"I'll never forget his face. I
looked right into his eyes
By CAL DEAL
PATERSON - A composite drawing of a Lafayette Grill triple murderer depicts a man who physical characteristics are similar to those of convicted murderer John Artis, police sources said Tuesday.
While the drawing is not a conclusive indicator of Artis' guilt, the sources said, it does nothing to exonerate Artis of the murders.
A copy of the drawing, which has never been seen by the public, was recently obtained by The Herald-News from reliable sources.
The drawing was made by Clifton Det. Edward Snack and was based on a description by Mrs. Hazel Tanis, a victim of the shootings.
The shootings occurred at 2:30 a.m. June 17, 1966, when two black men entered the Lafayette Grill on E. 18th Street. The men, using a shotgun and a revolver, killed the bartender and a patron instantly, fatally wounded Mrs. Tanis, and seriously wounded a fourth person.
Mrs. Tanis died July 14, 1966.
Artis and Rubin "Hurricane" Carter were convicted of the triple murder in 1967. They are now seeking clemency from Gov. Brendan Byrne or a new trial after two prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony.
The Passaic County Prosecutor's Office had attempted to introduce the drawing as evidence in the Carter-Artis murder trial. It was ruled inadmissible by the court, however, because Mrs. Tanis had not given a deathbed declaration in the month before she died.
The police reportedly did not obtain the deathbed statement because they felt Mrs. Tanis would survive her five wounds. The woman died hours after she unexpectedly slipped into a coma.
No drawing was made of the second gunman because of Mrs. Tanis' poor physical condition, sources said.
Snack said Tuesday that certain physical characteristics depicted in the drawing "compared favorably" with those of Artis. He could not comment further because the case is still before the courts, he said.
Among those who have viewed the drawing, there is general agreement that it is not immediately recognizable as Artis.
Police who have worked with such drawings, however, say that would not be considered unusual. They said it is more important to consider the outstanding physical features that are depicted.
in the case, the sources say the shape of the face, eyes, ears and chin match those of Artis;. The only major feature that does not match, they say, is the nose.
The drawing was made in Mrs. Tanis' hospital room on July 6, 1966, eight days before she died. Because of the woman's physical conditions, Snack was constantly being interrupted by doctors and "had to hurry" to complete the sketch," he said.
"She seemed very alert," said Snack. "She said she was satisfied with the finished product."
On the night of the murders, Mrs. Tanis had worked as a waitress in the Westmount Country Club, West Paterson. On her way home to Hawthorne, she stopped to see her friends at the Lafayette Grill and drop off some money for a waitresses' convention.
Mrs. Tanis arrived there five minutes before the shootings and ordered a drink. She went to the ladies room and returned to her seat.
She sat down near the front of the bar. her back was to the windows on the E. 18th Street side. At 2:30 a.m., the door swung open and in walked two black gunmen. They immediately fired at the three other persons. Mrs. Tanis jumped from her seat and crouched on the floor.
The men turned toward the front door and saw her in the corner. The man with the revolver - the one in the composite drawing - looked her in the eye and shot her four times. The other man fired a shotgun blast into her left side.
"I'll never forget his face," Mrs. Tanis was quoted as saying of the man in the drawing. "I looked right into his eyes and then he shot me."