Rubin murder leaves Ditmas Park reeling

Ditmas Park asks: ‘Where is Josh Rubin’?
Rubin in 2011 before opening his Ditmas Park coffee shop.
File photo By Dan MacLeod

Ditmas Park was on tenterhooks on Thursday as word continued to spread about Whisk cafe owner Josh Rubin’s gruesome death — but his neighbors, with little or no information from investigators, could only speculate what led to the business owner’s demise.

“It feels like a hit,” resident Karen Friedlander said of Rubin, who had been shot in the chest, then set on fire. “[His killer] wasn’t just somebody who was mad; the person who did this was in the bad guy business.”

Very little is known about what happened to Rubin after he left his apartment on Lawrence Avenue at 9 pm on Oct. 31 and when his smoldering body was found off the side of a rural Pennsylvania road at around 8:40 am the next morning.

Currently, detectives can’t even agree on just where Rubin was shot.

His killer remains at large, although its assumed that someone the missing cafe owner knew was responsible.

“It looks like [the killer] was definitely somebody that knew him,” said one police source. “He was trying to get money and may have been involved with [the wrong crowd] to make a couple bucks.”

But Brooklyn cops won’t be investigating this crime. The NYPD maintains the investigation belongs in Pennsylvania. Police from the S. Whitehall Township believe the crime happened elsewhere before the body was dropped in Lehigh County, PA.

The stunning lack of information has left Ditmas Park residents guessing about what transpired.

More than a few residents we talked to described Rubin as tense in the hours before he went missing — the day before the first rent payment on his cafe was due.

“I saw him the evening he disappeared looking very upset,” said a resident of the coop above the cafe, who would only identify herself as Eileen. “He kept smoking and he couldn’t even talk to me.”

Others described an erratic streak that often characterized Rubin — and his cafe.

“Some days I would try to say, ‘Hello’ to him and he would just keep walking,” said Mike Plotkin, the owner of Newkirk Electronics, which is a few doors down from Whisk, which has been shuttered since Rubin’s disappearance.

Rubin also suffered from bipolar disorder, according to police and friends.

The cafe had closed for brief periods before Rubin disappeared, according to Plotkin, who didn’t think anything was awry when Rubin didn’t show up to work on Nov. 1.

Rubin had been trying to sell the place he had spent months trying to open, according to an employee of the cafe who wished not to be named out of respect for the family.

He also attempted to sublet his apartment to neighbor Zach Boyce, unbeknownst to his roommates.

Plotkin described Rubin as an inexperienced business owner who was in over his head.

“He invested a lot of money into the place,” said Plotkin. “He didn’t really seem to know what he was doing and I never understood how he was paying the bills.”

Still, most were heartbroken to learn that Rubin won’t be returning to Brooklyn.

“He had a really great smile and created a wonderful cafe,” said Elsa Alverio, who stopped by a memorial set up outside of Whisk. “I just don’t see how someone like this would be murdered.”

Other residents were shocked that the pleasant neighborhood was thrust in the center of such a gruesome crime.
“We all have to be careful now, everybody,” said Joycelyn Date, who lives down the block.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/from_where_isit.