Mysterious death of New York judge was initially called a suicide. Now, police think it's suspicious


The mystery of how a prominent African American judge came to be found floating dead in the Hudson River has deepened as her family and widowed husband disputed suggestions by the New York Police Department that she had committed suicide.

What is known is that Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 65, a judge on the state’s highest court, went for a walk alone on the evening of April 11. locking the door to her Harlem brownstone, leaving her phone and wallet at home.

She had called in sick that day and hadn’t gone to work. Surveillance videos spaced over several hours showed the judge walking briskly alone toward the river wearing sweat pants and white sneakers as though she were perhaps exercising.

The last video of her walking was captured after midnight. The next afternoon, her body, dressed in the same clothing, was found at the edge of the river in an area popular with joggers and bicycle riders.

In the initial days, police said that the death appeared to be a suicide because there were no obvious signs of trauma to her body. Reports circulated that her family had a history of suicide — that her 92-year-old mother had taken her life during the Easter holiday in 2012 and her brother two years later. But her family now disputes those stories, saying in a statement that Abdus-Salaam’s mother died naturally of old age and her brother of terminal lung cancer.

Gregory Jacobs, an Episcopal priest who become Abdus-Salaam’s third husband when they married last year, also challenged the portrayal of his wife as suicidal.

“Reports have frequently included unsubstantiated comments concerning my wife’s possible mental and emotional state of mind at the time of her death. Those of us who loved Sheila and knew her well do not believe that these unfounded conclusions have any basis in reality,” read a statement Jacobs released Wednesday.

What looked like an open-and-shut case has been assigned a special team of investigators by the Police Department, which is now treating Abdus-Salaam’s death as suspicious. The police on Tuesday put out a poster asking for information, accompanied by a picture of the judge, photographed, as always, impeccably dressed, this time in a cream-colored jacket and pearls with wire-rimmed eyeglasses.



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