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East Side Story

"Looking back," Tulenko says, "I wished I'd said something to Rob, told him to get his act together. But that would have been like breaking up our friendship. I just didn't feel it was my place."

That summer, Chambers worked again at Davis Polk, and in the fall began his senior year at York. A student at the McBurney School had bought a pair of skis from Chambers and remembers him coming to McBurney with a "couple of tough kids" to collect payment. "It was totally unnecessary," the student says. "I told him that if he wanted the money, all he had to do was ask me. Later, he told me that the skis were stolen."

The confrontation with the McBurney student was quite out of character. Tulenko remembers Chambers as a "wimp, not capable of violence." Ronald Stewart recalls that as one of York's star soccer players, Chambers would often get tripped up "accidentally on purpose" by opposing players, but that he would always walk away. And just this summer, Flanagan says, someone punched Chambers in the face while he was trying to break up a fight outside Dorrian's. "He really got clocked." Flanagan says, "but he just got up and asked, 'Why?' He's six five, six six, but he's meek, really passive."

During his senior year, Chambers was using cocaine. Although alcohol was still the drug of choice on the scene, pot, "Ecstasy," pills, LSD, heroin, and cocaine were widely available from street pushers and student dealers—some as young as fourteen—in Sheep Meadow in Central Park. Some students even found their sources at home. The housekeeper of one of Chambers's former girlfriends sold cocaine. Other teens remember the private-school mother and tutor who sold cocaine to her students—children of some of the most illustrious New York families—and billed their parents as part of her fee.

Chambers graduated from York in June and was accepted by the College of Basic Studies at Boston University, in part, according to Stewart, because of his high test scores. The Basic Studies Program is designed to help students who've had problems in high school. After just one semester, however, BU kicked him out for academic reasons. Friends say he did little work and used the school as an excuse to party and hang out.

Back in New York, Chambers returned to his old life. Flanagan remembers a party at Nirvana early in 1985. "There were a lot of girls there who hadn't seen Rob for a long time or had never met him, and they were all asking about him and saying how gorgeous he was. After that, Rob kind of came back, started being more prevalent on the scene."

The scene had changed by then. For Chambers's crowd, clubs like Studio 54 and Xenon were out, and though students would go to parties at Area and eventually the Palladium, they had begun to frequent restaurants like Caramba!!!! and neighborhood bars like the West End, near Columbia, and Dorrian's Red Hand, on Second Avenue at 84th Street. Dorrian's became a favorite of Chambers's; he had gone to school with Jack Dorrian's son Michael. (Later, Jack Dorrian would put up his East 71st Street townhouse as collateral for part of Chambers's bail.) With his father away and his mother working nights, Chambers regarded the bar as a second home.

Chambers's supporters insist he was turning his life around in the weeks before the killing.

Friends of Jennifer Levin say she, too, retreated into the scene from a turbulent home life. Though she was close to her mother, she told friends that her mother was more a friend than a parent and that she had moved to her father's home for the added security and discipline. But they say she resented her stepmother and often fought with her father. "She used to call me in tears and sleep over at my house because of fights with her dad," says one close friend. "They were just about the usual things—coming home late, cleaning her room, getting her priorities straight—and after a day, everything would be lovey-dovey again. But she never felt really comfortable living there. She hated being alone in the loft, and she felt at times she was intruding on her father's life. She used to leave little toys around for her parents with notes saying she was sorry and would try to be better."

Levin's school, Baldwin, on West 74th Street, is small and expensive (her senior-year tuition was $7,800) and offers individual attention to students, some of whom have learning problems. Friends say that Levin had a reading disability, though her principal, Daniel Kimball, says she read at her grade level.

Kimball recalls her as a "good-average student." Levin described herself as "street-smart, not book-smart," and was proud of her ability to handle people.


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  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Nov 10, 1986 issue of New York
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