The arrest last month of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel for the Oct. 30, 1975, killing of his teenage neighbor Martha Moxley served as a reminder that, while some criminal investigations end when the trail grows cold, murder cases are never really closed so long as a suspect survives. Though 35 percent of the homicides in this country do not lead to an arrest, suspects are never beyond the reach of the law. On the following pages are the stories of four murders that went unsolved for as much as a quarter of a century. Dogged detectives, spurred by dedicated relatives, followed new leads and—sometimes with the help of newly refined forensic techniques—caught up with suspected killers who now face trial for those crimes committed so many years ago.
A surgeon’s secret flight raises questions
On July 8, 1985, Robert Bierenbaum, a surgical resident in New York City, told police his 29-year-old wife, Gail Katz Bierenbaum, had stormed out of their expensive Manhattan apartment after a marital spat the previous morning. He said he’d assumed that Gail, who was completing her doctorate in clinical psychology, had headed for Central Park to calm down, but now he was reporting her missing. When asked about his own whereabouts over the previous 30 hours, Robert, then 29, said he had spent much of the day in the apartment, leaving only to visit family and friends. Det. Thomas O’Malley, one of the investigating officers, later told the New York Daily News, “He was a real cool cracker.”
Doubts about Bierenbaum’s story quickly arose. Police could find no one who had seen Gail leave the building. Then, months later, detectives discovered that within hours of his wife’s disappearance, Robert had driven to a New Jersey airport and had piloted a rented plane on a two-hour flight over the Atlantic. Confronted about the trip, Bierenbaum nearly fainted, O’Malley said. Later, psychiatrist Michael Stone, who had met with the Bierenbaums several times, gave investigators a copy of a letter he had written to Gail in 1983, warning that her husband might be dangerous. But Gail’s body was never found, and Bierenbaum wasn’t charged.
Four years after his wife’s disappearance he relocated to Nevada, and in 1996 he moved to Minot, N.Dak., where he is a well-regarded plastic surgeon. But last December, Bierenbaum, now 44, learned that he was wanted for murder and flew to New York City to turn himself in. Authorities won’t say what new evidence they have on Bierenbaum—who was released to await trial at the home of his wealthy parents—but suggest it involves further inconsistencies in his story.
Bierenbaum’s lawyer notes that Gail once attempted suicide. And friends stress that Bierenbaum, who in 1996 married obstetrician Janet Chollet, 36, and is the father of a year-old daughter, is a model citizen. He has even traveled regularly to Mexico to treat poor patients free of charge. But the Katz family has insisted all along that he has gotten away with murder. Says Gail’s younger sister Alayne, 42: “I still wake up in the middle of the night, afraid he is going to get off.”
A familiar alias brings an arrest
Edward “Ward” Paulsen’s rise from the housing projects of South Boston to Harvard University had made him a local legend. But on the night of Sept. 9, 1976, the erstwhile role model—by then a 28-year-old substitute high school teacher—went with his brother Richard to a Cambridge, Mass., apartment to buy a $1,600 kilo of hashish from one Gordon Brown. There, James Anthony Martin jumped out of a closet with a gun and ordered Paulsen to the floor. When he hesitated, prosecutors say, Martin shot him dead. Richard fled down a fire escape, and a manhunt began for Martin and Brown. “My brother got involved in something he shouldn’t have,” says Paulsen’s sister Denise Foley. “But it’s not something someone deserves to be murdered for.”
Despite frequent felony arrests over the next 23 years, Martin, using more than 20 aliases, managed to stay a step ahead of Cambridge authorities. Then, in 1998, homicide Det. Silverio Ferreira, 31, was given a cold case to investigate by his boss, Sgt. Det. Patrick Nagle. “We had a suspect who disappeared and was basically challenging us to come find him,” says Nagle.
Police say Martin and Brown sped from the crime scene in a car driven by Martin’s girlfriend Meredith Patricia Weiss. The three drove to New York City, then hopped a bus to California. Police arrested Weiss and traced Martin to Richmond, Calif., where he had been arrested on a minor drug charge under the name of Bruce Benjamin. But by the time local authorities were alerted to his real identity, Martin had been released.
In 1982, Brown was arrested in New Jersey, convicted of murdering Paulsen and sentenced to life in prison. Martin remained at large. Paulsen’s six siblings and his father, Leo, 78, a longshoreman—his mother, Elizabeth, died soon after her son was killed—felt cheated. Says Foley, 39: “It was one piece of a very nasty puzzle.”
Ferreira and Jim Trahon of the FBI’s Fugitive Task Force in Boston spent months talking to people who had known Martin. The trail led to Canada, where Ferreira figured Martin would use his old aliases, and a search by Canadian authorities turned up the name Bruce Benjamin. Last month cops arrested Martin in Montreal and returned him to Cambridge to stand trial. “Finally,” says Foley, “he is in custody, after 23 years of freedom he had no right to.”
Not forgotten: A cop killed in action
The crime was one that many in Atlanta will never forget. In the early morning of Jan. 7, 1975, city Det. Sam Guy was moonlighting as a security guard at a Howard Johnson’s motel when two men walked into the lobby bent on robbery. In the ensuing gunfire, Guy, 49, married and the father of three children, was mortally wounded. His murder set the Atlanta police department, where he was revered for his outstanding detective work, on a tear. For weeks officers, many working on their own time, vainly scoured the city for suspects. But eventually the trail went cold, and investigators held out little hope that Guy’s killers would ever be caught.
But Sam Guy wasn’t forgotten. Judge Arthur Kaplan, a good friend of the fallen cop, was cruising the streets that night, working as a volunteer medic. Hearing about the shooting on his police-radio scanner, he rushed to the scene and found Guy in a pool of blood. Deeply affected by the officer’s death, Kaplan, now 75, has taken pains to teach a course on emergency trauma care and tell Guy’s story to every entering class of cops for a quarter of a century. “Everyone knew about Sam Guy,” says Sgt. Scott Bennett, 36, an Atlanta homicide detective who was 11 years old at the time of the shooting. So it was with a mixture of shock and excitement that Bennett took a call in October 1998 from an anonymous informant claiming to know who killed Guy. “I tell you,” says Bennett, “it sent a real chill up my spine.” The informant would give only the nicknames of the supposed killers.
Within a few months, though, Bennett tracked down the caller, who has never been publicly identified. Why did he wait so long to come forward? “People get older,” says Bennett, “and if they have not lived a good life, they start thinking about changing.” The informant gave Bennett and his partner, Det. Jim Rose, 46, the full name of one of the alleged gunmen—Abner Wilkinson, who was by then 64 and living in Hogansville, Ga., south of Atlanta—along with the nickname of the other, T.J. Further digging led to Terry Jackson, 59, who was working in Alpharetta, Ga.
The detectives knew that after so long a time it would be risky to rely on the memory of informants to make charges stick. “If this murder had occurred yesterday,” explains Rose, “we would have had enough probable cause to get a warrant, but 24 years later you have to have more.” Ideally what they wanted was a confession, which led them to hatch a plan. Deciding that Wilkinson was the more skittish and vulnerable of the two suspects, they began stalking him every-where, leaving their business cards to let him know they were on his trail and hoping he would crack.
The ploy worked. Last September, Wilkinson came into Atlanta police headquarters with his attorney and confessed to the murder of Sam Guy, implicating Jackson, who was picked up later. “I told Jackson I had a warrant for his arrest,” says Bennett, who collared him at a convenience store. “He thought I was kidding. He was totally dumbfounded.” Wilkinson and Jackson are now in jail awaiting trial. The reaction of the Guy family, which includes Sam’s son David, 49, himself a retired Atlanta police officer, is one of muted satisfaction. “Nothing can make up for the years we lost,” says Sam’s widow, Francine, 72, who still wears a small gold replica of her husband’s badge around her neck. “But it does give a little relief to know that they’re not out there enjoying life.”
After 25 years, DNA helps pin down a suspect
When 15-year-old Brett Ludwig ¦¦awoke in his Lakewood, Colo., home and found no sign of his mother, Dorothy, he knew something was wrong. He called the police and told them that the night before—Aug. 16, 1974—he had heard Dorothy, 52, arguing on the phone with her ex-husband, Larry Britt, whom she had divorced two months earlier. “I’d heard Larry’s truck pull in” at about 10 p.m., recalls Brett, now 40. “Basically, that was the last I ever saw my mom.”
Witnesses told police they had seen Dorothy leave a bar with Britt at 2 a.m., and investigators found dried blood—Dorothy’s type—in the cab of his pickup. He was arrested on Aug. 29, 1974, and charged with first-degree murder. But Dorothy’s body was never found—even after a search at the Chatfield Dam, where Britt, a heavy-equipment operator, had been doing excavation work—and a girlfriend of Britt’s provided him with an alibi that police won’t reveal. A judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Says Ludwig, who went to live with an older sister: “I thought nothing would ever happen.”
For 24 years, nothing did. Then one day in 1998, Lakewood police Lt. Clarene Shelley, who had worked the case as a rookie detective, heard that the girlfriend Larry Britt married after Dorothy’s disappearance had recently divorced him. Shelley, 51, a self-described “nosy old broad,” recalled that this woman was the one who had vouched for Britt’s innocence.
Shelley asked detectives to look into the case, and by January 1999, Phil Tenney, 43, and Mark Good, 33, had interviewed Britt’s ex-wife, who reportedly recanted her earlier story. Then, using new technology, a lab matched Dorothy’s DNA (derived from a sample of her son’s blood) to the blood found in Britt’s truck.
Last November a grand jury indicted Britt for first-degree murder, and he was arrested in Hudson, N.H., where he was living with a wife believed to be his sixth. Lieutenant Shelley greeted Britt—due to plead Feb. 22—as Detectives Tenney and Good took him off the plane in Denver. “Welcome back to Colorado,” she said.
Bruce Frankel and Bill Hewitt.
Reported by: Sharon Cotliar and Tom Duffy in New York City, Margaret Nelson in North Dakota, Gail Wescott in Atlanta and Vickie Bane in Lakewood