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A Hell’s Kitchen bar-goer speaks out today about his experience of being targeted twice with what he believes was the “roofie” drug GHB, breaking his silence after two deaths and at least one more robbery of gay men at West Side bars and clubs. Edward, who has asked W42ST not to use his surname, said he wanted people in the gay community and beyond to be aware of the threat they face when alone in bars.

Edward, whose surname W42ST is withholding, said he believes he was twice targeted with GHB, once in April 2021 and then in August this year. Photo courtesy of Edward

It was April 2021, and New Yorker Edward was looking forward to a night out after a long year of quarantine. As vaccines came on line and the city gradually reopened, he hoped to spend his birthday in Hell’s Kitchen, reconnecting with folks in the LGBTQIA+ community. “I didn’t really have that many friends left in the city after quarantine,” Edward said. “I don’t mind going out by myself, and I really just wanted to celebrate my birthday.” 

Sitting alone at DBL’s outdoor dining area on W47th Street and 10th Avenue, Edward was approached by a vague acquaintance, who repeatedly asked him to join his party. “I said that I was fine sitting by myself, and when he started getting more aggressive, I told him that he was welcome to sit with me and buy me a drink,” said Edward. 

Edward told W42ST that the first time he believes he was targeted with GHB was while sitting outside DBL in April 2021. Photo: Rick Campanella

The man bought him a drink and a shot, but his intense presence had started to make Edward uncomfortable. “He kept repeating really vulgar things and he was getting mad that I wasn’t going along with his advances,” he told us. “I was trying to find a way to get out of the situation, and that’s when I remember going to the restroom and I left my drink with him.”

When he came back, Edward told the man, “‘Look, I’m leaving. I’m not here to get laid, and this is not going to happen,’ and I left,” he said. Edward remembers then going to one of his favorite bars, RISE, to have a nightcap. “I remember getting to RISE and ordering a margarita, but afterwards is totally fuzzy. The next thing I knew it was the next morning and I woke up in my apartment to find my leg bleeding. I had a 7-inch gash — big enough that I still have a scar to this day — with no idea how I got it,” Edward said. “I also felt really off, and it did not feel like a hangover at all — I felt completely different.” 

Figuring that “nobody would believe me,” Edward chalked up the experience to drinking and didn’t go to the police. But over a year later, in late August 2022 — several months after the disappearance and deaths of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger — he experienced an unsettling déjà vu.

After starting his evening in the West Village alone, Edward met a new friend at Julius on W10th Street, before the two headed to Pieces at Christopher Street and Gay Street, and eventually uptown to Hell’s Kitchen. They decided to check out karaoke at the newly-reopened Boxers, on 9th Avenue between 49th Street and 50th Street, where Edward recalls twice leaving his drink unattended while signing up for and performing karaoke. 

He left Boxers to have a nightcap at RISE, but said “I don’t even remember getting to RISE. It was only later when I checked my credit card statement that I realized I had gone there.”

Edward believes that he was targeted with GHB when he left his drink unattended in Boxers to sign up for, then sing, karaoke. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Though he woke up unharmed in his apartment, he had the same feeling of being drugged. He had no recollection of the evening prior, and was fully clothed with all of his belongings scattered around his apartment. “Look, even when I’ve been out drinking, I’ve always gotten undressed and gotten ready for bed and put my things away, so I knew something was off,” Edward told W42ST. “I thankfully was not robbed and didn’t overdose. I was just happy that nothing else happened to me.” 

After seeing coverage of Julio’s and John’s deaths, he made the connection and decided to speak out about the dangers of GHB in queer clubs. “I think it’s a really big issue and not a lot of people are talking about it,” said Edward. “When I heard about Julio, I felt I finally had confirmation of what happened to me. And then when the second case came out, that’s when I really knew.” 

“I just want to bring justice to the person or persons responsible for Julio Ramirez’ and John Umberger’s deaths, and to bring more awareness about the dangers of going out alone as a gay man or just anyone,” added Edward.  “I learned the hard way but was lucky and somehow fought for my life — Julio and John never had that opportunity.  Their family deserves answers and I pray that by sharing my experiences others will come forward and this information can help investigators track down this ring.”

Reflecting on his too-close-for-comfort call, Edward said: “I may never fully know the truth about what happened to me, twice-fold — but I know in my gut that this is somehow connected and the more that people speak up the better.” 


#JUSTICEFORJULIO — THE STORY SO FAR…

W42ST has reported extensively on the death of Julio Ramirez in April after leaving the Ritz Bar and Lounge on Restaurant Row. The 25-year-old social worker was seen getting into a taxi with three men, and found an hour later on the Lower East Side, robbed of his wallet and phone. He was taken to hospital as a John Doe and could not be saved.

This month a second man was revealed to have died in eerily similar circumstances. John Umberger, 33, a conservative political consultant from Washington DC, was found dead in an Upper East Side townhouse owned by his employer, two days after he was last seen leaving the Q Club on 8th Avenue with two men. His phone and credit cards had been stolen, more than $25,000 drained from his bank accounts and more attempts made to access his financial assets.

Julio Ramirez, seen with his mom preparing for Christmas last year, was robbed and found dead on the Lower East Side after a night in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Julio Ramirez’ Instagram

Preliminary toxicology results were reported to have found evidence of drugs in both men’s bodies, including in Umberger’s case lidocaine, an anesthetic, and the deadly opioid fentanyl.

This weekend a father told the New York Post that his 21-year-old son, an NYU film student, was also targeted at The Q in the early hours of April 8. He was befriended by three men and invited them back to his West Village apartment for beers with a female friend, but lost consciousness and woke to find he and his friend’s phones and wallets were missing. His accounts had been emptied through Venmo, PayPal and Apple Cash, his credit cards were used to buy alcohol and shoes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and someone had started a Goldman Sachs credit card application in his name.

John Umberger, 33, was the second death revealed to be linked to GHB-fueled robberies of men after nights at Hell’s Kitchen gay bars. Photo: Courtesy of Linda Clary, John’s mom

In the latest case the unnamed 21-year-old’s losses amounted to $15,000, with his father telling the Post: “They are like con men . . . They’ve been preying on the gay community and they pretend to be gay themselves. They see a young person like my son, and they see an easy victim . . . It’s definitely very well planned and executed.” 

Since the revelation of Umberger’s death, police appear to have stepped up their investigation, with his death and that of and Julio Ramirez being officially linked by District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Hell’s Kitchen council man Erik Bottcher posted a statement saying that the DA’s office had “significant resources” dedicated to the case.


W42ST wants to hear from locals and bar owners about GHB in Hell’s Kitchen nightlife — if you would like to connect, please reach out to news@w42st.com

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4 Comments

  1. It’s a real shame that it took the death of a white man to get the NYPD to put more resources into this investigation.

  2. Never leave your drink ‘unprotected’ .. This is not simply about being robbed in Hells Kitchen… After having drinks with a neighbor I barely knew,… bastard.. I woke up the following morning not remembering anything about getting home at the end of the previous evening… Thankfully I wasn’t robbed or raped…there are cameras all over the building where we both live (probably a deterrent), but I definitely had drugs put in my drink… Sounds weird I know! Be careful folks.

  3. I am a lifelong NYer and remember in the late 60s early 70s a rash of gay killings in the Village…people were talking then about a serial killer…then of course there was that SI man a few yrs ago that murdered gay men he met in the Village ..so every time I hear about a gay NY er being ,killed or found dead under mysterious circumstances ( and I have heard and know about more than were ever reported) I wait to hear about the next victim, and the one after that…I can’t be the only one who remembers many unsolved gay murders in the last 50 years in NY…

  4. These are not guys “pretending” to be gay, gay men have always done this to other gay men to take advantage of them. Once they arrest these guys for murder we will see for sure. Gay bars are filled with predators, victims, and enablers and always have been. Drugging predation is normalized in these environments and little is done by the gay community to warn young gay men of these dangers. My partner and I haven’t been to the bars for years exactly because of this.

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