Chapter 11 - Rafio's murder

The reports of my death were premature - Life #3 ends
A good deed pays off with another half century of life

Although no one ever really knows another person's motivation, I think it's safe to assume that my refusal to evict the old super to make room for more customers led to my partner and I splitting. That was made painfully clear about a week or so after our examination of the super's apartment behind our coffeehouse when that same local thug named Gazoot who tried to sell me those candles when we were opening came into Café Rafio saying Sol had sent him.

Gazoot proceeded to beat the crap out of me, and literally threw me out of my own café.

A bearded hanger-on Von Ehmsen, whom I hate to admit bears a strong resemblance to me at age 29, was hired by Sol Joseph, my ex-partner to imitate me. That's me around the same time below.

My wife Pat ran out into Bleeker Street screaming for the local policeman who had disappeared as if on cue the moment Gazoot showed up.

In that neigborhood, the mob was the only real law back then.

A widow before she was a mother?

Patricia was eight months pregnant at the time with our first son, and I figured it was probably as good a time as any to move on so she wouldn't become a widow before she became a mother. One thing was sure - I wasn't about to try to fight the mob by myself.

The Village was a little like high school - a couple years of it is enough, and it was time for Pat and me to graduate

We packed up our kit and caboodle and moved to a small, basement appartment in  the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where within a few weeks I was rushing Pat to the French Hospital in Lower Manhattan to whelp our first born son Todd.

As it turns out, I really did save my life by the move because my replacement was murdered within a year.

By then I had shaved off my beard and mustache and got a job at the New York Post which in 1962 was the most liberal newspaper of the eight daily newspapers still published daily in New York City.

With me out of the picture, my ex-partner, Sol, needed someone who at least looked something like me to masquerade as Rafio after my swift departure from the scene.

Every artistic environment has its groupies, and the small Beat movement was no different. In addition to the real poets, artists and writers, we harbored many jackals who hung around the herd looking for leftovers when the countless young adorning females descended upon the village every weekend.

Rafio dies at 12:20 am, or did he?

One such jackal was a tall, bearded hanger-on named Von Ehmsen whom I hate to admit bears a strong resemblance to me at age 29. Nobody ever saw anything Von wrote, but he was a colorful bearded wannabe who was a Beatnik from Central Casting.

Sol, a dapper, black-suited wiseguy, needed a "Rafio" to front for him, so he hired Von Ehmsen to play me, and soon the two of them made a second tour of super Simone Pepe's small apartment behind the café.

Apparently my impersonator Ehmsen had less heart than I, and the second time around he and Sol served the super with an eviction notice.

Today the former site of Cafe Rafio at 165 Bleecker Street is a Chinese restauarnt. That's Pat and our two grandchildren standing in front this past summer.

But unbeknown to them the old man had a plan of his own.

Since he had little else, Von Ehmsen had a Doberman Pincer which he took for a do-do run after closing the coffeehouse each night after 1am. A few nights after the eviction notice was served, the 73 year-old super Pepe accosted Von Ehmsen and his dog, and again begged to be left alone.

Neither history nor the police reports recorded the ersatz Rafio's reply, but knowing the man well, I always assumed it was something along the lines of "get the hell away from me old man."

Whereupon the super Simone Pepe pulled out a very old .32 caliber revolver and shot Rafio dead.

I read about his death during a coffee break while working at the New York Post when I was doing the NY Times crossword puzzle.

I guess it pays to be a half decent human being... the real Rafio is alive and well and living on Cape Cod.

But that didn't prevent me from almost being murdered a second time - that's in Chapter 12.

Here's the actual story in The Village Voice, April 4, 1963, Vol. VIII, No. 24

Elderly Evictee Shoots Bleecker St. Cafe Owner

By J. R. Goddard

The life of Ronald Van Ehmsen, a bearded, flowing-haired 31-year-old Villager locally famous for his resemblance to Christ, ended last Saturday in a manner worth of the most violent passages in the Bible. He was shot by an elderly man facing eviction to make way for the enlargement of Von Ehmsen's beat-ambiance coffee house.

Pepe then pulled out a .32 caliber revolver and shot the coffeehouse owner three times.

Simone Pepe, 73, the occupant of the premises behind Von Ehmsen's Cafe Rafio, 165 Bleecker Street, was arrested for the crime on Saturday evening. Taken to the Charles Street (Village) precinct house, he readily confessed.

The shooting occurred at 12:20 Saturday afternoon. Von Ehmsen was walking his dog near his cafe when Pepe approached him. According to witnesses, Pepe showed him an eviction notice which had been sent preparatory to enlarging the Rafio. The two men apparently argued, and Von Ehmsen finally turned away. Pepe, it was reported, then pulled out a .32 caliber revolver and shot the coffee-house owner three times. Von Ehmsen stumbled down Bleecker Street where he collapsed and died in front of a liquor store. Pepe quietly left the scene to take a train to his daughter's home in Long Island.

Von Ehmsen often displayed a picture of himself in the Rafio window looking like the common pictorial representation of Christ.

Ironically, only moments after the shooting of the Biblical Von Ehmsen, a man on a motor scooter drove by carrying a giant cross. About the same time local police cordoned off the area and found Pepe's eviction notice lying on the sidewalk. Detectives promptly traced Pepe to his daughter's home and arrested him. The elderly and allegedly ailing Pepe is scheduled to appear in court on April 15.

Since taking over the Rafio a few years ago, Von Ehmsen had become something of a legend in the Village. He often displayed a picture of himself in the Rafio window looking like the common pictorial representation of Christ. A later picture, however, contradicted this Messianic image. It showed Von Ehmsen, or "Von" as he was often called, driving down Bleecker Street in a bed on wheels ogling a sexy girl. Von Ehmsen's success with women was another part of the legend, which also included ownership of a weird variety of sports cars, old limousines, motor scooters, and the like. No matter what MacDougal Street thought about the exhibitionistic Von Ehmsen, most had to admit he had a weirdly amusing sense of style.

"What can you expect when you've got the worst creeps in New York hanging out here now?"

Because of his reputation, many among the huge springtime crowd surging onto Bleecker and MacDougal Streets on Saturday night knew of his death. Clumps of curious people peered into the closed Rafio, and many made wisecracks about the "beatnik killing." Some locals were also overheard singing a hastily written and ribald ballad, sung to the tune of "Mack the Knife," which recounted the violent demise.

Von Ehmsen's death was the second homicide in the controversial and highly commercialized coffee house district last week. On Thursday evening Thomas McNear was stabbed to death by Eugene "Teeno" Smith on Sixth Avenue near Minetta Lane. And on Friday evening police answering another fight call in the area cooled a near rumble at Bleecker and MacDougal Streets. One Villager living nearby shrugged his shoulders when it was all over and laughed. "Well, it's warm weather fight time again." Then he added with much less humor, "What can you expect when you've got the worst creeps in New York hanging out here now?" welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on