Content Warning: This article includes descriptions of violence.
The desire for looks back at crimes of the past has never been stronger, so it was only a matter of time before the case of Robert Chambers, also known as the “preppy murderer,” who was convicted in 1986 of murdering Jennifer Levin in Central Park, made it to TV. The case drew extensive media attention, and now, a new docuseries on AMC sheds light on media coverage of the trial (it was involved extensive victim shaming), the trial itself, and where Chambers is now, after his first jail sentence.
On August 26, 1986, per PEOPLE, the body of Jennifer Levin was found, strangled and half-naked, in an area of Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. It wasn’t long before Robert Chambers, a then-20-year-old former prep school kid who was dating Levin, was being interrogated by police for the crime. The two had been dating, and Levin and Chambers were seen together at a nearby bar. Per PEOPLE, Chambers was covered in scratches and bruises after Levin’s body was found — he attributed them first to his cat, then later, on a particularly brutal session of rough sex with Levin. She wanted to have rough sex, he claimed, and she only died when he pushed her off of him.
Arraigned on second-degree murder charges. Chambers’ case went to trial, where his lawyer, Jack Litman, according to Good Housekeeping, concocted a defense strategy that made Levin look promiscuous and lacking in character. He said she kept a sex diary and argued that her sexual history was admissible as part of the trial, and the newspapers lapped it up, with headlines like “How Jennifer Courted Death” in the New York Daily News. Chambers, who was granted release on bail during the trial, further angered the public when a videotape of him twisting off the head of a Barbie doll and saying, “Oops, I think I killed her” was surfaced during the trial. The jury was deadlocked for nine days in deliberations, and ultimately, Chambers struck a deal with prosecutors, per the New York Times, for a lesser charge of manslaughter in the first degree and 15 years in prison.
Chambers got out of jail in 2003 after serving the maximum term for the murder, but it wasn’t long until he found himself in trouble again — in November 2004, according to the New York Times, Chambers was arrested again after driving with a suspended license. Police also found trace amounts of heroin and cocaine in his car. He was sentenced to 100 days in prison. In 2007, Chambers was arrested yet again on charges of selling cocaine out of his apartment — per the New York Times, police had been investigating Chambers and his companion, Shawn Kovell, for months before making the arrests. After pleading guilty to the charges, Chambers was sentenced in 2008 to another 19 years in prison. He is currently serving his time at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in upstate New York, and the earliest possible date for his release isn't until 2024.
Chambers' trial may have seemed like a cut-and-dry murder case, but the level of sexism present in his trial was notable, given the fact that Chambers' lawyers did everything they could to make Levin seem like a deviant and form the narrative that she somehow deserved what she got with Chambers.
The new AMC docuseries explores this horrific double-standard, and hopefully Levin's friends and family can speak to the woman they knew without having her name dragged through the mud yet again. Her story deserves to be heard, and while it took 33 years to tell it, it's about time.