Three years into the investigation of a horrific homicide case, a suburban home invasion murder of a wife and mother and point-blank shootings of her infant, husband, and father-in-law, the prosecutor slowly realizes that he and the police have been totally wrong about one of his capital murder defendants and reverses course.
Until Proven Innocent was originally published by Avon Books.
Story seen on the series True Convictions on Investigative Discovery, in January 2018.
The Miami Herald:
"[Brian] Cavanagh called on his father for help. Three decades ago, as a New York City detective, Thomas Cavanagh became famous clearing a man accused of a Manhattan murder. His work led to the original Kojak TV movie and subsequent series.
Thomas Cavanagh built a reputation for cracking tough cases. He continued to track down elusive killers even after he retired and moved to South Florida. More than 15 years after he retired, Cavanagh used his legendary skills to help find a man who murdered a Davie woman during a home-invasion robbery.
Working together to crack a Davie murder case, the real-life Kojak and his prosecutor son..."
REAL-LIFE KOJAK CATCHES A KILLER
He quits retirement to free innocent man
"A former New York City cop whose exploits inspired TV's Kojak has come out of retirement to solve a baffling murder mystery.
Super-sleuth Thomas Cavanagh, 79, cleared the prime suspect in the case -- and fingered the real suspect.
Cavanagh was sunning himself by the pool at his Florida home when his son Brian, a prosecutor in Fort Lauderdale, called.
"Dad, I have a problem with this case," Brian said. "What should I do?"
PHOTOGRAPHS INCLUDED IN FRONT. CLICK "LOOK INSIDE"
UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT
A TRUE STORY
Breathless, a woman's call to 911 interrupted a quiet night in the horse country suburbs:
"I'm stabbed to death. Please!"
Did somebody stab you? asked the operator.
"Yes! And my husband, my baby!"
Within minutes, officers arrived at her remote ranch house but didn't know whether an assailant was still present. Announcing themselves, they got no response, then entered anyway, guns drawn, and began a dangerous, tense search, room by room. Then they heard a baby's scream. Although the house wasn't yet fully cleared, they followed the wailing to the master bedroom where they found, tied and gagged, her husband and elderly father-in-law. They and their 18-month-old all had been shot point-blank in the head--but were still alive.
Shocked, the officers called out to bring in paramedics, who had to crawl through the living room because the house still had not been completely cleared. Hurrying, and contrary to usual procedures, the officers spread out. One found a locked closet door; four officers gathered, and with guns ready, one of them kicked it in. Behind it they found their 911 caller--still holding the phone. "Oh, shit," said the kicker.
In the history of Davie, Florida, there had never been such a savage and sociopathic crime, and police and homicide prosecutor Brian Cavanagh were determined to resolve it. For three years, they had two suspects under surveillance, then arrest. Both faced the death penalty. But as the legal case progressed, Cavanagh began to doubt that the defendants were partners. Possibly one had been a victim of the other, as well.
In 1963, Cavanagh's dad, Tom, a Manhattan lieutenant of detectives, had a famous case called the "Career Girls Murder," two women in their twenties found horribly mutilated in their Upper East Side apartment. The newspapers played the story big, a random killer on the loose, meanwhile Tom and his precinct detectives had been unable to solve it.
Months after the murder, Brooklyn detectives declared the case solved; they'd taken a signed confession from a man with a low IQ. Their additional proof was a photo in his wallet; it was of one of the girls he killed, he said. The man quickly recanted, although that didn't much matter to the Brooklyn detectives.
As soon as he heard some of the details of the confession, Tom disbelieved it; the man didn't fit the profile. Needing to work quietly under the most difficult of circumstances, Tom sent out his own detectives to do the impossible: identify the girl in the picture. It had been taken in some sort of park setting. They first showed it to botanists, who recognized the type of trees in the background and where they grew. From that they could guess at where the park was. Targeting nearby high schools, the detectives then showed the photo to teachers to see if any could recognize the girl.
One did. When they found the girl, she asked, "Where did you get that?"
After all that impossibly good work, Tom and his detectives caught a break and found the real killer of the Career Girls. Until then, Tom said, he hadn't believed that police could make such mistakes. Afterward, as a result, New York State outlawed the death penalty. As well, this remarkable story inspired a TV movie and series starring a character playing Cavanagh's role. His name was Lt. Theo Kojak.
As a child, Brian Cavanagh had watched his dad's anguish throughout that situation. Now, he had a case that was remarkably similar--except that he was potentially on the wrong side. Once his confidence level in the guilt of one of his defendants dropped to a level of precarious uncertainty, Brian was in no-man's land. He couldn't continue with a prosecution he no longer believed in, nor could he easily admit he'd been wrong for so long. While his dad was still around to watch, Brian approached his own moment of courage. Could he prove that he was the equal of his father?
In addition to Until Proven Innocent...
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?
FLOWERS FOR MRS. LUSKIN begins with a flower delivery to the best house in the best part of Hollywood, Florida. Inside, Marie Luskin was cautious; her husband Paul used to send her flowers but those days had ended more than a year before when she filed for divorce. She thought it was safe to open the door just enough to accept the pot of azaleas.
She was wrong. The delivery was a ruse; the man pointed a gun at her and demanded her money and jewelry. When he left, she fell to the floor, bloodied, thinking he'd hit her with the gun.
Over 40 years, Paul's family had built a business called Luskin's from one store in Baltimore into a chain of consumer electronics stores in Florida. Coming of age, Paul was taking it over, to run. He'd already made his first million, and he and Marie were living a life their friends admired. But between them all was not well. Then Paul's high school girlfriend moved to town with her husband, and sparks rekindled. When Marie discovered it she threw Paul out of the house. For a moment it looked like they would reunite. She asked Paul to move back in at the end of the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest sale day of the year. But that was a ruse, too. That day at the store, her attorneys served him the divorce.
Marie's attorneys were aggressive. Accusing Paul's parents of shielding his assets, they asked the judge for everything he--and his parents--had. A year later, it looked like Marie would get it all.
The divorce was overwhelming and compound stress. Three times Marie had him arrested for not paying his very high support payments exactly on time; the judge had frozen his assets, and his dad had asked him to leave his high-paying job because he couldn't concentrate both on it and the divorce. Marie's attorneys wanted Paul's mom to testify for days about the business's finances, but because she had a blood clot that stress could loosen and become lethal, Paul's family asked them to lay off her. They refused. Not long after came the flower delivery.
The Feds indicted Paul for attempted murder-for-hire. They told the jury:
A Luskin's employee called his brother in Baltimore who was a mob guy, who got someone to come to Hollywood to kill Marie. Although she thought the gunman hit her with the gun, he really shot her--his bullet grazed her head. Paul was convicted and sentenced to prison for 35 years.
In prison, Paul married his high school girlfriend. To me, they protested so insistently that there was no murder-for-hire that it seemed something was truly wrong. I eventually found there had been a murder plot--but the real question was, who had asked the Luskin's employee to call his brother in Baltimore?
Testimony said "Mr. Luskin" ordered the murder; the prosecutor naturally assumed that meant Paul. But there was a better case that "Mr. Luskin" was Paul's dad. As a result of his son's divorce he lost his whole business, owed Marie $11 million he didn't have and was facing jail for contempt of court for not paying her, and so had to leave the country.
At the story's turning point, "Mr. Luskin" had to choose between two untenable outcomes: the death of the elder Mrs. Luskin or the younger. But prosecutors also were forced to make a tragic choice. Without certainty of which "Mr. Luskin" it was, did they choose the wrong one?
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.
If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment.
The 57 Bus is Dashka Slater's true account of the case that garnered international attention and thrust both teenagers into the spotlight.
A feature film, SPEED KILLS, starring John Travolta, based on my book, will premiere in Fall 2018.
Watch the trailer:
The most famous speedboat racer, the creator of the famous Cigarette fast boats, the boat of choice for drug smugglers, is murdered in Miami in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses. The case takes police ten years to solve -- and leaves questions to whether they got it right.Speed Kills was originally published by Avon Books.
"Ocean racing superstar Don Aronow loved it when writers called him a living legend. His life of adventure is well known. It is his death that baffles police.
"He was afraid of nothing, no one. In his final hour, when a stranger spoke to him in riddles and talked about killing, Aronow laughed. He felt no fear, until he lowered the window of his white Mercedes and looked death in the face. And then it was too late."
-- Edna Buchanan in The Miami Herald
Bordering a canal leading to Biscayne Bay, a short dead-end stretch of Northeast 188th Street in Miami was the crossroad of the Americas in the mid-1980s for the biggest drug smugglers into the U.S.; the guys who ripped off the drug smugglers; the biggest South American drug suppliers; competing federal agencies investigating major drug trafficking and money laundering; the CIA, covertly advancing the Contra war against Central American land reform (which they called Cuban-sponsored communism); some of the highest national politicians in the country--and what attracted them all there, the most famous fast-boat companies in the world.
On that splashy boulevard of (wet) dreams factories built marine magazine-ad ultra-sleek gleaming speedboats ostensibly for racers, royalty to show off on the Côte d'Azur, and wealthy divorced or divorcing middle-age overweight men to pick up South Florida's sun-soaked hot chicks in string bikinis (while the rest of us unwashed wondered how they did it), but the boat builders' real business was fueling an arms race between smugglers, who purchased them for cash, and Drug War feds to catch smugglers.
The storied creator of the quantum-leap faster Cigarette boat, against which all other "penis" boats were measured, as well as a two-time powerboat racing world champion and the personification of a sport in which people crazily risked their lives and bodies to win--not to mention a wicked ladies' man to boot, Don Aronow was shot and killed in broad daylight in front of his factory in 1987. Police found they didn't just have a murder mystery--they had Murder on the Orient Express.
FEBRUARY 3, 1987
USA Racing Team, Miami, Florida
Someone entered the front door and walked in front of salesman Jerry Engelman's desk. He asked to speak with Don Aronow, then looked right at him without recognizing him.
"What do you want?" Aronow said.
"I've been trying to get ahold of you," the man said. He said he worked for a very rich man, with an Italian surname, who wanted to make an appointment to buy a boat.
"I never heard of him," Aronow answered.
Engelman could tell something else was happening, and he thought Aronow was trying to find out what.
Then the conversation got weird. He was proud of his boss, he said. "He picked me up off the street when I was sixteen and took care of me. I'd even kill for my boss."
For the moment, none of the observers thought anything more of it. Minutes later, Aronow drove his new 1987 white Mercedes 560 sports coupe across the street, found Mike Britton, a marine supplier, and asked if he could help him at his new house.
Driving out of his parking space forward, with Aronow behind him, Britton saw a dark Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows, about ten yards away, facing east as Britton was about to head west. The driver's window was down, and Britton could see the driver looking at him.
At their closest, when they passed, they were just a few feet apart, keeping eye contact the entire time. Then Britton drove on, about fifty yards.
Then he heard gunshots.
Britton finished parking his truck, then raced back toward Aronow. In a hurry, the Lincoln passed him, going west. It had turned around.
By the time Britton got to the car, he found Aronow's driver's side window down, the automatic transmission in neutral, and Aronow's foot pressed against the accelerator like a rock, forcing the engine to rev at its most shrill. Apparently, Aronow had stopped to kibitz with his killer.
Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace's deeper, darker purpose, Alex's actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that's hidden from the eyes of the world.
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.