The deaths of two gay men who were drugged and robbed in Manhattan last year have been deemed homicides with “drug-facilitated thefts,” the Office of the New York City Medical Examiner announced on the afternoon of March 3.
The medical examiner found “acute intoxication” with the combined effects of nearly the same lethal cocktail of “fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, cocaine, lidocaine, and ethanol” in the bodies of Julio Ramirez, 25, and John Umberger, 33. Heroin was also found in Ramirez’s system.
The statement from Julie Bolcer, executive director of public affairs and senior advisor at the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner Jason Graham, comes nearly a year after the gay men’s deaths were described as “drug overdoses.”
On March 3, District 3 gay councilmember Erik Bottcher, whose office covers Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and other neighborhoods on the west side of Manhattan, urged Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to move forward with charges “as soon as possible.”
“We demand justice for the people who murdered Julio Ramirez and John Umberger,” Bottcher told NBC News. He noted the approaching one-year anniversary of Ramirez’s and Umberger’s deaths.
The deaths and other victims’ stories put New York’s gay nightlife on edge. Bottcher, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife, and the NYPD launched several initiatives in response to what appeared to be targeted attacks. They canvassed the gay nightclubs with safety tips, distributed fentanyl test strips, and had safety webinars urging clubgoers not to leave their drinks unattended and to turn off facial recognition on their smartphones. They also conducted LGBTQ cultural sensitivity training for officers in the last six months.
Ramirez, a bilingual mental health counselor, was found dead in the back of a taxi on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after leaving a Hell’s Kitchen gay bar, Ritz Bar and Lounge, with two men at around 3 a.m., April 21, 2022. His brother, Carlos Ramirez, discovered his brother’s Apple iCloud password had been changed and about $20,000 of his savings was spent.
Umberger, a political consultant in New York for business from Washington, DC, was found dead June 1 inside his boss’ Upper East Side townhouse, where he was staying. Assailants also stole from his bank account. Earlier in the evening, Umberger was alone at The Q in Hell’s Kitchen, but he was seen leaving the nightclub with several unidentified men. The nightclub is near the Ritz Bar and Lounge where Ramirez was last seen alive.
The two men’s families never believed they overdosed. Umberger’s mother, Linda Clary, CEO, strategist, and consultant of Clary Political Consulting, LLC, took her son’s story to the media to get justice. She founded the John Anthony Clary Umberger Foundation, Inc. in memory of her gay son in September 2022.
Bragg and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced the arrest of Kenwood Allen, 33, who allegedly carried out multiple druggings and robberies on December 23, 2022.
Allen was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, three counts of first-degree robbery, two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, one count of second-degree robbery, and two counts of second-degree assault for causing fatal overdoses of two people he robbed in the Lower East Side.
The DA and NYPD haven’t connected Allen to Ramirez or Umberger’s murders and other suspects haven’t been identified. The investigation is ongoing, Bragg said.
A spokesperson for the NYPD told W24ST that multiple units were working together investigating “several incidents where individuals have been victims of either robberies or assault.”
“Some of the victims are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, however it is believed that not all of the victims are,” the NYPD spokesperson said. “It is also believed that the motivation for these assault/robberies is monetary gain.”
ABC7 NY reported that the public attention to Ramirez’s and Umberger’s deaths exposed several patterns of druggings and robberies that resulted in as many as seven overdose deaths, some involving members of the LGBTQ community. Since Ramirez’s and Umberger’s families pushed their cases into the public eye other gay New Yorkers victimized in similar ways at gay clubs have come forward, reported the New York Times and Nightline and the NYPD confirmed.
A Police Department spokesman said in a statement that the deaths were “currently under investigation” as part of a series of “several incidents where individuals have been victims of either robberies or assault.”
Anyone with information about either incident is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782).
This is a developing story.