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Crime News New York Homicide

An Artistic Genius In NYC Was Murdered Just After Her First Book Was Published

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's first novel had just been published when her body was found in a parking lot near her husband's job in lower Manhattan in November 1982.

By Megan Carpentier
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha Nyh 107

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Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was just 31 in 1982, but her brilliance as an artist was already recognized in both New York City and San Francisco — especially after the publication of her first book, "Dictee."

Her life and art career, however, was cut short on Nov. 5, 1982. At about 7:15 p.m., according to court records, police were called to a parking lot on Elizabeth Street in lower Manhattan. When they arrived, they found Cha's body. She had sustained multiple lacerations to the back of the head, her pants and underwear were around her knees, her scarf and belt were both around her neck, and she was missing a boot and her distinctive wedding ring. 

The city medical examiner ultimately determined that the cause of her death was strangulation, and the lacerations were caused by multiple blows to the back of her head, possibly by a nightstick.

It was clear to police, however, that Cha's body had been dumped in the parking lot.

They determined that Cha had left her job in the design department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side around 4:30 p.m. to meet with a gallery owner, Kenji Fujita, close to her husband's workplace in the lower Manhattan neighborhood of Nolita. Fujita told police she arrived before 5:00 p.m. and left before it was dark; sunset that day was at 4:50 p.m. and it would've been fully dark out by 5:15.

Cha was going to meet her husband, a photographer who was documenting the renovations at the historic Puck Building  — on the corner of Lafayette and Houston in Nolita — for a potential dinner, but never arrived. He began searching for her around 10:15 p.m., and, when he went to the police station to report her missing at 3:15 a.m., they took him to the morgue to identify her body.

Police searched the Puck Building but did not find the murder site there. But Cha's husband and brother conducted their own search and found a bloodied room the police had missed. In it were Cha's missing boot, her hat, gloves, and a button.

Missing from the Puck Building was a security guard, who had finished work around the time Cha would've been meeting her husband on Nov. 5 and failed to return for his shift on Nov. 6.

Who was the security guard? What happened to him after Nov. 5? To answer these questions and more about the case, watch "New York Homicide," a series about the most shocking crimes to occur in NYC, premiering Saturday, January 1 at 10/9c on Oxygen. You can sign up for Oxygen Insider for more, here.

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