Gabe Pressman Recalls a Murder on Fifth Avenue

It was early in my career at NBC and I covered everything that moved or, in this case, didn’t move, from dawn to dusk every day.

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    U.S. Attorney Irving H. Saypol and Mr. Keith Brown, who worked on the Serge Rubinstein murder case, are pictured in this 1946 file photo.

    It happened 57 years ago today

    Serge Rubinstein, international financier and playboy, was found strangled to death in his five-story Fifth Avenue mansion on 62d Street on Jan. 27, 1955, . It was early in my career at NBC and I covered everything that moved -- or, in this case, didn’t move -- from dawn to dusk every day.

    Inside the mansion, I saw a bizarre array of reporters, photographers and police. They were gathered at the bottom of a marble stairway, waiting to be briefed by police officers.

    The dead man, we were told, was wearing blue-black silk pajamas, hands and feet tied with cord. His mouth and throat were covered with heavy adhesive tape. Nearby was a costume ball photograph of Rubinstein as Napoleon. The legendary Chief Medical Examiner Michael Helpern issued a terse report after an autopsy:

    “Rubinstein died of manual strangulation.”

    I remember the reporters shouting questions at the officials from the bottom of the staircase. “How many people have you interviewed?” “Did he have any close lady friends?” “Did the butler do it?”

    It was like a b-movie. And we were in it. New York was quite informal in those days. And reporters had few inhibitions. The competition among the newspapers [at the time, I think there were nine dailies] was intense. And with my crude tape recorder I tried to pick up as much of the sound as I could. I don’t think we had a camera crew there but, in that day, the printed word was still dominant.

    A few details had emerged. According to the Times, Rubinstein, who was 46, had dined the previous night with a young brunette saleswoman at Nino’s La Rue on 58th Street. He was a convicted draft dodger and, according to the Times, “a financial wizard.”

    A quick solution of the crime did not seem in the offing. As Police Commissioner Frank Adams told us: “I know of no motive and I think you fellows will be around for a few days.”

    It turned out to be more than that.

    The crime is still unsolved.