A FABULOUS MURDER
The Sunday night in March 1996 that Michael Alig and his roommate Freeze murdered their sometime flatmate and drug dealer Angel Melendez seems, in retrospect, almost inevitable. But at the time it was incredibly shocking.
As Village Voice columnist Michael Musto once put it, “Some people might have made the leap from spiking the punch bowl to killing someone, but I really don’t think anyone saw that coming.”
Prelude to a murder most foul
“In the middle of March 1996, we got word that the DEA was coming to our clubs on a certain Saturday night to arrest 30 or so dealers. The agency was going to threaten them with a lot of police time unless they turned state’s evidence against Peter. My job was to call them all and tell them not to show up that night and explain why. But Angel came to Limelight anyway around 2 a.m. On my instructions, the doormen turned him away. But he wanted to show off to his friends who were visiting from out of town.”
“Are you at least going to pay me for tonight?” he groused. He had accumulated several nights’ wages that were kept in the club safe. But again, we refused to let him in because of the threat from the DEA. “It’s for his own good,” I said. High on alcohol and Zanax, Angel left, disgruntled and humiliated. Then, just a few hours later at around 10 a.m., he showed up at my apartment on 43rd Street and 11th Avenue, the place where I lived as part of my salary at Limelight.
“I want my money,” Angel demanded, still high. “Take me to the club to get it.” My mind was shot because I was just coming off a four-day binge on cocaine, Special K, heroin and crystal meth.”
What happened next was a silly, pushy catfight.
By the mid-nineties, the club scene had grown darker. At Alig’s Disco 2000, the Wednesday-night bacchanal at the Limelight, the warm, fuzzy bath of a roomful of people on ecstasy had turned into a torture chamber: people dressed like monsters stumbling around in their K-holes in a deconsecrated Gothic church while the menacing hardcore-techno music drove them literally out of their minds. Alig, meanwhile, had turned into a junkie. At the beginning of his rise, he was essentially sober—practically anti-drug—devoting every waking minute to pulling off impossible feats of decadent fun. But by this point, he was bingeing every night on a stupefying cocktail of heroin, Special K, Rohypnol, and cocaine. Toward the end, he was living in crack-den-like squalor in a two-bedroom rental at the Riverbank on West 43rd Street.
Early the morning of March 17th Angel showed up at Michaels apartment. Two others were there. One of Michaels boyfriends and his roommate, Robert Riggs, also known as Freez. Freez was a former hat designer, who like Alig was floundering under a drug addiction.
Once inside the apartment, Angel demanded his money. He was drunk and wanted Michael to take him in a cab to Peter’s house at nine o’clock on a sunday morning.
“We were on cocaine, rohipnol and exstacy, as well as heroine” Michael remembers. Neither Michael nor Angel had been to sleep yet since Saturday night. Michael convinced him to wait. They would take a nap and go get his money in the afternoon.
A few hours later, Michaels boyfriend started to choke and turn blue – classic signs of an overdose. From experience Michael knew that some cocaine might restart his boyfriends heart.
“So I went to Angel and said my friend is dying, we need some coke” says Alig. Angel wasn’t eager to provide them with more free drugs. Freeze was yelling at him. While they were argueing Michael stole Angels cocaine, and gave it to his boyfriend, who slowly recovered.
Meanwhile the argument with Angel escalated.
On the night of the murder, Alig and Melendez got into an argument about an outfit, which escalated into a much uglier fight about money each believed the other owed.
Freez, staying over because he was helping renovate the apartment, poked fun at Angel’s captain’s hat. He always wore the same thing — the hat and a pair of wings. “We only let you hang out with us because you have drugs!” Freez yelled.
“Are you going to let him speak to me like that?” Angel asked, looking at me.
There was a scuffle and I went flying through a glass china cabinet. A large piece of glass pierced my back and blood spurted everywhere. Angel started biting me and Freez tried to pull him off. Freez reached for a hammer that was lying on a nearby table and hit him with the wooden handle. Angel fell to the floor. We sat on top of him and, wrapping a sweatshirt around my hand, I smashed it into Angel’s face.
We were all high on ketamine. Maybe it was the combination of me doing it for too long or having more strength than I realized, but Angel stopped writhing.
The fight turned violent, and Freeze, according to his written confession to the police, grabbed a hammer from the closet and hit Melendez over the head, trying to “knock him unconscious” so he would stop strangling Alig.
Alig, Riggs and a rarely mentioned third party, Daniel Auster, then piled on top of him, and Alig smothered him with a sweatshirt. Once Melendez had stopped writhing they propped him up on the couch, assuming he was unconscious. They were high, Alig says, on a cocktail of Special K, crystal meth and Rohypnol, and conducted a series of crude tests to make sure he was still alive.
Freeze checked his pulse and we kept checking on him every so often in between our drug use,” he says, adding that about nine hours later it finally dawned on them that they’d killed their friend. “We realized because Daniel threw some water in his face.
We laid him on the couch, thinking he was unconscious. It wasn’t until a few hours later that we realized he was dead. We filled the bathtub up with water and put his head in the bathtub to see if bubbles came out, and they didn’t.”
From this point, the details are hazy: Alig may or may not have tried to inject Drano into Melendez’s veins. He may or may not have poured Drano into his mouth and taped it shut. He may or may not have invited friends over to party while the corpse sat in a trunk on which people placed their cocktails.
What is clear is that Alig and Freeze eventually put the body in the bathtub and leaned a mattress up against the bathroom door while they spent a week in a drugged stupor trying to figure out what to do. As the stench grew worse, they hatched their gruesome plan. Alig would dismember the corpse if Freeze would provide him with sharp knives and ten bags of heroin. Alig chopped off Melendez’s legs, and they disposed of the body parts by tossing them into the Hudson.
Today Alig speculates about what would have happened to him, had this not happened that fateful night, where he would have been? “Probably into the grave. My heroin use was already out of control. I’m surprised that I was even alive at that point. Just a month before, I’d overdosed twice. In the hospital, almost dead, not having any memory of my name or anything. It was already at that point.”
AFTER THE MURDER: ‘I heard it through the Grapevine’
The following days were a blur. Not knowing what else to do, and afraid to call the police, they put Melendez’s body in the tub, and covered him with ice, Drano and baking soda to mask the smell. They also poured Drano down his throat. They left him there for nine days, before Alig and Riggs dismembered him with butcher’s knives, put his legs in a duffel bag, his head and torso in a TV box and disposed of them at two separate sites along the Hudson River. Though Alig has never denied his involvement since the arrest he is eager to discredit a couple of rumors, including one that he injected Melendez with Drano.
“In the movie, they have Freeze hitting Angel with the claw end of the hammer and there’s blood spurting all over,” he adds. “Freeze hit Angel with the wooden part of the handle and there was no broken skin, he didn’t even cut his skin. There was absolutely no blood. When they came with the Luminol the only blood they found was mine from falling through the china cabinet.”
In a haze of drugs and a state of fear, we panicked. Instead of calling the police or even an ambulance, we made the horrifying decision to run from reality and try to cover up the crime. Involving the authorities, as gross and selfish as it sounds, would have involved being sober, facing the terrible thing we’d done. We were junkies. We didn’t do that.
Besides, once this got out, it would be the end of the Limelight and the other clubs. Hundreds of people would be out of a job. Lives would be ruined because of the scandal. So we dragged Angel into the bathtub and went to get ice. We had baking soda and Drano in the apartment — the only things we could think to use to mask the odor — and poured Drano over Angel’s body.
Micahel claims; “Its hard telling what people would do when they are high like that. To us this all made perfect sense, that we should do this.” Then we left him there while we took enough heroin to work this out. Opiates give you this blanket of comfort where you think everything is OK, when it it’s obviously not.
I don’t know who made the decision but, about eight or nine days later, Freez went to Macy’s to buy a pair of butcher’s knives. We had 20 bags of heroin delivered from our dealer. We did bag after bag. “I hope I overdose tonight,” I told Freez. “Then you are going to have two bodies to get rid of.” We did it relatively quickly, cutting at the joints. There was really no blood left because it had dried. Freez sprayed Calvin Klein’s Eternity all over the bathroom to disguise the smell, which was ironic.
That night, we put the legs in a duffel bag and threw it into the river by the Intrepid around 4 a.m. Then we put the torso and head in a TV box and took it down to the Hudson at 26th Street. Angels legs sank but the box floated. They watched hopelessly as the current took it away. We were crazy paranoid the whole time. I kept imagining the police were coming, scrambling helicopters and hunting us down with giant searchlights.
In the Spring of 1996 a rumour started circulating through New Yorks “in crowd” of night crawlers. 25 Year old club kid and drug dealer, Andre Melendez, called Angel because of his signature six foot wings, was missing. The world on the street was that Angel had been killed. The perported killer was the King of the Club Kids, the then 30 year old Michael Alig, and a friend, then 28 year old Robert “Freez” Riggs.
The most curious thing about the rumours was that their source was no one other than Michael Alig himself! He had confessed to several close friends.
Alig told James St James the story one afternoon over tea, which to them was called breakfast. “He sat me down and spread out tea and scones, and bags of heroin, and said ‘Remember Angel?’. And he said, “well, we killed him and threw him in the river.”
His judgement was so warped by drugs that to his friends, his confessions sounds like just another of one of his elaborate hoaxes. After all, Michael was so well known for his outrageous antics that his story about Angel, seemed just like another put on.
Michael had started breaking the rules from the minute he arrived in the Big Apple in 1984.