As it grew dark, 87-year-old Bernice Novack decided to move her car into her garage. That was when Alejandro Garcia, who’d been hiding behind garbage cans near her driveway, says he snuck up behind her.
“She looked at me and right away I hit her,” Garcia told a jury, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. “She looked at me and she screamed.”
The dramatic testimony by the prosecution’s star witness came in a sensational trial now underway in White Plains, N.Y., for the 2009 murders of Novack and her millionaire son Ben Novack Jr., once the owner of Miami Beach’s storied Fountainbleau Hotel.
The Alleged Motive
Amid allegations of jealousy, betrayal and greed, Ben’s wife Narcy Novack, a former stripper from Ecuador, stands accused of joining forces with her brother to arrange both murders.
The alleged motive: Narcy wanted her husband dead because she knew he was having an affair with a former $300-an-hour call girl and feared he’d divorce her, leaving her broke because of their prenuptial agreement. His will left millions to her.
Two admitted hit men, including Garcia, have pleaded guilty and are testifying for the prosecution.
With its tawdry revelations and moneyed players, the case revealed a dark side to the glitz and glamour surrounding the Fountainbleau, owned by Ben Jr.’s father before him. Ben Jr. grew up there, rubbing elbows with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
But the trial is also intensely personal for close friends and family, no more so than for Maxine Fiel – Bernice’s sister and Ben Jr.’s aunt.
Fiel refused to believe police’s initial finding that Bernice’s death was from a series of accidental falls. She pushed investigators and the medical examiner, even questioning witnesses herself, until they finally reclassified it as a homicide in July 2010.
“I hope she [Narcy] never sees the light of day,” Fiel, 88, tells PEOPLE. “Women’s jails aren’t easy. She’ll get justice there. Bernice must have been frightened to death. What an end to her life. Mother and son brutally murdered. This is a horrible woman. Horrible.”
Grew Up Amid Glamor
Ben Jr.’s ties to the Fontainebleau Hotel ended with bankruptcy in 1977. He went on to run a successful events-planning company in Florida. A few years later he met Narcy and they wed in 1991. It was a stormy marriage: Ben Jr. filed for divorce at one point, but rescinded after they reconciled.
In 2008, Ben Jr. answered an online ad placed by a porn actress named Rebecca Bliss, working at the time as a high-priced prostitute. Bliss, 40, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., testified that they began a love affair and that Ben Jr. was going to leave his wife.
She said Narcy got wind of the affair and in early 2009 offered her $10,000 to end it.
“She said that if she couldn’t have him, no other woman was going to have him,” Bliss said on the stand under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember.
Narcy, 54, responded by hatching a plot along with her brother Cristobal Veliz, 57, prosecutors allege. Veliz allegedly recruited two men from a Miami car wash to help with their scheme – Garcia, 34, and Joel Gonzalez, 27.
In April 2009, Garcia beat Bernice Novack to death with a monkey wrench at her Fort Lauderdale home, Garcia said.
Three months later, while on a business trip to Rye Brooke, N.Y., Ben Jr. was beaten so brutally by Garcia that 20 of his ribs were cracked, his head was bashed in and his mouth was taped so tightly that he choked, authorities said. His eyes were gouged out as well.
Narcy helped muffle her husband’s screams with a pillow, Garcia testified. Gonzalez helped Garcia kill Ben Jr., according to prosecutors.
“It was a personal killing,” Westchester County prosecutor Perry Perrone told jurors in opening arguments. “It was a sadistic killing.”
The Defense Case
Narcy and her brother are charged with racketeering and other offenses for arranging both those murders. Defense attorneys have pointed the finger at Narcy’s own daughter, Maya Abad, 36, in their opening arguments, saying she framed her mother.
“(Abad’s) going to get everything, ” said Howard Tanner, Narcy’s lawyer. “Her kids are going to get everything. There’s only one person standing in her way. That’s Narcy Novack.”
Abad, who went into hiding with her teen-aged sons after the murders due to death threats, told the Miami Herald she wasn’t surprised her mother is trying to blame her.
“This whole thing is a joke,” she told the Miami Herald. “To me, they are going to say whatever they can to save their own asses.