Man who attacked cafe workers in New York was a suspect in Boston murders

Sarabeth’s, a restaurant on the Upper West Side in Manhattan where a man died after jumping out of a freezer and attacking an employee with a kitchen knife, in New York, Sunday. Police said the man, from Arizona, was wrestled to the floor by the restaurant's workers, and no one was injured.
Sarabeth’s, a restaurant on the Upper West Side in Manhattan where a man died after jumping out of a freezer and attacking an employee with a kitchen knife, in New York, Aug. 5, 2018. –Mariana Alfaro / The New York Times

NEW YORK — The man who died after jumping out of the walk-in freezer of a popular Manhattan eatery earlier this month brandishing a knife and shouting “away Satan” was facing murder charges in the 1988 shooting of two men in Boston, law enforcement authorities said Monday.

Carlton Henderson, 54, of Cave Creek, Arizona, suffered what investigators said appeared to be a fatal heart attack Sunday as he attacked workers at Sarabeth’s on the Upper West Side.

Henderson had been charged in the slayings of William Medina, 26, and Antonio Dos Reis, 22, who were shot while sitting in a parked car in Boston on May 7, 1988, according to court records provided by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office in Massachusetts.

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Authorities suspected that the killings were connected to a violent drug-trafficking ring based in San Diego that had extended to other parts of the country, including Boston, the court papers said. Its kingpin, Leslie Rogers, who was killed by Los Angeles police in 1994, was thought to have ordered the slayings, the papers said.

Police tracked Henderson to an Airbnb rental in St. Louis in April 2017, where he was arrested and extradited to Boston to face charges. He was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder based on statements he made to police in Boston and federal prosecutors during an interview in 1993, according to the district attorney’s office and the court records.

But on July 31, Justice Janet L. Sanders of Massachusetts Superior Court ruled that the statements could not be admitted as evidence because Henderson had given the interview under an agreement with federal prosecutors that prevented his statements from being used against him. Prosecutors objected, arguing that no written agreement was ever found.

At a hearing the next day, Sanders ordered Henderson to be released, and he promised to return to court on Aug. 14.

How he ended up in New York City four days later, hiding in a restaurant freezer, remains unclear. In court, he had mentioned the possibility that he would stay with a sister living in California.

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On Sunday, he popped out of the walk-in freezer at Sarabeth’s after a worker opened it. Police said he grabbed a kitchen knife and started attacking workers, who were able to take away the weapon and wrestle him to the ground.

On the floor, he slipped out of consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Henderson’s lawyer, John Amabile, said he was surprised to hear that his client had died in such a bizarre struggle.

“That’s very foreign to my experience with the guy, and I represented him for over a year and met with him many times,” he said. “My impression of him was that he was a very intelligent person who was very engaged as a client. I did not get the sense that he was psychotic or mentally ill or physically ill.

“He did put some weight on while he was incarcerated,” Amabile added, “but that was not unusual.”

Two years after the Boston killings, Henderson was arrested in Louisiana after receiving a large package of cocaine in the mail, according to the court papers. A search of his hotel room later turned up a firearm.

He was convicted on federal drug and gun charges in 1992 and sentenced to 188 months in prison, records indicate. The following year, he reached out to federal prosecutors to offer information about Rogers’ drug empire in hopes of getting his sentence reduced.

In 1993, he was moved from a prison in Arizona to a jail in San Diego, where he was questioned under the supervision of the local U.S. attorney for a total of 55 hours over eight months by various law enforcement officials, according to court records. He provided them with information about drug trafficking, illegal gun trafficking and drug-related slayings, according to the records. At one point, federal prosecutors took him outside to point to sites around San Diego.

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During an interview with Boston investigators in 1993, Henderson said that Rogers had ordered him to set up a hit on the men because they owed him money, according to the court records and Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. Henderson claimed to have hired two brothers, Marc and Ruben Taylor, to carry out the killings, and directed the victims to a location on Windsor Street where they were told they would be meeting him to make a payment.

But prosecutors could not corroborate Henderson’s testimony.

“The defendant was unable to obtain any reduction in his sentence, and for the next 20 years, the defendant’s statement was essentially forgotten,” Sanders wrote in her decision to suppress his interview.

Henderson was released from federal prison in August 2005, and settled in Cave Creek, where he bought a home and opened a legal business with his then-wife that later expanded to Southern California.

In 2014, Medina’s sister, Marivelle Crespo, a Boston police officer, approached a detective on the cold case squad at a cookout and inquired about the unsolved case, sparking a renewed investigation.

Boston investigators soon learned that Ruben Taylor had been shot and killed in December 1993 in Miami. A gun found in his home was brought to Boston for testing, and it was found to match ballistics evidence from the scene of the Windsor Street slayings, thus corroborating Henderson’s statements.

Henderson was arrested in April 2017, after a neighbor of the Airbnb rental in St. Louis mistook him for a burglar, according to KMOV.

Sarabeth’s, on Amsterdam Avenue, reopened Monday and a sense of normalcy seemed to have returned. Many customers leaving the restaurant said they had not heard about the incident and that they were served as usual.

Charles Mulligan, a caterer who met someone for coffee there early Monday, said there was “not even an indication nor an explanation or any kind of notice,” that something had happened in the place the day before, adding that the restaurant was “100 percent” back to normal.

“You wouldn’t be able to tell,” he said.