away. As many as 15 police cruisers chased Crumpley to Broadway and West 10th Street, where Crumpley abandoned the Cadillac. Officers found him trying to pull himself up underneath a parked van’s undercarriage.
All told Vernon Koenig, an organist at Greenwich Village’s St. Joseph’s church, died on the operating table at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Jorg Wenz, Ramrod’s 21-year-old doorman, died soon after surgery. Rene Malute, 23, was in intensive care, and five others were admitted in stable condition.
Thousands visited the site of the Ramrod attack in the following nights leaving flowers and remembrances. But the attack itself was barely mentioned in the news media.
Crumpley was arrested and charged with murder, attempted murder, and possession of illegal weapons. Police found four weapons: a .357 Magnu, a .45 caliber automatic pistol, a 9mm automatic pistol, and an Uzi. Crumpley told police that he attacked the bars and the deli because he hated homosexuals. “I want to kill them all,” he said. “They’re no good. They ruin everything.”
During Crumpley’s trail, the prosecution presented 35 witnesses, and the defense five. At issue was Crumpley’s mental state at the time of the shooting. Crumpley’s psychiatrist testified that Creumpley suffered from paranoia. Crumpley himself took the stand and said gay people were “agents of the devil” who were following him continuously. The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. He was committed to Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island.
In 2001, Crumpley’s lawyers petitioned the Manhattan Supreme Court to review the state of his mental illness and pleaded for his release or transfer to a less secure institution.
He was the model of normalcy under questioning from his own lawyer. But under grilling by prosecutor Patricia Bailey, Crumpley described a lingering resentment over numerous men whom he “knew” were gay and who were “attracted to me”. Crumpley adopted a soprano voice to imitate a man he thought was following him on Eighth Avenue and said gays sometimes “put themselves in a situation where they know they’re taking chances.”
The judge turned down both his requests.
Crumpley died in a psychiatric hospital in 2015. Though the attack on the Ramrod is not well remembered outside of Greenwich Village, residents have never forgotten the event. Coming as it did shortly after the election of Ronald Reagan and a Republican takeover of the US Senate, the attack felt like an ominous harbinger of things to come. Eight months later the New York Times would report on the strange, “rare cancer” afflicting homosexual men.
The Ramrod closed permanently following the attack.