In the end, Vicki Morgan was claimed by a death as tawdry, scandalous and pathetic as her own life had been. On the July night when she was bludgeoned in her bed by her distraught male roommate wielding a baseball bat, the woman who spent her best years as the mistress of multimillionaire Alfred Bloomingdale was destitute, despondent and reportedly awash in alcohol and Valium. She had been unable to pay the rent on her $1,000-a-month, three-bedroom condominium in Studio City, Calif. The money and expensive gifts from Bloomingdale were long gone and no more free-spending paramours were in sight. For Vicki Morgan, at 30, all that was left was retribution. She would not be going gentle into that good night.
Less than 24 hours after Vicki was laid to rest last week—in a hurriedly arranged service paid for by a mystery benefactor—Robert Steinberg, a Los Angeles lawyer with no official connection to Vicki or her accused murderer, Marvin Pancoast, claimed to be in possession of videotapes that were potentially highly embarrassing to the Reagan White House. According to Steinberg, the tapes—which he later said were stolen from his office—showed Vicki and three other women having sex with Bloomingdale, a Congressman, two top-level presidential appointees and several cronies of Ronald Reagan. There were also reports of other incriminating videotapes and written documents picked up by the Los Angeles Police Department at the murder site, though the LAPD would neither confirm nor deny the existence of such “evidence.” Palimony pioneer Marvin Mitchelson, who filed Morgan’s 1982 suit against Bloomingdale, claimed he had learned that a White House adviser had confirmed the existence of the LAPD tapes, and that they reportedly compromised a Reagan Cabinet member.
This was not the first time the Reagan White House had been embarrassed by Vicki. The erstwhile model first gained notoriety last summer when she hit Bloomingdale, a member of Reagan’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” with a $5 million palimony suit, the bulk of which was thrown out of court by a judge who called the relationship “no more than that of a wealthy, older, married paramour and a young, well-paid mistress.” Morgan’s lurid allegations about Bloomingdale’s sadomasochistic romps spattered her own reputation even as they provided grist for Beverly Hills gossipmongers: She testified to watching a “drooling” Bloomingdale flog naked women until they wept.
Why did she put up with such grotesque behavior? According to several acquaintances who knew her then, Vicki had one cardinal obsession. “She was absolutely money-mad,” said Paul Caruso, a Beverly Hills lawyer who represented her in a 1977 damage suit—which was dropped—against Bloomingdale, 36 years her senior. “That’s the only reason she wanted this suit filed. If that makes her sound like a high-class call girl, that’s what it sounds like to me.” The monthly allowance checks from her elderly lover, which ranged up to $18,000, seem to have been spent as soon as she could endorse them. She lived rent-free in a series of posh houses but “had nothing to show for all that money,” according to Caruso.
Morgan’s naiveté in financial matters was legendary. According to Mitchelson, she once spent $100,000 remodeling a house she was only renting. A close friend remembers Vicki as a spendthrift who traveled first-class, shopped at Neiman-Marcus, and lavished presents on her friends and family. And some of her lucre, apparently, went for recreational drugs, including cocaine.
Vicki found it impossible to adjust her spending habits when socialite Betsy Bloomingdale halted her hospitalized husband’s support checks to Morgan in June 1982. Bloomingdale succumbed to cancer two months later, at 66. “He made Vicki’s decisions for her,” says a Morgan friend. “She was like his little child.”
Ironically, it was money—or the lack of it—that linked Morgan to the man who confessed to her killing. Pancoast, 33, says he met her in 1979 when both were patients at a community mental health center at a Los Angeles hospital. (Bloomingdale was footing the bill for Vicki, who was battling depression.) He moved into her condo last month because both he and Vicki were out of work and struggling to meet expenses.
Pancoast, who left a job as a duplicating machine operator at the William Morris Agency in February, told reporters that he offered to support Vicki and her 14-year-old son, Todd, while she worked on a book about her liaison with Bloomingdale. But Pancoast’s three-week stay with her (they were never lovers) was “pure hell,” he said. She acted like the Queen of Sheba, he claimed, needling and commanding him to fetch and cook. “She never did anything,” said Pancoast, who called himself Vicki’s “little slave.” “The only time she moved was when she was manipulating somebody.”
On the day she died, Vicki complained that she didn’t want to move into a Burbank condo the two had rented. She felt it was beneath her. Later, after she and Pancoast had settled in to watch the evening news, she insisted that he get out of bed, dress and drive to a store for potato chips.
After Pancoast returned, Vicki couldn’t sleep. She reminisced endlessly about Alfred and better days, while Pancoast rubbed her feet with baby lotion and massaged her in an attempt to shut her up. Eventually, Pan-coast said, he dozed off, only to awaken to find Vicki chewing gum and smoking. A few minutes later he remembered Todd’s baseball bat, in the car. “I went out and got it,” Pancoast said. “I started hitting her. She raised up in the bed, but I just kept hitting her again and again and again.”
Though many acquaintances see Vicki as a victim of her own greed and Machiavellian impulses, a close friend maintains that she became Pancoast’s victim because of her proclivity for helping. “Vicki had an enormous heart,” she says. “He stayed in touch with her because he would start to break down and she would always have the time to listen.”
In the eyes of one professional man to whom she revealed her deepest thoughts and feelings, Vicki’s turbulent life owed much to the fact that her father, an Air Force veteran, divorced her mother, Constance Laney, shortly after Vicki was born in Colorado Springs. Constance remarried and gave birth to a son, but her second husband died when Vicki was 9. Eventually mother and children settled in the L.A. suburb of Montclair, where Constance worked in the cafeteria of the school that Vicki later attended.
The absence of a paternal figure “colored Vicki’s life,” says a person who knew her very well for years. “She was seeking a father [which is] why she would have a relationship with a much older man like Bloomingdale.”
Lack of education also plagued her. Pregnant at 16, she dropped out of Chaffee High School and gave birth to Todd out of wedlock. Her son’s upbringing seems to have been as confusing as Vicki’s. “In her way, she tried to be very loyal to him,” says a friend. Still, according to Caruso, she left the boy in her mother’s care when he was an infant and “dumped him on her mother frequently in order to go on trips with Bloomingdale.” Constance also once tried to obtain legal custody of her grandson, but apparently was unsuccessful. Todd, described by a neighbor as “a punk rocker with a Mohawk haircut dyed green,” was with her the night Morgan was killed.
Throughout Vicki’s life, men seem to have been a source of solace, income and, ultimately, dissatisfaction. Her first husband was clothing wholesaler Earle Lamm, then 47, whom she wed in Las Vegas in 1970. She met Bloomingdale soon afterward. In a sworn deposition given for her 1982 lawsuit, Vicki said that when he asked her to be his mistress, she replied, “Okay, but I’m married.” Bloomingdale, who knew what he wanted, told her to find out how much money it would take to persuade Lamm to divorce her.
During periods of estrangement from Bloomingdale, Vicki wed and shed two more men—John David Carson, an actor, and Robert H. Schulman, a wealthy real estate developer. For six months in 1974 she found room on her dance card for financier Bernard Cornfeld, a legendary womanizer and a friend of Bloomingdale’s. Vicki lived in Cornfeld’s Beverly Hills home and accepted his largesse. “Vicki never worked a day in her life,” says Cornfeld, who remembers her fondly. Bloomingdale, however, seems to have dominated her existence from the moment he met her.
Vicki’s last year was a melancholy one. The scandal surrounding her palimony suit took its toll: “She was terribly upset by the way she was portrayed in court,” says Michael Dave, the last of her many lawyers. “She was a branded woman—a pariah.” Unwittingly, Vicki may have provided the most fitting coda to her own story in the heat of her bid for Bloomingdale’s money. “It really is an ugly mess,” she said of I’affaire Alfred, “more than anyone will ever know.”