May 14, 1979 12:00 PM

As dawn breaks over her remote aerie high in the Colorado Rockies, Linda Goodman shakes off sleepiness, feeds wood into the stove against the chill and sets about a bizarre daily ritual. To the low recorded music of a Gregorian chant, she lights candles on a handmade altar and recites a mystical litany she created six years ago as a message to her departed loved ones. It begins with the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…”

Goodman’s life defies imagination. On the one hand, she is a very rich woman, made so by her wildly popular books on astrology. Her 1968 explanation of the zodiac titled Sun Signs sold four million copies, and paperback rights to her current best-seller, Love Signs, went last year for $2.25 million, equaling the record held by Mario Puzo’s Fools Die. By any standard, Goodman at 54 is the most influential astrologer in the world. But she has also become a recluse, hidden away in Cripple Creek, Colo., haunted by the disappearance of the two most important people in her life within the space of 20 months. One was her lover, Robert Brewer, a marine biologist of 22 who fled to Mexico without explanation in the spring of 1972 and has not been seen since. The other was her daughter, Sally, officially listed by the New York medical examiner as a suicide just before Christmas 1973, a casualty of liquor and barbituates at 21.

Goodman believes Brewer will return soon of his own accord; she keeps a place set for him at the dining table. Her grief over Sally, a budding actress and drama school graduate, has taken a more obsessive turn. “I know Sally is not dead,” says Goodman. “I’ve done her chart over and over again. An astrologist can’t predict death, but I can foresee non-death. I don’t know exactly why she was taken, but I feel the time is right for her to reappear. The only reason I’m talking now is hope that I’ll find some lead to her.”

Cause for hope seems slim. Sally had a period of depression and was hospitalized after a suicide attempt at the age of 18. Her body was identified in the New York morgue by Linda’s second husband, Sam Goodman. (Still legally married, they have lived separately for 12 years, but still relate “as brother and sister,” she says.) After an autopsy, police declared the case closed and Sam had the body cremated. Linda was penniless then, living in Cripple Creek on welfare and the generosity of such celebrity acquaintances as Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. According to Linda, her royalties from Sun Signs had been withheld when she failed to deliver a second book to her publisher as promised. Friends helped her buy an airline ticket to New York, where she lived out of a suitcase and occasionally slept on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Cathedral while tracking down leads on her own. Within a few days Sam recanted his identification of the body (“I was all hyped up at the time,” he says), but he was still skeptical of her investigation. “He would say, ‘Linda, you’ve got to stop this and face the fact that she’s dead,’ ” she recalls. “But I couldn’t.”

Linda faulted the police work from the beginning. The suicide note, she swears, was not in Sally’s handwriting. There was no empty pill bottle in the apartment. Police reported no signs of violence, but Goodman says she found bloodstains and bleached hair, although her daughter was a natural blonde. “For seven months I stayed in New York, going from homicide to the DA’s office,” she says. “I became a pariah. I never got any answers. They promised me blood and lab reports. In the end, I got nothing. They just said, ‘Well, there was some mistake.’ ”

Last year, when her $500,000 advance for Love Signs came through, she hired Ray Neff, 55, a professor of health and safety at Indiana State University with a background in forensic medicine. From his study of police, lab and autopsy reports, Neff has concluded that the body could not have been Sally’s. He says, among other things, that she was two inches taller and 25 pounds lighter than the corpse, that the high level of drugs in the bloodstream could indicate homicide possibly by injection, and that he has found a witness who drove Sally to Boston the day she was supposed to have died. “I am certain Sally survived the whole thing,” Neff says. “Perhaps she’s married and living somewhere quietly.” A Goodman family friend believes the young woman may have just wanted to drop out: “I think she had trouble accepting her mother’s life-style.”

Linda Goodman’s case is not helped, it is true, by her profession and lifestyle. She first ventured into astrology when Sam, a onetime disc jockey and carnival comic, brought home The Coffee Table Book of Astrology in the mid-’60s. Her first marriage, to a writer named Bill Snyder, had ended in divorce a decade later. (Three of their five children died in infancy; only Sally and a younger brother survived.) Linda’s two children by Sam were then school age. “I think she stayed in a nightgown studying astrology 20 hours a day for a year,” Sam recalls. By 1970 Sun Signs was on the best-seller lists, she and Sam had split, and she was deep into a new circle of friends and concerns on the outer limits of theology.

The 10-room Victorian house where she has lived in utmost simplicity since moving to Cripple Creek remains an open classroom on vegetarianism, reincarnation and metaphysics. It is also HQ for the religion she started with her lover Brewer called “Mannitou,” an odd blend of Franciscan and American Indian teachings. Mannitou gets 49 percent of her earnings tax-free; the list of other causes to which she has given money is long, including an environmental group, a plastic surgeon whose work she admires, a plant-life experimenter, husband Sam (“He’s been a rock of Gibraltar”) and the family of a deceased former literary agent, to whom she gives five percent of her net. “I’ve seen her empty her pockets to anyone who asks,” says her accountant, Joel Cohen. Adds a friend: “She’s incredibly naive.”

Goodman’s current literary projects tend to cast further doubt on her credibility—an autobiographical account of reincarnation and a book-in-progress about Howard Hughes, who she claims is alive and living in Alaska. Her dark theories on the case seem equally strange. They involve organized crime and/or the CIA. “I don’t see death in Sally’s chart,” Linda says, “but shock, amnesia, seclusion and a convent. I’ve heard the government hides lots of witnesses.” Grasping at straws, she also suggests that her troubles may be rooted in the fight with her first publisher. Improbably, she claims that a now-dead Chicago mobster threatened her into signing a contract that gave the publisher half of her future royalties. “I’m not sure what motivates Linda,” says her lawyer, Arthur Klebanoff, who arranged to buy her out of that agreement for $250,000. “The intensity of her concern makes it clear that she felt she was being forced to act under duress.”

Finally, Professor Neff concedes that some of his conclusions are still questionable. Certain discrepancies, he admits, “could be just sloppy police reporting,” and the witness to Sally’s presence in Boston has yet to be examined. Neff, who is trying to sell a manuscript contending that John Wilkes Booth actually escaped the barn fire after assassinating Lincoln, sums up: “We have lots of leads, but not enough solid evidence.”

The retired New York detective, Al Desmond, who investigated Sally’s death insists there isn’t any evidence to find. “There was a rambling suicide note,” Desmond recalls. “The father identified her. Then 10 days later the mother comes to town saying—hold your hat—she dreamed her daughter was still alive. She was very domineering, so Sam changed his mind. But we exhausted everything.”

Still, even Desmond wishes there had been more positive identification of the body, if only to account for differences between the police and autopsy reports and the facts about Sally that have come to light since. Even Linda Goodman admits, “It’s all very confusing—like the Mad Hatter’s tea party.”

Her curious profession may hold some key to her faith that she is right. A well-known astrologer on the East Coast, provided (by PEOPLE) with the date and place of Linda’s birth (West Parkersburg, Va., April 9, 1925) but not with her identity, describes “an Aries who has a tendency to spin dreams. She is not a liar—she just dramatizes things. She tries to make her fantasies come true.” Indirectly, Goodman’s explanation seems to agree. “I admit that to be an astrologer you live a great deal in the imagination,” she says. “But about Sally I’m like any distraught mother. I just want my daughter back.”

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