Murdered Hasidic Millionaire Menachem Stark Mourned by Overflow Funeral Crowd
An overflow crowd of hundreds of Hasidic Jews gathered Saturday night at an emotional Brooklyn funeral for murdered millionaire real estate developer Menachem Stark.
Grief-stricken speakers at the Lodiner Bais Medrash synagogue in Williamsburg recalled Stark, whose charred corpse was found in a Long Island dumpster, as a generous figure who was always quick to help the less fortunate in the Satmar Hasidic community.
Wailing mourners interrupted the speakers, who addressed a swelling crowd of hundreds gathered outside in frigid cold on Marcy Avenue.
“You know they burned him and left him in the trash,” one young boy told his father in Yiddish before the start of the funeral.
“Horrible,” the father exclaimed. “Don’t tell your sisters.”
The funeral took place in accordance with Orthodox custom just hours after Stark’s burnt body was returned to his family by authorities.
Stark, 39, a father of eight, was abducted and bundled into a van as he left his real estate office just before midnight on Thursday, at the height of a blizzard that slammed the city.
The owner of a gas station discovered his smoldering body in a garbage dumpster Friday afternoon. Authorities identified it as Stark Saturday morning.
Police quickly focused on Stark’s murky role in a string of real estate deals gone bad. His name appears in several multimillion dollar legal disputes — and tenants slammed him on online forums as a heartless slumlord.
At the funeral, speakers recalled a generous man who had an open door to the community. The first speaker at the funeral emphasized Stark’s charity, his willingness to give people money for food, for rent, to help out anyone in the community.
A second speaker indicated that he had known Stark for many years and emphasized Stark’s funding of charities and educational institutions.
Several blocks of Hooper Street and Marcy Avenue were blocked off for the rite, which came at a time that families would normally be busy after Shabbat ended.
Microphones were placed on a small bench outside to allow mourners to hear the speakers.
At first, the crowd was fairly small but it kept growing during the early part of the funeral to several hundred people gathered on the street and packed onto stoops.
Children watched from inside barred windows across the street looking down on the crowds below. Cars continued parking blocks from the event as people rushed to get to the funeral, women and men splitting up to get to their gender-segregated sides of the crowd.
Stark was expected to be buried after the funeral.
City Council Member Stephen Levin said in a statement: “My deepest condolences go to the family of Menachem Stark and the Williamsburg community.”
Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, said the entire community was mourning Stark’s death.
“We are saddened and dumbfounded how people can commit such heinous crimes against anyone, but especially against such a generous person who wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Niederman said.
Even as the family and neighborhood began to mourn, the tangled investigation into Stark’s murder was just starting.
Investigators were still probing what might have happened after video surveillance cameras showed Stark, who reportedly had $4,000 on him, being attacked as he left his real estate office on Rutledge Street, just a stone’s throw from a police precincthouse at 11:30 p.m. Thursday as winter storm Hercules pounded the city.
At least two men subdued him, bound him with duct tape and tossed him in a light-colored van.
The search got off to a halting start when his wife first called the Shomrim Jewish security to report him missing — and it took the group some time to call police, according to published reports. The Forward has reported that such delays have been a source of friction between the two organizations in the past.
Stark’s family pleaded with the community for help on Friday — and promised a $100,000 reward for information. As Shabbat arrived, they also asked Jews to pray for Stark, who reportedly maintained close ties to rabbis on both sides of the bitter split within the Satmar community.
The break in the case came Friday when gas station owner Fernando Cerff smelled something in the dumpster outside his Great Neck Getty station.
“There was a smell — it was horrible,” gas station owner Fernando Cerff told the Daily News. “I got a really bad feeling about it. I knew something was wrong by the smell. It was just too strong. So I called the cops.”
Newsday reported the body was badly burned. The Post said Stark died of suffocation and it is not clear if he was set on fire before or after his death.
Although his family described him as a well-liked developer, Stark has a string of bad real estate deals in his past and is panned by tenants as a shady slumlord.
Even his brother conceded that he may have had enemies among former or current business partners or others.
Detectives will now pick through the details of those deals to see if any spawned enough bad blood to make someone want to kill Stark.