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BY TEQUILA MINSKY AND LINCOLN ANDERSON | Last Thursday evening around 6:20 p.m., police responded to a 911 call of a female stabbed inside 38 Downing St. Upon arrival, they found Alice Birnbaum, 59, with multiple stab wounds to the chest. According to reports, she also had first been hit on the head with an ax. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the scene.
Her boyfriend, Dennis Guglielmo, 69, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
Like the rest of Downing St., the block, between Bedford and Varick Sts., is quiet and peaceful. Outside the second floor of 38 Downing St., an American flag hangs from the fire escape.
Guglielmo, a former owner of Carmine Street Guitars, was described by neighbors as a “character.”
The New York Times reported that Guglielmo had lost his rights to the guitar store after unsuccessfully suing his business partner.
According to DNA info, Guglielmo had told neighbors he checked himself into Bellevue Hospital a week before the killing, but left days later because he may have had a bad reaction to medications he was prescribed.
David Gruber, chairperson of Community Board 2, who lives a few blocks away, said he knew Guglielmo from the neighborhood, and that the man was extremely strong. He said when Guglielmo would shake his hand, he would basically crush it.
Apart from Gruber, local residents and merchants spoke to The Villager about Guglielmo and Birnbaum only on condition of anonymity.
One local man described Guglielmo as “a guy who wanted to be somebody and could have a menacing facade.”
He called Birnbaum’s killing a brutal act of madness on an intimate block — but said nobody had felt Guglielmo was really capable of such a thing.
He said Guglielmo had been married at least once and had at least four children, one of whom, Cachagua a.k.a. “Cush,” died at age 22.
Guglielmo and Birnbaum were a familiar sight hanging out together at Carmine St. restaurants Numero 28 Pizza and Greenwich Village Bistro.
Another neighbor told The Villager that Guglielmo recently told him he was feeling anxious and that he was checking himself into the hospital.
He said Guglielmo’s brother, Peter, who also lives in the building, saw Guglielmo sitting on the stairs inside and asked him what was going on. Guglielmo reportedly answered, “I just killed Alice.”
As the neighbor tells it, the brother said he went to the apartment, saw the scene and called the police.
Guglielmo is said to have known a lot of musicians from decades ago.
As for Birnbaum, the neighbor said she was a designer of women’s evening- wear, selling it on the Internet. She had an apartment she got from her father, a retired doctor, in the E. 50s on Madison Ave. She was “sweet, very sweet,” the source said.
“I asked Alice once, ‘Why is a nice girl like you with him?’” the neighbor recalled. “She said, ‘He has a heart of gold.’”
A local merchant said Birnbaum had been very concerned during Guglielmo’s hospital stay, and that she had been monitoring his health. Guglielmo had admitted himself into the hospital because he had been unable to sleep for the two weeks prior.
In the hospital, they put him on medications, but his condition was deteriorating and got worse, the storeowner said. Birnbaum was concerned and worked hard to get him out, the merchant said, adding that she kept in touch with the merchant, calling him daily.
In a telephone interview, a friend of Birnbaum’s said they were part of a clique of women, friends from the music and fashion scene in the ’70s, who would get together regularly for lunch.
She told The Villager that Birnbaum was “the most laid-back person” and wouldn’t have done anything to push Guglielmo’s buttons.
ORIGINALLY POSTED MAY 2, 2014