It was around two on a chilly March afternoon in 1967 when a young woman walking up Prospect Street towards Elysian Avenue heard loud voices arguing. She looked up and could see a man in gray slacks and a beige sport coat standing on the front porch roof of the house at the top of the block. He was gesturing and yelling at a group of men standing in front of the house next door. Others in the neighborhood heard the yelling, some looked out their windows, but most ignored the outbursts; they were common in the neighborhood where Baker Zada and his family lived.
A young man a few houses up the block heard the arguing getting louder, and went outside to see what was going on. He was standing in the street watching when, all of a sudden, Baker Zada grabbed a rifle from inside his house. He turned and fired the rifle at the group of men. His neighbor, Howard Cummings and his lawyer, Orangetown Justice George “Juni” Writer Jr., ran for Howard’s house. A shot ripped through the front door shattering glass and cutting Writer as a bullet passed through his fedora. The other two men, Werner Loeb, Zada’s attorney, and local land-surveyor Fred Kay, ducked down behind their cars as more shots were directed at them.
Twenty-four year old South Nyack Policeman Harry Nolan was patrolling in the area and heard the rifle shots. He drove up Prospect. Parking his cruiser, he ran towards the Zada house; he didn’t get very far. The young man across the street heard another shot. It ripped into Nolan’s right shoulder. Wounded, and bleeding profusely he got back to his patrol car and radioed for help. In what seemed like only seconds Nyack Police veteran Peter Gentile arrived and headed for the front door of the Zada house. Within a few short minutes, Gentile emerged with Zada in handcuffs. Patrolman Nolan was rushed to Nyack Hospital where he underwent surgery to remove the 30 caliber bullet from his shoulder. Thankfully, Officer Nolan is the only South Nyack Police Officer ever shot in the line of duty. Justice Writer was treated for cuts on his nose from the flying glass. Later that evening Officer Gentile was taken to Nyack Hospital with chest pains he suffered at the Nyack lock-up. It was a stressful day for all involved.
I’m not sure anybody ever understood Baker Zada’s reaction to the meeting that was called to discuss a long standing boundary dispute with his neighbor Cummings. Neighbors said the dispute has been going on for a long time and there was a previous “big-fight” over the disputed boundary line that reportedly involved less than a few feet of property. Zada was later convicted of assault, and spent some time in the county jail. Tragically as time went on, the shots on Elysian Avenue started the crime spree of the most notorious crime family in the history of the Nyack area.
The shooting on Elysian Avenue was not the last run-in with the law for Baker Zada. On December 11, 1969, while on parole for the shooting of Officer Nolan, Zada assaulted Rockland County parole officer Joseph Barnwell when Barnwell sought information about an allegation of sexual molestation. Zada grabbed a pancake skillet and started flailing it at Barnwell and Nyack Police Officer Timothy O’Shea who accompanied him.
In 1973, the oldest son of Baker and Bahrieh Zada, Samir Zada, was convicted for the murders of Monsey dance instructor Jerry Stout and Congers plumber Christian Gunther. Their middle son, Nazar Zada, was arrested in 1977 for promoting prostitution using runaway Rockland teenager girls in a Queens prostitution operation. He was also convicted for weapons possession later that year. Nazar died a few years ago when a heroin bag he was smuggling into his brother exploded in his intestines. Not to be outdone, the youngest son, Amer Zada, was arrested and convicted in the brutal murder and sex slaying of seventeen year old Nyack resident, Shirley Smith, on June 15, 1979. Both Samir and Amer are still in prison in upstate New York. They both have been denied parole on several occasions. Their parents, Baker and Bahrieh Zada never became US citizens.
In his book Murder Along the Way, former Rockland District Attorney Ken Gribetz, devoted an entire chapter to the crimes of the Zada family. Titled, The Family that Preys Together, it is a detailed account of the crimes that I have outlined here. I find it ironic that Elysian Avenue, a name derived from Greek mythology (Elysian Fields)—the final peaceful resting place of the blessed chosen by the gods, was the beginning of a crime spree unlike any other in the history of our area.
The Nyack Villager thanks Jim Leiner for helping us all ‘Remember the Days .’