By Benjamin Fractenberg, Jeff Mays, Nicole Bode and Murray Weiss
HARLEM — A naked woman's body was found underneath a pile of leaves in Marcus Garvey Park early Wednesday, police and witnesses said.
Nina Rivera, 29, was found at the base of a rocky hill on the East side of the park near East 122nd Street and Madison Avenue, police said. Witnesses at the scene said she was naked, but police would not officially confirm whether she had clothes on.
There were no obvious bruises or other signs of assault on the body, police sources said, and there was no immediate indication that a crime had taken place. An early theory was that the woman might have been emotionally disturbed and died in the park, sources said.
The NYPD's 28 precinct sent out an e-mail to the community before the body was identified Wednesday alerting them to the incident and asking for information.
"This is to inform you that a black hispanic female, 40 years of age was found dead under a pile of leaves inside Mt. Morris Park on 120th & Madison. Cause of death is undetermined at this time, however an investigation is pending," wrote Deputy Inspector Rodney Harrison, the Commanding Officer of the NYPD's 28th Precinct.
The body was discovered by a Parks Department volunteer who was raking in the area and saw a foot sticking out of the leaves, according to a Parks Department source who asked to remain anonymous. The Parks Department referred all calls to the NYPD.
Police on the scene Wednesday had covered the body with a sheet and cordoned the area off with crime tape as they conducted their investigation Wednesday. Concerned onlookers gathered at the edges of the scene.
"I thought this area was getting better. It seems to be getting worse," said Gorline Gore, 50.
Gore also said this is not the first time she's heard of a body being discovered in Marcus Garvey Park in the nine years she's lived nearby. She said the park has become a haven for transient men, and she has seen groups drinking and using drugs in the middle of the day.
The park stretches from West 120nd to 124th Streets from Madison Avenue to Mount Morris Park West. The area where the body is found is just north of one of the park’s playgrounds near a cluster of chess tables.
Marcus Garvey Park has been the site of a string of crimes over the past year. Four men were stabbed in or near the park this summer, and three of them were attacked in apparently random attacks on May 26. The attacker in that incident escaped into the park, police said.
Community officials say they have been concerned about the east end of the park, especially in the wake of the closure of North General Hospital, which had been located at Madison Ave. and West 122nd Street.
The park falls within the confines of two NYPD precincts — the 25th Precinct and the 28th Precinct — and can be difficult to police as a result, officials said. It is also split between two community boards, 10 and 11.
"The park really is split down the middle. We want to have a sit down and discuss problem areas and what we can do," said Paimaan Lodhi, district manager for Community Board 10.
Lodhi said a meeting is in the works between Community Boards 10 and 11 as well as the 25th and 28th precincts to discuss ways to better police the park.