The 1984 murder of a Studio 54 “miss party girl”

Connie Crispell lived in New York City from 1974 to 1984.

Her life in the city hit many of the cultural touchstones of the 1970s and 1980s—nights at Studio 54, after-hours clubs downtown, panic over AIDS. Yet her name and her tragic murder have mostly been forgotten.

Born to a prominent family in Virginia, Crispell came to Manhattan at age 22. She rented a two-bedroom at 12 East 86th Street for $500 a month and tried her hand at various jobs—marketing jewelry made out of subway tokens, founding a bartender-for-hire service.

But her true place in the city seemed to be on the dance floor at Studio 54.

Crispell and her roommate, “fell into a routine that began with taking a nap after work,” stated New York magazine in a 1984 article, which quoted a friend describing her as “miss party girl of New York City.”

“They rose at about 10 p.m. and showered. They put on disco music to get themselves in the proper spirit, and Crispell often made a pitcher of vodka tonics. Then they hopped in a cab and headed for Studio 54,” arriving back on 86th Street (below left) at 4 a.m.

By the end of the 1970s, her roommate gave up the party scene and moved out; Studio 54 shut down briefly. Crispell continued to spend money she didn’t have and was evicted from her apartment.

“With some financial help from her family, Crispell moved into a studio apartment in the old FBI building, on East 69th Street,” wrote New York. “She seemed to identify with the heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and she sometimes called her place ‘my Holly Golightly apartment.'”

As the 1980s began, Crispell worked in an office position with designer Carolina Herrera, then as an account executive at Ogilvy & Mather and later as a salesperson at Brooks Brothers.

Studio 54 reopened again, and Crispell returned night after night. “She became a kind of celebrity of the dance floor and was often admitted to the club without paying,” according to New York.

She dated a blue blood preppie and then moved in with a 60-something diamond tycoon. After that relationship ended, she took a $120 a week room at the all-female Martha Washington Hotel on East 30th Street.

She supported herself by signing up with an escort service that gave her a beeper and sent her to meet men at the city’s poshest hotels.

As her former roommate and other friends fell into more settled lives, Crispell continued to live on the edge. She told people she thought she might have AIDS, and she did a 10-day stint in Bellevue after threatening to jump from a 9th floor apartment.

Once she was released, she was back at Studio 54, inviting fellow club-goers home with her to her new sublet at 58 West 58th Street (above right) in the wee hours of the morning. “Soon Crispell’s home became a kind of salon,” wrote New York, attended by heiresses, designers, and Village People band member Randy Jones.

One of those after-hours party guests, however, was a 20-year-old convict named Charles Ransom. According to newspaper accounts, Ransom said that he and Crispell had sex after she hosted a Kentucky Derby party in April 1984. Afterward, Crispell told him that she thought she had AIDS.

Ransom said he blacked out and strangled Crispell, stuffed her nude body in a trunk, and put the trunk on the balcony of the apartment. He invited two prostitutes to stay at the sublet for several days before the owners returned and called police.

Ransom got a minimum of 25 years in prison. A month after the murder, Crispell’s friends held a memorial at Fifth Avenue’s St. Thomas Church to mourn “the loss of the girl who always wanted one more moment of fun,” wrote New York.

[Top photo: New York; second and third photos: Biography.com; fourth photo: Manhattan Scout; fifth photo: streeteasy.com; sixth image: Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin; seventh photo: New York Post via New York]

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24 Responses to “The 1984 murder of a Studio 54 “miss party girl””

  1. Zoe Says:

    This is very sad Ephemeral. I never heard of this because I was in Palermo Sicily at the time for several months. (Which in 1984 put me out of the US news loop. I don’t recall seeing an International NYT there). Prayers & peace to her family.

  2. greenmean112meangreen Says:

    Tragic, the days of disco and death.

  3. Boris Says:

    I’d heard about this though never knew details. One correction though: the murderer was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years and was just released from prison on 7/31/17 per the NY inmate lookup site here: http://nysdoccslookup.doccs.ny.gov/kinqw00

  4. carolegill Says:

    it makes me think of the Looking for Mr Goodbar film that was based on a vicious murder of a teacher. tragic indeed

    • Zoe Says:

      There was also another *very* similar story that took place in Yorkville (?) on the Upper East Side Carole. I thought of that & the Goodbar murder. If I recall more details about the former I’ll post them here. (There may have been an arts connection? Artist or writer? My mind is a sieve. Someone else may recall).

      • carolegill Says:

        thanks. a similar one, didn’t know. i used to live in NY now i’m in UK. whatever you can find, great!

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I’ve never seen the movie but I read the book. Very creepy.

  6. trilby1895 Says:

    Sorry, Ephemeral, but this is one New York era in which I have no interest. As a matter of fact, much/most of “modern” New York is uninteresting, boring, lacks the color, mystery, fascination of New York prior to 1920. “Disco New York” is especially lacking any interest in any way at all. Everything else you publish, have published is delicious so thank you.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I hear you Trilby. Your New York is a city of gaslights—not strobe lights….

      • trilby1895 Says:

        Perfect analysis, ephemeral and thank you for understanding and not being offended! I love your website, depend on it for fascinating information about our magnificent city!

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    And I love your comments and appreciate your kind words!

  8. Zoe Says:

    Phem is a gem; as are *all* her topics. Ephemeral is GEMeral!

  9. Tom B Says:

    I don’t think the story of her death would be written like that now in the media. Too judgmental.
    She had some nice addresses and a girl next door picture.
    I wonder how many more young women came to NYC and lived that life style back then? The club looked very crowded. We stayed across the street from Studio 54 this spring. A shadow of itself now.

  10. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    New York media generally love this kind of story of an out of town young woman who comes to the city with dreams and ends up in a very different situation. But for some reason, Connie Crispell’s story was mostly forgotten.

  11. David Lippman Says:

    Ahh…the 1970s and the sexual revolution. Somehow it passed me by. Girls gave me the following responses:

    1. “You’re very sweet, but my boyfriend would like to meet/kill you.”
    2. “Not if you were the last man on Earth.”
    3. “Only if we can go to my Mormon church service.”
    4. “Only if we can go to my lesbian rights rally.” (Both are true)
    5. “SECURITY!”

    Another favorite interchange was as follows:

    Girl: “You’re very funny!”
    Dave: “So you’ll go out with me?”
    Girl: “Don’t make me laugh.”

    • trilby1895 Says:

      You’re lucky it bypassed you, David. Otherwise you’d probably still be suffering as a result of your “indulgences”.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Well…I failed my M52 Regents in 1979, with the lowest grade in the history of Stuyvesant High School for a student who took the test while not stoned on drugs (a 38), and had to take it again in January 1980. So I studied. Every day, from July to January, I did an hour of math every day with my tyrannical mother, who held a B.S. in Math from the University of Leeds. Needless to say, it was a disaster.

        The night before the re-test, a girl upon whom I had an unrelieved crush took me aside after school and offered to relieve me of my virginity.She was a raven-haired Greek beauty who wore mini-skirts.

        I thought about the situation. On the one hand, i could discover the great mystery of life with a smokin’ hot and clearly sexually experienced girl who I desperately wanted to have sex with.

        Or I could go home and study for that all-important Math Regents. I had been told that if I failed it, it would be the end of my life (by my teachers and my mother) and I would only be fit to spend my days scrubbing toilets or moving racks of clothing up and down Seventh Avenue. It was that important.

        So if I went with the girl and got it on with her, and failed the test, it would be a long-term disaster.

        So I turned her down. I went home. I studied for the test. On my way to it, my mother, with her usual tyranny, distracted me from the all-important test by berating me for something unrelated, which cut into my concentration.

        I improved my performance on the test. I got a whopping 46. So I failed the test again. The girl never spoke to me again. I faced having to spend every single day doing math with my mother. Again. And taking the test in June. And improving my grade by another five points. And still failing it. Again. And then facing either the lifetime prospect of scrubbing toilets or being a perpetual senior in that high school, probably until my 90th birthday.

        So I had two epiphanies. The first was to suffer a paranoid nervous breakdown and give the assistant principal a letter offering to commit suicide in front of him if he would finally give my disabled brother the elevator pass he deserved and explain to my family in writing why the school was treating my like something unpleasant you step into off the 15th Street curb. Most of the letter was a sarcastic drumfire of Nazi jargon, arguing why the Third Reich was a model state, the AP should head it, and I should be shot for treason against mathematics.

        My second epiphany was to realize that I should have gone with the girl. I would have failed the test anyway, but at least had a smile on my face. Instead I had exactly one date in my three years at the school.

        Later I read George Will’s great quote: “They told me that if I voted for Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, we would be at war in Vietnam the next year. Well, I voted for Goldwater, and we were at war in Vietnam the next year.”

        As for my experience at the school — when they ask me for money or to attend reunions, the mailing goes straight into the trash.

        And if you’re wondering, the terrified assistant principal — he was an individual with whom I had crossed swords on several occasions — summoned me, my worthless mother, and the school counselor, into his office, and asked me the question that nobody had raised for three years: “David, what’s going on with you?”

        They ultimately told me not to take the Math Regents a third time. Another result to this day: the only math I can do is to make change — I can “see” coins — and baseball. Anything else, I see red, get furious, and have to reach for the pocket calculator.

        It probably would have been easier if I HAD gone home with that girl and done it.

      • Zoe Says:

        Paragraph 8:

        Springtime for Hitler in Germany…

      • David H Lippman Says:

        It had the desired harsh impact on Jewish teachers who had grown up during WW2.

      • Zoe Says:

        Ach du Liebe!

        My previous comment to you David Liebling was in reference to the big pro-Nazi musical number ‘Springtime for Hitler (in Germany)’ in the film ‘The Producers’ re. what you described having done to your poor obviously long suffering – & now you say Jewish WW II era – teachers.

        I hope they had a very profound sense of humour – otherwise try to find them if they still walk the earth & make amends! (*makes my grandmother’s warding off evil sign of scraping one finger w/ another – three times at you*).

      • David H Lippman Says:

        I wasn’t interested in tapping into their senses of humor. I was only interested in figuratively grabbing them by their throats, getting their absolute and undivided attention, wiping their snotty smiles off their faces, and make them understand a simple idea: by using me as a convenient toilet bowl, they were behaving like Nazi concentration camp guards, and driving me to suicide.”

        To his limited credit, the assistant principal got the point. Some of his flunkies did not.The Italian head of the Math Department’s view was that since I was the worst math student he ever saw, I had two choices in life: become a mathematician or learn to clean his toilet. Among the things he could not understand were simple humanity; the idea that just because one took a required math class, one was not a future Fermat; that because my brother was a math genius, I necessarily had to be one as well; and that he was behaving like one of Mussolini’s Camici Neri.

        I let him know that every time I saw him by doing the Bersaglieri Trot, yelling, “Obeddire! Combattere! Credittere! VIVA IL DUCE! DUCE! DUCE! DUCE! DUCE!” in his face, and singing “Giovinezza.” AHe finally got the point when I told him that if he tried to transfer me to Automotive High School six weeks before graduation, not only would he face interesting responses from my family’s lawyers, I would happily do to him what my British relatives did to his native Italy between 1943 and 1945. Viva Il Duce.

        He got the point.

        Nope…I’m not apologizing to those junior fascists. They can burn in hell. Besides, most of them are dead.

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