Police in New York City have identified the individual behind a mysterious tombstone bearing Donald Trump’s name.
NEW YORK — It arrived in Central Park before dawn that Sunday, an instant attraction before it was quickly hauled away by a team of parks department workers.
It was a headstone — a full-size, 420-pound hunk of Vermont granite that would blend in nicely in any of New York City’s cemeteries. But it stood out here, in Sheep Meadow, with a name etched on its face of a man very much among the living.
“TRUMP,” read the headstone, and below that, “Donald J.” The date of birth read 1946. The date of death was blank. Below that was carved an epitaph: “Made America Hate Again.”
It was March 27. Passers-by took pictures that made the viral rounds.
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“This is morbid but hilarious,” one commenter posted on Instagram.
“This made my day lol,” another wrote.
Frank Cassara, 70, a third-generation monument dealer in Brooklyn, saw the headstone on the evening news, and said five words. Four of them were printable: “I don’t believe it.”
His son, Michael, the fourth generation, said four words, three of which were, “What a moron.”
They knew that headstone well. They had made it.
The story came and went, a one-of-a-kind account of a bizarre and elaborate lark. But behind the scenes, the headstone was cause for concern. Could it be a threat on the candidate’s life? Someone had recently sent white powder to Trump’s son in Manhattan, and in the weeks to come, more would arrive at Trump Tower. The Secret Service and officers with the Police Department’s counterterrorism apparatus began an investigation.
They checked the stone for prints — none. They reviewed video from park cameras, and saw a box truck enter the park after midnight. “We saw a group of individuals loading and unloading something off the back of the truck,” Officer Donald Sadowy said. But the license plate was illegible.
The police checked with Tavern on the Green and other park restaurants — had they received any orders at that hour? No.
Several days later, on April 2, a break in the case arrived on the website Gothamist, which published an interview with an anonymous artist claiming responsibility for placing the headstone.
The story included photos of the stone, including one before the engraving, when it was blank in what appeared to be a showroom. It stood among other models on a store’s chipped tile floor.
How many stores in the city make headstones?
Sadowy and Sgt. David Cuce decided to visit one to ask about the stone’s design in hopes that it was unique to a particular store. They chose one at random, Supreme Memorials in Brooklyn, in business 65 years. They arrived April 4. The fourth-generation owner met them inside.
The officers recognized the showroom and its chipped tile floor.
“We were, honestly, smiling,” Sadowy said. “We were kind of caught off guard.”
They showed Michael Cassara the pictures, and he admitted making the stone, at the specifications of a customer months earlier. The young customer was different from the usual grieving customers who arrive to make arrangements for a loved one.
“Hipster,” Cassara said in an interview. “He didn’t give us the details until we met a couple times.”
Cassara said he didn’t flinch when he heard the name the man wanted on the stone. “I deal with a lot of these artists; I make a lot of crazy things,” he said. “I do a lot of movie props, props for plays. ‘I want to make a stone for Michael Jackson.’”
The Cassaras declined to say what the stone cost. Another dealer said that sort of stone would run $2,450.
Michael Cassara was not charged with any crime.
“He didn’t know where the tombstone was going to go,” Sadowy said.
Cassara gave the police the customer’s name, and footage from the shop’s videos that showed him loading the finished stone into a box truck with a dolly. Officers called the company whose name was on the truck, and confirmed the same man had rented it and the dolly.
On Monday, the police visited the man, identified as Brian A. Whiteley, 33. He was not charged with a crime. A man answering Whiteley’s phone on Monday declined to comment.
But in a phone interview on March 30 arranged by a publicist, the artist, who declined to give his name, told Melena Ryzik of The New York Times that he was “trying to remind Donald what type of legacy he’s leaving behind.
“And also leaving the date of the death open, alluding to the fact that there’s still time to change who he is.”
The Trump campaign did not address the headstone, and a spokeswoman declined to comment Monday. There is no reason to believe that Trump, even though he lives a few blocks away, had seen it in person, and it seems unlikely that he ever will. The stone, carefully placed to be seen by many, is presently in a police storage facility in the Bronx.