Glen Ridge Epilogue (2/8/05)

December 26, 2006

Richard T. Corcoran Jr., a figure in the infamous 1989 gang rape of a mildly retarded girl by a group of boys, apparently killed himself last week after shooting and wounding his estranged wife and her boyfriend.

This was one of New Jersey’s most disturbing criminal cases, not simply because it was so outrageous, but because it seemed to arise naturally from a situation found in less extreme form in just about any suburban community. The boys accused of directly assaulting the girl — several of them simply looked on and enjoyed the show — were high school athletes in a sports-obsessed town that coddled them and cut them plenty of slack. Their sense of entitlement fueled a predatory sexual attitude that gloried in the humiliation of other girls before it found its perfect expression in the 1989 sex attack. The story of their growth from obnoxiousness to criminality — and the community that kept treating them as young gods while defaming the victim — is chronicled in “Our Guys,” a hair-raising study of the case by Bernard Lefkowitz, who only now I learn died last year.

When the Montclair Book Center, a hop skip and jump from Glen Ridge, announced that Lefkowitz would be making an author appearance in 1997, the Star-Ledger quoted a Glen Ridge resident to the effect that Lefkowitz better bring a bodyguard and a bulletproof vest. Lefkowitz drew a pretty good-sized crowd. Early in the presentation, this absolutely huge guy showed up and took a seat. Everyone in the room drew a deep breath, then let it go as they realized the visitor was Charles Figueroa, who as a high school senior had blown the whistle on the attackers. He was very pleasant and low-key — he told me he’d just come “to keep an eye on the situation and show my support.”

Lefkowitz himself was quite a guy. When I asked him why a book about a sensational crime in New Jersey was published in hardcover by University of Nebraska Press, he described in great detail how he had initially signed a deal with a major New York house, which gradually lost interest as the case ground on. They eventually dropped the book and Lefkowitz was left to find any port in a storm — or, in this case, a Midwestern university press. Fortunately, the success of the hardcover led to a lucrative paperback sale and a made-for-television movie, so Lefkowitz was finally rewarded for his hard work and diligence.

The charges against Corcoran were dropped just before the case went to trial, though the case haunted him for the rest of his life. The information about his treatment of his wife speaks for itself. So does the remark from a Glen Ridge resident in the Star-Ledger story about how the poor boys had their lives ruined by one little mistake. Apparently the excuses that helped this crime to happen are still being made.

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