Diane Pikul Murder: Is Joseph Pikul Dead or Alive?

Investigation Discovery’s ‘The 1980s: The Deadliest Decade: The Black Monday Murder’ depicts the brutal murder of Diane Pikul in New York in October 1987. The episode takes the viewers through the complex case with its varying layers, helping them understand the long chain of events methodically and chronologically. If you are interested in learning about the reason behind the slaying of the 44-year-old and the identity of the person behind it all, here’s what we know.

How Did Diane Pikul Die?

Diane Jackson Whitmore Pikul was born to Donald E. Whitmore and Alice Jane Jackson Whitmore in South Bend in St. Joseph County, Indiana, on May 20, 1943. Hailing from a well-to-do family, Diane always dreamed of shifting to New York and shedding off her country roots. After earning her college degree, she set off to fulfill her dream. According to the show, Diane met Joseph John Pikul at an Alcoholics Anonymous session and the two married in July 1978 when she was presumably pregnant with his child.

A big-shot Wall Street Analyst, Joseph was a Vice President of the investment concern Arnhold & S. Bleichroeder Inc. and offered his family a wealthy and elite lifestyle. Their marriage bore two children, Claudia and Blake. The family resided in a sprawling apartment on 446 Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, New York. While Joseph and Diane seemed like the perfect couple to their upper-class social circle, that image shattered in October 1987. When Diane did not show up for work on October 26, 1987, her co-workers reported her missing after getting frantic calls from Joseph asking for her whereabouts.

The body of the 44-year-old was found in a drainage ditch beside the New York State Thruway’s northbound lanes, about three and a half miles south of the Newburgh exit, by William Heller, a light equipment operator with the state Thruway Authority, on October 29, 1987. He came across the corpse while on his way to clear debris in the wake of a storm the previous night. After the battered body was identified as Diane, the medical examiner observed she had died of strangulation and blunt force trauma, indicated by the multiple bruises on her body.

Who Killed Diane Pikul?

The investigators had been searching for Diane Pikul since she was reported missing by her co-workers at Harper’s Magazine on October 26, 1987. According to her friend and colleague, Ann Gollin, Diane would never miss her work without prior notice. Hence, she was concerned when she did not show up. As per the show, the detectives learned she had gone with her husband and children to their summer home in Amagansett, Long Island, to prepare it for selling.

Image Credit: Theresa Hernandez-White/Find A Grave

Questioning her co-workers, the officers discovered the Pikul marriage was not working out, and Diane was planning to get a divorce. The law enforcement officials called Joseph for questioning, and he agreed to come down to the station. According to the show, the investigators got off the call to learn some maintenance workers had discovered Diane’s identity card and some women’s garments in a Newburgh dump. They questioned Joseph, who claimed he and her wife had a fight at their Amagansett regarding her alleged infidelity, after which she stormed out. 

The officers searched the Amagansett home to find a packet of condoms underneath the bed which corroborated Joseph’s claims about being the instigator of their bitter quarrel since he thought his wife was having an affair. However, the most chilling piece of evidence was discovered in the kitchen when they found drops of blood. Concerned about Diane’s safety, the investigators searched Joseph’s rented Manhattan apartment to locate women’s lingerie similar to the ones found in the dump.

Confident that Joseph was hiding something, the investigators hypothesized he might be having an affair which might have played a role in Diane’s suspected disappearance. Preparing to question him for another round, the officers were notified her body had been recovered in a ditch, and she was a homicide victim. With enough probable cause, Joseph was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife and was brought in for questioning on October 29.

However, Joseph refused the mandatory strip search at the time of his arrest, making up excuses to get out of it. After being insisted on by the officers, he reluctantly obliged to display he had been wearing women’s lingerie underneath his clothes. Finally, the investigators pieced through his secret – Joseph was a cross-dresser, per reports. He admitted to killing his wife during the interrogation but claimed it was an act of self-defense.

Joseph Pikul Died While Awaiting His Sentence in 1989

Joseph claimed Diane had found his secret in the spring of 1986 while cleaning his stuff and discovering women’s undergarments in his suitcase and pictures and tapes of him in lingerie. Accusing him of probably infecting her with AIDS (considered a taboo disease back then), he alleged she demanded a divorce, full custody of their children, alimony, and child support. Joseph claimed Diane threatened to blackmail him with the pictures if he did not comply with her demands.

Seething under pressure and loss of face, Joseph was looking for a way out when the couple went to Amagansett for the house sale. When she arrived late, and he allegedly found an unfamiliar brand of condom under the bed, the couple had a significant fall-out regarding her apparent adultery, during which she allegedly lurched at him with a knife. During his trial, Joseph showed the jury the injury on his side and claimed he strangled her out of self-defense. He then wrapped her body in a car cover and buried it on the beach at Little Albert’s landing. 

After dropping off the children at a friend’s place, Joseph dug up the body, drove it throughout New England, and even allegedly asked his first wife, Sandra M. Jarvinen, whether she could bury it in her backyard in Massachusetts. When turned down, Joseph dumped the body in a ditch and returned to New York, filing false missing-person reports with the Easthampton and the New York City Police Departments. While awaiting trial, he got out on a $350,000 bail, married for the third time, and even got full custody of his children in June 1988.

But it was revoked in September 1988 after his third wife, Mary Bain Pikul, accused him of slashing her dress with a knife and chasing her with it. He was convicted of second-degree murder in March 1989, but his defense counsel appealed against the conviction by introducing tapes of Diane allegedly threatening him. However, the 54-year-old Joseph died in a hospital in Goshen, New York, in June 1989 while awaiting his sentence. His conviction was vacated in August 1989 due to a prevalent New York legislature that required the appeal to be decided before a defendant’s death.

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