MURDER ON THE HALF MOON

The first recorded murder in (the region that is now) New York occurred on September 6, 1609 when a sailor in Henry Hudson‘s crew was allegedly killed by Indians. The victim’s name was John Colman and little about him, and even less about his murder, is known. His body was quickly buried in an undisclosed location and while a potential murder weapon was retrieved it soon vanished. Accounts of Colman’s murder mostly came from those who bore a grudge against him and/or were singled out due to racial profiling. No one was ever prosecuted and the only contemporary if scant accounts of his death are found in first mate Robert Juet’s journal.

From Juet’s journal and other sources, historians have been able to ascertain the following:

Colman was an accomplished English sailor, one of the few Englishmen among the Half Moon‘s crew of predominately Dutch sailors, who had sailed into New York Harbor. They were searching for an imagined Northwest Passage to Asia and were anchored somewhere between (what is now) Coney Island and Sandy Hook. On the morning of September 6, Hudson ordered Colman to survey the area and put him in command of four Dutch crewmen. In a 16-foot long shallop, Colman and his crew explored what was possibly the Kill Van Kull and Newark Bay.

Two 40-foot dugout canoes approached, one with 16 Indians and the other with 14. The four Dutch crewmen later said they were “set upon.” They were apparently unable to ignite a small cannon because of rain, but probably mustered enough firepower from muskets to frighten the Indians, the historians suggested.

The Indians fired arrows pointed with sharp stones. Two crewmen were wounded. Colman, whose chest may have been sheathed in armor, was struck in the neck and bled to death.

The survivors rowed for hours searching for the Half Moon. Finally, at 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, they returned to the ship with Colman’s body. He was buried later that day, either in Coney Island, Staten Island, Sandy Hook or Keansburg, N.J., at a spot that Hudson christened Colman’s Point.

Colman’s murder has been deemed a “cold case” (a long unsolved homicide with no apparent leads) by police officials; since this murder, sans body and clues is 400 years old, it’s very cold indeed. However, no murder investigation or incident is considered closed until it’s finally solved. Some experts suspect that Colman may not have been killed in a random Indian attack as claimed but in retaliation for an earlier attack on an Indian village. Others suspect that he may have been killed by fellow crew members, notorious for being sociopaths or similarly deviant; a few believe Juet himself (who Hudson called his “evil genius”) was somehow responsible.

Detective Michael J. Palladino (NYC detective union president), Joseph A. Pollini (commander of the NYPD‘s cold case homicide squad, now a professor at John Jay College) and Detective William McNeely (a Manhattan South homicide detective) want to reopen this case; they even recruited a couple of historians to give them the lowdown on Henry Hudson’s voyage to the New World. They would like to find out who really killed John Colman, if they could only find the remains of John Colman buried deeply and indeterminately within New York City‘s antediluvian past.

Source:  “New York’s Coldest Case: A Murder 400 Years Old” NYT

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