Miami wine lovers now have a choice of two different wine appreciation programs, both offered by the Coral Gables Museum on Monday evenings from 6 - 8 PM, and both taught by Patrick Alexander..
A Basic 6-week program is offered by the Coral Gables Museum at 285 Aragon Avenue.
A Master 3-week program is also available for those students who have already taken the basic 6-week program.
For details about the next available classes, go to www.GablesWine.com
Saturday, May 11, 2019
Gus Boulis, cruising to nowhere: February 6, 2001
Like Don Aronow, Gus Boulis exemplified the ‘American Dream’ but, as with Aronow, the dream ended in a nightmare. Both men were self-made millionaires, both built fortunes in the boats and on the waters off the coast of Florida, and both met their bullet- riddled fate, sitting in expensive German cars in the mean streets of Miami.
Born in a small Greek fishing village, Boulis dropped out of school and emigrated to Canada where he took a job as a dish-washer in a sandwich shop. Within a few years he had taken over the shop and expanded it to a chain of over 200 stores which he eventually sold. When he moved to Miami at the age of 25, he was already a multimillionaire.
Upon his arrival he purchased Miami’s most famous Mafia hangout, the Gold Coast Restaurant and Lounge. The Gold Coast was a favorite place for everyone to meet, from John Gotti and Meyer Lansky to Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant; it was mentioned in the Kefauver Committee hearings into Organized Crime and in the JFK Assassination files, as well as being featured in Elmore Leonard’s novel Gold Coast. In May 1994, Boulis turned it into Miami Subs and five years later he sold the expanded chain to Nathan’s Famous hot dog chain for $4.2 million.
Boulis had also purchased a small shipping company which he operated out of Key Largo. His ‘cruises to nowhere’ would sail three-miles out to sea, where Florida’s gambling prohibitions did not apply. His floating casino empire was extremely successful but unfortunately attracted opposition from various Federal, State and local authorities. Eventually Boulis was forced to withdraw from the gambling business and he sold SunCruz Casinos to a couple of Washington lobbyists for $147.5 million. But the deal was more complex than it appeared on the surface. Firstly, Boulis maintained a secret ten-percent interest in the company and secondly, the lobbyists were Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan, two of the slimiest denizens of the DC Swamp. Relationships swiftly soured, accusations of double dealing and non-payments at one point even led to fistfights. Within just a couple of months, just two days before he was due to appear in Federal court to face questions about his finances and the sale of SunCruz Casinos, Gus Boulis was murdered.
As with the murder of Aronow, the details and precise motivations for the murder are murky. What is known is that there was extreme bad blood between Boulis and the Abramoff/ Kidan partnership. It is also known that Kidan had a business relationship with Anthony ‘Big Tony’ Moscatiello who was also a bookkeeper for the Gambino crime family. Moscatiello in turn had a close working relationship with Anthony ‘Little Tony’ Ferrari, and James "Pudgy" Fiorillo.
Late in the after-noon of February 6, 2001, Boulis was driving home from the office in his green BMW when the road was blocked by a Mazda Miata forcing him to a stop. Seconds later, a black Mustang pulled up to the driver’s side of the BMW and fired several shots. The Mustang then calmly drove away, followed by the Mazda and a red Volkswagen Jetta driven by ‘Pudgy’ Fiorillo. Badly wounded and bleeding profusely, Boulis continued driving a few more blocks until his car hit a tree and he died shortly after.
Big Tony, Little Tony and Pudgy were eventually charged, tried and convicted of the Boulis contract killing but Kidan and Abramoff were never charged with ordering it. On August 11, 2005, Abramoff and Kidan were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on fraud charges relating to the disputed $23 million bank transfer used as down payment for the purchase of SunCruz Casinos. Kidan pleaded guilty on December 15, 2005, Abramoff pleaded guilty on January 3, 2006.
The actual murder trial dragged-on for years, but eventually ‘Pudgy’ Fiorillo pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 2012, and ‘Little Tony’ Ferrari was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. On July 1, 2015, ‘Big Tony’ Moscatiello was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to life in prison following the sentencing recommendation of the jury that convicted him. However, as recently as June 2018, ‘Big Tony’ was awarded a new trial by the Fourth District Court of Appeals.
Abramoff of course, famously had his own problems to worry about. At the time of the SunCruz purchase he was one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. A senior member of the Republican Party, he was the DC ‘go-to man’ if you wanted anything done. He was however notoriously corrupt and involved in all sorts of major Federal swindles, particularly involving the Native American Tribes. But it was SunCruz and the feud with Gus Boulis however that marked the precipitous beginning of his downfall. After pleading guilty in 2006 to the SunCruz fraud and various other scandals, Abramoff was sentenced to six years in Federal prison. But he did not go down alone. His corruption trial resulted in convictions and jail sentences for twenty-one other prominent Washington politicians, attorneys, lobbyists, White House officials and members of Congress including Tom Delay and Bob Ney.
Gus Boulis would no doubt find comfort from the fact that the brutal murder in Miami of a humble Greek fisherman’s son caused unparalleled turmoil and scandal at the highest levels of the American government.
Excerpt from "Miami Murders Most Foul" by Patrick Alexander
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Don Aronow, the Cigarette King: February 3, 1987
Don Aronow’s life in many ways represents the American
dream. The Brooklyn born, youngest son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he left
school without completing his education and tried a variety of jobs before
joining his father-in-law’s construction company. After creating his own
successful construction company, he was able to retire to Miami as a self-made
millionaire at the age of 32. In Miami he developed a taste for racing boats,
first as a hobby and then he started designing his own boats, which he built
into a successful business. Very soon he was touring the world, winning
international races and selling his designs. Aronow's boats won over 350
offshore races and he was a two-time world champion and three-time U.S.
champion. He had been elected to every powerboating Hall of Fame in existence
and he is one of only two Americans to have ever received the UIM Gold Medal of
Honor in Monaco.
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Because of his success and fame in the world of
power-boat racing, Aronow formed a close friendship with Vice President George
H.W. Bush, a fellow aficionado. Bush himself had owned one of Aronow’s most
famous designs, the Cigarette boat and was instrumental in Aronow’s Blue
Thunder catamarans being adopted by the US Customs Service for chasing drug
smugglers in the waters off South Florida.
Very soon, Aronow’s business model resembled a perpetual
motion machine, with Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys buying his Cigarette boats to
outrun the lawmen and the lawmen buying his Blue Thunders to chase them. Aronow
was steadily increasing the speed of the go-fast boats he designed while lawmen
and cowboys raced to outmaneuver each other. It was the perfect business model.
Aronow was well aware that the drug smugglers were as fond of his boats as the
lawmen. “We in the ocean-racing fraternity are flattered that the dope runners
prefer our kind of boat,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1979, “but when they
get caught, we don’t like it. We have torn emotions. A kid who works for me was
offered $100,000 to run out to sea one night and resupply fuel for a dope boat.
He refused, but it must have been a terrible temptation. Heck, lately we’ve
been getting letters from jailbirds still behind bars, asking for complete
specs and prices on our Cigarettes.”
The world of off-shore powerboat racing, not to mention
the world of cocaine smuggling is a testosterone fueled, competitive
environment of rivalry and violence. Aronow’s boatyard was located on 188th
Street, Miami, known as Thunderboat Row, home of all the world’s most
aggressively famous racing brands: Apache, Cigarette, Formula, Donzi, Magnum,
Squadron, Flight, Nova, Pantera, Cougar, Tempest and of course Blue Thunder.
George Bush was not the only famous and powerful customer in Aronow’s boatyard,
others included ex-President Lyndon Johnson, King Juan Carlos of Spain, King
Hussain of Jordan, the Sultan of Oman, Jean-Claud ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier of Haiti,
Christina Onassis and the late Shah of Iran.
Aronow’s social circle encompassed more than just
monarchs and presidents, many of his friends had less savory backgrounds.
Having made his initial fortune in New York’s construction industry, Aronow was
undoubtedly well connected with the city’s organized crime families and when he
moved to Miami, he became a close friend of Meyer Lansky, the Mafia’s CFO. He
also made new friends in the world of off-shore racing; people like Ben Kramer,
Augusto Falcon and Salvador Magluta, or Willy and Sal as they were known. All
three men were well known and respected as successful offshore racers. Kramer
won the world title in 1984 and had his own boat design and building company,
Apache Performance Boats. Falcon won the 1986 Offshore Challenge off the
Florida Keys; Magluta had won three national championships and was a member of
the commission that oversees the American Power Boat Association. All three men
also earned billions of dollars smuggling cocaine and marijuana into the United
States, using planes and go-fast boats.
In 1984 Aronow sold his USA Racing company, which built
the Blue Thunder boats, to Ben Kramer in return for a Bell helicopter, real
estate, various assets and some undeclared cash. However, when the Feds
discovered the company was now owned by Kramer, a convicted felon, they
threatened to cancel the Blue Thunder contract. To save the government
contract, Aronow agreed to buy back his company and he returned the helicopter
and other assets to Kramer but, it has been suggested, that he did not return
the undeclared cash. Because there was
no record of the cash which had been exchanged ‘under the table’, there was
nothing Kramer could legally do to recover it.
On the afternoon of February 3, 1987, Aronow, in his
white Mercedes, was leaving Kramer’s office at Apache Performance Boats, when
he was approached by a dark blue Lincoln Continental with tinted windows. Both
cars stopped in the middle of the street and the two drivers lowered their
windows. After exchanging a few words, Aronow was shot at least three times; in
the face, in the arm and in the groin. He died shortly afterwards. The Lincoln
sped away, never to be seen again.
There was endless speculation about the killer. Was it a
jealous husband? Aronow was known as an active ‘ladies’ man’. Could it have
been a mob-hit? he knew and conducted business with all sorts of unsavory
characters. Was he too close to the Feds – might someone have suspected him of
In the meantime, Kramer had been arrested on new drug
charges and was being held in the Federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in
South Dade, near the Everglades. In April of 1989, Kramer was waiting in the
prison recreation yard for a friend to collect him with his helicopter. Before
it landed, Kramer grabbed hold of the right-hand skid while it still hovered
above the prison yard. Unfortunately, his weight tilted the machine as it rose
into the air, causing the rotors to snag in the prison’s coiled razor wire and
bringing men and machine all crashing to the ground, breaking Kramer’s leg.
Finally, after many years of investigation, Bobby Young,
a career criminal and a member of the ‘Dixie Mafia’ admitted to being the
triggerman in Aronow’s murder. Although Young refused to rat on Kramer himself,
Young’s attorney agreed to testify that Young had been hired by Kramer to kill
Aronow. Finally, Kramer himself, if only to regain the comforts of a Federal
prison, and escape the horrendous conditions of Dade County Jail, pleaded No
Contest to the murder of Aronow.
But there still remain a lot of unanswered questions. Why
was Aronow really killed, and who was really behind his murder? Who owned the
Blue Lincoln? Kramer isn’t talking, why should he? – he’s serving a life
sentence with a broken leg and no possibility of parole.
The only certainty that emerges from this story is that
Thursday, February 7, 2019
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
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
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.
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Dora Suggs and the Devil’s Den: December 1905:
Long before George Merrick turned the wilderness, west of Coconut Grove into the city of Coral Gables, various hardy souls, known as homesteaders, lived on isolated farms out in the back-country. In December 1905, one of these souls, Dora Suggs, rode her mule and wagon into Coconut Grove (or Cocoanut Grove as it was then spelled) to buy Christmas provisions for her husband Gideon and their children. That was the last time her family saw her alive.
Returning from Coconut Grove, in the gathering winter twilight, she was riding through an especially desolate stretch of countryside known as ‘The Devil’s Den’, when she was dragged from her carriage and assaulted. These days it is a place of manicured lawns and gracious single-family homes, at the intersection of Granada Boulevard and Blue Road, but in those days, it was a narrow, muddy track that followed a creek, through a dark grove of Florida slash pines and palmettos.
The unaccompanied wagon and mule arrived back at the Suggs’ homestead and her husband immediately organized a search party. Her body was found in The Devil’s Den at 10:00pm; she had been brutally raped and mutilated. Her skull had been crushed-in with rocks. Footprints around the body showed that her assailant wore size twelve boots, but there were no other clues.
The following day, Edward (Cady) Brown was arrested for Dora Suggs’ murder. The main evidence against him appears to be that he was black. On being sentenced to death he said, “I don’t know how they can hang a man for something he knows nothing about.” Within just six months he was charged, tried, found guilty and hanged. Despite his neck being broken by the fall, he continued to show signs of life and his boots continued to kick for a further eighteen and a half minutes. His boots were a size ten.
Dora Suggs is buried in Coral Gables’ historic Pinewood Cemetery where her tombstone reads “1872 - December 18th, 1905. Died tragically at the Devils Den, Wife of Gideon David Suggs.”
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Thursday, January 17, 2019
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
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
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.