Volume 73, Number 50 | April 21 - 27, 2004



Jane St. woman is recovering after savage attack

By Lincoln Anderson

A week later, the motive was still unclear for why a woman attacked a neighbor in a prominent Greenwich Village apartment building, viciously beating her with a hammer and vodka bottle, in an apparent attempt to kill her. Making the assault even more shocking, both women, who are acquaintances, are in their 60s.

Miriam Sarzin, 67, a freelance copyeditor and treasurer of the Jane St. Association, was recuperating this week at St. Vincent’s Hospital from injuries suffered in the assault, including multiple skull fractures, two broken fingers, a smashed knuckle and heavy bruising on her face, neck and back.

Meanwhile, Barbara Zellman, 62, was under arrest for first-degree assault and recovering from a broken collarbone. A psychotherapist and former public school teacher, she was reportedly under psychiatric care at a Queens hospital.

On the morning of April 14, Zellman, who lives on the fourth floor of 61 Jane St., went to the apartment of Sarzin on the 19th floor. According to police, the reason for the visit was to discuss plans for the birthday of a mutual friend. Police said Zellman brought the hammer and an empty Skyy vodka bottle with her in a plastic bag.

Paula Feddersen, Sarzin’s former partner (the two are now close friends) is chairperson of the Jane St. association. Feddersen said the birthday was that of Sandy Leaderman, Zellman’s partner, who was moving back in with Zellman.

Feddersen said that, according to Sarzin, Zellman came up to the apartment and Sarzin was on the phone. Sarzin told Zellman to take a seat on the couch until she was done. There was then a brief discussion during which Sarzin said she had too much editing to do and couldn’t help plan the party. What happened next took Sarzin totally by surprise.

“She stood up to show Barbara out of the apartment,” Feddersen said. “Barbara lunged at her, knocked her to the floor, straddled her and began hitting her. The first blows were with the plastic bag and then she pulled out the hammer. She doesn’t remember being hit by the bottle. But she never lost consciousness — that’s what saved her, that and Jane being home.”

Police said Zellman used the claw side of the hammer to strike Sarzin.

Zellman might have beaten Sarzin to death, if not for the help of a neighbor and two of the building’s staff.

Jane Klein, 33, who lives next door to Sarzin — whom she said rarely has visitors — through the wall heard Zellman attacking Sarzin. The beating had gone on for at least 20 minutes by this point.

“I heard Miriam moaning and saying, ‘Get off me,’ ‘Please stop,’ ‘Help,’ ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ ” Klein said. Klein called down to the lobby at 9:12 a.m. and within five minutes Robert Clark, the night doorman who was just getting off his shift, and handyman Frank Steakin came up.

Standing outside the door they could hear the attack inside, which was happening in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment.

“When we tried to get in the apartment, [Zellman] said, ‘We’re having a fight, go away,’ ” Klein said. “Miriam said, ‘Please don’t go away.’ ”

“We heard the lady scream, ‘She’s beating me!’ ‘She’s beating me!’ ” Clark said. “We said, ‘Who’s in there with you?’ She said, ‘It’s Barbara Zellman!’ It sounded like she was being hit.”

Clark stayed at the front door while Klein told Steakin to go through her living room with her to a narrow terrace she shares with Sarzin’s apartment.

JUMPS OUT WINDOW

At this point — Klein and Clark think it was because Zellman heard them say they were going around to the terrace — Zellman went out the bedroom window, possibly first hanging from the sill, before dropping two stories down to a 17th-floor balcony.

Zellman lay motionless on her back as Les Dickert, that apartment’s tenant, called police on his cell phone and tried to offer assistance. Whether she had meant to plunge to her death or make an escape is unclear.

“If she had jumped out the living room window, she would have been on Hudson St.,” noted John Herrera, the building’s superintendent.

Covered with blood, Sarzin — who is recovering from knee surgery and had recently started using a cane — managed to drag herself 20 ft. to the front door and open it.

“Not an inch of her wasn’t bloody,” said Clark. “She looked like she’d been hit 10 times in the skull — maybe with the sharp part of the hammer. The hammer was there on the table on top of a newspaper.”

Klein and Clark said they saw blood splattered everywhere, a broken cane and a broken bottle.

At 9:28, Sarzin was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where she was listed in serious condition and treated for numerous contusions to the head and face. Zellman was also taken to St. Vincent’s, with injuries to her arms, shoulders and ribs and a broken collarbone; she was handcuffed to her gurney.

Det. Mike Singer, Sixth Precinct community affairs officer, said Zellman was charged with first-degree assault. The district attorney could change the charge, if, for example, Zellman is found to be mentally ill.

“The last I heard she was under psychiatric care at a hospital in Queens,” said Singer.

Despite Sarzin’s having suffered multiple skull fractures, an MRI and CAT scan showed no permanent damage. She received staples in her skull and her arms are in splints up to her elbows. Yet Feddersen said Sarzin is holding up amazingly well despite the ordeal and that she got out of bed and walked a small bit on Saturday.

“Her spirits are great,” Feddersen said.

It’s not the first time tragedy has struck the 19th floor of the 20-story red-brick building. On Oct. 9, fantasy writer Pat Mullen, 62, author of “The Stone Movers,” despondent over her ongoing battle with bone cancer, jumped to her death onto Horatio St.

Mullen had reportedly never gotten over the death six years earlier of her partner and roommate, Kathy Marks. A small woman, Marks, who had just beaten breast cancer, was killed when she was on her bike — a small children’s model — and hit at the corner of W. 12th St. by a turning truck that didn’t see her.

Sarzin and Mullen were friends — they regularly ate lunch at the nearby Bus Stop Cafe on Hudson St. — and one theory is that Zellman somehow blamed Sarzin for causing Mullen’s death.

“What Miriam told me was that during the attack one of the things Barbara said — besides ‘You’re dead,’ ‘I’m going to kill you’ — was ‘You killed Pat,’ ” said Feddersen. And yet, she said, Zellman and Mullen weren’t really close.

“There was no reason,” said Feddersen. “It had nothing to do with anything. Something happened to Barbara. She went up with a hammer and a bottle — this was premeditated.”

Similarly, Mort La Brecque, a friend of Zellman’s in the building, said he knew nothing about Zellman’s having had hard feelings with Sarzin over Mullen’s death and said he didn’t know Zellman to have been close to Mullen.

BAD MEDICINE?

Another theory is that Zellman, who has multiple sclerosis, had an adverse reaction to medication.

La Brecque said Zellman has had MS for some time and was taking an MS medication manufactured by Elan, an Irish drug company. He said both Zellman and Leaderman, who has more severe MS, had bought stock in Elan. According to news reports, last month Elan and Biogen were seeking approval for an experimental MS drug, Natalizumab, being marketed under the brand name Antegren, for the European Union market.

But La Brecque wasn’t aware of any side effects from the medication that could have caused her to snap. He noted that Zellman just has a very incendiary temper.

“She has a very short fuse,” he said. “She can explode easily — more easily than normal people could. I know she has a bad temper — at the same time, I’ve never heard of her being violent with people.”

However, Ray Black, the building’s garage attendant, said he noticed Zellman had been “acting strange” the past few weeks when coming to get her car.

Zellman was also known to trade old watches on e-Bay.

Some noted Sarzin can be curmudgeonly, as well.

Said doorman Clark, “They’re both very testy, tough, macho, so I guess it could easily go on to the next level. If they didn’t like something, they’d let you know it.”

He said Sarzin was a stickler for quality of life and would scold stores to take in their benches, so they wouldn’t be used by transgender prostitutes at night. Sarzin was also known to complain about dogs, though Zellman didn’t have a dog.

Sarzin and Zellman are members of the building’s renters’ group; about 25 percent of the building’s 261 apartments are still rental, the rest co-ops.

Jo Hamilton, former chairperson of the Jane St. Association, called Sarzin a committed community activist.

“I re-formed the Jane St. Association in 1997, and Miriam’s been treasurer ever since,” she said. “She’s a wonderful lady and has been so dedicated to this neighborhood. She’s always the voice of reason.”

Feddersen said Sarzin was active in the block association in the 1970s as well.

Sarzin was previously married to a man, an engineer, but got divorced about 30 years ago. She was also close at one point to Arthur Stoliar, another Jane St. activist.

“She did have men in her life recently,” said an anonymous source, noting a man had accompanied Sarzin at a recent Fourth of July fireworks-viewing party on 61 Jane’s roof.

Sarzin and Feddersen like to eat dinner at the Beatrice Inn where they are said to be sometimes joined by Carol Feinman, a former chairperson of Community Board 2.

Susan Brownmiller, author of “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape,” the seminal feminist text, lives in the building and knows both women casually.

She described Zellman as “always very surly and abrasive.” However, she can’t buy the idea that Pat Mullen’s death was the basis for the attack.

“The only theory is that something went kaflooey with the medicine Barbara was taking for MS,” she said.

“It’s just a terrible tragedy,” she said. “I just sent Miriam $40 for the Jane St. Fair.”

Brownmiller and friends of Sarzin said they were offended by the Post’s article on the incident, particularly its headline, “Brawling Battle-Axes,” which they felt made it sound as if it was a fight, instead of an attack.

“In the old days there would have been a feminist movement to protest this kind of press coverage,” chided Brownmiller.

As for the street fair — officially known as the Jane St. Street Sale — Feddersen described it as a giant garage sale. It’s still set for June 5 (rain date June 6). She said she’s looking forward to Sarzin being there to help her run it.

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