By Pam Lambert
November 19, 2001 12:00 PM

When high-powered New York financier Ted Ammon failed to show for a Manhattan business meeting on Monday, Oct. 22, his colleagues weren’t alarmed. During the 14 months he’d been embroiled in a hostile divorce and custody battle with his estranged wife, Generosa, the multimillionaire mogul had missed several appointments due to court hearings. But when the doting father didn’t pick up his 11-year-old twins, Alexa and Gregory, from private school that day, it was a different story. After failing to reach Ammon, 52, at either his weekend home in East Hampton, N.Y., or his Upper East Side town house, his worried business partner Mark Angelson took a helicopter out to the Hamptons. There, inside Ammon’s sprawling mansion, he found his friend’s lifeless body in bed. Ammon had been beaten to death.

The grisly discovery just a block from Jerry Seinfeld’s $16 million beachfront estate horrified the affluent Long Island village, which has had only one other homicide in the past two decades. It also sent shock waves through Manhattan’s monied upper crust, from the canyons of Wall Street where Ammon first made his millions to the artsy Upper West Side where, days before his death, he attended a dinner party with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and former President Bill Clinton. New York City tabloids also floated increasingly lurid theories about the murder, fingering everyone from Ammon’s wife to an alleged gay lover to the Mob.

“We’re looking at every possibility,” says Suffolk County Police Lt. John Gierasch of the murder investigation he is heading. “We haven’t ruled out anything or anybody.” Although widow Generosa Ammon, 45, declined comment, her recently hired attorney Edward M. Shaw, who has represented a number of murder defendants, says, “Mrs. Ammon had nothing whatsoever to do with her husband’s death.”

In addition to his divorce, Ammon was involved in two other legal wrangles, in one of which he sued the board of his Fifth Avenue co-op building for refusing to approve the sale of his penthouse unit, on which he had reportedly accepted an offer of $9.5 million in May. In the other, two former personal assistants claimed in court that he owed them more than $7.5 million in back pay, cash bonuses and securities.

Ammon’s family and friends are still reeling from the loss. Close to 500 people attended his Oct. 29 memorial service at Alice Tully Hall—the site chosen because the longtime jazz aficionado had become chairman of the board of Jazz at Lincoln Center in March. Few in the crowd, which included such luminaries as Marsalis and former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, seemed able to accept the absence of the 6’4″ dynamo. “I am profoundly sad. Ted was a special person,” says lawyer and author Philip K. Howard, who served with him on the board of the Municipal Art Society, a landmark-preservation group. “He died as he was on the cusp of a second brilliant career as a civic leader.” As an example of Ammon’s charm, Howard notes the fact that they became fast friends while negotiating opposite sides of the $31 billion hostile takeover of RJR Nabisco by Ammon’s then boss, leveraged-buyout king Henry Kravis, in the late ’80s.

Certainly Ammon was well-established in the world of high finance. By the time he ended his eight-year association with Kravis in 1992, he had amassed a fortune estimated at $50 million. He would subsequently more than double that through a variety’ of investments and business ventures, most recently the formation of the private equity-investment firm Chancery Lane Capital L.L.C. But friends agree that the down-to-earth Ammon was not motivated strictly by money. “He wore $9.99 reading glasses from Rite-Aid,” Angelson said at the memorial. “His shoes and belts never matched, because he had four homes but only one good belt.”

Instead of glitz, Ammon craved competition. “His first words were ‘Me too,’ followed closely by, ‘Me first,’ ” says his sister Sandi Williams, now 54, who manages a real estate firm in Huntsville, Ala. The two were raised in middle-class comfort in East Aurora, N.Y., near Buffalo, by Robert, a steel-factory manager, and homemaker Bettylee—both of whom are deceased. Whether it was playing football or picking up the trumpet, she says, Ted “was always a quick study.” Ammon would evince the same ease at Bucknell University, where he played lacrosse and earned a B.A. in economics in 1971. Recalls frat brother Luke Rohrbaugh, 52, an investment advisor: “He could do a lot of things at once and do them well.”

About the only area where Ammon proved less lucky was love. He and first wife Randee Day—a banker whom he married in 1974—had separated amicably by 1983. Later that same year Ammon hit it off with Generosa Rand LeGaye, the attractive Manhattan real estate agent and aspiring artist helping him hunt for a new place to live. Generosa was “very friendly, very outgoing and fun to be with. Those were happy days,” says Ammon’s friend Paul Marini, 53, an investment banker who attended the couple’s 1986 wedding in New York.

In contrast to Ammon’s stable background, Generosa’s family life had been tumultuous. She was the younger of two daughters born in Long Beach, Calif., to Marie Theresa LeGaye, a secretary for the Catholic Church, and an absentee father. Following her mother’s death from brain cancer when she was 10, Generosa lived with various relatives before being taken in and raised by her uncle Albert LeGaye, a property developer and walnut farmer.

Initially, Ted and Generosa seemed happy, especially after adopting 2-year-old twins from the Ukraine in 1992. They took the children everywhere, so much so that Gregory’s first American word was “taxi.” “The kids were his life,” says Williams of her brother, who often brought the twins to Central Park, where they rode their bikes while he ran. Whether at the family’s house on the Upper East Side, which Generosa decorated with contemporary art, or at their spread in East Hampton, “you felt comfortable as soon as you walked in,” Marini recalls. Says Generosa’s friend Beverly Wilkes, a retired lawyer: “They were always kissing and holding hands; they were the last couple I ever thought would get divorced.”

Then something went wrong. In 1999 Ammon, who had begun to make a growing number of investments in Europe, relocated Generosa and the twins to an old manor house outside London. He flew in frequently from New York to visit. The following spring, Generosa “learned he was having relationships with other women,” says her divorce lawyer Ed Meyer. By the time the family moved back to New York in July 2000, the couple had separated.

After the split, Ammon moved into the Fifth Avenue co-op, then a town house on East 92nd Street. Generosa bought and began renovating another nearby town house. Meanwhile she, the children and their nanny took up residence in a $l,500-a-night suite and adjoining rooms at the Stanhope Hotel across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A frequent visitor: Generosa’s electrical-contractor boyfriend Danny Pelosi, 35, of Manorville, N.Y., not far from East Hampton.

During that nine-month period, say sources at the hotel, Generosa ran up enormous bills and acted temperamentally with the hotel staff. Emotions also ran high when she and Ammon appeared at Manhattan Supreme Court, sometimes leading to shouting matches, says a court officer there. Increasing the stress on Ammon were the two other lawsuits. After the board of directors at 1125 Fifth Avenue refused to approve the $9.5 million sale of his penthouse, Ammon sued them on Oct. 2 seeking $8.5 million in damages—the sum being the difference between the bid he had accepted and the nonrefundable $1 million deposit he kept. Then, on Oct. 17, Ammon was hit with a lawsuit by the two former employees, who had handled everything from Generosa’s correspondence to the family’s packing.

Now police are poring through these court papers, interviewing family, friends and colleagues, even dredging the pond behind Ammon’s East Hampton home, as they try to solve what Lt. Gierasch has called “a real whodunit.” In the meantime, Amnion’s rinkside spot at his son’s ice hockey games will remain empty, as will his VIP orchestra seats at Alice Tully Hall, where he used to revel in the jazz that he loved. “I still feel like I can call Ted and go for a visit,” says friend Steffen Rogers, Bucknell’s president. “It just doesn’t seem possible that he could have been murdered.”

Pam Lambert

Bob Meadows, Fannie Weinstein, Rebecca Paley and K.C. Baker in New York City and East Hampton and John Hannah in Los Angeles