The circumstances of Anthony Garro Jr.’s demise, beaten to death beneath a bridge known as a hangout for homeless alcoholics, were a long way from his beginnings as the beloved adopted son of an Ivy League-educated scientist and academic and a special education teacher who struggled to help him overcome the aftereffects of alcohol-related brain damage done to him in utero.
Garro never won that battle. At the time of his death, the 49-year-old was living on the streets after being asked to leave a boarding house because of his drinking. He’d spent years cycling in and out of Ulster County Jail for alcohol-fueled assaults and petty crimes. But those who knew him recalled an articulate, generous man, one well-known and generally well-liked by those living on the margins of Kingston society and those who serve them.
“He was very smart, very well-read, very personable when he wasn’t drinking,” said Mary “Chiz” Chisholm who runs the Washington Avenue boarding house where Garro was staying until shortly before his death. “That’s the sad thing about alcohol and drug abuse — nobody wakes up one day and says, ‘I want to screw up my life,’ but it happens and they can’t get out of it.”
Garro’s badly battered body was found beneath the Elmendorf Street bridge over the former Catskill Mountain Railroad right of way around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29 by a man walking the tracks on his way to work. According to police, Garro died of severe head trauma and was pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators later determined that Garro’s assailant bludgeoned him to death beneath the bridge.
“He was very severely assaulted,” said Kingston Police Department Detective Lt. Thierry Croizer. “His head was bludgeoned with various items, fists and feet.”
Seth P. Lyons, 20, was taken into custody just a block from the crime scene and less than two hours after Garro’s body was discovered. According to Croizer, Lyons was caught after a uniformed officer pulled from desk duty to assist detectives by reviewing security camera footage at neighborhood businesses happened to notice Lyons hanging around in blood-spattered clothes. The officer took Lyons into custody at 11 a.m.; by 5:45 p.m. detectives had accumulated enough evidence to charge him with second-degree murder in Garro’s death.
Croizer said detectives were still working to determine a motive in the killing and other details, including whether Garro and Lyons were previously acquainted. Croizer said that Lyons gave investigators the address of a family member in Ulster Park, but they believe that he, like Garro, was drifting around between temporary accommodations at the time of the murder.
Croizer praised KPD officers for swiftly concluding a case that began as “a real whodunit” but added that their investigation was ongoing. “We caught the bad guy, but there’s still some things we don’t know,” said Croizer. “We have some loose ends to button up.”
Struggle, and inspiration
Garro’s long and torturous journey to the Elmendorf Street bridge began under happier circumstances back in 1968 when he was adopted by Dr. Anthony Garro, at the time a graduate student at Columbia University, and his wife Mary Ann. At the time Garro Sr. said, the couple were told little about their infant son’s background — simply that he had been born to Native American migrant laborers in Northern California. Garro said he later surmised that his son suffered from brain damage stemming from exposure to alcohol in the womb.
By the time Garro was ready to begin school, his challenges were evident enough that his parents opted to send him to Walden, a progressive private school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Garro Sr. said he hoped the school, with its small class sizes and informal classroom setting would help his son overcome his difficulties. Garro’s mother, Mary Ann, would be inspired by her son’s struggles in school to pursue a career in special education in New York City. Garro Sr., meanwhile, went on to obtain his doctorate and pursued a career in science and academia that included research on fetal alcohol syndrome and a stint as provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
When Garro Jr. was young, the family moved from Manhattan to New Jersey. There, Garro Sr. recalled, his son became an accomplished fly fisherman and avid cyclist, accompanying his father on 80-mile biking expeditions at the age of 14. It was also around that time that Garro Jr. began his lifelong struggle with alcohol abuse.
“He started drinking at a very early age and that’s when he started slipping away from us,” said Garro Sr. “We tried therapy, we tried counseling but there was nothing that was going to stop that train wreck.”
Garro Sr. said his son drifted around the country for years before settling in Kingston. There, he became a well-known figure around the boarding houses and soup kitchens that serve the city’s homeless population. In Kingston, Garro Jr. also embraced his Native American roots, going by the nickname “Indian Tony” and once telling a reporter that he did not vote because America’s government was not his government. Chisholm and others recalled Garro Jr. as well-read with a special appreciation for the works of Stephen King. Chisholm recalls discussing Russian literary great Fyodor Dostoyevsky with Garro shortly before his death.
A good-natured man when sober, those who knew him said he possessed a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality that turned combative and violent when he was drinking. Garro Sr. said over the years he had become accustomed to receiving periodic calls from Kingston police to report that his son was in trouble again.
“It was all petty,” recalls Garro Sr. of his son’s run-ins with the law. “He would be drinking and get into a fight, the cops would come to settle things down then he’d be fighting with the cops and he would end up in jail.”