Father of Harlem woman, 42, reveals her husband threatened her before double murder-suicide
To their neighbors in Harlem, Jennifer Schlecht, her husband Yonathan Tedla and their five-year-old daughter were a perfect, loving family.
But according to the woman’s loved ones, the facade of familial harmony concealed a marriage in turmoil marred by violence and threats.
On Wednesday, that facade cracked when police entered the family’s apartment on West 121st and found the bodies of Schlecht, 42, Tedla, 46, and their daughter, Abaynesh.
Detectives believe Tedla decapitated his wife with a knife in the bathroom, slit their daughter’s throat in the girl’s bedroom, and then took his own life by hanging.
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Police say Yonathan Tedla (right), 46, beheaded his wife, Jennifer Schlecht (left), 42, and slit the throat of their five-year-old daughter, Abaynesh (center), before hanging himself
The carnage took place as Schlecht and Tedla were going through divorce proceedings
Family friends are seen bringing flowers to a growing makeshift memorial at 151 West 121st St
A woman is seen leaving a bouquet of flowers at the victims’ brownstone in Harlem Friday
Neighbor LaNora Williams-Clark covered her face while mourning on the stoop Friday
An NYPD officer stands guard at the apartment building where the double murder-suicide took place this week
Schlecht’s father, Kenneth Schlecht, 75, told the New York Times that his daughter made several attempts to leave Tedla over the course of their troubled seven-year marriage, but he refused to let her go and each time tore up divorce papers.
‘He told her he was going to ruin her or take all of them down,’ her father said. ‘She didn’t know if he would carry on with the threats.’
The grisly nature of the double murder-suicide came as a complete shock to those who knew the couple.
Tedla, an IT specialist at Columbia University, was universally described as a ‘happy-go-lucky’ man who always had a smile on his face while jogging in the neighborhood daily, or carrying his daughter on his shoulders.
‘He looked really, really happy all the time,’ one neighbor told the times.
But according to his father-in-law, Tedla was abusive toward his daughter, and last time she spoke to her family last Sunday, she said she was determined to leave her, after getting an order of protection.
He recalled that his daughter was crying and was a ‘basket case.’
Schlecht told her father on that phone call that she was planning to go to court on Tuesday to get the protection order against Tedla, but the courts were closed that day for Election Day.
The family had heard nothing from Schlecht for four days, which Kenneth says was unlike her.
Throughout the day on Wednesday, worried relatives called her number several times but there was no answer. Concerned for her safety, they requested a welfare check after 9pm, leading to the horrific discovery inside the family’s apartment at 151 West 121st Street.
Since news of the tragedy broke early Thursday morning, distraught family friend and neighbors have been bringing bouquets of flowers and candles to add to a growing memorial on stoop of the brownstone.
Horror inside: The building on West 121st Street in Manhattan on Wednesday became the site of a double murder-suicide in which a father beheaded his wife, killed their daughter and then himself
A sobbing woman is seen outside the building in Harlem on Thursday morning
NYPD detectives arrive on the scene of last night’s carnage in Harlem Thursday
Officers are seen removed evidence bags from Schlecht and Tedla’s home
Tedla was discovered in a bedroom, his wife in the bathroom, and their child in another bedroom, according to a press release from the police. The mother and daughter both had neck trauma.
The New York Daily News reported, citing unnamed sources, that Schlecht was found decapitated, with her severed head resting in her lap.
Her daughter suffered a cut so deep to her neck that she was partially beheaded.
The five-year-old’s father was found hanging from a rope tied to a bedroom door.
Police seized a knife, believed to be the murder weapon, from the scene.
Tedla and Schlecht were going through divorce proceedings and were due in court just hours before the gruesome slayings.
Schlecht’s brother contacted the authorities that evening, asking to check on his sister after failing to reach her by phone.
Kenneth Schlecht, Jennifer’s father, tells the Daily News that the last time he spoke to his daughter was last Sunday and she was in tears.
‘She said her husband had indicated that if she served him with divorce papers he would ruin her or take them all out, which was apparently what he did,’ he said.
Jennifer and Yonathan Tedla, an immigrant from Ethiopia, met in the early aughts at Columbia University, where she was attending graduate school and he was working as an IT technician.
According to Kenneth, Jennifer and Yonathan’s previously happy marriage began coming apart at the seams when they welcomed their daughter five years ago.
Around the time Abaynesh turned two, Jennifer got an order of protection against her husband, but decided to stay with him because she did not want her daughter to grow up without a dad.
The woman, believed to be a family member or a friend, appeared inconsolable and sought comfort from a man outside the crime scene
There was heavy police presence in and around the building where the slaughter took place. Children’s drawings are seen taped to a second-floor window.
She said she was planning to go to court on Tuesday to get ther protection order against Yonathan, but the courts were closed that day for Election Day.
Neighbors described Tedla to ABC 7 NY as a friendly and kind man who adored his wife and daughter.
The couple’s across-the-street neighbor Ruben Natal-San Miguel told DailyMail.com in an interview that he knew the family and saw the husband almost every other day.
‘They were just a normal, every-day family,’ he said, describing them as ‘lovely.’
Natal-San Miguel said he saw the parents taking their daughter out treat-or treating on Halloween and had their stoop decorated with spiderwebs for the holiday.
‘They were part of the community, they were involved with the block association,’ he said.
The Daily News reported that in 2016, Schlecht got a temporary restraining order against her husband because he was threatening her.
Schlecht (pictured kneeling in a white blouse) had worked on humanitarian problems affecting women around the world for 15 years
Earlier this year, Schlecht (second row from the bottom) was appointed senior adviser for emergency preparedness and response with the humanitarian organization Family Planning 2020
Schlecht had a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a Master’s degree in population and family health
A tribute tweeted by Family Planning 2020 read: ‘Jennifer devoted her entire career to advocating for women and girls. We will all remember her for her life – and the thousands of lives she enriched – rather than the horrible way she died’
According to her LinkedIn page, Schlecht served as a senior adviser for emergency preparedness and response with the humanitarian partnership Family Planning 2020.
Beth Schlachter, executive director of FP2020, sent a statement to DailyMail.com addressing the tragedy.
‘Jennifer Schlecht devoted her entire career to ensuring that women and girls in crisis situations have access to the best medical care possible including family planning and other reproductive health care,’ it read. ‘Most recently, she has been a vital part of the FP2020 family at the United Nations Foundation. She was a leader in the field of family planning and humanitarian response, and chose to work from New York so she could have more time with her darling daughter.
‘She delighted in telling us about her daughter’s first day of kindergarten and the clothes she picked out all by herself. In addition to being an adoring mother, her contribution to the lives of women and girls who are living in crisis situations has been extraordinary.
‘That she should die under such brutal circumstances is beyond understanding. But we will all remember her for her life – and the thousands of lives she enriched – rather than the horrible way she died. We are utterly devastated.’
Schlecht, one of three children in her family, graduated in 1999 from Boston University with a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology and went on to earn a Master’s degree in population and family health from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in 2004.
According to her online profile, Schlecht worked for 15 years in international relief and development, focusing on improving family planning for women and girls in areas affected by crises.
Last month, Schlecht gave a presentation at the Woodrow Wilson Center on the subject of reproductive care for female refugees.
Schlecht and Tedla welcomed their daughter, Abaynesh, in November 2014. Her name derives from an Amharic word that is translated as ‘you are the Nile.’