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Local Legends | The Monkey Thief

The MonkeyThief Photo illustration by Tim Milk

Today The Local begins a recurring feature in which East Village historian Tim Milk takes a look at some neighborhood legends.

The spate of apartment break-ins that has gripped the East Village lately prompts me, by dint of experience, to say what I know by instinct is true: that we have been lulled into a collective stupor, and have become dizzy with the misconception that New York is safe.

Now, wait, let’s look at the term and what we expect of it. Safe is what we always want to feel, outside of our homes as well as in – calm and assured that we dwell in a world free of danger. But let me make one thing clear: I know my history, and I’ve been around the block. New York has always had crime. Our homes are always at risk.

Take the case, for example, of the Master Monkey Thief of the East Village.

When I first came here in 1979, urban myth had it that the police were hopelessly baffled by a series of burglaries. Back in those days, most people had these steel window gates that retracted accordion-style in a diamond-shaped pattern. The protection they offered, compared to modern gates, was minimal. The space between diamonds was perhaps eight inches, big enough to allow some nefarious stranger’s arm to reach inside. Horrors! They were also easily twisted apart by strong guys with crowbars. But as long as those old rattling gates held fast, the evil was kept outside.
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