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The Untold Story of the Tompkins Square Murder

Blood Simple

Daniel Rakowitz moved in with Sylvia and Shawn on July 7, bringing his scrawny brown rooster and three cats with him. “The rooster’s name was Rooster,” remembers Sylvia, a pale 27-year-­old nursing assistant with long brown hair and a striking red-and-­blue tattoo on her right arm. “All night it would cackle and crow. I told Daniel one night, ‘Daniel, I can’t listen to this rooster anymore.’ So he took a sock, and he put it over the roost­er’s bead. And the rooster would lie on its back with its legs up. And after 10 hours I said, ‘Daniel, the rooster — it looks like he’s dead.’ And he says, ‘No, he’s in a trance.’ He’d take the sock off — the rooster was fine. But you put the sock on, and the rooster just lay on its back with its legs up in the air.”

Sylvia and her boyfriend Shawn, both from Morris Plains, New Jersey, had been living together in a cramped two­-bedroom apartment at 700 East 9th Street for a couple months. “When I first met Daniel a year and half ago, he sold me pot in Washington Square Park,” says Sylvia. ”I didn’t really get to know him until be moved into the apartment.” Rakowitz, a 28-year-old part-time cook and marijuana dealer who was sleeping in Tompkins Square Park at the time, agreed to cover half of the apartment’s $500-a-month rent. “I saw a change in Daniel: he felt like he was a normal per­son,” explains Sylvia. “He had a home, he could take a shower, he had a big TV.” In fact, Rakowitz developed a fixation for television. He’d watch until dawn, saying “C’mon Sylvia, watch TV — just one more show, there’s something good coming on!”

Despite a gaping hole in the wall oppo­site the stove, the kitchen was another plus: Rakowitz would often wake up in the morning and head for Key Food on Fourth and B. Hanging out by the front door, he asked people for donations. Strangers shopping at the store would buy him just what he asked for: chicken, potatoes, butter, bread, vegetables. He would return to the apartment with 30 or 40 pounds of food, cook it all up, bring it to Tompkins Square, and feed the home­less there. “He prepared a lot of chicken mainly,” says Jerry the Peddler, a local squatter and community leader. “He’d feed people a couple or three times a week.”

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Sometimes he showed up with break­fast. “He’d make stacks of pancakes for everyone,” says Shawn, a dark, muscular, 25-year-old electrician. “And he even used to get the syrup from the people in the street — he never paid for any of this. We cooked up everything. It was fun. And it was good. He had consideration for other people. He knew what it was like because he had been homeless.”

But life with Rakowitz was not a con­stant picnic: his incessant babbling would have driven almost any roommate mad. “When he used to go off on his trips,” recalls Sylvia, “I’d say ‘Daniel, you have your beliefs, and I have mine. I don’t impose them on you, so please don’t im­pose yours on me.’ And he’d respect that. And he’d stop saying, ‘I am the Lord of the Lords,’ and ‘By 1996, I’m gonna be president,’ and ‘By 1992, my followers are gonna take over,’ and ‘If they think Hit­ler was something, they haven’t seen any­thing yet.’ ”

“He was a classic nut,” says the Ped­dler. “He had all the symptoms: he had sudden fits of rage, he had delusions of grandeur, he didn’t like touching people, he had fantasy followers. Once, we were walking down Avenue B and we found a couple of pages of pornography on the street. He takes a handkerchief out of his pocket, and he lays it across the paper and then picks it up by the edges. And he looks at the women’s pictures for a min­ute and he finally folds it up very neat­ly — never touches it — and puts it in his back pocket.” The Peddler also saw Rakowitz try to pick up the real thing: “He was constantly going up to women — ­constantly. He’d stop right in the middle of a conversation and run over to talk to a single woman alone in the street or in the park. I saw him do that all the time. He never seemed to pick up that many.”

Soon after Rakowitz moved in, Sylvia and Shawn experienced problems in their three-year relationship; around July 20, they broke up and Shawn moved out. Sylvia, fed up with the city, decided to move shortly afterwards, leaving the apartment to Rakowitz. But he couldn’t support the place himself; when the lease changed hands, the rent would rise to $605. And Rakowitz — a skinny, bearded, long-haired drifter — was not exactly what the average landlord considers an ideal tenant. So the search began for a new roommate. “Daniel needed someone to share the rent,” says Shawn, “but he also felt threatened that we were going to kick him out — that I was going to kick him out — so he wanted the lease put in his new friend’s name. Daniel, I guess, didn’t want his name on anything.”

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About two weeks later, according to the police, Rakowitz met Monika Beerle, a 26-year-old modern dancer, in Tompkins Square Park. Beerle, a slender, dirty blond-haired girl from St. Gallen, Swit­zerland, had earned a teaching and chore­ography certificate from the Sigurd Leeder School and had recently studied at the Martha Graham School. Though she had a reputation for dating adventur­ously, one friend says, “She was a pretty smart girl. She seemed pretty profession­al, had a good head on her shoulders. The girl wasn’t stupid and she wasn’t crazy.”

In late April, Monika had moved from 93 Orchard Street to 171 Avenue B but was already looking for another place to live when she met Rakowitz. He took her home and made his pitch. When she ac­cepted, the two of them toasted their future with a couple of joints from Rakowitz’s stash.

Sylvia first met Monika before the lease had changed hands. That night, Rakowitz had been slow to answer her knock, and when the door swung open, he was zipping up his fly. “He never had women up there,” says Sylvia. “I’d never even seen him with a woman. So I’m saying to myself, ‘All right, Daniel, I know that you’re just trying to goof on me and make me think that you just went with this woman. So I went in there and he introduced me to her, and he says, ‘Yeah, she’s gonna move in and she’s gonna take over the lease.’ ”

Monika and her belongings arrived in the first week of August. “Daniel had cleaned up this place so immaculate be­fore she moved in, just for her,” Sylvia says. “I asked her the next day-because I thought Daniel was playing a joke-I said, ‘Daniel told me that he went with you.’ And she goes, ‘He did,’ point-blank in answer to me.”

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Something about the arrangement bothered Sylvia. “I told Daniel ‘This girl wants just the apartment.'” she recalls. “He kept saying, ‘No, but she cares about me, and she wants to live with me, and she wants to be my roommate.’ And I said, ‘Daniel, she wants the apartment. And she’s gonna take the apartment right from underneath you. She’s gonna have the lease in her name, and once it’s in her name she’s gonna throw you out. And I ain’t gonna be here anymore, and there’s nothing I can say when the lease is changed over. So if she throws you out, you’re out — and you’re homeless again.'”

But Rakowitz wouldn’t listen. “He’d say ‘I love her, I love her.’ I’d never seen him go out with a girl, much less say that,” Sylvia recalls. “But it was ‘Oh Monika, do you want this?’ Or ‘Monika, you want me to make you something to eat.’ I mean, he was just ‘Monika’ everything.”

“She treated him like shit,” adds Shawn.

Lynn, a vivacious 18-year-old girl who often sold Rakowitz sheets of blotter acid, tells an entirely different story: “I remember when the girl first moved into his apartment. It was early one morning, and Daniel was saying, ‘Oh yeah, there’s this girl.’ He said she’d moved in, and she was really stupid, and she had paid off his back rent so he wouldn’t get thrown out of his apartment. He was just using her; that was the whole thing.”

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Monika broke off the romance almost immediately, and she began bringing oth­er men to the apartment. One evening, she invited a Rastafarian to stay the night and Rakowitz inadvertently sur­prised them. Later, he confided in Sylvia: “He said to me, ‘Sylvia, she has a black man in there.’ And he looked hurt, and he looked mad, because that’s one of the people he hated — gays and blacks — to him, that was the worst insult you could give him. I said, ‘Daniel, what do you want me to do about it?'”

Monika’s friends, alarmed by Rakowitz’s ravings, urged her to throw him out. In mid-August, about a week after moving in, she took their advice, telling Rakowitz that she wanted him out in two weeks. Rakowitz pleaded, “Please, Sylvia, don’t let her throw me out. I have nowhere to go.”

“I said, ‘Daniel, I told you this was gonna happen, ‘ ” remembers Sylvia. “And it kinda freaked him out, you know? He was pleading every way he could to make some type of arrangement.” But Moni­ka’s mind was made up.

“She was stupid to fuck with him,” says Lynn. “He told her he was gonna kill her. She said that he had told her that.”

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“Daniel would go through this all day long,” remembers Sylvia. “He’d say ‘I’m gonna kill her.’ And five minutes later, he’d say, ‘No, I love her, I’m not gonna kill her.” This continued for three days. Neither Shawn nor Sylvia took him seri­ously — partly because of all the wild things he’d said in the past, partly be­cause neither of them had ever seen Dan­iel become violent. He talked a crazy streak, but he behaved himself. “Around August 12, I told Monika that ‘Daniel said he’s gonna kill you,’ ” says Sylvia. “And she just, kind of, laughed. And she went up to Daniel in front of me and said to Daniel, ‘I’ll kill you first.'”

On the evening of Thursday, August 17, Rakowitz walked Sylvia to the PATH train. As they shared a joint, he told Sylvia that he couldn’t take Monika any­more, he’d had enough. He said be planned to kill her the next day, and he asked Sylvia to come back and help him get rid of the body. “I said ‘Daniel, what are you, crazy? I ain’t gonna help you with anything.’ ” recalls Sylvia. “And he was really nervous. He was terrified. He was so terrified of being homeless.”

“I didn’t go there Friday,” she contin­ues. “I didn’t think about: ‘It’s Friday — is Daniel killing Monika?’ On Saturday night, I could see from the street that the apartment was dark, and I knew some­thing was wrong. But I went up there anyway. I was coming up the stairs and I heard Daniel’s TV, and it was really loud. And I opened the door, and his TV was in the kitchen, and it was very dim. I went back to my room to make sure my stuff was okay, ’cause I told him I was leaving it there for awhile till I got it all out. And Monika’s door was closed, and I went and knocked on Monika’s door, and nobody answered. So I went to the kitchen. And on the stove there was a pot. And in the pot was Monika’s head. She was all burnt-up, and her eyes were closed.”

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“I was born on Christmas Eve 12/24/60, which equals 96,” Daniel Rakowitz said to me in an interview this June. “And I have 18 letters to my name. I was born in the 21st Hour, which is 9:02 p.m., which they say signifies the coming of the Lord Jesus, according to what the Bible says.”

Rakowitz’s father, Tony, was a deputy in the small South Texas town of Rock­port. Tony’s boss, Sheriff Robert Hewes, told Newsday that Rakowitz’s father “was a straight-laced fellow, a real disci­plinarian.” According to Fred, who knew Rakowitz in New York for about two years, Rakowitz’s mother “died of a heart attack right in front of him. It happened when he was a kid, and when that hap­pens, people feel very very helpless.”

Rakowitz became aware of his divinity in 1966, when he was five years old. “Three Lords looking like Jesus floated out of the wall one at a time, one wearing a purple, one wearing a yellow, and one wearing a blue robe.” Rakowitz told Syl­via and Shawn that his parents had re­peatedly put him in psychiatric wards (when phoned, Tony Rakowitz refused to answer any questions about his son). “From the age of nine to 11 they forced me to take Ritalin [a drug prescribed for hyperactive children],” Rakowitz said in his June interview. “The other students decided to hit on me and spit on me. And if I defended myself, I got paddled. And I was the slowest runner in the school, too.”

“He told me they gave him shock treat­ments when he was 14,” says Sylvia. “I think he was the way he was from what had happened to him in the past — what people had done, the drugs they had giv­en him, his family committing him to psychiatric hospitals. He was committed. And he was very bitter about that.”

The tension between Rakowitz and his father peaked when the deputy found marijuana in his teenage son’s room. Rakowitz’s father took him to the Rock­port station and booked him for possession.

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At 19, Rakowitz enlisted in the army. He became an expert rifleman and spent 14 weeks in army law-enforcement school. After his discharge, he applied for a job as deputy alongside his father. He was turned down. (Rakowitz later spoke of taking over Texas: “I want to do every­thing as a Texas sheriff and I’m going to have many counties where a lot of people that smoke marijuana can come.”)

“On April 3, 1983, I made a prayer that I would have a dream to learn future events,” Rakowitz said. “Six days later, I did indeed have the dream and it told me I would come into total possession of a 14-year-old girl who two weeks later be­came my wife. And before we got mar­ried, I said, ‘According to the dream, you’re gonna leave me and I will go to New York and find a blond-haired woman and get married. Some day I come back and, according to the dream, you come back to me but you have another man’s child.'”

Police confirm that Rakowitz was mar­ried in Texas. “He told me his wife was Mexican,” says Martha, who befriended Rakowitz in New York. “She was really young. He was very upset when they split up and, I think he hoped at first — when I met him in 1985 — that they would get back together.”

No one is sure when Rakowitz first came to New York but police say he had not been back to his home state since 1981. “He was living at the Palace Hotel on the Bowery when I met him,” remem­bers Martha, who sold him quarter-­pounds of pot for resale. “He was always paranoid about visitors. And the police had questioned him before, you know. He told me how he had to sit down and tell them about his constituents, you know, how he had a constituency, how he had, you know, followers in his church, and how he had land in Colorado. He told me he had land in Colorado where he was gonna build his church and grow marijua­na there. I can’t remember the name of the man that he bought his land from but he would make payments on his land. I kept telling him, ‘Danny, it’s a sham, the man just took your money.’ ”

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Almost everyone on the Lower East Side knew Rakowitz:

“He’s a whacko,” says Clayton Patterson, a hat-store owner and the famed videotaper of last year’s riot in Tompkin’s Square. “All he ever talked about was killing; it amazed me that he talked about killing as much as he did. Daniel wasn’t a great marijuana salesman. Daniel was, you know, a slow learner. He was kind of a jovial-looking guy, but he was isolated, lonely; Danny-boy was always standing around by himself.”

“The man had charisma,” claims Jerry the Peddler. “It took people a couple of minutes to realize he was a kook, but he always managed to get them to stop and listen to him. Most people didn’t think of the guy as really being a nut. I used to talk to people about him. And they’d go, ‘Oh, no, he’s harmless.’ I used to tell them ‘Someday he’d gonna kill somebody.’ I swear I did.”

Jerry had reason to make his prediction: “Daniel liked to kill animals,” he remembers. “He killed his pets constant­ly. I saw him go through a lot of cats — a lot of cats. He had, like, three dogs that he’s killed. Everybody knew the white English terrier he had. He didn’t kill it, although he did kind of starve it quite a bit. He finally sold it.”

Dana Beal, Yipster-in-residence at 9 Bleecker Street, disagrees with the Ped­dler on at least one count: “He would have had a cult, and would have had a cult following, if he’d had charisma. You have to realize, it wasn’t that this guy didn’t go out and proselytize every day to win converts. It was that nobody would convert. It was a cult of one, you under­stand what I’m saying?”

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“I was gonna squat with him once,” says Lynn. “We opened a building on Suffolk Street one night, a whole group of us. He had some really cool ideas for what he wanted to do with the building: he wanted to make the first two floors housing for handicapped people. And it just didn’t go off. We thought he was pretty crazy for wanting to do that. He used to say that he wanted to, like, mur­der the cops and give their money to the poor. And he was gonna start this cult and have five children with each of 25 women, so that he could create his ‘mas­ter race.’

“Daniel used to burn incredible amounts of pot,” she continues. “That’s why I hung out with Daniel. That’s why everyone hung out with Daniel. And when you get stoned, and you listen to him ranting and raving, and it gets really hysterical. I mean, he was just amazing to listen to when you were stoned. So there was one day, and he had the grass on a table, and his rooster jumped up and scattered the pot. So he starts, like, beat­ing the shit out of this rooster. Someone jumps on Daniel and pulls him off, and everyone’s grabbing the rooster. Every­body was always, like, ‘Liberate the rooster!’ ‘Liberate the rooster!’ because Daniel used to carry it around in this bag, and it never saw the light of day.

“Some people said he had some kind of charisma,” Lynn concludes. “I never thought so, but a lot of girls thought he had some kind of weird charisma. I never thought there was anything interesting about him at all.”

Fred has a different perspective: “He hated women. He used to speak about how he was going to control women.”

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On November 9, 1988, WCBS-TV re­porter Mike Taibbi went looking for the Devil on the Lower East Side, found his man, and failed to recognize him. “I think we spent, probably, a total of four hours with Daniel,” says Taibbi, who was intent on proving that the noise band Missing Foundation had inspired the Tompkins Square Park riot. “We inter­viewed him for probably 30 minutes. Well, if you’ve heard his rap, you probably know all about this. We shot the whole thing, when he was going through his rap. We reviewed the logs, and one of the things he said was that — I don’t have the logs in front of me — but he did say that he was going to dismember his girl­friends. If they got pregnant and had an abortion, he was going to dismember them.”

“He asked Daniel all kinds of ques­tions,” says the Peddler, who sat next to Rakowitz on a Tompkins Square Park bench during the interview. “Basically, Taibbi just kept playing on Daniel’s weird rap about 966. He was mainly interested in making the Missing Foundation link; Missing Foundation was the whole point of the interview.” Amazingly, Rakowitz bought Taibbi’s premise that Missing Foundation was a Satanic cult rather than a band with a devoted following of anarchists. For some time afterwards, Rakowitz paced the park, telling people, “You think Missing Foundation are big Satanists? I’m going to be the biggest Satanist of all, wait and see.”

“We used just a bit of it,” says Taibbi, “as it related to a story we were doing.” Asked if he is now upset at having thrown away the rest of the footage, Taibbi answers sharply: “Not necessarily.”

While interviewing Rakowitz, Taibbi questioned him about the Temple of the True Inner Light, a storefront on East Ninth Street that houses five young men and women who worship psychedelics. At that point, Rakowitz was barely aware of the place. Within weeks, however, he was knocking at tbe temple’s door.

“I believe we were the only people that briefly — and I’m talking about real brief — got Dan in touch with his conscience,” says temple member Mary, a woman with spectacular red hair. “Dan was not hopeless. He had a lot of prob­lems — a lot of spiritual, mental prob­lems — and anyone that talked to Dan for five minutes could see this. Dan had started telling me that he felt guilty about all the animals he’d killed. He started telling me, ‘Oh, I had this many chickens, this many dogs, this many cats, this many rabbits,’ — he named a whole bunch of animals.”

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The temple members were so spooked by Rakowitz, they actually took him out­side to search him for weapons — the first such incident in over five years. “He was telling us he couldn’t leave this bag that he had,” says Mary. “And I started thinking that he had weapons in it, but then be pulled out Hitler’s book. He definitely had severe, severe problems.”

Rakowitz’s obsession with Adolf Hitler alienated everyone, especially those who hung around the Square, not a place where right-wing, fascist ideology is fash­ionable: “About a year ago,” says Aron Kay, the infamous pieman of the late ’70s and a fixture on the Lower East Side. “I found out that Daniel was into admiring Hitler’s Mein Kampf. And I asked him why doesn’t he give it up or burn it, but he kept defending it. He said that he loved and literally worshipped the book. My parents are Holocaust survivors. I couldn’t take it anymore. That pushed my buttons. I literally floored him on Avenue A.”

Rakowitz was infatuated with his German edition of Mein Kampf because he believed the book to contain “evidence of the supernatural,” facing page 696. The evidence had nothing to do with the text itself; rather, it was in a simple diagram rendered by a blue felt-tip pen on a small piece of paper slipped between the book’s pages: a blotch of ink in the center, a ‘9’ to the left of it, a ‘6’ to the right. Rakowitz believed this diagram signified that he was the Second Coming of Christ.

As Daniel explained in June, when he looked at the diagram he saw a cow’s head with two horns rising toward him through the ink. Rotating the diagram 90 degrees, “it turns into my entire image­ — my face, my hair, my beard, my shirt, my coat, my pants.” The Daniel in the pic­ture has dog’s paws instead of feet. (He later told Sylvia he could evade arrest for Monika’s murder because he was able to turn into a dog at will.) Off to one side, he saw “a blond-haired woman looking at me coming toward her.”

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Shawn reaches out to hold Sylvia’s hand as she continues recounting her nightmarish walk through the darkened apartment. After the shock of seeing Monika’s blackened head in a pot on the stove, Sylvia walked toward the bath­ room. “I walked to the very tip of the bathroom — I didn’t go in. And I saw in the bathtub what was, like, a ribcage, with everything off — just the bones, just the ribs. And it was full of blood. And there was, like, guts. So I left, and I couldn’t even lock the door I was shaking so bad. But I locked the door ’cause I thought, ‘Jesus, if anybody sees this … ‘

“I went to a phone booth on Avenue A and I called up Daniel’s beeper number. And I said, ‘Daniel, you did it?’ And he said, ‘You saw it, Sylvia?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘I’m sorry you had to see it, but I had to do it.’ And he said, ‘Come up to the apartment and smoke a joint with me.’ And I said, ‘Daniel, meet me in Tompkins Square. I’m not going to the apartment.’ So he met me in the park. And he was apologizing. ‘Sylvia, I’m sorry, I had to do it, I had to do it.’ And he started telling me what happened.”

Rakowitz told her he was not alone when it happened — he said he was with a friend from a Satanic church in Brook­lyn. That evening, according to Rakowitz, Monika told him, “You have to leave by tomorrow, and if you don’t get out, my friend with a pit bull is gonna come and get you out.” Then she went into her bedroom. His friend said, “What, you haven’t killed her yet?” Monika came out and started yelling at his friend. His friend said, “Why are you yelling at me? You don’t know me.” “But I know Dan­iel,” she replied, “and you’re his friend.”

“So I guess maybe that had set Daniel off, I don’t know,” says Sylvia. “But he told me that he had an extension cord and he went up, she was walking away, heading toward the two bedrooms, and he put the extension cord around her neck. She said, ‘What are you doing, Daniel?’ And then he strangled her with his hands,” Sylvia says. “He told me, ‘When I strangled her, she scratched me.’ And he pulled his sleeve up, and he had long scratch marks down his arm.

“He had choked her to death. And when she was dead, he said he stomped on her head 10 times and stabbed her over 30. He told me that he used her chest as a carving board.”

“He cut off her head,” Shawn inter­jects. “He took her arms and legs off her, and he used her chest to cut the bones, and everything, off. And he cut all this up and did this all in the bathtub.”

“He told me he had eaten the brains and that his friend had eaten a part of her too,” says Sylvia. “I told all this to the detectives and the D.A., too.”

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Rakowitz said he had spent over $80 in a hardware store on tools with which to kill Monika, cut her up, and clean the apartment. “Less than two weeks before he killed this girl he was in a store and he was trying on these work gloves,” remem­bers Lynn, “and I asked him why he had the work gloves. He was like, ‘I’m gonna make some fertilizer and I need these.‘ He really freaked me out, I was really scared of him at that point.”

“He had a 13-inch carving knife,” reports Shawn. “And he used a metal pole — a solid-steel pole — to break her bones.” Sylvia continues: “And be boiled her. And he was still cutting her up — he hadn’t finished yet. He was cutting her up into little pieces, he told me — over a thousand — and he flushed it down the toilet. And he was afraid. But he looked to me like, in a way, that he was free, and that this was gone, this fear.

“And I told him to stop, because I couldn’t hear it; I didn’t want to hear it. It just totally blew me away. I didn’t believe it till he got locked up, until I saw him on the news. Then it hit me.”

A few days later, Sylvia saw Rakowitz in Tompkins Square Park, and Daniel said to her, “Sylvia, it’s starting to smell up there.” She said “Daniel, they’re gonna find out, and they’re gonna lock you up, and they’re gonna put you in a psychiatric hospital, and I don’t want to see that happen to you. I think you’ve had enough.”

“Oh, I’m gonna clean it,” he replied. “I’m gonna clean it all up so that you can come up there.” Sylvia said, “Well, when it’s clean … let me know.”

A day or two later, Rakowitz told her it was okay to drop by. Monika’s skull was still in the apartment. “He boiled it and peeled the skin off it,” says Shawn.

“He bad it to where it was all just bones and a skull,” continues Sylvia. “And he’d get angry at Monika, he told me. And he’d say, ‘I spit on Monika’s skull.’ He told her, ‘Well, hey, bitch, at least you’ll always have a home.’ And he told me that ‘she looks more beautiful now than she ever did.’ ”

“This was her skull,” notes Shawn.

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Rakowitz had thoroughly cleaned the apartment and had taken a bucket con­taining the skull and bones to a storage facility at 43rd Street and 11th Avenue, later moving the bucket to the baggage check facility at Port Authority.

“I still understood Daniel,” insists Syl­via. “And I really wasn’t … I was a little frightened of him, but I wasn’t that frightened. I was more concerned of what was gonna happen to him. I told Daniel that I would never tell on him, and I never went forward and said anything, and a lot of people are gonna think that’s a very shitty thing for me to do. Maybe if they understand anything that I have said — and really take it to heart — and maybe if they realize what kind of person Daniel was and what he wasn’t, because of what was done to him, they might understand why I didn’t want to say any­thing. Because I didn’t want him hurt anymore.

“People say, well, he could go out and do it again, but I stayed up there a few times. I slept in that apartment with Daniel. He was in the other room. After he’d killed her. And the detectives know this. Everything I’m telling you is what they know, and I told them exactly what I’m telling you. And the reason why is that Daniel has been in a prison most of his life — in his own mind. And you’re not trying to help him by locking, him behind bars. If you want to help this man, you get him some real psychiatric and psy­chological help.”

On Tuesday, August 22, Shawn stopped by the apartment to buy some reefer from Rakowitz. He told Shawn that he and Monika had fought Friday night and that he had broken her nose. During his visit Shawn saw meat in the frying pan and in the freezer. “He ate this woman,” Shawn believes. “He didn’t eat the whole thing, but he ate human meat.”

“He told me be had,” remembers Syl­via. “I believe it.”

“He also said that he was gonna feed Monika to the homeless people in the park,” says Shawn.

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Shawn returned to the apartment on Saturday, August 26 — after Sylvia had finally told him of Monika’s murder. “Daniel had cleaned up everything al­ready,” says Shawn, “but there was a smell in the apartment. I told him that I could smell death, and he’s going, ‘Real­ly? Can you smell it? Can you tell?’ And I go, ‘Yeah.’ I wasn’t lying.”

Meanwhile, Rakowitz was bragging about the murder to anyone who would listen. “Daniel told everyone before he did it; he told everyone when he did it; he told everyone after he did it,” says Lynn. “He told all my friends. Everyone who he saw, he told them. He chopped her up in little pieces, and then he asked my fiance if he would help him get rid of the arms. He felt bad about killing her, apparently. He was scared, and he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to turn himself in, but he was scared — that’s what he told my fiancé.”

The rumors around Tompkins Square grew increasingly bizarre. “It’s the kind of joke that people would make: ‘Oh yeah, he fed her to the homeless,’ ” says Hank, who lives on East 5th Street. “A few days after it happened, before it hit the pa­pers, while the rumors started spreading around the Village, the homeless in the park were going, ‘Yeah, Dan did give us soup yesterday.’ They were goofing on it but they were pretty much grossed out. They were goofing in a way that acknowl­edged they had definitely gotten soup from this guy in the period directly after the incident happened.”

Rakowitz lived in the apartment alone for a week or two following the murder. But Sylvia urged him to move, warning him that sooner or later the cops would be coming by. Daniel finally took her advice. “He left the apartment to move in with another girl, uptown,” says Shawn. “And after I heard that, I thought that he killed her for nothing — that Monika just died for no reason at all. I mean, she died for a reason in the beginning — and there’s no right reason for anyone to die. But then he moved out, and everything was gone out of the apartment, and all we saw was Monika’s stuff laying all over.”

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So Shawn spilled the story to the build­ing superintendant who told the detec­tives. They came up to the apartment to question Shawn and to search for evi­dence. On the door of the apartment, they saw grafitti written in black magic marker: “IS IT SOUP YET?” and “WELCOME TO CHARLIE GEIN’S SPAUN RANCH EAST.” (Charlie Gein is a conflation of Charles Manson and Ed Gein, the serial killer on whom Psycho‘s Norman Bates was based; the Spahn Ranch — misspelled on the door — was the home of the Manson family.) On a steam pipe in the bathroom was scribbled “Broken [hearted] about you.” (The “hearted” was actually a heart with a jagged line running through it). Yet they found no evidence of a murder.

Initially, neither the super nor the de­tectives believed a word of Shawn’s story. But they paged Rakowitz on his beeper and he came to the 9th Precinct to an­swer their questions. He didn’t admit that he had killed Monika Beerle, but be didn’t deny it either. In fact, he said something along the lines of, “If I’d have killed her, I would have cut her up into lots of pieces and flushed her down the toilet.”

“After he made that statement,” Sylvia says, “that Sunday [September 17] they ripped the toilet apart. But they didn’t find anything. They told me the only good thing I had in the apartment was the plumbing.” Shawn told the police that Rakowitz kept a storage bin near the Port Authority bus station.

On Monday, the detectives came back to the apartment and found Sylvia there. They told her they had written state­ments implicating Rakowitz from both Shawn and Laurie Arnold, a woman who lived across the hall. But this was untrue. “I was tricked into it,” says Sylvia sadly. “I was told that they were gonna lock him up anyway and that they already knew what had happened. And I believed it. So I told them. And five hours later, they picked up Daniel. He confessed. He had no choice.

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“He asked for help when they arrested him. He said it to a detective, and the detective told me that he said, ‘I need some help.’ So it must have really dawned on Daniel that he did wrong, because when I talked to him after that, he was, like, he was free. His soul was free.” After his arrest, Rakowitz led the de­tectives to the Port Authority baggage storage room where he produced a claim check for an Army duffel bag. Inside the bag was a white plastic bucket, and inside the bucket were a skull and bones.

One expects the police to be extremely interested to find Daniel’s friend from the Satanic church in Brooklyn. While interrogating Shawn and Sylvia, the cops mentioned several Satanic churches by name, but none of them were familiar to the couple. As far as Shawn and Sylvia know, they never met any of Daniel’s Satanic friends, but they believe the church exists: “This is a for-real church,” says Shawn, and Sylvia agrees.

Just as likely, the police believe, is that Daniel’s Satanic friend was imaginary, egging bim on from the inside. When told there was a report that another man was present at the murder, an officer familiar with the case replied, “I don’t believe that for a second.”

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Although the police say the skull in the bucket has been positively identified as belonging to Monika Beerle, Sylvia’s testimony will certainly be crucial to the prosecution’s case. She has been wres­tling with this for well over a month now. She’s pale and somewhat faded, well aware that her behavior during the course of these events seems bizarre by any­body’s standards. “People are gonna think I’m crazy,” she says softly. “You know what? To me it doesn’t matter, be­cause I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. But I’m a person who has a lot of feeling, and I feel for Daniel. I feel for Monika’s parents, but I feel for Daniel cause I knew him. And I knew what he was going through, and I feel very, very bad.

“See, people are gonna read this and they’re gonna say the same thing that you just said: ‘Wow.’ You know what I hope they’re saying ‘wow’ about? ‘Wow, this guy had a rough childhood and never really had a chance.’ Daniel did what Daniel did because of what society had done to Daniel. And that is my opinion, and people may think I’m crazy. But I lived with this person, and this person did not kill me. If he was the crazy luna­tic murderer of Tompkins Square, he would have killed me. Daniel moved into the apartment because he was homeless and he killed Monika because he felt threatened.

“If anything comes out of this story, I hope it opens people’s eyes, for one thing, to homelessness — for another thing, to realize and understand the kind of person he was and what really happened and the fear that people have of being homeless, especially when they do have some type of mental illness. I still don’t blame Dan­iel for that, and as far as I’m concerned Daniel will always be my friend.” ■

Some names in this story — although not those of the principal characters, Syluia and Shawn — have been changed. 

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

1989_Village Voice article on a bizarre murder near Tompkins Square involving cannibalism

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

White Line Fever

I. PROLOGUE

Miami is one of those cities with its own peculiar odor and you smell it most distinctly during the hours before dawn. There is salt in the air, of course, a nod to the abiding presence of the southern sea. But on certain nights when a desultory breeze blows east from the Everglades, a more powerful essence soaks the dark air: the ancient memory of the swamp. It’s as if all the tar and concrete, all the gleaming hotels and banks and shopping centers, the tract houses, schools, churches, and restaurants are some dull afterthought. In those humid after-midnight hours, the modern city is overwhelmed by a primeval compost of decaying vegetation, rioting flowers, fetid water, the remains of beings that die with thrashing suddenness in the night.

And on almost all such nights, it does not take much imagination to detect something else drifting on the Miami wind: the sweet rotting stench of corruption.

No other American city has melded its natural odor so perfectly with the dailiness of its human activities. If you move around the city, you sense the pervasiveness of the corruption: the cop smoking a cigarette in a doorway, like a supporting player from Red Harvest; the chaotic sprawl of weather-stained commercial architecture, evoking deals and variances and the purchased approval of second-rate materials; young men driving Porsches and Mercedes and Caddies as if they owned the nightside streets. Corruption is most tangible, as blunt as an ax, in the bars, discos, marinas, that sleek urban scape so accurately reflected in Miami Vice. This world is not fiction; its treacherous glamour is an undeniable element of modern Miami. And the citizens of that world, adorned with Naugahyde-like tans and encrusted Rolexes, rubbing their eroding noses in unwilled salute, are walking symbols of the city’s deepest reality. The truth of a time and place is, of course, always illusive; but no historian can tell the story of Miami in the last decade without acknowledging one gigantic fact of municipal life: cocaine.

In the late 1970s, the Miami Herald estimated that drugs had become the largest single industry in southern Florida, accounting for a billion dollars a year. Today, in spite of numerous photo opportunities starring George Bush, increases in various antidrug budgets, and some hard dangerous work by the more than 800 state and federal antidrug agents, there is no reason to believe that anything much has changed. Drugs are to Miami what cars are to Detroit. As opium was for some Brits in the 19th century, cocaine has been the essential building block of great Miami fortunes. Narcobucks have erected shopping centers, financed housing developments, built vast mansions, stocked racing stables, paid for boats, cars, and more fleshy trinkets, created and maintained banks (some law enforcement people believe that there isn’t a clean bank in the state), and so worked their way into the fabric of life here that nobody will ever be likely to separate the clean money from the soiled.

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In almost every way, cocaine dominates the culture of Miami. It is part of the city’s power structure, the engine of its economy, the unacknowledged grease of its politics. In Miami, as Christine Evans of the Miami Herald has written, “drugs are cheaper, purer and more abundant than anywhere else in the country. Doctors use them. Lawyers use them. Data analysts use them. Rich kids get them from their parents’ secret drawers. Poor kids score cheap on the street.”

One recent study estimates that the citizens of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties spend $1.69 billion a year on illegal drugs. Employers spend $744 million a year on health care for their druggies or for repairing the messes made by people who go to work loaded. Cocaine — 75 per cent of which enters this country through Florida — is at the heart of a vast capitalist enterprise, a rude democratic industry that follows the most primitive laws of supply and demand while promising great rewards to those willing to take risks. The odds are almost all in favor of the outlaw. Since its inception in 1982, the federal South Florida Crime Task Force has racked up more than 9500 arrests, seized tons of drugs. The result? Drugs are more available than ever before and cheaper by half at $30,000 a kilo. Few street-level dealers are ever touched because the courts and jails are jammed; crack houses operate openly almost everywhere. And the big dealers — the importers and wholesalers — are virtually immune in their Brickell Avenue condos and Coral Gables mansions. The drug business is a very successful American enterprise. Everybody knows this: ordinary citizens, reporters, politicians, schoolchildren.

But the cops know it better than anyone else. And in this world of dirty money and deep cynicism, it is no surprise that some of them have eaten the forbidden fruit. These notes are about some of those cops.

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II. DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE

The Miami River meanders out of the interior, sluggish and dense and hidden from view, crawling to the sea for 5.5 miles under the city’s bridges like a huge, flat worm. It passes through a wilderness of boat yards, docks, skiffs, houseboats; it eases past areas full of twisted, anonymous steel, past rusting gas pumps and sun-blasted soda machines, past tiny stores selling shrimp and cigarettes and cold beer, past bars where tattooed whores arrive before noon to service the fishermen. Miami is never thought of as a river town, but its river serves admirably as municipal metaphor: dirty, furtive, lawless.

Sometime after midnight on the river last July 28, six men were unloading 300 to 400 kilograms of cocaine from a beat-up old 40-foot scow called the Mary C. This was in itself not unusual; the river is sparsely patrolled by police, whose jurisdiction is split between Miami and the larger Metro-Dade police forces, along with 30 other agencies charged with its regulation (Dade County alone has a bewildering 27 separate police departments totaling 4500 police), and the river is frequently used by smugglers of everything from drugs to Pakistanis. The six men worked quickly, moving their precious cargo from boat to waiting van. It seemed like another smooth night’s work in Miami.

Then, at the entrance to the boat yard, an unarmed night watchman named Bob Downs was suddenly brought to attention by an urgent banging on his door. He was told to open up. He did, and saw at least six men, two of whom were wearing police uniforms and caps. They said they were police and that this was a raid. Downs let them in.

The new arrivals hurried into the yard with guns drawn. Someone among them yelled, “Kill them!” Panicked, cornered, afraid, the men who were unloading the drugs dove into the filthy river. Downs then was ordered to unlock the padlock on the cyclone fence gates, which he did, and the loaded van was driven away. Three of the men who leaped into the river — Pedro Martinez (described later as one of Dade County’s biggest coke dealers, with a fleet of five steel-hulled boats operating from the Bahamas to Florida), Adolfo Lopez-Yanes, and Juan Garcia — never were seen again alive. Their drowned bodies were fished out of the river the next afternoon.

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The following December, arrests were finally made: Armando Estrada, Roman Rodriguez, Osvaldo Coello, Arturo de la Vega, Ro­dolfo Arias, and Armando Garcia. All were young. All were Latin. All were, or had been, Miami cops.

Estrada, Rodriguez, and Garcia were arrested at dawn, each charged with three counts of first-degree murder; under Florida’s felony murder law, anyone who kills another in the process of committing a felony can be charged with first-degree murder. The others were picked up later. In addition to the murder charges, all five were charged with cocaine trafficking, racketeering, and aggravated battery; individual charges included armed robbery, conspiracy and solicitation to commit a felony, and possession of marijuana. Two of the surviving civilians who were unloading the boat were also arrested and charged. But the cops got all the attention. When four of them were brought to court, the whole country saw them blowing kisses, giggling, rolling their eyes, sniggering at their pictures in the newspapers. They flexed their muscles as they moved, looking like bags of bowling balls held together with steroids.

Within days, details about these men began to emerge. All were weight lifters, all made the disco scene, both in Little Havana and in the anglo joints out at the beach. They liked to adorn themselves with gold chains, spend money on expensive clothes, women, flashy cars, all the props of Miami Vice. And in police jobs paying $10 to $14 an hour, they apparently supported this lifestyle in the only way possible: through crime. They started small, taking drugs from motorists stopped for traffic offenses, and keeping them. A few openly muscled small-time peddlers. And eventually, investigators believe, about 10 cops bonded themselves together into a group the prosecutors call “The Enterprise.”

The major target of The Enterprise was the drug dealer. As cops, they would learn on the street (or from straight cops) who was dealing, when big buys were taking place, and then they would go in with shields and guns and take the goods for themselves. Some simply invaded the homes of suspected dealers at gunpoint, a variation of the old crap game stickup. Obviously, if you’re not supposed to be doing something, it is very hard to call the cops when you’re robbed. It’s even harder if the cops are doing the robbing.

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When they weren’t robbing drug dealers, the rogue cops were working for them. The key man was a short dapper 42-year-old Ma­riel refugee named Luis Rodriguez, who had gone from two 1982 arrests for possession of burglary tools and firearms, and four arrests in two years for possession of narcotics (for which he did no time) to the obligatory Mercedes, beeper, and cabin cruiser of the successful drug dealer. Like many drug dealers, he moved around a lot, seldom staying at his Coral Gables apartment, spending nights in various hotels, traveling on occasion to New York.

But Rodriguez was not exactly a master criminal, some Cuban wedding of Professor Moriarty and Meyer Lansky. In fact, he was pretty damned dumb. An example: on March 1, 1984, while driving south on the Jersey Turnpike, Rodriguez and another man were stopped by a trooper for driving 70 miles an hour. The trooper searched the 1981 Chevy and found two bags of cocaine, $14,000 in cash in the trunk, $5000 in the glove compartment, and $44,000 under the dashboard. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to cocaine possession then changed his mind, decided to fight the case, and went back to Miami to wait for trial. He obviously preferred the warm embrace of the Miami legal system to the chill vastness of the North. After his last period of probation in Florida, for example, Rodriguez asked the judge to give him back his 9 mm. Browning. I mean, what is a drug dealer without his piece? And Miami being Miami, Circuit Judge Ted Mastos agreed.

Rodriguez ran a joint called the Molino Rojo Bar, on 3084 NW 7th Street, where drug deals were often made (according to court documents) and where Rodriguez himself was once nabbed with two bags of cocaine. The bar was usually packed (even a brutal double homicide one night in December 1984 didn’t keep the customers away) and among those who came around were the young cops.

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Luis Rodriguez had a 49-year-old assistant, a hustler off SW 8th Street known as Armando Un. In the bar, Un got to know the cops and apparently he was a good judge of character; in 1984 he suggested they work for Rodriguez. And they were willing. In an affidavit, Un said that the drug thefts began in September 1984, the period cited by prosecutors as the beginning of The Enterprise. Soon the young weight lifters were moving drugs around the city for Rodriguez, often in patrol cars, sometimes peddling on duty. They didn’t always work in combination. Officer Estrada, Un said, once gave him a kilo of cocaine in mid-1985 and took a $2000 down payment; that sounded like a private deal. Some other jobs were small; The Enterprise even helped collect gambling debts, the public servant functioning as private muscle. But according to Un, in mid-1985 be helped plan a successful 300-to-400 kilo ripoff at the Tamiami Marina, with six cops doing the heavy lifting. And then they started going after even bigger deals. In the anarchic world of Miami drugs, business was good, although Metro-Dade homicide detective Alex Alvarez later told reporters that business wasn’t always very smooth; there were, for example, too many men involved — at least 10 — and they began to squabble. Said Alvarez: “Everyone wanted to kill everyone else.”

Immediately after the Miami River arrests, there were expressions of surprise and rage. But the Miami establishment should have known. The police brass. The politicians. The prosecutors. They should have smelled the rotting odor, drifting in the Miami night. Way back in February 1985, a banker whose own activities were under investigation said that three masked men broke into his Coral Gables home, robbed him of $100,000 in cash and jewelry, and threatened him with death. The thieves were “built like body builders,” and that April, after his own investigation, he told the cops that one of the three was a Miami police officer who worked out in a gymnasium near Bird Road. Coello and Garcia owned a gym on Bird Road. The cops investigated but did nothing. They were busy elsewhere.

On July 9 last year, a group of men invaded the home of a Miami weapons manufacturer, shot him to death, stole jewelry and a safe; neighbors said men who looked like “off-duty cops” had been seen casing the home. On the day of the Miami River deaths three men in a blue Cadillac flashed a police badge, kidnapped a woman, took her to her home and robbed her husband of $50,000; a car matching the description of the Cadillac was stopped two weeks later. Officer Osvaldo Coello was driving. He had borrowed the car, he said. Nothing happened. On August 17, two days after he resigned from the police department (after an investigation into allegations that he was using cocaine), Coello was stopped doing 120 miles an hour in a $59,000 red Lotus. He was carrying $4500. As a cop, he earned $10.40 an hour. He was not locked up. The police brass saw no evil. On August 26, two cops were arrested while trying to sell police badges, radio scanners, and automatic weapons to a drug dealer. On October 7, Miami police admitted that $150,000 had been stolen from a safe in the office of the Special Investigations Unit (the real name for the Miami vice squad) right in police headquarters. On October 10, a Metro-Dade officer was arrested for being part of a home-invasion gang; he specialized in posing as a mailman. A week later, two cops were arrested for possession of cocaine. The following month, two former Miami cops were charged with stealing (while still on the force) 150 pounds of cocaine from a 1000-pound seizure also made on the Miami River. In February, a cop was arrested while driving a stolen $40,000 Porsche. The next month, a cop was arrested for using a police car in the ripoff of a drug dealer and then planning the man’s murder. The cops in the Miami area were rapidly acquiring a substantial collective yellow sheet of their own.

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The most obvious questions were asked first: Who are these people? What kind of cops are they? The answers were sketchy.

All became cops in the aftermath of the bloody 1980 riots, when the Miami force was expanded from 630 officers to 1050 over three years. To reflect the changed ethnic composition of the city (42.3 per cent of Dade County’s 1,771,000 inhabitants are now Latin) about 80 per cent of the new officers were black or Latin. Some veteran cops insist that to attract the new officers, standards were lowered. And one result was that some bad apples ended up with badges and legitimate guns. Former Police Chief Kenneth Harms says, “Instead of taking the cream off the top of the barrel, we took the whole damn barrel.”

There are some indications that the contents of that barrel were drawn from a Miami generation to whom money was holy, its acquisition sacramental. This is, of course, in the grand American tradition. These, after all, are the children of immigrants, the same kind of people who — in the old days in a dozen American cities — made up the soldiers of the police and the Mob. Many came from the same neighborhoods. Two members of The Enterprise went to Miami High together. Three were in the class of ’81 at the Police Academy; all were known as “aggressive” cops, muscular machos who volunteered for tough assignments, actually preferring the high-action midnight shift. They also moved around with a certain swagger, letting everyone know they were hard guys — as hard as anyone else on the street. They worked at this, wearing muscles as if they too were a kind of uniform. Bodymasters, the gym owned by Coello and Garcia, attracted a lot of police officers; investigators now believe that while pumping iron at Bodymasters, members of The Enterprise also planned some of the drug ripoffs. But it’s not clear when these young men went bad.

Some Miami cops told me they believed the baddies became cops in order to enrich themselves, knowing that access to police intelligence and the gossip of informers would help them locate potential victims. Since the victims were also criminals there were few ethical problems. There might never have been ethical problems.

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“Look, there have always been bad cops,” one cop told me. “They’re usually cops for years and all they see is the scum of the earth and a court system that doesn’t give a rat’s ass and after a while they might say, ‘Hey, why don’t I get a piece for myself?’ In Miami, a cop can make a few grand by looking to the left instead of the right. But these young guys weren’t cops long enough to have that happen. I think they were bad from the day they went to the academy.”

If Rodriguez (through Un) was the corrupter, the relationship with the young cops didn’t last very long. At 5:30 p.m. on July 30, 1985, the day after the murders on the Miami River, in a field about a mile from the Dolphin Expressway, someone dumped a pine box that was three feet high and three feet wide. Inside the box was the body of Luis Rodriguez. He had been shot quite a few times. When the cops found the crate and opened the lid, Luis’s body popped out, and for a brief time his death was happily known to cops and reporters as the “Jack in the Box” murder.

Investigating the murder of Rodriguez, the cops heard that Officer Estrada had been around the night before the drug dealer disappeared, saying he would have to kill him. In a taped conversation after the killing, Un said to Officer Estrada: “I could care less if they killed Luis 40 times over. He had to be killed. If they had not killed him … ” On the tape, Estrada finished the sentence for him: “We would have killed him.”

Officers Arias, Garcia, and Estrada have been charged with conspiracy to murder Rodriguez, but nobody has yet been charged with the actual murder. The larger story of the Miami River murders (or, as defense attorneys call them, “suicides by drowning”) seems to have eclipsed the death of Luis Rodriguez.

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III. RUNNING AT HIALEAH

At some point, crime and politics always seem to intersect. This can be seen most clearly in the town of Hialeah. A stranger could cross from Miami into Hialeah without knowing that he has crossed any boundary; it’s like traversing the frontier between Brooklyn and Queens. But to those who know the place, Hialeah has its own special character these days. It is the second largest city in Dade County, with 180,000 residents (more than Fort Lauderdale). The city’s centerpiece is the once-lovely, now rather shabby racetrack that bears its name. In the old days, famous hoodlums came each winter to the track, carting along their fancy women, each northern don protected by a flying wedge of pistoleros.

In those days, there were almost no Latins in the town; those Latins who did live in Hialeah were third-rate jockeys, exercise boys, vendors, and petty hustlers who made a living off the track. Hialeah in the ’50s was a redneck town, full of hard-drinking shit-kickers who loved to batter each other on a Saturday night while Webb Pierce or Lefty Frizzell sang counterpoint on the jukebox. Then, after Castro took power, at first gradually and soon in a great rush, Hialeah began to change; vowels replaced consonants; Joe Cuba and the La Playa Sextet shoved Hank Williams and Merle Haggard off the juke. Today, Latins make up 80 per cent of the population and in 1983 finally took control of the city council. They have come to dominate an ugly, sprawling town, predominantly working class, whose main artery is 49th Street with its fast food joints and used car lots and grungy shopping centers. They have also inherited a ripe tradition of corruption.

“Politicians steal,” a Miami cop said to me. “That’s their business. But in Hialeah, they think they’re supposed to steal everything.”

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For years, the press and the prosecutors were after a Hialeah mayor named Henry Milander, citing various cases of alleged malfeasance. Milander brushed them away as if they were visiting fruit flies, until at last in 1970 he was convicted of grand larceny. Even that didn’t change Hialeah very much. The following year he was again elected mayor. Other pols, a visitor is told, made fortunes on developing the town, ridding the land of farms and open spaces, planting fields with warehouses and factories, jerry-building housing so unrelentingly ugly that it might even have offended Joe Stalin.

Into this fast-buck heaven have arrived many of the new-breed hustlers, and among them was a man named Alberto San Pedro. Born in Havana in 1950, Alberto was four years old when his parents brought him to Miami. In recent years, he called himself a developer, and hosted extravagant parties each December 17 in honor of his favorite saint, the wonderful San Lazarus, who is not recognized by the Catholic Church anymore but remains big among Cubans. The last two of these $50,000 parties were held at the posh Doral Hotel in Miami Beach, and among the guests were Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez, Representative Claude Pepper, Miami Beach mayor Alex Daoud, WSVN-Channel 7 weekend anchor and reporter Rick Sanchez, Miami police major Jack Sullivan, ordinary cops, political fundraisers, lawyers, various right-wing bravos, and a load of judges. San Pedro brought along a nine-foot statue of the saint, dressed himself in a tuxedo, was flanked by bodyguards, and posed with the assembled celebrities.

San Pedro’s father was a delegate to the 1984 Republican National Convention, and Alberto San Pedro was cleared for an audience with Ronald Reagan in Tampa in 1985. The son told all inquisitors that in addition to his activities as a developer, he was also a bookkeeper and salesman for his father’s business, the San Lazaro Racing Stables at Calder Race Track. These occupations obviously rewarded him handsomely: according to Jeff Leen of the Miami Herald, Alberto San Pedro’s six-bedroom mansion in Hialeah has eight and a half bathrooms and bulletproof windows.

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The windows should have been the tipoff that there was more to Alberto San Pedro than his own resume might indicate. He was, in fact, leading a far more interesting life than the one he presented to the public and seems to have studied for it with the same respect for basic texts that a seminarian would reserve for Thomas a Kempis. Leen, whose wonderfully detailed profile of Alberto for the Herald is the basis of many of these notes, also learned that Alberto kept a hardcover copy of The Godfather in the bathroom closest to his bedroom and a biography of Al Capone behind the desk in his office. It was in that same office that police set up a hidden microphone and learned many things about Alberto’s other, perhaps more characteristic, life. As we learned from listening to the Watergate tapes, the bulk of a hoodlum’s day is consumed by bullshitting with other hoodlums, and the San Pedro tapes — recorded in thousands of pages of transcripts — are a fascinating journey into the true underbelly of life in a corrupt town.

For these tapes, the police say, show that Alberto San Pedro was a major corrupter, a fixer, the classic cacique who works behind the scenes to secure power and wealth and enforces his presumed right to both with fear and violence. Among the institutions he is accused of corrupting is the Hialeah police department. It was a task he had trained for all of his life.

We don’t know if Alberto San Pedro’s reading of Mario Puzo moved him to see his life as a novel, but if so, the early  chapters followed the traditional pattern. In junior high school he learned that force can be rewarded. According to a Florida Parole and Probation Commission case analysis quoted by Leen, “Subject began extortion in the 9th and 10th grades, making the other students do his homework or work projects.”

By age 20, San Pedro, like so many other characters in this squalid story, was into weight lifting. And he began to take karate lessons from a Hialeah cop named Leo Thalassites. On the tapes, San Pedro says that he spent much of his youth beating up people for 50 or a hundred bucks (“that’s how I made my money”). By the time he was 21, his yellow sheet was lengthening: three arrests for aggravated assault, one for resisting a police officer, two for assault and battery, another for buying and possessing stolen property. In 1970, police reports said, after being flattened by a hard block in a sandlot football game, an enraged San Pedro stabbed the blocker, then went to his car, took out a machine gun, and sprayed the field. In all of these cases, he was either acquitted or had the charges dismissed. He wasn’t properly nailed by the law until 1971, when he took part in a drug rip-off and discovered that the subjects of his attention were undercover cops. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and given three years probation.

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

Even this didn’t convince San Pedro to go into a quieter line of work. In 1972, he was in trouble again, charged with armed robbery and assault with the intent to commit murder. His victim this time was a hooker’s John. There are clearly marked roads to heaven. But the customer wouldn’t testify and San Pedro got off. Three years later, he almost got off the earth when a hit man shot him five times. San Pedro survived. The hit man disappeared. And San Pedro began to give his annual thanks to Saint Lazarus. He also began to think more about the style of his life and the reach of his ambitions. On a July 26, 1985, tape, he says:

“I’m not a doper. I dedicate myself to my business. I was fucking broke when I was a kid and I got the shit beat out of me by the cops and by … the whole group. That’s what made me think there’s only one way to get around in life here. That’s politics and money.”

San Pedro was correct; the grand old American combination of politics and money is certainly not unique to south Florida. But there was something else going on in Hialeah. By last year, the police chief was a man named Cecil (“Whitey”) Seay, whose earlier career didn’t seem to shape him for extraordinary moral leadership. In 1970 he was accused by a drug dealer of trying to cut himself into a $150,000 marijuana smuggling plot (no charges were filed); he was indicted in 1971 after a Dade County grand jury investigation demanded by 70 Hialeah officers who said that nine officers, including Seay, didn’t meet ethical standards (he was accused of thwarting a burglary investigation, but when the chief witness against him changed his story the charges were dropped); in 1973, a teenage girl appeared before the city’s personnel board and claimed that Seay had forced his attentions upon her (no investigation was made). At the hearings that led to his choice as chief, Seay said: “Those guys who have a clean record have never done anything.”

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One of Seay’s most important officers was San Pedro’s old karate instructor and still his good friend, Leo Thalassites. He was now a sergeant. Leo suddenly found himself in the newspapers on January 30 when he threatened to kill two detectives named Eddie Preston and Tom Nevins. He made this threat in the lobby of the Hialeah City Hall in front of three other officers. Preston and Nevins were in the intelligence section of Hialeah’s police department, and Thalassites accused them of sending anonymous letters to various police organizations and the media accusing Leo and some other Hialeah veterans of corruption. Although the two cops denied this, Chief Seay and Mayor Martinez backed Thalassites. One fine morning, the two detectives found the locks on their office changed, with their personal possessions and pending cases still inside. They were then shifted to other jobs, one washing police cars, the other pounding a beat. Hialeah’s intelligence section was disbanded.

But the story didn’t end there.

The Metro-Dade police were already looking hard at Alberto San Pedro. An undercover agent, posing as a corrupt cop, had ingratiated himself with San Pedro and had a series of meetings and telephone conversations with the man. All were recorded. More than anything else, San Pedro told detective Nelson Perry, he wanted to get rid of the rest of the records of his youth so that he could obtain a full pardon for his youthful crimes and become a U.S. citizen. He planned to do this, he said, with money.

“Everybody’s got a friend and everybody needs friends,” he said on an August 30, 1985, tape. “Everybody likes to be loved and everybody wants to be loved. Money, everybody loves money. Everybody likes to spend it … And unfortunately, politicians are the worst motherfuckers in the world … They only look at one thing, how much can I steal as long as I’m there.”

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Among the records that San Pedro wanted destroyed were accounts of his dealing with a middle-level Gambino family hoodlum named Joseph Paterno. Police recorded conversations in April 1985 indicating that Paterno tried to buy from San Pedro two silencer-­equipped guns for use in the killing of two of his own cousins in New Jersey. San Pedro didn’t refuse; his price — $4000 for each piece — was simply too high for Paterno’s budget, according to Arthur Nehrbass, commander of Dade’s Organized Crime Bureau. Almost immediately after this conversation, Paterno was arrested.

The cops took a closer look at San Pedro. In June, he offered $5000 to a police informant to get the Paterno transcripts and tapes. The cops then sent their undercover man to San Pedro (setting up the meeting through San Pedro’s bodyguard) and listened to his various offers, and accepted sums ranging from $2000 to $11,000. Over a period of time, the cops fed San Pedro a combination of real and fictitious police material, and listened to his bragging, his philosophy, and his schemes. Those schemes were not empty; San Pedro was the real thing. They knew, for example, from the Hialeah records chief, Lieutenant Thomas Bardon, that San Pedro’s file had disappeared three times from that city’s police department. A narcotics intelligence file on San Pedro also disappeared. And his records were missing from the Dade Circuit Court clerk’s office and the State Attorney’s office. San Pedro was clearly attempting to create a new personal history through elimination.

Nelson Perry, who was president of the Police Benevolent Association (which began representing Hialeah cops in September 1985), says he started smelling the rot in Hialeah when he was approached by a 350-pound political press agent and community newspaperman named Don Dugan (later indicted in a separate case for being the bagman in a bribery case in Opa Locka). Dugan told Perry that he could earn “a personal profit” if he stayed out of Hialeah police affairs. This shocked Perry, who told his superiors of this; they assigned him to pose as a corrupt cop. He soon met San Pedro for the first time at the Treetop Restaurant in the Miami Springs Holiday Inn. They continued to meet for weeks. At two of Perry’s meetings with San Pedro, a Hialeah cop was also present. It was Sergeant Thalassites.

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When police overheard San Pedro in February talking about killing two men who owed him a total of $4000, and conspiring to sell a kilo of cocaine, they decided to move. On February 13, San Pedro was arrested on bribery charges, and rearrested March 2 for murder, conspiracy, and cocaine trafficking. Hialeah erupted. Within weeks, Chief Seay resigned. Thalassites went on paid leave. Some of the tapes were released, littered with the names of various politicians who were claimed by San Pedro as friends or property. TV reporter Rick Sanchez was heard discussing an exchange of favors with San Pedro; good old Alberto had found a job in Panama for Sanchez’s uncle; Sanchez, who served as a non-voting adviser to the board of the First American Bank & Trust, got a share of San Pedro’s business for the bank. (What a reporter was doing serving on the board of a bank — and sucking after customers on behalf of that bank — nobody could answer; Sanchez also was granted a paid leave but his superiors at the TV station said they saw nothing wrong with his connection to the bank. The ethics of Miami strike again.) It was then remembered that Sanchez had emceed the 1984 San Lazarus party and had led the group in prayer. Someone else noticed that Hialeah had a 29.6 per cent increase in crime during 1985 and the joke was that this was “not including cops.”

Then in mid-March, the Herald tossed a few more bombs into the discussion.

Reporters Leen and Sydney P. Freedberg discovered that in 1979, Florida’s former attorney general, Robert Shevin, and the state’s esteemed Congressman Claude Pepper had written letters to the Florida parole board extolling San Pedro’s character. They now claimed that they didn’t really know San Pedro, couldn’t remember him; since their letters claimed that they did in fact know San Pedro either the letters or the statements were lies. The former attorney general certainly should have known something about San Pedro. His law partner, a Democratic fund-raiser and adviser to Governor Bob Graham named Ronald Book, represented San Pedro during his 1983 application for a full pardon. Pepper and Shevin spluttered, suffered from amnesia, hung up the phones.

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Even more bizarre was the story of San Pedro’s access to Governor Graham himself. Last December, when there were cops all over Hialeah investigating San Pedro, a woman named Marcia Ludwig emerged to support San Pedro’s application for a full pardon. Marcia Ludwig was once Marcia Valibus and in 1957 she was queen of the Orange Bowl; in Miami there is always an element of the surreal. Later Marcia Valibus was a runner-up in the Miss Universe contest and had a screen test at Paramount Studios. She was also a classmate of Adele Graham, the governor’s wife, and over the years they had remained friends. For more than a decade, the Herald said, Marcia Ludwig has been an intimate friend of one Robert (Bobby) Erra, son of the late Pasquale (Patsy) Erra, who once worked for Vito Genovese. Marcia and Erra are often seen together, friends told the Herald, at the La Goree Country Club. More important, there are pages of conversations between Erra and San Pedro on the various tapes. On December 11, Ludwig sent a hand-written note to her friend, the governor’s wife:

“Dear Adele, This is a note for Bob’s mirror. A good friend of mine — Alberto San Pedro— has a case coming before Bob and his Cabinet on Dec. 18 … I appreciate you calling my words to Bob’s attention.”

On December 19, Adele wrote back to Marcia: “I placed the note on Bob’s mirror — so he’s aware.” This was the day after Graham presided over the hearing. During that session, he said: “Unfortunately, there continues to be this lingering question as to what might be in his background. I’m concerned that Mister San Pedro is sort of being cast under a shadow that he seems to be unable to extricate himself from and which shadow hasn’t yet, or after four or five years, moved to the substance of some action. It has been a long time since the criminal offense for which he’s requesting pardon was committed and he has an impressive statement of his community record.” Graham “reluctantly” moved to continue the case, stating that the next time San Pedro’s pardon was discussed, he would come to a decision. There is no indication that he checked with any of the cops; he certainly didn’t give San Pedro a flat rejection. What the hell: when you’re a kid in Hialeah it’s only natural to fool around with machine guns. Still, Graham didn’t say yes either. And his need to decide was made academic by San Pedro’s February 13 arrest.

The honest cops in Hialeah had long despised San Pedro and to some extent feared him. He was the shadowy man, the fixer, called upon for help by arsonist, hoodlum, dealer. On the day he was arrested, someone placed a note on the police department’s bulletin board. It said very simply: “The untouchable has been touched.”

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IV. OUT OF THE SWAMP

Obviously, every cop in southern Florida is not a crook. Most of the arrests have been made as a result of good tough police investigations along with continuing pressure from the Miami Herald. But it’s unlikely that corruption will soon vanish, the drug dealers joining the dinosaurs in the rot of the swamp. They won’t go away, and cops will continue to be corrupted because there is simply too much dirty money lying around. Cocaine will not soon be legalized: Americans won’t soon surrender their national lust for some form of chemical nirvana.

But if you wonder what happens to some of these men who briefly and luridly occupy page-one headlines, consider recent events in North Bay Village, another suburb of Miami. In 1971, a cop named George Staphylaris was fired from the Miami force for allegedly encouraging a police informant to rob a department store. He appealed the firing, was reinstated with a six-month suspension, then resigned. Six years ago he joined the North Bay Village force. He was soon known to many kids as Officer George, ran the drug education program at Treasure Island Elementary School, often took kids on trips to the Everglades, and had prepared a children’s seminar called “Just Say No To Drugs.”

On the North Bay force, he met another former Miami cop named William David Risk. He too was once fired, for battering a prisoner with a nightstick. He too fought his firing, was reinstated, and resigned in 1979. Last year, he was North Bay Village’s officer of the year, cited for his “superlative performance and dedication.” He was also a weight lifter.

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A third former Miami cop was on the North Bay force. This was Sergeant Fernando Gandon. He quit the Miami force in 1977 after being charged with aggravated battery. While interrogating a man on the street, the charges against him said, he shoved his pistol in the man’s mouth, rattled it around and broke some teeth. Five years ago, he arrived at North Bay and was again given a badge and gun.

On February 27, all three men were arrested by the FBI for selling protection to men they believed to be drug dealers. A Mob guy named Stephen Nahay told FBI agents (posing as drug dealers) in a recorded conversation that if they were moving drugs they should see the three North Bay cops. “They’ll help you out,” Nahay said. “In other words, if you want to kill a guy there … you just tell them the guy and they’ll kick him on to the coroner … ”

Clearly, redemption does not flourish under the southern sun. There are no second chances for such people, only the main chance. But nobody from New York can step back in self-righteous judgment at the sight of Miami police scandals. We have at least one such scandal in every New York generation since the mid-19th century. And late one night, sitting with a Miami cop in a place called Trainer’s, where judges and drug dealers both come to dine, I was asked, “How long can that mayor of yours last?” I wasn’t able to answer. The arrest rate at New York’s city hall hasn’t quite reached that of the Miami cops, but the crimes are about the same general thing: abuse of power for personal gain.

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In Miami, the corruption will go on and on, as long as millions of Americans maintain their passionate love affair with cocaine. Jesse Helms and his fellow yahoos should forget about corruption in Mexico for the moment and acknowledge the rot in a state that went fervently for Ronald Reagan. They might discover that drug dealers love conservatives in power; conservatives forbid things that racket guys can then sell. And while Americans keep buying expensive powders to shove up their noses, the bad guys will keep buying cops. How many. As many as they need.

A good number of Miami cops have the integrity to resist the lure of narcodollars. But just as surely, others will plunge into the swamp and rise covered with the kind of slime that will never wash off. They are there now, driving Chevies and longing for Porsches, dressed in baggy suits and lusting for Giorgio Armani, hearing preachments of denial, while drug dealers leave with the women, and the country at large throws roses to the greedy. They are men of the law but nobody in Miami would ever be surprised to see them leaving the sunshine in handcuffs. Their sweet decaying odor will not go away. ❖

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

1986_Village Voice article by Pete Hamill about cocaine corrupting Miami

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

Memories of Crazy Joe Gallo

The way Bobby Kennedy told it in his book, The Enemy Within, it was all very sinister. Joey Gallo showed up for a private pre-hearing interview in a black shirt, black shoes, and black suit, scuffed the office rug with his foot, and said, “This would be a nice place for a crap game.” The way the surrogate Nicely Nicely told the story subsequently in the Corner Bistro was, if not more accurate, certainly more entertaining. “I read that bullshit,” he said, “and just for openers I didn’t have a black shirt on. I was wearing a one-buck work shirt I picked up at an army-navy story on Sixth Avenue.

“The first thing he told me was if I helped him get Hoffa” — the occasion was Gallo’s 1958 appearance before the Senate Rackets Investigating Committee, Robert Kennedy counsel — “I’d never want for nothing. When I told him the hell with that and that I was going to take the Fifth he said: ‘You’re not so tough — I’d like to fight you myself.’ And when he came around from behind his desk and started to peel off his coat, I told him, ‘I don’t fight,’ and I reached in my pocket and pulled out a mezuzah that Sid Slater had given me and shoved it in his face.”

Joey laughed at the thought of using a mezuzah on Kennedy as one might use wolfbane on Lon Chaney, Jr. Laughter was central to his life, the private life he lived in the Village apart form the cruelties which were his public life. Without defining it, Joey’s private role playing had him as Dick Powell playing the last Billy the Kid, the white Malcolm X, but he loved to laugh at himself if anyone was paying attention and attention was compulsory. Sitting once in the late Waverly Lounge in the Earle Hotel he said: “My brother Larry’s public enemy number one or number two — I forgot which because I’m the other one.” Then he emitted a small laugh, one with an edge on it because it was 1962 and he was on trial, and he turned to Laurie Brewis, who is also late and was then piano player, and said, “I’ll bet the papers are out now,” and Laurie who was small but no smaller than Joey, scuttled out to Sixth Avenue as if someone were shooting at him and came back with the Mirror and the News and both had lengthy stories about the trial of Crazy Joey.

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He explained his name that night and it made perfect sense to Leo, who owned the bar. “They put me in this nut factory, the Kings County Hospital,” he said, “because they wanted to keep me for 90 days and they didn’t have any other way to do it. So this doctor came around and showed me something and asked me what it looks like. ‘It looks like somebody spilled ink on it and folded it over,’ I say, and so they say I’m crazy. I say to the doctor that he’s paid by the taxpayer’s money and so is the D.A. and so is the police commissioner and I’m not talking to any of them and they tell me I’m crazy again. I pass my time painting and they come around with my paintings and they say, ‘Would you like to live in a house like this?’ If I could answer questions like that I would be crazy.

“Finally I tell the doctor, ‘You tell me I’ve got a persecution complex. Well, it happens that I am persecuted.’ But I tell him, I’ve got a lot of friends. He asks, ‘Are you threatening me?’ Well, I told him I wasn’t but you know what? He gave me better marks than my own shrink does. Does that sound crazy to you?”

Joey loved the Village as only those who move here from some other where can. He spoke of his Brooklyn home as someone else might speak of Ashtabula. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, when he was at war with the Profacis, it used to be a regular police number to run over to 49-51 Pres­ident Street in Brooklyn, the of­fice of his Direct Vending Machine Company and, upstairs, what was known as the Dormitory for his associates, and pick up maybe a couple of dozen of his friends, then to scour the Village and Little Italy looking for Joey. One night he issued a blanket invi­tation to everyone in Jack Barry’s to breakfast with him at Luna’s at 112 Mulberry Street — half a block from where he was killed the week before last — and when he was told the cops were looking for him he and everyone else went out the back. The only reason a participant remembers the event is the sight of Gallo boosting a lady over a fence, an event sexually stirring for the onlooker, if not the lady.

Joe lived for a time at 63 East 11th Street but his last home before he went up was in a build­ing now gone next to the Ameri­can Youth Hostel, also now gone, where there is now a series of shops at 14 to 22 West 8th Street. He lived there, in a ground floor apartment, with his wife, Jeffie, when they ran into Jeffie’s first husband, Gerry Mulligan, who was playing at the Village Vanguard. It must have been a bad split because, Joey said, laughing, “He looked me up and down and then he turned to Jeffie and said: ‘You must have scoured the gutters of the Village to find somebody lower than a jazz musician.’ ”

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Joey got sent up, he always maintained, on a bum rap. It was extortion and he freely admitted — cheerfully admitted might be more accurate — that he was trying to extort money from a man named Ted Moss. The thing was, Joey said, that the cops said he was trying to extort a piece of Moss’s bars. One night in one of the bars, the one at the corner of 12th Street and University Place, where Shine’s was later, he ges­tured to the only other customer in the bar and said: “Look — this joint takes in maybe $150 a week. Do I need to muscle a guy for a lousy $75? But the bastard is shylocking and this is my territory. Let him keep his fucking bars but let him keep out of my business.” The cops, Joey claimed, couldn’t admit in court that they were talking about shylocking so they doctored their telephone tapes. He stood mute, thinking that he would win on appeal, and did 10 years as a result of that mistake.

Even that mistake was made with a little Gallo panache. His lawyer, David Price, was ill and Joey asked for a continuance. General Sessions Judge Joseph A. Sarafite refused and, instead, ap­pointed a lawyer, Irving Men­delson, to defend him. Joey took Mendelson aside and said, “That goddamned dago judge is never going to give me a fair shake.”

When Mendelson said Sarafite certainly would give him a fair shake and that he could vouch for it because the judge was a lifelong friend, Joey said: “You just told me all I want to know” and thereafter refused to speak to the judge’s lifelong friend. Sarafite subsequently hit Joey with the maximum possible sentence.

His daughter was born after he was sent up and Joey refused to see her or Jeffie on the theory that he was in and they were out and the hell with it. On a train back from Ocean Beach one summer Jeffie explained all that and said that when Joey got out the baby would be in her teens, she would be in her 40s, and that they both needed someone to love them. “But who?” she asked. “Would you marry me?” There was laughter and Jeffie laughed, too, and then said: “That’s the trouble. Who’s going to marry Joey Gallo’s wife, the chief of police?” She did have something of a problem, one that was resolved only when Joey gave her specific permission to get a divorce and re-marry.

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New York is a tough town and no one who remains alive ever knows quite how tough. Sid Slater, who gave Joey the mezuzah he flashed at Bobby Kennedy, turned out later to have been something other than what Joey used to call his “token Hebe.” He was also Frank Hogan’s token fink, and it may be a mark of Joey’s class that when he had him beaten he had him beaten in the Copacabana. But Sid was a gangster and one night he left Joey’s apartment with Pat Wilson, the singer, and another friend, and started walking own MacDougal Street. He heard a heavy clomp of running feet behind him, reached into his coat, pulled out his piece, and whirled around to discover a Villager running to keep up with his Dalmatian who never knew how close he came to meeting Mr. Death.

Now that Joey is dead it seems to be a popular idea — perpe­tuated, it would seem, by his sup­posed biographer — that he be­came bright only in prison where he is said to have read Camus and Sartre. Men do not become bright in their 40s by reading books in li­braries. Joey was sitting in the late Jericho Tavern on Sixth Ave­nue one day talking about a certain Lieutenant Hoffman who had raided the Dormitory on Pres­ident Street the night before. He was asked if it was the same Hoffman who, as a detective, had picked him up for running a dice game when he was 16. “‘Yeah,” Joey said. “I forgot about that. You know, that son of a bitch is playing ‘Les Miserables’ with me.” Joey had read books before he went to prison.

Joey, as has been said, loved to laugh, but there was a thread of bitterness in it. “They say I’ve been picked up 15, 17 times,” he once said. “That’s bullshit. I’ve been picked up maybe 250 times but they don’t make a note of it. I’ve been worked over so many times my hat sits on my head like I’m a midget. I’ve been picked up at least 50 times for consorting with known criminals — my father and my brothers.”

When Joey got out of the can last May he moved to 14th Street and, after the shooting of Joe Colombo, found himself suddenly an object of radical chic by those who had gotten bored with the Panthers. He talked into tape re­corders and sent miles of tape up to Viking to be written by anonymous editors and, one must think,­ in the fastness of the night he laughed.

Vale, Joey.

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Death of John/Diane

Talking Heads

Resting their minds from the Palestin­ian slaughter and the killing of the economy, some New Yorkers turned their at­tention last week to a diverting little crime, the murder of Diane Delia.

A dark pouting model, Diane Delia was the apex of a love triangle at whose base were her accused killers Robert Ferrara and Robyn Arnold. The murder itself, which took place in a Yonkers wood last October, was accomplished with four straightforward shots to the head, two, the prosecutor alleges, fired by each of the accused. The cause of death is one of the few details of the Delia case that is a certainty, that and the obsession the ac­cused killers had for the victim. Both Rob­ert Ferrara and Robyn Arnold were emotionally entangled with Diane Delia — Ferrara married her, Arnold was in love with her — and both date their involvement to the days before her operation, when Diane Delia was still John Delia, a man.

The Transsexual Love Triangle, as the tabloids call it, was being played out in high colors against the grim backdrop of the criminal court building on Centre Street. In a ninth-floor courtroom the dev­otees gathered, toothless trial junkies, a woman who follows the trials in police costume, the Super-8 filmmaker Eric Mitchell, reporters, parents of the accused, and friends of the deceased. Pastel chalk squeaked as the television news artist sketched the witnesses, while they, in turn, painted a picture for the jury of John/Diane, as the victim, for convenience, was called.

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A medium-height man from a middle-­class family, John Delia was dark-skinned and slight. His body and face were so smooth that, when at 16 he first began dressing in women’s clothes, there was never any stubble to betray him. His drag impersonations, lip synching to Diana Ross records, were so convincing he made an act of them, performing first at local clubs, later in Manhattan, billed as an impersonator of women even after this was no longer the case. Miss D., as his friends called him, had small hands, a naturally feminine voice, beautiful legs, and a reck­less humor. He was compulsive, rude, and funny. He was casually immoral, and loyal. He had big feet and a taste for cheap clothes. The boaty pumps that are pivotal evidence in the prosecutor’s case rested on the courtroom table — weird icons. Like ev­erything else in the John/Diane story, they’re purple.

Robyn Arnold, the surgeon’s daughter and accused murderess, met John Delia at the Playroom bar in the late ’70s. They became lovers. She offered him money and her complete attention. Friends say that as many as 40 framed snapshots of John De­lia litter Robyn Arnold’s bookshelves. Sev­eral large blowups of Diane Delia decorate her wall. It was Arnold who paid for Delia’s sex change, when, several years into their relationship, he met and fell in love with Robert Ferrara, a bartender from New Hope, Pennsylvania. It was Arnold who paid for surgery to prettify Delia’s nose and heighten his cheekbones. Hard but not unpretty, Robyn Arnold hid behind a fringe of hair in court, as witnesses de­scribed for Judge Rothwax, the press, and the jury, her aggressive, manipulative sex­uality and her emotional enslavement to Delia. Sitting beside her, Robert Ferrara listened as the prosecutor mounted his case.

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When Delia became enamored of Fer­rara they began to live together. Arnold continued to pay the bills. Claiming that Ferrara could not accept himself living in a homosexual relationship, Delia planned and Arnold engineered the sex change: the two were married. Delia was as proud of his new anatomy as a child with a toy and made a party trick of showing the altered parts. Neither Diane Delia nor Robert Ferrara saw marriage as a binding proposition, though, and both had affairs. In 1980 Delia left Yonkers for Montreal, where she was hired by a modeling agency for her “Latin look” and shot an Avon ad for a Foxfire robe (“Wrap yourself in luxury.”). She took a lover there. In her absence Robyn Arnold and Robert Ferrara cemented their friendship. Piqued by this, Delia returned to New York and the three were reunited, after a fashion. Delia’s nature was com­pulsive, sexually and emotionally. Her extramarital affairs with men were expected, but when she started to sleep with women, the climate changed — this betrayal was the final straw.

In the prosecutor’s scenario, Delia’s husband and friend arranged on the night of Wednesday, October 7, to pick her up in Arnold’s Cadillac Seville to go dancing. They drove her instead to a wood and shot her, leaving the body for some days before returning to dispose of it in the Hudson River. It washed up three weeks later. The prosecutor’s case is circumstantial and tri­angular: it hangs on the motives of the accused, on Diane Delia’s shoes, which were later found by a friend in Robyn Arnold’s possession, and on the yellow acrylic blanket in which the body was un­luxuriously wrapped. Witnesses claim the blanket came from Miss Arnold’s bed. At presstime, none of this had been proven.

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The courtroom has been tickled when suited men take the stand to identify evidence: “Of course, I know those pumps,” said one. “I used to wear them.” It has been shocked by the excessive violence of the shooting. The first bullet killed Delia; the others blew out her eyes. It has been chilled by the sight of Delia’s death outfit, once lavender, now mottled river-green. It has been amused by the courtroom antics of Arnold’s lawyer, a silver-haired ham given to improvised outbursts. And it has been bemused by the image of the two accused killers. Silent, drab, impassive at their table, they are diminished even after her death by the late John/Diane, whose flamboyance was seductive and whose seductions proved fatal. The received wis­dom about transsexuals suggest they are born imprisoned in bodies of the wrong sex. For John/Diane Delia this seems inac­curate. In her desire to please and be ac­cepted, she treated all sex as the right sex. As a man and as a woman she accom­modated both men and women lustily, equally. It may be that her democratic nature was the end of her. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

The Preppy Murder: Who’s on Trial?

The Chambers-Levin Murder Case

On the day Jennifer Levin died, Detective John Lafferty told a fable of good and evil to the man later charged with her murder. Rob­ert Chambers sat in an office at the Central Park precinct “helping” the detectives, since he’d been one of the last people seen with Levin at Dorrian’s Red Hand the night before. Lafferty didn’t consider him a suspect. Chambers was so “sincere,” “cool,” “comfortable.”

In fact, Lafferty would later take it upon himself to tell Chambers that Levin was not missing, but dead. Lafferty couldn’t have known that Chambers had watched the police find Levin’s body that morning. Chambers was still hours away from admitting anything as he put his head back, looked at the ceiling, and said, “Oh, no. How did she die?”

He was already the two Roberts who will appear at the trial — the nice guy and the pathological liar. A victim of circumstance, says his lawyer. A murderer, says the prosecu­tor. It makes the story Lafferty told him — the legend that gave the Red Hand its name — into an allegory of sorts: There was once an Irish king with two sons, one good and one bad. To choose who would succeed him, the king asked his sons to race from a boat to the shore; whoever touched it first would win. The bad son swam faster and seemed certain to touch first. So the good son cut off his own hand and threw it ashore.

That night at the precinct, Chambers began telling the story of Levin’s death that would capture the prurient interest of a city. As the Post boiled it down later in one of their classic headlines: “Wild Sex Killed Jenny.” Chambers said that Jennifer Levin had hurt him during rough sex — an encounter she’d insisted upon — causing him to accidentally strangle her. As the trial unfolds, howev­er, two stories will be told. Defense lawyer Jack Lit­man will present Cham­bers’s version, a story about sex. Prosecutor Linda Fair­stein will tell a story about violence.

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Trials don’t usually have that Perry Mason moment in which the True Story spills spontaneously from some wretch on the witness stand. Trials have less to do with discovery than with persuasion. In The People v. Robert Chambers, prosecution and defense will interpret the same evidence to mean completely different things, will characterize the silent princi­pals — Chambers and Levin — in completely different ways. Tri­als are a matter of competing narratives, our last oral tradi­tion. With jurors forbidden to take notes, courtroom impressions are crucial, and believability becomes more important than truth. Which lawyer will be the more compelling storyteller? For whom will the carefully selected audience of jurors suspend its disbelief?

Of course, a story like Chambers’s doesn’t take place in a vacuum. In trying to sell it, Litman has eager help from the culture and its prejudices — sexism, anti-Semitism, fear of fe­male sexuality. That political subtext has made The People v. Robert Chambers into more than a case of alleged homicide. Chambers and Levin had had sex before the night of the 25th. And even now, women who want sex are still a little suspect, “asking for it.” The perception that a woman is sexually active translates easily into the conclusion that she’s sexually aggres­sive. The Chambers/Litman story is that of a “bad girl” who gets what she deserves and a helpless man defending himself from her sexual voraciousness.

This version of events also plays right into anti-Semitic stereotypes. Imagine the story going over as easily with Cham­bers a Jew and Levin an Upper East Side Catholic girl. It’s no coincidence that Litman involved the Catholic church in Chambers’s defense right from the start — getting bail applica­tion letters from a priest and the archbishop of Newark, then arranging for Chambers to live in an Upper West Side rectory once he was out on bail. It all feeds into the image Litman wants: Robert Chambers is the former altar boy, while Jenni­fer Levin is the sexually neurotic Other. Despite the preponderance of physical evidence, Fairstein will have her work cut out for her.

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Anyone charged with murder would do well to hire Jack Litman. In 13 years as a de­fense attorney, Lit­man has lost only once on a murder case. For everyone else facing a homicide rap, he’s gotten either acquittal, dismissal, or conviction on a reduced charge. Litman won a self-defense acquittal, for example, for Bronx po­liceman Kevin Durkin, who shot and killed two un­armed Hispanic men in a bar, after — Durkin said — ­they claimed to be FALN members and one seemed to be reaching for a gun. Litman also handles a lot of white-collar crime. Last year the New York State Bar Association named him their outstanding criminal practitioner.

Now 44 years old, Litman began his career in the Manhattan district attor­ney’s office in 1968. He lost only one case while working there and got some high­-profile convictions — one against black militant H. Rap Brown, one against “rogue cop” William Phillips. Despite his success, the job of prosecutor didn’t ap­peal to Litman. He was there to get trial experience. He once told an interviewer why he prefers the defense. “There’s no comparison in the way you can feel when you get an acquittal as opposed to the way you feel when you get a conviction as a prosecutor.… Even if it’s someone who deserves conviction you don’t get the feel­ing of total emotion and satisfaction. I used to only handle the most venal, egre­gious killers, and I felt it was a job well done, but it wasn’t the same. As a defense lawyer I get that same satisfaction even if I know they’re killers.”

Linda Fairstein, on the other hand, en­joys the prosecutor’s role; head of the Manhattan D.A.’s Sex Crimes Prosecu­tion Unit since 1976, she usually handles rape cases. She’s also deputy chief of the Trial Division. That’s the capacity in which she’s been assigned to this — her first homicide, now taking the same “blame-the-victim” turn common to rape cases before the shield laws went into effect (to limit the defense attorney’s use of a victim’s sexual history). “The cases that I’ve worked on for most of my career have been devastatingly traumatic crimes,” Fairstein says, “particularly all the sex offenses. Most victims come to the criminal justice system in that area not expecting to be helped.”

Fairstein, 40, has an excellent court­room record of her own. She’s lost only twice, while the unit she supervises has an 80 per cent conviction rate. In 1986, she was the subject of a 20/20 segment titled “The Woman Rapists Fear.” She began working for the Manhattan district attorney’s office in 1972; one of the peo­ple who trained her was Jack Litman. “I learned a lot from him,” she says. “He really was one of the best and the bright­est here. He often gave me advice on cases, and I enjoyed watching him in the courtroom.”

Litman declined to be interviewed for this article, telling me on the phone that, regarding the case, he could only say what was on public record and that, re­garding himself, enough had been written already. Fairstein spoke with me, but de­clined to answer any questions on jury selection, evidence, witnesses, or the tac­tics of Jack Litman. Whatever cards Fair­stein intends to play, she hasn’t revealed them to the media; while Litman’s tack has been to use the media when he can and to shut them out when they don’t serve him. After generating most of the sensational stories about this case, Lit­man argued last May that the press should be barred from the suppression hearings — because they had published sensational stories.

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By the time Robert Chambers emerged from the Central Park precinct in handcuffs, he’d been there for nearly 11 hours. Jack Litman spent months this sum­mer trying to wipe out those 11 hours, exposing them like film to sunlight in the hope that they’d disappear into the realm of inadmissible evidence. He called for a pretrial suppression hearing. From May till mid-July, he and Fairstein carefully, tediously re-created the time Chambers had spent with police on August 26, 1986.

Litman had good reason to try erasing what he could, since, according to detec­tives, his client had told them three dif­ferent stories about the night Jennifer Levin died: that he’d left Dorrian’s alone, gone home, and his cat had scratched him; that he’d left Dorrian’s with Jenni­fer Levin but parted from her on 86th Street after they argued, and she had scratched him; that he’d left with Jenni­fer Levin for Central Park, where the rough sex/accidental death occurred. De­tectives put she last version into writing, and Chambers reiterated it on videotape.

During the hearings, Litman made two entirely different arguments. If the judge bad bought both of them, he would have wiped out every word Chambers had said at the precinct. First, Litman claimed that his client had been illegally held, that therefore his oral/written and video­taped statements could not be admitted as evidence. Then, Litman argued that he himself had never received “formal and actual notice” of, for example, that story about 86th Street or remarks like “How did she die?” — so none of that could be admitted either.

Fairstein maintained that Chambers arrived at the precinct house knowing exactly where Jennifer Levin was, that he intended to fool the police, and that he could have called a lawyer or his parents at any time. The prosecution contended that they had given the defense proper notice, that a comment like “How did she die?” did not qualify as a “new statement.”

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On October 16, Judge Howard Bell ruled to suppress nothing that Chambers had said. The videotape, however, will be edited to delete the expressions of incre­dulity made by Assistant District Attor­ney Stephen Saracco, who interrogated Chambers.

In this hearing and in the pretrial ma­neuvering that began shortly after Robert Chambers’s arrest last year, Jack Litman has consistently presented the picture of a young man victimized at every turn: assaulted by Jennifer Levin, tricked by detectives, deprived of his constitutional rights, even forced by an acquaintance to participate in burglaries. Again and again during testimony from the detectives involved, Litman bristled with indignation that Chambers had spent so many hours in a little room, with no lawyer present, and that his father had not been allowed to speak to him until one in the morning, after arriving at six. By the time Litman summed up on August 10, Chambers had become a defendant “prevented from tes­tifying.” It was Litman, of course, who had “prevented” him.

Litman needs to give Chambers this victim persona in order to sell his story of rough sex verging on assault. Linda Fairstein will develop an entirely different picture at trial: that of a violent struggle in which the real victim died. She charac­terizes Chambers as “a chronic thief, a pathological liar, and a very troubled young man with an extensive criminal history.”

At the time of his arrest in August 1986, Chambers had a lawyer, Pete Put­zel (retained for him by his mother), be­cause he’d become a suspect in a string of Upper East Side burglaries. That spring, he’d spent about five weeks in a drug rehabilitation clinic in Minnesota; the problem was cocaine. But, as Detective Michael McEntee testified during the hearings, “It was common knowledge around Dorrian’s bar, that although Rob­ert Chambers had been through rehabili­tation, he was still quite heavily using cocaine.” In October 1985 and again in May 1986, a Church of Scientology work­shop rejected Chambers as a member for “failure to meet church standards of character and behavior.” After the mur­der trial, he’ll face a burglary trial.

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Chambers’s account of Levin’s death has always sounded ludicrous to me. As he related it to Detective McEntee, the arresting officer, Levin “got insane” when he said he thought of her as just a friend; she knelt in front of him, scratched his face, spit on him, and bit his fingers, till he jumped up and pushed her away; she went off to urinate in the bushes and told him when she returned, “You’d look cuter tied up”; she bound his hands with her underpants, pushed him down, forced his pants down around his knees, sat on his face and began to play with him; straddled him (facing his feet), hit his dick with a stick and squeezed his balls; he cried out in pain and a passing jogger yelled, “Is anything wrong?”; Lev­in said, “Shhh,” and jerked him off once the jogger passed, then cackled, and dug her fingers into his chest and again squeezed his balls until he was forced, with fatal consequences, to stop her. He flipped her over his right shoulder. As Litman told the court during arraignment last August 28: “He [Chambers] said, ‘Let’s stop.’ She said, ‘No!’ And when she refused, he leaned up and pulled her back, causing the fatal trauma.”

But Chambers’s changed some of the details in this account when he spoke with other detectives. To Detective Mar­tin Gill, he said first that Levin had tack­led him and later that she’d hugged him and laid him down on the ground. To Lieutenant John Doyle Chambers said he’d finally grabbed Levin by the neck and pulled her up as he stood, then dropped her. Nothing about a flip over the shoulder. In a bench conference held out of earshot but put on the record, Litman complained that this was the first time he’d heard that version, and there­fore it must be suppressed. He told Judge Bell, in his final argument this August as the suppression hearing ended, that these differences would be “the core of the dis­trict attorney’s case.”

But other evidence may be more po­tent. Robert Chambers — at six foot four and 220 pounds — had supposedly been tied up, pushed down, and straddled by a woman who was five foot eight and weighed 120. His story doesn’t account for some of the physical evidence. Initial reports in both the Times and the Post said Levin was found with her bra wrapped around her neck. The Times quoted police captain Harold Wischerth: “Her clothes were disheveled and some pushed to the upper part of her body.” At first, police thought she’d been sexually assaulted. They also thought, given the position of her body, that she’d been dragged there and dumped. Court papers filed on the public record refer to bite marks on Levin’s face and shoulder, fa­cial bruising, abrasions and contusions on lower body areas, and metallic flecks from Chambers’s watch embedded in the abrasions on her neck and chin.

As for Chambers’s injuries, his fingers had been so badly bitten he was difficult to fingerprint. The prosecution will con­tend that Jennifer Levin fought for her life.

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The defense began to develop Cham­bers’s side of the story in the media last fall, implying that Levin’s out­-of-control sexuality led to her death. Last November, Litman filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, putting on the public record Chambers’s complaint to detectives that “she’s hav­ing her way with me.” (“Chambers: I Was Raped” read the ensuing headline in the Post.)

The next day, Litman charged that Levin had kept a “sex diary” to record her “kinky and aggressive sexual activ­ity… with many lovers.” On Thanksgiv­ing eve, Litman served a subpoena on the Levin family to obtain this book. He had learned of it, he claimed, from Linda Fairstein — a claim she angrily denied as “bizarre and outrageous.” At that point, she hadn’t even seen the diary.

Nor, of course, had Jack Litman. But, by claiming that such a chronicle existed, he reinforced the sexual-adventuress im­age he needs for his defense. By the time the judge read the diary two months later and ruled that it contained no relevant information, “sex diary” had become a catchphrase irrevocably linked in the public mind with Jennifer Levin.

Linda Fairstein has spoken to more than 100 young people who knew Levin, and insists, “That sexually aggressive stuff is just wrong.” Through these interviews, Fairstein has assembled a different composite picture: “Vibrant, warm, fun-­loving,” with “a host of loyal friends.… She was socially very outgoing, but there’s absolutely no evidence for her being sexually aggressive.”

But with its sex, violence, and preppy milieu, the case is a media natural, and Litman has had no trouble publicizing his version of reality. Chambers’s titillating “rough sex” story is practically folklore by now. It appeared as a given, for example, in the May issue of Mademoiselle where an article called “Rough Sex Gets Real” declared: “The most publicized case of such out-of-control sex, of course [emphasis added] is the Robert Chambers/Jennifer Levin murder case. That extreme result is admittedly rare, but one problem with rough sex games is that they can sometimes lead to gradual escalation…”

Litman’s tactics in this case echo what he did in 1978 with the so-called “Yale murder.” His client Richard Herrin had admitted hammering Bonnie Garland to death as she slept in her parents’ home. She had wanted to end her relationship with Herrin, thus causing him, Litman argued, “extreme emotional disturbance.” Dr. Willard Gaylin, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, analyzed Litman’s brilliantly executed defense in his book The Killing of Bonnie Garland: “To protect Richard, Bonnie must somehow be taint­ed. Her natural seductiveness will be seen as sexual entrapment, and her mature awareness of the limits of their relation­ship will be labeled betrayal. Her charac­ter will be — gently — impugned. To relieve Richard’s culpability the defense must find someone to share the guilt. Bonnie must somehow share the responsibility for her own death. Bonnie, too, was on trial.” The jury found Richard Herrin not guilty of murder. He was convicted on a reduced charge of manslaughter.

“I like to think that I’m more intelli­gent than most of the prosecutors I’ve faced,” Litman told Gaylin. “My argu­ments are therefore going to sound more reasonable. Sincerity is my big key. I come across terribly sincere.”

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Each morning during this summer’s hearings, the camera crews would wait behind police lines, sometimes for hours, for their 10 seconds’ footage of the Preppy Slay Suspect. They were recording each day’s jacket and tie, since Chambers was always silent and without affect. Jack Litman had given him the job of carrying some thick, three-ring binders and a book on penal law. Chambers had slimmed down since I’d first seen him in January, though he’s still a notably large man. (His weight at the time of Levin’s death is bound to come up at trial.) And throughout the summer, he remained pale, even pasty.

Inside the courtroom, he took notes on a legal pad during testimony. Sometimes he peered back over his left shoulder to see who was out there. The media filled a couple of rows. The family of Jennifer Levin filled another. Those significant moments reported in both the News and the Post — when Mr. Levin stared Chambers down — eluded me. I’ve never seen the Preppy blush.

Fairstein and Litman sometimes chatted quietly, congenially, waiting for the judge to arrive. Once the session started, they would argue or needle or attack.

There were occasional droll moments in these grim proceedings. One day Litman pressed a detective to recall when he’d first met Linda Fairstein. Had it been last August 28 or was it the 29th? The detective was positive he’d met her the 29th — a date, Litman claimed, when Fairstein had been out of town. “So — you remember meeting a nonexistent person who represented herself to be Linda Fair­stein?” he asked sarcastically. Fairstein got up and objected. To the word “nonexistent.”

The hot case would sink into cool tedium as each lawyer picked at the other’s witnesses, feeling out the tiniest cracks in order to open holes. These are some of Litman’s questions to various officers called by the prosecution: “Where did you park your car?” “How many detectives were working on the case at 10 a.m.?” “Mr. Chambers was dressed how?” Here are some posed by Fairstein to Chambers’s father, the most important defense witness: “Did you have any con­versation with the person who escorted you to the other building?” “How many people were in that room?” “Were they uniformed?” Each lawyer tried to under­mine the credibility of the other’s wit­nesses. Each concluded the hearings by implying that the other’s witnesses had lied.

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But they have very different styles. Fairstein is methodical and direct, while Litman is emotional, not just percolating with apparent rage but trying to arouse emotions in the witnesses and in his au­dience. This keeps him the center of at­tention in the courtroom. Because Fair­stein is cool and Litman combative, she looked at times like an underdog sparring with a bully. This made her seem both more sympathetic and more reasonable. And it never got Litman anything. She was never thrown off or intimidated. Lit­man was more thorough than Fairstein, much more thorough than he needed to be. To a detective who’d gone to Cham­bers’s apartment, for example, he de­scribed the vestibule of the building — the mailboxes here, the buzzers there. It was quite unnecessary, but in the midst of the histrionics, it creates an impression: “I’ve got the facts.” And where Fairstein would get sarcastic with a witness, Litman would show outright contempt.

When he cross-examined the arresting officer, Michael McEntee, Litman im­plied that he had failed to learn even the simplest procedures at the Police Acade­my. This is McEntee’s first homicide case, and he admitted a bit sheepishly that he’d never before used the particular Miranda-warnings form he’d had Cham­bers initial. With disdainful triumph, Lit­man pointed out that McEntee, in fact, was not supposed to have asked for ini­tials, but for “Yes” or “No” or “I don’t understand” in the blanks following the famous questions. (“You have the right to remain silent. Do you understand?” Etc.) Belittling people is another emotional hook. It can provoke anger.

Or erode self-confidence. Detective Lafferty was a talker, garrulous on the witness stand where others had been rela­tively terse. Replying to questions from Thomas Kendris, Fairstein’s assistant, the detective peppered his anecdotes with “So I says to him, I says.…” But as Litman began to query him on what he hadn’t done during his investigation — ­implying dereliction — Lafferty became monosyllabic.

Litman then declared to Lafferty: “When you told Mr. Chambers that Jen­nifer Levin was dead, he put his hand to his head and said, ‘Oh no,’ and started to cry.”

The detective said Chambers put his head back, looked at the ceiling, and said, “Oh, no. How did she die?”

“You don’t remember saying before to Mr. Kendris, ‘How could she die?’ ” Lit­man demanded, looking down at his legal pad.

Lafferty looked stunned and puzzled. “No,” he said.

“But of course what you said to Mr. Kendris before was the truth?” Litman smirked.

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“If I misspoke…” began Lafferty, who now seemed unsure of himself. Litman then went on to something more crucial: “Robert Chambers, accord­ing to you, said something about a case where, according to you, he was a wit­ness?” (Chambers had told Lafferty that he was a “character witness” in the inves­tigation of those Upper East Side bur­glaries.) “Isn’t it a fact that the reason he mentioned the other case is that he was a suspect in the other case?” (No.) “That he had a lawyer?” (No.)

Litman’s tactics failed to unearth any­thing. But with every detective who testi­fied for the prosecution, he returned to this central contention — that Chambers had been denied access to his lawyer and to his parents. Who, in Litman’s parlance, became living archetypes — the Fa­ther and the Mother. To every detective, he would invariably put some form of the questions: “Did you see the Father? Did you hear there’d been a phone call from the Mother?” To every detective, he ap­plied the moral weight of an injured par­ty. Did police have probable cause to de­tain our client in ONE ROOM during an 11-HOUR period? He successfully drew attention away from the person who was spending those 11 hours in the morgue. Anger rang dramatically from his voice. He would pace with a stiff-shouldered gait, then stop dead and lower his voice to deliver a line like “Let’s get one thing straight, Mr. Detective.”

Litman creates a defense out of rela­tively simple ideas, often repeated. He doesn’t concern himself with making a logical argument and never has. In the Herrin trial, for example, Richard Herrin said he’d felt “no emotion” when he killed Bonnie Garland, yet Litman was still able to convince a jury that Herrin had felt “extreme emotional distur­bance.” How did he do that? Litman said, “I had a very good group of jurors. Jurors who were really into wanting to know why a person would do this kind of thing…” His story had shaped all the testimony and the murder itself into an answer to that question. He’d played straight to the hearts, not the minds, of those jurors. He’d created tremendous sympathy for his client. Litman read the love letters Herrin had written to the woman he would hammer to death, and, as he later described it, “I had people crying in the courtroom.”

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Linda Fairstein is less theatrical in style, and, as prosecutor, she has less room for “creativity.” She bears the burden of proof. During the hearings, she was more successful than Litman, however, in methodically unraveling key testimony.

The defense had called Chambers’s parents (who are separated); his lawyer on the burglary rap, Pete Putzel; and an Officer Diomede of the Central Park pre­cinct. Chambers Sr., who had waited in Diomede’s office on the night of the 26th, was the only defense witness who offered anything damaging — though Litman pro­duced Diomede by subpoena with a dra­matic flourish one afternoon.

In Phyllis Chambers, Litman had a de­fense lawyer’s dream — the living para­digm of innocence. The Mother, a private duty nurse, projected an air of fragility as she spoke, quietly and in a noticeable brogue, addressing the prosecutor as “Madame Fairstein” and her son’s lawyer as “Sir.” On both days of her testimony, she broke down, creating headlines. Fair­stein, however, seemed incredulous at some of her assertions — like the news that The Mother “barely noticed” the scratches on her son’s face. But Fairstein was careful with The Mother. To attack her was to attack the angel of mercy incarnate.

Besides, The Father’s testimony was what counted. Chambers Senior told Lit­man that he had gone to the Central Park precinct at 6 to see his son and “to make sure he saw his lawyer.” According to both Phyllis Chambers and Pete Put­zel, Robert Chambers had been instruct­ed never to speak to any police officer without calling his lawyer.

The Father testified that he’d ended up in Diomede’s office in an antebuilding. There, he testified, he’d told the police­man, “I want to see my son. He has a lawyer, and he should see his lawyer.” Diomede, in charge of the police auxiliary program, had nothing to do with the ho­micide investigation, and in fact, left at 7 for duty in Queens. He testified that The Father had asked him if he thought his son needed a lawyer. “I said to him, if he wanted, he could hold off to see how things developed… I didn’t know what his son was actually involved in.”

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The Father’s chronicle was a bit vague. He said that at about 10 p.m. “a voice” told him his son would be finished soon. Then, at about 11:15, Lt. Doyle and “an­other man” found him to tell him that his son would be arrested for murder. He was still not permitted to see his son, who was now “busy” with Detective Sheehan.

As Fairstein began to cross-examine The Father, Litman moved his chair away from his table, so that he was seat­ed in front of the judge. He’d done the same thing when she cross-examined The Mother. Perhaps this made it easier to jump up and object.

Litman got up repeatedly, objecting to particular questions. (“Not germane to this hearing. Putzel’s card. That’s ger­mane.”) Objecting when she rephrased a question. (“He just answered that, Judge.”) Objecting when she probed into what he hadn’t done. (“Next it’ll be did he climb over a fence and play basketball.”) She wanted to make a point, of course, about what the Father hadn’t done. She didn’t think he’d ever said the name “Pete Putzel” or “My son has a lawyer, and he should see his lawyer.”

Fairstein tried to get him to describe the officers he’d talked to, like the “voice” who’d said his son would be fin­ished soon. “It must have been a welcome voice,” Fairstein said sarcastically. “You’d been there four hours. Didn’t you try to match that voice with a person?” Chambers Senior said, “No, I felt reassured.” In fact, he couldn’t recall any names or describe any officers (but Diomede) he said he’d talked to about a lawyer. But he did remember Sheehan and Doyle. Detec­tive Sheehan, it turned out, was an old friend — someone he used to see, he said, three times a week.

Fairstein asked if he’d said the name “Putzel” to either Sheehan or Doyle. He said he didn’t recall. She backed off, asked about a few other details, and reap­proached. “The only names of officers you remember were Sheehan and Doyle?” This was so. “Did you say to either of them the name ‘Putzel’? ” He had not, he admitted. “Did you tell either of them that night that your son had a lawyer?” He had not. “The only ones you talked to about it were officers you can’t describe and whose names you don’t know?” she concluded.

Though Litman jumped up to mention Diomede, Fairstein had clearly under­mined The Father’s credibility. It was subtle, though. And it didn’t make headlines.

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Once the trial begins, Linda Fair­stein will have the job of proving Chambers guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Litman’s strategy will be to create that doubt around any testimony or evidence that doesn’t ­suit his story. If possible, he’ll raise new issues in order to create new doubts. I believe that’s why he asked the court’s permission in July for his medical experts to dissect a section of Levin’s spine, suggesting that she may have died of a spinal injury. The autopsy found that she had been strangled. But if Litman could cre­ate uncertainty about that, he could cre­ate uncertainty about the murder itself. Fairstein argued that tests had already shown no injuries to the spine, and that dissection could even damage it, leading to an inaccurate conclusion. On August 8, Judge Bell ruled against Litman, saying that he had failed to show why the origi­nal autopsy was insufficient.

With the “sex diary,” the “spinal inju­ry,” and the suppression hearings them­selves, Litman has continually put the prosecution on the defensive. Fairstein has taken the offensive herself by investigating Chambers for his alleged burglar­ies. But none of this information can be introduced at the murder trial — nor can his drug history — unless Chambers takes the stand. The defendant’s rights and future are at stake. While, as Litman point­ed out during the “diary” episode, Jenni­fer Levin no longer has any rights.

The essential fact of a murder trial is that the victim isn’t there, and feelings center on the defendant. It’s his story that gets told, then debated. Gaylin felt, in the Herrin case, that the prosecutor should have become an advocate for Bon­nie Garland. Instead, he had correctly pointed out the flaws in Litman’s defense, but his argument was technical and he made it coolly. “Juries will form a general impression from an oral presenta­tion that will smooth over logically incon­sistent details, particularly when told by a forceful, impassioned, and sincere ad­vocate,” said Gaylin.

Linda Fairstein won’t make this mis­take. “We want [Jennifer Levin] to be very much alive in that courtroom,” she said. Fairstein has said she will establish a motive for Levin’s murder. She won’t say now what that is. By law, she doesn’t even need to provide one. But part of Litman’s defense will be that Chambers had no motive, that he was driven to it by extraordinary circumstance.

The story each lawyer tells will be built around the physical evidence. The Medi­cal Examiner has said steady pressure was applied to Levin’s neck for at least 20 seconds, far too long for an impulsive gesture. Litman maintains that death could have occurred in as little as two seconds, the time more appropriate to an accident. He has hired former medical examiner Dominick DeMaio, who will testify that Levin’s injuries were consis­tent with Chambers’s story.

Litman will continue to develop the picture of the sexually aggressive 18-year­-old pursuing the disinterested young man who had to fight off her advances. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to get the diary again, even now that the judge has ruled it irrelevant. Litman never shrinks from re-arguing when a decision goes against him. And in this case the point would be to raise the idea of a “sex diary” with the jury. Last April, The Na­tional Law Journal reported him follow­ing “leads about Levin’s sex life and men with whom she may have had inter­course.” Fairstein, meanwhile, points out that in the 8000 sexual assault cases that have gone through her office over the last 10 years, Chambers is the first man to report being assaulted by a woman — and one who weighed 100 pounds less at that. Fairstein will do everything she can to keep Litman from introducing Levin’s sexual history at trial. “It’s not relevant to the events of August 25th and 26th at all,” says Fairstein. “We’re gonna fight for her.”

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The intense public interest sur­rounding this case now extends be­yond the early prurient reactions, beyond the photogenic face of Rob­ert Chambers, beyond the upscale setting. The death of Jennifer Levin touched a nerve, particularly after the defense began trying to excuse it.

Last November, a few women felt com­pelled to form a group called Justice for Jennifer, saying they would speak for this maligned victim who could no longer speak for herself. The Guardian Angels held demonstrations outside Chambers’s home and Litman’s office “to protest the sleazy tactics Litman has used to murder Jennifer Levin a second time.”

One day this summer, a woman got into the courthouse elevator wearing a large homemade button that said: “Al­though Litman’s tactics may be deemed ethical by lawbook guidelines, I still think they’re sleazy.” I asked her what group she was part of. “None,” she replied. “It just upsets me. I don’t believe any of it.” So she occasionally drove down from her house in Westchester to attend the hear­ings. Initially, that headline, “Chambers: I Was Raped,” was what got to her. Then, she said, she was Catholic, and it really bothered her that the Church would sup­port Chambers so readily, particularly when it had done its best to make her feel guilty about abortion. And she couldn’t stand it that Litman would try to use Levin’s sex life against her.

“I was never a supporter of the wom­en’s movement,” she said. “I regret not having listened. But it’s not just a femi­nist issue, it’s a humanitarian issue. I would hope that men would care too.” ❖

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CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Murder on a Day Pass

One Walked Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ewa Berwid knew perfectly well that her husband intended to kill her. Adam had told her so in a series of matter-of-fact letters penned on yellow legal sheets from the Nassau County Jail. He would strangle her, he promised. Push her ribs right through her back. 

So resolute was he in this obsession that during May of 1978, sometime after their divorce became final, he announced in open court his intentions to take her life if she did not relinquish custody of their two small children, Adam and Olga. After catching a glimpse of her during a later appearance, he lunged for her and was tackled by sheriff’s deputies before he could straddle the rail of the jury box. 

Life for Ewa Berwid became, as a result, one long-running nightmare. Even after Adam was committed to a state mental hospital for observation, she never drew a free breath. For she knew that Adam was cunning enough to elude those who watched him. She bought a revolver, kept it by her bed, and tried to live sensibly with terror. 

Early last December, Adam Berwid persuaded a psychiatrist at Pilgrim Psychiatric Center at Brentwood, Long Island, to give him a day pass. He was free more than six hours before Ewa realized it. When she did, it was too late. Shortly after dusk on December 6, Ewa was at home with her two children when she heard glass shattering in the basement. There was no time to run upstairs for the gun. She hurried instead to the wall phone in the kitchen at the head of the basement stairs and punched 911. An emergency operator answered, but Ewa never had the chance to identify herself or utter a coherent message. Adam appeared at the top of the stairs with a hunting knife, and when he grabbed her the nightmare ended in a series of fast, flickering freeze frames. 

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“Olga, get out!” Adam plunged the knife into her neck and chest with four fatal and audible blows. As the receiver dangled by its cord from the wall, the police operator heard the muffled shuffles of a struggle and a woman crying, “He’s killing me… I’m dying… Oh, God… Oh, God.” Then there was silence except for a sigh. And someone placed the receiver back on its cradle. There was no time to trace the call. 

Ewa Berwid’s death, while perhaps not the most ghastly homicide in this season of mutilations and decapitations, was certainly one of the most infuriating. How could a woman marked so clearly for death be left so vulnerable by the police, by the courts, and most particularly by the psychiatrist who granted Adam Berwid his day pass? 

During the weeks that followed the slaying, all of those who might have saved her engaged in a frantic round of recriminations, trying to find some place to deposit the guilt. Both the Assembly and the Senate held hearings into the matter, during which legislators and public witnesses excoriated the State Office of Mental Health for lax security and supervision. And the OMH, mortified and anxious to distance itself from the tragedy, announced that as the result of an intensive investigation it would, for the first time in its history, suspend two psychiatrists for “misconduct.” The ax fell upon Berwid’s doctor, Irving Blumenthal, and his immediate superior, Dr. Tsu-Teng Loo. Then the state cooperated meekly with Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, who asked that administrative charges be suspended temporarily so he could seek a criminal indictment against the two doctors — a move which sent a chill through the medical establishment and challenged the already eroding principle that pa­tient-doctor privilege gives psychiatrists some special immunity to prosecution. (A California supreme court held in 1974 that a psychia­trist treating a patient who utters threats must take steps to warn the prospective victim.) 

At present, Blumenthal and Loo are the most visible targets for reprisal. Whether Dillon can prove that they are criminals remains to be seen. But the responsibility for Ewa really goes far beyond two careless doctors. She was failed by an entire system of law that should have contained safeguards to protect her. That system, however, turned out to be combed with trap-doors and trip-locks. And Adam Berwid slipped right through it. 

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To be sure, the test of wills between Adam and the mental health system was a mismatch. He was clearly superior. Pilgrim’s director, Peggy O’Neill, says in retrospect, “He was a very bright man. Super­bright. Probably brighter than anybody treating him.” He was by every account remarkable. Even Ewa, during the last months of her life, was mesmerized in a horrible way by his enterprise. That all his genius should be turned upon destroying her seemed unreal, because she had once loved him very much. 

Adam had courted her in Poland during the early sixties. She was nineteen, a blonde unworldly engineering student. He was twenty-six, dark and domineering, already a nuclear engineer. He offered to be her protector and she accepted. During the early years of their marriage, Adam dominated her with her blessing. In 1969 he brought her to America. They arrived in New York City with only two small suitcases and $1,000 between them. But they both found good engineering jobs and eventually moved to Mineola, where they bought a modest white shingled house at 244 Wellington Road. 

A couple of years after leaving Poland, Ewa gave birth to Olga; three years later, to Adam. To all appearances, the Berwids and their two healthy infants were a family favored by fortune. Neighbors considered them close, devoutly Christian. Particularly Adam, whose religious convictions were firm to the point of unyielding. 

No one is quite sure when Adam’s problems began. In one theory, he was unhappy that Ewa continued to work after the children were born. She was advancing very rapidly and eventually earned more than he did. Jealous of her success, he complained when she hired housekeepers, and was resentful because she did not spend more time cooking, caring for the babies, and doting upon him. 

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He quit his job, took out a $25,000 Small Business Administration loan, and tried to start his own consulting firm. But he couldn’t make it go. And early in the summer of 1977, Eva found him growing increasingly strange. The children, he claimed, were in some kind of danger. When Ewa tried to put them to bed early, Adam refused to allow it because, he said, “the devil” wanted them to go to bed early. 

Those amorphous fantasies gradually focused upon his wife. When she changed the baby’s diaper and nuzzled his stomach, Adam accused her of practicing sodomy upon the little boy. At first Ewa tried to reason with him. When that failed, she argued. The arguments grew into fights, and he struck her for the first time in their marriage. During one of these bouts, Adam dragged her downstairs by the hair and threw her out the front door. She obtained a protective order to keep him away from her and the children. He ignored it. She had him arrested and then filed for divorce. 

Much later, Adam wrote in “An Open Letter to the People of Nassau County” that he feared for his children and “that killing their biological mother is the only effective means to protect my kids against her harmful practices toward them.” Those delusions festered and swelled in the Nassau County Jail. It was there he began writing death threats couched in long and terrifying letters sent to Ewa by certified mail. The threats were so explicit that they came to the attention of the district attorney, who brought the most serious charge the law allowed — “aggravated harassment.” A misdemeanor. 

After Adam threatened Ewa’s life in court, Judge Joseph DeMaro set bail at one million dollars and ordered psychiatric examinations to determine whether Berwid was capable of standing trial. The examina­tions revealed that Berwid was incapacitated by a “personality disor­der” manifesting itself in delusions and paranoia. He was sent upstate for ninety days of observation at Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center — the only hospital in New York State equipped to handle violent or potentially violent patients committed under court order. 

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Here Berwid began slipping through the gears where criminal law and mental health law did not quite mesh. Had he run afoul of Ewa a decade earlier, he would have effectively forfeited his civil rights and been packed off to Matteawan, a notorious psychiatric prison which the state main­tained under scandalous circumstances until pressure for reform closed it down during the mid-seventies. There he might have spent twenty to thirty years, along with a mismatched assortment of other “violent” patients, being shocked, abused, and lobotomized. But Berwid, as it turned out, was the living converse of a Kesey nightmare; a criminally insane man whom the system was not reluctant, but anxious, to release. As soon as he was handed over by the court to the custody of the mental health system, the misdemeanor charge was automatically dropped and he became a civil patient. As the result of a 1973 New York Court of Appeals decision, he was entitled to equal rights in a system determined — in the interests of enlightened treatment — to move him up through the concentric circles of institutional psychiatry and out into society as quickly as possible. The law required it.

That Berwid should have been prematurely discharged by the system came as no surprise to those familiar with Ewa’s predicament. It was foreseen by at least one psychiatrist who, on the eve of Berwid’s departure for Mid-Hudson, warned the court that Adam possessed the sort of genius required to convince a psychiatrist somewhere along the course of his treatment that he was sane. One young law intern in the Nassau County DA’s office read the statutes and saw what was coming: that Berwid would be kept only until he lost the most obvious signs of illness. And then the law would have no reason, no right, to keep him locked up. So he referred Ewa to the Community Legal Assistance Corporation, a consortium of Hofstra University law students and their professors, with the hope that they could put in the hours of legal work it would take to force the system to save her. 

Ewa’s new lawyer, Chuck McEvily, began an urgent correspondence with Mid-Hudson, requesting the administration to recommit Berwid at the end of ninety days. In an extraordinary move, Judge Joseph DeMaro also took it upon himself to write the hospital, admonishing doctors to be cautious because, as he put it, “this court is convinced that the defendant intends to carry out his threat.” An assistant DA sent a chilling and prophetic letter. Berwid, he wrote, was “a clear and homicidal threat” who, in one psychiatrist’s opinion, would even kill his children to prevent his wife from having them. “We have no doubt,” the assistant DA continued, “that if he is released, we will be reading about the murder of Ewa Berwid in Newsday at some time in the future.” 

Sensitive to pressure, Mid-Hudson recommitted Berwid as an involuntary civil patient for another six months. But Ewa’s lawyer kept up the relentless correspondence. “We were trying to get the system to give us notice of whatever happened before any decisions to transfer or release him could be made,” recalls Marjorie Mintzer, Ewa’s attorney at the time of her death. “[We wanted] to participate in those decisions because she was a clear and acknowledged future victim.… The doctors in the mental health system would never acknowledge that we had any rights whatsoever to participate in any decision involving Adam Berwid.” 

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Meanwhile, Berwid chafed at his confinement, claiming he was being poisoned. But his most morbid delusions, as usual, centered about his family. He complained to one psychiatrist that keeping him there was unfair because it kept him from killing Ewa. Yet after nine months, Mid-Hudson authorities determined that keeping Berwid under maximum security would accomplish nothing more in the way of treatment, and doctors started the wheels in motion to transfer him to a less secure — less prisonlike — setting. The choice was Pilgrim Psychi­atric Center in Brentwood. In the eyes of the mental health bureau­cracy, it was the only choice. Pilgrim was the civil hospital closest to Mineola, and the law required that a patient be transferred back into his own community, allowing him as much access and support from family and friends as possible. The patient, in this case, was relocated to a spot within one hour’s train ride from his intended victim. 

Under the best of conditions, Pilgrim would not have welcomed Adam Berwid’s arrival. No one there really knew quite what to do with criminals who filtered down from Mid-Hudson. There were no forensic wards staffed with criminal psychiatrists. Not even any secure wards. Indeed, why should there have been? Mental health reforms of the past two decades emptied out Pilgrim’s acres of brick dorms — warehouses, they were called — and transformed the sprawling psychiatric city into a “civil hospital” with responsibility for only about 3,000 geriatric patients. The intrusion of court-ordered patients was a nuisance, even a menace, and when one like Adam arrived on the scene, Pilgrim’s most fervent hope was that he would get well and go away. 

Pilgrim did not want to keep him, and Ewa — her dread heightened by the transfer — was in a quandary. “Take the children and run,” friends urged her. “Go away somewhere and change your name. Start a new life.” But she said no. She had a good job, friends, church, neighbors, a new male friend. She had an understanding with the local police, who cruised past her house at intervals, checking for trouble. Besides, she said, if Adam were truly intent upon killing her, he would hunt her down no matter how far she ran. Perhaps, she mused to her attorneys, Adam really was getting well. Hoping to see some genuine improvement, she went to visit him at Pilgrim. It was an amiable encounter. He seemed better. At least he was calm. He told her he wanted to move back in with her. Perhaps they could even travel together. Would she like that? As gently as possible, she told him no. And he returned to his locked ward. 

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The lock, however, proved illusory. No one watched Adam closely. That was partly because the acute ward to which he was assigned was in a state of turmoil as the result of an HEW investigation which had discovered inadequate nursing care, sloppy drug therapy, and lax supervision of patients’ treatment. Staff was being shifted here and there, and Berwid, it seems, was lost in the shuffle. On April 5, 1979, he escaped, if you can call it that. He simply shoved open the push bar on the locked ward, left the grounds, and walked thirty miles west to Mineola. When the hospital discovered he was missing, an official notified Ewa so she could take care not to be alone in the house. Two days later, Ewa returned home with her male friend. On her way to the upstairs bathroom, she noticed the bedroom door ajar. From an oblique angle, she saw Adam lying on the bed in his underwear. He appeared to be stirring from a sound sleep. She tiptoed downstairs and went to the phone. The wires had been cut. She called the police from a neighbor’s house. But when the patrolmen arrived, they were not quite sure what to do. They were not authorized to arrest Berwid, since Pilgrim had never sent a teletyped message verifying his escape. Adam was docile as police debated for the next two hours whether or not they could take him in for trespassing. This had, after all, once been his house. There seemed to be no statute covering the situation. Finally they received word from headquarters to take him the hell back to Pilgrim. 

Within a week, he escaped again. This time, he pried loose the chicken wire from a second-story bathroom window and climbed down a rope of knotted sheets. That night, two plainclothes detectives kept a vigil with Ewa at the house. But Adam did not show. Instead, at noon on the following day, he surfaced at Olga’s elementary school in Mineola and demanded to take her away. The principal said Olga was in class, then quietly called the police.

These escapes got Berwid transferred back to maximum security at Mid-Hudson. There his entire demeanor changed. The complaining stopped. For seven months, he put his short, compact body through a daily conditioning regimen of 100 sit-ups and five miles of laps. His delusions apparently subsided, and days passed without mention of Ewa or the children. He filed a writ to the courts insisting that he was not mentally ill. And because he was not “acting out” — not raving or attacking attendants — Mid-Hudson felt it safe to transfer him back to Pilgrim with instructions that he be eased slowly back into the community. 

Adam’s menacing history was chronicled in one black loose-leaf binder. This record preceded him wherever he went within the system and it contained everything: the assistant DA’s warning, DeMaro’s warning, the psychiatrist’s admonition that Adam would one day con a doctor into letting him go. And in late November last year, that record landed on the desk of an elderly Pilgrim psychiatrist, Dr. Irving Blumenthal. As Adam’s doctor, Blumenthal had nearly absolute authority. He could issue his patient an honor card to stroll the grounds, or a day pass allowing him to leave the hospital unescorted. Such excursions are, after all, considered good therapy — a kind of decompression for patients soon to be released. Blumenthal was cold and noncommittal, therefore, when he received a call from Legal Assistance asking him to notify Ewa if Adam were allowed off-grounds unescorted. Blumenthal would not promise that. His rationale — one supported by the majority of institutional psychiatrists up through the top echelons of the Office of Mental Health — was that day passes were part of therapy. To contact outsiders, therefore, violated con­fidentiality. Furthermore, the law did not require notification except when a patient escaped. 

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Blumenthal’s superior, Dr. Loo, also refused to commit himself to notification if the patient was allowed to leave. He was sufficiently alerted, however, to instruct a male therapy aide to flag Berwid’s notebook with large red letters reading: POLICE MUST BE NOTI­FIED IF PATIENT ESCAPES. On the front of the book, the aide also posted the telephone numbers of the police and Ewa ‘s lawyers, as well as Ewa ‘s unlisted number. 

Those warnings, so stark and urgent, could hardly have escaped Blumenthal’s notice. Six days after Bcrwid arrived, Blumenthal observed for the clinical record that if Adam did indeed escape, emergency notification procedures would be followed. (He also signed a typed memorandum to that effect one week later, on December 3.) 

But during the two weeks that Benvid was at Pilgrim, he was, as Blumenthal later put it, “an absolute angel.” He helped other patients and rarely talked about his family except to explain that he wanted to visit family court again to see about getting his children back. “Whatever he was told to do, he did,” Director Peggy O’Neil recalls. “He even volunteered for more. In fact, he was at the point of asking if he could get involved in the work program.… He was extremely cooperative. There was probably a method in his madness to be that cooperative.” Berwid began pressing for an honor card; he said he wanted to buy himself a winter coat. 

A little more than two weeks after Berwid arrived, Blumenthal stunned his treatment team by announcing that he was giving Berwid both an honor card and a day pass. Berwid had received no intensive therapy. He had met only once with the team to draw up his treatment plan — one that specified improving relations with his “wife” — and was scheduled to see a psychiatrist only once a week for an hour. One nurse, particularly distressed by the prospect of the passes, pointed out to the others that Berwid hadn’t been around long enough to be evaluated properly — that hospital policy dictated extending freedom by degrees. Nevertheless, Blumenthal authorized two excursions, and the following morning, December 5, Berwid was allowed to roam free on the grounds. 

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When he failed to return by 4:00 P.M. curfew, the nurse on duty told Blumenthal that she was worried and suggested that he call all the parties on the front of Berwid’s binder. Blumenthal dismissed the warning, saying that emergency notification did not apply to a day pass. He then extended Berwid’s curfew to 9:00 P.M. Berwid wandered in sometime before 5:30 P.M., apparently offering no explanation of where he had been, except that he had checked $100 out of his institutional savings account to buy a coat. Instead of disciplining him, Blumenthal signed him out on a day pass the following morning, December 6. That was the second anniversary of the Berwids’ divorce. Blumenthal’s apparent indulgence worried two nurses, who took their concerns to Dr. Loo, who telephoned Blumenthal to satisfy himself that the situation was under control. At that point, Loo could have overridden the pass. But he did not. 

Berwid left the acute-care ward shortly after 10:00 A.M. He was stopped by a county patrolman, but he flashed his pass and was waved on. According to the itinerary he had outlined to Blumenthal, he was to take his $100, get on a bus to Bay Shore three miles to the south, and shop for a coat. No one seems to have noticed that Berwid already had a winter coat. 

Instead of heading for Bay Shore, Berwid took the Long Island Railroad from the West Brentwood Station to Mineola. The train deposited him at the outskirts of his old neighborhood. He strolled to a Friendly Ice Cream Shop around the corner from Ewa’s house and ate an unhurried lunch — a hamburger and coffee. He dropped by the dentist’s office to have his teeth cleaned. Then he went shopping for a knife at Herman’s World of Sporting Goods. He found one that would do. It had a short, utilitarian blade. About five inches. The kind of knife a woodman might use to dress a deer. His errands complete, he waited until dark. 

When Pilgrim’s evening shift came on duty, the same nurse who had urged Blumenthal the night before to notify police was disturbed to find Berwid had once more not met the 4:00 P.M. curfew. Her fears subsided when, at 4:30 P.M., he called in to say that he had taken the wrong train and ended up at Penn Station in New York City. He would be back in a couple of hours. He was not, of course, in New York at all, but at the Mineola train station only ten minutes away from Ewa, who was beginning to prepare dinner for Adam and Olga. No one else was at home. Adam arrived in the dark and walked down the driveway to the backyard. There he jimmied off the screen of one of the squat rectangular basement windows and, through the narrow opening, he dropped to the basement floor and climbed the stairs. At the top, he grabbed Ewa, who was standing at the phone, and stabbed her again, and again and again. 

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When she was still, he set to work putting things in order. He methodically mended the broken window with boards. He cleaned the blood from the kitchen floor and washed himself. He removed some of Ewa’s garments and washed her too. Then he carried her to the front room, where he laid her on a cot and folded her arms over her chest. He covered her with a coarse brown blanket, then placed a small votive candle on either side of her body. On one wall, he fashioned a cross of red ribbons. Then he commenced a dreadful wake, summoning Olga and Adam, who were cowering in an upstairs bedroom. 

“Pray for Mommy,” he told them. “Kiss Mommy good-bye.” Then he sent them back upstairs to sleep. 

Berwid did not return to Pilgrim at 6:00 P.M. as he had promised. But the ward nurse did not start emergency notification. Still bound by Blumenthal’s order to extend curfew, she waited. It was not until 9:00 P.M., therefore, that the staff began calling the numbers on the front of Berwid’s black binder. No answer at Legal Assistance. No answer at Ewa’s number. They sent her a mailgram informing her in passionless terms that Mr. Berwid was off the grounds without consent. The police arrived at Wellington Road about 9:30 P.M. They rang the doorbell and checked for signs of a break-in but everything seemed secure. So they left. About 11:00 P.M., however, Pilgrim sent a more urgent message out over the teletype, and three patrolmen familiar with Ewa’s case went to check the house again. They banged on the doors and peered in the windows. The house was dark except for a faint glow, too weak to be an incandescent bulb, that appeared to come from the front room. They supposed it to be a night light. One cop spotted that morning’s Daily News still lying in the yard and speculated that Ewa had already learned of Adam’s escape and had fled with the children. So they drove away. And all the while, Adam sat by candlelight ruminating over Ewa’s body. 

Next morning, about 8:45, Berwid called the DA’s office. No one was in yet; the call was picked up by the police operator who advised him to try again at 9:00. 

“Thanks,” he replied, “I’ll call back.” 

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Finally reaching an assistant DA, he explained calmly that he had escaped from Pilgrim and that he had murdered his wife. Detectives from County Homicide were the first to arrive. Adam and Olga waved to them from an upstairs window. The detectives waved back. Adam answered the door and took them to Ewa’s body. Only later that afternoon did the police play back that fragmented emergency 911 tape and realize the call had come from Ewa, the corpse on the cot. The following day, a postman delivered the mailgram from Pilgrim inform­ing Ewa her husband had escaped. No one had thought to send the warning Special Delivery. 

Adam Berwid inflicted heavy casualties not just upon his harried victim but upon everyone around her. The children he sought to keep from evil are now under a psychiatrist’s care. Ewa’s lawyers feel bitter and mortally cheated. 

Dr. Loo reportedly is overcome with remorse and has been hospitalized for heart problems. Blumenthal still admits to no error in judgment. Neither man will discuss the case. They are stifled, of course, by the threat of criminal indictment — a prospect which has thrown a pall over psychiatry in New York. During the weeks immediately following the murder, patients’ rights advocates reported a dread reluctance among psychiatrists to make release decisions. Their defense: Psychiatry is an art, not a science. We cannot tell you when a patient will kill. 

One probable and far-reaching consequence of the Berwid scandal is that it is likely to give rise to a “defensive psychiatry” wherein doctors will make fewer mistakes simply because they will make fewer decisions. “The doctors are as human as we are,” says patient-rights advocate Alfred Besunder. “If they’re afraid they’re going to get their backsides sued, they’re going to say, ‘The hell with it. I’m not going to make any decisions…’ And for some patient who has been making progress, that is tragic.” 

One opinion that is gaining support among psychiatrists is that doctors should be given absolute immunity — in the same manner, perhaps, that the U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed immunity for parole officers. Short of that, the decisions for release of potentially dangerous patients will probably end up in the courts. In the opinion of Ewa’s attorney, Marjorie Mintzer, that is just where the responsibility belongs.

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“I have a feeling,” says Mintzer, “that doctors are not trained to look past their responsibility [to] their patients. Now it may have been in Adam Berwid’s best interest to have a chance outside of the institution for a day.… But would you balance the minimal good it might have done [against] the risk to society? And if so, would you put that decision in the hands of a doctor? I wouldn’t. Judges make those decisions.” 

The legislature, now rallying to find remedies, has entertained a spate of proposals, some so reactionary they would roll back two decades of reform in mental health. But others are more moderate. One remarkably restrained bill came out of the office of the Nassau County DA, who proposes to caulk the “statutory gap” between criminal and mental health law by allowing the DA to keep tabs on a court-ordered patient even after that patient is turned over to the mental health system. It would require doctors to notify police and any potential victim at least two days before a patient is given a day pass. Implicit within this proposal is the power of the prosecutor to challenge a doctor’s decision in court, bringing in his own psychiatrists to air conflicting medical opinions before a judge. Even a relatively con­servative proposal such as this, however, will run into problems in the definition of “potentially violent.” If psychiatrists confess their own inability to predict violent behavior, who will make the determination? 

Even assuming that the notification bill survives close constitutional scrutiny, it does not really reach to the heart of the problem. The fact is that Berwid was mischanneled through a maze of law into a mental health system equipped neither to treat him nor to incarcerate him. He clearly does not belong there. But to direct him elsewhere, through the penal system, would be to buck a precedent going back to Anglo-Saxon law, which holds that an insane man cannot be held a criminal. Assuming the venerable McNaughton legal definition of insanity can be altered to allow the criminally insane to be treated within prisons will mean spending millions to provide clinical facilities. To keep them within the mental health system, on the other hand, will mean spending millions on secure and forensic wards. Either way, the pendulum swings back toward the prison mentality of Matteawan and Dan­nemora. 

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Berwid has not actually created any new dilemmas: he has simply stirred the embers of old controversies. And as they burn around him, he sits in the Nassau County Jail still imposing his own will upon events. Confessing at the slightest provocation. Confounding the system. 

Last December, he wrote to Newsday from jail: “I did my act of taking a human life, not in the name of hatred toward my former wife, but in the name of Jesus Christ to defend my loved ones.” He considers his cause righteous and is quite certain that judge and jury will see the justice in what he did. 

Meanwhile, he is drawing up a death list of all those who have suggested he is insane. The list includes his first court-appointed lawyer — whom he fired — and a second to whom he barely speaks. To facilitate these righteous executions, he has applied for a handgun permit. 

He refuses to plead innocent by reason of insanity and will not allow himself to be examined by psychiatrists. How, they ask, can you examine a mute man? Although charged with second-degree murder, he has twice refused to come to court voluntarily for his arraignment, and a frustrated Judge Richard Delin has ordered the use of force, if necessary, to bring him to his next hearing, set for late February. 

If Adam Berwid is found capable of standing trial, he will almost certainly be acquitted by reason of insanity. In that case, he will be sent back through the cycle to Mid-Hudson, where felony charges against him will eventually lapse. 

In the meantime, he will be eligible for a day pass. 

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Death of a Playmate

It is shortly past four in the afternoon and Hugh Hefner glides wordlessly into the library of his Playboy Mansion West. He is wearing pajamas and looking somber in green silk. The incongruous spectacle of a sybarite in mourning. To date, his public profession of grief has been contained in a press release: “The death of Dorothy Stratten comes as a shock to us all.… As Playboy’s Playmate of the Year with a film and a television career of increasing importance, her professional future was a bright one. But equally sad to us is the fact that her loss takes from us all a very special member of the Playboy family.”

That’s all. A dispassionate eulogy from which one might conclude that Miss Stratten died in her sleep of pneumonia. One, certainly, which masked the turmoil her death created within the Organization. During the morning hours after Stratten was found nude in a West Los Angeles apartment, her face blasted away by 12-gauge buckshot, editors scrambled to pull her photos from the upcoming October issue. It could not be done. The issues were already run. So they pulled her ethereal blond image from the cover of the 1981 Playmate Calendar and promptly scrapped a Christmas promotion featuring her posed in the buff with Hefner. Other playmates, of course, have expired violently. Wilhelmina Rietveld took a massive overdose of barbiturates in 1973. Claudia Jennings known as “Queen of the B-Movies,” was crushed to death last fall in her Volkswagen convertible. Both caused grief and chagrin to the self-serious “family” of playmates whose aura does not admit the possibility of shaving nicks and bladder infections, let alone death.

But the loss of Dorothy Stratten sent Hefner and his family into seclusion, at least from the press. For one thing, Playboy has been earnestly trying to avoid any bad national publicity that might threaten its application for a casino license in Atlantic City. But beyond that, Dorothy Stratten was a corporate treasure. She was not just any playmate but the “Eighties’ First Playmate of the Year” who, as Playboy trumpeted in June, was on her way to becoming “one of the few emerging goddesses of the new decade.”

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She gave rise to extravagant comparisons with Marilyn Monroe, although unlike Monroe, she was no cripple. She was delighted with her success and wanted more of it. Far from being brutalized by Hollywood, she was coddled by it. Her screen roles were all minor ones. A fleeting walk-on as a bunny in Americathon. A small running part as a roller nymph in Skatetown U.S.A. She played the most perfect woman in the universe in an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. She was surely more successful in a shorter period of time than any other playmate in the history of the empire. “Playboy has not really had a star,” says Stratten’s erstwhile agent David Wilder. “They thought she was going to be the biggest thing they ever had.”

No wonder Hefner grieves.

“The major reason that I’m… that we’re both sittin’ here,” says Hefner, “that I wanted to talk about it, is because there is still a great tendency… for this thing to fall into the classic cliché of ‘smalltown girl comes to Playboy, comes to Hollywood, life in the fast lane,’ and that was somehow related to her death. And that is not what really happened. A very sick guy saw his meal ticket and his connection to power, whatever, slipping away. And it was that that made him kill her.”

The “very sick guy” is Paul Snider, Dorothy Stratten’s husband, the man who became her mentor. He is the one who plucked her from a Dairy Queen in Vancouver, British Columbia, and pushed her into the path of Playboy during the Great Playmate Hunt in 1978. Later, as she moved out of his class, he became a millstone, and Stratten’s prickliest problem was not coping with celebrity but discarding a husband she had outgrown. When Paul Snider balked at being discarded, he became her nemesis. And on August 14 of this year he apparently took her life and his own with a 12-gauge shotgun.

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The Pimp

It is not so difficult to see why Snider became an embarrassment. Since the murder he has been excoriated by Hefner and others as a cheap hustler, but such moral indignation always rings a little false in Hollywood. Snider’s main sin was that he lacked scope.

Snider grew up in Vancouver’s East End, a tough area of the city steeped in machismo. His parents split up when he was a boy and he had to fend for himself from the time he quit school in the seventh grade. Embarrassed by being skinny, he took up body building in his late teens and within a year had fleshed out his upper torso. His dark hair and mustache were groomed impeccably and women on the nightclub circuit found him attractive. The two things it seemed he could never get enough of were women and money. For a time he was the successful promoter of automobile and cycle shows at the Pacific National Exhibition. But legitimate enterprises didn’t bring him enough to support his expensive tastes and he took to procuring. He wore mink, drove a black Corvette, and flaunted a bejeweled Star of David around his neck. About town he was known as the Jewish Pimp.

Among the heavy gang types in Vancouver, the Rounder Crowd, Paul Snider was regarded with scorn. A punk who always seemed to be missing the big score. “He never touched [the drug trade],” said one Rounder who knew him then. “Nobody trusted him that much and he was scared to death of drugs. He finally lost a lot of money to loan sharks and the Rounder Crowd hung him by his ankles from the 30th floor of a hotel. He had to leave town.”

Snider split for Los Angeles where he acquired a gold limousine and worked his girls on the fringes of Beverly Hills. He was enamored of Hollywood’s dated appeal and styled his girls to conform with a 1950s notion of glamour. At various times he toyed with the idea of becoming a star, or perhaps even a director or a producer. He tried to pry his way into powerful circles, but without much success. At length he gave up pimping because the girls weren’t bringing him enough income — one had stolen some items and had in fact cost him money — and when he returned to Vancouver some time in 1977 Snider resolved to keep straight. For one thing, he was terrified of going to jail. He would kill himself, he once told a girl, before he would go to jail.

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But Snider never lost the appraising eye of a pimp. One night early in 1978 he and a friend dropped into an East Vancouver Dairy Queen and there he first took notice of Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten filling orders behind the counter. She was very tall with the sweet natural looks of a girl, but she moved like a mature woman. Snider turned to his friend and observed, “That girl could make me a lot of money.” He got Dorothy’s number from another waitress and called her at home. She was 18.

Later when she recalled their meeting Dorothy would feign amused exasperation at Paul’s overtures. He was brash, lacking altogether in finesse. But he appealed to her, probably because he was older by nine years and streetwise. He offered to take charge of her and that was nice. Her father, a Dutch immigrant, had left the family when she was very young. Dorothy had floated along like a particle in a solution. There had never been enough money to buy nice things. And now Paul bought her clothes. He gave her a topaz ring set in diamonds. She could escape to his place, a posh apartment with skylights, plants, and deep burgundy furniture. He would buy wine and cook dinner. Afterwards he’d fix hot toddies and play the guitar for her. In public he was an obnoxious braggart; in private he could be a vulnerable, cuddly Jewish boy.

Paul Snider knew that gaping vulnerability of a young girl. Before he came along Dorothy had had only one boyfriend. She had thought of herself as “plain with big hands.” At 16, her breasts swelled into glorious lobes, but she never really knew what to do about them. She was a shy, comely, undistinguished teenager who wrote sophomoric poetry and had no aspirations other than landing a secretarial job. When Paul told her she was beautiful, she unfolded in the glow of his compliments and was infected by his ambitions for her.

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Snider probably never worked Dorothy as a prostitute. He recognized that she was, as one observer put it, “class merchandise” that could be groomed to better advantage. He had tried to promote other girls as playmates, notably a stripper in 1974, but without success. He had often secured recycled playmates or bunnies to work his auto shows and had seen some get burnt out on sex and cocaine, languishing because of poor management. Snider dealt gingerly with Dorothy’s inexperience and broke her in gradually. After escorting her to her graduation dance — he bought her a ruffled white gown for the occasion — he took her to a German photographer named Uwe Meyer for her first professional portrait. She looked like a flirtatious virgin.

About a month later, Snider called Meyer again, this time to do a nude shooting at Snider’s apartment. Meyer arrived with a hairdresser to find Dorothy a little nervous. She clung, as she later recalled, to a scarf or a blouse as a towline to modesty, but she fell quickly into playful postures. She was perfectly pliant.

“She was eager to please,” recalls Meyer. “I hesitated to rearrange her breasts thinking it might upset her, but she said, ‘Do whatever you like.’ ”

Meyer hoped to get the $1,000 finder’s fee that Playboy routinely pays photographers who discover playmates along the byways and backwaters of the continent. But Snider, covering all bets, took Dorothy to another photographer named Ken Honey who had an established track-record with Playboy. Honey had at first declined to shoot Dorothy because she was underage and needed a parent’s signature on the release. Dorothy, who was reluctant to tell anyone at home about the nude posing, finally broke the news to her mother and persuaded her to sign. Honey sent this set of shots to Los Angeles and was sent a finder’s fee. In August 1978, Dorothy flew to Los Angeles for a test shot. It was the first time she had ever been on a plane.

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***

Even to the most cynical sensibilities there is something miraculous about the way Hollywood took to Dorothy Hoogstraten. In a city overpopulated with beautiful women — most of them soured and disillusioned by 25 — Dorothy caught some current of fortune and floated steadily upward through the spheres of that indifferent paradise. Her test shots were superb, placing her among the 16 top contenders for the 25th Anniversary Playmate. And although she lost out to Candy Loving, she was named Playmate of the Month for August 1979. As soon as he learned of her selection, Paul Snider, by Hefner’s account at least, flew to Los Angeles and proposed. They did not marry right away but set up housekeeping in a modest apartment in West Los Angeles. It was part of Snider’s grand plan that Dorothy should support them both. She was, however, an alien and had no green card. Later, when it appeared her fortunes were on the rise during the fall of 1979, Hefner would personally intervene to secure her a temporary work permit. In the meantime, she was given a job as a bunny at the Century City Playboy Club. The Organization took care of her. It recognized a good thing. While other playmates required cosmetic surgery on breasts or scars, Stratten was nearly perfect. There was a patch of adolescent acne on her forehead and a round birthmark on her hip, but nothing serious. Her most troublesome flaw was a tendency to get plump, but that was controlled through passionate exercise. The only initial change Playboy deemed necessary was trimming her shoulder-length blond hair. And the cumbersome “Hoogstraten” became “Stratten.”

Playboy photographers had been so impressed by the way Dorothy photographed that a company executive called agent David Wilder of Barr-Wilder Associates. Wilder, who handled the film careers of other playmates, agreed to meet Dorothy for coffee.

“A quality like Dorothy Stratten’s comes by once in a lifetime,” says Wilder with the solemn exaggeration that comes naturally after a tragedy. “She was exactly what this town likes, a beautiful girl who could act.”

More to the point she had at least one trait to meet any need. When Lorimar Productions wanted a “playmate type” for a bit role in Americathon, Wilder sent Dorothy. When Columbia wanted a beauty who could skate for Skatetown, Wilder sent Dorothy, who could skate like an ace. When the producers of Buck Rogers and later Galaxina asked simply for a woman who was so beautiful that no one could deny it, Wilder sent Dorothy. And once Dorothy got in the door, it seemed that no one could resist her.

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During the spring of 1979, Dorothy was busy modeling or filming. One photographer recalls, “She was green, but took instruction well.” From time to time, however, she would have difficulty composing herself on the set. She asked a doctor for a prescription of Valium. It was the adjustments, she explained, and the growing hassles with Paul.

Since coming to L.A., Snider had been into some deals of his own, most of them legal but sleazy. He had promoted exotic male dancers at a local disco, a wet underwear contest near Santa Monica, and wet T-shirt contests in the San Fernando Valley. But his chief hopes rested with Dorothy. He reminded her constantly that the two of them had what he called “a lifetime bargain” and he pressed her to marry him. Dorothy was torn by indecision. Friends tried to dissuade her from marrying, saying it could hold back her career, but she replied, “He cares for me so much. He’s always there when I need him. I can’t ever imagine myself being with any other man but Paul.”

They were married in Las Vegas on June 1, 1979, and the following month Dorothy returned to Canada for a promotional tour of the provinces. Paul did not go with her because Playboy wanted the marriage kept secret. In Vancouver, Dorothy was greeted like a minor celebrity. The local press, a little caustic but mainly cowed, questioned her obliquely about exploitation. “I see the pictures as nudes, like nude paintings,” she said. “They are not made for people to fantasize about.” Her family and Paul’s family visited her hotel, highly pleased with her success. Her first film was about to be released. The August issue was already on the stands featuring her as a pouting nymph who wrote poetry. (A few plodding iambs were even reprinted.)

And she was going to star in a new Canadian film by North American Pictures called Autumn Born.

Since the murder, not much has been made of this film, probably because it contained unpleasant overtones of bondage. Dorothy played the lead, a 17-year-old rich orphan who is kidnapped and abused by her uncle. Dorothy was excited about the role, although she conceded to a Canadian reporter, “a lot [of it] is watching this girl get beat up.”

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A Goddess for the ’80s

While Dorothy was being pummeled on the set of Autumn Born, Snider busied himself apartment hunting. They were due for a rent raise and were looking to share a place with a doctor friend, a young internist who patronized the Century City Playboy Club. Paul found a two-story Spanish style stucco house near the Santa Monica Freeway in West L.A. There was a living room upstairs as well as a bedroom which the doctor claimed. Paul and Dorothy moved into the second bedroom downstairs at the back of the house. Since the doctor spent many nights with his girlfriend, the Sniders had the house much to themselves.

Paul had a growing obsession with Dorothy’s destiny. It was, of course, his own. He furnished the house with photographs, and got plates reading “Star-80” for his new Mercedes. He talked about her as the next Playmate of the Year, the next Marilyn Monroe. When he had had a couple of glasses of wine, he would croon, “We’re on a rocket ship to the moon.” When they hit it big, he said, the would move to Bel-Air Estates where the big producers live.

Dorothy was made uncomfortable by his grandiosity. He was putting her, she confided to friends, in a position where she could not fail without failing them both. But she did not complain to him. They had, after all, a lifetime bargain, and he had brought her a long way.

As her manager he provided the kind of cautionary coaching that starlets rarely receive. He wouldn’t let her smoke. He monitored her drinking, which was moderate at any rate. He would have allowed her a little marijuana and cocaine under his supervision, but she showed no interest in drugs, save Valium. Mainly he warned her to be wary of the men she met at the Mansion, men who would promise her things, then use her up. Snider taught her how to finesse a come-on. How to turn a guy down without putting him off. Most important, he discussed with her who she might actually have to sleep with. Hefner, of course, was at the top of the list.

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Did Hefner sleep with Dorothy Stratten? Mansion gossips who have provided graphic narratives of Hefner’s encounters with other playmates cannot similarly document a tryst with Dorothy. According to the bizarre code of the Life — sexual society at the Mansion — fucking Hefner is a strictly voluntary thing. It never hurts a career, but Hefner, with so much sex at his disposal, would consider it unseemly to apply pressure.

Of Stratten, Hefner says, “There was a friendship between us. It wasn’t romantic.… This was not a very loose lady.”

Hefner likes to think of himself as a “father figure” to Stratten who, when she decided to marry, came to tell him about it personally. “She knew I had serious reservations about [Snider],” says Hefner. “I had sufficient reservations… that I had him checked out in terms of a possible police record in Canada.… I used the word — and I realized the [risk] I was taking — I said to her that he had a ‘pimp-like quality’ about him.”

Like most playmate husbands, Snider was held at arm’s length by the Playboy family. He was only rarely invited to the Mansion, which bothered him, as he would have liked more of an opportunity to cultivate Hefner. And Stratten, who was at the Mansion more frequently to party and roller skate, was never actively into the Life. Indeed, she spoke disdainfully of the “whores” who serviced Hefner’s stellar guests. Yet she moved into the circle of Hefner’s distinguished favorites when it became apparent that she might have a real future in film.

Playboy, contrary to the perception of aspiring starlets, is not a natural conduit to stardom. Most playmates who go into movies peak with walk-ons and fade away. Those whom Hefner has tried most earnestly to promote in recent years have been abysmal flops. Barbi Benton disintegrated into a jiggling loon and, according to Playboy sources, Hefner’s one time favorite Sondra Theodore went wooden once the camera started to roll.

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“Dorothy was important,” says one Playboy employee, “because Hefner is regarded by Hollywood as an interloper. They’ll come to his parties and play his games. But the won’t give him respect. One of the ways he can gain legitimacy is to be a star maker.”

There is something poignant about Hefner, master of an empire built on inanimate nudes, but unable to coax these lustrous forms to life on film. His chief preoccupation nowadays is managing the playmates. Yet with all of those beautiful women at his disposal, he has not one Marion Davies to call his own. Dorothy exposed that yearning, that ego weakness, as surely as she revealed the most pathetic side of her husband’s nature — his itch for the big score. Hefner simply had more class.

Dorothy’s possibilities were made manifest to him during The Playboy Roller Disco and Pajama Party taped at the Mansion late in October 1979. Dorothy had a running part and was tremendously appealing.

“Some people have the quality,” says Hefner. “I mean… there is something that comes from inside… The camera comes so close that it almost looks beneath the surface and… that magic is there somehow in the eyes.… That magic she had. That was a curious combination of sensual appeal and vulnerability.”

After the special was aired on television in November, Dorothy’s career accelerated rapidly. There was a rush of appearances that left the accumulating impression of stardom. Around the first of December her Fantasy Island episode appeared. Later that month, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. But the big news was that Hefner had chosen Dorothy Playmate of the Year for 1980. Although her selection was not announced to the public until April, she began photo sessions with Playboy photographer Mario Casilli before the year was out.

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Her look was altered markedly from that of sultry minx in the August issue. As Playmate of the Year her image was more defined. No more pouting, soft focus shots. Stratten was given a burnished high glamour. Her hair fell in the crimped undulating waves of a ’50s starlet. Her translucent body was posed against scarlet velour reminiscent of the Monroe classic. One shot of Stratten displaying some of her $200,000 in gifts — a brass bed and a lavender Lore negligee — clearly evoked the platinum ideal of Jean Harlow. Dorothy’s apotheosis reached, it seemed, for extremes of innocence and eroticism. In one shot she was draped in black lace and nestled into a couch, buttocks raised in an impish invitation to sodomy. Yet the cover displayed her clad in a chaste little peasant gown, seated in a meadow, head tilted angelically to one side. The dichotomy was an affirmation of her supposed sexual range. She was styled, apparently, as the Compleat Goddess for the ’80s.

By January 1980 — the dawning of her designated decade — Dorothy Stratten was attended by a thickening phalanx of photographers, promoters, duennas, coaches, and managers. Snider, sensing uneasily that she might be moving beyond his reach, became more demanding. He wanted absolute control over her financial affairs and the movie offers she accepted. She argued that he was being unreasonable; that she had an agent and a business manager whose job it was to advise her in those matters. Snider then pressed her to take the $200,000 from Playboy and buy a house. It would be a good investment, he said. He spent a lot of time looking at homes that might suit her, but she always found fault with them. She did not want to commit herself. She suspected, perhaps rightly, that he only wanted to attach another lien on her life.

This domestic squabbling was suspended temporarily in January when it appeared that Dorothy was poised for her big break, a featured role in a comedy called They All Laughed starring Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara. It was to be directed by Peter Bogdanovich, whom Dorothy had first met at the roller disco bash in October. According to David Wilder, he and Bogdanovich were partying at the Mansion in January when the director first considered Stratten for the part.

“Jesus Christ,” the 41-year-old Bogdanovich is supposed to have said. “She’s perfect for the girl.… I don’t want her for her tits and ass. I want someone who can act.”

Wilder says he took Dorothy to Bogdanovich’s house in Bel-Air Estates to read for the role. She went back two or three more times and the director decided she was exactly what he wanted.

Filming was scheduled to begin in late March in New York City. Paul wanted to come along but Dorothy said no. He would get in the way and, at any rate, the set was closed to outsiders. Determined that she should depart Hollywood as a queen, he borrowed their housemate’s Rolls Royce and drove her to the airport. He put her on the plane in brash good spirits, then went home to sulk at being left behind.

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They All Laughed

The affair between Dorothy Stratten and Peter Bogdanovich was conducted in amazing secrecy. In that regard it bore little resemblance to the director’s affair with Cybill Shepherd, an escapade which advertised his puerile preference for ingenues. Bogdanovich, doubtless, did not fancy the publicity that might result from a liaison with a 20-year-old woman married to a hustler. A couple of days before the murder-suicide, he spoke of this to his close friend Hugh Hefner.

“It was the first time I’d seen him in a number of months because he’d been in New York,” says Hefner. “He was very very up. Very excited about her and the film.… I don’t think that he was playing with this at all. I think it was important to him. I’m talking about the relationship.… He was concerned at that point because of what had happened to him and [Cybill]. He was concerned about the publicity related to the relationship because of that. He felt in retrospect, as a matter of fact, that he… that they had kind of caused some of it. And it played havoc with both of their careers for a while.”

Stratten, as usual, did not advertise the fact that she was married. When she arrived in New York, she checked quietly into the Wyndham Hotel. The crew knew very little about her except that she showed up on time and seemed very earnest about her small role. She was cordial but kept her distance, spending her time off-camera in a director’s chair reading. One day it would be Dickens’s Great Expectations; the next day a book on dieting. With the help of makeup and hair consultants her looks were rendered chaste and ethereal to defuse her playmate image. “She was a darling little girl,” says makeup artist Fern Buckner. “Very beautiful, of course. Whatever you did to her it was all right.”

Dorothy had headaches. She was eating very little to keep her weight down and working 12-hour days because Bogdanovich was pushing the project along at rapid pace. While most of the crew found him a selfish, mean-spirited megalomaniac, the cast by and large found him charming. He was particularly solicitous of Dorothy Stratten. And just as quietly as she had checked into the Wyndham, she moved into his suite at the Plaza. Word spread around the set that Bogdanovich and Stratten were involved but, because they were discreet, they avoided unpleasant gossip. “They weren’t hanging all over one another,” says one crew member. “It wasn’t until the last few weeks when everyone relaxed a bit that they would show up together holding hands.” One day Bogdanovich walked over to a couch where Dorothy sat chewing gum. “You shouldn’t chew gum,” he admonished. “It has sugar in it.” She playfully removed the wad from her mouth an deposited it in his palm.

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Bogdanovich is less than eager to discuss the affair. His secretary says he will not give interviews until They All Laughed is released in April. The director needs a hit badly and who can tell how Stratten’s death might affect box office. Laughed is, unfortunately, a comedy over which her posthumous performance might throw a pall. Although the plot is being guarded as closely as a national security secret, it goes something like this:

Ben Gazzara is a private detective hired by a wealthy, older man who suspects his spouse, Audrey Hepburn, has a lover. In following her, Gazzara falls in love with her. Meanwhile, Gazzara’s sidekick, John Ritter, is hired by another wealthy older man to follow his young bride, Dorothy Stratten. Ritter watches Stratten from afar — through a window as she argues with her husband, as she roller skates at the Roxy. After a few perfunctory conversations, he asks her to marry him. Hepburn and Gazzara make a brief abortive stab at mature love. And Gazzara reverts to dating and mating with teenyboppers.

Within this intricate web of shallow relationships Dorothy, by all accounts, emerges as a shimmering seraph, a vision of perfection clad perennially in white. In one scene she is found sitting in the Algonquin Hotel bathed in a diaphanous light. “It was one of those scene that could make a career,” recalls a member of the crew. “People in the screening room rustled when they saw her. She didn’t have many lines. She just looked so good.” Bogdanovich was so enthusiastic about her that he called Hefner on the West Coast to say he was expanding Dorothy’s role — not many more lines, but more exposure.

Paul Snider, meanwhile, was calling the East Coast where he detected a chill in Dorothy’s voice. She would be too tired to talk. He would say, “I love you,” and she wouldn’t answer back. Finally, she began to have her calls screened. Late in April, during a shooting break, she flew to Los Angeles for a flurry of appearances which included a Playmate of the Year Luncheon and an appearance on The Johnny Carson Show. Shortly thereafter, Dorothy left for a grand tour of Canada. She agreed, however, to meet Paul in Vancouver during the second week of May. Her mother was remarrying and she planned to attend the wedding.

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The proposed rendezvous worried Dorothy’s Playboy traveling companion, Liz Norris. Paul was becoming irascible. He called Dorothy in Toronto and flew into a rage when she suggested that he allow her more freedom. Norris offered to provide her charge with a bodyguard once they arrived in Vancouver, but Dorothy declined. She met Paul and over her objections he checked them into the same hotel. Later, each gave essentially the same account of that encounter. She asked him to loosen his grip. “Let the bird fly,” she said. They argued violently, they both sank back into tears. According to Snider, they reconciled and made love. Dorothy never acknowledged that. She later told a friend, however, that she had offered to leave Hollywood and go back to live with him in Vancouver, but he didn’t want that. In the end she cut her trip short to get back to shooting.

Snider, by now, realized that his empire was illusory. As her husband he technically had claim to half of her assets, but many of her assets were going into a corporation called Dorothy Stratten Enterprises. He was not one of the officers. When she spoke of financial settlements, she sounded like she was reading a strange script. She was being advised, he suspected, by Bogdanovich’s lawyers. (Dorothy’s attorney, Wayne Alexander, reportedly represents Bogdanovich too, but Alexander cannot be reached for comment.) Late in June, Snider received a letter declaring that he and Dorothy were separated physically and financially. She closed out their joint bank accounts and began advancing him money through her business manager.

Buffeted by forces beyond his control, Snider tried to cut his losses. He could have maintained himself as a promoter or as the manager of a health club. He was an expert craftsman and turned out exercise benches which he sold for $200 a piece. On at least one occasion he had subverted those skills to more dubious ends by building a wooden bondage rack for his private pleasure. But Snider didn’t want to be a nobody. His rocket ship had come too close to the moon to leave him content with hang-gliding.

He tried, a little pathetically, to groom another Dorothy Stratten, a 17-year-old check-out girl from Riverside who modeled on the side. He had discovered her at an auto show. Patty was of the same statuesque Stratten ilk, and Snider taught her to walk like Dorothy, to dress like Dorothy, and to wear her hair like Dorothy. Eventually she moved into the house that he and Dorothy shared. But she was not another Stratten, and when Snider tried to promote her as a playmate, Playboy wanted nothing to do with him.

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Paul’s last hope for a big score was a project begun a month or so before he and Dorothy were married. He had worked out a deal with a couple of photographer friends, Bill and Susan Lachasse, to photograph Dorothy on skates wearing a French-cut skating outfit. From that they would print a poster that they hoped would sell a million copies and net $300,000. After Dorothy’s appearance on the Carson show, Snider thought the timing was right. But Dorothy had changed her mind. The Lachasses flew to New York the day after she finished shooting to persuade her to reconsider. They were told by the production office that Dorothy could be found at Bogdanovich’s suite at the Plaza.

“It was three or four in the afternoon,” says Lachasse. “There had been a cast party the night before. Dorothy answered the door in pajamas and said, ‘Oh my God! What are you doing here?’ She shut the door and when she came out again she explained ‘I can’t invite you in. There are people here.’ She looked at the photos in the hallway and we could tell by her eyes that she liked them. She took them inside, then came out and said, ‘Look how my tits are hanging down.’ Somebody in there was telling her what to do. She said, ‘Look, I’m confused, have you shown these to Paul?’ I said, ‘Dorothy, you’re divorcing Paul.’ And she said, ‘I don’t know, I just don’t know.’ “

When Lachasse called the Plaza suite the following week a woman replied, “We don’t know Dorothy Stratten. Stop harassing us.”

“Paul felt axed as in every other area,” says Lachasse. “That was his last bit of income.”

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They All Cried

During the anxious spring and early summer, Snider suspected, but could not prove, that Dorothy was having an affair. So as the filming of They All Laughed drew to a close in mid-July, he did what, in the comic world of Peter Bogdanovich, many jealous husbands do. He hired a private eye, a 26-year-old freelance detective named Marc Goldstein. The elfish Goldstein, who later claimed to be a friend of both Dorothy and Paul, in fact knew neither of them well. He was retained upon the recommendation of an unidentified third party. He will not say what exactly his mission was, but a Canadian lawyer named Ted Ewachniuk who represented both Paul and Dorothy in Vancouver claims that Snider was seeking to document the affair with Bogdanovich in order to sue him for “enticement to breach management contract” — an agreement Snider believed inherent within their marriage contract. That suit was to be filed in British Columbia, thought to be a suitable venue since both Snider and Stratten were still Canadians and, it could be argued, had only gone to Los Angeles for business.

Goldstein began showing up regularly at Snider’s apartment. Snider produced poems and love letters from Bogdanovich that he had found among Dorothy’s things. He instructed Goldstein to do an asset search on Dorothy and to determine whether or not Bogdanovich was plying her with cocaine.

Even as he squared off for a legal fight, Snider was increasingly despairing. He knew, underneath it all, that he did not have the power or resources to fight Bogdanovich. “Maybe this thing is too big for me,” he confided to a friend, and he talked about going back to Vancouver. But the prospect of returning in defeat was too humiliating. He felt Dorothy was now so completely sequestered by attorneys that he would never see her again. Late in July his old machismo gave way to grief. He called Bill Lachasse one night crying because he could not touch Dorothy or even get near her. About the same time, his roommate the doctor returned home one night to find him despondent in the living room. “This is really hard,” Paul said, and broke into tears. He wrote fragments of notes to Dorothy that were never sent. One written in red felt-tip marker and later found stuffed into one of his drawers was a rambling plaint on how he couldn’t get it together without her. With Ewachniuk’s help, he drafted a letter to Bogdanovich telling him to quit influencing Dorothy and that he [Snider] would “forgive” him. But Ewachniuk does not know if the letter was ever posted.

Dorothy, Paul knew, had gone for a holiday in London with Bogdanovich and would be returning to Los Angeles soon. He tortured himself with the scenario of the successful director and his queen showing up at Hefner’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Party on August 1. He couldn’t bear it and blamed Hefner for fostering the affair. He called the Mansion trying to get an invitation to the party and was told he would be welcome only if he came with Dorothy.

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But Dorothy did not show up at the party. She was keeping a low profile. She had moved ostensibly into a modest little apartment in Beverly Hills, the address appeared on her death certificate. The apartment, however, was occupied by an actress who was Bogdanovich’s personal assistant. Dorothy had actually moved into Bogdanovich’s home in Bel-Air Estates. Where the big producers live.

Several days after her return to Los Angeles, she left for a playmate promotion in Dallas and Houston. There she appeared radiant, apparently reveling in her own success. She had been approached about playing Marilyn Monroe in Larry Schiller’s made-for-TV movie, but she had been too busy with the Bogdanovich film. She had been discussed as a candidate for Charlie’s Angels although Wilder thought she could do better. She was scheduled to meet with independent producer Martin Krofft who was considering her for his new film, The Last Desperado. It all seemed wonderful to her. But Stratten was not so cynical that she could enjoy her good fortune without pangs of regret. She cried in private. Until the end she retained a lingering tenderness for Paul Snider and felt bound to see him taken care of after the divorce. From Houston she gave him a call and agreed to meet him on Friday, August 8, for lunch.

After hearing from her, Snider was as giddy as a con whose sentence has been commuted, for he believed somehow that everything would be all right between them again. The night before their appointed meeting he went out for sandwiches with friends and was his blustering, confident old self. It would be different, he said. He would let her know that he had changed. “I’ve really got to vacuum the rug,” he crowed. “The queen is coming back.”

The lunch date, however, was a disaster. The two of them ended up back in the apartment squared off sullenly on the couch. Dorothy confessed at last that she was in love with Bogdanovich and wanted to proceed with some kind of financial settlement. Before leaving she went through her closet and took the clothes she wanted. The rest, she said, he should give to Patty.

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Having his hopes raised so high and then dashed again gave Snider a perverse energy. Those who saw him during the five days prior to the murder caught only glimpses of odd behavior. In retrospect they appear to form a pattern of intent. He was preoccupied with guns. Much earlier in the year Snider had borrowed a revolver from a friend named Chip, the consort of one of Dorothy’s playmates. Paul never felt easy, he said, without a gun, a holdover from his days on the East End. But Paul had to give the revolver back that Friday afternoon because Chip was leaving town. He looked around for another gun. On Sunday he held a barbecue at his place for a few friends and invited Goldstein. During the afternoon he pulled Goldstein aside and asked the detective to buy a machine gun for him. He needed it, he said, for “home protection.” Goldstein talked him out of it.

In the classifieds, Snider found someone in the San Fernando Valley who wanted to sell a 12-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun. He circled the ad and called the owner. On Monday he drove into the Valley to pick up the gun but got lost in the dark. The owner obligingly brought it to a construction site where he showed Snider how to load and fire it.

Dorothy, meanwhile, had promised to call Paul on Sunday but did not ring until Monday, an omission that piqued him. They agreed to meet on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the financial settlement. She had been instructed by her advisers to offer him a specified sum. During previous conversations, Paul thought he had heard Dorothy say, “I’ll always take care of you,” but he could not remember the exact words. Goldstein thought it might be a good idea to wire Snider’s body for sound so that they could get a taped account if Dorothy repeated her promise to provide for him. They could not come up with the proper equipment, however, and abandoned the plan.

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On Wednesday, the day he picked up the gun, Snider seemed in an excellent mood. He told his roommate that Dorothy would be coming over and that she had agreed to look at a new house that he thought might be a good investment for her. He left the impression that they were on amiable terms. That evening he dropped by Bill Lachasse’s studio to look at promotional shots of Patty. There, too, he was relaxed and jovial. In an offhanded way, he told Lachasse that he had bought a gun for protection. He also talked of strange and unrelated things that did not seem menacing in the context of his good spirits. He talked of Claudia Jennings, who had died with a movie in progress. Some playmates get killed, he observed. And when that happens, it causes a lot of chaos.

Bogdanovich had somehow discovered that Dorothy was being trailed by a private eye. He was furious, but Dorothy was apparently not alarmed. She was convinced that she and Paul were on the verge of working out an amicable agreement and she went to meet him as planned. According to the West Los Angeles police, she parked and locked her 1967 Mercury around 11:45 a.m., but the county coroner reports that she arrived later, followed by Goldstein who clocked her into the house at 12:30 p.m. Shortly thereafter, Goldstein called Snider to find out how things were going. Snider replied, in code, that everything was fine. Periodically throughout the afternoon, Goldstein rang Snider with no response. No one entered the house until five when Patty and another of Paul’s little girlfriends returned home, noticed Dorothy’s car and saw the doors to Snider’s room closed. Since they heard no sounds, they assumed he wanted privacy. The two girls left to go skating and returned at 7 p.m. By then the doctor had arrived home and noticed the closed door. He also heard the unanswered ringing on Snider’s downstairs phone. Shortly before midnight Goldstein called Patty and asked her to knock at Paul’s door. She demurred, so he asked to speak to the doctor. The latter agreed to check but even as he walked downstairs he felt some foreboding. The endless ringing had put him on edge and his German shepherd had been pacing and whining in the yard behind Paul’s bedroom. The doctor knocked and when there was no response, he pushed the door open. The scene burnt his senses and he yanked the door shut.

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***

It is impolitic to suggest that Paul Snider loved Dorothy Stratten. Around Hollywood, at least, he is currently limned as brutal and utterly insensitive. If he loved her, it was in the selfish way of one who cannot separate a lover’s best interests from one’s own. And if he did what he is claimed to have done, he was, as Hugh Hefner would put it, “a very sick guy.”

Even now, however, no one can say with certainty that Paul Snider committed either murder or suicide. One of his old confederates claims he bought the gun to “scare” Bogdanovich. The coroner was sufficiently equivocal to deem his death a “questionable suicide/possible homicide.” One Los Angeles psychic reportedly attributes the deaths to an unemployed actor involved with Snider in a drug deal. Goldstein, who holds to a theory that both were murdered, is badgering police for results of fingerprintings and paraffin tests, but the police consider Goldstein a meddler and have rebuffed his requests. The West LAPD, which has not yet closed the case, says it cannot determine if it was Snider who fired the shotgun because his hands were coated with too much blood and tissue for tests to be conclusive.

And yet Snider appears to have been following a script of his own choosing. One which would thwart the designs of Playboy and Hollywood. Perhaps he had only meant to frighten Dorothy, to demonstrate to Bogdanovich that he could hold her in thrall at gunpoint. Perhaps he just got carried away with the scene. No one knows exactly how events unfolded after Dorothy entered the house that afternoon. She had apparently spent some time upstairs because her purse was found lying in the middle of the living room floor. In it was a note in Paul’s handwriting explaining his financial distress. He had no green card, it said, and he required support. Dorothy’s offer, however, fell far short of support. It was a flat settlement of only $7500 which, she claimed, represented half of her total assets after taxes. “Not enough,” said one friend, “to put a nice little sports car in his garage.” Perhaps she had brought the first installment to mollify Paul’s inevitable disappointment; police found $1100 in cash among her belongings, another $400 among his. One can only guess at the motives of those two doomed players who, at some point in the afternoon, apparently left the front room and went downstairs.

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It is curious that, given the power of the blasts, the little bedroom was not soaked in blood. There was only spattering on the walls, curtains, and television. Perhaps because the room lacked a charnel aspect, the bodies themselves appeared all the more grim. They were nude. Dorothy lay crouched across the bottom corner of a low bed. Both knees were on the carpet and her right shoulder was drooping. Her blond hair hung naturally, oddly unaffected by the violence to her countenance. The shell had entered above her left eye leaving the bones of that seraphic face shattered and displaced in a welter of pulp. Her body, mocking the soft languid poses of her pictorials, was in full rigor.

No one, least of all Hugh Hefner, could have foreseen such a desecration. It was unthinkable that an icon of eroticism presumed by millions of credulous readers to be impervious to the pangs of mortality could be reduced by a pull of a trigger to a corpse, mortally stiff, mortally livid and crawling with small black ants. For Hefner, in fact, that grotesque alteration must have been particularly bewildering. Within the limits of his understanding, he had done everything right. He had played it clean with Stratten, handling her paternally, providing her with gifts and opportunities and, of course, the affection of the Playboy family. Despite his best efforts, however, she was destroyed. The irony that Hefner does not perceive or at least fails to acknowledge is that Stratten was destroyed not by random particulars, but by a germ breeding within the ethic. One of the tacit tenets of Playboy philosophy — that women can be possessed — had found a fervent adherent in Paul Snider. He had bought the dream without qualification, and he thought of himself as perhaps one of Playboy’s most honest apostles. He acted out of dark fantasies never intended to be realized. Instead of fondling himself in private, instead of wreaking abstract violence upon a centerfold, he ravaged a playmate in the flesh.

Dorothy had, apparently, been sodomized, though whether this occurred before or after her death is not clear. After the blast, her body was moved and there were what appeared to be bloody handprints on her buttocks and left leg. Near her head was Paul’s handmade bondage rack set for rear-entry intercourse. Loops of tape, used and unused, were lying about and strands of long blond hair were discovered clutched in Snider’s right hand. He was found face-down lying parallel to the foot of the bed. The muzzle of the Mossberg burnt his right cheek as the shell tore upward through his brain. The blast, instead of driving him backwards, whipped him forward over the length of the gun. He had always said he would rather die than go to jail.

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***

Goldstein arrived before the police and called the Mansion. Hefner, thinking the call a prank, would not come to the phone at first. When he did he asked for the badge number of the officer at the scene. Satisfied that this was no bad joke, Hefner, told his guests in the game house. There were wails of sorrow and disbelief. He then called Bogdanovich. “There was no conversation,” Hefner says. “I was afraid that he had gone into shock or something. [When he didn’t respond] I called the house under another number. A male friend was there to make sure he was [all right]. He was overcome.”

Bogdanovich arranged for Stratten’s cremation five days later. Her ashes were placed in an urn and buried in a casket so that he could visit them. Later he would issue his own statement:

DOROTHY STRATTEN WAS AS GIFTED AND INTELLIGENT AN ACTRESS AS SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, AND SHE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL INDEED—IN EVERY WAY IMAGINABLE—MOST PARTICULARLY IN HER HEART. SHE AND I FELL IN LOVE DURING OUR PICTURE AND HAD PLANNED TO BE MARRIED AS SOON AS HER DIVORCE WAS FINAL. THE LOSS TO HER MOTHER AND FATHER, HER SISTER AND BROTHER, TO MY CHILDREN, TO HER FRIENDS AND TO ME IS LARGER THAN WE CAN CALCULATE. BUT THERE IS NO LIFE DOROTHY’S TOUCHED THAT HAS NOT BEEN CHANGED FOR THE BETTER THROUGH KNOWING HER, HOWEVER BRIEFLY. DOROTHY LOOKED AT THE WORLD WITH LOVE, AND BELIEVED THAT ALL PEOPLE WERE GOOD DOWN DEEP. SHE WAS MISTAKEN, BUT IT IS AMONG THE MOST GENEROUS AND NOBLE ERRORS WE CAN MAKE.

PETER BOGDANOVICH

Bogdanovich took the family Hoogstraten in tow. They were stunned, but not apparently embittered by Dorothy’s death. “They knew who cared for her,” Hefner says. Mother, fathers — both natural and stepfather — sister, and brother flew to Los Angeles for the service and burial at Westwood Memorial Park, the same cemetery, devotees of irony point out, where Marilyn Monroe is buried. Hefner and Bogdanovich were there and after the service the family repaired to Bogdanovich’s house for rest and refreshments. It was all quiet and discreet. Dorothy’s mother says that she will not talk to the press until the movie comes out. Not until April when Stratten’s glimmering ghost will appear on movie screens across the country, bathed in white light and roller skating through a maze of hilarious infidelities.

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Playboy, whose corporate cool was shaken by her untimely death, has regained its composure. The December issue features Stratten as one of the “Sex Stars of 1980.” At the end of 12 pages of the biggest draws in show business — Bo Derek, Brooke Shields, etc. — she appears topless, one breast draped with a gossamer scarf. A caption laments her death which “cut short what seasoned star-watchers predicted was sure to be an outstanding film career.”

Hype, of course, often passes for prophecy. Whether or not Dorothy Stratten would have fulfilled her extravagant promise can’t be known. Her legacy will not be examined critically because it is really of no consequence. In the end Dorothy Stratten was less memorable for herself than for the yearnings she evoked: in Snider a lust for the score; in Hefner a longing for a star; in Bogdanovich a desire for the eternal ingenue. She was a catalyst for a cycle of ambitions which revealed its players less wicked, perhaps, than pathetic.

As for Paul Snider, his body was returned to Vancouver in permanent exile from Hollywood. It was all too big for him. In that Elysium of dreams and deals, he had reached the limits of his class. His sin, his unforgivable sin, was being small-time. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Acid Profiteers: Drop-Out, Turn-On, Cash-In

The Story of the Acid Profiteers

San Francisco — One summer day in 1968 three young men pulled a rental truck up to a mushroom shed in the Northern California village of Cupertino. They began carefully loading large metal drums and wooden crates from the shed onto the truck, and were delighted when friendly neighbors offered to lend a hand. The chore didn’t take long, and when, they were finished, the men jumped back in the cab of the truck and took off down the freeway for San Jose, a large industrial city about 45 minutes south of San Fran­cisco. There the crates and drums were unloaded and stored in a rented suburban house.

Several weeks later, the truckload was moved again. This time the men unloaded into a rented house further north in Santa Rosa. When they were at last satisfied that their precious cargo was not being watched, they again drove north, this time to a farmhouse in Windsor, a small com­munity about 65 miles from San Francisco.

Once in Windsor, the men unload­ed and broke into crates and drums full of lysergic acid, ergotamine tar­trate, glass beakers and flasks, high vacuum evaporators, chromatogra­phic columns, bunsen burners, metal chemical stands, glass and rubber tubing, and other complex lab equip­ment. The three men carried it into the farmhouse, and when they were through, they marveled at the array of equipment and chemicals, for they were looking at the largest LSD manufacturing lab ever established in this country.

Eventually the chemicals taken from the mushroom shed in Cuper­tino would be processed and colored orange with organic dye. “Orange Sunshine,” perhaps the most famous brand of acid ever produced, would be moved in huge lots from Windsor to Idyllwild Ranch near Laguna Beach. There the acid would be taken over by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an alleged hippie reli­gious organization which, under the leadership of Dr. Timothy Leary, had been set up, corporate-style, to market and distribute Orange Sun­shine.

Once the acid arrived, the hippies living at Idyllwild in teepees were magically transformed into drug sa­lesmen, distributors, smugglers, and walking advertisements for the Orange Sunshine department of the psychedelic movement. For the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was in reality the capitalistic organization behind the largest acid manufactur­ing and distribution ring in history.

***

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Six years later, after acid has been “out” for so long that some think it’s about to enjoy a comeback, a brand new picture of the “psychedelic movement” has emerged. From thousands of pages of transcript of a San Francisco federal court case, from the findings of a Senate hearing on the Brotherhood, and from the wagging tongues of a few good-old-fashioned snitches, there is new evidence that the movement had a corrupt, grubby underside.

The acid craze of the 1960s was created very much the way any other short-lived fad has come into being — by a hierarchical organization backed by big money, marketing a product whose time had come. LSD was a dream product by any business standard. It could be made quickly, at low cost, with little work and the possibility of great profit, despite low per-unit cost. It could, and did, benefit from a Madison Avenue touch, as the massive spate of media attention LSD enjoyed in the late ’60s proves.

In retrospect, part of the appeal of acid was that you weren’t supporting anybody’s mob when you bought it. There was a nation-wide rumor that anybody could make it in his base­ment. Like most rumors, that one had a grain of truth. You could make acid if you had a basement, if you had the raw materials, if you knew the complicated procedure, and, perhaps most importantly, if you were willing to break the law.

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The fact is, relatively few people came by their acid this way. Its low street price made individual man­ufacturing legally and economically ridiculous. Twelve hours of groovy enlightenment for two bucks was, for years, anybody’s idea of a good deal.

But the idea that acid just bubbled up from the hippie underground, with no mob reaping massive profits, was also a myth, a gigantic psyche­delic bubble which is only today being burst. Right from the start the acid culture was fueled by a loosely knit corporation — a kind of counter­culture-conglomerate — that mingled Harvard lawyers, low-level Chicago gangsters, Swiss bankers, New York jet setters, gold smugglers, Wall Street brokers, Bahamian bankers and real estate hustlers, university professors, international financiers, shifty lawyers, brilliant chemists, Hell’s Angels, and young heirs of old WASP money.

There was a world behind the so-called psychedelic movement carefully guarded from public scrutiny, for the same reasons syndicate gangsters don’t want you to know where their money comes from, or where it goes. The world behind acid had many twists and turns, financial nooks and legal crannies, but there was a thread which tied it all together: the classic motive of profit.

In the early ’60s, the raw materials needed to manufacture LSD were still legally available from Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company, head­quartered in Basel, Switzerland. Many of the acid entrepreneurs operating during this time were in­volved in free-lance manufacturing gambits, and though their profits were often large, their labs were small temporary operations.

As the acid rage developed, the raw materials needed for its man­ufacture became more difficult to get — and much more expensive. Free-lance chemists lacked both the connections and the money to obtain lysergic acid and ergotamine tar­trate. At the same time, demand for the drug was increasing so fast that a more sophisticated distribution sys­tem was required.

A vortex emerged in the psychede­lic storm. His name was William Mellon Hitchcock. As scion of the country’s wealthiest family, he had both the capital and international connections needed to transform acid manufacturing from a decen­tralized cottage industry to a big business.

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“Billy,” as he’s called by just about everyone, is tall, handsome, charming, intelligent — and a Mellon heir. Most everyone rather likes the lean 34-year-old, from the maids who call him “Mr. Billy,” to the narcs and government lawyers whose job it was to prosecute him. Billy is the grandson of William Larimer Mel­lon — a founder of Gulf Oil and its chairman until 1945 — and a nephew of Pittsburgh financiers Richard B. and Andrew W. Mellon. His father, Tom Hitchcock, an Army officer, was considered one of the greatest American polo players of all time. He died in a plane crash in 1944 when Billy and his twin brother, Tom, now a race car driver, were small chil­dren. His mother, 73-year-old Mar­garet Mellon Laughlin Hitchcock, lives at 10 Gracie Square, New York, and reportedly holds the purse strings to Hitchcock’s $160 million trust fund. By his own estimates, Hitchcock gets $5 to $7 million a year in interest from the trust. The family continues to control Gulf Oil and other large corporations.

Hitchcock attended both the Uni­versity of Vienna and the University of Texas, but like the illustrious sons of fortune founder Judge Thomas Mellon, who were anxious to get out and make money, he never bothered to get a college degree.

He once had the romantic notion of getting down to the nitty gritty of his money, so he tried working as a “rough-neck” on a Texas oil rig and then as a “tool pusher” or supervi­sor. However romantic that proved to be, he apparently preferred the wheeling and dealing world of high finance.

In 1963, after Harvard University threw Dr. Timothy Leary out because of his experiments with LSD, Leary landed, both Ph.D. and ego intact, in a 55-room mansion in Millbrook, New York — which put him about 44 rooms ahead of where he had been at his academic peak. He did it courtesy of Billy Hitchcock who charged him only nominal rent for the mansion (which Leary didn’t always pay) while Hitchcock relegated himself to the four-bedroom gardener’s cottage with a Japanese bath in the basement. (He kept his jet helicopter in the barn.)

Millbrook soon became an acid information center where intelli­gence on suppliers of chemicals was traded and recipes were given out. Leary and Hitchcock, who claimed to be running “experiments” in the LSD field, were actually hosts to a five-year-long acid-soaked Millbrook melee, a monster party which often filled the mansion with 50 or 60 hippies at a time, their eyeballs full of the latest batch of LSD.

The Voice’s Don McNeil, who vi­sited Millbrook in mid-1968, returned after a weekend to describe an Eastern version of the electric koolaid acid test. Leary, McNeil said, rarely took acid, but preferred to preside over the scene, manipulating peo­ple’s trips, directing sexual liaisons, conducting the whole house like a psychedelic orchestra.

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Most of the people who would later become the movers and shakers in the acid business came to visit. Some of Leary’s “experiments” caused a commotion even on a 2650-acre estate. G. Gordon Liddy, prosecutor for Dutchess County at the time, conducted a grand jury investigation of illegal drugs on the premises of the Hitchcock Cattle Corporation. Hitchcock was arrested for main­taining a nuisance, but was never indicted. Instead, the corporation was indicted and paid a nominal fine.

Leary spent most of his time at Millbrook until 1966, and didn’t actu­ally move out until 1968, two years after the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was established as a tax ex­empt corporation in California. To earn pin money and extend his repu­tation, Leary would occasionally make the 90-mile journey to New York City and put on light shows at the Village Theatre, to the delight of teenagers from Long Island and the New Jersey suburbs. Sometimes, after the show, he would change out of his white pajamas, put on a suit, and venture into the Playboy Club, where he was known to the bunnies as a heavy drinker and ass pincher.

***

Hitchcock met Nick Sand (one of the three men who drove the rental truck full of chemicals to the Wind­sor lab) at Millbrook in late 1966. Sand was a chemist from Brooklyn with a talent for manipulating peo­ple. He had a small acid lab some­where in New York State, and late in 1966 he visited Hitchcock at the young millionaire’s swank New York apartment. They took DET together. By that time, Hitchcock had taken acid about 25 times.

In 1967 Hitchcock met another major figure in the manufacture of psychedelics, Augustus Owsley Stanley III, the grandson of a former governor of Kentucky and U.S. senator. Even then, Stanley was nicknamed “the King of LSD.” He is thought to have made $1 million as an acid entrepreneur before LSD was made illegal, and sizable sums later on. Traveling with Owsley at the time he visited Hitchcock’s New York apartment was Robert “Tim” Scully, who would later become the young millionaire’s best friend.

Dr. Richard Alpert (now known as Baba Ram Dass) had set up the meeting because Owsley had a problem. He had been arrested for a traffic violation on the way to the city, was caught with some pot, and was taken into custody. Although he had posted bail, some of his things had not been returned, including a key to a safe deposit box at Manu­facturers Hanover Trust Company.

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The box contained $225,000 in profits from illicit drugs. A woman companion of Owsley had a duplicate key, but they were afraid to go in to get the money and wanted an intermediary.

Whenever he needed advice on how to handle a situation, Hitchcock called an attorney. The kind of attor­ney he called depended on what he needed done. This time he called his good friend and childhood playmate, Charles Cary Rumsey, Jr., a nephew of W. Averell Harriman who had gotten his Harvard Law degree in 1960 but who had never practiced law. Together they called Hitch­cock’s pal, Bill Sayad, Jr., another graduate of Harvard Law, who had abandoned his Wall Street practice for the greener pastures of Baha­mian banking. A year before, Sayad had been made general manager of Fiduciary Trust Company, a bank in Nassau, and had many financial dealings with Billy Hitchcock. Fidu­ciary Trust Company was, it was later learned, controlled by Bernie Cornfeld’s Investors Overseas Services.

After consulting with Sayad, Hitchcock and Ramsey got the money from the safe deposit box and gave it to Owsley. Sayad flew up from Nassau and the money was turned over to him the next day at Hitchcock’s apartment. Hitchcock’s relationship with the bank was such that Owsley didn’t have to sign any of the usual account opening state­ments — and, of course, there were no tax records.

Some months later, in the spring of 1967, Sand and Hitchcock made plans to move to Northern California and go into the acid business. Hitchcock decided he would continue to operate his investment business by phone. Scully, Owsley, and others who had come and gone at Millbrook, were already in the Bay Area.

By then, California was the Mecca for the counter-culture. The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a small group of like-minded people living together, smoking dope, and dropping acid, had already been established in Laguna Beach. Somewhere along the line this straggly group of beach boys and farmers gradually merged with Dr. Timothy Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery. Both Leary and the hippies traveled back and forth between Millbrook and Laguna Beach, and soon Leary became both the patron saint and the spokesman for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.

At about the same time the Millbrook crowd moved to Northern California, the Brotherhood in the south took on another dimension — hustling drugs on a large scale for profit. Their commercial endeavors revolved around Mystic Arts Beach, a head shop in Laguna Beach, which was begun as a legitimate business but soon shifted to trafficking mari­juana smuggled from Mexico and LSD smuggled from Switzerland. The Millbrook crowd was well aware of the progress of laws covering specific drugs and knew that Swit­zerland was about to dry up as a supply depot for acid.

Leary was the advance man for the chemists and financiers coming from Millbrook. He was also quite a drain on the Brotherhood finances. He traveled constantly and had no apparent source of income. His function in the organization was public relations and advertising, and his act was in the best tradition of Madison Avenue propagandists.

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Hitchcock, who had left his wife and children behind in New York, says he was barely settled in his new quarters in Sausalito when he was visited by Scully, who told him he was working in a lab manufacturing synthetic drugs and needed money to buy glassware to complete his manufacture. “We talked philosophy,” Hitchcock explains. “Ideologically Scully and I had a meeting of the minds as far as the altered state of consciousness that psychedelic drugs produce. We became close friends. He asked for $10,000. I agreed to loan it with interest. It was repaid with substantial interest in six months.”

In 1969 Hitchcock put Scully on a retainer of $1,000 a month and provided expense money so he could experiment with drugs in his laboratory. In return, he was to turn over the drugs he manufactured.

Scully, now 29, is a genius whose intelligence exceeds the I.Q. scales. He came to the attention of Bay Area scientists when as a seventh grader he built a computer that won a prize in a science fair. Part of his prize was a tour of Lawrence Radiation Laboratories in Berkeley. Scientists there took such a liking to him that they invited him to work with them.

In high school Scully spent almost all his time working on a linear accelerator designed to change mer­cury into gold. He was deeply in­volved in the project and had little time for friends or other high school subjects. His teachers eventually be­came so frightened that they would be sued for allowing a radiation hazard in the school that they asked him to leave. Scully’s alchemy period came to an abrupt end.

Scully then enrolled at the Univer­sity of California at Berkeley where he studied mathematical physics and continued his work at the Radia­tion Laboratory. He soon began doing lucrative consulting work, de­signing radiation detection equip­ment in his grandparents’ attic. He became so involved in these projects that he dropped out of school and quit working at the laboratory. He began building instruments for parapsy­chology research, which led to an interest in psychedelic drugs.

One day in 1965, Owsley, who had heard about Scully’s interests, paid him a visit. Besides being the “King of LSD,” Owsley was the sound man for the Grateful Dead. He told Scully he wanted to develop specialized instrumentation for rock bands, and he took the thin, quiet genius on tour with the band. Scully had never had so much fun in his life. About seven months later, Scully, who had no experience with chemicals but was fantastic at library research, was making LSD for Owsley near Ber­keley.

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After the raw materials had run out, Owsley said he was going to take a break, but staked Scully for an­other lab he decided to set up in Denver. Because Owsley couldn’t get the lysergic acid and ergotamine tartrate from his former supplier, Scully made STP, which Owsley wholesaled to the Hell’s Angels.

When Owsley and Hitchcock met in New York, Scully happened to be there because he had come from Denver to get more money. ”Ows­ley,” he later explained, “kept me on a short string financially.”

STP was a weird, jittery drug that didn’t sell very well, and Scully didn’t particularly like making it. He tried to talk Owsley into going to Europe in search of raw materials and was told that Hitchcock was the man to talk to.

The meeting of the minds between the millionaire and the genius con­tained one disagreement. Scully thought his new friend should donate the materials and equipment to the “movement” and give the drugs away. Hitchcock told him that people didn’t value things they got for free.

Meanwhile, Nick Sand, the extro­vert chemist, started a phony chem­ical company in San Francisco known as D&H Research, which also was a psychedelics lab where he had been making various drugs, though he lacked the raw materials for LSD. Like Scully, he was on a $12,000-a-­year retainer from Hitchcock. He moved to a ranch in Cloverdale, 90 miles north of San Francisco, along with other Brotherhood members.

Sand’s capacity for moving on almost any level allowed him to feel at home with such characters as John T. “Terry the Tramp” Tracy a Hell’s Angel who wandered around the ranch shooting locks off gates for amusement.

The Cloverdale Ranch, which was adjacent to a small airport, was purchased for $155,000 in the name of Peter Buchanan, one of Hitchcock’s questionable San Francisco lawyers. According to Scully, the ranch was Hitchcock’s reward to a group of his associates who could live there as long as they pleased. He also hoped it would be a good investment.

Besides loaning money, helping with banking problems, and putting chemists on retainers, Hitchcock was a one-man legal aid society for the Brotherhood. Leary’s 1965 marijuana arrest at the Mexican border led four years later to a Supreme Court ruling in his favor but involved vast amounts of legal work and a heavy chunk of Hitchcock money. Lower echelon Brotherhood members got legal advice over the telephone from Hitchcock lawyer Al Matthews without even giving their names. He supposedly used codes to keep track of Brotherhood members and their various legal problems. Matthews also put up bail when necessary, and defended lab assistants caught in raids. He worked from a defense fund which was replenished by Hitchcock from time to time. Eventually Hitchcock even put up $10,000 for Scully’s defense, though he testified against his friend.

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While living in Sausalito, Hitchcock continued to operate as a stock broker through Delafield and Delafield in New York. He had four or five accounts besides himself — all friends or relatives. According to Hitchcock, his employment with the brokerage firm was mostly related to pushing stock in Mary Carter Paint Company, now known as Resorts International, Inc. This much-investigated corporation owns the gambling casino, hotels, restaurants, realty companies, and other interests on Paradise Island and elsewhere in the Bahamas, and should be familiar to readers of The Voice. (See “From CREEP to Bebe to Casino to Nixon’s Swiss Bank Accounts?”, Voice, November 1, 1973, “Everybody’s in Bed with Everybody Else,” Voice, January 31, 1974.)

Hitchcock’s work with Mary Carter–Resorts International involved the initial financing of the island, and big investors were invited to buy shares not listed on the open market. He spent a great deal of time in the Bahamas in 1966, 1967, and 1968.

From his new position in Sausalito, Hitchcock contacted Charles Druce, a British chemical supplier who had the connections necessary to obtain large quantities of the starting chemicals for acid. Toward the end of 1967 Druce came to Sausalito to discuss prices.

Druce, currently a fugitive, is best described as a double-dealing scoundrel. According to Hitchcock, Druce pressed him to invest in a poultry feeding operation he said he was establishing in Iran. Even though Hitchcock realized this was a phony corporation, he made an investment of 5000 pounds sterling just to get on Druce’s good side.

Druce and his partner flew back to London, and Hitchcock took off for the Bahamas to attend the opening of the new Paradise Island Casino, a dazzling New Year’s affair which attracted such normally non-social personalities as Richard Milhous Nixon and his close friend, Charles G. “Bebe” Rebozo. Hitchcock claims he never spoke to either Nixon or Rebozo, but it is known he was called before the original Watergate grand jury to give testimony concerning the Bahamas.

The spring of 1968 found Hitchcock back in the Bahamas again, this time in the company of his acid partner, Nick Sand. He stayed at the home of his banker, Sam Feranis Clapp, a Harvard lawyer who was chairman of the IOS-controlled Fiduciary Trust Company. Hitchcock had known Clapp since 1964 and had a number of accounts at the bank. Bahamian banks, which stand on every street corner of Nassau, have long been popular temporary repositories for American funny-money as well as handy offshore way stations for Swiss banks.

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Hitchcock was called before the SEC in 1965 to testify about his relationship with the Fiduciary Trust Company. He lied several times during his SEC testimony, saying there was no connection between the Fiduciary Trust Company and the Investors Overseas Services (then controlled by Bernie Cornfeld), when in fact IOS controlled the bank.

Late that spring, when Sand needed a place to stash $70,00 in ill-gotten money, Fiduciary Trust was only too happy to open an account for Hitchcock’s buddy.

Hitchcock’s connections in the Bahamas were so heavy that he began favoring the islands as the location for an offshore acid laboratory, perhaps on a cay. Joining in the discussions was Lester Friedman, a brilliant chemistry professor form Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who was working on simplifying the synthesis for LSD.

In July 1968, Clapp informed Hitchcock he was in the process of liquidating Fiduciary Trust Company and that his various accounts would have to be transferred. It was about this time that laws regulating Bahamian banking were changed, particularly in regard to secrecy. Hitchcock decided to put the money in Switzerland. In August Hitchcock went to Zurich’s J. Vontobel and Company, a private bank, and used $25,000 to set up a Lichtenstein corporation called Four Star Anstalt which was to be the vehicle for purchase of land in the Bahamas.

While in Switzerland, Hitchcock ordered $32,000 transferred from numbered account 1315 at Paravicini Bank, Berne, as a “loan” for the purchase of ergotamine tartrate.

From this point on the financial transactions grow more complicated but Hitchcock has said he personally turned over $98,000 in cash the following October to one of his Swiss bankers, Freddie Paravacini, at the offices of T. Mellon and Sons, Pittsburgh. (T. Mellon and Sons, on the 39th floor of the Mellon–U.S. Steel Building, conducts no business of its own and has no assets. It has both offices and suites for various branches of the family and was set up as a device for exchanging intelligence and concerting actions within the family. Uniformed guards inspect everyone who gets off the elevators. It was a good, safe place for an exchange of cash.)

The man who owned the Paravicini Bank, Freddie Paravicini, was useful to Hitchcock in several ways. Through the bank, he hid money Hitchcock had made in the LSD business, and concealed its source by falsifying records. He also helped to conceal the money for income tax purposes. In fact, years later Hitchcock would say that if his Swiss bank accounts had not been discovered he would never have been caught violating any laws.

Hitchcock’s friendly relationship with Paravicini was based on substantive grounds. Together they had pulled off the largest violation of SEC Regulation T ever to come to light.

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Regulation T sets the margin or credit which stockbrokers can extend to their customers. It is designed to prevent a market crash like that of 1929. The legal margin varied between 20 and 30 per cent while Hitchcock and his partner, in 1969, bought and sold over $40 million in stocks on virtually 100 per cent margin. They had Paravicini and his bank buy and sell securities for them — from them. The money they were using simply didn’t exist.

In the beginning this was a highly profitable operation, but eventually Hitchcock made a bad choice of stock and took a bath. His losses in the Regulation T violation are believed by some of his friends to be the reason for his later involvement in the acid business. But none of this was apparent until years later.

In the meantime, Hitchcock hired a well-known New York lawyer, Michael Standard of Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Standard, to research which psychedelic compounds were illegal and which were not currently covered by rapidly changing U.S. laws. He also instructed Scully to search out countries or islands that had neglected to pass laws prohibiting the manufacture of psychedelics.

Eventually the Brotherhood set up both LSD and hashish labs in Costa Rica. Members of the LSD arm of the Brotherhood working there met George Grant Hoag, the young heir to the J.C. Penney fortune, who owned a villa overlooking the ocean. He was returning to the U.S. and told his new hippie friends they were welcome to stay at his place. They promptly moved in and set up a lab.

Some weeks later, federal narcotics agents checked in at the consulate on their way to raid the lab. Before the agents had even left the building, word of the impending arrests was passed through the local grapevine. Impoverished locals stormed Hoag’s home, took all his possessions, and butchered his cattle on the spot. Hoag said later he had no idea the Brotherhood group was involved in acid making. He says the incident cost him half a million dollars.

Foreseeing busy times ahead, Hitchcock called Rumsey to come to California to take care of the final blow to Hitchcock’s rapidly failing fortunes as an acid magnate.

Mrs. Hitchcock’s attorney told her husband’s accountant about the Swiss bank accounts. The accountant told Hitchcock he’d better bring the matter to the attention of the government immediately or he could turn Hitchcock in.

The airlines were mobbed by Hitchcock’s motley collection of advisers. Paravicini flew to New York, the accountant flew to New York, attorneys flew to New York, attorneys flew in from all over. It was decided that Hitchcock should get out his checkbook. He immediately mailed a check to the IRS for $500,000. This was supposed to cover unpaid taxes and potential fines. He even sold part of his interest in the Millbrook estate to his mother to pay for his estimated back taxes.

Hitchcock’s other pressing problem was Charles Druce, his erstwhile acid-starter-chemical-supplier. The good Englishman was blackmailing him through a London bank, threatening to turn him in to Scotland Yard if he didn’t cough up a quick $20,000. Hitchcock was indignant. Naturally, he hired a capable solicitor to take care of the bothersome blackmailer.

In the spring of 1971 Hitchcock moved to Tucson for reasons he has never made clear.

Paravicini closed the bank (which was in trouble anyway) and headed for the Costa del Sol where he remains, fretting from time to time about whether he will ever be extradited.

By the summer of 1972 grand juries were convening in both Northern and Southern California and Hitchcock began spending most of his time at his mother’s place in Canada to avoid a subpoena.

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Hitchcock had an understandable interest in seeing that Scully steered clear of the grand juries as well. So Hitchcock began a six-month seduction of Scully, offering him money and free trips to Europe to keep him from the law’s grasp. Michael Boyd Randall, at Hitchcock’s direction, gave Scully $5000 and instructions to take off for Madrid. But after a few months in Europe, Scully got restless and came back. This time Hitchcock closeted him in Canada, but again Scully’s yearning for California sunshine overcame his fear of the grand jury. Finally Hitchcock convinced him to move out of his house and lay low. He telephoned Scully’s hideout weekly to make sure he was staying out of the way.

In February 1972, Hitchcock’s elaborate dodging fell apart when he was indicted for income tax evasion as a result of the L.A. customs incident and subsequent discovery of his Swiss bank accounts.

Under indictment, Hitchcock freaked. He met Scully in California and told him he was going to become a government witness. His family was furious at him, for his activities and further embarrassment of the Mellon clan or a drug conviction would mean the loss of his $160 million trust fund. He begged Scully to make a deal with the government and turn state’s evidence too. Scully refused.

Scully and Hitchcock flew to San Diego to consult with Randall, who told them there wouldn’t be enough evidence to convict anyone in the drug case if Hitchcock refused to testify. As it turned out Randall was right. But the case came to trial last November and Hitchcock turned on his friends, hoping his testimony against them would save him from a prison sentence for tax evasion and SEC violations. His testimony was often in direct conflict with Scully’s.

Tim Scully, who claims he told the truth on the stand, got 20 years.

Nick Sand received a 15-year sentence.

Lester Friedman, the Case Western Reserve chemist, faces two years.

Owsley Stanley, who had spent two years in prison already, was forced to pay $142,276 in back taxes, plus penalties and a $5000 fine.

Peter Buchanan, the Hitchcock lawyer who still lives in Berkeley and who was an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, was given immunity for his testimony, but had a memory loss on the stand. No action has yet been taken to disbar or censure Buchanan or Rumsey.

Ronald Hadley Stark, Michael Boyd Randall, and Charles Druce were all indicted but remain fugitives.

Billy Hitchcock copped a plea on charges filed against him by the IRS and the SEC. He got a five-year suspended sentence and $20,000 in fines, on the condition that he cooperate with the government law enforcement agencies.

Timothy Leary is in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Chicago. In an effort to secure parole from federal prison, he recently decided to cooperate with a department of Justice investigation of the Weathermen, the Brotherhood, and his involvement with radical politics and drugs. He is being held in solitary confinement because federal law enforcement officials fear he might be killed by those he has turned against.