The fatal overdoses of two men who died and were robbed after leaving gay bars in Manhattan last year were ruled homicides on Friday by the New York City medical examiner’s office.
The determination came about 11 months after the body of the first victim, Julio Ramirez, was found abandoned in the back of a taxi on the Lower East Side. The second man, John Umberger, was found dead in an Upper East Side townhouse about a month later.
After their deaths, the men’s families discovered that thieves had drained the victims’ bank accounts using the facial recognition technology on their phones. The nature of the deaths drew wide attention to a problem that has long haunted New York City nightlife: the use of easily acquired drugs to incapacitate and rob people, some of whom die of overdoses.
The homicide rulings could pave the way for indictments in the two fatal overdoses. A Police Department spokesman said in a statement that the deaths were “currently under investigation” as part of a series of “several incidents where individuals have been victims of either robberies or assault.”
“Some of the victims are members of the LGBTQIA+ community; however, it is believed that not all of the victims are,” the spokesman said in a statement. “It is also believed that the motivation for these assault/robberies is monetary gain.”
In a statement, Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office, said Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Umberger had been victims of “drug-facilitated theft.” She said both men had been killed by the same drug cocktail: a mixture of cocaine, lidocaine, ethanol, heroin, fentanyl and p-fluorofentanyl.
The medical examiner’s report did not find the presence of any substance used as a so-called date rape drug, or roofie, in either man’s system. Such drugs stay in a person’s system for only a short time, making them very difficult to detect, medical experts said.
One drug that has been linked to date rape, GHB, is easily obtainable and used recreationally by some gay men. It is not checked for in most routine drug and toxicology tests, according to the Justice Department.
Erik Bottcher, a City Council member who represents Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, said in an interview on Friday that the city, and its L.G.B.T.Q. population in particular, remained on edge in the wake of the killings.
“As we approach the one-year anniversary of their murders, the pain of their loved ones and our entire community has only been exacerbated by the fact that their killers have not been brought to justice,” Mr. Bottcher said. “I call on the Manhattan district attorney to move forward with murder charges as soon as possible.”
Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Umberger died after leaving bars in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood with men they had met at the bars. Mr. Ramirez, a social worker from Queens, died on April 21 after a night out at the Ritz, on West 46th Street.
He left the bar at around 3:15 a.m. with three men who abandoned him in the back seat of a taxi, where the driver found him unresponsive. The men took Mr. Ramirez’s wallet, phone and ID, his brother, Carlos Ramirez, said. By the time Julio Ramirez’s body was identified, someone had withdrawn money from his bank account, his brother said.
A month later, Mr. Umberger, a political consultant from Washington, D.C., who was in New York on business, went to the Q, a club on Eighth Avenue.
He left there with two men and was found five days later in the townhouse where he had been staying on the Upper East Side, his mother, Linda Clary, said. She said more than $20,000 had been withdrawn from his financial accounts.
In reporting on the deaths of Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Umberger, The New York Times interviewed more than a dozen other men who said they had been drugged and robbed in a similar fashion at bars in Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and the East Village since 2020.
The victims in each case said they had been reluctant to file police reports or had done so and been treated skeptically by the police, who along with many in the L.G.B.T.Q. community initially viewed the deaths of Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Umberger as self-inflicted overdoses.
Progress in the investigation has been slow, to the frustration of Mr. Ramirez’s and Mr. Umberger’s families and others in the community, and investigators have been tight lipped as they seek to assemble a case that involves complex but ubiquitous technology and drugs that are essentially untraceable.
Ms. Clary, Mr. Umberger’s mother, said in an interview on Friday that the homicide ruling was “a gut punch” but also “a huge relief, because we fought for this for so long.”
“The N.Y.P.D. at first presented to us that John was robbed while at a club and was so depressed that he went home and did a bunch of drugs,” she said. “But I was like: ‘No, that’s not what happened. John would not have done that.’ And now we know.”
In December, Alvin L. Bragg Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, announced the indictment of a man, Kenwood Allen, on murder, robbery and other counts in a series of similar drug attacks on the Lower East Side in which five people were robbed and two were killed.
Several other men were indicted on lesser charges in the case, but none were charged with drugging the victims.
In January, a Police Department spokesman
said in an emailed statement that a man, Andre Butts, had been arrested on June 7, 2022, for using Mr. Ramirez’s credit card to buy two pairs of Nike sneakers for $544.38 at an upscale shop in SoHo.
The purchase was made at 1:06 p.m., just hours after Mr. Ramirez’s body had been left in the back of the taxi not far away.