Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Real Housewives of South Florida [3]


Candy Mossler: June 30, 1964
Jacques and Candace Mossler had been married for fifteen glamorous years when he was found brutally murdered in his luxurious Key Biscayne apartment. Already immensely rich when they married, Jacques introduced Candy, a poor girl from rural Georgia, to a life of luxury and social eminence which she could never have dreamed of. Thanks to Jacques’ wealth and social connections, she became well known as a charming hostess; entertaining visiting film stars and other celebrities at their various homes in Miami and Texas. Dressed always in the latest fashions, with an hour-glass figure, platinum-blond hair and her rich southern drawl, she adapted to her new role as a socialite with a natural ease. Candy Mossler quickly became a prominent and glamorous figure in a wide range of civic, cultural and charitable causes.

But Candy, only 46, found her 69 year old husband too elderly for her tastes and for three years had been conducting a passionate love affair with her handsome 25 year old nephew, Mel Powers. Powers had been jailed as a swindler at a young age and upon his release from prison his mother suggested he contact her sister, his wealthy aunt, Candy Mossler. After meeting her tall, broad-shouldered nephew, Candy persuaded her husband to offer Mel a job in one of his companies and to let him stay in their Houston family mansion. With Jacques so often travelling on business and Candy and Mel alone in the house, it was not long before the household servants became aware of the couple’s unbridled and adulterous passion.

Candy was already so fond of shopping for jewelry and the latest haute-couture, that Jacques had joked she would “shop me to death.” She now took Mel with her on her shopping expeditions and, in return for his exertions in the bedroom, she showered him with expensive gifts. When they could not be together physically, they exchanged detailed descriptions of their more intimate desires and shared memories, in a series of letter and sweaty love notes.

Eventually Jacques discovered evidence of the affair and had Mel thrown out of the house. He also considered getting a divorce until his accountant explained that half of his vast fortune would go to his ex-wife. Finally, with all the different homes that they owned, Jacques decided it was possible for them to live separate lives while remaining married. If Candy had filed for divorce, she would be left with nothing.

At the time of the murder Candy’s alibi was watertight. She happened to be out driving with her children, mailing a letter at 1:00 in the morning. While driving, she developed so severe a migraine that she had to visit a hospital. When she and the children eventually returned home just before dawn, she found Jacques dead and told the police that it must have been a botched robbery. Her husband must have interrupted the burglars she suggested. The police did not agree; this was no casual murder they said, this was a crime of passion. Jacques body had received 39 stab wounds and his skull had been completely crushed by repeated blows from a blunt instrument. Normal burglars, however brutal, would normally restrict themselves to just a couple of fatal stabbings, not 39.

While searching the Key Biscayne apartment, investigators found Jacques’ journal in which he had written “If Mel and Candace don’t kill me first, I’ll have to kill them.” It did not take police long to identify Mel’s identity nor to discover that he’d flown into Miami on the day of the murder and flown back to Houston on the first flight out the following morning. In addition to intimate photographs and steamy love letters between nephew and aunt, police collected much more evidence including bloodstains, fingerprints and witnesses willing to testify that Mel had often threatened to kill his uncle-in-law. Both Mel and his aunt were charged with first degree murder and ordered to stand trial in courtroom 6-1 of the Dade County Courthouse.

Even fifty years later, the Mossler trial is still referred to as the ‘trial of the century’. The New York Times described it as the ‘Most spectacular homicide trial ever.’  It had everything to feed the public’s prurient appetites: wealth, celebrity, adultery, incest, steamy sex and murder. The Los Angeles Times decried the courtroom evidence as ‘detailed and lascivious’ but, nonetheless, shared the details with its readers.

Because the nature of the evidence was so salacious, nobody under the age of 21 was permitted in the courtroom. Starting at dawn, lines to enter the court house stretched around the block and people brought their own packed lunches rather than risk losing their seats during the lunch break.

Armed with Jacques’ money, Candy was able to hire Percy Foreman, the nation’s most famous and expensive criminal attorney. Foreman had defended more than 700 clients charged with homicide and had lost only one. Life magazine said Foreman wore suits that looked like "freshly-laundered potato sacks." Time magazine called him "the biggest, brashest, brightest criminal lawyer in the U.S." It was also said, according to Life magazine that “if you hire Percy, you’re guilty as hell!”

The trial lasted thirty-three days and the prosecution called 224 witnesses, each of whom added lurid details about the couple’s adulterous and extravagant relationship. Police produced evidence of the nephew’s brief visit to Miami on the night of the murder, bloodstains in his rental car, finger and palm-prints at the Key Biscayne murder scene. The prosecutor asked the jury to ask themselves why Candy had decided to get the children out of bed to mail a letter at one-o-clock in the morning. The jurors were shown Jacques’ journal entries and listened as the prosecutor read from a selection of Mel and Candy’s love notes. The government felt confident their case was watertight and the Dade State Attorney only needed an hour to present his final summary.

Percy Foreman did not call any witnesses and, when he rose to give his summary, he said he would make just a few remarks. In fact, he spoke for slightly less than five-hours, non-stop. He attacked everybody except the defendants. He attacked the police and prosecution, he attacked all the witnesses and he even attacked the victim, Jacques Mossler. The witnesses, he claimed, were bottom-feeding scum, liars and criminals. “They seined the cesspools of the penitentiaries and insane asylums for anybody who would testify. And they didn't come up with an edible fish."
There were hundreds of people, he argued, who wanted the vicious, crooked Mossler dead. Jacques Mossler was "a ruthless financier, a mastermind of a great financial empire, hated by thousands of people and a sexual deviate who slept with an ax at his bedside to protect him from his enemies.” Using an unidentified hair found on Mossler’s dead body, Foreman went on to argue that Mossier's sexual appetites—"transvestitism, homosexuality, voyeurism and every conceivable type of perversion, masochism, sadism,"—had caused his own death; he was murdered, said Foreman, by a slighted homosexual lover.

But the trial was all about Candy. She played to the crowd and she played to the all-male jury. Her elegant clothes, her winsome smile, her beauty all had an effect and at one point the judge was forced to reprimand her for lounging seductively across two chairs.
After four days of deliberations, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty. Mel and Candy were free to leave and they stepped out of the courthouse waving to the waiting crowds who thronged Flagler street and who cheered as they drove away in a gold-plated, Cadillac convertible. Hosting a celebration dinner party later that night at their hotel, they invited Percy Foreman to join them as their guest of honor. He refused to attend and said, "I may represent these people but I don't have to associate with them,"

Together, Mel and Candy returned to Houston where Candy inherited all of Jacques’ fortune. She then proceeded to dump her nephew in favor of an even younger man, Barnett Garrison, whom she eventually married. This marriage was equally unfortunate. Less than a year after the wedding, Barnett, wearing a gun in his belt, suffered irreparable brain damage after falling forty-feet from his wife’s third-floor bedroom window to the concrete below.

Candy herself died many years later of an accidental drug overdose, alone in her suite at the iconic Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. She had been an addict for years. Perhaps the most memorable quote from the whole affair was when Candy held a spontaneous pre-trial press conference. “Mrs. Mossler” one of the reporters said. “You’ve been accused of committing adultery and of committing incest. You’re even accused of committing murder. How do you respond to that?”

“Well honey” she drawled, with a smile. “Nobody’s perfect.”

Monday, January 14, 2019

THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF SOUTH FLORIDA [2]


Joyce Cohen: March 7, 1986
Joyce Lemay was only 24 when she met and married a significantly older, multi-millionaire developer named Stanley Cohen. From their luxury mansions in Coconut Grove and Steamboat Springs, Colorado, they enjoyed an exotic social whirl on the international party circuit. Miami and Coconut Grove in the early 1980’s was awash with illicit drugs and Joyce soon developed a taste for cocaine – about once every fifteen minutes.

But sadly, such fairy-tale lives cannot last forever, and, in this case, five years was certainly pushing it. Stanley was already seeking love elsewhere and, to her close confidants, Joyce worried that she might soon lose her meal ticket. And then tragedy struck.

Around 5:00AM, Joyce Cohen called 911, screaming that her husband had been shot during a home invasion. She explained that after seeing two strange men, she had hidden in a back room with her Doberman pinscher. Police and paramedics found Stanley Cohen with four bullets in the back of his head, dead.

From the time they arrived on the scene, Police were suspicious. Why was the alarm disconnected, why was the guard dog locked up and why was Stanley’s 0.38 caliber revolver, wiped clean of prints, hidden in some bushes outside the window? Furthermore, if this really was a home invasion, why was nothing stolen despite the piles of cash and cocaine lying all around?

As one report observed, Joyce’s story had more holes in it than her late husband’s head. Sensing their suspicions, Joyce forced the police to leave her house until they could produce a search warrant and the next morning's Miami Herald carried a story of the Cohen homicide under the headline "Prominent Builder Murdered in Home; Wife Keeps Police Outside for More Than Eight Hours."

Despite their suspicions, police did not have enough evidence to press charges until almost three years later. After watching a program about the unsolved murder on TV, Frank Zuccarello, 25, a jailed member of a home-invasion gang, contacted police and told them that he and two accomplices had committed the murder. He claimed they had been hired by Joyce Cohen who had let them into the house and gave them her husband’s gun. In return for killing her husband, she promised them $100,000 worth of cocaine

Although the murder weapon, found in the garden, had been wiped clean of prints, a small piece of tissue paper had been caught in the trigger guard. The tissue matched a larger piece containing powder residue and Joyce’s DNA which had been found in her bathroom.

In the meantime, Stanley’s older children had prevented Joyce from benefiting from his estate, and when police finally arrested her, she was living with her new boyfriend in a Virginia trailer park. It took three years to bring her to court, and three weeks inside court to try her. The trial had included endless testimony from a succession of friends and associates who described Joyce’s constant complaints about her boring marriage and how she would like to get rid of her husband but keep his money. The most damming evidence however came from Zuccarello who described in minute detail how the murder was plotted in a 7-11 parking lot and how he and Joyce waited together downstairs while his partner, Tony Caracciolo went upstairs to commit the murder.

In November 1989, Joyce Cohen was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison plus fifteen years for conspiracy. “"Do not feel sorry for her because she's a woman” the prosecutor said. “She's a cold, calculating murderess who put on a good show for everyone."
And that should have been the end of the story but, unlike Stanley, the story refused to die. 

Zuccarello’s two accomplices, though pleading no-contest to second-degree murder, have both denied any involvement and both insist they’ve never met the Cohens. Joyce Cohen herself, not surprisingly, has continued, over the years, to make impassioned pleas of innocence. The key witness, Zuccarello, despite an incredibly long and sinister rap-sheet, was released after just a few years in jail. There are many, including some of the jurors, who believe he is a professional liar and made-up the contract-killing story in return for early release.

In 1998, a Miami TV reporter, Gail Bright, revealed that one of the lead detectives in the case had told her that Zuccarello’s testimony was a complete fabrication and that none of the three men had ever been to the Cohen’s house. Frustrated by their inability to collect sufficient evidence, despite their conviction that Joyce had personally murdered her husband, the police had finally coached Zuccarello, a well-known snitch, to make up his story.

Sentenced to twenty-five years to life, Cohen should have been eligible for parole in 2014, however in 2013, the Florida Parole Commission voted to extend her release date to 2048, by which time she will be 97 years old.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF SOUTH FLORIDA [1]


He was old and rich, while she
Was thirty-two or thirty-three.
She gave him two more years to live,
And that was all she meant to give.

The following three murders involve younger wives accused or suspected of killing their wealthy, older husbands. Only one of them was convicted while the other two were found not-guilty. Even so

1. Denise Calvo: September 18, 2003
When Denise and Jose Calvo pulled into the driveway of their luxury home in Coconut Grove, they were confronted by an armed attacker. The large black man pointed his gun at Jose and grabbed his $75,000, diamond encrusted Rolex watch, his wallet and his gold wedding ring. He then demanded the keys to the Mercedes Benz S-500. The idea of the bandit driving off with Anthony, their two-year old son, strapped in the back seat terrified Denise. Pretending to reach under the dashboard for the keys, she pulled out her husband’s gun and opened fire. The attacker fired his gun at the same time, shooting Jose in the face and killing him. One of Denise’s bullets hit the man’s shoulder as he turned to flee, the others blew-out the back windows of his Honda Civic.

It was a horrifying confrontation which sent shock waves through the affluent neighborhood. Jose and Denise were active and well-known figures in the South Florida community. He was a prominent civic leader and owned a $33 million Buick dealership in nearby Coral Gables. She was a much younger, attractive socialite and both were on the charity dinner circuit and involved with the sponsorship of local museums, universities and churches. South Florida had lost one of its most esteemed and respectable citizens despite the heroic efforts of his wife to protect him. How could anyone feel safe?

Bravely appearing on television, Denise minutely described the events of that tragic evening and implored anyone with knowledge to come forward so that justice could be done and she and her two-year old son could find ‘closure’.

The gunman’s Honda Civic, with its blown-out rear windows and blood-stained interior was soon located, not far from the murder site. It was not long before the gunman himself, identified through DNA, was also located, hiding in a trailer in a remote part of rural South Carolina. Anthony Craig Lee was arrested and charged with Jose Calvo’s murder. Lee had recently served ten years for stealing Rolex watches. Since his release from prison, he had been living with his mother, just around the corner, but ‘across the tracks’, from the Calvo mansion in Coconut Grove.

That is when the apparently simple and clear-cut story of a botched carjacking became more complex and acquired its patina of South Florida weirdness. The first surprise was that Denise had very recently become the beneficiary of her husband’s million-and-a-half-dollar life-insurance policy. A bigger surprise was that Anthony Lee’s mother was also Denise Calvo’s main crack cocaine supplier, and the two had been close friends for years. Denise was also on close and friendly terms with the son, Anthony, her husband’s killer. Further investigations revealed that, when not attending charity galas at the Biltmore Hotel, Jose and Denise both enjoyed crack-fueled sex orgies with two or three black prostitutes in the seedier parts of Coconut Grove.

Denise herself, had been arrested, several years earlier, for offering crack cocaine to an undercover agent. Strangely, the case never went to trial and then, even more mysteriously, all the paperwork eventually vanished from the public record. Finally, police discovered that far from being descended from old South Florida money, Denise was actually the daughter of Michael Angelo Caligiuri, a fugitive from Federal racketeering charges. He was described by authorities as an armed and dangerous New York mobster in the Gambino family; the sort of person who it’s nice to be nice to, and not nice, not to be nice to.

The late Jose Calvo himself was also not quite what he appeared in public. Despite his expensive Mercedes and his diamond encrusted Rolex, he had told a bankruptcy judge just a few months previously that his total assets of $190 included $5 cash, $50 in clothing and a $10 Seiko watch.

Eventually Anthony Lee appeared in court on a charge of first-degree murder. Jose Calvo would be avenged, and justice would finally be done. But even the trial itself was filled with surprises and moments of drama. It began with a string of prostitutes and pimps from Coconut Grove describing the Calvo’s sex-parties behind the Walgreens parking lot. They were followed by several drug-dealers recounting the daily deliveries of crack cocaine to the Calvo mansion. All of this proved dramatic fodder to Lee’s defense attorney, South Florida’s legendary Ellis Rubin.

Rubin was internationally famous for his unique criminal defense strategies. For example, back in 1977 he defended Ronny Zamora, a 15-year-old who had robbed and murdered an 82 year old neighbor, on the grounds that Ronny had been exposed and addicted to too much TV violence. In 1993 he defended Kathy Willets, the ‘Trollop of Tamarac’, by blaming Prozac. Willets and her husband, a Broward County policeman, were charged with running a brothel out of their family home in Tamarac, just north of Miami. Rubin’s defense was that his client’s consumption of Prozac had turned her into a nymphomaniac with insatiable sexual cravings. Her poor husband, finally unable to satisfy her himself, was obliged to hide in a bedroom closet while a minimum of eight men each day would diligently attend to her needs.

In court, Rubin argued that Anthony Lee was simply a dupe of Denise Calvo and that it was her plan to kill her husband and then to kill Lee. He actually demanded that the bullet, still lodged in Lee’s shoulder be surgically removed in the courtroom while he watched. He argued that the bullet would match the one which had killed Jose Calvo. Rubin’s behavior in court reached such a highpoint that the exasperated judge ordered him to “sit in the corner” and write a letter of apology.

Despite all Rubin’s theatrics and all of the incriminating revelations about her past, Denise was never charged with her husband’s murder. To this day, she remains a free woman with an unblemished record and has always denied being a crack-monster. “I only consume powdered coke” she insisted proudly.


From my latest book "Miami: Murders Most Foul" which describes twenty-five or so of South Florida's more colorful and exotic murders.