HELEN BRANCH LEFT BEHIND A HUGE FORTUNE—AND A MYSTERY THAT WOULD HAUNT THE NATION FOR YEARS TO COME.
A coal-miner's daughter, she was a beautiful hat-check girl who snagged a millionaire . . . only to become an eccentric, pet-loving widow who, one day, disappeared without a trace.
WAS SHE A VICTIM OF "THE GALLOPING GIGOLO?"
Richard Bailey was an admitted swindler who spent years persuading rich women to invest in bum horses…even though he claims not to have harmed Helen Branch. Other suspects included a champion rider and an Olympic hopeful—each with dangerous connections to wealthy horsemen, and both with cold-blooded schemes to achieve their mission.
ONE MAN IS DEAD-SET ON FINDING OUT.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Miller launched an investigation into Helen Branch's death, he went from the polo grounds of Palm Beach to the lavish horse farms of Connecticut to Kentucky's thoroughbred stables in search of answers. What he learned would cast a dark shadow on one of America's favorite pastimes. . . .
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The Money, the Brach Heiress, the Horse Murders
By Ken Englade
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1996 Ken Englade
All rights reserved.
"Murder by Mail Fraud"
Early December 1989
Gingerly gripping the bag from Berghoff's, the popular German restaurant adjacent to the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago's South Loop, in his left hand, Steve Miller set about the tedious task of clearing a space in the center of his cluttered desk.
He made a start by transferring a stack of yellow legal pads that contained his trial notes to a corner already occupied by interoffice memos and a pile of pink "return this call" reminders from his secretary, then enlarged the opening by balancing a speakerphone on top of a three-inch-tall stack of investigators' reports. Finally, he had his makeshift table.
"All right," he said, eagerly opening the sack. Hungrily unwrapping the still-warm grilled halibut sandwich, he looked around to make sure the others had found a place to sit amid the mounds of paper stacked haphazardly around his cramped fourth-floor office.
Jimmy Delorto, the wiry, grizzled investigator from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), juggled his turkey sandwich in one hand while shifting a heap of "dailies," the quickly typed transcripts from the current trial, from the seat of a straight-backed wooden chair to the floor. David Hamm, a beefy Illinois State Police sleuth, had cleared a spot on the sagging couch and was already digging into his corned beef, ignoring the fact that it wouldn't hurt him to trim some of the flab that bulged over his belt.
"Everybody comfortable?" the host asked companionably, popping the tab on a diet root beer. Without waiting for confirmation, he bit the end off his pickle slice.
Miller's dark eyes were rimmed in black, a seemingly perpetual condition for the hard-charging thirty-four-year-old government lawyer who needed long hours and a fresh challenge like caffeine addicts need coffee.
It had been a long, twisting road for Miller since he finished high school in Evanston, a well-to-do northern suburb of Chicago. Shunning the local college — Northwestern — he had enrolled at Washington University, in St. Louis, and quickly fell into the counterculture lifestyle, letting his hair grow long and stringy, growing a scraggly beard, demonstrating against the lingering war in Vietnam, and espousing every liberal cause that came along. Then, after graduating from WU's law school, he did an abrupt about-face, starting work immediately after graduation as a financial specialist in the civil-law division of the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago. Tossing out his grungy jeans and clipping his receding dark hair, he took up three-piece suits, polished wing tips, and more conservative views.
That had been in the late seventies. Now, in the late eighties, he had accomplished another, although slightly less radical, transformation. Some ten years after receiving his first paycheck as a government lawyer, he decided he was bored with the civil process and asked to be transferred to the criminal-law division. Almost immediately, he wondered if the choice had been a wise one; his first case was a real lulu.
Essentially, it was an unsolved murder involving a former policeman named Thomas York. In 1978, York's wife had been murdered. No one was ever charged and York collected on her insurance policy. Three years later, York's partner in a suburban bar, an unfortunate woman named Gail Maher, was killed in an explosion that demolished the establishment. It looked as if York was going to collect on the insurance and walk away, since investigators had found no direct evidence tying the onetime cop to the murder.
Faced with a puzzle that local investigators had been unable to solve, Miller went at it from a different angle. Since murder, except in very special circumstances, was not a crime in the federal system, Miller donned his financial-expert hat and approached the case as if it was an economic crime. Zeroing in on the insurance claim, which Miller was certain had been falsified, the prosecutor convinced a grand jury to issue an indictment against York for swindling. Because the former cop had used the postal service to file the claim, the charge was mail fraud. But since the issue at York's trial would actually be the murder of Gail Maher, Miller dubbed his strategy his "murder by mail fraud" plan. It was an imaginative and innovative approach. And it paid off. York was convicted and sentenced to forty years in prison.
Even while the York case was wending its way through the system, another similar case landed on Miller's desk. This time, the murder victim had been a man, a multimillionaire German immigrant named Werner Hartmann, who had been blasted with an automatic weapon when he stepped out of the shower in his home on June 9, 1982. Police suspected his widow, a sexy former stripper, had been involved in his death, but she had a good alibi: She had been out partying with her husband's daughter by a previous marriage when the incident occurred. The two of them found the body when they returned home at dawn.
Operating on the assumption that the motive was three-quarters of a million dollars in insurance money, Miller discovered that Hartmann's signature had been forged on the policy in which his widow was named beneficiary. Harking back to his strategy in the York case, Miller won indictments against the widow, Debra, a former lover, and one of his friends for lying to the insurance company, again the "murder by mail fraud" strategy. On the day he sat down to lunch in his office with Delorto and Hamm, the Hartmann trial had been going on for about a week.
"How do you think it's going?" Hamm asked around a mouthful of corned beef.
Miller nodded his head and swallowed. "We got 'em," he said confidently. "No question in my mind."
"That's good to hear," interjected Delorto, who also had been involved in the York investigation. "We're on a roll."
"Damn right," Miller agreed enthusiastically. "Let's get 'em while the going's good." Flinging the empty bag into the wastebasket, Miller leaned back, put his feet on the desk, and glanced from one man to the other. "Anybody have any ideas on what we're going to do next?" he asked, quickly adding, "Since this one's all but over, that is."
Hamm grinned broadly, his florid face breaking into a hundred small wrinkles.
"I'd like to see you prosecute Richard Bailey," Hamm said, reaching for his soda.
Both Miller and Delorto looked curiously at the state police officer.
"Who's Richard Bailey?" Delorto asked.
"And what did he do?" added Miller.
"He scammed a woman out of fifty thousand dollars," Hamm replied, settling back on the couch.
Both men waited for him to continue. When he did not, Miller looked at him sharply. "That's lit?" he asked. "He cheated a woman? Fifty thousand isn't really big-time," the prosecutor pointed out. "This is a major crime unit and I don't really think it's worth our time. But," he added solicitously, "if you want to get this guy, I can help you find the right prosecutor."
"Just a second," said Hamm, obviously enjoying himself. "I haven't finished."
"Well, go ahead," said Miller, sipping his root beer.
"Bailey's a con man. He's cheated a number of women. Maybe even Helen Brach."
Miller's feet came off his desk. "Helen Brach, huh?" he asked, his interest rising.
He had still been in law school when Helen Brach disappeared, but, like everyone in Chicago over thirty, he knew the bare essentials. The heiress to the Brach candy fortune had mysteriously vanished in 1977. Despite thousands of manhours invested in the investigation, no one had ever been charged in connection with the incident, which obviously, after almost thirteen years, had to be viewed as a kidnapping and murder. Some of the best investigators and prosecutors in the country had worked the case, but no one had ever gotten enough solid information to take to a grand jury. Miller knew that if he could break the Brach case open, his future would be assured: He could write his own ticket just about wherever he wanted to go in Chicago, whether it was in law or politics.
"But why this guy — what's his name? Bailey? What's his background?" Miller asked.
"Basically," replied Hamm, "he's a con man. He used to run a driving school — you know, one of those places where they teach you how to drive a car — in St. Louis, until his license got revoked."
"What did he do?" asked Delorto.
"He had a lot of women clients," Hamm explained. "A lot of women who spent a lot of money, except they never learned how to drive."
"Is that it?" Delorto wanted to know.
"No," said Hamm. "He also was involved in the horse business in Chicago, reportedly cheating a lot of ladies who ended up buying expensive animals whether they wanted them or not."
Miller had been listening carefully. Hamm's phrase "a lot of women" had rung his bell; he could hardly contain his excitement. In a flash, like being struck by the proverbial lightning bolt, the idea had come to him. "That's it!" he said loudly, jumping to his feet.
Hamm and Delorto stared at him. "What's it?" Delorto asked.
"Yeah," Hamm echoed. "What in hell are you talking about?"
"A possible way to prosecute Bailey," Miller said. "Forget the fifty-thousand-dollar fraud. If we can put a case together, we may be able to use RICO."
Hamm and Delorto looked at him blankly.
Drawing boxes and little circles with connecting lines and arrows, Miller explained how they might get at Bailey. RICO was an acronym for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a comprehensive law that allows federal attorneys to get beyond the mechanics of a single incident of illegal activity. Passed by Congress in the 1970s to help prosecutors win convictions against organized crime figures, RICO permits a prosecutor to bring before a jury evidence of a number of crimes under a single charge if it can be shown that the crimes constitute a demonstrable pattern of criminal behavior.
"Sounds pretty good to me," Delorto said.
"Wait," said Miller. "Let me finish. It isn't that simple. A number of criteria needs to be met before RICO can apply."
"Like what?" asked Hamm.
"First," said Miller, "there have to be several people involved, like a gang. And they can't just commit one crime; they have to commit a series of crimes that are more or less related. That's the pattern. And it has to continue for an extended period of time."
"Like when Bailey was running the stable?" Delorto asked. "But that was a long time ago, wasn't it? Surely the statute of limitations has run out on that?"
"Yeah," said Miller, "but if we can find a recent incident that helps form the pattern, we can go back and bring out the others, even if they are too old to be tried on their own. We have to know if Bailey is involved in what's called 'an ongoing fraud.' If we can show that Bailey and others," he said, "are perpetrating an ongoing fraud and have done the same thing before, then we can go back and bring in other things."
As Miller outlined the particulars of RICO, Hamm also grew more excited. "I think," he said slowly, "that you need to know about Barbara Morris."
Miller put down his pen and folded his hands on the desktop. "Who?" he asked carefully.
Hamm flashed a Cheshire cat — like grin, then launched into a fascinating tale.CHAPTER 2
An Elaborate Con
Barbara Morris studied the front page of the Pioneer Press, searching for something to catch her attention. Yawning, she flipped quickly through the sports section and landed on the features page. That took two minutes. Offhandedly, she turned to the classifieds and her eyes lit on the "Personals" column. Figuring that might be interesting, she scanned the small type. When she got to the one that began "I have a beautiful farm with horses ..." she stopped and read it closely.
The carefully crafted piece of self-promotion described the writer as "a handsome, fun-loving Leo" who lived in an exurban Eden complete with "horses, llamas, ducks, geese, peacocks & a German Shepherd dog." Among his favorite things, the writer said, were sports, the theater, cooking, and fine restaurants. What was missing from his life was someone with whom he could establish a long-term relationship. "If you are young, slim, trim, classy and a smart lady," he concluded, "please call."
Morris smiled wryly to herself. A striking-looking woman with angular features and a fashion model's figure, Morris figured if her husband were still alive, he would have considered the ad hilarious. What woman, he would have joked, would possibly be gullible enough to fall for a line like that? A Leo he would have said, chuckling. Singles bars. "What's your sign? Do you come here often?" But that was earlier. Now she was a widow with an empty seat across the table and an otherwise-empty bed every night, and she looked at things from a different perspective. What the hell, she figured, reaching for the phone. What did she have to lose?
Morris had been in her mid-forties when her husband died of cancer almost two years before, in 1987. A pilot for United Airlines and a commodities broker on the side, he had been wise about money and made sure that she was left financially secure — not filthy rich, but with enough to keep her more than comfortable.
She lived in an expensively furnished, well-maintained home in Inverness, a wealthy suburb northwest of Chicago. She drove a nice car and her closets were filled with designer clothes. There was enough in her bank account to allow her to indulge — within reason — her every whim. She also had women friends, her health, and all the time in the world to enjoy herself. What she did not have was male companionship.
When she picked up the Pioneer Press, a Wilmette-based newspaper that circulates throughout the wealthy North Shore area of Chicago, she was lonely to the point of desperation.
To her surprise, the writer of the ad, a man whose name she soon learned was Richard Bailey, was every bit as charming as he claimed.
Sixtyish, with dark curly hair that was turning sexily gray, he possessed an engaging grin that she found particularly attractive. He drove a late-model red Mercedes-Benz convertible and, true to his declaration, he knew all the area's better eateries. While he could more than hold up his end of a conversation, he proved to possess an even rarer trait: He was a good listener. He hung on her every word, only occasionally interjecting innocuous comments.
It was not that he did not have his quirks, however. Although he dressed in expensive, well-tailored clothing, his style was flashy by the standards of Chicago's conservative Gold Coast Establishment. But that, Morris reckoned, along with his occasional rough speech and an ostentatious pinky ring, added rather than subtracted from his appeal.
Bailey pursued Morris with a diligence men of his apparent class and position usually devote to the stock market. He flattered her almost to the point of embarrassment, continuously telling her how beautiful she was and how much he admired her style. Hardly a day went by when he did not send along a little gift: a card, a bouquet, sometimes just a single rose. Within a few weeks, Bailey was professing his love for her and pleading with her to marry him. The result was predictable: She was overwhelmed.
While she felt more than a moderate attraction for this man who had suddenly appeared in her life — he was dashing and exciting, she told herself — she hesitated. Her instincts told her not to move too quickly. When he suggested marriage, she told him she wanted to think about it, wanted to wait awhile so they could get to know each other a little better.
Excerpted from Hot Blood by Ken Englade. Copyright © 1996 Ken Englade. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue - Death of a Thoroughbred,
Part I- In the Beginning,
1 - "Murder by Mail Fraud",
2 - An Elaborate Con,
3 - A Natural-Born Con Man,
4 - Carole Karstenson — Phase One,
5 - Carole Karstenson — Phase Two,
6 - Widening the Scam,
7 - A Whole New World,
8 - Flashback: Silas Jayne,
Part II- The Missing Heiress,
9 - The Road to Riches,
10 - Enter Richard Bailey,
11 - An Eventful Day,
12 - Up in Smoke,
13 - A Mysterious Weekend,
14 - Unanswered Questions,
15 - Stranger and Stranger,
16 - "Burn This!",
17 - Taking the Fifth,
18 - Lurching to a Halt,
Part III- Peeling the Onion,
19 - Piece by Piece,
20 - An Unexpected Turn,
21 - "A Dirty Little Secret",
22 - Horror in the Horse World,
23 - The Missing Piece,
24 - Nearing the End,
25 - Married ... Not Married ... Married,
Part IV- One Con Too Many,
26 - Richard Bailey Goes to Court,
27 - A Question of Motive,
28 - More Damning Testimony,
29 - Bailey Has His Say,
30 - Zeroing In,
31 - Wrapping It Up,
32 - The Judge Speaks,
Part V- The Horse Killers,
33 - With a Whip and a Chair,
34 - The Sandman Sings,
35 - A Battle of Wills,
36 - Open Warfare,
37 - Building a Case,
38 - Defining Inconsistency,
39 - Finishing Touches,
40 - The Final Fence,
Epilogue - Wrapping It Up,
Other St. Martin's books by Ken Englade,
"A VIRTUAL WHO'S WHO OF THE NATION'S EQUESTRIAN INDUSTRY.",
Author's Note — 2006,
Appendix A - An Abbreviated,
Chronology of Events,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Being a fan of tales based in fact, I enjoyed this book. You can tell the writer has years of experience in the crafting of a good story.
While it is well researched true crime reader buffs will not enjoy