Volume 74, Number 8 | June 23 - 29, 2004

Obituary


Whitman Knapp, 95, corruption prober lived in Soho

Whitman Knapp, a federal judge who led a far-reaching two-year investigation into corruption in the New York City Police Department, died on June 14 at Cabrini Hospice in Manhattan. He was 95.

Knapp was a longtime resident of Soho, where he lived on Greene St.

He was born Percy Whitman Knapp in New York City on Feb. 24, 1909, the son of a lawyer. He attended private schools, Choate boarding school and Yale, before receiving a law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. He was an assistant district attorney under two Manhattan district attorneys, Thomas Dewey and later Frank Hogan. Knapp served during 1953-’54 as special counsel to the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which looked into corruption on the waterfront.

In 1970, Mayor John Lindsay appointed Knapp to head a five-member commission investigating corruption in the New York City Police Department. The probe was sparked by revelations from two detectives, Frank Serpico and David Durk. At the end of the commission, Knapp was appointed a federal judge by President Richard Nixon. In 1986, Knapp presided over the racketeering case against Bronx Democratic leader Stanley Friedman.

Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, said Knapp was a familiar figure around Soho, where he’d lived for several decades.

“He used to get massaged by the Asian massage women on the sidewalk on Prince St. where the post office was, which became the Apple store,” Sweeney said. “He walked his dog daily. He was driving a car until recently.”

Sweeney said Knapp’s wife, Ann, is a certified artist, which was why they could live in Soho, where residential use is restricted to artists’ joint living-work quarters.

“He was a Republican,” said Sweeney, president of Downtown Independent Democrats. “She was a good Democrat — we know because she always signed our petitions.

“My window looks into theirs. They’ve always had an American flag hanging on the living room wall, sort of bohemian — this was before 9/11.”

Knapp is survived by his wife, Ann, a son, Gregory Wallace Knapp, and by three children from a previous marriage, a son, Whitman E. Knapp, of Brookline, Mass.; and two daughters, Caroline Hines, of Manhattan, and Marion Knapp, of Eau Clair, Wis.; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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