Two dead in suspected series of druggings and robberies of gay men in New York

It was initially believed that the deaths of two New York gay men, Julio Ramirez and John Umberger, were isolated drug overdoses.

Split image of gay men Julio Ramirez and John Umberger.
Image: via YouTube: PIX11 News

New York City police are investigating a slew of incidents involving druggings, robberies and the deaths of two gay men in and around the city’s LGBTQ+ neighbourhoods. Two gay men in the Hell’s Kitchen area died in what was initially thought to be two isolated occurrences.

NYPD’s homicide unit is investigating the death of Julio Ramirez who died in a taxi in April of this year. At around 3 am on the night of the incident, Ramirez left a gay bar in Manhattan with several men who are thought to have drugged him and stolen his phone and wallet. The group allegedly left Ramirez’s body in the taxi, and by the time he was identified, thousands of dollars had been drained from his bank accounts.

Julio’s brother, Carlos Ramirez, told the New York Times that “Nobody thought it was a crime initially. They had just thought he had taken something.”

A month later, John Umberger was found dead only a few miles away in an Upper East Side residence. CCTV footage shows he left Manhattan’s Q nightclub on May 28 accompanied by a group of men who guided him to a car. His mother, Linda Clary, told the New York Post that “Word needs to get out, especially in the gay community, that they are targeting gay men. This same group of killers have drugged, robbed and murdered countless young gay men in New York.”

Toxicology reports showed that both men died of drug overdoses, indicating that the men who they were seen with around the time of their deaths had spiked their drinks. Umberger’s results showed that there was cocaine, lidocaine and fentanyl in his system. Medical examiners are looking for a possible toxicological link between the two deaths and the suspected criminals. These deaths are reported amid an international rise in violence against the queer community.

Since the deaths of these two gay men, New York police have formed a task force to investigate similar non-fatal cases. As of now, authorities are investigating at least a dozen cases. Initially, the incidents were regarded as isolated overdoses, until families noticed the thousands of dollars missing from each victim’s credit cards and bank accounts.

In non-fatal cases being investigated currently, victims said that police didn’t believe they were victims of crimes and rather thought they had taken the drugs while partying. Oscar Alarcon was allegedly drugged in March 2020 and woke up on the floor of a New York City hotel. He told the New York Times that “I don’t remember what happened there. I don’t remember how I left. Then I just woke up in a strange hotel lobby.” He added that police “didn’t seem interested,” when he filed a report after noticing $2,000 was missing from his bank account.

Another man, Tyler Burt, told the newspaper that he was drugged at a gay bar in December 2021, with a drug test finding cocaine in his system that he didn’t remember taking. The 27-year-old’s doctor believed he had been spiked with GHB, a central nervous system depressant causing drowsiness. He also said that police were sceptical about the validity of his claims, saying “It seemed like they thought being drugged wasn’t even a possibility. They said, ‘Maybe you were but that isn’t really relevant to the robbery’.”

Talking to NBC News about Julio Ramirez’s death, Burt said “It sounded so eerily similar to what happened to me.” He added that “I don’t think I was drinking nearly enough to have zero recollection. Also, that’s never happened to me before. I’ll go out and I’ll get home and be like, ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t remember getting home,’ or, ‘I don’t remember leaving,’ or something like that because I drank a lot, but I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember a single thing after I had that drink, which has just never happened to me in my life before.” He concluded by saying “I’m lucky to be alive.”

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