It was an unseasonably warm fall Monday night in New York City. Suzanne Reynolds, an attractive twenty-five-year-old secretary, decided to walk to her regular 5:30 P.M. appointment. There was no need to change. She wouldn't need a sweater or a jacket this evening. Her thin red coat would suffice. At 5:10, she left her cluttered office on Twenty-sixth Street and headed uptown.
Suzanne was a newcomer to the East Side. She had left Florida eighteen months earlier because she craved the action New York City promised. The opportunities were bigger and they seemed better. Also, Suzanne was fascinated with show business. She was a pretty, bubbly, and some would say, a sexy redhead. Reynolds had been told more than once back in Florida -- and was now convinced -- that she had the looks, the personality, and the stamina to make it. She was going to be an actress.
Soon after she arrived in Manhattan, Suzanne began taking acting and voice lessons. They seemed mandatory, unwritten requirements, and she eagerly signed on. Reynolds possessed at least the first prerequisite for moving north: she had ambition.
Ambition like Suzanne's was not easily rewarded at D. L. Blair, the sales promotion company where she worked to pay for her acting lessons. Reliability was. And Suzanne was a very reliable $125-a-week secretary. She helped supervise the other girls and distinguished herself within the company by never talking about her personal life, never having friends visit her at work, and by always keeping her ambitions to herself.
Next to acting and singing, Suzanne wanted more than anything to travel. All of her friends had vacationed in Europe and she wanted to be next. Her salary barely paid the rent and the phone bill, but Suzanne was determined. She thought the classwork would end soon. Then, she hoped, with the money she would earn from some theater and night club work, she could afford to cross the Atlantic.
Twice each week Suzanne took acting classes. And once each week, she took voice lessons. Monday night was voice night.
Three months earlier, she had found the right voice teacher, a thirty-one-year-old piano player named Charles Yukl. A good pianist, classically trained and extremely well mannered, he played professionally in the Catskills on weekends. During the week he worked a host of happy hours at West Side piano bars. He was a slender, quiet man who lived in a small, unpretentious apartment on East Twenty-eighth Street with his wife and pet dog.
He also managed the apartment building.
Charles Yukl wasn't an arrogant or pretentious cocktail lounge pianist, he just liked to play the piano. At least that's what he said. He was also inexpensive. He charged Suzanne Reynolds and his other students five dollars an hour for their lessons.
Suzanne had worked on a new routine with him the week before. It was standard nightclub fare -- songs like "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "Hello Dolly" interrupted by some transitional dialogue Yukl wrote to bridge the music. But the routine wasn't quite ready yet, and she was anxious to work a few more tunes into the repertoire before going out on her first auditions. Yukl said she was close to getting it all together. Tonight, he said, they would make a tape.
It was already dark outside when she arrived at his building. She was five minutes late, and quickly walked up the stairs to Yukl's third floor apartment. On the door to the apartment was taped a note on a white piece of paper with scrawled handwriting: "Hi. Just went out to walk the dog. The door is open. I'll be right back. Charlie."
Suzanne let herself in. As soon as she opened the door she saw the big dog sitting quietly in the small living room. There was not much to the room -- a small, brown couch, two small end tables, a few plants, a wood-laminated coffee table, and, of course, the piano.
It always struck Suzanne as strange that a man would keep a Great Dane in such a tiny apartment. She sat down on the couch to wait. For a moment, the room was quiet. Then, Suzanne heard a noise coming from the bathroom. It sounded like someone running the bathwater.
Charlie must be in there, she thought. He must have forgotten to take the note off the door. Perhaps she should announce her arrival.
"Okay, you lucky boy," Suzanne bellowed in her usual effervescent way, "I'm here."
The door to the bathroom opened quickly and out came a naked, dripping man. "Oh," Yukl apologized. Suzanne looked quickly away. "I didn't realize you were here," he offered. He stood there for a few more seconds, then abruptly retreated to the bathroom. Yukl grabbed a towel. "I'm sorry," he called out. "I'll be with you in a minute." Suzanne thought nothing of it. She shrugged and headed over to the small upright piano. New York, she had always been told, was full of colorful characters. Charles Yukl was just one of them.
Two minutes later, Yukl came out of the bathroom dressed in an unironed short sleeve button down shirt and slacks. He didn't go to the piano. He walked silently, nervously over to a small chair, sat and stared at the floor.
"Charlie, are you okay?" Suzanne asked. He didn't respond. "You want to forget about tonight? I could come back." Yukl shook his head. "N-n-no," he stuttered. "Y-y-y-you can stay."
His behavior this evening was strangely different. The drapes were closed. The room was dimly lit. She could see that he had been drinking. A half empty bottle of vodka sat on the table. And his wife wasn't home.
"I'm sorry about the bathroom," he murmured, barely audible. He was still sitting in the chair. Without waiting for Suzanne's response, he began to ramble, making little sense. He started to mumble things about sex. "Did you get excited at seeing me?" he asked. She didn't notice that his eyes had begun to widen.
Suzanne tried to change the subject. Men had come on to her before. She could handle this guy. "Let's get to work, Charlie," she said. "We can talk about that later." But he was still sitting across from her on the chair, mumbling. He seemed lost in a host of confused thoughts. Suzanne waited for him to snap out of it, but he didn't. "Charlie?" she asked. "Charlie, are you all right?" He looked up at her.
Suddenly, he blurted out, "Did you bring the songs?"
Good, she thought. We're back on track. Maybe this silly episode is over. "Sure," she said, reaching for her purse. "Thought you'd never ask. Got 'em right here."
As Suzanne opened her brown leather handbag, the clasp snapped and everything fell to the floor: compact, lipstick, apartment keys, handkerchief, address book and wallet.
Charlie jumped quickly out of his chair. Both he and Suzanne got down on the floor to retrieve the items. "Where's the sheet music?" he asked. They both looked. "Where is it?" he repeated himself quickly.
Suzanne realized it wasn't in the bag. She had forgotten it. "It's not in the purse. I'm sorry, Charlie, I guess I left it at home this morning." She managed a silly, embarrassed laugh. "But we could work on another tune."
He stood up suddenly, almost jerking himself from the floor. "You're a slob. You're a goddamn slob," he yelled. Yukl had always been quiet around Suzanne. But now he was loud. He began pacing nervously around the small living room, staring directly at her. He made a fist and began pressing it hard into the palm of his left hand, mortar and pestle style. This time she could not avoid looking at his eyes.
"C'mon," she said soothingly, trying to hide her growing nervousness as she moved over to sit on the couch. "I said I was sorry. So, I'll sing something else. Or maybe I should leave. What do you think?" Indeed, it was a rhetorical question for Suzanne. She could no longer give this guy the benefit of the doubt. She had to exit. Now.
Suzanne got up from the couch. Charlie now turned toward her as she rose with the handbag. He was no longer looking at her. His eyes were focused on his hands as he grabbed her by the shoulders and violently pushed her up against the piano. Her buttocks pressed down hard against the white and black keys, producing an atrocious diminished chord.
"Hey," she shrieked, "what are you -- " Before she could finish, he yanked at her blouse and ripped it, trying to pull it off. Incredulous at first, she didn't struggle, hoping he might stop. But Yukl didn't stop. He kept grabbing for the blouse. She tried to fight back -- she swung at him with the now-full handbag, but he saw it coming and put up his left arm to block it. She tried again to use the bag.
This time he grabbed her arm, and held on. He was a little man, but he was strong. She grabbed for his arm and squeezed it, hoping to stop any further advances. For the briefest moment there was silence as they stood in the living room, faced each other, and arm-wrestled. The nails on his right hand began to dig into her skin.
"Charlie," she cried, trying to push away from him, "you're hurting me." He just stared back at her, his face contorted in rage. In the corner of the room, she caught a glimpse of the Great Dane. The dog was sitting, quietly watching the struggle.
He forcefully pushed her away and onto the couch. "You're a slob," he repeated and started toward her again.
Yukl was crazy. She had to get away. She was no longer just nervous. Suzanne was now very frightened.
The situation was not manageable. "We can work on the songs next week, okay?" she asked, hoping he would give her an opening to say good-bye and leave quickly. He didn't answer. His eyes were still glued on her scarf. "Okay?" No answer. "Look, Charlie," she said, raising her voice for the first time, "this isn't very funny."
Charlie didn't hear a word she said. He turned and ran toward the closet. He swung open the door, reached inside, and grabbed a large black necktie. She had run out of time. Suzanne bolted from the piano and headed for the front door, twelve feet away. She made it. But then she suddenly stopped. Pausing for no more than a second or two, she turned and went back to get her red coat. It was a fatal mistake.
Charlie had twisted the tie around in his hands. Before Suzanne could even reach the front door bolt, he came up behind her. He jumped up, threw the tie over her head and around her neck, quickly crisscrossed his hands around each end of the tie and pulled hard in opposite directions. She reached up to grab it but she was too late. His grip was firm.
She was only inches away from the door. She could feel her arteries futilely trying to pump blood to her head. She reached out for the door and managed to grab hold of the lock. But Yukl pulled her back.
As she moved backward, Suzanne took her elbow and jabbed Yukl in the rib cage, then tried to use the fingers on her left hand to gouge his eyes. But somehow, Yukl kept his right knee planted firmly in the small of her back while he pulled on the tie. She couldn't reach him. He drew her head close to his. "Don't scream," he said soothingly, "P-p-please don't scream," he stuttered, his voice growing more quiet.
Suzanne had only one choice. She wrenched around, moving her full body weight in an attempt to face Yukl. But he held on, and swung around with her. She tried to push him away. But his grip was too firm. She gasped and fought for breath.
She spun around once more. This time she managed to face him. With what little strength was left, she used her right hand and tried to hit him. He blocked it and landed a right punch in the middle of her face, drawing blood and breaking her nose. The Great Dane retreated to the kitchen.
Instinctively Suzanne put her hands up to her face and looked at her fingers, now dripping with blood. Yukl used the moment to spin her around and again thrust his knee in her back. Charlie tightened the silk noose. She gasped again. When she tried to scream, she couldn't. Suzanne grabbed one last time for the tie, but Charlie's grip was still too tight. Now Charlie was pulling her into the bedroom, fifteen feet away.
She tried to pull away. She was taller than he by a full three inches, but height was no longer a factor. She started to backpedal as he now pushed her closer to the bathroom. Blood was running down her face. Suzanne could sense the air leaving her lungs all too fast. She reached out one last time for him and tried to grab his cheeks, or his hair, or anything.
Charlie maneuvered around her flailing arms. Her eyes widened as she looked into his face for the last time. His expression was rigid, his eyes fixed in position. His forehead was sweating. And his mouth was wide open. But he wasn't looking at her. He was still staring at the tie. He pulled the tie again and again and spun her around. She tried to kick him, but couldn't. He twisted her head violently. Her hands stabbed the air uselessly as the last of her oxygen was consumed.
Her knees buckled as she began to collapse. Yukl twisted the tie once more. But it was no longer necessary. Suzanne was already falling backwards. He released his grip and watched with a slow motion fascination as her arms drooped limply, her mouth opened, her lifeless legs gave way, and the corner of her head hit the rim of the bathtub with a final, hollow-sounding crack.
The voice lesson was over. Suzanne Reynolds was dead.
The struggle had taken less than two minutes. There were no screams. There were no witnesses. And there was no apparent motive other than what seemed to be the obvious: Charles Yukl had experienced an unstoppable psychotic episode. He had had an irresistible impulse to kill, and he had succeeded.
Yukl sat in the bathroom for a few moments with the body. He was sweating, breathing heavily as he inspected the corpse. Reynolds's eyes were fixed open, staring up at the ceiling. Some blood had trickled into the bathwater. He leaned over and lifted her head up by its hair, removed the tie. He rose and, clutching the silk weapon, walked a few feet back to the small kitchen and opened the old white refrigerator. Inside was a carton of milk, some eggs, and what was left of a six pack of Rheingold, his favorite beer. He took out one of the red and white cans. He drank it quickly. Then he had another.
The beer felt good. It relaxed him. There was silence now, broken only by a few car horns on Twenty-eighth Street. Even the dog knew its place at a time like this and stayed in the kitchen.
On top of the earlier vodka, the second beer hit Yukl hard. He put his left hand down on the sink to steady himself.
His heart was pounding faster now than when he had killed her. He was excited. His whole body shook with a strange exhilaration, and he smiled as he felt himself having an erection.
Suzanne Reynolds's blood had already dried on his brown shoes, but Yukl didn't notice. He went over to the body and unbuttoned her blouse, already badly torn. He unfastened her wine-colored wool skirt, and tried to slip it off. It was stuck under the deadweight of the body. He yanked it harder, and it finally moved freely. Next he tore at her white lace-fringed half-slip, then her stockings. He grabbed her head and pulled it up. The blood had dried and caked on her face, running from her nose to her chin. "You're a goddamn slob," he repeated. He dropped the head back down.
He was moving faster now. He rolled her over, unfastening the snaps of her black lace brassiere. Then he removed her black bikini panties. He rolled the body over again. One hundred and fifteen dead, very heavy pounds. It wasn't easy.
He dragged her back into the living room. He sat down on the couch. "Goddamn slob," he mumbled. Then he remembered he had left the water in the bathtub. He walked quickly back in and pulled the plug and the now-rose-colored water slowly drained from the tub.
Charlie looked at his watch. It was six o'clock. His wife would be home soon. He started to leave the bathroom when he remembered something. He opened the medicine cabinet near the bathroom door. Sitting on the glass shelf was a Duridium single-edge razor blade. He put it in his pocket and walked back into the living room.
He opened the apartment door. It was quiet out in the hall. It was also dark. Yukl had yet to put a new bulb in the vestibule. Returning to Suzanne's lifeless body, he attempted to lift her, but struggled unsuccessfully under the weight. So he grabbed Suzanne's arms and started to pull, moving slowly across the old shag carpet and out into the hallway. Charlie looked quickly around the deserted stairwell. It was still very quiet.
He had to move fast now. He pulled the body along the dirty floor. When he reached the stairs, he turned around and started backing down as the body took each stair with a thud. First the head hit, then the shoulders, the back, the legs and the ankles. Once there had been a cheap linoleum tacked onto the stairs. It had long since been removed. But the tacks and staples remained, and ripped the skin off as the body passed over each step. Skin stuck to the staples, and blood formed a narrow streak that ran down the stairs.
In less than a minute Yukl had reached the second floor. As the manager of the building, Yukl knew there was a vacant apartment on the floor. Charlie found the door open and pulled the body inside.
He closed the door. It was dark. It was cold. The room was empty except for a ceiling light fixture left in a corner.
He sat for a moment on the low bare white-wall bookshelves and stared again at the body, lying faceup on a decaying fiber carpet mat. Though the room was dimly lit by the street lamp outside the window, Charlie went back upstairs and returned with a flashlight.
He felt safe now. He took off his shirt. Then his pants and shoes. He got down on his knees and straddled the body. He rubbed his hands over her cold and flaccid breasts. Then he squeezed them mercilessly.
He removed his underpants and rolled the body over. As with the bloodstains on his shoes, he didn't notice all the blood and broken skin left by the stairway carpet tacks.
Charlie got on top of the body now and began rocking back and forth, riding the dead girl. He then slid his body down Suzanne's back. He placed his lips and mouth all over her, oblivious to the blood, and worked himself into a sexual frenzy. It was as if an internal stopwatch was ticking. With a mad precision he beat at the body, slapping her face, her neck and shoulders. He was breathing heavily now as he continued his gruesome ritual for another few minutes. He had an orgasm, and punched the corpse hard in the face when he was done.
"Goddamn slob." He kept saying it. But Charlie wasn't finished. His level of excitement had only increased. He got up from the body and went over to the top of the bookcase, where he had placed his trousers. He removed the razor from the right pocket, turned the body over, and started to slash violently with the sharp blade. He cut deep into the breasts, the forehead, the chin. He couldn't stop. He cut deeper into the stomach and abdomen, the thighs, the legs, and the crotch. Then he slashed at her stomach again.
It was 7:30. Charlie dressed, and calmly walked out into the hall and returned to his apartment. His wife had not yet come home. He found an old paper grocery bag in the kitchen and retrieved all of the clothes. He returned the crumpled black tie to a hanger in the closet. He had another Rheingold and combed the apartment for any remaining evidence. He then grabbed a leather leash and without further hesitation took the dog for a long walk down Twenty-eighth Street.
A few doors down he took the clothes out of the grocery bag and dumped them in an outside trash container. He threw away the leather handbag on Twenty-ninth Street -- right on the street itself. He returned to the building as his wife, Enken, arrived. Charlie calmly and quickly took her to the vacant apartment and showed her the body.
At 9:45, the cops at the Thirteenth Precinct received a call that a body had been found at 29 East Twenty-eighth Street. The caller was a man named Charles Yukl.
Patrolman Charles McMillen took the radio call and arrived at the apartment shortly after ten. Yukl told McMillen that Reynolds had been in his apartment for a voice lesson earlier that day. He explained that at 9:40 he returned from walking his dog, noticed the apartment door open, entered, found the body, and promptly notified the police.
McMillen put out an immediate call for assistance. Detectives were summoned. So was the medical examiner. While photos of the badly beaten, bruised, and mutilated body were being taken a floor below, the questioning began.
The detectives talked to Yukl for more than three hours. His story remained straightforward, consistent. They talked some more. Intuitively, the cops suspected that Yukl knew much more than he was volunteering. But they had no hard evidence, no witnesses, no motive, and nothing more to hold him on than guilt by association.
Shortly after one in the morning, one of the investigators noticed the unusual bloodstains on Charlie's shoes. At 1:30 in the morning the police asked him to accompany them to the station house on East Twenty-first Street. He didn't have to go. He wasn't under arrest. Strangely, he willingly consented.
Once there, the questioning continued. The cops asked if they could borrow Yukl's shoes. He consented. And the questions continued until dawn. Still, none of his responses implicated him in the murder.
During the questioning at Yukl's apartment, it hadn't taken the detectives long to deduce Yukl's involvement in the case. Of all the tenants in the building, only Charlie knew the woman. He had found the body. And, in a strange and demented way, he almost seemed to be welcoming their questions. Still, there wasn't enough to hang him with the crime. There was only the barest circumstantial evidence, no motive, and no witness.
And so the questions kept coming. Important questions, silly questions, questions designed to build rapport, and questions aimed at antagonizing the man, questions planned to throw him off balance, to make him slip and reveal a little bit of what really happened.
The first story of the Reynolds murder was out in the early Tuesday edition of the New York Times while the cops were still talking to Yukl. It was buried in the back pages of the paper -- a small, four-inch item slipped in next to the Times's Theater Directory announcing such shows as Cactus Flower, Cabaret, and Fiddler on the Roof. Suzanne Reynolds was identified as a singer whose "body was found by a friend, Charles Yukl." The Times story was already dated by the time it hit the stands: the police had long since abandoned the thought of Yukl as anyone's friend.
Dawn failed to stop the endless coffee and cigarettes, or the questions. It just seemed to light the squad room a little better. At 6:45 a.m., one of the detectives suddenly noticed stains on Yukl's trousers. "What's that?" asked the detective. "It's some soap, I think," Yukl answered. "Do you mind if I look at the stain closer?" the cop probed. Yukl looked down, and silently dropped his trousers and handed them to the detective.
It was an ugly sight. Immediately the officers noticed brown stains on his jockey shorts. When Yukl agreed to remove them as well, they saw the same stains on his genitals. He was now a formal suspect. "Mr. Yukl," began one of the detectives, "I want to advise you of your rights. You have the right to remain silent..."
Yukl chose to talk. He also submitted to having skin scrapings and samples of pubic hair taken from his legs and genitals. His trousers were returned and the questioning continued.
Ten blocks away at 520 First Avenue, the body of Suzanne Reynolds lay on a stainless steel refrigerated tray at the office of Dr. Milton Helpern, New York City Chief Medical Examiner. It was recorded as case number 9198, and an appropriately numbered paper tag was placed on the body's right big toe.
Dr. Elliot Gross began the autopsy. Four other doctors were present, including Helpern. In New York City, when a white woman is murdered, one doctor is politically inadequate. The brass always steps in. Besides, this was a very messy case.
With the other doctors assembled, Gross wasted no time in looking at what was left of Suzanne Reynolds. Speaking into a tape recorder, he coolly inventoried the damage he could easily see: bone fractures, hemorrhages, abrasions, contusions of the face and neck, face lacerations, and multiple slash and incised wounds. The examination lasted longer than expected, but that was only because there was pressure this time to be especially thorough, to look for the true modality of the victim's demise.
Finally, Gross got to the bottom line. In this case, as in most others, there was a distinct time progression to the death: the bone fractures and face lacerations came first, followed by the contusions of the neck. The specific cause of death: asphyxiation due to strangulation. Homicidal. The body had also been sodomized.
Not far away, the press was already gathering in the lobby at the precinct. They weren't particularly concerned with the results of Dr. Gross's examination. They wanted to see an arrest. The New York City Police Department is genuinely incapable of keeping a secret. Not surprisingly, word had gotten out that there was a break in the case.
Upstairs, in the precinct squad room, Yukl had just ended a coffee break. His story was beginning to weaken, and like many criminals before him, he was becoming a victim of the clock. He was not a good liar, and it had become increasingly difficult for him to remember his lies and maintain his fabrication with each new volley of police questions. He was tired. Besides, as the late evening turned into the early morning, he was discovering that it was far easier to remember the truth.
At ten a.m., Yukl decided to tell a little of it. First, he confessed that he had sodomized the body upon finding it. He told police that he had argued with Reynolds in his apartment and had chased her downstairs.
Yukl's initial disclosure broke his composure. He became agitated in his seat. He tapped his foot annoyingly. Suddenly he started to stutter and motion quickly with his hands. He raised his voice. Then, just as suddenly, he asked to see his wife.
It was a pattern well known to the police. Often a suspect will want to confess to his wife or girlfriend before the woman hears about his crime from a disinterested third party. It's usually the first real indication of a major confession in the making. Without hesitating, the police took Yukl outside the room to see his wife.
The next step, if the pattern were to repeat itself, would be for Yukl to ask to make a formal statement. An hour later, almost as if the scene had been scripted, Yukl said he wanted to talk. A second coffee break ended and an assistant district attorney was summoned to the precinct. His name was John Keenan.
Keenan wasn't just any young assistant. He was the rising star in the New York County DA's office headed by legendary DA Frank Hogan. He was the young prince of the homicide bureau and fast becoming known as the number-one criminal trial attorney in the city. He got -- or was now routinely given -- both the tough cases and the big ones. Either way, he was guaranteed maximum exposure.
John Keenan's style was low-key, unemotional. In the provocative art of adversarial questioning, he was always the gentleman. He was a clever strategist in the courtroom and a brilliant tactician at the crucial juncture of any investigation: the interrogation of the suspect. In his questioning he always appealed to the suspect's inner need to be respected, his need to be liked, and finally, his insatiable (and often poorly hidden) desire to be relieved of his terrible burden: the awful truth.
At 12:40 P.M., Keenan met Yukl for the first time. He gently readvised Yukl of his rights. And Yukl again waived them. Charlie began by repeating the story of the chase and the sodomy. But he was leaving out major details. There was no time frame. Actions were out of sequence. And important things were clearly out of place.
Keenan let Yukl finish his story. Then, in his carefully crafted manner, he quietly asked Charlie to tell the truth. And Yukl broke. "I'd like to make another statement if I could," he requested. Keenan sat back in his chair and listened.
"Sir," Yukl said unemotionally. "I may have denied a lot of things until I talked to my wife and Enken told me to tell the truth. You can't just hide something like this."
Yukl admitted the earlier lies and now gave Keenan and the detectives a detailed play-by-play of the vicious murder.
The formal questioning ended at 1:06 P.M. It was a gruesome tale. It was bizarre. But it was now developing into an airtight, by-the-numbers homicide case.
With Yukl's consent, Keenan dispatched two officers to drive Enken back to Twenty-eighth Street and retrieve the tie. At 1:45 they returned and Yukl identified it as the weapon of record.
There would be no more coffee breaks. Six minutes later, three homicide detectives escorted Yukl from the interrogation room, through a pack of photographers, and up to the desk in the Thirteenth Precinct. His hands were manacled behind his back. He rested his chin against his chest as Sergeant Francis McCluskey asked the routine booking questions. Minutes later, Yukl was taken in a police van to criminal court, where Judge Francis K. O'Brien ordered him held without bail, pending grand jury action. Shortly before three P.M., Charles William Yukl was officially charged with murder in the first degree. The date: October 25, 1966.
Copyright © 2001 by Robert K. Tanenbaum and Peter S. Greenberg
The True Story of a Psychotic Killer
The Piano Teacher
The True Story of a Psychotic Killer
A riveting dramatization of two horrific crimes and their aftermath, The Piano Teacher brilliantly portrays a madman set on fulfilling his own sadistic and homicidal dreams...and the flawed justice system that gave him the opportunities to do so.