Alex Constantine - April 26, 2010
1.) Two Bodies, Few Answers in Novack Family Mystery
2.) Mystery letter says Fort Lauderdale police missed woman's murder
3.) The Murder of Ben Novack Jr.: Death of Wealthy Florida Businessman Reveals Bizarre Family Life
As authorities continue to investigate Ben Novack's murder in New York, his mother's death three months earlier in her Fort Lauderdale home becomes a nagging sidelight.
BY JULIE BROWN
Miami Herald | 04.25.10
or 40 years, Bernice Novack lived quietly in her Fort Lauderdale home, amid the treasures of her glamorous past: expensive oil paintings, diamond jewelry, a piano from Frank Sinatra and photos of her with presidents and movie stars.
On April 6, 2009, that charmed life came to a traumatic end. Ben Novack Jr. found his mother sprawled in her utility room, face down on the floor, wearing a nightgown drenched in blood.
The autopsy showed massive skull injuries, broken teeth, a fractured finger and broken jaw. The conclusion: accidental death due to a series of falls.
Initially, Ben Novack Jr. believed it, but then he developed doubts, says his lawyer. Whether he ever reconciled those doubts will never be known. Three months later, the wealthy convention planner was beaten to death in a New York state hotel room, a crime that remains unsolved.
The death of his mother -- who would have been executor of Ben Novack's multimillion-dollar estate -- remains a strange footnote to one of South Florida's more intriguing murder mysteries.
Bernice Novack reigned as queen of the Fontainebleau, dining and dancing with the wealthy and the famous, when the hotel was owned by Ben Novack Sr. After their marriage soured, the flaming redhead, a former model for Salvador Dali, moved into a comfortable home in an upscale golf course community where few neighbors knew about her storybook past.
She performed clerical work for her son's company, Convention Concepts Unlimited. Family and friends said the 87-year-old was in robust health, regularly practiced yoga and drove herself to work every day.
The entire Novack clan -- Ben Jr., his wife Narcy, Bernice, and Narcy Novack's adult daughter, May Abad -- worked at Convention Concepts, which grossed more than $50 million annually. It wasn't a lovefest. Ben and Narcy's relationship was strained, as Ben carried on affairs with a number of women. Narcy and her daughter had a long history of animosity. Ben Jr. was often cold and indifferent to his mother, whom he addressed by her first name.
Bernice didn't care for Narcy, an exotic dancer when Narcy and Ben Jr. met 25 years earlier. Big Fannie Annie, a stripper working in Las Vegas, recalls Narcy -- whom she said danced under the name "Sylvia'' when they worked at the now-defunct Follies International club in Hialeah.
"She was a nice girl. But it was a cutthroat business. She was the kind of girl who counted her money all the time, like 12 times a night,'' she recalled.
Narcy also practiced voodoo and had dolls, said her daughter, May Abad. "When I was younger I just thought of it as a game,'' Abad said. "But as I grew up, I realized it was serious, kind of crazy.''
DEATH OF A MATRIARCH
In the predawn hours of April 6, Rebecca Greene became concerned when she saw the open garage door at Bernice's home across the street. She phoned, but there was no answer. She called Ben Jr., who found his mother's body.
The trail of blood "started inside or near her vehicle and then proceeded into the residence, where she attempted to clean up at the sink,'' theorized Detective Mark Shotwell, a Fort Lauderdale homicide investigator. From the blood, it appeared she entered the bathroom, bled profusely on the floor and in the toilet bowl, returned to the kitchen, then went to the laundry room, where she collapsed, he said in his report.
Nothing was missing from the house and there were no footprints leading away from the blood.
Police believe Bernice fell, intended to drive to get medical attention, thought better of it, returned to the house and died.
Maxine Fiel, Bernice's sister, thinks that's nonsense.
"She was in a nightgown,'' said Fiel. ``My sister would have never gone out in a nightgown. It seemed to me that she was being chased, not that she was falling around the house. There was blood smeared everywhere and her injuries were horrific.''
Ben Jr. told police his mother had taken a spill a week earlier, outside a Bank of America branch in Fort Lauderdale, landing face down on the concrete. She was treated and released at Imperial Point Medical Center, where she demonstrated yoga positions before heading home.
Later, Ben Jr. became concerned that the fall may not have caused his mother's death. He was bothered by a glass of white wine on the kitchen table. My mother never drank white wine, he told police.
He discussed his doubts with Robert Switkes, a Miami Beach attorney he had hired to sue the bank.
"Ben fortified my belief that this couldn't have been an accident,'' said Switkes, who studied all her medical records and the autopsy and police reports.
To this day, Switkes believes Bernice was murdered.
"You just don't get up and fall. The injuries were totally inconsistent with somebody falling,'' he said.
About a week after Ben Jr., 53, was found dead by his wife, police in Miami Springs received a curious letter (for details, see article below). Unsigned, written in Spanish, the letter asserted that both Ben Jr. and his mother had been murdered as part of a plot to get Ben Jr.'s millions. The letter mentioned the wine glass -- and that Ben Jr. had confided his concerns to his lawyer. Neither fact had been made public by police at that time. The letter claimed Narcy Novack and one of her brothers (his name is blacked out by authorities) were involved.
Narcy, through her attorney, declined several requests for comment. She has been named a "person of interest'' in her husband's death. No arrests have been made. The case is now in the hands of the U.S. attorney in New York.
The letter also said Bernice had been stalked before her death. Although it's not certain, that may have been a reference to an incident two months before her death. A neighbor filed a police report describing how he saw two men hiding in the bushes outside Bernice's house. A day later, Bernice filed a report stating someone had hurled a ceramic garden ornament through her window.
The letter went on:
"That night [April 5], they went to her house. The daughter-in-law had keys to the house and had taken the cellular or all communication.'' The writer said the killers "beat her up so bad so that she could not call her son Ben and like that to appear like [the] perfect crime.''
Miami Springs police shared the letter with authorities in New York. They passed it along to Fort Lauderdale, since Bernice's death happened there.
Fort Lauderdale police were unimpressed.
"That letter doesn't prove anything,'' said police spokesman Frank Sousa. He said police chose not to pursue the claims because the letter wasn't signed. Detectives say it could be a red herring meant to cast suspicion on Narcy, who stands to inherit her late husband's wealth -- unless implicated in his death.
"At this point, there is nothing to indicate anything different from our [initial] finding,'' said Sousa. "We've looked at this case on several levels, several times and came to the same finding.''
Broward County Medical Examiner Joshua Perper agreed. He said Bernice's injuries were consistent with "a series of falls.''
Some family members question the thoroughness of the investigation.
Other than from the wine glass, no fingerprints were lifted inside the house or inside Bernice's car, Sousa said. The only prints on the glass were Bernice's. No DNA samples were collected and there is no photograph on file of the wine glass, he said.
Sousa added that three neighbors -- whom he declined to identify -- were interviewed, but there is no record of those interviews. Greene, the next-door neighbor, said she had only a brief discussion with a patrolman, not a detective.
Police did not interview Bernice Novack's handyman, with whom she had spent part of the day before her death, Sousa said.
They did consider Bernice's claim, contained in a 2002 police report, that Narcy tried to poison her. Bernice made the allegation after finding Ben Jr. handcuffed and duct-taped for 24 hours in his Fort Lauderdale home. Ben Jr. said his wife stole money from his safe as several men threatened to kill him. He later declined to prosecute, and police found no evidence to support Bernice's claim.
Fiel believes police put little effort into her sister's case.
"Bernice was in good health,'' Fiel said."`They tried to say she was confused, but she was not. She was driving. She was cleaning alongside her cleaning person. She went to work every day. The letter lays it all out. She was murdered.''
Switkes said Fort Lauderdale police did not reach out to him, although the letter correctly stated that Novack had confided his doubts to his lawyer.
"I did speak to the prosecutor and the lead detective in Rye Brook, N.Y.,'' Switkes said of those looking into Ben Jr.'s murder. "They also felt that something wasn't right about her death. There was a mutual feeling that the facts didn't add up.''
Rye Brook police would not discuss the case.
Crime experts say almost every unexplained death should be investigated initially as if it were a homicide. Otherwise, if evidence later suggests the death is in fact a murder, the failure to document the scene can hamper efforts to build a case. Interviews with friends, neighbors and witnesses are critical early on.
"If you fail to talk to the neighbors and somebody says I saw something, then you have some serious egg on your face,'' said Ramesh Nyberg, a 21-year veteran Miami-Dade homicide investigator, now retired.
"You have to do a little more than you think you need to do.''
He found it telling that Bernice would have been able to stumble around, falling before she died.
"If you go to someone's house to kill them, you finish the job; they wouldn't allow her to stumble around,'' he said.
Investigators ask anyone with information on Bernice Novack's death to call Fort Lauderdale police Detective Mark Shotwell at 954-828-5517. Anyone with information on Ben Novack Jr.'s death should call Rye Brook police at 914-937-0090 or tips@rye brook.org.
Miami Herald researcher Rachael Coleman contributed to this report.
Mystery letter says Fort Lauderdale police missed woman's murder
By Julie Brown | Miami Herald | Jan. 27, 2010
Police in Rye Brook, N.Y., want to speak to the writer of an anonymous letter containing details about the July murder of Fort Lauderdale businessman Ben Novack Jr. -- and allegations that his mother, Bernice Novack, was also murdered as part of the plot.
Calling it "the perfect murder,'' the writer claims that while the information was based on rumors, the writer has no doubt that all of it is true, citing religious beliefs and distress about the viciousness of the alleged crimes.
Although skeptical at first, Rye Brook police said Monday that during the course of their investigation they determined that details in the letter are accurate.
"What we found interesting in the letter is there were names in it at the time we were not aware of, and as we did our own investigation, we found that information to be true.''
The letter, written in Spanish, is dated July 20, 2009 -- a week after Ben Novack's murder and three months after his mother's death. Her death was ruled accidental by Fort Lauderdale police and the Broward County medical examiner.
The letter details names of those involved, how the murders were committed and events leading up to the acts.
Rye Brook police would not confirm anything surrounding Bernice Novack's death, citing the fact that Fort Lauderdale police is in charge of the investigation.
``We had reached out to them with information we received and part of that was the letter,'' Rye Brook police Chief Gregory Austin said.
Fort Lauderdale police have said that tips received from Rye Brook police failed to pan out and the case is closed.
The Miami Herald interviewed several witnesses who claim there was suspicious activity around Bernice Novack's home in the months and weeks before her death. At least one witness said they were not interviewed by Fort Lauderdale police.
The mysterious letter writer claims that Bernice Novack was followed for weeks before her death and that the alleged ``assassins'' beat her up so badly that she could not call her son, Ben.
The killers ``in the form most cruel assassinated the defenseless [Bernice Novack] that they had pursued for months, weeks before they pretended like they had scared her through the windows or doors.''
The writer adds that Bernice Novack's killer laughed at Fort Lauderdale police because they didn't realize Bernice was murdered.
Ben Novack Jr., 53 -- son of the founder of the Fontainebleau hotel -- was found slain in his Rye Brook hotel room on July 12. His wife, Narcy, 54, found his body after she returned from breakfast. The couple had been at the hotel to attend anAmway convention they had organized through their business, Convention Concepts, Unlimited.
Police have said that Narcy Novack is a suspect, and that at least one other person was also involved.
Narcy, who still lives in the couple's home on Del Mar Place in Fort Lauderdale, has maintained her innocence.
"It's astonishing to me that the chief of Rye Brook police would give to the press what he considers a crucial piece of evidence in an ongoing investigation,'' said Narcy Novack's lawyer, Howard Tanner. "It underscores the fact that [the letter] is a worthless document full of rumors and innnuendo.''
But family members -- including her daughter, May Abad -- have said in court documents that they believe she killed her husband to get his multi-million dollar estate. Narcy Novack has accused her daughter of the crime, and Abad has accused her mother.
Bernice Novack, 87, was found face down in her home and died from "several consecutive falls'' in her Fort Lauderdale home, Broward Medical Examiner Joshua Perper ruled. She suffered extensive head injuries after she probably experienced dizziness or confusion and fell several times before she died, Perper said.
The autopsy indicated she had a fractured skull, broken jaw, broken teeth and a broken finger. Toxicology tests also showed that she had a small amount of alcohol and prescription medications in her system, Perper said.
At the time of her death, her son questioned a glass of white wine that was sitting on a table at the house, telling police that his mother never drank white wine. He asked police to test it for fingerprints.
In the letter, the writer claims that the killer placed a glass of white wine on the table after killing her.
The only fingerprints on the glass, according to Fort Lauderdale police spokesman Frank Sousa, were Bernice Novack's. There were no fingerprints taken in the house or on her car, he said.
"This case has been reviewed two separate times by us and the medical examiner. The same conclusions have been reached,'' Sousa said.
The Murder of Ben Novack Jr.: Death of Wealthy Florida Businessman Reveals Bizarre Family Life
Murder Investigation Reveals Tales of Kinky Sex, Catfights and Batman
The discovery of the body of a wealthy Florida businessman and hotel heir has turned out to be only the beginning of what has become a multi-state investigation involving reports of kinky sex, catfights and Batman comic books.
Ben Novack Jr. was found bludgeoned to death last month in Room 453 of the Hilton Rye Brook Hotel in Rye Brook, N.Y., where he had organized a weekend convention for Amway, the direct-selling company.
Novack, 53, who owned Convention Concepts Unlimited of Fort Lauderdale, a planning company, was the son of the hotelier behind Miami Beach's posh Fontainebleau Resorts Hotel.
According to a search warrant, his wife, Narcy Novack, 52, told police that she had left the hotel room they shared around 7 a.m. July 12, but returned 40 minutes later after eating breakfast to find her husband face down, covered in blood, his hands and legs bound by duct tape.
His hands, according to the warrant, which was for Novack's Fort Lauderdale home and was executed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, were taped behind his back and his legs were bound just below the knees. Though several expensive pieces of jewelry remained in the hotel room, a gold bracelet with the letters "B-E-N" spelled out in diamonds seemed to be missing, according to the Rye Brook police.
What followed was not only an investigation that detailed possible deception by Narcy Novack during polygraph tests, but reports of an unorthodox family life.
Two days after Novack's murder, Fort Lauderdale police were called to the Novack's posh Fort Lauderdale home after an altercation between Narcy Novack and her daughter, May Abad, who was living in the house's unattached cottage.
Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. Patrick Hart told ABCNews.com that a report was not filed and that he did not have any details on what sparked the fight, saying only that "it was a simple disturbance ... and the stepdaughter agreed to pack up her stuff and leave."
But the Miami Herald reported that Abad has since challenged Novack's will, which left everything to Narcy Novack. She told the Herald that the fight on July 14 involved her and a niece getting into a slap fight and Narcy Novack hitting her with a crowbar.
When reached by ABCNews.com in Florida, Abad said she was no longer speaking about the entire saga. "I spoke to one and that was it," she said, referring to the Herald's story.
Narcy Novack's lawyer Howard Tanner did not return voicemail or e-mail messages seeking comment but has said previously that his client was not involved in her husband's murder and that she has been cooperative with police.
Police Point to Polygraph for Ben Novack's Wife
The Herald reported that Abad said her stepfather was having an affair, even setting the younger woman up with a place to live, and that Narcy Novack was jealous of the other woman.
Abad also told the Herald that after the murder Narcy Novack "flunked" a polygraph test in New York five times.
While the search warrant doesn't go that far, it noted that Narcy Novack was given a polygraph test by New York State Police the day after her husband's murder and the results "showed indications of deception when questioned pertaining to her knowledge of this homicide."
The search warrant also noted that hotel officials had determined that no keys were used to enter the hotel room between the time Narcy Novack left for breakfast and the time she returned.
Compounding the family feud is the battle over Novack's body. Donna Greene, communications director for Westchester County, said Novack has been kept "on ice, literally and figuratively" since his death, with both Narcy Novack and Abad laying claim to the body.
Greene said Novack's wife and her lawyer "said not to do anything with the body."
Abad, she said, has requested to have the body released into her custody, but because Narcy Novack is next of kin, the county morgue will wait for her instructions before releasing the body to anyone.
The search warrant, signed by a Broward County judge July 16 and executed the same day by an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, was for not only the main residence on the Novacks' property, but the cottage in which Abad was known to stay.
Police, according to the warrant, took several pieces of computer and digital-recording devices as well as paperwork left near the computer, a phone book and day planner, 8 mm video cassette tapes, a Beta tape and five rolls of duct tape found in the garage.
The warrant indicates that computers and hard drives were also taken from an office in the unattached building.
What doesn't appear to be taken is evidence related to a possible motive Narcy Novack told New York police she suspected was behind the killing -- that her husband was murdered in the wake of a contentious comic book sale.
According to the search warrant, Narcy Novack told police that her husband was "a hard person, a strong businessman and has a tendency to make people angry." She also indicated that her husband had enemies.
Murdered Man Reportedly Had History of Kinky Sex, Enthusiasm for Batman
Narcy Novack told police, according to the warrant, that her husband had recently agreed to buy a comic book for $43,000 and, about three weeks before his death, had gotten into an argument with a collector who then showed up at their house to negotiate the deal.
There was a disagreement, according to the warrant, and "Narcy told investigators that she retrieved a 'bag' of cash and provided the money to her husband who in turn gave it to the unknown comic book collector who left the house with the cash."
Among the items listed as potential evidence in the warrant, but apparently not seized, were "any miscellaneous business records of Ben H. Novack Jr. related to 'collectibles' including but not limited to comic books and/or Batman memorabilia."
Narcy Novack was said to be at least somewhat involved in her husband's business affairs, although Abad told the Miami Herald it was she, not her mother, who helped run Convention Concepts Unlimited.
In addition to Novack's supposed affair, the couple were said to have engaged in some otherwise unorthodox marital activities.
According to the search warrant, Fort Lauderdale police were called to the couple's home in June 2002 after Novack said he was the victim of a home invasion and robbery. Novack implicated his wife in planning the home invasion and working with unknown men to disable the alarm system, according to the warrant.
Yet no one was ever charged in the incident. An 18-page police report filed days after the incident detailed a marriage with a history of alleged violence and steamy secrets, according to The Associated Press. The report detailed how the alleged home invasion was part of a sex game.
The report, according to the AP, also included other bizarre details about the Novacks, including Ben Novack's supposed collection of pornography featuring amputees. The AP said the report also references an incident in which Narcy Novack claimed she was taken to a plastic surgeon to repair her nose, which Ben Novack allegedly broke, and woke up with breast implants she hadn't requested.
The report also included police officers' doubts about the Novacks' credibility.
As police on both ends of the Eastern seaboard continue their investigation, the Rye Brook Police Department -- small, with just 28 officers -- has set up a Web site they hope will generate tips.
Also see: "Homeless drifter turns out to be heir to Novack fortune," Palm Beach Post, Jan. 31, 2010