How a struggling teen wound up murdered in NYC’s South Street Seaport

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Steps from Sarah Jessica Parker’s shoe store, a Momofuku outpost and multi-million dollar luxury apartments, an abandoned eyesore languishing in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge became a disabled teenager’s tomb. 

Sometime during the last weekend of February, 19-year-old Rosalee Sanchez was bludgeoned with a shovel and a metal pipe, stabbed over nine times and strangled with a piece of rope inside the old Fulton Fish Market in Lower Manhattan, prosecutors said. 

Her battered and bruised body was wrapped up in plastic garbage bags and tape, covered in a metal sheet and left to rot for more than a week. 

On Saturday morning, her boyfriend discovered the corpse.

“My wife! My wife! They killed my wife!” the man cried as Sanchez’s remains were removed from the city-owned blight, according to a police source who was there. 

A trio of out-of-state vagrants who’d been living in the long-neglected warehouse — Austin Boehm, 25, Christian Mercado, 20, and Amber Wilson, 33 — admitted to the crime and were arrested. 

Boehm stabbed and beat Sanchez, Mercado clobbered her with the shovel and strangled her and Wilson worked in vain to hide the savagery, prosecutors said. 

“I was there and Austin and The Beast told me to wrap up her body with the tape and the plastic and then I put a metal sheet over her body,” Wilson told police in an apparent reference to Mercado, according to her criminal complaint. 

To locals, the group was a raucous bunch, known for shoplifting, drug use and general delinquency. But to Sanchez, they were new-found friends. 

“Every time when she used to talk to me I said ‘come back [home]’ and she said ‘mommy I’m ok I’m with my friends,’” Sanchez’s mother Iris Garcia told The Post.

“[She said] they were helping her and they’d look out for her and I told her ‘no Rosalee, you don’t know these people, not everybody is your friend’ but that’s the kind of heart my daughter had, she couldn’t see the bad in people. She was too innocent,” Garcia, 52, said between choked sobs. 

“She thought everybody was her friend, she trusted everybody… she didn’t deserve for these people to do this to her.” 

Sanchez, a New Jersey native, suffered from a learning disability and had the mentality of a 14-year-old, Garcia explained. 

She left her mother’s home in Newark about two months ago to join a program for troubled teenagers after depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies left her hospitalized multiple times.

“It was a struggle for 18 years. I always tried to keep her safe. I used to take her to take therapies, she used to see a psychiatrist, but when she turned 18 she didn’t want anybody helping her,” the mom recounted.  

When Sanchez decided she no longer wanted to be in the program, she left to live on the streets with her boyfriend “Ghost” in the Big Apple. 

“She just wanted to be out there in Manhattan,” Garcia cried as she clutched a photo of Sanchez, kissing it at one point. 

“She was just following her boyfriend, Ghost. She wanted to be out there with her boyfriend.” 

Across the river, Sanchez chose to spend most nights sleeping in her boyfriend’s “cardboard condo” — a makeshift nest underneath scaffolding outside of the Lot-Less Closeouts discount store on Fulton Street — and hanging out at the nearby former market, her mom and locals said. 

In the 15-plus years since the famed fish market moved to the Bronx, it’s sat empty and become a haven for squatters and drug addicts. 

Over the last decade, there were attempts to build luxury condos and hotels on the site but pushback from locals who wanted to save the building squashed the deal. In a heated battle between restoration and revitalization, abandonment won, and the dilapidated warehouse plunged further into squalor.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, it became a veritable homeless hotel that the city is now rushing to demolish after Sanchez’s murder, a worker from the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the property, told The Post.    

“Late February we evicted over 20 people from this building in one shot,” a police source said. 

“We found all these bedrooms. It was disgusting, terrible living conditions… There was a canoe in there. It stunk like you wouldn’t believe.” 

It was there Sanchez met the “friends” that’d later become her alleged killers: Mercado, a drunkard from California, Boehm, a belligerent fugitive from Pennsylvania, and Wilson, a mom of three who recently left her Maryland home to work as a maid at a Big Apple hotel, according to family, locals, police and records. 

“I never thought she’d do something that crazy or stupid,” Wilson’s brother, Robert Wilson, 36, told The Post by phone. 

Lito Ahmed, a clerk at the Smoke Choice shop on Fulton Street, said Sanchez and her boyfriend were often seen hanging out with Mercado, Boehm and Wilson. 

“They come in for bombs. Every day I see them. They steal clothes from H&M around the corner. The security guard chased them right here two weeks ago,” Ahmed told The Post Wednesday, referencing a type of glass pipe used to smoke crack. 

“They always together, screaming at each other, five of them… [Sanchez’s boyfriend] buys skittles for [her] and Mentos,” he continued. 

“She died? She sleeps right here!”

It was not immediately clear why the trio turned on Sanchez, who had dreams to join the army and become a nurse.

Law enforcement sources said there may have been a dispute over money and she’d been “lured” to the market by the suspects. Local cops patrolling the scene Wednesday chalked it up to the chaos that comes from drug-fueled vagrancy. 

But to Garcia, her daughter was not a crackhead. While she dabbled in marijuana and alcohol, Sanchez didn’t have a drug problem, she was just an impressionable, developmentally disabled girl “with a heart of gold,” desperate for a slice of freedom and independence. 

“I last spoke to her on the 26th or the 27th [of February]… I said ‘Rosalee you can’t continue to be out there on the streets of New York. New York is not safe, you need to do something, let us help you.’ She said ‘I don’t need nobody helping me. Mommy you worry too much. I’m okay, I know how to take care of myself,’” Garcia recalled. 

“Then I called a day later and she never responded.”

Additional reporting by Larry Celona and Rebecca Rosenberg

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