You’ve heard probably too much about Harvey Weinstein.
But wait. On “Torn From the Headlines: New York Post Reports,” a new, six-episode true-crime series on Investigation Discovery, you’ll meet another Harvey Weinstein. Like the disgraced movie mogul, currently serving a 23-year jail sentence for rape, this Weinstein also made the front page, on Aug. 18, 1993. The headline read: My Days in Hell: Kidnap victim tells The Post how he survived 2 weeks buried alive.
Weinstein, the so-called “Tuxedo King” of clothing manufacturers, was kidnapped after eating breakfast at the Mark Twain diner in Queens on Aug. 4, 1993. He was dumped in a hole in a wooded area and the hole was covered with a metal plate. When Weinstein did not show for a meeting at his Lord West menswear company, also in Queens, his colleagues became suspicious and phoned Weinstein’s family.
New York Post reporter Larry Celona, stationed at the police shack in downtown Manhattan, got a tip that a kidnapping had taken place and went in to the Major Case department at police headquarters to talk to detectives. One look at their faces told Celona he was onto something.
“They went white,” Celona tells The Post. “They were trying to keep it secret. They were afraid this guy could get killed. Little by little, I found out who it was. He was a legitimate businessman. That name did not mean what it means today.”
Weinstein’s captors were demanding $3 million in ransom and were stopping by the hole where Weinstein was being held to give him water and occasional pieces of fruit.
Weinstein, then 68, had been kidnapped for six days by the time Celona told his editors at the paper what was going on. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly promised The New York Post the exclusive on the kidnapping — and hopeful rescue — if the editors promised to sit on the story.
“You hear those promises all the time, then you get screwed,” Celona says.
With the major events of the case happening nearly 30 years ago, “Torn From the Headlines” uses actors to re-enact the turning points in the story, including Weinstein’s dramatic rescue.
Once police captured Fermin Rodriguez, Weinstein’s kidnapper and a sewing machine operator at Lord West, they wasted no time heading into the woods alongside the Hudson River in the vicinity of West 158 Street, shouting his name and eventually finding the burial spot.
“I was not there when they pulled him out of the hole,” Celona says. “It wasn’t like a plan. It was a bang-bang thing.”
Weinstein, who had lost a lot of weight while in captivity, was taken to the hospital for a medical examination. In TV news footage of the day, he asked for a cigarette and told one reporter how he managed to survive so long: “United States Marine Corps, 50 years ago, buddy.”
Celona interviewed Weinstein shortly afterward in his Upper East Side apartment. “Commissioner Kelly made good on his promise,” says Celona. “Weinstein had no idea what we were doing. Talk about a whirlwind. He said, ‘Early this morning, I didn’t know if I was going to live.’ He was a class act. He couldn’t have been more gracious and accommodating. I got to know him real well, and he remained good friends with the detectives who worked on the case.”
The Tuxedo King, who retired in 1999 at age 74 and died in 2007 at 82, is seen being warmly welcomed back at his Queens factory by Lord West employees. His captors, Rodriguez and two others, served 20 years in prison and were deported.
Several of the detectives who worked on the case, including Ruben Santiago, speak on camera of their days on the Weinstein kidnapping. Post staffers who provided on-air commentary, including Digital Editor-in-Chief Michelle Gotthelf, says, “We shot a lot of the episodes at night and on weekends when we’d be able to fully engage with the production.” The production team was essential in helping Gotthelf and colleagues such as Carlos Greer brush up on some of the details of the cases re-enacted for the series.