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Scene of grisly mob slaying has haunted past

October 12, 2008 3:31:59 PM PDT
It is a fitting backdrop for a ghost story: An old mansion on a secluded hilltop sits empty, save for a caretaker who lives in an upstairs quarters. A no-trespassing sign is staked near the locked metal gates, and the stately grounds are covered in thistles.Over the years, visitors to the Victorian-style home told of strange happenings, odd clanging noises and weeping sounds that emanate from the walls late at night, supposedly conjured by the spirits of people who died on the land long ago.

But the most ghastly tale surrounding the home happens to be a true story: Two years ago, federal investigators discovered that the Kreischer mansion had become a mafia slaying site.

Then-caretaker Joseph Young was charged with luring Robert McKelvey to the deserted grounds in April 2005, then stabbing, strangling and drowning the man before sawing the body to pieces and tossing them into the furnace. Young, who was reportedly paid $8,000 for the killing by a reputed member of the Bonnano crime family, is in federal prison and is set to go on trial Tuesday on several charges, including murder. The mobster pleaded guilty in August to ordering McKelvey's hit, allegedly over a debt.

Investigators think the grounds may still hold mysteries. FBI officials returned to the mansion this summer to search for additional bodies, though none have been found. Historians say the lore of the home on Arthur Kill Road has fascinated residents even before the details emerged about the slaying.

"Staten Island is an old community, full of history, but everyone is always interested in this house," said Tina Kaasmann-Dunn of the nearby Tottenville Historical Society. "They always want to know if the ghost stories are true."

Dozens of tales are told: You can hear scratching noises near a closet where children were supposedly kept when they were bad. It was also said to be haunted by a man and a woman, with ghosts appearing and doors slamming. Legend has it that a cook who killed himself in the kitchen haunts the halls.

The history of the mansion, though, is a bit less spooky.

Around 1885, a prosperous German bricklayer named Balthasar Kreischer built mirror-image homes for his sons on the hilltop - one later burned in the 1930s and the remaining home is now known as the Kreischer mansion.

The sons, Edward and Charles, lived side-by-side and worked at the family brick factory - one of the city's best-known businesses at the time.

The Kreischer brick company was so large that as a community of factory workers grew around the family business, the entire area became known as Kriescherville.

But good fortune didn't last. Balthasar Kreischer died in 1886, his large body transported on a block of ice by horse-drawn carriage to a Brooklyn cemetery. A few years later, the brick factory burned to the ground and was rebuilt, though business suffered.

Then, in 1894, Edward Kreischer shot himself in the head at the factory, reportedly because of trouble with employees. His weeping, distraught wife is among the ghosts people claim to hear at the mansion, even though theirs was one that burned down.

By 1899, the final member of the family had retired and the once-thriving business passed out of the family and eventually closed. During World War I, when just about anything German became taboo, the name of the neighborhood was changed to Charleston, and most traces of the family disappeared, including large stone tablets at a nearby church that publicly thanked Kreischers for their work in the community.

The mansion and a few of the worker's homes are all that remain.

After passing hands over the years, the mansion became a restaurant and eventually fell into disrepair until it was purchased about a decade ago by Ohio developer Isaac Yomtovian.

Yomtovian has taken great care in restoring the home from a dilapidated white monstrosity to a stately, colorful Victorian, similar to what it looked like when it was designated a landmark in 1968.

"The picturesque quality of this architectural fantasy evokes memories of Mississippi river boats," the 1968 report said.

Yomtovian said people often come to him with color photos of supposed ghosts, and regale him with tales of things that go bump in the night.

"Precisely because of that, I thought, it's a good idea to renovate and preserve and bring back this house to its original shape," he said. "We will keep this history and uniqueness. If these stories are true, let them be true. The main goal is to preserve this historical home."

He planned to create housing for seniors in the acres around the home and use the mansion as a clubhouse. But he's been unable to secure funding for the senior center, even before the grisly 2006 mob discovery. Yomtovian said he's also tossing around the idea of making the home an antique shop, and eventually wants to turn it over to the city as a museum.

"In my opinion, it's a beautiful place to have a home," he said.

Yomtovian said he's had no problems with the new caretaker, and he is complying with every request by the federal authorities to search the home.

For now, the home remains empty. As Halloween approaches, gawkers will likely flock to the street outside the home to try and catch a glimpse of something creepy.

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