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Barnes disappeared from the New York City borough of Manhattan sometime in October 1997. At the time of his disappearance, he lived in a three-bedroom apartment in Amsterdam Houses in the 2400 block of west 6th Street; he had once been the building superintendant, but had retired.
Barnes had raised his grandson, Matthew Lewis. By 1997, Lewis was estranged from his wife and stepchildren, and Barnes had invited him to move back in with him. A few months later, in October of that year, Barnes stopped contacting his family, and Lewis gave conflicting explanations as to his whereabouts. In February 1998, Barnes's son went to his apartment to check on him. Lewis told him Barnes was with a girlfriend. Barnes's son didn't believe him and called the police to report his father's disappearance.
In January 2002, Lewis was arrested and charged with his grandfather's murder. Authorities believe he killed Barnes to take over his apartment and steal his pension and Social Security benefits. At his trial in January 2004, Lewis admitted he'd forged Barnes's name and stolen $27,000 from his checking account, but denied murder. He was convicted of all charges and sentenced to a total of 37 1/2 years to life in prison: 22 1/2 years for the murder, ten years for forgery and five for larcency.
Barnes's body has never been found; investigators believe Lewis dismembered it with a chainsaw and put the pieces in a trash bin.