The Truth Behind David Kammerer’s Murder

david kammerer murderIt 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. (Kill Your Darlings (2013))

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. They 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.

July 15, 2014 – Peter B. was nice enough to send me a copy of David Kammerer’s Death Certificate, here it is:

Kammerer Death Certificate

23 thoughts on “The Truth Behind David Kammerer’s Murder

  1. The Carr-Kammerer murder case needs further, deeper investigation!
    They were FRIENDS and they even had traveled together, and how do
    we know the truth of what happened on that August night by the Hudson
    River ?? How many times was Kam. stabbed? Was he really dead when
    pushed into river?? Why weight the body down — one reason could be
    to ensure death!
    Did Kam. try to rape Carr ?? Or did Kam. simply try to put the move on
    Carr as many people do every day in the world ?? Was the murder a result
    of Carr being drunk and maybe simply snapping: deciding that he wanted to
    be rid of the nuisance his friend had become ? Carr was, after all, a bit wild
    & impulsive; could we even say a malicious prick, at times ??

    Why did Kerouac have his Ginsberg character (in TOWN & CITY) state that
    Carr was more “evil” than Kammerer (using the characters representing those
    2 men)?

    Let’s dig into this whole thing more!! Coroner records. Police records. All
    newspaper accts. Etc.

    Brad Parker (working now on a 2nd book about Kerouac)

    1. YOu apparently can’t accept the FACT that Kammerer was a persistent stalker who was obsessed with Carr for years and followed him around from St. Louis to New YOrk to Chicago etc etc. Were someone to become such a pest in my llife, I would be glad to be rid of him. While you claim that sexual advances and or attempted rape are commonplace (perhaps less so back in the 40s due to a more intense persecution of homosexuals then), you fail to accept the fact that such behavior may be found very offensive and be met with violence. Why should he have continued to be harassed by the stalker Kammerer??

  2. I love reading about the Kammerer/Carr case. It’s so interesting to hear all the conspiracies that people believe, like Kammerer was threatening Carr with a dirty little secret and that’s why he really killed him. We don’t know what really happened that night, and Carr (RIP) took it to his grave. But I don’t think he really killed the guy for something scandalous like a secret or whatever. I believe Lucian when he says that Kam. attacked him and tried to… well, you know the story. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find out the truth someday. But until then, I can’t wait to see Kill Your Darlings. It’s going to interesting to see how they do the BIG scene. Thanks for the post!

  3. In the many Kerouac bios, the murder is chronicled. Joyce Johnson’s bio, The Voice is All gives a very good account. Also, I lived with Edie Kerouac in winter oand spring of 1985 as a border in her house in Detroit and she mentioned Kammerer many times as a “pest” that no one wanted around.
    The Kerouac/Burroughs collaboration, And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks is a piece of fiction that adresses Kammerer as a dark shadow that creeps in and out of the Beat circle in search of Lucien Carr whom he fatefully succumbed to. The Edie character in the story is just like I remember her. It is worth the read.

  4. I read the Hippos boiled in their tanks. If this Kammerer would behave this way in 2013 he would be considered a predator, pedophile, stalker and would have ended up in jail .Carr was only 14 at the time, and I believe that Carr’s mother could have turned a blind eye to Kammerer. In any case after serving 2 years in jail Carr lived a solid life with a good career and a family. In the end— I believe Kammerer got what he deserved.

  5. I’m doing some informal research into this (which brought me here). According to Bill Morgan (The Typewriter is Holy) the coroner’s report listed Kammerer’s cause of death as drowning. If true, that means he was alive when Carr dumped him in the river. Most accounts say the stabbing happened in Riverside Park, but the park is separated from the Hudson River by the West Side Highway (this was true in the 1940s, too). Since it’s unlikely that Carr dragged Kammerer’s body across the highway, it’s most likely that he stabbed him on the rocks and waste ground between the highway and the river. How did they both come to be over there?

      1. They drank there, at the river’s banks. Kammerer found Carr in the East Park bar late at night and they continued drinking at the river. Both were intoxicated. After the stubbing Lucien panicked and disposed of the body (if Kam. was still alive,or had a chance of surviving is questionable, he was stabbed in the heart). When he started to sober, he turned for help to his friends, but that didn’t turn out very well and resulted in concealing of the evidence.

        His mother did try to protect him from the predator by moving from city to city. The notion of mentioning publicly that her young son had a male sexual predator was probably unthinkable during that time. The New York move was a result of Carr’s attempted suicide, believed to be caused by the Kam.’s staking him. Soon after the last move, Kam. followed Carrs to NY and the tragedy followed some month later.

        There is no question that the young Carr was no saint. He was brilliant and too spirited and too imaginative for his own good, but he was not evil. Evil people don’t turn into a new leaf after 2 years in jail.

        In the 40-is homosexuality was a taboo, usually even in the bohemian circles. Even now it is still a taboo in some circles, a great sin in others and a crime in some legal systems. An attempted rape, even heterosexual rape, is enough to provoke an impulse of self defense strong enough to kill. An attempted rape with such a social stigma has to be a doubly reprehensive, if that is possible. Carr was very strongly heterosexual. Add to that the young age, the high spirit, temperament and the night of drinking – and the result can easily become what happened between Carr and Kammerer.

        I had known Lucien Carr for a few years in his late professional and early retirement life. If he was no saint in his youth, he also lost a lot of himself through that tragic experience and never became who he could have been. I am not sure if that was for the better or for the worst. He was a highly regarded professional, he was brilliant and, even in his subdued self he was still very spirited and made a great impression on the people with whom he interacted, but there was no trace of any aggression in him. I cannot attest to the years of his life that I had not known him.
        Whatever happened, R.I.P. Lucien Carr, as well as your friends.

  6. My thing is if you know this guy is a stalker and he’s following you then why got out for drinks with him? A victim doesn’t go for tea with their rapist so why be friends? And that wasn’t the first time they had hungout. I just think it seems fishy that he would do that with some one he knew was following him from state to state.

  7. Unfortunately, the story that is chronicled over and over is based on very poor research, including this blog post and the Joyce Johnson biography (which is highly suspect in many ways because she couldn’t get permission to publish from the archival materials). The Journal of Beat Studies is publishing a long article (volume 3, 2014)on the young Kammerer, Carr, and Burroughs based on heretofore unpublished letters and other documents. The article support some some extent but also undermines the cannabilized versions that inundate Beat fandom.

  8. It is obvious that the relationship between Lucien Carr & David Kammerer was complicated. I believe that too many people take Lucien Carr’s “honor defense” story as gospel. It certainly kept him from being prosecuted for first degree murder; and it is understandable that he would stick to it. It’s also obvious to all but the most naive that Mr Carr was not totally repulsed by Mr Kammerer’s attention. I certainly don’t spend quality alone time and go for long walks with people who stalk me.

  9. David Kammerer was a scout leader in a group that Lucien Carr attended at the age of 14, and immediately became obsessed with him. Why is anyone defending this creep? We understand a lot more about child predators and how they groom children now, and more importantly, we know about the disastrous emotional effects on children when adults (particular those in any position of authority) betray their trust.

    Any adult that acts on his/her attraction to a 14 year old child, whether by direct sexual assault, flirtation, suggested sexual interplay etc… is a predator. Lots of pedophiles “think” they are in love with their victims. So what? There is no equality between children and adults when it comes to sexual relationships, consummated or otherwise.

    You miss the point by suggesting that Mr. Carr was not entirely repulsed by Kammerer’s attentions. A lot of children (especially boys who don’t have present fathers, as was the case with Carr), become very confused, guilt ridden, shameful, and even emotionally dependent on their adult abusers. Predatory adults are very clever when it comes to sucking in children, and making them believe that their connection is okay, and that it involves ‘love’.

    It is hell for a mature person to be stalked, let alone a child and later a very young man. It is a simple fact that Kammerer turned up to every school and later to every university in which Carr was involved, and yes, no doubt there were complicated feelings! However, under these mixed feelings must have been an intense rage at the level of manipulation this more powerful adult had asserted over him since he was a mere 14 year old boy. It is not a justification for murder, but it certainly explains it.

    One cannot argue that because a child might ‘enjoy’ the attention from an adult, that it makes that child an equal accomplice in the crime of pedophilia. It’s the same argument as Lolita. Yes, she had a sexual power over her predator, but she did not fully understand that power, and she was incredibly abused because of it. Children should experiment with their sexuality with other children. Just because some adults find pubescent boys and girls attractive, does not give them the right to cross that boundary.

    Okay, so maybe one ‘could’ argue that, at 19, Carr was no longer ‘technically’ a child, but he most definitely was one when Kammerer began his ‘infatuation’ with him, and he was therefore left in a very child-like state in terms of the power dynamics of the relationship.

    Besides, I strongly suspect that, just like more than a handful of priests and others in positions of power over children, that Kammerer was engaged in more than a mere mind obsession. Whether or not it was full blown sexual intercourse, I’m sure he talked Carr into some level of sexual ‘play’ as a child, and this is what I believe drove Carr to murder him.

    Of course, that’s just my theory, but come on…. Does anyone really believe that this adult would follow him everywhere simply due to an infatuation? Does anyone believe he’d write his essays without expecting favours in return? That’s WHY he was writing the essays, because he received sexual services as payment. Kammerer was a creep- like any adult that engages with children in anything other than a normal, affectionate manner, with the feelings of genuine protection that adults ought to show and feel towards children.

    It is the ERA that prevented any of these people from telling the entire truth about the ‘affair’. It would have stopped Carr from going into details as well. Predators cause children to suffer shame, and blame themselves… and it was nothing like 2013, where everything is up for discussion and therapy and a where the law is immediately on the side of the younger person in relationships that involve power imbalances.

    I can’t understand why this film is not being viewed for what it is, which, amongst many other things, is a film about a child sexual predator and the effect that has on children. I think Carr’s suicide attempt was also connected to Kammerer’s stalking and sexual abuse and/or harassment. Carr’s mother was right about Kammerer. If this was set today, everyone would instantly agree with her, but for some odd reason, the extent of Kammerer’s selfish and abusive actions are getting muddied up with the fact that Carr was a beautiful looking, manipulate young man. So what? You could say the same for many five year olds! He was just a confused kid who should have been left to work it all out with his peers. A man 15 years older than him had no right to play with his body or his psyche in any way.

    1. Your post is interesting and you do make some valid points. But it’s a well known fact that the absurdly overrated ‘Beats’ had ocassional sex with other men on numerous ocassions. And that includes Jack Kerouac. And it was the fact that those relationships were considered controversial at best, that appealed to them. David Kammerer may well have been creepily obsessed, but it seems absurd to think that he would continue his tireless pursuit of Lucien Carr over such a long period if he wasn’t getting what he wanted from him. Even ocassionally. I believe that in this case, the sexually confused Carr killed Kammerer because he was at some point attracted to him, and consumed with guilt. And at no point in the film did I feel that Kammerer was depicted as a tragic hero.To me he was just another member of a group of self absorbed, tiresome intellectuals with dubious talents,who played with fire and got burned.

  10. Although I did not have the privilege of knowing any of the major players in this story, I have read Kerouac extensively as well as the many biographies. I also know something about 1940s mores and attitudes about pedophilia and rape and homosexuality and stalking. In those days, people rarely, if ever went to the authorities. They chose to deal with these things by themselves, hence Lucien’s mother moving him from school to school, etc. This was quite normal way of doing things. I don’t think there was any thought of people mistaking her son for a homosexual or shame in that light. These things were taboo and also family matters were regarded as highly private. The idea of ‘innocence’ and guilt in this story may be blurred. Was Lucien a willing participant, meaning did he encourage or do nothing regarding Kammerer’s advances/feelings? Lucien was as a youth (so it had been written) rather narcissistic, self indulgent, albeit brilliant and enigmatic. He could, as we say today, ‘work it’ to get what he wanted. He also had a bit of a cruel streak in him and used Kammerer’s pathetic actions as the butt of public jokes. Burroughs himself attested both in fiction and fact that he would try to dissuade Kammerer from stalking Lucien, telling him that the boy would have none of it, that he was wasting his time, that there were plenty of fish in the sea who would comply. As far as Kill Your Darlings was concerned, if they had changed the names and made it a tragic love story with muddied psychological overtones purely from fiction it would have played better for me. I was highly offended at the exclusion of Cessa Carr as well as the portrayal of Kammerer as a tragic hero falling on the knife, sacrificing himself so that Lucien could go on being the enigmatic enfant terrible and catalyst of the beat generation. Pure bullshit. It was a sad sad story because someone had to die, because homosexuality was looked upon as such a deviance, and because Lucien Carr was in a sense killed too and never lived out his true potential.

  11. It was a complicated relationship. One thing that is never mentioned is that David Kammerer tried, at least once, to terminate his obsessive relationship with Lucien Carr, but that Carr would have none of it. For a completely different look at what was going on read Patricia Healy’s 1976 letter to New York Magazine in reply to the Columbia Murder article. Here:

    about 2/3 of the way down the page.

  12. By the way, I ordered Kammerer’s death certificate from the NYC arcives. It arrived on Saturday. It shows that he died of the stab wounds. He didn’t drown.

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