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Multiple Suspects Indicted In Connection With Murders Of Two Men Leaving New York City Gay Clubs
Investigators believe the separate murders of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger were part of a larger conspiracy tied to a group believed to incapacitate and rob dozens of unsuspecting victims.
Several suspects believed to be part of a larger group connected to a string of New York City-based robberies and druggings face charges in connection with the deaths of two men.
Julio Ramirez, 25, and John Umberger, 33, were the victims of two separate homicides that occurred in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan last spring, according to NBC News. Both men had just visited gay bars before being fatally drugged and robbed, though officials believe they were targeted for financial reasons and not for their sexual identity.
Their deaths, however — which weren’t classified as homicides until this month — put the LGBTQIA+ community on edge, with the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force assisting in the investigation.
On Wednesday, law enforcement officials said more than one person was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury in connection with Umberger and Ramirez’s murders, though how many remains unclear.
The suspects charged in connection with the deaths were among at least six suspects eyed for a string of robberies with a similar pattern, according to NBC News. Per NYPD documents reviewed by the New York Times, officials named 10 robbery suspects, six of whom had been arrested, and four wanted for questioning.
One robbery suspect was identified as 28-year-old Andre Butts, who was charged in June after allegedly using Ramirez’s credit card to buy a $544 pair of Nikes just hours after the victim died, according to the New York Times.
On April 20, Ramirez, a social worker from Queens, was found unresponsive in the back of a taxi cab on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, according to the victim’s family. He was discovered by a group of men he met earlier in the evening at the Ritz Bar & Lounge, a gay dance club in Hell’s Kitchen, and died shortly after being transported to the hospital.
One month later, Umberger, a Washington D.C. political consultant visiting New York, disappeared after leaving The Q NYC, a second gay nightclub that's a three-minute walk from the Ritz Bar & Lounge. His body was found at his townhouse rental on the Upper East Side five days later.
Loved ones said, in both cases, the assailants unlocked the victims’ phones by using facial recognition before draining their bank accounts, according to the New York Times. Umberger’s mother, Linda Clary, said more than $20,000 was taken from her son’s bank account.
“The pain and sorrow and horror is like nothing else,” Clary previously told NBC News. “You would not want to wish this on anyone.”
In November, NYPD officials announced they were looking into the men’s deaths in connection with “several incidents where individuals have been victims of either robberies or assault,” stated Julian Phillips, spokesperson for the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner. More from New York’s LGBTQIA+ community came forward with “eerily similar” accounts, according to NBC News.
Tyler Burt, 27, for instance, said he had “zero recollection” of leaving another New York gay club in December, only to wake in his apartment, robbed of his electronics and with $15,000 missing from his bank account, per NBC News. He reported the incident to police the next day, saying he believed the attackers used facial recognition to access his devices.
An unnamed 21-year-old New York University student also reported something similar happening just days before Ramirez’s death. In that case, the man had left with three strangers he’d just met at The Q NYC — where Umberger disappeared from — and believed he and a friend were drugged, with his phone and thousands of dollars missing. He also believed the assailants used facial recognition to access financial accounts on his phone.
The NYPD stated in December there were dozens of surviving victims, per New York station WPIX. The earliest known attacks go as far back as 2021, the New York Times reported.
On March 3, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that both Ramirez and Umberger died during a “drug-facilitated theft.” Ramirez died of “acute intoxication by the combined effects of fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, heroin, cocaine, lidocaine, and ethanol.” The same went for Umberger, though heroin was not detected in his system.
On Wednesday, the medical examiner’s office confirmed with NBC News that they were looking into “several additional deaths in similar circumstances.”
WPIX reported that the medical examiner’s office released the findings of seven victims believed to have died in drug-related deaths tied to nightclubs. On Thursday, the office confirmed that two of the victims were men who were found in the Bronx last summer.
Umberger’s mother, Clary, said she felt some satisfaction in light of the recent news of the indictments, according to NBC News.
“I am relieved because it means we’re one step closer to these people not being able to hurt anyone else,” she said. “These people are hurting too many people, and they need to be taken off the streets.”
Police are looking not only at victims last known to leave gay bars before their alleged attacks, but also the attacks of others, according to the New York Times.
In July, 35-year-old fashion designer Kathryn Marie Gallagher — whose clients included big names such as Lady Gaga and Laverne Cox — was found dead in the bed of her Manhattan apartment, according to NBC New York City affiliate WNBC. On March 24, the medical examiner’s office ruled her death as a “drug-facilitated theft,” citing an “acute intoxication” by the “combined effects” of alcohol, fentanyl, ethanol, and p-fluorofentanyl.
Her death is now classified as a homicide.
Despite the similarities between Gallagher’s death and the deaths of Ramirez and Umberger, no one has been charged in connection with Gallagher’s murder.
WPIX reported another suspect, Shane Hoskins, was arraigned Thursday on robbery charges. Investigators believe he was part of the posse accused of drugging and robbing unsuspecting victims, though it’s unclear if his charges — which include robbery, identity theft, grand larceny, and conspiracy — are directly related to any of the aforementioned homicide victims.
According to the redacted indictment obtained by the New York outlet, Hoskins and others allegedly “provided a substance to two individuals” in April and later “took the property of two individuals.” Among the victims’ stolen items were prescription drugs, a wallet, and a cell phone.
Hoskins allegedly used a stolen Discover card to make purchases at a Brooklyn deli on the same day as the incident.
The investigation is still unfolding.
Officials are asking anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or by visiting the NYPD Crime Stoppers website.