Man killed in Center City home recalled as 'a pure soul'

Lee Stanley. A medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and cited "blunt chest trauma."
Lee Stanley. A medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and cited "blunt chest trauma." (ruled his death a homicide and cited "blunt chest trauma.")
Posted: August 20, 2014

To the members of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, the stately Reform synagogue at Broad and Mount Vernon Streets, Lee Stanley was a keeper of history - a beloved, rumpled man who wore a straggly beard and oversize suits, and kept at his enthusiastic recall an unmatched knowledge of the congregation's musical tradition.

In his earnest way, fellow congregants say, Stanley could pluck from his mind details most others had long forgotten - or never thought to preserve: the precise date the congregation changed the melody for a particular song or tinkered with the Hebrew phrasing of a prayer.

And in the three-story redbrick rowhouse on Mole Street, near Cherry - where he had first lived with his parents, then alone since their deaths decades ago - Stanley, 65, kept stacks upon stacks of the congregation's musical bulletins and more ephemera related to his other passions: opera and baseball.

Just before noon Friday, some roofers found the side door to Stanley's apartment open. They found him lying lifeless on his back, in his pajamas, in the living room sprawled among the clutter of his collections.

A white powdery substance, believed to have been sprayed from a fire extinguisher, covered his body. He appeared to have injuries to his face, a police source said.

On Monday, police said a medical examiner ruled Stanley's death a homicide and said he had died from "blunt chest trauma."

Police recovered a fire extinguisher near Stanley's body and are testing it for fingerprints and DNA as they try to determine whether it could be the murder weapon - whether Stanley might have happened upon an intruder who then bludgeoned him with it.

"We have no solid leads on this one yet," said Lt. Norm Davenport of the homicide unit, as detectives canvassed the blocks around Mole Street for witnesses or security cameras that might have captured footage of Stanley's killer.

On Mole Street, residents said there has been other serious crime in recent years, including the rape of a woman in a small park on the street, and the robbery of a food deliveryman this year.

The trouble, said neighbor Eddie Stites, usually stems from passersby who cut down the narrow street connecting Cherry and Race.

Meanwhile, at Rodeph Shalom, people were struggling with the shock of the death of a man they described as a gentle and passionate friend.

"He was such a pure soul," Rabbi Jill Maderer said. "He has been an icon of the congregation. He was treasured."

For years before his death in 1986, Stanley's father, Harry, served as cantor at Rodeph Shalom, a legacy that Lee Stanley had worked in his way to preserve.

"He was very concerned that the musical aspects of Jewish life were carried forward," said Lee Herman, who serves as president of the congregation's men's club, of which Stanley was a member, and sang with him in the choir.

An archivist with the city Department of Records for three decades before his retirement in 2004, Stanley worked for years as a librarian at the synagogue and would read - often without prompting - from a book of commentary at the congregation's weekly Torah study.

A slight, hunched man who struggled with diabetes, he walked the half-mile to Friday evening and Saturday morning services, and weekly choir practice.

He wore a suit, which hung on him, and if the occasion called for it, a bow tie. He collected baseball cards and could recall without pause the roster of any long-ago Phillies team, Herman said.

In recent years, fellow congregants had begun to worry about him, Herman said. He lived alone in an aging house, and last year was struck by a car in Center City, fracturing a leg - the second time he had been struck by a car in recent years, said Herman, who drove Stanley home from choir practice every Wednesday.

The congregation was "very protective" of him, Maderer said.

That makes the loss loom larger, the rabbi said: "They are very sad that there was something they couldn't protect him from."


mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

@MikeNewall

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