It was because of Lucien Carr that Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs met and became friends. It was also because of Carr that Kerouac and Burroughs became material witnesses in a bizarre murder case.
In 1944, Allen Ginsberg met Lucien Carr at Columbia University. Carr was friends with Edie Parker, Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend at the time and it was by his suggestion that Ginsberg meet Kerouac. Having grown up in St. Louis, Carr also knew William S. Burroughs and this connection completed the formation of the famous Beat Trio.
But, along with the two rich kids from St. Louis came David Kammerer, Burroughs’ life-long friend and Carr’s former teacher turned stalker.
David Kammerer was a teacher in St. Louis and met Lucien Carr when leading a youth group Carr belonged to as a young boy. He immediately became infatuated with the boy and followed him across the country as Carr moved from city to city.
When Carr attended Columbia University, Kammerer moved to New York City. Even though Carr had a girlfriend, Celine, and showed no sexual interest in Kammerer, the older man continued with his obsessive behaviour. Carr finally reached his breaking point.
On August 13, 1944, Lucien Carr was drinking at the West End Bar with some friends. David Kammerer found the young man at the bar and the two continued to drink well into the early morning. “The two then went to Riverside Park where Dave finally pushed too hard; he made a play for Lucien, who stabbed him with his Boy Scout knife, killing him. Lucien weighed down the body and rolled it into the Hudson River,” wrote Brenda Knight in Women of the Beat Generation.
In Ginsberg: A Biography, Barry Miles explained the confrontation, “Kammerer made drunken threats against Celine. He claimed he loved Lucien and couldn’t live without him. He would kill Lucien and himself if he couldn’t have him, and he insisted that they have sex. Lucien resisted and they began to struggle.”
He stabbed Kammerer in the heart, disposed of the body, and went to Bill Burroughs for help. Burroughs gave Carr some money and advised him to turn himself in, but Carr went to see Kerouac instead. Kerouac helped Carr get rid of the knife and bury Kammerer’s glasses.
Two days later, Carr confessed to police. At first they didn’t believe the young man’s story but that same day the coast guard found Kammerer’s body floating off 108th Street.
Kerouac and Burroughs were arrested as accessories and charged as material witnesses. Burroughs’ family bailed him out and forced him to return to St. Louis. Kerouac was less fortunate as his father refused to help him.
Kerouac’s girlfriend, Edie Parker, was set to receive an inheritance from her grandfather and decided to use that money to bail out Kerouac. There was only one glitch – the two had to be married before the money would be released.
Kerouac and Parker married August 22, 1944 at City Hall with Kerouac handcuffed to a detective.
“All of our lives had changed, drastically, all because of Dave, who Lucien had tried to avoid, just as we all did,” Parker later wrote in You’ll be Okay: My Life with Jack Kerouac.
Lucien Carr appeared in court on August 24, 1944 and was indicted for second-degree murder. He claimed self-defence and pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter; his plea was accepted. He served two years in the Elmira Reformatory.
(Article originally published on Suite101)