A Crime To Remember: Roseann Quinn’s Murder, The Sexual Revolution & NYC’s Dangerous Past

Roseann Quinn, a New York City school teacher, was found murdered in her bed in January of 1973. When news of Quinn’s sexual relationships spread, she quickly became a tabloid favorite. Although NYC was experiencing an unprecedented level of crime, many people were quick to dismiss Quinn as a sex-crazed single woman who willingly put herself in danger.

By taking a closer look at the cultural shifts of the 1970s, along with New York City’s dark and gritty past, we can fully understand the true events that shaped the shocking investigation.

Quinn's murder got front page coverage Photo: Investigation Discovery

Quinn’s murder got front page coverage Photo: Investigation Discovery

The Women’s Liberation And Sexual Freedom

To understand how the media viewed the Roseann Quinn murder, you have to remember that IUDs and oral contraceptives were less than a decade old at the time. Following the introduction of new forms of birth control, more women were able to explore their sexuality. In the 1960s, only half of 19-year-old women had had sex before marriage, but by the 1970s two out of three women had had sex by the age of 18.

Even hardened NYC cops were horrified by the Quinn crime scene Photo: Investigation Discovery

Even hardened NYC cops were horrified by the Quinn crime scene Photo: Investigation Discovery

Aside from taking precautions to prevent pregnancy, women were also publishing numerous books that seemed scandalous at the time. In 1970, Germaine Greer published “The Female Eunuch” and Robin Morgan published “Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement.” And 1972 brought us the cult classics “The Joy of Sex” and “Open Marriage.”

Hanna Rosin sums up the movement in a time before AIDs:

“In the 1970s the sexual revolution was really mostly about sex.”

Still a point of contention for millions of Americas, abortion was legalized in 1973. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, declared that the right to an abortion was part of a woman’s right to privacy.

1970s New York City: A Sad And Unforgiving Place 

Forget what you know about modern-day New York City; Gotham in the 1970s was a very different, downright dangerous place. Anyone who lived in the city back then remembers streets lined with peep shows and prostitutes. Many of NYC’s current tourist favorites and hipster haunts (see The Bowery and Times Square) were the stomping grounds for sex workers in the ’70s. It’s hard to believe, but there were an estimated 40,000 prostitutes in New York City in the 1970s and most of them were between the ages of 15 and 20 years old.

A lot has changed since 1973, including the rent for Quinn's modest apartment Photo: Investigation Discovery

A lot has changed since 1973, including the rent for Quinn’s modest apartment Photo: Investigation Discovery

Along with the many underage prostitutes walking the streets, heroin was taking over NYC in the 1970s. By the middle of the decade, an estimated 200,000 people were abusing the drug in the city. Just two blocks from Roseann Quinn’s apartment was the infamous Needle Park, a hot stop for shooting up.

Learn more about the infamous case in the Investigation Discovery series “A Crime To Remember” on ID Go.

On the streets, sex and drugs defined the city, but underground was just as wild. Today’s subway system is a far cry from the 1970s, when the trains rarely ran according to schedule and homeless people sought refuge in the graffiti-covered cars. The Lexington Avenue Express even got the nickname “Mugger’s Express.”

John Wayne Wilson in police custody Photo: AP

John Wayne Wilson in police custody Photo: AP

Lastly, you have to remember that the city was on the verge of bankruptcy. Unemployment was a way of life for many young people, including Roseann Quinn’s murderer, John Wayne Wilson. Wilson, like thousands of young men in NYC, turned to alternative means, including dealing drugs, robbery and prostitution, to make ends meet.

Quinn’s Story Captivates Authors And Filmmakers

The book became a NYTimes #1 bestseller Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The book became a NYTimes #1 bestseller Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As noted in A Crime to Remember, Roseann Quinn’s story inspired Judith Rossner’s infamous novel “Looking For Mr. Goodbar.” The central character leads a double life, and risks her safety to fulfill her desire for drugs and aggressive sex. But as you learned from the real details of Roseann Quinn’s life and death, the titilating book is simply a work of fiction.

Unfortunately for Quinn, most of the American public failed to recognize the distinction between the fictional character and the real victim. In the mid-70s, many people were eager to write off Quinn’s case, insisting that a woman who engaged in premarital sex with multiple partners was bound to run into trouble.

By the end of the 1970s, Rossner’s book had spawned a film adaptation, directed by Richard Brooks and starring Diane Keaton. And New York Times journalist Lacey Fosburgh explored the case in Closing Time: The True Story of the “Goodbar” Murder. 

While popular culture remembers Mr. Goodbar, it’s crucial to know the changing sexual norms and the crime wave that overwhelmed New York City when examining murder of Roseann Quinn. For most people it was easier to believe that Quinn brought on her own murder, instead of seeing the case for what it was: a random and chilling attack that could have happened to anyone.

Learn more about the infamous case in the Investigation Discovery series “A Crime To Remember” on ID Go.

Read more: CNN

Read more: New York Daily News

Main image: AP/Wikimedia Commons

  • Philippa Roberta

    I met one of Roseann Quinn’s brothers in the mid 80’s. The pain and horror of losing a loved one in such a manner, leaves shock waves on the soul.