The Story Of Jennifer Levin's Murder And The 'Preppy Killer,' Robert Chambers
In the early morning hours of August 26, 1986, a cyclist biking through Manhattan's Central Park near 5th Avenue and 83rd Street encountered a shocking scene: A woman's lifeless body laid near a tree, covered in scratches and other marks.
The woman was later identified as 18-year-old Jennifer Levin, who was seen leaving a bar with a man just hours earlier. That man was 19-year-old Robert Chambers Jr., whom the press later dubbed the "Central Park Strangler" and "the Preppy Killer."
The story of Levin's death and Chambers's background as a prep school attendee became a media sensation, and while Chambers claimed Levin's death was an accident, evidence proved Levin fought for her life.
Read on to learn more about Robert Chambers, his murder of Jennifer Levin, and why he's still behind bars.
Robert Chambers Claimed He Accidentally Killed Jennifer Levin During 'Rough Sex'
On August 26, 1986, 19-year-old Robert Chambers and 18-year-old Jennifer Levin, who had casually dated over the summer, left Dorrian's Red Hand bar on Manhattan's Upper East Side together at approximately 4 am.
According to Chambers, he and Levin went to Central Park to have sex, and she used her underwear to bind his hands behind his back; however, Chambers claimed he became upset after she repeatedly squeezed his genitals.
In response to the pain, Chambers (who was 6'5" and weighed 220 pounds) claimed he reacted by hitting Levin in the throat with his arm, knocking her off of him. Levin, who was 5'4" and half Chambers's weight, immediately fell backwards onto the ground.
Chambers said he knew "something was wrong" after Levin fell, but he left the scene without attempting to revive her and never called 911 to get the young woman medical attention.
Chambers Watched The Authorities Find Levin's Body
After killing Levin, Chambers didn't flee the scene; instead, he sat on a wall near the scene of the crime until a passing cyclist came upon the 18-year-old's lifeless body around 6:15 am and called 911.
When law enforcement and emergency services arrived at the park, Chambers was still in the area, but he didn't tell any of the officers he knew Levin. Consequently, police told Chambers, along with other members of the public, to vacate the scene.
When detectives examined Levin's body, they found she was partially clothed and covered in bruises and cuts. They also noticed marks on her neck, and the medical examiner later determined she had been strangled to death, not killed by a single blow to the throat as Chambers later told authorities.
Chambers Was Covered In Scratches When Police Interviewed Him
After police told Chambers to leave the park, he returned to the Manhattan apartment he shared with his parents and fell asleep.
After learning Levin's identity and discovering she had been at Dorrian's Red Hand shortly before she died, police questioned the patrons who were at the bar that night. Investigators soon learned the victim had left with Chambers and went to his home to question him about his possible involvement in Levin's death.
When officers arrived at Chambers's apartment, they noticed the 19-year-old had scratches on his neck and face and proceeded to bring him in for questioning. When investigators asked Chambers how he got the deep scratches on his body, he told them his cat (who detectives later learned was declawed) had caused the injuries.
Eventually, Chambers confessed to killing Levin but denied strangling her, instead telling officers her death was a case of rough sex gone wrong.
Jennifer Levin Was Portrayed As Promiscuous
After providing law enforcement with a videotaped confession, Chambers was reportedly surprised when they placed him under arrest. As he was being booked, Chambers reportedly said to his father, “That f*cking b*tch, why didn't she leave me alone?”
In coverage of the case, the press referred to Levin's journal as her "sex diary" because, according to Chambers's defense attorney, it included details of "kinky and aggressive sexual activity by Jennifer Levin with many lovers." One article even argued Levin, who was strangled by a man twice her size, was to blame for her own murder in a piece titled, "How Jennifer Courted Death."
Chambers's Nicknames Stemmed From His History At Several Elite Prep Schools
Soon after Chambers's arrest for Levin's murder, the press dubbed him the "Preppy Murderer" and the "Preppy Killer" because he'd attended private preparatory schools, including York Prep, Choate, and Browning.
While he'd gone to private schools and lived on Manhattan's Upper East Side, however, Chambers's parents weren't particularly wealthy. In fact, his mother worked as a nurse and his father was a videotape distributor, and Chambers attended these expensive prep schools with the aid of scholarships.
In contrast, Levin lived in Manhattan with her father, who was a successful real estate agent, and her stepmother. She attended the Baldwin School, an elite private school for girls. Levin was also planning to go to college, while Chambers was kicked out of Boston University after just one semester.
As A Child, Chambers Had A Play Date With JFK Jr.
While Chambers wasn't wealthy, his mother wanted him to network with the elite, so when he was young, she arranged a play date between him and John F. Kennedy Jr. Purportedly, Chambers's mother cared for JFK Jr. as a nurse when he was sick with bronchitis. During that time, she suggested the young patient and her son go to a restaurant and theater.
According to the woman who was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's assistant at the time, Chambers's mother repeatedly got upset with her then-5-year-old son for "saying the wrong thing."