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Murder In The Headlines

Murder In The Headlines

Our prayers go out to the family of Menachem Stark, the 39-year-old chasidic real estate developer and father of eightwho was brutally kidnapped and murdered late last week.

Whether the crime is tied to outstanding debts or a grudge from bad business dealings, as implied in media coverage of Mr. Stark’s murder and quotes from anonymous police sources in the past few days, there is no justification for such a cruel act of vengeful violence. According to authorities two people pushed him into a van and he was held prisoner before being burned and suffocated, his still-smoldering body left in a Long Island dumpster.

That makes Sunday’s callous New York Post front-page headline suggesting Mr. Stark’s murder was inevitable – “Who didn’t want him dead?” — that much more jarring. We understand the tabloid’s attention-grabbing, often coarse style; here the editors played up the fact that detectives believe there is a long list of suspects. But the headline focuses indignation against the victim rather than against the killers. In its response to reader outrage, The Post said “our reporting showed that he had many enemies, which may have led to the commission of this terrible crime.” Again that comes close to saying Mr. Stark had it coming.

At the same time, we wish those who have voiced their indignation about The Post headline would be equally outspoken against members of their own community who besmirch its image. Public records show that Mr. Stark left behind a trail of defaulted loans, angry tenants and civil suits as his real estate empire spread across Brooklyn and Queens.

Sadly, we have gotten used to reading about scandals linking ostensibly religious people to heinous acts, from money laundering to trafficking in drugs and human organs to sexual abuse. And a percentage of the city’s worst slumlords bear Hebrew names. The reality is that some of these people stay in the good graces of their community. We have no doubt that the majority of the haredi communit live ethical and pious lives. But the ritual observance of wrongdoers should not mask their bad behavior.

Still, Menachem Stark’s business dealings must be viewed separate and apart from outrage over his murder, the urgent need for his killers to be apprehended, and sympathy for the wife and young children he left behind.

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