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.