Vincent Musetto, a retired editor at The New York Post who wrote the most anatomically evocative headline in the history of American journalism — HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR — died on Tuesday in the Bronx. He was 74.
A former colleague, Myron Rushetzky, confirmed the death, of pancreatic cancer, at Calvary Hospital.
The writers of newspaper headlines generally toil in anonymity, and over time a few others have been posited as the creator of this one. But among the salty, ink-stained, intemperate cadre of New York journalists who wistfully recall the days when men wore hats and newspapers were made only of paper, Mr. Musetto was widely credited as the creator of this headline, spread across The Post's front page on April 15, 1983.
The crime behind the headline was lurid even by tabloid standards. On April 13, 1983, Charles Dingle, drinking in a tavern in the Jamaica section of Queens, argued with the owner, Herbert Cummings, and shot him to death. He then took several women hostage, raping one and forcing another, in an apparent bid to confound the police, to cut off Mr. Cummings's head.
Apprehended the next day, Mr. Dingle was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life. Denied parole several times, he died in the Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo in 2012.
But what endured in public memory far longer than the crime was the headline, with its verbless audacity, arresting parallel adjectives and forceful trochaic slams. (The corresponding headline in The New York Times that day proclaimed, genteelly, "Owner of a Bar Shot to Death; Suspect Is Held." Headlessness was not mentioned until the third paragraph; toplessness not at all.)
Mr. Musetto's headline, exquisitely emblematic of The Post under Rupert Murdoch, quickly insinuated itself into popular culture. It appeared on T-shirts; as the title of a 1995 movie starring Raymond J. Barry and loosely based on the crime; and as the name of a 2007 book, "Headless Body in Topless Bar: The Best Headlines From America's Favorite Newspaper."