Deep into the then biggest-dollar divorce in the history of Broward County, Florida, in which she’s winning everything so far, Mrs. Luskin gets an unexpected flower delivery of cheap azaleas at the mansion she’d kicked her husband out of after he’d had an affair with his high-school girlfriend. Behind the pastel pistils comes a gleaming silver pistol. The man screams it’s a robbery, he just wants her money. She tells police that he hit her in the head with the gun, but federal prosecutors later insist she was shot and grazed by a bullet, although no bullet was ever found and the room was mirrored on four sides. On that hinges the husband’s conviction for attempted murder-for-hire conspiracy. He goes to prison for 15 years and marries his high-school girlfriend, but was he guilty? It turns out that the prosecutors at trial had held back evidence proving their star witness had crucially lied. But were prosecutors otherwise basically right, only that someone else who they hadn’t charged -- not the husband -- was behind it all?
Flowers for Mrs. Luskin was originally published by Avon Books.
Story appeared as the cover story of newspaper magazines in The Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, and Orlando Sentinel.
A Millionaire Has An Affair. His Wife Throws Him Out. She Gets The Mansion, The Business, The Cash. His Parents' Business. His Parents' Cash. She Gets Shot And Doesn't Know It. The Bullet Disappears. He Goes To Prison. His Parents Flee The Country. He Weds The Other Woman Behind Bars. Has There Ever Been A Case Like This?
--The Miami Herald
"Flower delivery for Marie Luskin!"
That was a curious surprise. Her husband Paul used to send her flowers all the time, but those days had passed forever. A year and a half before, following Paul's affair with another woman, Marie kicked him out of the house his parents had helped them buy--the biggest house in Emerald Hills, which was the best section of Hollywood, Florida--then filed for divorce.
And what a spectacular divorce. If nastiness could be judged quantitatively, the civil war of the Luskins was the meanest divorce Broward County had ever seen.
"Who is it from?"
"There's no name on the card."
"What florist are you from?"
"Emerald Hills Florist."
Still apprehensive, she cracked open the wooden door just enough to see him. With a sudden incongruous movement, the man stuck his foot in the doorway and thrust the flowers at her with his left hand. As she reached to take them, he stuck a silver pistol in her face.
Marie started shrieking uncontrollably. She tried to run inside, but the man grabbed her, one arm around her neck, grasping for her mouth with his hand. The flower pot fell to the black-and-white marble parquet floor and shattered, pink petals scattering.
"Shut up! Shut up!" he yelled, closing the door behind him. "I'm not going to hurt you. Shut the hell up, stop screaming!"
She finally stopped when his hand formed a gag hard around her mouth, and she realized the gun was at her temple. She couldn't stop looking at the gun, which framed his cruel eyes.
Then the man made an odd demand:
"Give me all your cash! Give me all your cash! Show me where you keep your cash! I'm not going to hurt you, but if you don't cooperate, I'm gonna blow your brains out!"
With the man clenching her long blond hair, the gun to the side of her head, she led him upstairs to a small room where she showed him a hundred-dollar bill.
"Where's all your cash! Give me all your cash!"
"It's in the bank!" she whined. "It's in the bank! This is it. This is all I have at home, I keep all my money in the bank!"
As the crescendo of voices in the Luskin house rose to a climax, exactly what happened next remains in dispute. Marie fell to the floor, a terrible pain in the back of her head. She didn't lose consciousness, but pretended to. Meekly, she opened her eyes and noticed there was blood all over her. She thought she was going to die...
The man had left without taking anything. The issue would become, had she been hit like she thought, or shot? That would seem to be the difference between a robbery and an attempt to kill her that might have descended from her husband.
Doctors found three minuscule pieces of lead in her bloody scalp. If they were fragments from a bullet, could she have been shot without realizing it? Or were they from the gun or whatever it was that hit her, or the decorative metal hair barrette she was wearing that had broken, separating its clip that had been held together by lead-based solder?
Also, if a gun was fired in that small room, where was the rest of the bullet? The police didn't find it. And why hadn't it shattered one of the room's three full-length mirrors?
That would become the story's essential mystery, and the answer would determine whether Paul and his alleged accomplices would go to prison. It must have been a shot, a federal court jury determined, because they convicted all four of attempted murder-for-hire.
Doubting it, true crime author Arthur Jay Harris went on an Odyssey through the heights and depths of Miami and Baltimore.
To the very last page, what he found kept surprising him.
About the author
In addition to Flowers for Mrs. Luskin...
ARTHUR JAY HARRIS IS ALSO THE AUTHOR OF OTHER TRUE CRIME BOOKS:
THE UNSOLVED "MURDER" OF ADAM WALSH
Who killed Adam Walsh (and is he really dead?) The search for the truth behind the crime that launched "America's Most Wanted"
A two-book series (with a separate Single Edition, a condensation of both books)
What if almost everything most everyone thinks about the Adam Walsh case is wrong?
Here is the case's conventional knowledge:
In Summer 1981, drifter Ottis Toole stole Adam from a mall in Florida and killed him, say police and Adam's parents, John and Reve Walsh. Although Jeffrey Dahmer became a suspect and was then living nearby, he couldn't have done it because his M.O. wasn't children as young as Adam, 6.
But ten years of book research shows that most of this case's long-accepted basic facts are dead wrong:
Seven independent witnesses, their names found in police investigative files, identified Dahmer as who they saw at the mall either with or close by to Adam.
There is a problem, never before reported, with the identification of the child who was found and said to be Adam.
After more than 30 years, this case has never come to trial -- and it never will because the case files are inexplicably missing their most essential forensic documents:
A medical examiner identified the found child as Adam strictly by its teeth, but Adam's dental records, which he used for matching and was handled by three official agencies, is gone; there was never any forensic dental report; and worst, there was never even an autopsy report. That, especially, should never happen. As a result, prosecutors will never be able to establish in court that the child who was found is, in fact, Adam Walsh.
And most shockingly, it is extremely unlikely that the found child is Adam.
When the positive ID of the found child as Adam was made, it was done quickly and announced hastily. But photographs and documents recently released in public records show that the found child has a top front tooth grown in almost all the way. That is much too far to match Adam. In his famous "Missing" picture, taken only a month before he vanished, Adam had neither top front tooth. His best friend last saw him a week or two before he disappeared, and he still didn't have them. After that, one front tooth did erupt. When the found child was discovered, Adam had been gone two weeks but the medical examiner said that he (Adam, he said) had been dead probably for all that time. Teeth don't keep growing after death.
In the space of up to two weeks, the time after his friend last saw him and when he disappeared, top front teeth just don't grow that fast, from eruption to in almost all the way.
If that's not Adam, who is it? And could Adam, incredibly, be alive?
SPEED KILLS opens with the stunning daylight murder in 1980s Miami of boat builder, boat racer, and wealthy bon vivant Don Aronow. He invented, raced, built and sold Cigarette boats, the fastest thing on the water. Everyone who worshipped speed and could afford one, wanted one; his clients were royalty, U.S. presidents, CEOs, intelligence services, and--most of all, eventually--dope smugglers. Don took everyone's money and traveled between all those worlds.
You could also see it as Don playing all sides. When the Feds needed faster boats to keep up with the Cigarettes that Don sold to dopers, they came to him. It was sort of the same with his wife and girlfriend (and girlfriend and girlfriend).
How long could anybody get away with that? Confidence men are known as con men; Don wasn't that, but he was a supreme self-confidence man, that is, he was his own victim.
Finally he was cornered. Don's protégé in racing and boatbuilding was also the largest pot smuggler in America. The Feds needed Aronow to testify against him. For leverage, they apparently threatened Don with a tax evasion case. The quintessential free-spirit boat racer could go to prison--or he could risk the wrath of a major criminal organization.
Aronow made his decision. Days later, he was killed.
UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT begins with a night 911 call from a woman gasping her last breaths. When police arrived at the house they found her dead, stabbed, and her husband, infant, and father-in-law all shot point-blank. They would survive.
Minutes later, a man also called 911, a gunman had released him from a robbery at the same house. He said he knew of no violence before he left. Yet he was the only one who the gunman hadn't tried to kill. Police instantly suspected him.
That night and long after, police tried to shake the man, Chuck Panoyan, who insisted he didn't know who the gunman was.
Police guessed right. A tip led them to the gunman, and that led to a trip Panoyan took to see him. Both were arrested, and prosecutor Brian Cavanagh won a death penalty indictment against them both.
But in pretrial, Panoyan's attorneys unraveled Cavanagh's case against their client. No longer certain Panoyan was guilty, Cavanagh reached No Man's Land: his choice was to let the jury sort it out, or admit he was wrong about Panoyan for now three years.
Cavanagh's dad Tom was a retired NYPD lieutenant who'd had a double murder he couldn't solve, then at another precinct a suspect confessed. Tom recognized it had been coerced and quietly asked his detectives if they could prove it wrong. When they did, the case became famous for police integrity. A TV movie renamed Tom's character: Kojak.
Years later, son Brian was at a similar turning point. Like his dad, he would not leave it to a jury to unscramble. He moved to release Chuck Panoyan from jail. But Panoyan had to tell his story: he'd lied to police because the gunman had threatened to kill his family if he spoke up. Once before, the gunman had killed a small child and went to prison.
Who was the only one could make Panoyan comfortable enough to talk? The old man, the real-life Kojak, Tom Cavanagh.