Father haunted by mysterious events leading to son's 1986 murder
LONG BEACH, NY (WPIX) – Chaim Weiss was the first grandson of a Holocaust survivor; his father, Anton, was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after World War II.
He grew up on Staten Island, but the joy he brought to his family was short-lived. In the early hours of Nov. 1, 1986 — as Halloween festivities were winding down on the streets of Long Beach, New York—15-year-old Chaim was bashed in the skull as he slept in his Torah High School dorm at 63 Beech Street.
“His soul’s not resting, until we know what happened,” Chaim’s father told PIX11 recently in his first-ever, sit-down interview. “My heart cries for Chaim constantly.”
The Chaim Weiss case has been written about, on and off, for just over three decades — and it was featured on the national Unsolved Mysteries show in the 1990s.
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But there were more questions than answers. Why did Chaim Weiss’ body get moved from his bed to the floor, not long after the murder? Why was the window open? Who lit a candle in the room? Why was Chaim sleeping in his own room, unlike most of the other yeshiva students, who bunked up with others?
“We were told not to talk to anyone until after Shabbat (Sabbath),” said former student, Eli Kushner, who was in the dorm building the morning Chaim Weiss’ body was discovered. “The dorm counselor found him. I remember him telling everyone, ‘Get out of here! We got to call the cops!’”
Rabbi Yeruchom Pitter, who was dean of the yeshiva at the time and still works for the high school, wasn’t pleased when we came knocking on his office door Nov. 15. But he told us off camera that Nassau County police spent more than a year hunkered down near the yeshiva. They’d interviewed every single person who had anything to do with Chaim Weiss: every teacher, mentor, friend, student and the most remote person he came into contact with.
“They came to my house," said former classmate Kushner. "They gave everyone lie detector tests. I passed the lie detector test.”
Police never named a formal suspect, but there’s been plenty of speculation about what happened to Weiss over the years.
There was talk about a janitor who quit working at the dorm not long after the murder, but he was ruled out as a suspect.
A mentally ill drifter was looked at. Members of the yeshiva community did not want to consider that it could have been a student or staff member behind a heinous crime.
Rabbi Pitter’s wife, Reena, told PIX11, “In our family, we did think maybe it was one of the janitors.”
Chaim’s father remains troubled that his son was assigned to his own room on the third floor of the dorm, while most students were paired in groups of two or three in bedrooms.
“They must have known exactly where this kid was because you had to go through a lot of different rooms to find him,” Eli Kushner said of the unknown killer or killers. "And you had to pass a lot of kids to get to this kid.”
“This wasn’t some Halloween prank,” Kushner insisted. “This was somebody trying to get back at the family or get back at the kid.”
There was no back way to get to Chaim Weiss’ room on the third floor.
"One way in. One way out," Kushner said.
Anton Weiss, from Staten Island, talked in-depth about events that happened before his son’s murder that have long tormented him.
The father told PIX11 his son had called from the school’s upstate summer camp in July 1986.
“He called me up crying in a strong way that he wants to come home,” Anton Weiss recalled. “I was away on vacation and I told him, ‘Wait until I come back.’”
Weiss said his son never complained of a problem at camp in previous years. When he returned to New York from his Florida trip, he visited his son and “everything seemed to be ok.”
In August 1986, Weiss said he sent Chaim to visit his grandparents in Europe — and that’s when, Anton Weiss claims, the yeshiva’s principal, Rabbi Avrom Cooper, called him at home.
“He said ‘When’s he coming home? I said, ‘A week or two,’” Anton Weiss told PIX11.
“And then he called me again, and I said, ‘We’re still waiting. He’s coming back next week.’”
Anton Weiss claims Rabbi Cooper seemed eager to talk to Chaim, so the parents made arrangements to drive their son to Cooper’s home in Borough Park, Brooklyn for a meeting.
“He told us to send Chaim in, to wait outside,” Weiss recalled
The teen’s father said Chaim spent about 10 minutes in the house, but when he returned to the car, Chaim didn’t talk about the conversation with the principal.
Weiss never asked his son what the rabbi and student discussed.
"I should have," he said.
PIX11 found the former principal, Rabbi Avrom Cooper, living in Lakewood, New Jersey, where he’s retired.
When we told him Anton Weiss has been looking for answers for 31 years, Rabbi Cooper replied, “I have no answers.”
When we asked Rabbi Cooper about Chaim Weiss’ call to his father from camp in July 1986, he waved his hand and said, “I’m not interested in speaking.”
When we persisted, Cooper said more emphatically, “I said I don’t know anything about it.”
When we started to ask about the parents’ claim that they drove Chaim to Brooklyn for a meeting between principal and student, six to eight weeks before the murder, Cooper refused to respond to our questions and walked into his house, closing the front door.
Weiss’ father remains upset about an encounter he said he had with Rabbi Cooper in court when the Weiss family sued the school for failing to safeguard Chaim.
He told PIX11 Rabbi Cooper suggested Weiss reflect on any bad deeds he may have done as a way of considering why bad fortune may have come to the Weiss family.
“It shocks me to today,” Weiss said. “What do you think? I stole something, I did something, I killed something?!”
Chaim’s father still remembered how Nassau County detectives found him at a bar mitzvah in Belle Harbor, Queens, hours after Chaim’s body was discovered at the yeshiva.
He’s hoping former students — who’d now be in their late 40s — might come forward with new information. Nassau County Police have a hotline number for anyone with tips on the case: 1-800-244-TIPS.
“I think it’s time for people to come forward and say something,” Weiss told PIX11.
The still-grieving father can’t shake the memory of his first-born child.
“He was always full of jokes, a great sense of humor,” Weiss said. “I was proud to have him as a son. I felt like he was a gift to us.”