Volume 18 • Issue 36 | January 20 - 26, 2006

Student-inmate hangs himself in the ‘Tombs’

By Albert Amateau withPaul Schindler

The high school student charged with the Dec. 27 murder of a 45-year-old masseur, who was found in a burning Chelsea apartment, hanged himself in a holding pen in the Criminal Court “Tombs” complex in Lower Manhattan on Friday afternoon, Jan. 13.

The student, Jose R. Taveras, 17, who lived with his family in Washington Heights, was found by a Department of Corrections officer at 3:15 p.m. with one end of his shirt tied around his neck and the other end tied to the cell’s bars. He hanged himself by slumping forward from a bench in the cell, a Corrections spokesperson said.

Taveras had been in the cell at 100 Centre St. awaiting transportation back to Rikers Island and was alone at the time because he was the last one to be moved, the spokesperson said. He had been listed as a “mental observation inmate” but was not on suicide watch and did not require constant supervision. A guard had seen Taveras alive shortly after 3 p.m., the spokesperson said. The youth was declared dead at the scene.

Taveras had been in court at 100 Centre St. on Friday for a pre-trial proceeding in the second degree murder of Scholmy Rejwan, an Israeli immigrant who offered erotic massages for men in his third-floor apartment at 228 W. 18th St., according to police.

Rejwan’s body, with hands and feet tied with electrical cord, had been doused with a flammable liquid and set afire, apparently to conceal the murder, according to police. The Medical Examiner’s office said Rejwan died of strangulation.

Taveras, 17, a junior at Manhattan Bridges high school on West 50th St., was arrested Jan. 8. He went to Rejwan’s Chelsea apartment in response to a newspaper advertisement. Before his arrest Taveras told his stepfather that there was a third person in the room, a Colombian, who did the strangling and set the body afire.

The stepfather, Deyvi Franco, told Downtown Express that the man who killed Rejwan had sexually abused Taveras and forced him to witness the murder. “I want to hear the truth, I want to know what happened to that guy [in the Chelsea apartment]. I want to know what happened to my stepson,” said Franco. He described Taveras as “a good student — a good boy, he took care of his mother.”

Alan Abramson, Taveras’ attorney, said that his client “was a 17-year-old kid in the custody of the Department of Corrections. They had an obligation to make certain he was handled in a proper and safe manner. There was a failure to fulfill that obligation.”

Police said on Wed. Jan.18 that Taveras was the only suspect arrested so far for the Rejwan murder but the case was still open and under investigation.


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