Twist in Tankleff Case?
Father's partner disappears after receiving threats
By Shirley E. Perlman and Phil Mintz
September 20, 1988
In what may be a bizarre twist in the case surrounding the bloody murder of a Belle Terre woman and the attempted murder of her husband, a bagel-shop business partner of the wounded man disappeared last week after receiving death threats, police said yesterday.
Jerry Steuerman, 48, the self-proclaimed "bagel king" of Suffolk and one of the men who attended a poker game at the home of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff that ended just hours before the Tankleffs were assaulted Sept. 7, was last seen shortly after noon on Wednesday, according to police.
Steuerman's 1987 Lincoln Town Car was found by police about three hours later, its door open and its motor running, in a hotel parking lot in Hauppauge.
Bari Steuerman, Steuerman's daughter, reported to police that he was missing Wednesday night. Police said that Steuerman had told some people he had been receiving death threats and appeared very frightened before he disappeared, police said.
Martin Tankleff, 17, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff's son, has been charged with the murder and attempted murder of his parents. In the early morning hours of Sept. 7 at the family home, just hours after the poker game that Steuerman attended, the parents were beaten with a barbell and stabbed with a knife.
Det. Lt. John McElhone, commanding officer of the Suffolk Police Homicide Squad, said yesterday, "There is no indication of a connection" between the Tankleff case and Steuerman's disappearance. He said the Homicide Squad is involved in the missing persons investigation, which he termed "separate and distinct" from the homicide case.
Prosecutors said that while they are looking into Steuerman's disappearance, they contend there is no doubt that Martin Tankleff, who is being held without bail in the Suffolk County jail, was the assailant. The teenager has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Robert Gottlieb, Martin Tankleff's attorney, said that, based on Steuerman's disappearance, he will seek at a court hearing today to have the teenager released on bail. Gottlieb, who has said that prosecutors do not have a strong case, declined to speculate on the significance of the development.
On the day he disappeared, Steuerman, who owned or had an interest in a number of Long Island bagel shops, arrived at the Strathmore Bagel Inc. store on Nesconset Highway in East Setauket between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m., and stayed until about 10 a.m., according to a clerk at the shop, who declined to give a name.
The clerk said that Bari Steuerman, who manages the shop, called Thursday morning to ask if anyone had seen him. "She said she was scared," the clerk said.
Police said Steuerman was last seen at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, but they declined to say by whom.
Edward Jablonski, chief of the Suffolk district attorney's Homicide Bureau, said yesterday, "The man had been receiving death threats since the homicide. The [Tankleff] family and even the defendant had indicated in the beginning that Jerry Steuerman may have been involved in the death and attempted murder of the Tankleffs." He declined to characterize the death threats, but said police were investigating and said it was too early to tell if the events were related.
Jablonkski said, "Are the police investigating the disappearance of Jerry Steuerman? They certainly are. Do they think the disappearance of Steuerman means that Martin Tankleff did not kill his mother and try to kill his father? The answer is definitely no, because he admitted to them that he did kill his mother and try to kill his father."
Gottlieb has said that there is no written or videotaped statement from Martin Tankleff, only a police allegation that he made an oral admission to them.
The lawyer said yesterday that he will go into State Supreme Court in Hauppauge before Justice James A. Gowan this afternoon to seek bail for his client.
Asked if he was alleging that the police had arrested the wrong person, Gottlieb said, "I am confident that the DA is now going to investigate this. But while they are continuing their investigation I'm simply asking that Mr. Tankleff be released on reasonable bail and without drawing any conclusions or speculating about the significance of this new development."
Belle Terre Mayor Vincent Bove, a player in the card game the night of the murder, said yesterday, "I don't know if it's connected or linked in any way."
Asked what he makes of the disappearance, Bove replied, "I'm so confused now . . . The professional people tell me they have the right person."
Steuerman, of Setauket, and Seymour Tankleff, who remains hospitalized in critical condition at University Hospital in Stony Brook, were part owners of a bagel business in Stony Brook.
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