The 2nd Avenue Deli has been a world-famous New York City institution for more than 60 years. Abe Lebewohl, known as the "Mayor of 2nd Avenue," was a beloved neighborhood institution in his own right. Lebewohl was gunned down in a senseless robbery-homicide on the cold morning of March 4, 1996.
Two retired detectives, Jeff Salta and James Piccione, who don't know the meaning of the word "quit," are determined to keep this decades-old unsolved crime alive until they can finally close the book on it.
Abe Lebewohl was a survivor from the beginning, a man who lived through the nightmare of the Holocaust to reach the American dream, with a lot of hard work and an extra-large heart.
Lebewohl was pals with lots of celebrities and household names, like Muhammad Ali, Milton Berle and Bob Hope, but the little guy always had a place at the table too. Everybody in the neighborhood loved Lebewohl.
Except for someone who was waiting for him the Monday morning he got in his van to drop off the deli's weekend earnings -- a few thousand dollars -- at the bank down the street. Lebewohl, 64, was fatally shot by a robber outside the bank.
For his family, and for an entire city, the same question is on everybody's lips: Who would want to hurt Abe Lebewohl?
Two decades after Lebewohl's shocking murder, retired detectives Piccione and Salta still pound the pavement and knock on doors.
The leads have been few. But police did recover the murder weapon days after the crime when it was found in a patch of grass in Central Park by a passerby.
Ballistics tests only raised more questions.
"What we found out a few days after the gun was recovered was that gun was used in a robbery at the Sawmill River Parkway Motel, located in Elmsford, New York, and in that robbery two motel workers were killed," said Piccione. "In 1994 that gun was used in a robbery where the victim was shot. But he survived. So we have one gun, three robberies, three people killed."
They still don't know who was behind those shootings either. But they are convinced that somebody out there does know and that the dots will someday be connected at last.
Abe Lebewohl's original place of business closed years ago and moved uptown. But the fruits of his labor still provide a place for friends to share a meal and memories, and hopes that in a place where the doors are open to all, they can start to get some closure at last.