Metro Weekly

Fatal Overdoses of 2 Gay Men in Manhattan Ruled Homicides

Medical examiner's ruling sets stage for possible criminal charges to be filed in relation to the murders of John Umberger and Julio Ramirez.

John Umberger (left) – Photo: Facebook; Julio Ramirez – Photo: Instagram.

The fatal overdoses of two men who were robbed after leaving gay bars in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood last year have been ruled homicides by the city medical examiner’s office.

The first victim, Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker from Brooklyn, was found dead in a taxi on the Lower East Side in April.

The second man, D.C. resident John Umberger, was found dead in an Upper East Side townhouse a month later. 

Following their deaths, the men’s families discovered that thieves had drained the victims’ bank accounts using facial recognition technology. They also attempted, but failed to, log in to and empty Umberger’s trust fund account. 

Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office, said Ramirez and Umberger had been victims of “drug-facilitated theft,” with both men being killed by the same drug cocktail — a mixture of cocaine, lidocaine, ethanol, heroin, fentanyl, and p-fluorofentanyl.

The medical examiner’s report did not find the presence of any substance used as a so-called “date rape” drug or “roofie,” such as GHB, in either man’s system, although such drugs only stay in a person’s system for a short time, making them difficult to detect.

Additionally, such topics are not usually checked for in routine drug and toxicology tests, reports The New York Times.

Since then, dozens of victims have alleged they were drugged and robbed in incidents that have not yet been connected to either Ramirez’s or Umberger’s deaths, but follow a similar pattern.

The New York City Police Department confirmed last month that three men who had visited The Eagle NYC, a gay leather bar, had fallen victim to a similar drugging and robbery scheme.

While most victims have been hesitant to file police reports — often due to fear of not being believed or following negative interactions with police — those who have spoken to the media say they have woken up not remembering how they got where they are, discovering that personal valuables and money were missing, and — in some cases — that money has been taken from their bank accounts using facial recognition or fingerprint technology on their mobile phones.

In January, police told reporters they believe the perpetrators have been successful in drugging and incapacitating the victims after luring them away from nightlife spots in the city.

“What we think is happening with this scheme is [victims are] being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,” Capt. Robert Gault, of the city’s 10th Precinct, which includes Chelsea and part of Hell’s Kitchen, told attendees of a police community council meeting.

“And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

Both Ramirez and Umberger’s families have said in the past it would have been out of character for their loved ones to be involved in drugs of any kind.

The homicide rulings are an important step towards eventually prosecuting those responsible for the men’s deaths.

A New York Police Department spokesman told the Times that the deaths were “currently under investigation” as part of a series of “several incidents where individuals have been victims of either robberies or assault.”

Police have also said that they do not believe the incidents are motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus, but rather monetary gain. 

“Some of the victims are members of the LGBTQIA+ community; however, it is believed that not all of the victims are,” the spokesman said.

Linda Clary, Umberger’s mother, told the Times that the homicide ruling was “a gut punch” but also “a huge relief, because we fought this for so long.”

“The NYPD at first presented to us that John was robbed while at a club and was so depressed that he went home and did a bunch of drugs,” she said. “But I was like: ‘No, that’s not what happened. John would not have done that.’ And now we know.”

In December, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. announced the indictment of Kenwood Allen on murder, robbery, and other charges in relation to a series of drug attacks on the Lower East Side in which 26 victims were drugged and robbed and six died of drug overdoses. Allen has — at least thus far — only officially been charged in five of the robberies and two of the deaths.

Prosecutors allege that Allen drugged his victims with fentanyl after they spent the evening out in bars, before robbing them of their phones, credit card, or watches.

Several other men were indicted on lesser charges in those drug-related cases, but none were charged with drugging the victims, reports ABC New York

No evidence has been made public that suggests that Allen is connected to the deaths of Ramirez or Umberger, nor has he been charged with those murders.  

In January, an NYPD spokesman told ABC New York that a man, Andre Butts, had been arrested last June for using Ramirez’s credit card to buy two pairs of Nike sneakers for $544.38 at an upscale store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.

The purchase was made at 1:06 p.m., just hours after the discovery of Ramirez’s body.

Erik Bottcher, a New York City Council member representing Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen, noted that the LGBTQ population in New York has been on high alert since Ramirez and Umberger’s murders.

He called on the district attorney’s office to proceed as quickly as possible in bringing charges against those responsible for the two men’s deaths.

Public safety experts are advising those who go out at night in New York City — especially members of the LGBTQ community — take preventative measures to protect themselves.

Those steps include disabling facial recognition technology on their phones, watching their drinks when they are being prepared, never leaving their drink alone or getting a new one if it’s left behind, and refusing drinks or drugs from strangers.

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