David Kammerer's death became one of the gruesome historical milestones in the history of the Beat Generation. He was stabbed to death with a Boy Scout knife by his friend Lucien Carr on the night of August 13, 1944. The tragedy took place in New York City's Riverside Park. After fatally stabbing Kammerer twice, Carr disposed of the corpse by weighting it down with rocks and pushing it into the Hudson River. Later the next day, with the help of his Columbia University friend, Jack Kerouac, Carr disposed of the knife down a sewer and buried Kammerer's eyeglasses in Morningside Park.

As to the reasons Carr killed Kammerer, well, we only have Carr's version of events since there were no other witnesses. His story related and repeated to the police in a confession was also reported in the New York Times. According to Carr, Kammerer had made unwanted sexual advances.

The relationship between the 33-year-old Kammerer and the 19-year-old Carr had begun five years earlier in St. Louis when Kammerer led a group of Boy Scouts on Saturday nature walks. Kammerer became infatuated with the young Boy Scout Carr. When Carr went to New York to attend Columbia, Kammerer followed. In New York, Kammerer lived near another St. Louis friend, William Burroughs, who also knew Carr. As part of this St. Louis contingent, Kammerer became associated with the early members of the Beat Generation such as Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Herbert Huncke.

On the night of Kammerer's death, Carr was drinking at the West End Bar with his friends including Kerouac and Ginsberg. Kammerer went to the bar to see Carr and they left together somewhere between 2 and 3 in the early morning. That was the last time anyone saw David Kammerer alive. After disposing the body in the river Carr went to Burroughs' apartment. Burroughs advised Carr to get a lawyer and turn himself in to the police. Instead Carr went to see Jack Kerouac who was sleeping with Edie Parker at her apartment (shared with Joan Vollmer) on the upper West Side. Kerouac and Carr then spent the next day disposing of the knife and walking about New York. On the following day Carr turned himself in to the police.

A story in the New York Times on August 17 outlined the details of the homicide. Carr had confessed to the deed and aided the police in the recovery of Kammerer's "bound and stabbed body" from the "murky waters" of the river. On August 19 Carr was arraigned in homicide court. Magistrate Anna Kross ordered Carr held without bail. In September Carr pleaded "guilty" to a manslaughter charge and in October he was given the relatively light sentence of 2 years detention at the Elmira Reformatory.

Both Burroughs and Kerouac were detained as material witnesses to the crime. While Burroughs was bailed out quickly, Kerouac's very disappointed father left him to languish in jail. Kerouac eventually was released when he got married to Edie Parker, who's family provided the bail money.

Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg all wrote about this tragedy. Kerouac and Burroughs collaborated together to write And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks (1945). The book remains unpublished although a chapter written by Burroughs has been published in Word Virus. Ginsberg attempted a fictionalized account of the event as a project for his creative writing class at Columbia. However, since the entire event represented nothing but bad publicity for Columbia Ginsberg was admonished not to write about the event anymore. The unpublished manuscript is now in the Columbia University archives.

Kerouac attempted at least two additional renditions of the event. In his first novel The Town and the City (1950) Kammerer's death is made a suicide, presumably to protect Carr who did not want or need further publicity. Kerouac wrote again about Kammerer's death in Vanity of Duluoz (1967). In that novel the characters Franz Mueller and Claude de Maubris represent Kammerer and Carr respectively. Ironically, in the book Kerouac has Franz save Claude from a suicide attempt.

It has been suggested by Paul Collins, in "Fiction, Fact & Jack Kerouac" that the relatively light sentence Carr received for the murder was due to the fact that his defense stressed that Kammerer was homosexual. This was a theme the media picked up on and emphasized. Kammerer's murder became an "honor killing" committed by Carr to protect himself from unwanted sexual advances. At least that's Lucien Carr's story, and understandably, he's sticking to it.

Kammerer holds an important place in the early history of the Beat Generation. He was the link between Burroughs and Carr. He was perhaps the first victim of the "new vision." Like the later tragic and premature deaths of Bill Cannastra, Joan (Vollmer) Burroughs, Natalie Jackson and Elise Cowen, Kammerer's death helped contribute to the perception that the Beats were a lawless group of anti-social psychopaths.

David Kammerer at the Cosmic Baseball Association

Kammerer is a rookie.

Kammerer was drafted from the League of St. Louis where he earned a reputation for control pitching in pressure situations. Beat Manager Robert Kelly indicates he will start Kammerer off in the bullpen for the 2000 Season.

  • Kammerer was the Dharma Beats' number one pick in the 1999 Rookie Draft

David Kammerer Links

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David Kammerer Season 2000 Plate
URL: http://worldzone.net/arts/cba/kammerer0.html
Published: April 1, 2000