Cops in stakeout after stalker threat

Messages from suspect trigger police action at New Brighton commune

Staen Island Advance/June 21, 2006
By Jeff Harrell

Police have resumed their watch on the Ganas community in New Brighton in response to a disturbing communique that indicates the fugitive suspect in leader Jeff Gross' shooting is keeping tabs still on the group.

Yesterday, a week after police withdrew from the area, a cop sat in a marked car in a driveway across from the spot where an assailant jumped out of heavy brush and shot Gross when he returned home from a movie shortly after 11 p.m. on Memorial Day.

Police suspect that Rebekah Johnson, 43, a former Ganas member who has been on the run since the ambush, sent the anonymous communique, which an Advance reporter received Monday in a manila envelope.

The envelope, which bore a June 15 Staten Island postmark, was traced to the Stapleton Post Office, sources said.

Investigators tested the package for fingerprints and did a handwriting analysis, comparing the cryptic notes on newspaper clippings with documents bearing Ms. Johnson's signature.

Police were still awaiting the results of those tests yesterday afternoon.

Inspector Richard Bruno, commander of the 120th Precinct, urged the fugitive to "turn herself in before anyone else gets hurt."

The packet contained copies of clippings about the May 29 incident with notes to the effect that police quit watching the commune on June 12 after nearly two weeks of round-the-clock security and that residents began clearing the property the following day.

Indeed, thick vegetation has been cleared from in front of the Ganas community's Corson Avenue compound.

Next to the headline "Commune stalker: Who's Next?" in one of the clips, a hand-drawn arrow pointed to a picture of Gross with the words "Just him!"

Another scrawl reads: "Expecting return of shooter? No way!"

Cops think otherwise.

"We consider her armed and extremely dangerous," said Bruno.

Noting that the sender is "a prolific reader of the Advance," Bruno declined to detail the stepped-up measures police are using to track Ms. Johnson since the packet's appearance.

Meanwhile, residents at the row of houses atop the hill overlooking Corson Avenue were understandably edgy upon hearing the news that Ms. Johnson seemingly remains on the Island and is staking out the commune.

"We're doing what we can," said Eric Hersch, referring queries to the group's attorney, Mel Sachs.

"Jeff Gross has a deep, abiding concern for his safety, the safety of his family and the safety of those in the Ganas community," Sachs said yesterday.

Gross, 52, has been at an undisclosed location since he was released from St. Vincent's Hospital, West Brighton, on June 12.

The Ganas leader spent two weeks in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit with gunshot wounds of the arm and stomach.

Ms. Johnson lived at Ganas between 1986 and 1989 and from 1994 to 1996 but was kicked out both times.

Sources said Ms. Johnson has claimed that she and Gross had a "sexual relationship" when she belonged to the commune. Gross has denied that allegation.

Since resurfacing in 2004, Ms. Johnson has waged a relentless campaign of harassment against Gross, distributing fliers demonizing him as a "rapist" and a "pimp," and branding Ganas a "cult" that "rapes women to force them into fraudulent immigration marriages."

A copy of the flier is included in the packet with a sarcastic note at the bottom corner: "I think someone don't like him."

Stretched across the bottom of the page is a question in red felt-tip pen: "Could she be telling the truth?"

The word "she" is underlined.

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