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When Tom Mayo-Smith left his Hell’s Kitchen apartment for a long Labor Day weekend, he had no idea that he would return to a nightmare. Someone had broken into his apartment, trashed the space and left disturbing notes and symbols on walls and belongings, leaving many of his valuables but taking sentimental items.
“It was almost like a Netflix psycho documentary,” said Mayo-Smith of the ordeal, which began when he left town for a trip to Tennessee on September 1 and returned to Silver Towers on W42nd Street on September 6 to a ransacked apartment. “There was evidence that at least one and maybe multiple people had been squatting in my apartment for at least three days,” he added. Mayo-Smith believes the intruder or intruders entered the apartment on September 3 based on the activity on his streaming devices.
Walking through his overturned apartment, Mayo-Smith observed: “What is particularly alarming about it was the confusing things they did and didn’t take while in my apartment — a lot of my stuff was intact, for example the TV wasn’t broken, they took my phone but not my laptop, they took my scooter, but left cash in the desk — and they left weird notes everywhere.”
The notes around the apartment read “25 More Moves 2 Go!”. There were pillows with tally marks slashed on them, an elaborate deck of card arrangements, many of Mayo-Smith’s tax documents laid out on display and commando strip coat hangers arranged in strange shapes on the wall.
The perpetrator had also broken into Mayo-Smith’s safe, stolen the key, and left with a “number of items off of my mantle,” he added. “Some were valuable and some weren’t. In particular, a clay paw mold from my golden retriever Lucy was taken. I recently had to put her down and the vet imprinted her paw into some clay before cremation. The theft of this item is uniquely infuriating.”
How did the stranger enter his apartment? “My main gripe with security at my building is that my lock shouldn’t be the first and only line of defense,” said Mayo-Smith. “If you have a pizza box and know an apartment number, you can get in.”
Front door locks are “designed to delay someone from getting in” and but can be picked without a way to trace the break-in. “It used to be very hard to pick locks 10 or so years ago, but now there’s like a whole subreddit on this, and there are several tutorials on YouTube as to how to pick my particular lock,” said Mayo-Smith. [W42ST confirmed the existence of these videos, but has not linked to them].
Upon discovering the state of his apartment, “I immediately notified building security and called the police, and have been dealing with it ever since,” said Mayo-Smith. “The day after I was robbed I got a call from the head of security for Silver Towers. He said, ‘this is Tom Higgins, he’s a former detective.’ And he asked me 25 times in a row if I was illegally subletting. That’s a pretty typical interrogation tactic, the idea behind it is to just slowly wear the interrogee down and see if their answers change.” While Mayo-Smith has not sublet his apartment or used it for Airbnb, he believes there may be residents in the building who are, though it was hard to confirm in a large building like Silver Towers. Subletting is a violation of the lease without the owner’s advance written consent as required by Real Property Law §226-b and in accordance with the provisions of the Rent Stabilization Code and Law.
Since the break-in, Mayo-Smith says that has had little support from building management or the NYPD. He acknowledged that “in a police precinct which covers 50k people, the detective probably prioritizes violent robbery, 1st/2nd degree instances of grand larceny and generally ‘hotter cases’ — the crime scene was 24hrs old when reported — this is going to go to the bottom of the stack.” The detective told him that “at best, DNA evidence will come back in five months and depends upon if this person was arrested and the DNA aligns with someone, and then they put out a wanted notice from there.” He added: “Even if they apprehend this person, the case will have to be litigated because there’s always the chance that they say, ‘I know Tom well, he gave me permission.’”
W42ST reached out to the NYPD and received the following statement from a spokesperson regarding the incident: “There is a complaint report on file for a burglary that occurred on Thursday, September 1, 2022 at 1415hrs inside an apartment at 620 West 42nd Street within the confines of the 10th Precinct. It was reported to police that unknown individual(s) entered the apartment and removed approximately $3,494 worth of items and fled. There are no arrests at this time and the investigation is ongoing.”
While he’s not optimistic that the case will be solved, Mayo-Smith is dismayed at the lack of support from Silver Towers building management. “There’s really no incentive for them to look into this,” he said, adding that the law firm representing Silverstein Properties, which operates Silver Towers sent him the following:
“In response to your email, we have undertaken an investigation including an audit of the use of keys accessing your apartment. The only key found to have accessed your apartment since prior to September 1, 2022, is the key issued to you. Further we, like the NYPD, have examined your front door and have found no sign of forced entry. In addition, there are no unaccounted for individuals who we have noticed accessing the building over the past 10 days.” Mayo-Smith counters this assessment, noting that he spoke with the head of building security, they could only pull roughly 40 hours of footage, and the cameras in the building do not show Mayo-Smith’s apartment floor. W42ST reached out to Silverstein Properties for a response and will update if we hear back.
Left without other options, Mayo-Smith has found his own temporary solutions to prepare himself. “I bought a security system for my apartment — motion cameras go for about $60. So if this does happen again, my apartment is now more than capable of catching this person.” Meanwhile, he is living out the remainder of his lease. “My relationship with building management is obviously quite bad and I will probably not renew. The building is great, but security is awful.”
Have you had similar issues with your building and apartment security in Hell’s Kitchen? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org