Deadly Temper Tantrum?
Prosecutors: anger led to son's attack; he pleads not guilty
By Shirley E. Perlman, Staff Writer
September 9, 1988
A Belle Terre youth cut his parents' throats and bludgeoned them with a barbell because they had spoiled his summer and would not let him stay home alone when they took a planned cruise and vacation in Florida, prosecutors said yesterday.
"It was a temper tantrum that turned into violence," said Assistant District Attorney Edward Jablonski, chief of the Suffolk County homicide bureau. "He's a boy that had everything in life and thought he deserved more," he said.
Martin Tankleff, 17, pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder before District Court Judge Edward Green in First District Court, Hauppauge, in the death of his mother, Arlene, 54, and the wounding of his father, Seymour, 62. Officials said Tankleff was being held in Suffolk County Jail last night under a suicide watch.
Defense attorney Robert Gottlieb said prosecutors do not have a strong case. "There is a great deal more to this case before this issue is finally resolved," he said.
Police responded to a 911 call from Martin Tankleff at 6:14 Wednesday morning. His mother was discovered on the floor of her bedroom at 33 Seaside Dr., a sprawling waterfront ranch home with sweeping views of Long Island Sound. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police said that her throat had been slit and that she had been bludgeoned with a blunt instrument - later identified as a barbell - and stabbed.
The father was found in the den on the opposite side of the house suffering from blows to the head and a cut throat. He remained in critical condition last night at University Hospital at Stony Brook. The bodies were discovered three hours after family friends had left the house following a weekly poker game.
During the tense arraignment yesterday, Jablonski said Tankleff planned the attacks to the point that he "purposely was naked when he committed the crime so he wouldn't get any blood on his clothing."
The youth washed the knife and the barbell, Jablonski said, adding, "He left the knife on the kitchen table next to a watermelon" so that police wouldn't suspect that it was the murder weapon.
Jablonski said Tankleff "was an intelligent person . . . and he committed the crimes for a number of reasons . . . He was angry at his parents." He did not elaborate in court.
But in a later interview he said Tankleff was angry because "they spoiled his summer, restricted the use of a Boston Whaler in the driveway . . . and made him drive a '78 Lincoln to school as opposed to another car, a newer Lincoln" or the family Cadillac. Tankleff also was angry about his parents' plans to go away and leave someone to stay with him, Jablonski said. "He thought he could stay by himself." The youth also told police that his parents were having marital problems and that he felt they were asserting themselves through him.
He also said the father had been angry at Tankleff Tuesday night because the youth had not set up the card table for the poker game before going to the mall.
Yesterday, clad in a white prison jumpsuit, Tankleff stood with head bowed as Green rejected arguments for reasonable bail.
"There is an allegation that he committed these crimes," Gottlieb said before a hushed courtroom packed with spectators. "There is no written statement, no signed confession, no videotaped confession."
But the judge, noting the "serious nature of the crimes," ordered that Tankleff be held without bail and denied a request by Gottlieb that the boy be allowed to attend his mother's funeral. Last night, Gottlieb said he would ask a County Court judge to allow the boy to attend the services. The defense lawyer, who also was critical of the police investigation, asked Green to instruct Jablonski to preserve all original police notes and tapes on the case.
Among those in court were Tankleff's two uncles, a half-sister, Shari Rother, 40, and her husband, Ronald. The sister fought back tears as Tankleff was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Short and dark-haired, Tankleff has been described by neighbors and school officials as a quiet, polite young man. Relatives and friends interviewed yesterday said they were stunned by the allegations and maintained the boy was innocent. Asked if he thought the boy was capable of the crime, Myron Fox, a family attorney who said he has known the Tankleffs for 30 years, replied, "Not at all."
"I know the kid," he said in a telephone interview. "He has never displayed any violence. He loved his mother beyond belief."
In court papers submitted yesterday, homicide detectives said the charges stem from "the oral admission of the defendant wherein he stated in part, `I did it.' "
Jablonski told the judge that Tankleff called his sister from police headquarters Wednesday and that detectives heard him tell Rother that he had "acknowledged" the crime. Rother denied a police request to tape the conversation, Jablonski said.
Whether police were allowed to question Tankleff without the presence of an attorney is in dispute. Both Gottlieb and Fox claim that police were put on notice not to talk to Tankleff at 8 a.m. Wednesday when he arrived at the crime scene. But Jablonski said police were not put on notice until Wednesday afternoon.
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