Manhattan mother jumps eight stories to her death with her infant son strapped to her chest; baby survives with minor injuries
Sources say Harlem lawyer Cynthia Wachenheim penned a 13-page, handwritten suicide note before jumping out of an eighth-story window, taking her son, Keston, with her. The baby was saved from the impact when the woman landed on her back on the pavement.
BY ROCCO PARASCANDOLA , JOE KEMP AND VERA CHINESE / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
PUBLISHED: WEDNESDAY, MARCH 13, 2013, 4:46 PM
UPDATED: THURSDAY, MARCH 14, 2013, 1:59 PM
A Manhattan lawyer strapped her 10-month-old son to her chest and leaped to her death from an eighth-story window in Harlem on Wednesday — and the baby miraculously survived with little more than scratches, police sources said.
Cynthia Wachenheim, 44, who left a suicide note castigating herself for being a bad mother, landed on her back after taking the fatal plunge. Baby Keston was in a harness. He bounced off his mom on impact and then rolled away from her motionless arms.
“I heard a small scream when she was in the air,” said witness Steven Dominguez, 18. “I noticed something falling, but I didn’t want to believe it was a person.”
Dominguez, who teared up as he spoke, said the landing made a horrifying sound.
“It was a loud bang,” he said outside the woman’s building on Bradhurst Ave. near W. 147th St. “It sounded like a big piece of wood hitting the floor.”
“When I got closer, I saw the baby crying,” he said.
The baby was in stable condition Wednesday night at Harlem Hospital, hours after his mother’s 3:30 p.m. jump.
Sources said Wachenheim left a rambling 13-page, handwritten suicide note on small pages of notebook paper.
“The note said she was not happy and she talked about what she planned to do,” a source said. In the note, Wachenheim is “saying to her husband, ‘I love you. I’m making you suffer. You’re going to think I’m evil,’” a source said.
“She thinks she’s a failing mother. On the last page, she refers to postpartum depression. She was supposed to see a therapist, but she blew him off.
“As the note goes on, you get the idea she’s explaining why she’s going to do it,” the source added.
The note, which mentions little Keston having a physical handicap, was unsigned — but cops compared it to handwriting samples and determined that it was written by Wachenheim, the source said.
Police learned — not from the note — that Wachenheim was convinced her baby had cerebral palsy, although doctors said there was nothing wrong with him, said the source.
Wachenheim’s husband, Hal Bacharach, 48, was at work when his wife jumped, the source said. He was spotted on surveillance video leaving the upscale building at 12:55 p.m., less than three hours before the leap.
Neighbors said he stormed out of their two-bedroom condo after a loud argument. Shouting echoed through the halls.
“He was yelling at her today,” said Christian Johnson, 37. “It made me stop and listen. He was asking her why she wouldn’t pick up the phone. He kept repeating it. Then, the baby started crying.”
A police source said Wachenheim was taking antidepressants and that pills were found in the apartment.
A different police source said Wednesday was the first time police were ever called to the apartment. The couple had lived at The Sutton — where similar apartments run about $325,000 — for about three years.
Wachenheim, a high school valedictorian in Albany and a Columbia Law grad, was on maternity leave from her $118,000-a-year job in the city court system. She worked there for more than 15 years doing research and writing for judges.
“She was wonderful — very devoted to the court (and) wonderful with everyone she worked with,” said her boss, John Werner, chief court clerk. “It’s a tragedy.”
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident,” said David Bookstaver, spokesman for the city’s Office of Court Administration. “Our thoughts are with her family.”
Two NYPD narcotics detectives were parking a car nearby and were the first to respond after they saw the tragic fall.
Cops took the boy, who appeared to only have scratches and minor injuries, to Harlem Hospital. He was listed in stable condition and was expected to survive. A source said he underwent a CT scan.
Neighbors were shocked that Wachenheim, who officials said worked as an associate court attorney with the New York County Law Office, took her only child with her in the fatal leap.
“She was very friendly,” said Yaa Dwamena, 32. “She always greeted you when you came in and out of the building. She didn’t seem like she was going through anything.”
A building worker described Wachenheim as a devoted mom.
“She was always holding him in her arms,” the worker said. “She was always with the baby. She loved that baby.”
Johnson, who has known the couple since they moved into the building, said he never saw signs of trouble.
“I saw her a little while ago,” he said. “She seemed stressed out — but what mother of a 10-month-old isn’t stressed out?”
Johnson also thought that Wednesday’s argument was just a typical squabble between parents, until he saw Wachenheim’s body on the sidewalk.
“I saw her on the ground and I lost it,” Johnson said.
With Barbara Ross, Kerry Burke and Shane Dixon Kavanaugh