Police: Woman confesses to vandalizing fraternity members’ vehicles

Washington University student Max LaVictoire stands by his Dodge Ram 1500, which was vandalized while he was out of town over spring break. All four tires on his truck had been slashed and two swastikas had been keyed into the body of the vehicle. Photo: Ellen Futterman

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

A young woman confessed late Tuesday to vandalizing four cars belonging to four members of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University last week.

University City Captain Michael Ransom said the woman is a “former acquaintance” of one of the members of ZBT. He did not say if she was a Wash U student or whether one of the cars she vandalized belonged to the acquaintance. Her name has not been released because charges have not been filed.

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The vandalism, which included swastika graffiti, came to light last Friday. Max LaVictoire was returning to the fraternity house after a week of skiing over the school’s spring break when he found all four tires on his Dodge Ram 1500 truck had been slashed and two swastikas had been etched with a key into the body of the vehicle.

“I wasn’t so much offended as I was angry,” said LaVictoire, 20, a sophomore from Atlanta who is Jewish and one of 54 young men who belong to the historically Jewish fraternity at Wash U.

LaVictoire lives in the fraternity house, located at 7200 Forsyth Boulevard, with seven others. He had left his car parked in a designated outdoor parking space at the back of the house.

When he learned Wednesday that a suspect had come forward, LaVictoire said he was now convinced the incident was more personal than anything else. “I am relieved,” he said, jokingly adding, “Now there is a much better chance of me getting my $500 deductible back.”

From an earlier story:

Ransom said the three other fraternity members, who live in apartments on Forsyth but not at the ZBT house, also reported having their tires slashed. All of the incidents took place between last Thursday night and early Friday morning.

“The truck was the only one that had the swastikas scratched into the body,” said Capt. Ransom. “One of the other cars had the name ‘Ben’ scratched into it, which was not the name of the young man who owns the car.”

At the time of the incident, U. City police had notified the FBI’s Hate Crimes Task Force. They weren’t sure if the vandalisms had anything to do with an Aryan Nations demonstration that took place Saturday afternoon at the St. Louis County Courthouse at 7900 Forsyth.

Devon Leichtman, 20, a junior from Boston, was getting ready to fly to Denver Friday for a family gathering when he found out one of his tires had been slashed. He and fellow ZBT brother Dustin Kline, 21, had parked behind each other in the driveway of 7100 Forsyth. All of Kline’s tires were slashed.

Leichtman said when he first learned what had happened, he thought someone or some group was targeting members of the fraternity, though he had no idea why. He noted that six other cars parked at 7100 Forsyth were untouched; none of those six is affiliated with ZBT, just Leichtman and Kline.

“With the vandalism on Max’s car, it seems anti-Semitic, but I just don’t know,” Leichtman added. However, Kline, while a member of ZBT, is not Jewish.

“Something here seems more personal to me than anything else,” said Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Missouri and southern Illinois Anti-Defamation League. “The swastikas could have easily been thrown in to make it appear something more than it is.

“From my perspective this is a great teaching tool – when is something a hate crime and when is it a vandalism/graffiti case? The approach is never cut and dry.”

Aroesty said the ADL has taken swastika graffiti “off-the-table as a de facto anti-Semitism identifier” because so many people know it’s bad but don’t really understand the meaning of the symbol and use it indiscriminately. “There’s a piece of that that leaves it questionable,” Aroesty said. “People have to be very careful to understand that piece of it.”

But Laurence Bolotin, executive director of ZBT National based in Indianapolis, said he believes a swastika is a clear sign of anti-Semitism. He reported a slight rise in campus vandalism recently directed at ZBT chapters nationwide. Among the incidents he cited were swastikas drawn on a new ZBT house at the University of Memphis as fraternity brothers prepared to move in and anti-Semitic vandalism at Indiana University directed at Jewish campus organizations, including the ZBT and Chabad houses at the end of 2010.

“It’s sad but it reaffirms that Jewish fraternities are still needed to ensure Jewish students have a place they can feel comfortable and call their own,” said Bolotin.

Rob Wild, assistant to Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, said the administration was “shocked to hear the news” from these fraternity members.

“We spoke with the chief of campus police who knows of no other incidents like this. It seems isolated,” said Wild, noting that the ZBT house and other properties where the vandalism took place are located off-campus and under the jurisdiction of the University City police.

“We support these students and want to help them with what is obviously a scary, upsetting situation,” said Wild. “We have had a professional support staff person make contact with them.”

Chabad on Campus, located next door to the ZBT house on Forsyth, reported no vandalism or graffiti at its location. Kline, a junior from San Francisco, said he had seen another “random car” along Forsyth that had been hit, but knew it didn’t belong to a fraternity brother. Captain Ransom said he had no report of any cars being vandalized other than the ones belonging to ZBT members.