Their storybook wedding in 1968 was the social event of the season, and for a time it looked as if Bernard Castro Jr., heir to the $25-million-a-year Castro Convertible empire, and his 18-year-old bride, Julie, might live up to it. Bernard Jr.’s sister, Bernadette, recalls: “In the beginning, Julie did everything with him.” Six years later, Bernard Castro Jr. was dead at 26, and his wife Julie was booked on a charge of homicide.
Called to the young Castros’ $70,000 Fort Lauderdale home by a family friend and houseguest, Harry Turnip-seed, police found Julie sitting quietly in the living room. Her husband’s body lay in the bedroom with two bullet holes in his chest and one in his hand. On the floor was a .25 caliber pistol that the security-conscious victim had given his wife two years earlier for her own protection. Julie was released the next morning on $20,000 bail and returned to her two daughters, Dena, 2, and 4-year-old Kim. (Another child, Kenneth, was born in 1968 but lived only six days.)
Bernard Jr.’s tragedy seemed a rewrite of F. Scott Fitzgerald. His Sicilian-born father, now 70, migrated to New York in 1919 and worked as an upholsterer and interior decorator before setting up his own company in 1931. Even as the company mushroomed, it remained a family enterprise. To prove his claim that Castro Convertibles were easy enough for a child to open, Castro had his daughter Bernadette, then just a toddler, demonstrate the product on nationwide television throughout the late 1940s and early ’50s.
Not given to downplaying their wealth, the Castros maintain Panfield, a 25-room Tudor-style mansion on Long Island Sound, a huge apartment in midtown Manhattan, a lavish beach house in Fort Lauderdale, a 93-foot yacht and a 4,000-acre cattle ranch in Ocala, Fla. Young Bernard was a poor student who graduated from Golden Hills Academy in Ocala—a prep school set up by his mother, Teresa, a Fort Lauderdale social doyenne and philanthropist. Unlike his sister, who at 30 is still actively involved with the family business, Bernard Jr. by and large spurned it to work the Ocala ranch and indulge his passions for hunting, horses, weight lifting and two-fisted drinking.
Bernard Jr. and Julie had apparently been quarreling a few hours before the shooting. Teresa Castro claims that only two days earlier, her daughter-in-law Julie had revealed she wanted a divorce. Mother Castro counseled against it. “I said, ‘Julie, he won’t give you a divorce now. He loves you too much. Maybe in a year.’
“Now,” says Bernard Jr.’s grief-stricken mother, “I think maybe I shouldn’t have told her to stick with him.”