Mysterious death of New York fashion designer ruled as homicide

<span>Photograph: Andrew Toth/FilmMagic</span>
Photograph: Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

The death of a rising New York fashion designer last year could be linked to a spate of “drug-facilitated theft” crimes in the city, authorities have revealed.

A mystery has surrounded the death of Kathryn Marie Gallagher, 35, since she was found dead in her apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on 24 July last year.

Related: Investigation finds fatal drugging of two men in New York City to be homicide

Gallagher, whose designs have been worn by Lady Gaga, actor Laverne Cox and dancers of the New York City Ballet, showed no obvious signs of trauma, police said.

But on Friday, the New York police department ruled Gallagher’s death a homicide after the city’s medical examiner concluded that she died of acute intoxication caused by a mixture of fentanyl, p-pluorofentanyl and ethanol. Investigators also ruled her manner of death as “drug-facilitated theft”, which indicates someone may have drugged her to steal something.

NYPD investigators did not elaborate but are said to be investigating whether Gallagher was intentionally given a dangerous mixture of drugs by someone attempting to rob her.

“There are no arrests and the investigation remains ongoing”, police said.

The designer’s family said in a statement to NBC News that “the homicide determination shared by the medical examiner today affirms what we knew: Katie was the victim of a crime. Sharing this news helps us set the record straight, demand accountability and grieve more openly.”

Police sources told the outlet that Gallagher’s death is similar to 26 other deaths in the city over the past year that they have attributed to “drug-facilitated theft”, though there is no official indication that her case is connected to others.

In December, police charged Kenwood Allen, 33, in the overdose deaths of two men who had been killed after they were approached in nightclubs, drugged and robbed.

Prosecutors allege that Allen was a member of a violent Manhattan robbery crew that targeted nightclub goers.

“They target their victims leaving bars, offering drugs in some cases, then either through force or when the victim passes out, they remove jewelry, money, high-end watches and phones from their victims,” the NYPD’s chief of detectives, James Essig, said at a press briefing.

The spate of “drug-facilitated theft” deaths was initially linked to men frequenting gay night clubs, but Essig said they did not “particularly think that they’re targeting gay members – this is based solely on monetary gain”.

According to an obituary posted on Gallagher’s college website, she had started her her own fashion line in 2010 and shown more than two dozen Katie Gallagher collections.

Her work, the obituary said, has been featured in Vogue, The Cut, Elle and Glamour magazines. “Like AA Milne’s Eeyore, she preferred gloomy days and cold rain. As a child, she was drawn to the woods, mixing potions and playing there with her sisters. Animals were drawn to her gentle and calm demeanor,” it read.

The presence of fentanyl as an instrument in Gallagher’s murder is likely to raise already elevated concerns about the dangers of the synthetic narcotic linked to two-thirds of more than 100,000 fatal overdoses in the US last year.

About 60 bars, restaurants and galleries in the city now hand out fentanyl test kits, the New York Times reported last week, as part of an effort to educate people on what drugs they may be taking.

But “drug-facilitated theft” deaths are another indication that the fentanyl crisis, which has triggered calls by lawmakers to list fentanyl-trafficking Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, is amplifying deadly criminality.