The shocking murder of Menachem “Max” Stark over the weekend has sparked controversy and outrage across New York, some over the brutal manner in which it was done, some for the brutal manner in which it has been covered.
Stark was kidnapped outside his real estate office on Thursday by two men who drove away with him in a silver minivan. The Brooklyn-based real estate developer was later found murdered and burned in a Long Island gas station dumpster on Friday afternoon.
As Reddit commenter Oldmanshoutingatsky explained on a forum page about the murder, the crime was well-timed. The kidnapping was done the night going into Shabbos, a traditional Jewish day of rest when followers turn off cell phones, refrain from work, and generally remain out of reach. It was also the night Winter Storm Hercules pounded New York with snow. Response time couldn’t be slower.
While police are still investigating the murder, the New York Post quite callously called out a list of reasons for why Stark could have been targeted, most notably for his reputation as a "slumlord." “Any number of people wanted to kill this guy,” a law-enforcement source told the Post. Although never the paper to apologize, the Post has received considerable backlash for their trademark blend of edgy commentary and attention-grabbing headlines.
Stark was given a funeral hours after his body was discovered and returned to the city. According to the Jewish newspaper Forward, hundreds of Hasidic Jews gathered on Marcy Avenue in the frigid cold to pay tribute to Stark as speakers remembered him as a “generous figure who was always quick to help the less fortunate in the Satmar Hasidic community.”
According to the New York Times, Stark and his wife were known to lend money to community members in need, donate to charity, and frequently hold parties to raise money for various causes. They have seven children, the oldest is 16.
As family and community members deeply mourn Stark, others continue to make their less-than-favorable opinions of the Williamsburg landlord known. Accusations and evidence of Stark’s disreputable business practices have boiled up across the Internet via investigative work and anecdotal commentary from communities like Reddit.
Stark and his business were sued multiple times for defaulting on loans, and were accused of making money by foreclosing on loans to allow partners to buy properties for cheap. They also declared bankruptcy, and were accused by tenants of stealing money and ignoring tenant emergencies. Among other things, Stark was called a “slumlord” who swindled millions through his business deals.
Whether or not he actually made “millions” has yet to be seen, but plenty of online evidence suggests Stark’s company neglected their tenants and properties. Yelp reviews for Stark’s company were all negative and in some cases downright inflammatory and hateful. In some cases the discourse has unfortunately taken into account Stark’s Jewish faith. As with any open forum, be it Yelp or Facebook, these select comments may not accurately portray Stark as a person or landlord.
Hasidic communities in New York are notoriously insular, police have historically had a hard time investigating matters within them, one has to wonder if this will factor into the investigation. As the investigation and media storm play out, regardless of how exactly it does, New Yorkers can expect to hear plenty about Stark’s unusual case in the coming weeks.