January 20, 1973, New York City
The Night Owl edition, of the New York Daily News for Friday, January 5, 1973, ran the following front page scream headline’:
Teacher Victim of Sex Slaying
Battered With Statue of Self
Below the headline the News ran two photos. One was a shot of the victim’s disheveled apartment. Clothes and books were strewn haphazardly over her bed. A littered dining table showed the remains of a half-eaten meal. A box of Domino sugar and a container of yogurt were distinctly visible. The second photo, an insert, was a family snapshot of the victim herself: Roseann Quinn, age 28, a teacher of handicapped children. She was smiling.
I have seen the Daily News carry over the same front-page headline for all seven of its editions, but in the case of Roseann Quinn, a more experienced hand took over for the most important Four Star Final, the paper of record. The picture layout for this last edition remained the same and no new facts had appreciably changed the story, but the new headline read:
Teacher Found Nude And Slain
Stabbed in W. Side Apartment
The introduction of the operative word, “nude,” was significant. No longer simply a victim of male violence, Roseann Quinn had been transmogrified in death into an object of sexual fantasy. A teacher (teachers are usually perceived as properly and fully clothed) was not even naked but nude–nude the way strippers are nude, the way prostitutes are nude — the way statues are nude, the way lovers are nude. Any man could now fully fantasy Roseann Quinn’s nude body on her disheveled bed. And any woman could fantasy – what?
Rape is a valid subject for news coverage. It is also obvious that a few front-page rape-murders a year help to sell newspapers, or these stories would not appear on Page One. But the treatment of rape-murder by the tabloid newspapers of New York City is not that simple.
The rape story that the Daily News or the New York Post is apt to feature is a selected rape, enhanced by certain elements of glamour, and aided editorially by the deployment of certain stimulating adjectives. It is rape dressed up to fit the male fantasy, lurid and “sexy.” In the Daily News, it is often the only news of women that can be found in the first ten pages of the paper.
In an article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine of November 19, 1972, Robert Daley, a former New York City Deputy Police Commissioner, stated;
“In New York last year we had 1,466 murders and many attempted murders. We in the police hierarchy took a personal interest in a few of these: the murder of cops, the Joe Colombo hit and one or two rape-murders distinguished by the youth and beauty of the victim.”
Among the youthful, beautiful victims the police hierarchy has taken a personal interest in over the years have been Janice Wylie (“The Career Girl Murders,” August, 1963) and Cornelia Michelle Crilley, an Upper East Side stewardess found murdered in June, 1971. Added to this year’s “distinguished” list was Roseann Quinn. When the police take a special interest in a rape-murder victim, so do the tabloids. On more rare occasions, so does the New York Times.
Although the median age for rape victims hovers at 19, rapists usually chose their victims with a striking disregard for beauty or sex appeal. A rape victim may be 74 and senile or 12 and-a-half with braces on her teeth. She may be tall, short, thin or fat. Police statistics show that black women are more frequent victims of rape than white women; in fact the national ratio may run as high as 60-40.
The rape and murder of a young and beautiful woman is no more regrettable than the rape and murder of an older, plain woman — except to a culture that values youth and beauty in women above all other qualities. The rape-murder-victim accorded special attention by the police and the tabloid press is invariably young, white and good-looking enough to fit the category of “beautiful.” If her background is sufficiently middle-class, the sexually conservative New York-Times itself might take an interest. Roseann Quinn fit all the qualifications.
Women who die violently in New York City and who fall into the category of young, white and beautiful are memorialized in tabloid headlines and story copy that attests to their physical appeal to men, whether or not their physical appeal was actually related to the crime. The lead paragraph in the Daily News story on the Quinn case read predictably, “The body of an attractive young teacher…” The Post also called her “the attractive 28-year-old teacher” in its lead. The Times, to its credit, did not.
I have spent a full week examining front-page headlines of the Daily News Four Star Finals for 1971, a labor performed within the very den of iniquity itself, the Daily News morgue. From January to December, front-page headlines relating to men ran the gamut of human experience. Politicians directed the reins of government, cops caught criminals, firemen put out fires, judges investigated corruption, union leaders ordered strikes and mediators settled strikes, and astronauts went to the moon and came back victorious. From January to December the only front-page headlines relating to news of women were headlines of disaster – with the one exception of Tricia Nixon’s wedding. Four rape-murder headlines are worth close attention:
BLOND-EX-SHOWGIRL SLAIN IN HOTEL SUITE (3.8.71)
AIR STEWARDESS IS FOUND SLAIN (6.25.71)
BLONDE TIED TO BED, STRANGLED (7.6-71)
BRUNETTE, 26, FOUND SLAIN IN VILLAGE FLAT (9.19.?l)
In three of the headlines, the victim was objectified and glamorized by the color of her hair. In the fourth, the word “stewardess” provided enough cachet. It is reckoned a glamorous occupation.
While the subliminal purpose of the tabloid rape-murder headline is to provide male readers with enough stimulation for fantasy, the headline enforces an unwholesome fantasy in women as well. For a woman the fantasy is of the beautiful victim, her desirability proven by her rape and even her violent death. From the Gothic novel (“He crushed me to him”) to yesterday’s headline, women have been enculturated to perceive ravishment as a testament to our charms. The rape-murder of a beautiful or glamorous woman (“blonde,” “brunette,” “stewardess,” “nude”) is romanticized into an affirmation of her beauty.
Police and press attention in the famous Career Girl Murders of 1963 centered on the more beautiful victim’s “swinging” lifestyle. In this case, almost all of the police investigatory work and almost all of the newspaper copy dwelled on Janice Wylie, who had worked at Newsweek and whose uncle was a famous author. The second victim, Emily Hoffert, a plain-looking schoolteacher who was Wylie’s roommate, was virtually ignored. The man who is now serving a life sentence for the Career Girl Murders was a random assailant, a junkie looking for money, who entered their apartment through the window. Janice Wylie’s lifestyle proved to be irrelevant.
In the case of Cornelia Michelle Crilley, the police and the press had another field day. The lifestyle of Crilley and of stewardesses in general was dragged out and examined. “COMB GIRL BELT SWING SPOTS” was one Daily Newsfeature. “EAST SIDE–MECCA FOR MAIDENS” was another. The New York Post, not to be outdone, countered with “CORNELIA’S TINSEL TOYLAND.” The Crilley case is still unsolved.
Similarly, in the Roseann Quinn case, the News ran, “POLICE SEEK BAR BEAU IN SLAYING OF TEACHER” (1/6/73). As it happened, in this case alone the police were right, a track record of one out of three. Roseann Quinn, it appears, did indeed pick up her murderer in a local bar.
Police Captain John J. McMahon, supervisor of the Quinn investigation, told the New York Times he was not surprised. According to a report by Lacey Fosburgh (1/6/73), “In a sense, Captain McMahon said, a death like hers should be expected.”
Police are justified in proceeding with a lifestyle investigation if it sometimes leads to the apprehension of a genuine offender, but the stereotypic generalization offered by Captain McMahon was inexcusable. He was saying, in effect, “Had it not been for Roseann Quinn’s independent ways, she would not have been raped and murdered,” a deft switching of the blame from rape-murderer to victim.
Taking their lead from the police, every newspaper story on Roseann Quinn, including those in the New York Times, dwelled on the fact that she frequented neighborhood bars and sometimes invited men up to her apartment. A New York Post story (1/10/73), “JEALOUSY SEEN AS MOTIVE IN ROSEANN QUINN KILLING,” written after her murder suspect was apprehended in Indianapolis, quoted a speculative statement from a detective in that city, “…Wilson had stabbed and bludgeoned Miss Quinn to death in a fit of rage over her relationship with the unidentified roommate.” In other words, the victim was not only promiscuous, but also an unforgivable tease.
Another curious and unsupported fact that was bandied about by the press in the Quinn case concerned the victim’s sex relations on the night of her death. To quote the Times (1/6/73), “The deputy chief medical examiner…disclosed yesterday that his autopsy of the girl’s body revealed no signs of forcible rape…. He said that she had had sexual relations within 24 hours of her death but that there were none of the external or internal signs of force or brutality that would indicate that she had objected to sexual intercourse.”
That is a lot of tall conjecture from the deputy chief medical examiner, yet the Times and the tabloids never questioned his conclusions. Many victims of the Boston Strangler, according to Albert DeSalvo himself, “willingly” consented to have sex with him–in exchange, they hoped, for their lives. This may well have been the quid pro quo that Roseann Quinn was hoping for, in light of popular (and police) advice to women “to submit” rather than risk more serious injury.
An item from my files is relevant here: “A 37-year-old woman required 120 stitches on her face and head yesterday after she resisted a man who attempted to rape her in Central Park in daylight, police said.” (NYT 1/18/71) “…he tried to rape her and slashed he with a razor when she resisted.”
John Wayne Wilson, apprehended in Indianapolis, was arraigned in New York on January 10th. The last graph of the New York Post story (1/11/73) said simply, “City police ruled out the jealousy motive, saying that Wilson met Miss Quinn only a few hours before the slaying.”
Since Wilson’s arraignment (and subsequent indictment) there has naturally been an information blackout on the Quinn case. It is important that the rights of defendants be protected. But is it not also important that the rights of victims be protected as well?
©1973 Susan Brownmiller
Susan Brownmiller, a freelance writer, is an Alicia Patterson Foundation award winner. This article may be published with credit to Ms. Brownmiller and the Alicia Patterson Foundation.