WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — One of the neighborhood's most infamous — and spine-tingling — houses will soon be no more.
The crumbling home at 663 W. 187th St., the site of a brutal murder of a teenage girl in 1958, will be demolished along with two neighboring properties under a plan to build an apartment project, building records show.
The three-story house, built around 1899, was most notably the site of the 1958 strangulation death of Lillian Mojica. Locals said it sat abandoned for years. Property records show a developer bought it in 2012.
According to court documents, Richard Mojica discovered the body of his 16-year-old sister Lillian beneath a mattress in the basement of the home on Feb. 13, 1958. Lillian’s body had been partially burned, and it was later determined that she died of strangulation. She had also been raped, court records show.
After a brief investigation, police charged a boarder at the home, 33-year-old Pablo Vargas, with the crime.
Vargas, who worked as a cook at the Jewish Memorial Hospital on West 190th Street, and a few other men were renting rooms in the Mojica house at the time of the murder, court records said. He briefly reported to work on the day of the murder, even though it was his day off. Police found bloodstains in Vargas’ room, including on his bed and on a pair of slippers, according to court documents.
Vargas confessed to Mojica’s rape and killing, and was found guilty of first-degree murder. He later recanted and filed an appeal, saying that his confession has been coerced, according to court records.
Vargas was executed at Sing Sing Prison’s notorious “death house” on May 12, 1960, according to historical records.
The tragic story has continued to capture the interest of Heights residents, some of whom held a Mass in Mojica’s honor at nearby St. Elizabeth’s Church last year.
Even for those who don’t know the story of the crime, the house has been a source of fascination.
“I passed by these houses half of my life, everyday,” wrote Maiki Andres Montoya in a community Facebook group. “I never knew the history behind that burnt house. We used to dare each other as kids to go inside. No one ever did.”
Workers at the site confirmed that the house, along with two others, would be demolished next week to make way for a seven-story, 47-unit apartment complex from HAP Investment Developers.
The towers would have included about 180 affordable units in exchange for an amendment to the zoning requirements. HAP is instead moving forward with a smaller building that can be constructed as-of-right and will contain 98 market-rate units.
HAP Four, the project on West 187th Street, will similarly offer market-rate housing. The modern structure will house 47 rental units, according to HAP’s website.
While some people lamented the loss of three of Manhattan’s few remaining wood-framed houses, others said they would not miss the dilapidated structures.
“I’m happy that they are going to be torn down,” said Isidoro Ptachewich, 81, who has lived in an apartment building on 187th Street since 1977. The houses have been in decline since he moved in and have sometimes attracted squatters, he said.
“Anything they put there is going to be better for the neighborhood and local businesses,” he said.