Thursday, February 7, 2019

Death in the City Beautiful [4]


Susan Sutton and the bad son: August 2004

Just a couple of years after the Maggie Locascio murder, in August 2004, another murder case featured a father and son facing each other in a courtroom setting. The cases were also similar in their focus on security cameras. In each case the security camera provided a rock-solid alibi but, ironically the cameras also provided evidence of guilt.

John Sutton, a well-known Gables lawyer, and his wife Susan had hosted a birthday party in their home on Orduna Drive, off Granada Blvd. in the area once known as The Devil’s Den – where Dora Sugg had been brutally murdered exactly one hundred years earlier.

Guests at the party included their son Christopher, his girlfriend Juliette and John’s Law Partner, Teddy Montoto. Soon after the guests left, and John and Susan retired to their separate bedrooms, somebody entered the house and shot both of them where they lay. Susan died immediately but her husband, seriously wounded and now blind, eventually survived.

Moments after police reached the house, Teddy Montoto also arrived. He told police he had been on the phone with Susan when he heard shots. He also told police that he was an expert marksman and had spent the day at target practice with his gun. The police tested his gun and gave Montoto a polygraph test. His gun passed the test, but he did not. After further questioning, Montoto confessed that he and Susan had been having a sexual affair. Another possible suspect was the couple’s 25-year-old son, Christopher. Even ten years later, Christopher still resented his parents for sending him to a brutal reform school as a teenager. Christopher had a long history of violent behavior, death threats and even a journal entry describing how to get hold of his parent’s wealth. At his mother’s funeral, Christopher seemed to know details of the crime known only to the police. But at the time of the murder, Christopher and his girlfriend were both attending a late-night movie as proved by the theatre’s security cameras.

However, the security cameras also showed Christopher leaving the cinema around midnight and immediately calling someone on his cell-phone. Phone records showed that the person he called, and whom he had called 331 times over the previous few days, was Garrett Kopp. Police then discovered that Kopp had been arrested less than 24 hours after the murder for threatening somebody with a gun. Tests soon proved it was the same Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistol that had killed Susan Sutton. After six hours of intense interrogation, Kopp confessed to the murders and said he had been hired by Christopher, who wanted his parents dead.

During the lengthy and emotional trial it was shown that Christopher and Kopp were long-time dope-dealing buddies. It was also shown that Christopher had purchased the gun and had drawn Kopp a plan of the house, marking his parent’s bedrooms. His girlfriend Juliette described how Christopher had spent five years talking about killing his parents and constantly demanding money from them. After a day and a half of deliberations, the jury found Christopher guilty of first-degree murder. Before sentencing, an emotional John Sutton addressed the court but did not request leniency for his son.

"Regardless of the result, this is a bad case," he said. "I lost Susan. I lost Christopher long before that. I lost my eyesight ..." Asked if he still loved Christopher, the father told the court, "I would have to say that I do not. And it's hard...”
Christopher is serving life without the possibility of parole and Kopp will not be eligible for release till 2035. It would appear that despite all the manicured lawns and elegant mansions, the dark shadows of The Devil’s Den still linger to this day.

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Death in the City Beautiful [3]


Maggie Locascio and the brother-in-law: Oct. 30, 2001

If the twentieth century in Coral Gables had a bloody beginning with the murder of Dora Suggs, so too did the twenty-first century.

On October 30, 2001, just before Halloween, Maggie Locascio drove her Mercedes into the garage of her home at 2806 Granada Blvd., opposite the DeSoto Plaza fountain and just a few blocks from “Fatty” Walsh’s Biltmore Hotel. Returning home with a new hairstyle and a fresh manicure, she was about to start a whole new phase in her life. The following day, she was due to appear in court to end her marriage of 28 years. As part of the divorce settlement, the court would award her fifty-percent of her husband’s assets; however, being a CPA, Maggie knew that her husband, Edward Sr, had declared only a small portion of his vast fortune. In court, the following day, she was scheduled to reveal to the judge where all the other millions were hidden. Unfortunately, she never made it to court.

Her dead body was found sprawled on the kitchen floor. Her head had been brutally bludgeoned, and her body badly kicked and repeatedly stabbed. There was blood everywhere. Her husband lived in a condo on Miami Beach and the security cameras showed him popping out of his condo for no more than a few moments throughout the day and night of the murder. His alibi could not be more solid and the following day, in court, he demanded that the divorce proceedings be dismissed and all his assets unfrozen.

Eventually, blood samples, fingerprints, DNA swabs and a bag full of evidence proved that the murder was committed by Edward’s estranged, younger brother Michael who lived in Charlotte N.C., was unemployed and addicted to pills. The two brothers had not made contact for several years. But then, in the six weeks prior to the murder, they exchanged thirty-nine phone conversations. The condo security camera that proved Edward’s alibi, also showed his blood-spattered brother, Michael, visiting him just two hours after the murder.

Michael was quickly arrested, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Despite constant pressure on the authorities from his son, Edward Jr., it was many years later that Edward Sr. was finally charged as co-conspirator and mastermind of the murder. The evidence was entirely circumstantial; the trial was lengthy and included one of those ‘only-in-Miami’ moments when it was revealed that the lead detective had been sleeping with one of the major witnesses. Despite the lack of a smoking gun, Edward Locascio Sr. was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced, like his brother, to life in prison.

Years later, in a prison interview, Edward Sr. argued that he and his brother had been framed by his own twenty-year-old son, Edward Jr. who would now inherit the mansion on Granada Blvd. as well as all the family millions. For fourteen years following the murder, the house remained empty until the court recently ordered it sold at auction. It is currently in the process of being restored and the blood stains finally removed.






Thursday, January 31, 2019

Death in the City Beautiful [2]


Fatty Walsh, the ghost of the Biltmore: March 7, 1929

Thomas “Fatty” Walsh was a well-known New York mobster and a close associate of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Jack “Legs” Diamond and “Dutch” Schultz with whom he shared various business interests. Earlier in his career, Mr. Walsh had been employed as a bodyguard for Arnold Rothstein, the legendary gangster, famous for fixing the 1919 World Series. Ironically, Walsh was also suspected of murdering Rothstein over a gambling debt in 1928.

But, on March 4, 1929, less than a year after Rothstein’s assassination, Walsh had his own problems with a gambling debt. The details remain murky, but Walsh appears to have been running a card-game in a Prohibition era speakeasy he was operating from his suite on the 13th floor of the Biltmore Hotel. The suite is commonly known as the Al Capone Suite, named after another of Mr. Walsh’s business associates who shared his affection for the Coral Gables hotel. Following a possible misunderstanding over cards played, or money owed, Walsh was shot dead by a rival underworld figure, Edward Wilson, who then fled to Cuba.

Possibly because his murder remained unpunished, the ghost of “Fatty” Walsh continues to haunt the hotel, especially on the 13th floor. During his lifetime, Mr. Walsh was known as a ‘ladies’ man’ which perhaps explains why the elevator, unexpectedly and unbidden, often delivers attractive young women to the 13th floor. One young couple pressed the button for the 4th floor where they were staying but arrived at the 13th floor for no reason. No sooner had the wife stepped out than the elevator slammed shut and returned her husband to the hotel lobby. Strange sounds in the 13th floor suite, lights turning on or off, the elevator behaving erratically are all signs that “Fatty” Walsh is restless and seeks company.