The murder of Jennifer Levin/The Preppy Murder

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In late August of 1986, Jennifer Dawn Levin was a social, outgoing 18-year-old girl only days away from starting college in Boston. Jennifer was born on May 21,1968 to parents Ellen & Steven Levin. She was voted best looking at Baldwin School in New York City. Earlier in the year she was living with her mom in Long Island but later moved to live with her father who was a successful realtor & her step-mom in SoHo. Jennifer was a tall, slender girl who was described as a responsible person, ambitious, funny, loyal & down to earth; she had a lot of friends who she found a way to make feel special. She was self-deprecating & wasn’t afraid to poke fun at herself. She never did drugs & drank little. Her mom, Ellen Levin felt that she had a gift for making people smile just by walking into a room; she was filled with life & brightness. Jennifer’s best friends Jessica & Peter said that Jennifer fully enjoyed the beauty of New York & the friendships she was making. The three of them would three-way call each other, talking for hours & laughing, using the code word “Snausages” randomly to make each other laugh.

On Monday, August 25, 1986, a bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan was hopping; students were gathered at Dorrian’s Red Hand, catching up after summer break.

Within the mix was 19-year-old Robert Chambers. He had plans to meet his 16-year-old girlfriend, Alex Kapp at the bar at 8:30 pm but she sat waiting, getting angrier at each hour that passed & he wasn’t there. Robert finally arrived at about 10:30 pm & breezed by Alex, not acknowledging her existence & headed to sit at the bar. She wanted to confront him that night because in the very early hours of that morning, Alex offered Robert $5 from her wallet so he could take a taxi home. When she checked her wallet a few minutes after he’d left, she realized he’d also taken the $50 that her mom had given her to hold her over for the week while she was out of town. When she asked Robert about it, he denied taking any money from her which she knew for certain was a lie. When she approached him at the bar & asked him what was going on, he was agitated & said he’d had a horrible night since his little brother within the Big Brother Mentor Program had committed suicide. Alex knew this was such an absurd lie, that she laughed, knowing Robert wasn’t involved in this program. She got angry & had been carrying a paper bag full of condoms that her friend had gotten earlier from Planned Parenthood & she threw the bag at him, telling him that he can use the condoms with someone else since he wouldn’t be using them with her & she stormed out of the bar. 

Robert Chambers Jr was born on September 25, 1966 & was the only child to Phyllis & Robert Chambers, Sr; Phyllis was from Ireland & worked as a private duty nurse for prominent, wealthy families & Robert Sr worked for MCA Records & later in videocassette distribution. His parents divorced & he lived with his mom;. they lived in Jackson Heights, a working class neighborhood in Queens though had moved to Manhattan, Robert living his teenage years in a five-story brownstone on the Upper East Side. His parents worked exceptionally hard to afford the private schools that they enrolled Robert into, his mom working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week because she wanted the best education for her son. Robert often received scholarship money though bounced from prep school to prep school; he later said he didn’t take life or school seriously. His schedule included getting high for three days & sleeping for two days, getting up & doing it all over again, squeezing school in if he could manage; he was spending about $300 a week on drugs. People noticed Robert’s movie-star good looks with dark hair & piercing blue eyes. He was a cadet in the Knickerbocker Greys which is a drill team of kids from wealthy families, he was also an altar boy at his church. He attended very prominent schools but was repeatedly kicked out for bad behavior & grades. After one semester at Boston University, he was dismissed. 

He’d started using drugs at age fourteen & had been sent to rehab in Minnesota the spring before for cocaine addiction & released in May of 1986, coming home earlier than expected. When he came back to New York City, he slid right back into his group of friends, no less popular with the girls. Robert had a large stature, standing at 6’4”, weighing 220#. His friends said that he may have been off cocaine after rehab but he was still drinking heavily & smoking marijuana. One friend said that he was a nice, normal guy but had a crazy streak, a strangeness but said since they were all “wrecked” all of the time, it was difficult to know what was strange & what was high. At this point, Robert continued to tell friends that he was going to get his life in order, though he had yet to find a regular job or enroll at Columbia, as he planned. His friend described him as a compulsive liar who was living two lives, one for his mother & the other for his social life & he was having a hard time keeping his stories straight. 

Jennifer Levin had just come back from a trip to the Hamptons that afternoon on the 25th of August & had gotten to Dorrian’s just after midnight; she was celebrating her upcoming move to Boston with friends at Dorrian’s Red Hand that night. She had been interested in Robert; they met for the first time at the end of June that year at Dorrian’s. They met again at Dorrian’s during the second week of July & Jennifer went back to Robert’s house & they slept together. She told her friend that he was very gentle, complimented her & didn’t force her to do anything. They had another hookup several weeks later. That night in August, Jennifer was sitting at a table with her friends when they noticed each other. She & Robert began talking that night & Jennifer told her friends she was hoping to go home with Robert. Jennifer’s friend left at 2 am & Jennifer asked her to leave the key under the doormat for her. Robert & Jennifer left the bar together at about 4 am, now in the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 26th & walked the handful of blocks to Central Park. Robert said that he wasn’t using drugs that night; he’d had a few beers & two tequilas. 

Less than two hours later, at approximately 6:20 am, Jennifer Levin’s body was found under a tree by a cyclist; she was strangled, badly beaten & bruised & half naked behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park. Her underwear was located more than 100 feet from where she was found & her white tank top was tied around her neck. It was estimated that she had died at about 5:30 am. According to newspaper reports, a jogger saw the couple together & thought they were having sex, 20 minutes later, he passed by again & heard someone cry out in pain. He asked if they were alright & someone responded that everything was okay. He said that he later joked with a second jogger who had also seen the couple.  Jennifer had numerous cuts on her neck that appeared to be from her own nails, likely as she struggled with her attacker. Many people had seen Jennifer & Robert together that night & within hours of the murder, Robert became a suspect. Initially, police just went to speak to him, knowing he was a friend of Jennifer’s & wanted to figure out how she’d gotten separated from her friends.

Meanwhile, Jennifer’s friend was concerned that she hadn’t come home that night & called Robert who denied leaving Dorrian’s with her; he said that Jennifer had gone to a friend’s house but later realized that this was a lie since this friend was still on Long Island. 

As investigators arrived at Robert’s home around 2 pm, he came out of the bedroom & they immediately noticed fresh, deep scratches on both sides of his face that he initially blamed on his cat. Detectives soon discovered that his cat was actually declawed.

He told them that after he & Jennifer left the bar, they parted ways so she could buy cigarettes though her friends said that she wasn’t a smoker. His story changed yet again & Robert said that they were having rough sex in the park & Jennifer died when he pushed her off of him after she’d hurt him. He said that he hadn’t intended to hurt her since he liked her very much. Jennifer’s friends said that she would have never gone to the park to have sex & that she must have trusted Robert to have gone at all. Robert’s friends claimed he wouldn’t have walked to the park with the intention of sex either since his mom was working that night & they would’ve had the apartment to themselves.

 It was determined that Robert & Jennifer got to Central Park around 4:50 am & entered at 86th Street.  Robert said once they reached the park, they talked & Jennifer asked him to visit her at school but he said he wasn’t interested in a serious relationship; he said she went into a rage, scratching his face, hitting him & yelling. He said he moved a short distance away in the grass & then got up & walked to a tree to urinate. He said when he finished, he walked back & Jennifer was no longer mad. He said he sat with his hands behind his back & Jennifer playfully tied her underwear loosely around his wrists & pushed him back to the ground. He said she straddled him, facing away & undid his shirt & pants & began to rub on him with her hands. He said he told her to stop & she wouldn’t & told police that she was “having her way with me, without my consent, with my hands behind my back, hurting me.” He said that she reached down & roughly grabbed his testicles for a few seconds, squeezing, her nails digging into his skin. He said that this aggressive move shocked him, causing him to sit up & swing his arm after freeing his hands, striking Jennifer in the throat. He said that she fell to the side, off his body & he didn’t realize she was dead until he stood up & told her they needed to go; her eyes were open but she didn’t move & he knew something was wrong. He didn’t check for a pulse or heartbeat, didn’t start CPR & didn’t contact the police or call 911 because claimed he was scared & froze.

The autopsy determined that Jennifer died of asphyxia by strangulation & injuries indicated that she had been strangled for at least 20 seconds before she died. Various medical examiners noted multiple strangulation marks on Jennifer’s neck indicating repeated applications of force which wasn’t at all consistent with one blow that Robert claimed to have happened. There were bruises all over her body. During a 48 Hours interview in 2016, 30 years after the murder, Robert was asked about this, “It is very clear from the medical examiner’s evidence & from the pathologist that you choked Jennifer Levin. It was not a split second. You had your hands around her neck & you squeezed.” Robert continues to deny this, saying that the cuts & bruises came from the one time strike. His hands contained bite marks after Jennifer was murdered & it’s believed that she bit him when he put his hands over her mouth to stop her from screaming. Robert’s lawyer argued that he had choked Jennifer from behind, between his left bicep & forearm & this method can take as little as two seconds to cause death & the marks on her neck were from his watch, the bruises on her body from when he flipped her off of him. 

In addition to the obvious deep, fresh scratches  on his face, as police further examined Robert, they noticed deep scratches on his chest as well. The injuries didn’t appear to be related to rough sex, but rather a vicious struggle in the park where Jennifer was likely fighting for her life, face-to-face with Robert. Just about 24 hours after Jennifer’s body was found, Robert was charged with second degree murder. Chambers later told police that he hadn’t immediately left the park after realizing Jennifer was dead; he’d sat on a stone wall only a few feet away. He watched as the cyclist found her body & police soon filled the area. The police cleared the area, asking all present to leave, including Robert. He walked home, got undressed & went to bed.  

Robert had a history of arrests in the past for disorderly conduct, petty theft & burglaries in order to pay for his drug & alcohol addictions. A high school classmate recalls that kids would throw house parties when their parents were out-of-town & Robert had a reputation for robbing people of anything he could get his hands on; jewelry, watches, ski equipment & cash. Police estimated that he & a partner stole upwards of $70,000 in jewelry & valuables. 

Robert was released on $150,000 bail on October 1st,  As the case progressed, Robert became known as the “Preppy Killer” because of his all-American good looks. 

The trial began on January 4, 1988 & lasted 13 weeks. Similar to the Ted Bundy case a decade earlier, Robert’s good looks made for compelling headlines, putting Robert in the spotlight of the media attention. Jennifer, on the other-hand was victim-shamed, called a dominatrix & painted a picture of a promiscuous girl who lacked character by Robert’s defense team. She was also accused of keeping a “sex diary” though friends say it was nothing more than a book with dates & times that she was meeting friends & there was no evidence it had anything to do with her sex life. The general implication was that Jennifer had walked into the park on her own two legs at four in the morning, what do you think she wanted? Robert’s defense attorney, Jack Litman, successfully portrayed Robert as a good, church-going boy who was incapable of violence. Jennifer’s mom, Ellen Levin felt that each time she opened the papers & saw the horrific headlines that attacked Jennifer’s reputation, she was burying her daughter.  

After nine days of deliberation, the jury struggled to reach a verdict. The fact that Robert was a handsome, white male who ran with a wealthy social group, made it hard for people to believe that he could have been capable of such an awful crime. One of the jurors assigned to the trial reportedly said, “I’ll never believe Robert Chambers is capable of intentional murder; he’s too nice, too refined.”. Robert made a deal with prosecutors, agreeing to plead guilty to a first-degree manslaughter which was a step-down from murder; a charge which carried a 5-15 year sentence. Part of the agreement included that he had to admit that he had intended to hurt Levin which caused her death. Standing in court, he said, “It breaks my heart to have to say that the Levin family has gone through hell because of my actions & I am sorry.” 

A video that had been recorded while Robert was out on bail surfaced & showed 21-year-old Robert surrounded by women wearing very little clothing; he was twisting the head of a Barbie doll, pretending to strangle it. He spoke in a falsetto voice, and said, “Oops, I think I killed her.” Jennifer’s mom feels that this video shows Robert’s true colors & as horrified as she was with the video, she was also relieved that he showed himself for who he really was. Many people had been willing to give Robert the benefit of the doubt until they saw that video. He later said this was him just being stupid & silly with friends & not reenacting & joking about what happened to Jennifer.  During his 48 Hours interview, Robert said that he is responsible for killing Jennifer though he never intended it to happen. 

Robert twisting the head off the doll

Robert was released from prison in 2003 when he was 36-years-old, after serving the maximum sentence of 15 years. He hadn’t been released sooner because he’d received 27 disciplinary violations while in prison from weapons & drug possession, disobeying orders & assault. He spent more than four years in solitary confinement because of his poor behavior. During the 48 Hours interview, he was asked if he ever thought about Jennifer & he responded, “Every day. Somebody died & I’m responsible for that. It’s not an easy feeling, you don’t get comfortable with it. And it’s part of my life for the rest of my life.I can never make up for the death of Jennifer Levin. I can never make up for the pain I caused her family. I’ve been a bad person. Am I a monster? No. Because if I was a monster, I wouldn’t care, but I do.” He was asked if he’ll die sticking to this story & he said, yes, his story hasn’t changed since there’s nothing to change since it’s the truth.

In November of 2004 he was arrested again after driving with a suspended license; police ended up finding trace amounts of heroin & cocaine in his car & he was sentenced to 100 days in prison. In 2007 he was arrested for selling cocaine from his apartment & resisting arrest. He & his girlfriend were charged for operating a cocaine ring out of their apartment & he pleaded guilty & in 2008 he returned to prison for a sentence of 19 years at the Sullivan Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. His earliest possible release date is January of 2024 when he’ll be 57-years-old.  Jennifer Levin’s mother, Elllen Levin finds it ironic that Robert will end up serving more time in jail for selling drugs than he did for murdering her daughter.

Jennifer’s family filed a civil suit against the owner of the bar where their daughter spent her last night, Dorrian’s Red Hand, for continuing to serve Robert alcohol despite his obvious inebriation. In 2009 they settled for an undisclosed sum. They also took Robert to court & filed a wrongful death lawsuit which he pleaded no contest to. The Levins were awarded $25 million & the court mandated that he pay any earnings he receives, including any revenue from book or movie deals. A 1989 made-for-TV movie was based on this case & starred Billy Baldwin as Robert & Lara Flynn Boyle as Jennifer, in 1990, Law & Order based an episode on the crime & in 2004 The Killers released a song called “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” which mocked Robert’s defense to police that he never  would have killed Jennifer since they were “friends.” In 2019 AMC released a five-episode documentary, The Preppy Murder: Death in Central Park

Ellen Levin, Jennifer’s mom, became a victims’ rights advocate. The family has never accepted an apology from Robert.


  1. Refinery 29: Where Is Robert Chambers From The Preppy Murder Now?
  2. People: Everything to Know About ‘Preppy Murder’ Case 33 Years After NYC Teen’s Death in Central Park
  3. Fox News: ‘Preppy Murder’ doc reveals how Jennifer Levin’s brutal death was overshadowed by victim blaming
  4. Wondery: 48 hours: The Preppy Killer
  5. Women’s Health: Who Is Robert Chambers And Did He Kill Jennifer Levin? ‘The Preppy Murder’ True Story, Explained
  6. CBS News: The Preppy Killer
  7. New York: East Side Story
  8. The Hollywood Reporter: AMC-Sundance TV Doc Re-examines ‘The Preppy Murder’ Through #MeToo Lens
  9. The Atlantic: The Preppy Murder Unpacks a Tabloid Frenzy
  10. YouTube: Juicy Scoop: The Preppy Murderer’s Girlfriend Tells All

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