By Bruce Fischer
Seymour and Arlene Tankleff were murdered in their home in Long Island, New York. Their seventeen-year-old son, Martin (Marty), was convicted of their murders in a highly publicized trial.
On September 7, 1988, Marty Tankleff discovered the beaten and stabbed bodies of his mother and father in their home. Marty’s father was still showing signs of life. Marty immediately called 911. The operator told Marty to elevate his father’s feet and apply pressure to his neck wound.
When the police arrived, Marty ran outside yelling that someone had killed his parents. Marty frantically told the police who he thought committed the crime. Marty suspected that his father’s business partner, Jerry Steuerman, had attacked his parents. Seymour Tankleff’s partner owed him a half a million dollars and had recently violently threatened Seymour and Arlene. It wasn’t surprising that Marty suspected him.
When police entered the home they found pillows under Seymour Tankleff’s feet and a white towel on his neck. Marty had done what the 911 operator told him to do. Marty tried to save his father’s life. The police saw things differently. Marty had blood on his hands and he had two black eyes when police first made visual contact with him. His appearance caused immediate suspicion. The truth is that when Marty tried to save his father he got blood on his hands, and recent nasal surgery had left Marty’s eyes black and blue. These details were apparently not discussed at the scene. Marty’s appearance was enough to lead police to bring him in for questioning.
Marty was subjected to a brutal interrogation while experiencing grief and shock over the death of his parents. During his time of deep sorrow, investigators worked to convince Marty that he killed his parents during a blackout. Investigators lied to Marty when they told him that his father came out of his coma briefly to tell the police that he and his wife were attacked by their own son. After a long, drawn-out interrogation, Marty would eventually confess, but then he quickly recanted. The fact that Marty recanted his confession was ignored. On September 7, 1988, Marty Tankleff was convicted of murdering his parents.
Marty’s conviction was secured based solely on his confession. There was no evidence at the crime scene that pointed to him. The evidence suggested a violent struggle, yet Marty didn’t have a scratch on him. The details of his confession were not supported by the evidence at the scene. Marty confessed that he used a dumbbell to beat his parents. When the dumbbell was analyzed there was no sign that it had been used in the attack. The wounds were also not consistent with that type of weapon.
Hair consistent with a hair weave was found at the scene. Jerry Steuerman wore a weave. Steuerman was also the last to leave the house after the previous night’s poker game. Even though Steuerman was the last person to be with Seymour Tankleff, the police never properly investigated him, instead, they focussed all of their attention on Marty.
Even after his conviction, many believed that Marty was innocent. Marty received a great deal of support from many people, including thirty-one former prosecutors, Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, and The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Several TV programs highlighted the case, leading millions to conclude that Marty was innocent.
On December 21, 2007, an appellate court vacated Marty’s conviction, granting him a new trial. In June of 2008, Attorney General Cuomo announced that they would not retry Marty. In July of 2008, all charges were dismissed.