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A Monster Among the 'Frum'

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Yaakov German, checking an empty lot during the search.   

After their split, Aron showed up one day on Kivel’s front doorstep holding a pile of dirty laundry. He was headed back to Brooklyn, he said, but first needed to wash some clothes. He stayed for a few hours, then he was off again in his beat-up ­Honda Accord, bound toward his old life.

The footage from Tri State Fleet had given Yaakov German his first look at ­Leiby’s abductor. But without a plate number for the gold Honda, he was stuck. He phoned a man named Jack Meyer, a liaison between the NYPD and the Borough Park community. Less than ten minutes later, a small army of cops flooded into the offices of Tri State Fleet, led by Deputy Inspector John Sprague and Chief Joseph Fox, then the commander of Brooklyn South. (Fox has since been promoted to chief of transit.) “I have a bad feeling about this,” Bernstein, the Tri State manager, remembers Fox saying.

A forensics team was summoned. As NYPD analysts began sifting through the footage in their mobile lab, senior officers streamed in and out of Tri State. A stack of pizzas was ordered from a nearby kosher restaurant. The mood, one observer recalls, was one of “profound despair.” The tape was by now more than 24 hours old.

At around 11 p.m., Heshy Herbst, who had departed to finish a job, returned to the office and sat down to examine the footage. Herbst has worked in the surveillance business for close to twenty years, and almost immediately his trained eye settled on a flicker of movement. “Look!” he shouted. “The dentist’s office! He goes to the dentist’s office!”

The police crowded around to look. Herbst was right: During the seven long minutes that Leiby had stood waiting, the man in the newsboy cap had apparently entered a split-level occupied by a local dentist, Yehuda Sorscher.

By then, not only was the office crowded but so was the lot outside—the police had set up floodlights on Eighteenth Avenue and cordoned off 44th Street. A crowd of black hats, some 2,000 strong by one count, packed in beyond the police line, roiling like a storm bank. Among them was Simcha Eichenstein, a well-known Hasidic political operative. Eichenstein’s wife, Herbst knew, worked for Sorscher as a receptionist. Elbowing Bernstein out of the way, Herbst uploaded a clip of the bearded man and sent it to Eichenstein. Eichenstein sent it to his wife, at home with her small children.

“Of course,” she told her husband. She couldn’t remember the man’s name, but she was sure she had seen him. “He came in to pay a bill. He was the last one in the office.”

By 2011, Aron’s life in Brooklyn became intensely circumscribed. He had moved into the third-floor apartment of his family’s home. On workday mornings, he awoke alone, dressed carelessly, and plodded to Empire Supply, where he had reclaimed his old job. Over the clatter of the nearby F train, he would check in with his supervisor and retreat quickly to the back room. He was friendly enough to the other employees, though “there was also a sense,” one of them told me, “that he was holding something back.” Two years earlier, Aron had suffered another family tragedy: the loss of his sister, Sarah, a schizophrenic who apparently committed suicide in a New York hospital. Debbie Kivel says Aron told her about his sister’s death and his inability to prevent it.

On Monday, July 11, Aron left work at five and drove to the office of his dentist. He parked his car on 44th Street, next to the Tri State Fleet lot. At the corner of Eighteenth Avenue, he was stopped by a small boy.

For the first few blocks of his walk home, Leiby Kletzky had made good time. But at the intersection of Thirteenth Avenue, he made his first big mistake. ­Instead of turning right, where his ­mother would be waiting, he crossed over the ­avenue and continued on. He walked past the graffitied grates of a two-car garage, past long rows of apartment buildings, and then, as the apartments gave way, past grassy lots ringed with concertina wire. Behind a chain-link fence, a rusted van crouched in the undergrowth like a jungle cat. Soon, Leiby was several long blocks off course.

He would have been taught, from an early age, that if he ran into trouble, he should ask a fellow Jew for help. And having arrived at Eighteenth Avenue, where the borders of the Jewish enclave begin to blur with the adjoining Hispanic and Bangladeshi communities, he would have been scared, eager to see a familiar face. Perhaps Aron reminded Leiby of a family friend, a distant cousin. Or perhaps it was that Aron, having spent time around ­Kivel’s children and Diunov’s kid, knew how to talk to a young boy. Perhaps, as an attorney involved with the case has speculated, it was that Aron was a “child himself, intellectually speaking.” Perhaps it was merely that Aron spoke Yiddish, wore a beard. Whatever the case, Leiby saw in Aron someone who could help him.


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