Syracuse, N.Y. – It was five minutes before 5 a.m. on Jan. 28, and Garry Lyons finally had enough of the shouting outside his apartment. It had kept him up all night.
He cracked open his door on the 12th floor of the Skyline Apartments, his home since 1990, to tell the strangers to cut it out.
“Just as I step back in to secure the door, these two a**holes run in on me, swinging,” he said. “Swinging like maniacs.”
The men rushed into his apartment and punched him repeatedly. He backed up and tripped, striking his head on a toolbox. Then came the kicks, he said. The pair grabbed his phone and a utility belt, then ran off.
Most nights, Lyons, 69, places a gun on the nightstand. That time he forgot. He won’t forget again.
Garry Lyons, a resident of Skyline Apartments for more than 20 years. Dennis Nett | email@example.com
The gun on the nightstand is a good idea on the 12th floor of the Skyline Apartments, owned by football legend Tim Green and his son, Troy. The 12th is widely known as the most dangerous and drug-ridden floor in a building full of danger and drugs, tenants and staff say.
“That’s the drug floor,” said Katrina Weston, the president of the Skyline tenants’ association.
On March 17, Connie Tuori, 93, was found murdered in Apartment 1209, where she lived for 20 years. Police charged Victoria Afet, 24. Tuori lay dead for several weeks before her body was discovered. During that time, multiple people hung out in her apartment, prosecutors said.
Some of those people traveled between Tuori’s apartment and a notorious apartment down the hall, reporting by syracuse.com reveals. Surveillance video shows two people in hoodies walking from Apartment 1201 to Tuori’s apartment in the days after her death, according to a security guard.
Apartment 1201 is the scariest place on a scary floor.
It is one of at least two in the building in the throes of what staff and residents refer to as an apartment “takeover”: Non-tenants weasel their way into an apartment and use it as a base for criminal activity, often taking advantage of a tenant with a mental disability or drug addiction, they said.
Tenants and staff documented to management the chaos at 1201, compiling a log that detailed trouble there nine times in February and March: noise, violence and drug use.
Officials with Green National, the building owner, acknowledge that 1201 is a problem. They even had the locks changed. Yet, the flow of rowdy visitors continued.
Green officials said the state’s pandemic eviction moratorium and other laws to protect tenants have prevented them from taking action.
That’s nonsense, housing advocates say. Sam Young, advocacy director at Legal Services of Central New York, said state law allowed Green National to banish non-tenants from the apartment and evict problem tenants before and during the pandemic. It chose not to, he said.
“There are people in the building who don’t belong there, and who are known to the tenants, and were made known to the property owners,” Young said. “And they simply failed to take action to keep those people out of the building and stop them from committing crimes and preying on the vulnerable people that live in the Skyline.”
You may have wondered how someone could brutally kill a 93-year-old former teacher in her apartment, leave the body there, and have it go unnoticed for weeks while strangers wandered in and out.
If you wondered that, you haven’t been to the 12th floor of the Skyline.
Paramedics remove a patient from the 12th floor of the Skyline Apartments complex April 2 following a drug overdose. Patrick Lohmann | firstname.lastname@example.org
‘All are welcome here’
A dusty welcome mat sits in front of Apartment 1201. “All are welcome here,” it says.
That’s true, neighbors say. Too true. A parade of people come and go at all hours into 1201. They’re loud and often violent. A man was stabbed in the mouth there in September, police said. Recently, someone bashed in the metal door with a fire extinguisher, denting it and knocking off the doorknob.
The apartment is right next to the bank of elevators, meaning elderly tenants forced to wait for malfunctioning elevators encounter a series of strange or menacing characters.
Lyons keeps a log of criminal or unusual activity on the floor. He shared his notes from February and March with syracuse.com. Apartment 1201 is mentioned nine times, far more than any other. A sample:
- Feb. 13: “1201 door being kicked in, man w/ bailing hook, golf club”
- Feb. 25: “noise all night apt 1201, called desk 4 times”
- Feb. 27: “apt 1201 hallway drug overdose, called spd (Syracuse police)”
The apartment is down the hall from 1209, Tuori’s apartment.
Amaury Ramirez, a security guard at the Skyline, reviewed security footage following her death. He said he saw grainy footage of people walking between Apartment 1201 and Tuori’s apartment in the weeks between when she was killed and when her body was found in March. Police have the footage, Ramirez said.
“There were two people but they wore their hoodies up, covered their face,” Ramirez said. (Ramirez, 34, also a tenant of the building, died of natural causes April 10.)
A syracuse.com reporter knocked on the door of 1201 on April 9. A man who was not the tenant whipped open the door. Half of his right nostril was coated in a white powdery substance.
“This ain’t my house. You gotta talk to the person who lives here,” he said. Then he slammed the door.
The person actually on the lease in 1201 is a 56-year-old man who has lived there since 2018. Syracuse.com is not identifying him because he might be a crime victim.
Building staff and the tenants’ group have grown concerned recently that the tenant is being taken advantage of, the tenant association’s Weston and Ramirez said. They are trying to figure out what to do.
It’s not unusual for outsiders to take advantage of disabled tenants, including those with mental disabilities, according to Weston, Ramirez, Lyons and others who live in the building. They’ll offer a tenant drugs and then move in, refusing to leave.
The 1201 tenant suffered a traumatic brain injury before moving into the building, according to his sister, who lives out of state. The injury slowed his cognition and made him easily influenced, she said.
His sister also said local agency Arise, which helps people with disabilities, assisted him in finding that apartment. An Arise spokesman, Timothy Mahar, said the tenant is not currently a client of Arise’s, but he repeatedly declined to answer if he was previously.
The tenant at 1201 could not be reached for comment.
Left: The damaged door to apartment 1201 on the 12th floor of the Skyline Apartments complex. Right: The door to Connie Tuori’s apartment, 1209, on the same floor, following her alleged murder. Tuori, 93, was found dead March 17. Patrick Lohmann | email@example.com
Apartment takeovers are a major source of chaos in the building, Weston said. The apartments often become drug dens, attracting trespassers and crime.
One example is in Apartment 804, where Maryann Hendricks, 60, lives.
According to a brief interview with Hendricks, she recently tried to kick a group of people (“four couples,” she said) out of her apartment.
They offered her drugs — synthetic marijuana and ecstasy, known as molly — and stayed, Hendricks said.
“I opened my door. I let them in. They’re smoking molly and spike. They gave me a little molly, but I don’t like molly,” she said April 7. “(A property manager) helped me get (them out). … I don’t hear from them no more … . I’ve got my own place back. But it’s a mess.”
But less than a week later, Hendricks reported Marico Jones, 31, for trespassing in her apartment again. That was April 13. On April 14, Jones returned to the Skyline, and Syracuse police spotted him and arrested him. He’s being held in jail on a probation violation and is awaiting extradition to Tennessee for a different crime. Jones had been paroled to her apartment since February of this year, according to a law enforcement official.
The Syracuse Housing Authority pays part of Hendricks’ rent, according to a rental roll.
Nate Hughes, the Skyline’s property manager, said Jones’ arrest was just the latest “removal” at her apartment. He is optimistic that a new security company hired by Green National, Alpha Security, will prevent trespassers from entering her apartment again, he said. Some tenants don’t share the same faith in Alpha security.
“We have been doing removals at this unit. It has not been just one person; this was just the most recent,” he said in an email. “And with our new security upgrades we do not think this will happen again.”
Non-tenants remain at Apartment 1201, but Hughes and police say their hands are tied.
Unlike at 804, the tenant at 1201 has never complained. Syracuse police recently did a “wellness check” on the apartment, Hughes said, but the residents said they were fine. So police left.
Hughes said management has tried to go into 1201 previously, but staff are required to provide advance notice. The squatters just move to another apartment, he said.
Even if management did get a non-tenant out of 1201, Hughes said, they can easily come back in.
“When we do get people out, they only get an appearance ticket for trespassing unless they have other outstanding legal issues. Unit 1201 specifically has had a lot of different people coming in as guests,” he said in an email.
Hughes said the management has issued lease violations when guests at 1201 cause problems, though he would not say how many.
The first line of defense against trespassers should be the security company, charged with making sure unwanted people don’t get into the building. But security in the building is notoriously lax. Syracuse.com witnessed a guard, a young woman, let four people enter the building without showing their IDs on the night of April 9.
Hughes also said management plans to evict those staying at 1201. He said recent changes to the state’s eviction moratorium finally enable them to evict tenants in problem apartments.
However, Sam Young, the tenant advocacy attorney, said Green National could have evicted tenants at 1201 during the pandemic under an “objectionable tenancy” clause. That clause in state law allows landlords to evict tenants who cause unsafe or disruptive conditions for others in the building, Young said.
And Green National could have brought an eviction action in court Dec. 29, 2020, the day a new law went into effect, Young said. That was nearly three months before Tuori was found dead. Instead, it’s more than four months into the new law and the company is only now building a case for eviction.
Legal Services of CNY has put a team of lawyers together to prepare a lawsuit against Green National to require it to provide adequate security and a habitable environment for tenants, Young said.
Management recently added a doorknob at 1201 and changed the locks to prevent trespassers, but it didn’t stop the trouble there.
Police officers arrive to question the 56-year-old man who lives at 1201, an apartment notorious for crime and disruption on the 12th floor of the Skyline Apartments complex, at 11:45 p.m. April 9. Patrick Lohmann | firstname.lastname@example.org
Police were called to 1201 around 11:45 p.m. on April 9 night regarding a domestic dispute.
Police knocked on the door. The tenant and another man answered. The other man did most of the talking.
Syracuse.com reporters watched the man tell police he knew the 1201 tenant a long time and they weren’t having any issues. The tenant told police the same.
With no evidence of a crime and no one pressing charges, police left neighbors on their own to deal with the worst apartment on the most dangerous floor of the city’s biggest public nuisance.
From heyday to crime scene
Some of the tenants who live on the 12th floor were attracted there during its better days.
During the building’s heyday, the 12th-floor’s stunning views from the top floor of the building made the apartments the most sought after in one of the city’s most glamorous buildings. Tenants moved into apartments marketed as “The Aristocrat,” “The Presidential” and “The Cosmopolitan.”
Lyons remembers moving in in 1990 when seemingly everyone on the floor was retired. Apartment doors had decorations. Welcome mats lined the halls. It was a neighborhood on a floor.
“Live at the beautiful Skyline” and “Apartments now Renting” are the headlines from this March 2, 1952, Post-Standard advertisement for the brand-new Skyline Apartments just finished on James Street. Courtesy of World Archives
These days, the hallways are mostly bare. The smell of stale cigarette smoke is so thick it lingers on clothing. Shouting matches often echo down the hallways. Instead of greeting people, some tenants say, they stare at the floor while they wait for the elevators to avoid angering a stranger.
In the wake of their neighbor’s heinous murder, they are hunkering down or trying to escape.
Seven of the 12th floor’s 33 apartments house tenants from Helio Health, a large non-profit social service provider. Twelve other nonprofit or government agencies pay rent to Green National on behalf of clients dealing with a substance abuse disorder, chronic homelessness, and physical and mental disabilities.
The Skyline was already deteriorating when the Greens bought it in 2016, then it went into a freefall. They cut costs and put off investing in security. They didn’t evict problem tenants.
Social agencies still placed vulnerable tenants in the building despite its well-publicized problems with crime and cleanliness.
City officials slapped the owners with code violations, but elevators remained broken and the stairwells stayed littered with feces, urine, needles and trash. It took Tuori’s death for Mayor Ben Walsh to enter the owners into nuisance abatement, which forces them to make changes under threat of criminal charges and a city takeover.
And despite police arriving at the building an average of three times a day, problem apartments like 1201 never got any better.
Teri Delles boards the bus that will take her and other residents from Skyline Apartments to Wegmans for groceries. Dennis Nett | email@example.com
Living in fear
One woman, in her 80s, is trying desperately to move after 30 years in the Skyline. Another woman, 61, described being unwilling to leave her apartment except for weekly bus trips to Wegmans. Tuori was a regular on those outings.
“After they told me she was dead, I was flabbergasted,” said the 61-year-old woman from behind her apartment door. “I mean, that could have been me.”
Joanna Smith, a 63-year-old 12th floor resident, was also a regular on the Wednesday bus trips. Along with Tuori and a few other elderly women who rode the bus, they were known as the “Itty Bitty Committee.”
On a recent Wednesday morning, the group gathered in the parking lot to wait for the bus. Their talk turned to the killing of their friend and the arrest of Afet.
“I hope she stays in jail the rest of her life,” tenant Teri Delles said.
Smith and other women remember being struck at how independent Tuori was, even at 93. She could step up the stairs at the back of the bus without help.
The women describe the guilt they now feel. They feel they should have known something was wrong when Tuori didn’t show up for a few Wednesdays.
It’s clear they are not safe on that floor, Smith said. She now makes sure to watch her neighbor, in her 80s, to ensure she walks safely from the 12th floor elevator into her apartment.
“I never thought about watching out for each other,” Smith said. “And we do it now.”
Joanna Smith, one of the residents of the 12th floor of Skyline Apartments. Dennis Nett | firstname.lastname@example.org
Change desperately needed
Real change will depend on whether the building owners, city officials and nonprofit organizations that house tenants there commit to fixing things, Smith said.
Lyons, the armed 12th-floor tenant, suffered only minor injuries in the attack. Police later arrested Quavaun Aldamuy, 27. The other suspect is at large. The arrest hasn’t made Lyons feel safer, he said.
In the early days of the pandemic, amid the stress over germs and confined spaces, elderly tenants described making what seemed like life-or-death decisions each time they stepped into an elevator with a stranger.
Smith has several disabilities that make her more likely to die of the coronavirus. So does her daughter, 40, whom she lives with. Her daughter is mostly deaf and blind.
The elevators have been chronically out of service. One has an apparent sensor malfunction. The door opens and closes endlessly in the lobby.
Tenants have begun referring to the malfunction as a sign that Tuori’s spirit is watching over the building.
One tenant, in her 80s, said she tried to politely ask her neighbors in the elevators to wear masks. The request was often met with glares.
Martina Carter, 26, is a single mom who lives next to Tuori’s apartment. The two were neighborly, she said. She reported to management a strange man standing in front of Tuori’s apartment after her death, but nothing was done, she said.
She and her boyfriend moved in two years ago, enticed by the low rent ($790) and location. Even two years ago, she still felt a bit of the glamour from the early days, she said. Tenants in the elevator would joke that she was on her way to “the penthouse,” she said, when she pressed the 12th floor button.
She and her boyfriend broke up in April 2020, leaving her to navigate the 12th floor as a young woman with a baby, alone. She’s never been more terrified.
She’s been assaulted. A batch of her laundry was stolen. She built a mask-like covering on her baby’s stroller because so few tenants covered their faces.
Tuori’s death was the final straw. Carter plans to be out of the building in 90 days.
Until she can finally leave, she rushes between her apartment and the elevators and from the elevators to the exit.
“I’m hyper-vigilant about dangers all the time,” she said. “I feel trapped on all sides.”
Syracuse.com reporter Patrick Lohmann can be reached at PLohmann@Syracuse.com and (315)766-6670.