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Before they launched the phenomenon known as RuPaul’s Drag Race, the World of Wonder team (Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato) did both a documentary and a feature film about the notorious club kid murder of 1996. I’m a talking head in the former and my blind item about the murder buzz comes up in the latter — namely 2003’s Party Monster, based on Alig associate James St. James’ book and starring former child star Macaulay Culkin as the demonic club-kid leader Michael Alig and Wilson Cruz as the victimized drug dealer Angel Melendez. Rocker Marilyn Manson played a trans diva on the edge named Christina.
Well, the gruesome story (which involved hammering, Drano injections, and dismemberment) keeps growing and morphing.
Daniel Auster (the late son of author Paul Auster) was the other person in the apartment when Melendez was killed by spiraling promoter Alig and the mysterious Robert “Freeze” Riggs. I used my Village Voice column to break developments, and at one point, I ran specific insight I’d received from an intimate of Auster’s. The person said that Daniel was telling people three versions of the murder: One where he heard about it, one where he saw it happen, and one where he actually took part in it. The person believed the third version.
James St. James informed me that the first time Alig told him about the killing, Alig said Auster was involved in administering the Drano — though St. James wasn’t convinced of that, and Alig and Freeze never publicly fingered Auster. It’s complicated. At the time, neither Daniel nor his dad returned my request for comment.
Well, that wasn’t the end of the awful specter of death around Daniel. On Christmas day of 2020, Alig was found dead of an accidental overdose. And then, last November, Auster’s 10-month-old daughter tragically died from a mysterious OD of fentanyl and heroin, and then this April, Daniel — facing related manslaughter charges — died of an accidental OD himself. Already this is enough for three seasons of any Ryan Murphy series imaginable.
And now, I’ve heard updated sentiments from the same anonymous intimate. Bear in mind that this is just one person offering their account of what Daniel Auster had to say. According to the associate:
“Yes, Daniel told different versions. He told some friends he was there — no way would he trust people to tell them the whole truth — but then, to a few of his closer friends, he told the whole horrible story, without saying he had a hand in it. But to me, he told the whole [alleged] truth. Which is that, in the midst of it, Alig filled syringes with Drano and told Daniel to take one and stick Angel with it. Daniel told me it was horrifying chaos and Alig and Riggs were trying to kill Angel, but Angel was still alive — maybe unconscious, but alive…
“I saw one interview where Alig said he accidentally, fatally suffocated Angel after Angel tried to strangle him. But in reality, Alig intentionally suffocated him after Riggs hit him with a hammer several times and there was tussling and then Angel was unconscious and Alig put Drano in syringes and stuck Angel with one and told Daniel to stick one in Angel’s arm… That’s when Alig smothered Angel on purpose.
“I’ve seen random commenters online talk about Daniel robbing money off Angel, but that’s false. [Author’s note: In 1998, Auster pleaded guilty to possessing $3,000 stolen off Melendez.] Alig and Riggs gave the money to Daniel as hush money and to get out of the city. They knew he wouldn’t be able to stay in the city and not have some kind of breakdown and start telling people what happened, and they knew he had zero money. But even if they hadn’t given him the hush money, I’m sure Daniel was not going to report them… He thought Alig loved him and he thought he loved Alig.
“Daniel had a successful and affluent dad, but he was not a spoiled rich kid. His dad spoiled Daniel’s stepmom and half-sister with designer clothes, but not Daniel. Don’t get me wrong. Daniel was lucky to have lived in a nice and safe home, but I see now how Daniel was a prime target for Alig. He felt neglected and because of his mental and emotional status, that’s why he did whatever drug that was given him. Alig gave Daniel cool clothes, drugs and spoiled him.
“The fact that Daniel was living in an apartment with heroin and syringes everywhere, as well as crack pipes… I should have known he might go down that road at some point.
“Daniel wasn’t gay, though he used to say he wished he was because it would make his life easier. I guess he was bi. He found some other boys attractive and fun to kiss, but he wasn’t interested in doing any more than that, though I’m guessing he did ‘sexual favors’ for Alig— in other words, letting Alig go down on him. It’s just my bet. But there was never intercourse between them because for some reason — as Daniel told me — Alig was embarrassed to ask for that.
“At that point, Alig preferred to have sex with 14-year-old Puerto Rican boys. Daniel thought, ‘Those boys consented, so nothing wrong with it.’ When age 14 was not that long ago for you, and you remember how wild some of your friends were at that age, you think, ‘Well, as long as it was consensual, it’s OK’. Now it’s obvious that it’s rape, but when you’re 19 or 20 and it’s 1996, you didn’t necessarily understand that.
“Daniel had never heard of [scandalous ’80s author] Bret Easton Ellis before, but after he read Less Than Zero, he read American Psycho and all the others. For him, it was probably not shocking to read about a rich clubgoer shooting heroin, because he had been around that. For him, it was probably interesting to read because it was realistic. He told me how he could kind of relate to Patrick Bateman because he felt so empty sometimes and he said the same about the character in The Stranger by Albert Camus. But [despite what another associate said], he never said anything to me or anyone I know about wanting to be a serial killer, even in a joking way.
“When I was close with Daniel, before I found out about everything, he was supportive and wasn’t narcissistic or abusive, so I don’t regret having met him anymore…
“I tried to help him, but sometimes he was almost catatonic looking and I started feeling even more disturbed, not only by the whole thing but also how he didn’t go to the cops after….
“I feel somewhat bad having given you info back then because it was a secret I was supposed to keep, but at the time it was such a heavy weight and I felt it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want him to face prison time because that would be terrifying — he wouldn’t last a day — and I didn’t feel he deserved prison, but I felt he needed to tell the truth to the police [and that’s why I gave you the info]. But he didn’t.
“I find it wrong that Alig lived to be so much older than Daniel… and Angel. Dealing hard drugs is a terrible thing to do, but that murder was so wrong… and the disrespect and disregard for a human cannot be explained away as a blur of three-days-awake and drug-induced psychosis.
“It seemed like Daniel had matured. He ‘liked’ hundreds of tweets supporting Biden and criticizing Trump. He made no tweets of his own, he just used Twitter for that.”
And there you have it. Let me go shower now.