- See also Wikipedia's article about "Lucien Carr".
Lucien Carr, a native of St. Louis, was a major figure in the Beat Generation during his time as a Columbia student. He never graduated due to serving a prison sentence for violently murdering his stalker, David Kammerer. After prison, he returned to the Beats, and became the father of novelist Caleb Carr.
Carr was known for moving from school to school. By the time he enrolled at Columbia, he had already been a student at Bowdoin and UChicago, which he left after an episode in which he put his head into an oven as a "work of art" resulted in his being hauled to an insane asylum. Carr's mother, who by that time lived in New York, decided it was safer to have him close to home and managed, somehow, to get him into Columbia.
As a Columbia freshman, Carr was recognized as an exceptional student with a quick, roving mind. A fellow student from Lionel Trilling’s humanities class described him as “stunningly brilliant... It seemed as if he and Trilling were having a private conversation.”
Carr befriended Allen Ginsberg in the Union Theological Seminary dormitory on 122nd street (an overflow residence for Columbia), when Ginsberg knocked on the door to find out who was playing a recording of a Brahms trio. Soon after, a young woman Carr had befriended, Edie Parker, introduced Carr to her boyfriend, Jack Kerouac. Carr, in turn, introduced Ginsberg and Kerouac to one another and both of them to his older friend from St. Louis, William Burroughs. The core of the New York Beat scene had formed, with Carr at the center. As Ginsberg put it, “Lou was the glue.”
Ginsberg was fascinated by Carr, whom he viewed as a self-destructive egotist but also as a possessor of real genius. Fellow students saw Carr as talented and dissolute, a prank-loving late-night reveler who haunted the dark pockets of Chelsea and Greenwich Village until dawn, without making a dent in his brilliant performance in the classroom. On one occasion, asked why he was carrying a jar of jam across the campus, Carr simply explained that he was “going on a date.” Returning to his dorm in the early hours another morning to find that his bed had been short-sheeted, Carr retaliated by spraying the rooms of his dorm-mates with the hallway fire-hose – while they were still sleeping.
David Kammerer Murder
David Kammerer, a former physical education teacher, had been obsessed with Lucien Carr since Carr was a child and both were living in St. Louis, Missouri. Kammerer spent over a decade following Carr across the country, from boarding school at Andover, to Carr's stints at Bowdoin and UChicago. Kammerer, who was by all accounts extremely disturbed and infatuated with Carr, would rent a a tiny apartment nearby and follow Carr around. Carr had attempted suicide while in Chicago in an attempt to escape Kammerer. When Carr enrolled at Columbia, Kammerer took a job as a janitor on Morton Street and continued to trail Carr, who sometimes avoided him and on other occasions indulged Kammerer’s attentions.
In July, Carr and Kerouac began talking about shipping out of New York on a Merchant Marine vessel, a scheme which drove Kammerer frantic with anxiety at the possibility of losing Carr. In early August, Kammerer crawled into Carr’s room via the fire escape and watched him sleep for half an hour; he was caught by a guard as he crawled back out again.
On August 13, 1944, Carr and Kerouac attempted, and failed, to ship out of New York to France on a merchant ship, hoping to be in Paris in time for the Allied liberation. Kicked off the ship by the first mate at the last minute, the two men drank at the West End. Kerouac left first, and bumped into Kammerer, who asked where Carr was. Kerouac told him. Kammerer caught up with Carr at the West End, and the two men went for a walk, ending up in Riverside Park.
According to Carr’s version of the night, he and Kammerer were resting near 115th street when Kammerer made yet another sexual advance. When Carr rejected it, he said, Kammerer assaulted him physically, and being larger, gained the upper hand. In desperation and panic, Carr said, he stabbed the older man, using a Boy Scout knife from his St. Louis childhood. Carr then tied his assailant’s hands and feet, wrapped Kammerer’s belt around his arms, weighted the body with rocks, and dumped it in the nearby Hudson River.
Next, Carr went to the apartment of William Burroughs, gave him Kammerer’s bloodied pack of cigarettes, and explained the incident. Burroughs flushed the cigarettes down the toilet, and told Carr to get a lawyer and turn himself in. Instead Carr sought out Kerouac, who helped him dispose of the knife and some of Kammerer's belongings before the two went to a movie and the Museum of Modern Art to look at paintings. Finally, Carr went to his mother’s house and then to the office of the New York District Attorney, where he confessed. The prosecutors, uncertain whether the story was true – or whether a crime had even been committed – kept him in custody until they had recovered Kammerer's body. Carr identified the corpse, and then led police to where he had buried Kammerer's eyeglasses in Morningside Park.
Carr was charged with second-degree murder. The story was closely followed in the press, involving as it did a well-liked, gifted student from a prominent family, New York’s premier university, and the scandalous whiff of homosexuality. Carr pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter, and his mother testified at a sentencing hearing about Kammerer’s predatory habits. Carr was sentenced to a term of one-to-twenty years in prison; he served two years in the Elmira Correctional Facility in Upstate New York and was released.
Aftermath and Legacy
Carr’s Beat crowd (which Ginsberg called “the Libertine Circle”) was, for a time, shattered by the killing. Several members sought to write about the events. Kerouac's The Town and the City is a fictional retelling, in which Carr is represented by the character "Kenneth Wood"; a more literal depiction of events appears in Kerouac’s later Vanity of Duluoz. Soon after the killing, Allen Ginsberg began a novel about the crime which he called The Bloodsong, but his English instructor at Columbia, seeking to preclude more negative publicity for Carr or the university, convinced Ginsberg to abandon it.
After his release, Carr remained on good terms with his Beat friends, but went on to a much more boring, stable career as an editor at Universal Press International (UPI).