U.S.A.

True confessions

RITA CHRISTOPHER June 15 1981
U.S.A.

True confessions

RITA CHRISTOPHER June 15 1981

True confessions

RITA CHRISTOPHER

When 31-year-old violinist Helen Hagnes left the orchestra pit during a performance of the Berlin Ballet in New York’s Metropolitan Opera House last summer, she told colleagues that she wanted to have a private chat with star dancer Valery Panov. Hagnes, a native of Aldergrove, B.C., hoped Panov could help her husband, Jan Mintiks, an aspiring sculptor. Hagnes never reached Panov’s dressing room. Nor did she return to her place in the orchestra after the intermission. The following day police discovered the violinist’s body resting on a ledge halfway down a six-storey ventilation shaft.

Last week Craig Crimmins, a 22-yearold stagehand, was convicted of her murder. Under police interrogation, Crimmins had admitted that he met Hagnes on an elevator and made a remark that led her to slap his face. He then confessed to trapping the violinist in a stairwell, attempting to rape her and finally forcing her to the Opera House roof where he stripped and bound her. “As I was walking away I heard her bouncing up and down,” Crimmins said. “That’s when it happened. I went back and kicked her off.” Hagnes died from skull fractures suffered in the nine-metre fall.

Despite such wealth of gory detail, Crimmins’ lawyer, Lawrence Hochheiser, labelled his statement a “phoney confession.” Hochheiser claimed that Crimmins, a high-school dropout described as somewhat retarded, had been manipulated into confessing by tough police interrogators. Indeed, a videotape of his confession shown during the trial consisted primarily of police reading back Crimmins’ statements to him while the stagehand indistinctly confirmed he had made them.

However, prosecutor Roger Hayes established that during psychiatric testing arranged by his own lawyers, Crimmins had used some of the very same language he had employed in confessing to the police. In addition, Hayes pointed to a strong train of circumstantial evidence: Crimmins’ palm print found on the Opera House roof, the admission of a fellow stagehand that the suspect had asked him to provide an alibi for the night of the murder and the fact that the knot binding Hagnes’ body was a clove hitch—a knot commonly used by Metropolitan stagehands. Crimmins, who will be sentenced next month, faces from 15 years to life in prison. For Jan Mintiks, the knowledge that his wife’s killer had been convicted brought little satisfaction. “Everything is over,” said the bereaved Mintiks. “I haven’t had a comment since and I don’t have one now.”