William I. Aronwald died on October 29. Without the ineptitude of a pair of slain men, he might never have made it out of the 1980s.
Mr. Aronwald, a prominent prosecutor in the 1970s and later a defense attorney in important cases, was inadvertently a central figure in one of the strangest and most gruesome tales of a time when crime organized in New York was particularly cheeky.
In 1987, two contract killers who had been sent by a gangster named Joel Cacace to kill Mr. Aronwald mistakenly followed his father, George M. Aronwald, instead. On March 20, one of them shot George Aronwald in a laundry in Queens, then jumped into a getaway car driven by the second man.
It took years for investigators to piece together what apparently happened. George Aronwald, who was 78, was a part-time hearing officer for the city’s Parking Violations Office which also had a law firm, and he and William Aronwald shared a listing in a Manhattan office directory. Mr Cacace, acting on the orders of jailed crime boss Carmine Persico, had arranged to have William Aronwald killed, according to reports.
The reasons were vague – Mr. Persico would have thought that Mr. Aronwald had “disrespected” as one article put it. Mr Aronwald later speculated that he had been targeted in retaliation for his testimony in one of the trials of gangster John Gotti.
Either way, a prosecutor later said, the hit men, brothers named Vincent and Eddie Carini, were shown a piece of paper with only the name “Aronwald” on it. They killed the wrong Aronwald. And that was not all, a 2003 New York Times article reported:
“After the botched mission, Mr. Cacace had his killers killed,” prosecutors said. Then, they added, he had the killers who had killed the killers killed.
William Aronwald had always suspected that his father had taken bullets intended for him.
“It’s difficult under any circumstance,” he told The Times in 2003, as details of the case came to light when prosecutors laid a series of charges against Mr. Cacace. “But that makes it more difficult when he was basically an innocent victim of something that was meant for me. It makes things even more painful.
Mr. Aronwald, who pursued a long career in law, died of cardiac arrest near his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, his son Jeffrey said. He was 79 years old.
William Irving Aronwald was born on November 11, 1940 in Brooklyn. Her mother, Estelle (Laskowitz) Aronwald, was a legal secretary and housewife.
He grew up in Astoria, Queens, and graduated from Long Island City High School in 1958. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hofstra University in 1962 – he was a member of the undefeated football team in 1959 – and graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1965.
Mr. Aronwald served in the military from 1965 to 1967, with postings in El Paso and Okinawa. He served as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan from 1967 to 1971, then joined the Department of Justice, where he worked with the Joint Strike Force Against Organized Crime on mob-related cases in and around New York City. His name appeared in reporting from the period under headlines such as “Crime leader deemed indicted for tax evasion” and “16 accused here in racketeering in the meat industry”.
In December 1974, he became leader of this strike force, a position he held until the unit was dissolved in 1976. He then spent a year as head of the criminal division of the United States Attorney’s Office. in the Eastern District of New York before entering in private. practice in 1977. Some of his clients were the kind of people he once pursued.
When his father was shot, he was representing an informant whose information had led, among other things, to a corruption investigation at the parking office, the same agency where his father worked. But investigators determined it was just a coincidence; The then Manhattan US attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said Mr. Aronwald was not linked to any of the corruption allegations.
Other theories about what led to the murder have been pursued. Investigators looked at thousands of traffic cases that had been chaired by George Aronwald, looking for a scofflaw who might have been unhappy enough with a parking fine to commit murder. They examined whether George Aronwald had been mistaken for Joseph N. Gallo, a gangster, or for a state Supreme Court justice, both of whom lived in the area of Queens where the assassination took place.
The case which ultimately revealed details of the botched coup resulted in a 20-year sentence for Mr Cacace. Upon his conviction, Mr. Aronwald argued that Mr. Cacace should be incarcerated far from New York to make it difficult for him to see his family members, as he had deprived the Aronwald family of the opportunity to take advantage of the old age of his patriarch.
“They should suffer to some extent from the heartache and pain that my sister, myself and our family suffered because of him,” he said. “We lost the ability to spend time with him, for him to see his family, to see his family grow and develop.”
As a defense lawyer, Mr. Aronwald grabbed the headlines. In the early 1990s, he was among the lawyers who defended Carolyn Warmus, a former elementary school teacher in Westchester County, New York, accused of killing the wife of a fellow teacher she was with. had had an affair, an affair that often attracted comparisons to the movie “Fatal Attraction”. The defense failed; a jury found Ms Warmus guilty in 1992 and she was sentenced to 25 years in life. She was granted parole last year.
Mr. Aronwald fared best as a member of the defense team of Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, when she faced an impaired driving charge in 2012. She maintained that she was under the influence of a sleeping pill that she had taken. accidentally mistaking it for thyroid medication. A jury acquitted her in 2014.
Mr. Aronwald married Barbara Blitzer in 1964. She survives him, as does her son; one daughter, Kimberly Joseph; one sister, Barbara Lasher; and four grandchildren.