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NY Post
New York Post
17 Feb 2024

NextImg:NYC mom fakes COVID cough to escape deranged knife-wielding menace: ‘What I want is reform’

A West Village woman used an ingenious tactic to escape from an unhinged vagrant who pulled a knife on her earlier this month — claiming she had COVID while coughing in his direction, she told The Post.

Jane Duncan was taking her usual walk a few blocks from Washington Square Park on Feb. 4 when a known local vagrant suddenly jumped in front of her and pulled a knife out of his pocket, she said.

“As he was pulling the knife, I started coughing all over the place,” the 52-year-old said.

Jane Duncan was taking a walk in her neighborhood a few blocks from Washington Square Park when a known area vagrant suddenly jumped in front of her while pulling a knife out of his pocket, she said. Helayne Seidman

“I was like ‘I have COVID. I’m on my way to the ER.’ As I was doing that, he had the knife out and he got scared of me and ran away.”

The man, known in the neighborhood as “Matthew,” asked, “Why are you harassing me?” when he whipped out his weapon.

The two had no prior confrontation, she said, “which makes me think it’s not just that he’s violent, it’s that he’s mentally ill — like he must be hearing voices.”

Duncan, who lives in her childhood home near Washington Street and Bank Street, said more vagrants live in her neighborhood than ever before and she has been using the COVID defense to ward them off too.

“When people are aggressive and getting in my face I start coughing and saying COVID and ‘I’m on my way to the ER,’” admitted Duncan, who provides pet-sitting and cares for the elderly.

The vagrant who allegedly yelled in Duncan’s face standing in front of a local grocery store on a recent afternoon. Helayne Seidman

“This used to be a real froufrou area,” she said of the nabe, where median rents have soared to around $5,000 a month, according to

“But I’ve noticed that people are getting more and more aggressive about panhandling to the point where they’re practically mugging you.”

Meanwhile, Duncan said nothing was done about the situation, even after she filed a police report with cops in the NYPD’s 6th Precinct.

Vagrant known as Matthew, who allegedly pulled a knife on Jane Duncan, is shown in the West Village soliciting money from people. Helayne Seidman

She posted about the incident on

“They kept asking me ‘Are you sure it was a knife?'” she recalled.

“I’m not an idiot I know what a knife looks like.”

The West Village man known as Matthew is shown tailing a passerby. Helayne Seidman

When Duncan saw the man sleeping on a bench a few days later, she called the cops again — in part out of fear for her teenage son, she said.

Six police officers responded — but refused to search him for a weapon, she claimed.

“They were like ‘Wake up, buddy. Wake up, Matthew,’” she said.

The man known as Matthew is a fixture in the West Village. Helayne Seidman
Jane Duncan, a lifelong resident of the West Village, said the vagrant known as “Matthew” pulled a knife on her earlier this month. Helayne Seidman

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re not even going to do anything.'”

The NYPD said there was no report of a knife in the incident.

The man hasn’t been charged.

When approached by The Post, he explained that he was homeless.

“I sleep in the street,” he said. “People think I’m crazy. Yeah, they do.”

He then cursed and became irrational.

Rents in the West Village neighborhood have soared to a median of $5,000 a month, according to a real estate website. Helayne Seidman

Duncan said she’d like to see him get mental health care.

“What I want is reform,” she said.

“I don’t think arresting him and releasing him is the right thing. I think we need to have a system with mental health care.” 

Despite the success of her COVID-crime-fighting technique, Duncan said she’s thinking about getting pepper spray to protect herself.

“I would only use that if I felt like verbally I couldn’t get away from them,” she said.

“But it would make me feel a little bit safer.”