Police Are Investigating if the Hanukkah Machete Attacker Stabbed Another Orthodox Jew Just 3 Miles Away

Surveillance footage of the scene was poor quality, there were no witnesses, and the victim, who survived, couldn’t describe his assailant.
January 2, 2020, 3:38pm
Surveillance footage of the scene was poor quality, there were no witnesses, and the victim, who survived, couldn’t describe his assailant.

Investigators are looking closely at evidence that could link the brutal Hanukkah machete attack in Rockland County, New York, to an unsolved attack on an Orthodox Jewish man in the same area in November.

Grafton Thomas, 37, stormed into a rabbi’s house in the Orthodox Jewish enclave in Monsey on the night of December 28 where a Hanukkah celebration with about 75 people was underway, and stabbed five people. He’s facing federal hate crime charges based on evidence showing him to have a pattern of anti-Semitic beliefs.

A little over a month earlier, less than three miles from where the Hanukkah attack took place, an Orthodox Jewish man was attacked from behind, stabbed and beaten, while he was walking to morning prayers. Any surveillance footage of the scene was poor quality, there were no witnesses, and the victim, who survived, couldn’t describe his assailant. Because of the lack of evidence, law enforcement were unable to say definitively whether the attack was a hate crime.

Now, local officials say investigators have recovered evidence from Thomas’ car that could incriminate him for that attack as well.

“Certainly there was evidence that we recovered from the suspect’s car to see if there is a connection with the attack in November,” Ramapo town supervisor Michael Specht told News 12. “Without any evidence, we can't say that there was. On the other hand, the circumstances show there’s a reason to look at that in a very serious way.”

Thomas, who is black, is facing federal hate crime charges that accuse him of having an anti-Semitic motive, as well as attempted murder charges filed by state prosecutors. Federal investigators say his internet search history and journals reveal a pattern of hateful, anti-Semitic beliefs. He also searched phrases like “why did Hitler hate Jews,” searched for locations of nearby Jewish houses of worship, and scrawled “Nazi culture” alongside swastikas and the Star of David in his journals.

He’s pleaded not guilty to all charges. His family and lawyers say he has had depression and psychosis for years, may suffer from hallucinations, and was hospitalized for mental illness several times in 2019.

The complaint says Thomas barged into the rabbi’s home with his face covered by a scarf, said “No one is leaving,” and then took out his machete and started stabbing people. Five people sustained serious injuries. One 70-year-old victim was stabbed so severely in the head and neck that he remains unconscious, and if he wakes up, will likely be permanently brain damaged and paralyzed.

The Hanukkah attack was the latest in a surge of violent attacks against Jews in New York, and anti-Semitic incidents nationwide. Last month, a couple — possibly connected to a radical faction of the Black Hebrew Israelites — attacked a Jewish deli in Jersey City, shooting dead three civilians dead.

Jewish groups have organized a solidarity march in lower Manhattan on January 5 under the banner “No Hate. No Fear.”

Cover: A community member walks near a rabbi's residence in Monsey, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, following a stabbing during a Hanukkah celebration. A knife-wielding man stormed into the home and stabbed five people as they celebrated Hanukkah in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City, an ambush the governor said was an act of domestic terrorism fueled by intolerance and a "cancer" of growing hatred in America. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)