The Investigation of the Tankleff Murders, a Wrongful Conviction Case

17 year old Marty Tankleff woke up to a terrible sight on the first day of his senior year in high school. On September 7, 1988 he woke up to his mother bludgeoned to death and his father clinging to life in his office. From this day forward the Long Island teen’s life would change drastically. That morning Marty called police when he discovered his mother and began giving first aid to his father. Immediately police believed he was a suspect because they found him covered in blood. During questioning Tankleff identified his father’s business partner as a likely suspect. Marty’s father Seymour owned many bagel stores across Long Island and had many investors in his bagel store franchises. An investor name Jerry Steuerman owed Seymour over $500,000 and had threatened the family with violence previously. Steuerman was at the family’s house the night before for a poker game and was the last to leave (CNN Money). Lead detective James McCready began a hostile interrogation of Tankleff and faked a phone call to his father and claiming that he identified Marty as the killer. This led Marty to believe that he may have blacked out. Detective McCready then read Tankleff his rights and drafted a “confession” that Marty did not sign and recanted (Exonerations Registry). Tankleff provided a possible but inaccurate account of what had happened and was asked to sign it. He refused to sign it and his father later died of his injuries and that added another murder charge. Tankleff was charged for the murders of his parents. The cornerstone of the prosecution was Tankleff’s unsigned false confession. After a 13 week trial he was convicted of both murders on June 28, 1990. He was later sentenced to 50 years in prison on October 23, 1990.

The investigation of the case was greatly affected by the corruption in the Suffolk County criminal justice system. At the time Suffolk County law enforcement were under investigation for corruption and specifically coerced confessions. Detective McCready and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota had conflicts of interest regarding the case. McCready was familiar with the murder suspect Jerry Steuerman. The two had been seen together prior to the murders in a local Suffolk County restaurant. McCready claimed he had done some construction work on the side for Steuerman. A week after the murder/attack as his business partner laid in a coma, he fled to California under a fake name. After McCready had successfully convicted Tankleff for the murders he opened a bar with a friend. That friend happened to be the half-sister of Tankleff and she used the stipend she received from a trust depending on Marty’s conviction. Thomas Spota had previously represented James McCready in a State Investigation Commission (SIC) hearings regarding prosecutorial misconduct. It was found that McCready had perjured himself on the stand during a murder trial 3 years prior. Years prior to the murders Spota had represented Todd Steuerman, Jerry Steuerman’s son for selling cocaine out of a bagel store in the early 1980’s. All of these conflicting interests contributed to the wrongdoing of Marty Tankleff. This led to an improper investigation from the start. All that was needed to convict Marty was his coerced confession. There was no physical evidence that tied Marty to the murders. Marty offered to take a lie detector test which was denied by McCready.

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After being wrongfully convicted Tankleff would spend the next 18 years in prison. On December 18, 2007 an Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court ruled that a jury would acquit Tankleff (Zouhali-Worrall) . I think the investigation went off-track even before the murders were committed. There was some sort of business deal between McCready and Steuerman going on for years prior. I think it had to do with drug dealing or something to that effect. The story was represented by news outlets by showing that Suffolk Law enforcement did nothing wrong. Private investigators believe that Steuerman hired hitmen to kill the parents. I think it was shocking that he was convicted even though there was no physical evidence.

I learned that the investigation process can be very different that advertised. Conflicting interests can play a major part in whether a not guilty person goes free or not. I also learned that some people use law enforcement privileges to benefit themselves. I think it was interesting that Tankleff now helps wrongfully convicted criminals in their process of gaining freedom.

Works Cited

  1. “Martin Tankleff – National Registry of Exonerations.” Martin Tankleff – National Registry of Exonerations. National Registry of Exonerations, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. “The Reinvestigator.” N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
  2. Zouhali-Worrall, Malika. “Tankleff Murder Investigation Ends.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 02 July 2008. Web. 06 Apr. 2016. Silenced Partner? The Son of a Bagel-shop Owner Sits in Prison, Convicted of Murdering His Parents over Petty Resentments. But Now a Judge Is Weighing New Evidence That May Link the Crime to the Victims’ Business Ventures.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.

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The Investigation of the Tankleff Murders, a Wrongful Conviction Case. (2023, May 02). Retrieved from