- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — A gas line leading into a Manhattan town house underwent tampering before the home was destroyed by a ferocious explosion Monday that punctuated an exceedingly ugly divorce, police said yesterday.

Police and fire investigators searching through the rubble of the four-story Upper East Side building discovered that the basement gas line had been modified so a hose could be attached to it, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.

Someone stretched a hose from the line to the rear of the building, he said.

After the explosion, authorities began investigating whether the town house’s owner, Dr. Nicholas Bartha, might have caused the blast to avoid selling the home in a divorce judgment favoring his ex-wife.

A police official with direct knowledge of the case told the Associated Press that Dr. Bartha, 66, had contemplated suicide in a rambling e-mail to his ex-wife:

“When you read this … your life will change forever. You deserve it. You will be transformed from gold digger to ash and rubbish digger. You always wanted me to sell the house. I always told you I will leave the house only if I am dead.”

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

The morning explosion hurled fireballs high into the sky and covered the upscale block with bricks, broken glass and splintered wood. Authorities said at least 15 persons were injured: five civilians and 10 firefighters.

The doctor was pulled from the wreckage after yelling up to rescuers, fire officials said. Dr. Bartha and one passer-by suffered severe injuries; the remaining injuries were minor. Fire Chief Nicholas Scoppetta said Dr. Bartha was apparently the only person who lived in the building.

Heavy black smoke rose high above the landmark, 19th-century building on 62nd Street between Park and Madison avenues, a few blocks from Central Park. Before and during World War II, it was used as a secret meeting place by a group of prominent New Yorkers who informally gathered intelligence for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Chief Scoppetta said authorities were investigating whether the blast was the result of a suicide attempt, calling it “a distinct possibility.”

Dr. Bartha had lost a $4 million judgment in the divorce case and the building was to be sold at auction in October to pay the judgment. The building was worth nearly $5 million based on a 2004 assessment and as much as $6.4 million in today’s market.

Dr. Bartha was served eviction papers on Friday, said Dr. Paul Mantia, who also worked in the building.

According to a 2005 appellate court opinion, the doctor had “intentionally traumatized” his Jewish wife, who was born in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, by posting “swastika-adorned articles and notes” around their home. The opinion also said Dr. Bartha had “ignored her need for support and assistance while she was undergoing surgery and treatment for breast cancer.”

Cordula Bartha was granted the divorce “on grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment,” according to the opinion, which also says her husband “systematically cut off her access to marital funds and credit as a means of psychological abuse.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide