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The death of Julio Ramirez — last seen at Hell’s Kitchen Ritz Bar and Lounge on April 21 before being found dead on the Lower East Side, his bank accounts emptied — is being linked by the Office of the District Attorney to another gay man’s suspicious death. The mother of the second victim told W42ST that the two cases may also be connected to at least a dozen similar attacks in which the person targeted survived.
Early on May 28 — less than five weeks after Ramirez died — 33-year-old John Umberger, a political consultant from Washington DC, left The Q nightclub with two unidentified men. Family and friends, concerned that he wasn’t responding to their messages, alerted authorities that he was missing.
Umberger was found dead on June 1 in an apartment in an Upper East Side townhouse belonging to his employer, Donald Trump impeachment lawyer Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice. Umberger was its director of diplomacy and political programs. His mobile phone and credit card had been stolen and more than $25,000 was missing from his bank accounts.
In both Umberger and Ramirez’s cases, initial toxicology reports determined that the men died of “possible drug overdoses” but second, full, toxicology reports have still to be released by the City Medical Examiner. Until now, Ramirez’s death had not been officially linked to any others. W42ST has called for answers to the mystery of his death, including asking Hell’s Kitchen’s elected representatives to help.
A representative from the Manhattan DA’s office said: “Our thoughts are with these families and the entire LGBTQIA+ community. A dedicated team of senior homicide prosecutors and specially assigned analysts continues to actively investigate alongside the NYPD as we await the Medical Examiner’s findings.”
READ W42ST’S REPORTING ON JUSTICE FOR JULIO RAMIREZ
Umberger’s mother, Linda Clary, told W42ST that since her son’s death, she had been in touch with investigators who believe his case, as well as Julio’s, are potentially connected to as many as 12 other incidents where victims survived the attack. “I think there are probably even more cases that were labeled as accidental drug overdoses, which is not the case at all,” Clary told W42ST. “There’s a central pattern here. They ‘roofie’ you, take the credit cards out of your wallet, max them out, PayPal or Venmo themselves, and drain your investment accounts using the phone.”
Investigators told Clary that there are potentially multiple groups targeting individuals at gay bars in New York City. She is frustrated that Julio’s death may not have been the first attack of its kind, nor was her son’s the last.
“What’s so heartbreaking is to learn that John was killed the morning of May 28th, on the heels of the Julio case,” said Clary. “It never should have happened to Julio, and it probably happened to somebody else before Julio that we don’t even know about yet. I don’t think Julio was the first time this crime circle did this.”
Local community members have expressed concern that Hell’s Kitchen residents and the LGBTQ+ community at large are still at risk in the wake of Julio and John’s deaths, particularly within clubs where GHB and fentanyl run rampant.
“First of all, I’m heartbroken over these tragic deaths — all the more because these were members of our community and because these horrific crimes unfolded in the neighborhood in which I currently live,” said Frankie Sharp, a former partner of The Q nightclub, who recently filed suit against the establishment over claims of discriminatory and illegal policies at the venue. “It is also extremely troubling and frightening that there has been no clear resolution forthcoming from the city’s legal authorities or from federal law enforcement.”
“I am also frustrated,” added Sharp. “A large part of my whistleblowing, resultant termination, and subsequent ongoing lawsuit against The Q had to do with what I believed to be a careless attitude on the part of my former partners towards the flow of GHB into the club.
“If it should come to light that the deaths of John Umberger and Julio Ramirez were indeed precipitated by GHB use or with GHB used as a murder weapon, I will feel sadly vindicated and very, very angry. The death of John Umberger after his visit to The Q happened well after my whistleblowing and after repeated assurances that this danger was being taken seriously,” added Sharp.
City Council Member Chi Ossé, who attended a press conference with local bar owners on community safety in the wake of Julio’s death, has recently sponsored legislation that would provide overdose reversal medication and specialized training to bar and nightclub owners to assist compromised patrons.
“A nightclub can be an intrinsically chaotic and difficult environment to control, so responsible management has to set reasonable priorities,” said Sharp. “Not all drugs are created equal where safety is concerned. Some prohibitions must be enforced at all cost. GHB is exceptionally dangerous in a bar environment — both to the health of the business and to the safety of the customers and community. Whether this tragedy was precipitated by GHB or not, Something like this tragedy is exactly what I feared would result from the negligent, even willfully reckless attitude at The Q at that time.”
“We have to get the word out that there are bad people out here and you cannot be alone,” added Clary. “There’s a consistent theme — just like Julio found himself alone trying to reach his friend, John went to the Q and became vulnerable. It seems to be a recurring theme with these cases — people find themselves isolated and they become vulnerable prey. Never leave your friends alone.”
Umberger’s case, as well as Julio’s, remain unresolved and both families are awaiting answers. W42ST has reached out to the NYPD for further details on the investigation and we will update if we hear back. A representative from the Office of the Medical Examiner told W42ST that the cause and manner of the deaths were still under investigation.
Clary hopes that by sharing her story, other victims may come forward — and that investigators will make enough connections between cases to arrest the people who caused John and Julio’s deaths. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she said. “The person in each of these cases is of value. I want these people off the streets and I want people to be able to enjoy New York as the greatest city in the world, and have fun safely. And that’s not what’s happening right now.”
If you have been the victim of a similar situation in a Hell’s Kitchen bar, please email us in confidence at email@example.com or call the Crime Stoppers tip line at 800-577-TIPS