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.