Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A particularly intelligent malignant narcissist

Peter Braunstein: Guilty.

New York City’s fake firefighter rapist has been found guilty of his crimes. Peter Braunstein, a former fashion writer and playwright, was convicted on May 23, 2007 of kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and sexual abuse. Ten charges in all. To Braunstein’s mental illness defense, the jury said, “sure, dude, whatever. Guilty.”

Braunstein was wearing FDNY garb acquired via the Internet when he entered an apartment building the night of October 31, 2005. Braunstein set off a smoke bomb and covered his face with a visor, talked his way into the apartment of a former female co-worker. Once inside, he knocked the woman out and tied her up. For the next 13 hours, Peter Braunstein made his victim’s life a living hell.
Then he vanished, for a while.

At my original crime blog,, I had an entire archive of entries about Peter Braunstein, most of them written while the man was on the lam. The first link takes you to an capture of the original category. Those entries were also carried over when I created Huff’s Crime Blog.

The notice received by my blog entries and an article I wrote for the Crime Library ended up seeing me me on a plane to New York for a guest appearance on Dateline NBC, where I discussed what I’d uncovered. That appearance also earned me the sobriquet “the Singing Journalist.” I objected to the label at first, then I decided to embrace it.

I didn’t follow the Braunstein saga too closely after his arrest. For one thing, it was quite a while before Peter went to trial. For another, I realized that Peter Braunstein had achieved the recognition he obviously craved. His course was consciously chosen. He’d set out to become something of a legendary psycho, a la Andrew Cunanan, and he’d very nearly succeeded. I didn’t like the idea that I might add any more to that bizarre need he had for infamy.

Court TV has published excerpts from a diary Braunstein wrote while he was on the run from the law in late 2005. There you can get an interesting look inside the mind of a particularly intelligent malignant narcissist, his peculiar obsessions and motivations.

What’s most interesting to note, though, is how the overall gestalt of Peter Braunstein’s writing did not really change.

Braunstein was obsessed with Andy Warhol and the relationship Warhol had with heiress Edie Sedgwick. He wrote a play about the pair, titled Andy and Edie. To promote the play, Braunstein created*/

For no reason other than further his obsession with an ex, Peter Braunstein created blog-like pages attached to the site, and some of what he wrote there seems to foreshadow what was written in the excerpts published by Court TV.

Here’s an excerpt from “Startling Revelation: How I Became Edie Sedgwick As a Result of My Two Years of Emotional Starvation with the Dreaded ‘BioHazard’,” written and posted online by Peter Braunstein in 2004:

"It’s almost unbearably paradoxical, but the sad fact of the matter is that pleasant relationships are not always a balm for creativity. For most of the Nineties I was cozily ensconced in a loving, emotionally nourishing relationship with a ravishingly beautiful woman, and I was semi-productive on a literary level: that’s when I first got into journalism, began writing for the Voice, started making a name for myself. But it took the hard breakup of that union after 9 years, when I left that woman for a really bad relationship, that my creative life went full-throttle-over-the-edge-magnificent. It’s the nasty truth of how art is created: through a crucible of pain, suffocating neglect, paranoia, and malice that wrecks some spirits - but propels others to astounding heights…"

While on the run in December, 2005, Braunstein was working the same territory in his mind:

"Some days i want to call it quits, never by giving up but by doing something so heedless that it will trigger the massive gunfight w/cops & my immediate death, but then i read something like new york mag cover story and i’m just filled with resolve & determination all over again. That has been the most ambitious attempt so for to retrofit my entire pre-biohazard life into some deterministic countdown to depravity. Forget the fact that for 9 years with debra, a supportive girl with a soul, i sort of thrived and never considered even considered criminality while one i met larkworthy my whole life became about cops and mental institutions…"

As a writer, I wanted to find something interesting in Braunstein’s own words. I have a feeling a lot of people with similar professions felt that way when they read about the man.

But he was, in the end, a perpetually angry sociopath who was bent on blaming others for his problems.

Peter Braunstein may have been able to do some decent writing, muster some wit here and there — but that was all that distinguished him from a million other violent, sexually aggressive men.

Braunstein’s state-mandated punishment is about to begin. The media, and society, could add a rider to his sentence if they decided he just wasn’t worth talking about anymore.

Obscurity, for an ego as huge as Braunstein’s, would sting just as much as confinement.