A tourist murdered in a midtown subway station

Every so often, a crime comes along that’s so extraordinarily senseless, it doesn’t just grip New York—it makes national headlines.

That was the case with the stabbing of Brian Watkins (right) in 1990, a year that saw a record  2,245 murders in the city.

Tennis fan Watkins, 22, and his family were in from Utah to see the U.S. Open. On the night of September 2, they entered the 53rd Street E train station to have dinner in the Village.

They had the bad luck of being targeted by a group of teenagers looking to rob someone so they could each cover the $15 admission fee to Roseland, the dance club on 50th Street.

The mugging was quick and brutal. “Brian’s father, Sherwin, was knocked to the ground and slashed with a boxcutter,” explains a 2010 article from City Limits. “Brian’s mother said she was grabbed by the hair, hunched over and kicked in the face and chest.”

Brian responded by lunging toward her, and he was then stabbed in the chest by one of the teens. He collapsed at the token booth and was pronounced dead at St. Vincent’s Hospital, his pulmonary artery severed.

The teenagers did go dancing at Roseland that night . . . but were quickly caught and tried. Seven got 25 years to life prison terms.

“Public outcry over Mr. Watkins’s murder put pressure on Mayor David N. Dinkins to hire more police officers and has driven his administration’s fiscal priorities ever since,” a 1992 New York Times article stated.

In 1991, the city put Brian’s name on a public tennis court in East River Park.

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8 Responses to “A tourist murdered in a midtown subway station”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    At the time what a desolate tennis court overlooking the river and the wind blowing from the Williamsburg Bridge but I suppose it’s very different now with allot more people strolling on the East River Park. Someone might even remember the tragedy.

  2. dubarry Says:

    I don’t know why I remember this, but I think it was the B train. Silly huh?

  3. Patrick Sweeney Says:

    I can remember the death of this young man. However, I think it was the death of Yankel Rosenbaum and the inattention of then-police commisioner “out of town” Lee Brown to crime. Add to that the inability of make West 96th Street from Larry Hogue and you almost have the complete picture.

  4. Jose Says:

    You will probably not believe this but I was friends with the assailants. I knew all 7 guys who are now serving 25 years for doing this. Alot of us went to school together. In fact the night this happened, I slept over one of the guys (Ricardo Lopez) house. The cops showed up at the house the next morning and took all of us downtown for questioning. It was a crazy time. I feel horrible for the Watkins family! But also, knowing these guys the way I did I feel bad for them and their families also. They were misguided and destroyed their lives and the life of an innocent young man for a night of partying! Sad.

  5. Lisa Says:

    “Misguided” is an understatement, Jose– “sub-human” seems more apt.

    What a horror this was– nice wholesome family visiting from Utah, minding their own business, set upon by by a bunch of cretinous thugs. And, poor Brian Watkin’s last experience was witnessing his parents being slashed and beaten. Welcome to New York, innocent Utah family.

    I’d almost forgotten what a an out-of-control hellhole this city was in the 80’s, this story is an effective reminder.

    • Alan Cohn Says:

      Now it is safe to ride the subway but the city is geared toward the super rich now. Back then, even though the crime was out of control, I feel that there was a vibe to the city that made it exciting and fun. Now it seems like The elements that made NYC a unique city have fallen to corporate culture and extreme gaps in wealth of the city. I wish the city could be safe and fun for everyone and not just a disneyfied version that you see in times square.

  6. master ace Says:

    yeah jose, your friends killed a kid in front of his parents. assholes.

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