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The Murder Hustle: Part II The Trail of a Hustler
How an international manhunt finally brought down John Hawkins, the former Studio 54 party boy who now faces trial in the U.S. for murder one.
In July 1989, six months after Gene Hanson was arrested for insurance fraud, grand theft and murder, I visited him at the Franklin County Correction Center in Columbus, Ohio. A lanky southerner of forty-seven with a shy smile and a droll sense of humor, Hanson didn't have much enthusiasm for talking about his own life; however, he spoke with awe and affection about his best friend and business partner, twenty-six-year-old John Hawkins. "John was a smart boy, but he came from a family" -- Hanson hesitated, groping for a tactful phrase -- "with no polish, no education. But he learned very quickly." Hawkins had told him that he didn't think he would live long -- that he had to make his mark and strike it rich while he was young. "He had wanted to be in the Fortune 500 by the time he was thirty," Hanson said proudly. "If he had had an education, he would have been a genius."
A few weeks later, Hanson called me from prison to discuss the story I was writing ("The Murder Hustle," Vanity Fair, October 1989). "What worries me," he said, "is that this is going to portray John in a bad light." I asked him if he was referring to Hawkins's early career as a hustler. "I don't like that word," he said in a wounded voice. "A lot of young people are pushed into situations where they use what they have in order to survive. Believe me, it's alluring."
In the early hours of April 16, 1988, Dr. Richard Boggs called 911 and reported that a patient of his, a businessman from Columbus, Ohio, named Melvin Eugene Hanson, had just died of a heart attack in Boggs's Glendale, California, office. The police and coroner arrived, collected the body, filed their reports, and in due time closed the case.
In July, Farmers Insurance contacted the police with a routine question: Had they compared the deceased with his driver's-license photograph? In fact, they had not, and the body had been cremated the following day at the direction of Hanson's young partner, executor, and sole beneficiary, John Hawkins, who had flown in from Columbus. But the time the police got around to the inquiry, Farmers had paid out Hansen's $1 million life insurance to Hawkins, who, unbeknownst to them, had already lived many lives -- entrepreneur, playboy, scam artist, Studio 54 bartender, and pricey hustler to the gay jet set. Since childhood, Hawkins has been a dazzler, hopelessly irresistible to virtually everyone with his high-octane charm, drop-dead looks, and lightening-quick street smarts. Few would disagree with his mother's assessment of him: "When John walks into a room, he's so electric that when he leaves you know something is missing."
Two months later, the police realized they had made a terrible mistake. The dead man was not Gene Hanson but Ellis Greene, a retiring bookkeeper from Ohio with an awesome drinking problem. Regrettable for Greene, he had happened to be slaking his thirst at the North Hollywood gay bar where, investigators say, Dr. Boggs and Gene Hanson went fishing to find the right man to "die" in Hanson's place.
Two weeks earlier, Boggs, scouting on his own, had blown it when he lured a computer operator named Barry Pomeroy back to his office. After having talked Pomeroy into a "free EKG," Boggs tried to blast him with a stun gun. Pomeroy successfully fought for his life and later filed a complaint, but the police and the district attorney declined to investigate further, chalking up the incident as a "fag-versus-fag case," according to one cop.
Boggs wasn't taking any chances the second time. Police allege that he recruited Hanson to come to L.A. and help him. After Greene was brought back to Boggs's office, he was suffocated to death. Hours later, Hanson flew to Miami to begin a new life as Wolfgang Von Snowden. Boggs, the father of four and once a pillar of the community and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, resumed his netherworld life of hustlers, addicts and con men when not tending to his crumbling medical practice. In time, the insurance money arrived and was divvied up. John Hawkins threw himself into full-tilt partying. It was, it seemed, the perfect crime.
But by then the police had finally compared a thumbprint of the deceased's with one of Eugene Hanson's and realized they weren't the same. Within a week of cashing the million-dollar insurance check, Hawkins knew that his fantasy caper, the scam of scams, wasn't going to fly. After emptying the bank accounts of Just Sweats, the business he had started with Hanson, he chucked his Mercedes convertible at the Columbus airport and disappeared.
In late August, Just Sweats, the highly successful chain of sweat-clothes stores founded, then plundered by Hanson and Hawkins, filed for bankruptcy. A month later, the state of Ohio charged Hawkins and Hanson with criminal theft. Moreover, back in Los Angeles, a new detective, Sergeant Jon Perkins, had been assigned to clean up the case and redeem the Glendale Police Department. Perkins, thirty-nine, is a pugnacious obsessive who routinely sleeps less than four hours a night. When the police department's budget crunched out business cards for detectives in 1990, Perkins created his own: .22-calibur bullets with his name printed on them. From the start, he immersed himself in the case like a donut in a cup of coffee. He paid calls on Hawkins's friends, business associates, and family members while hammering away at the district attorney's office to get on the ball and file murder charges against the three men. Although Perkins heard numerous titillating stories of Hawkins's sexploits and even scored some photos, for all intents and purposes the trail was cold. "This is a tale of two hustlers," Perkins tells me with characteristic immodesty, "Hawkins and me."
For four months, Hawkins ricocheted around the country, using a slew of aliases. He told a few close friends that he had some short-term problems stemming from having laundered his father's drug money through Just Sweats. (John Hawkins Sr. has a record of drug trafficking and assault, according to the D.E.A., and is currently on the lam, wanted for the sale and trafficking of cocaine.) On at least three occasions, John junior rendezvoused with his adoring mother, forty-six-year-old, four-times-married Jackie Cirian, who is a casino dealer in Las Vegas.
Janie Barton (not her real name), a twenty-four-year-old beauty who works as a topless dancer, remembers meeting Hawkins in September 1988. "I was lying on Venice Beach and being hassled by this guy," says Barton, who epitomizes the Hawkins girlfriend profile -- slender, large-breasted, blonde. Hawkins sauntered over and threw his arms around her, "which totally blew this other guy away." Then he whispered, "Hey, babe, you want to get lucky?" Hawkins took her to the Sunset Marquis Hotel, where he was registered under the name of his old Columbus roommate, Erik De Sando. They stayed in his room for three days, having a "sexual lost weekend" the likes of which Barton, who admittedly has been around the dance floor, says she had never known. Before he left, he bought her an expensive gold bracelet.
Hawkins knew it was time to make tracks out of the country. He went to Toronto, where he leased an apartment and found a surgeon to alter his face, but, as he later told friends, he couldn't go through with it. Perkins isn't surprised. "This boy was not about to fuck with his face," he says. Hawkins settled on a chin implant, which rid him of his soft, dimpled chin, and injections of collagen to enlarge his lips, which he had often complained were too thin. A hopeless Narcissus, Hawkins, who should have been buying himself a new face, had simply enhanced his looks.
Donning an assortment of hats and glasses, he then flew to Saint Thomas, in the Caribbean, where he pursued sailing and women. A man I'll call Tom Wyman, who was vacationing with a friend, later told the police that they were so impressed with Hawkins as an operator that they trailed him everywhere he went. "He was scoring two babes a day!"
Returning to Toronto, Hawkins made a pit stop in Manhattan, where at a branch of the New York Public Library he took out a book on how to get a new ID in America. In early December, he answered a newspaper ad for a roommate in Washington, D.C., and moved in with another young man for two weeks. The man said Hawkins came and went mostly at night, and rented a mail drop nearby. On December 22, a passport arrived in the mail. The photo showed Hawkins wearing black-rimmed glasses, his hair slicked back. With a spanking-new identity, he was ready to bolt.
But first he hit Los Angeles, where he hooked up with a prominent movie mogul he had known for ten years. Although they had initially met through hustling, the two had developed a friendship of sorts. In late December, Hawkins contacted a gay escort service in Hollywood well know for servicing an elite clientele. According to George, a prostitute working there at the time, Hawkins said he wanted to turn a trick. Clearly, money wasn't the motive. "I think he just wanted to hustle," George told investigators. The service dispatched him to the mansion of a celebrity fitness coach, where he spent the night.
On December 31, 1988, Hawkins later said, he left the United States because he wanted to start the New Year in a new country. However, his trip did not begin auspiciously. According to one close friend, Hawkins claimed that a hassle with a suspicious customs agent at J.F.K. airport cost him a $100,000 bribe out of his stash.
At the basketball court sandwiched between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a pickup game is almost always in progress. There, in April 1989, Mick van Rijs met a strapping six-footer with long brown hair who dazzled everyone with his zooming hook shots and high-flying jump shots. His name was Bradley Bryant, and he was Canadian. He said he had recently sold his clothing business because he wanted to travel.
"We instantly hit it off," Mick says. It was a lousy time for Mick. Despite his intelligence and fluency in five languages, he didn't know what to do with his life. And nonwithstanding his breathtaking looks and electric-blue eyes, he was awkward and nervous around girls. At twenty-four, he felt like a failure.
Brad managed to infuse him with confidence and goals. The two became inseparable buddies, working out at a health club and hopping around Amsterdam's coffeehouses, where Brad was always quick to pick up the check. At night they cruised the discos. "Brad thinks about girls twenty-four hours a day," says Max, Mick's twenty-three-year-old brother. "He's like a magnet. I have seen him on the beach, where the girls are just mesmerized by him. He would lie down, and one by one they would come over and talk to him."
Mick underwent a miraculous transformation; suddenly he was completely at ease with himself, with his estranged father, even with the opposite sex. "Before I met Brad, I could never have gone over to a girl and talked to her. Brad always said, 'Go on, talk to her, go for it.'" Nor was Brad's appeal limited to Mick. He was like the Pied Piper. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be around Brad. "He has this confident walk about him," says Max, "and this incredible aura that just shines and rubs onto you. Everybody that's with him loves him."
Marco George, a twenty-six-year-old medical-school student, also met Brad on the basketball court in Amsterdam. A slender black man who stands six and a half feet tall, Marco jokes that "Brad may have suffered from satyrism," and he describes him as being "hypersexual." He says, "He was very manipulative -- but we loved him." Then he adds quietly, "We love him."
Within a week of their meeting, Mick sensed that Brad wasn't always on top of the world. After two weeks' time, Brad admitted to Mick that he had some troubles -- in fact, some very big ones. "He told me he was wanted in Belgium for coke or something," recalls Mick. Later, Brad told him that the real story was that his father had had some "Mafia dealings," and that the Feds wanted Brad to testify against his own dad, and therefore he could never return to the States or Canada. He said he wanted a European passport, outside the net of the American authorities and the F.B.I. computer system. "He didn't want to speak about it much, so I didn't push it, says Mick.
Bradley Bryant was, of course, John Hawkins, as American as N.F.L., and the red-hot prey of an international manhunt. Amsterdam, famous for its liberal drug and porn laws, came as close to Nirvana as Hawkins had ever know, with its laid-back live-and-let-live ethos. Since the end of January 1989, Hawkins had been living in an apartment in the bull's-eye center of the city, a stone's throw from the discos and porn shops.
On January 29, 1989, a frazzled Gene Hanson, sporting a new, surgically improved face and wearing fire-engine-red shorts and a canary-yellow T-shirt, had been arrested at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Hanson was traveling under an alias and carrying $14,000 in undeclared cash and numerous IDs, including the murdered Ellis Greene's driver's license. Within a week, Richard Boggs was also arrested. Hanson told me soon after his arrest, "I just wanted to get it over with. It was a relief, actually." His main concern, he said, was for "John, the most extraordinary person I ever met."
He need not have worried. John Hawkins was doing what he does best: living well. By mid-April, he was at the hub of a social crowd that included Mick, two New Zealanders named Heath and John, and a half-dozen pretty blonde Brad groupies. He was even picking up a smattering of Dutch.
Moreover, he had found his bible, a book called P.T. -- A Coherent Plan for a Stress-free, Healthy, and Prosperous Life Without Government Interference, Taxes, or Coercion, by Dr. W.G. Hill. He talked endlessly with Mick about "P.T.," which stood for, among other things, "Perpetual Traveler," and how it defined his destiny. No longer was he simply a con man on the lam; he was living the life that others only dared to dream about.
In September 1989, Hawkins paid $30,000 for a forty-foot red catamaran, which he christened The Stray Cat. "He bought all these sailing books and studied all winter," says Mick. Hawkins believed he could sail the cat across the Atlantic to Brazil. "He wanted to have a child in Brazil so he couldn't be extradited, like Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber," says Mick. "But he wanted to plan it right before going."
One month later, Hawkins set sail to England with his friend John. They landed in Falmouth, which Hawkins decided to make his winter headquarters. Within days he had a local girlfriend. From Falmouth he went frequently to London, laying the groundwork for his new identity. Just in case, he also decided to pursue an Irish passport in Belfast. In libraries, he combed through the obituaries in old newspapers, looking for the death notices of children born the same year he was. After finding several candidates, he applied for birth certificates. At night he hit the pubs and began an intense relationship with a young Irish girl.
In April, Mick joined him in London, where they checked into a cheap hotel near Piccadilly Circus. "The money was gone," according to Mick, who says that Hawkins told him that he had arrived in Amsterdam with less than $150,000 and that it was vanishing quickly. "All these stories about the millions are bullshit. This was definitely a low-budget thing." Mick took Brad to his mother's house in Derby, where his new friend made a very positive impression on Roswitha Lehner. She saw numerous common threads in her son and Brad. "They're both products of lousy fathers," she says, "and they're very hung up about that situation. They had to make it on their own." Though Brad's restless night prowling didn't escape her, she says with a shrug, "sex is like food to him. It's just a release."
In May, Hawkins set sail from Falmouth. One week later he arrived in Gibraltar, then moseyed along the Spanish Gold Coast, stopping in all the chic resort towns. Diana Gruen (not her real name), a twenty-four-year-old Dutch secretary, was vacationing with her younger sister in Benagalbon, outside Malaga. With her Farrah Fawcett blonde coif, pretty blushing face, and liquid brown eyes, Diana was straight out of the Hawkins-girl mold. Having appeared on the beach outside her hotel, he told her how much he loved Amsterdam and how she reminded him of his former Irish girlfriend. Diana remembers Hawkins as a show-off. "He was always wearing shorts and little T-shirts," she says, "always looking in the mirror." Though taken with his charm, Diana resisted his seduction attempts. Realizing that he wasn't going to score, Hawkins sailed off, leaving Diana a mail-drop address for him in Amsterdam.
Hawkins joined up with Mick in Malaga, and the two went touring around the countryside. At night, they would return to the marina and sleep on the boat, which had two double beds and a television and VCR. One night Mick rented The Dead Poets Society, about a schoolteacher who inspires his young students with the verse of English Epicurean poets and their rallying cry, "Carpe diem," Latin for "Seize the day." Hawkins was so thunderstruck by the film that he renamed the boat Carpe Diem.
His exhilaration was short-lived. While drinking with Mick and a group of Americans in Seville, Hawkins was recognized. "One of them, an American shoe designer, was looking at him all the time," remembers Mick. "He knew who he was. Brad freaked out completely and wanted to go to Brazil the next day."
No doubt the shoe designer was a friend of Gene Hanson, who had once been a respected buyer in the shoe business. About two years after meeting Hawkins in 1981, Hanson, who had only recently accepted the fact that he was gay, gave up his $75,000-a-year job and hooked up with the charismatic dynamo. The two were later accused of bilking a company out of large amounts of cash and shoes.
Through contacts in Hollywood, Hawkins beelined into the lucrative escort business and was introduced to the late Steve Rubell, co-owner of Studio 54. Rubell was so smitten with Hawkins that he awarded him the coveted bartending gig at the "back," or "V.I.P.," bar. For almost two years, Hawkins made a small fortune running a drugstore out of the bar, selling pharmaceuticals to the rich and famous. The Quaaludes, Percodans, and Valiums, according to Hawkins, were obtained from an old doctor pal, Richard Boggs. Cocaine, being the Hawkins-family business, came directly from his father and an uncle.
With Rubell as his doting mentor, there was no one Hawkins couldn't meet. Although he said he was engaged to TV soap star Ilanna Hughes, Hawkins continued his double life as a hustler. While a dozen women interviewed for this story refused to believe that Hawkins is gay, an equal number of men laugh at the idea that he isn't. Though the claim of bisexuality is usually a bogus one -- most women who say they're bisexual turn out to be straight, while almost all men who claim they are are actually gay -- Hawkins may be one of the few authentic bisexuals. A dazzling sexual chameleon, he had something for everybody. One Studio 54 bartender says that Hawkins boasted that he could make as much as $5,000 a night. In 1982 he was flown to London by Prince Izzedin bin Saud, who has since died of AIDS, for a week of intense and very lucrative partying.
In 1984, Hanson and Hawkins moved into an apartment near Gramercy Park in New York City that Hanson had rented. Police believe that the two pulled off their first major insurance scam by "robbing" themselves of their rented furniture, then filing a fraudulent insurance claim. The $109,000 settlement paid by the insurance company became the seed money for Just Sweats.
Unnerved by his close encounter in Seville, Hawkins set sail for Tunisia. "All the time we were traveling, he had nightmares," recalls Mick. "I could hear him screaming in the night." Hawkins was particularly jittery after hearing about the new cop, Jon Perkins, from his mother. Every few months, Hawkins managed to make contact with her. Although Perkins had monitored Jackie Cirian's home phone, it was impossible to have her calls at work traced. Hawkins knew that, and called her at the Frontier Hotel several times. He also reached her through one of his former stepfathers.
Perkins was so desperate to nail Hawkins that he turned to Hollywood for help. "Look," he explains, "I didn't have any money, the Feds wouldn't do dick, nobody was helping out, and Hawkins was out there globe-trotting." Even worse, Perkins had no fingerprints, and tracking a fugitive without a set of prints is like going camping without a flashlight.
Perkins first pitched the case to Unsolved Mysteries, which did a segment on it in late 1989. Dozens of tips poured in, but they were nothing compared with the response when America's Most Wanted featured the case on April 29, 1990. Six months later is aired an updated version. "We got over three thousand calls from the shows," says Perkins, "and less than twenty of them were useful."
Although Perkins had hit a dead end hunting for fingerprints, he found and unexpected gold mine in the phone book Hawkins left in his Columbus apartment. Perkins began dialing the numbers at random. After making a dozen calls, he realized that he was talking to some of the biggest honchos in the movie business, and they weren't happy to hear from him. Two of them simply hung up on him. He knew he could get heavy and threaten an arrest, but that wasn't going to give him what he needed. Finally one, a Hollywood talent agent, revealed that he had met and fallen in love with Hawkins -- even paid his tuition at Santa Monica College when Hawkins told him that he wanted to make something of himself. But before the year was up, Hawkins had dropped out.
Perkins got win of a rumor that a popular drug attorney, whom I'll call Larry Hayes, was bragging about having known John Hawkins. Hayes is gay and well known for throwing extravagant parties at his weekend desert home. Perkins got on the horn to Hayes, whom he knew from his narc days. Initially, Hayes stonewalled him. Didn't know anything about Hawkins. Hadn't seen him in years. Didn't know anyone who had. Perkins decided to bluff him. "I told him, 'If you have information about harboring a fugitive, I'll go to the state bar and I'll talk to the superior-court judge downtown, and you'll never work another case,'" Perkins tells me, thoroughly enjoying himself. Hayes immediately folded. "Promise you won't tell anybody?" he begged, then made a conference call to a well-known West Hollywood demimonde character Perkins calls the Black Buddha.
"They're talking about Hawkins," says Perkins, recounting the conversation he eavesdropped on. "'Did you hear he's wanted?' Larry asks him. He knew. 'Well, have you seen him?' And then the Black Buddha says, 'No, but do you know who's as nervous as a whore in church? And who was the last man with him in L.A.?' Hayes says he doesn't know. The Black Buddha coos someone's first name and hangs up. I said to Hayes, 'Who the hell is that?' And he says, 'I can't tell you. I can't.' So I bluff him out again, and finally he tells me, 'He's the biggest man in Hollywood.'"
That night Perkins located the mogul's number in Hawkins's book and called his home. The two hit it off like a cobra and a mongoose; the mogul cursed at Perkins, then slammed the phone down on him. "This was very nasty," says Perkins. "He was the nastiest individual I talked to on this case." Yet after two more insult-riddled phone calls the mogul provided the most invaluable clue of the case.
"He's got vitiligo," he told Perkins. "Viti-what?" Perkins asked. "Vitiligo. It's a skin-pigmentation disease," said the movie mogul, "except it's only on his dick." Bingo. "I had no fingerprints, no dental records," says Perkins. "Here's a guy who's changing his name, changing his looks. But you can't get rid of vitiligo."
Suddenly there was a major identifying feature. Considering the breadth of Hawkins's sexual path, it may have been even more valuable than fingerprints. "I called it 'the palomino dick,'" says Perkins, "until I talked to several girls who said that Hawkins referred to it as Spot. So I was looking for Spot." Immediately, Perkins could separate the quack calls from the real ones. When anyone boasted of having been intimate with Hawkins, Perkins would interrupt and politely ask, "Would you please described his penis for me?"
Off the southwestern coast of Sardinia, the Carpe Diem's engine belt snapped, and Hawkins and Mick were forced to dock at the small island town of Carloforte for repairs. One morning while they were eating breakfast, Hawkins spied a girl with long strawberry-blonde hair wheeling a baby carriage down the street. She was Giusy Agus, who still lived with her family and baby-sat to make extra money. Hawkins sprang from the table and ran over to her. "He went head over heels for her. It just happened," says Mick. "She didn't speak any English, and he didn't speak any Italian." Hawkins forgot about Tunisia and decided to put down roots in Carloforte. "This girl is different-looking from his normal type. She is not so special-looking," says Mick. "But he was really in love with her."
For three months he stayed in Carloforte, learning Italian, studying the boat-chartering business. Several times he flew to London, where he finally became Simon Kaye, with a British passport. He would also visit Belfast and his Irish girlfriend. There he became Glen Donald Hewson, the blue-eyed son of an admiral, who actually died at birth in 1963.
Hawkins decided to leave the Carpe Diem in Oristano, up the coast from Carloforte, and head back to Amsterdam for the winter. There he and Mick stayed first with Marco and his girlfriend, then moved to an empty apartment owned by Mick's father, Hans van Rijs, a producer of television commercials. The relationship between Mick and Hans had always been strained. Mick was nevertheless eager for his father to meet and like his new best friend. He even confided to Hans that Brad had problems. "Mick told us stories," says Hans, an unabashed cynic. "He said, 'Brad can't go back to America, because the police want to question him about his father'...who was wanted by both the Mafia and the F.B.I...A fake story, which in a way sort of made sense."
Hans found Hawkins charming, but says, "You want for kids to get a job, do something. Not hang around all fucking day in bars and discos and smoke yourself silly, then run out every time the sun shines and go to Ibiza." Hans was not amused when Mick lent him a book given to him by Brad on the subject of how to change one's identity and not pay taxes. "Brad was twenty-something and still living in some kind of Captain Hook fantasy world," says Hans. "I don't dislike him. I didn't like him. But girls loved him. My son Mick and Brad were major scorers in this town."
On New Year's Eve, Hawkins had another close call. Strolling through the rowdy crowds with Mick, he bumped into one of his former Just Sweats employees. The young man's eyes lit up. "I know you from somewhere," he called out. "You're John Hawkins!" Panic-stricken, Hawkins "pretended he was just a tourist," recalls Mick, then bolted off down the street. "After that, he locked himself in the house for three weeks and didn't come out."
In July 1990, Richard Boggs was found guilty of first-degree murder. During the penalty phase -- to decide whether he would be sentenced to death or life without parole -- Boggs pulled off a showstopper: He told the jury the Gene Hanson had brought a very drunk Ellis Greene to his office; Boggs said that he had left for a moment, and on his return found Greene dead, and that Hanson had forced him to tell the police that the dead man was Hanson. Hanson achieved his means, Boggs testified, by blackmailing him -- threatening to reveal Boggs's homosexuality, which would destroy his medical practice. Amazingly, Boggs came across well enough with the jury to score life without parole. The jury didn't know, however, that Boggs had tested H.I.V.-positive and was already living with a death sentence. Boggs's attorneys decided not to disclose the information. During his incarceration in the gay section of the L.A. County Jail, known as "the queen tank," Boggs became famous for dispensing not only free medical but also free legal advice. Parlaying his cachet into sexual favors, authorities say, he had numerous liaisons behind bars without informing anyone he was H.I.V.-positive. Currently, at least two of Boggs's inamoratos are threatening to sue Los Angeles County for reckless endangerment. In May, Boggs was transferred to the California state prison at Vacaville, near Sacramento.
On April 30, 1991, Diana Gruen was celebrating Queen's Day at the Palladium, a popular disco in Amsterdam. "I could feel that a man was watching me very intensely," she says. "I didn't recognize him. He said, 'From Spain.' And I said, 'My goodness, it's Bradley.' He looked like a different person. The first time I met him, his hair was blonde and very short. Not it was very long, dark, and curly." Two weeks later he phoned, telling her he was still very crazy about her and imploring her to meet him that night. She couldn't. But he kept calling.
In May, Hawkins, Mick, and two others left Amsterdam on a million-dollar yacht belonging to a Swiss tycoon, who wanted his boat taken to Nice. For ten days, they sailed down the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean. After delivering the yacht to the South of France, Hawkins and Mick flew to Rome, then ferried to Sardinia, where they took the Carpe Diem out of storage.
After prepping the boat, they sailed it down to Carloforte. By then Hawkins knew from his mother that he had been featured on two episodes of America's Most Wanted. He and Mick devised a warning system should there be any trouble. Mick entered into the captain's office to register the boat, and Hawkins stayed outside. "If I came out with my hat turned to the side, he would take off," says Mick.
Hawkins's new grand plan was to make a stash of money by chartering his boat during the summer tourist season, then sail off to Brazil. He told Mick that they should leave by September in order to ensure a safe Atlantic crossing. Mick decided he could make more money by taking a D.J. job on Ibiza and still return by the end of August. Meanwhile, Hawkins had an emotional reunion with Giusy, who told her friends that they were engaged. Days after Mick left, his brother Max arrived. "We made a deal that if I worked on the boat with him, I could stay as long as I liked," says Max.
A week later, Max and Hawkins sailed to Cannigione, on Sardinia's luscious northeastern coast, for more boat repairs. Jean and Terry, an English couple in their fifties, whose schooner was docked next to the Carpe Diem, remember Hawkins well. "He was such a dear," says Jean. "Once his catamaran drifted out, and we gave him a hand bringing it back. He was so, so appreciative. The next day he brought us a boxful of little cakes."
On May 31, 1991, Oprah Winfrey devoted her show to the most famous unsolved cases that had appeared on America's Most Wanted. The Hawkins segment led off the show, with Perkins decked out in a svelte blazer, producing new photos and pithy sound bites. Perkins was feeling pretty good, having finally unearthed a set of Hawkins's fingerprints taken at the age of fourteen, when Hawkins was picked up in Vegas for petty theft.
On July 14, the Oprah special appeared on Dutch television, and Diana Gruen happened to see it. "The first photo they showed, I didn't recognize him, but a strange feeling came over me. Then there were more pictures...I know this person...It's Bradley! I was screaming. I called my sister because she had met him in Spain. She said 'Yes, yes. It's Bradley.'"
Through friends Diana placed calls to the Oprah show in Chicago and America's Most Wanted, and eventually made contact with Perkins. However, all she could tell him was that "Brad was sailing a boat in the Mediterranean."
Hans van Rijs hadn't seen the shown, but he got a call from one of Mick's friends, who was looking for Mick. "He said 'Did you see that program?' He was really nervous." Through his business, Hans arranged to have a tape of the show sent to him. "It's a shock to find out that your kid is with some guy wanted for murder," he tells me over a beer in an Amsterdam pub. Hans made an anonymous phone call to Perkins in California to get the lowdown. "If you can rip off an insurance company of $3 million, be my guest," Hans tells me. "I wouldn't take anybody to the police for that. But this murder rap was a bit much."
Since he was not on very good terms with his sons, Hans didn't know how to get in touch with them. He was on even worse terms with his ex-wife, Roswitha, but he phoned her, telling her he had a special surprise for Max for his birthday. Roswitha knew only that the boys were sailing along the Costa Smeralda of Sardinia. She remembered that their boat was a red catamaran named Carpe Diem.
With his youthful, apple-pie looks, Andy Hogan could be the poster boy for the armed services. Although he is a year younger than Hawkins, he runs the Naval Investigative Service on Sardinia. "I got the word in late July to look for a red catamaran," remembers Hogan. "The thing was that it was peak tourist season, and there had to be at least 100,000 boats up here then." Hogan didn't really think there was a chance in hell, but he gave it a shot. "After work, I would grab this friend of mine, and we would drive around the local ports looking for red catamarans."
On August 1, Hans van Rijs decided to fly down personally, fearing, he says, the possibility of "a crazy SWAT team" leaping on the boat and harming his son. "The last night I wanted was for some father running around tipping the whole operation off," says Hogan, "so I told him that I would meet him." Only hours later, as they were casually cruising down the Cannigione dock, they struck gold. "It was sitting right there at the end of the pier," says Hogan. "Hans saw Max in the binoculars and said to me, 'Yeah, and that's Brad.' Now, it's 1:30 in the afternoon -- siesta time in Italy. I see two carabinieri going into a bar, and with all my bad Italian and their bad English I drag them over to a telephone to speak to my contact, Enzo, to explain what's going on. Meanwhile, Hawkins gets off the boat, and he's walking straight toward us, and I'm scared to death he's going to recognize Hans. So we scatter, and by the time we come back out, Hawkins has disappeared."
Hawkins had made a date with a local girl he had met the day before, and in the minute it took for Hogan and company to find hiding spots, he had jumped into the girl's car and whizzed away.
Meanwhile, a new batch of undercover carabinieri, contacted by Enzo, drove up. Seeing a young, handsome man in the bar, they grabbed him and dragged him into their car. "I was trying to explain that it wasn't the right guy," says Hogan, "but the language barrier was impossible. Hans is now hiding out, because he says he doesn't want Hawkins to know about him. So I go down to the boat and I see Max and I say, 'Look, I'm from the Red Cross, and your dad is trying to get in touch with you.'"
Max, who knew considerably less about Brad than Mick did, sensed nevertheless that something was up. "I saw these guys wearing black leather jackets on a day when it's ninety degrees outside," he tells me. "And then Hogan said, 'Is there a guy named Brad on this boat? When is he coming back?' I said, 'Look, I don't know.' I went to the bar and saw my father, and he said, 'That guy is wanted for murder.' I was in shock."
For the next three hours, Hogan and a half-dozen carabinieri staked out the dock. At five o'clock, Hawkins finally appeared on the pier and started walking back to his boat. Max shouted at him to warn him, but, as he says, "Brad didn't know what was going on. He never expected to be arrested, and he didn't pick up what was happening, because, well, he had just had sex with this girl. So he was feeling good."
The carabinieri jumped him before he got to the boat. "Hawkins started yelling, 'You got the wrong guy, you got the wrong guy,'" says Hogan. "They threw him up against the car and handcuffed him. He struggled a bit but not a whole lot. On the way to the police station, we ran into the carabinieri who have the other guy, the wrong guy, in their backseat. It turns out that the other guy is a friend of Hawkins, and they start chatting. And this German guy is telling us that this was his second false arrest."
At the police station, Hogan discovers that they have another major problem. "I was told that he was going to be Bradley Bryant on a Canadian passport. But guess what: it's an Irish passport in the name of Glen Donald Hewson. Now, the carabinieri are already suspicious, because they've already arrested one wrong guy. So they want a second statement or some kind of proof that we have the right guy."
Suddenly Hans got nervous. He refused to sign a statement identifying Brad as Hawkins, saying he didn't want any further involvement for fear of retribution. "Now Hawkins is old Mr. Charm, being very cooperative, thinking he is going to get out of this, saying, 'You'll find out I'm not the guy you're looking for,'" says Hogan. "That's when I called Interpol and found out about the big white spot on his penis. So the carabiniere decides he's got to check this out for himself. He goes over to Hawkins's cell and tells him that he's got to verify that there've been no injuries stemming from the scuffle during his arrest. He tells him to raise his shirt. Then the carabiniere says to drop his pants -- and that was it. I think Hawkins knew as soon as he did it that he made the big mistake. The white spot on his dick definitely was the clincher. Later the lieutenant wanted verification and went over to his cell and again asked Hawkins to drop his pants. By now Hawkins was smart to it," says Hogan, "and wouldn't do it again."
Within twenty-four hours, Hawkins was a headline hero. The Italian press likened him to everything from Peter Pan to Robin Hood: AMERICAN GIGOLO IN COSTA, THE MYSTERY OF THE YUPPIE ASSASSIN, THE PERFECT CRIME, THE IMPOSSIBLE SCAM, PLAYBOY KILLER. The prison was swamped with girls bearing gifts and flowers. An astonishing number could claim to have been intimate with him; others simply wanted the opportunity.
Within a week, Hawkins was transferred to the Buoncammino Prison in Cagliari, the most dreaded detention facility in Italy. According to a local judge, the architect of the prison was so distraught at having designed such an inhumane fortress that he killed himself. Not only had there never been an escape, but there had never even been an attempt. A forty-foot-high concrete wall encircling the jail makes escape all but impossible. However, on January 1 of this year, Hawkins very nearly managed it. He had initially been placed in a cell with five other men, but after one month he attempted suicide by slashing both wrists. Although he was undoubtedly miserable, a source close to him says, "It was a superficial attempt -- he wanted to get a private cell." Which he did.
Through a close friend of his, whom I'll call Angelo, Hawkins managed to get a file smuggled in. "He went into weight training for two or three months before," says Angelo. In mid-December, Hawkins started filing the bars in his cell window. Two weeks later, he was finished. By tying his bedsheets together, he made a thirty-foot rope. Shortly after midnight on January 1, he removed the bars from his window and lowered himself down the sheet. Still, he was dangling some fifteen feet above the walkway. He jumped and made a smooth landing, but a guard heard the thud as he fell.
Angelo, who was waiting outside for his friend, says, "The plan was that he get over the wall, then run across the street to the ruins of a Roman circus. I heard yelling and a lot of commotion. Then the searchlights came on, and I knew it was over."
Hawkins was dumped into solitary confinement and deprived of all privileges. "He stopped all his exercise and started eating chocolates." He wrote Mick a despondent letter lamenting his gloomy future, especially his lost youth: "I'm more convinced now than ever that a man's best years are twenty-eight to forty. I'll be free when all my youth is gone."
For the next six months, Hawkins busied himself writing a 160-page book of his life, which he smuggled out. When he wasn't writing, he was feasting on psychology books mailed to him by Marco and Roswitha. In solitary confinement, Hawkins finally discovered the life of the mind. One of his favorite books was Scott M. Peck's The Road Less Traveled. Peck's philosophy of "delayed gratification" was epiphanic, a concept whose time had come for Hawkins.
On May 8, Hawkins is brought into court in Cagliari to face the music on his escape attempt. Actually, he's dragged into the courtroom -- his upper body and arms wrapped in a very complicated harness of handcuffs and chains. The courtroom is packed -- standing room only; every flack, hack, and paparazzo is present. Adding to the circus are three photographers and an Italian television crew.
Standing in the back is Marilena Bozzo, a forty-five-year-old woman who has become Hawkins's surrogate mother, visiting him three times a week in jail, bringing him hot meals. She tells me that Hawkins wants to repay his debt to society by teaching sailing to Third World children. Accompanying her are her four grown children, their friends and girlfriends, many of whom palled around with Hawkins. Then there are the girls -- at least a half-dozen, mostly slender, blonde, and doe-eyed -- giggling and twittering, trying to catch an eyeful of the great hunk.
Released from his chains, Hawkins sits next to his lawyer, Bernardo Aste, the F. Lee Bailey of Sardinia, who tells me that he's being paid by Hawkins's mother. Dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved green jersey, Hawkins has a jailhouse pallor, yet he seems strikingly fit and muscular for having spent nearly a year in jail. Most remarkable is his composure. Ignoring the hoopla surrounding him, he locates his friends in the throng and flashes a quick smile to each. They blow kisses back to him.
Hawkins answers all inquiries carefully, politely, and in fairly impressive Italian, rarely conferring with the interpreter provided by the court. "I only tried to escape to get attention to my situation -- to the terrible conditions in the prison," he tells the judge, "not to escape." At another point, he tells the court that his escape attempt was merely an attempt to stall his extradition to America. "I want to do my time in Italy," he says, which surprises no one, and it is not uncommon for felons in Italy to do less than ten years for first-degree murder. Occasionally, he makes a sly joke at the expense of the guards who thwarted his escape, and the courtroom breaks into sympathetic laughter, cheering on their guy, as if this were a Frank Capra movie.
When the judge calls for a twenty-minute break, Aste escorts me through the crowd, out of the courtroom, to a small smoky room filled with carabinieri. Sitting on a bench against the wall is Hawkins. Though he is again handcuffed, he is dexterously eating a croissant and drinking a cup of coffee. As I approach him he immediately says, "I'm not talking to reporters. I have no comment on anything." I suggest we simply chat about the status of his case and what's going on in L.A. He demurs, then asks me about prison conditions in the L.A. County Jail. Choosing his words carefully, he says he's apprehensive of doing time in an American jail because of all the publicity over his sex life. We both know what he's talking about: his fear of being sexually assaulted behind bars in California. Told that he would most likely be given special handling to guarantee his safety, as Gene Hanson has been, because of the notoriety of his case, he shows palpable relief. "I've been publicly castrated in the media," he explains, blaming America's Most Wanted for broadcasting to the world that he had been a hustler and "creating the lie that I identified the body." Suddenly, we are talking about the case.
"I absolutely knew nothing about this murder," he says passionately. "I never saw the body. I never saw the cremation." As the bailiff signals us to return to court, he says, "I have never hurt anybody in my life." Then, locking eyes with me, he says, "And I'm not gay."
Judge Ubaldo Crispo sentences Hawkins to one year for his escape attempt, a moot point, as his extradition process is already in full swing. Despite a passionate appeal by Aste, the Italian Supreme Court rules that Hawkins's extradition to Los Angeles is to proceed as scheduled. It makes only one stipulation. Because Italy has no death penalty, the U.S. State Department had to send a written guarantee that the death penalty will be waived in Hawkins's case.
Following his sentencing, we have another fifteen-minute chat, Hawkins has his story down pat. "I received a phone call from Dr. Boggs the morning after Gene died, and he said to me, 'Look, your name is in my files,' and that I should take care of things. So I went to California and I did what was instructed for me to do in Gene's will. He wanted his ashes spread, etc. No one ever asked me to ID the body. The only proof they have is that I allegedly made two calls to my doctor. The fact that I'm being charged with this crime is just amazing," he says indignantly.
Hawkins says he is eager to talk to his old pal Larry Hayes, the Hollywood drug lawyer. I suggest that he might want to think about a more experienced criminal lawyer, since he's facing a murder-one charge. "I just want to talk to Larry," he says, "because I know I can trust him. I was thinking about that lawyer [prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi] who did the Manson family. He takes cases if he really believes in them. I really need a good lawyer," he says earnestly. "America wants to kill me." Nevertheless, he is able to look far, far down the road. "I don't even want to live in America anyway. After I do my time, I'm leaving, and I'm never going back."
Later that afternoon, I arrive at the Buoncammino Prison to continue our interview. Despite days of stumbling through the Italian bureaucracy, a mind-boggling maze of red tape that makes one understand how Mussolini rose to power, I am told that I still do not have the necessary clearances. While waiting another five hours for final approval from Rome, I chew the fat with the balding warden, who, with a curious obliviousness to the infamy of his own prison, lets loose his outrage about the American justice system, particularly the death penalty. "How can America say it's a civilized country," he demands, "when they have this barbarous death penalty?" Most of his prisoners, he says, are in for either drugs or kidnapping, the big boom crime in Italy. Currently, Hawkins is his most famous prisoner. "He is very lucky to be alive," the warden says, laughing, "very lucky we didn't shoot him when he tried to escape."
When I finally see Hawkins, he is wearing a red tank top and a pair of green shorts. He is decidedly more relaxed. He must know that he doesn't have a prayer of beating the grand-theft and insurance-fraud charges. His obvious concern is the murder rap. "I never saw the body -- never identified it," he insists. "I just went to the mortuary and paid the money [for the cremation]. I gave them the case number, and that was it. I was in that lady's office a grand total of five minutes."
I ask where all the money went -- the million from the insurance company, not to mention the $240,000 he cleaned out of his business accounts. "Well, I didn't have any money when they arrested me," he says with a shrug. "I mean, that's why I was chartering boats. To make a living."
The worst part of becoming a fugitive, he says, was "the hell my mother went through." He angrily denies the published whispers about the unusual closeness between him and his mother, blaming the rumors on Perkins. I tell him that one of his girlfriends told me he said to her that everything he had learned about sex he had learned from his mother. "No. What I told her was that everything I ever learned I learned from my mother. Perkins is so obsessed and crazy he thought that was about sex."
I ask him whether it's true that he paid for this girlfriend to have breast-implant surgery, performed by his mother's boyfriend. "Sure," he says gleefully. "She was in the Columbus stable. Actually, I got them for two girlfriends, and I think it was kind of a good investment."
He says that he delighted in leaving "false trails" to drive Perkins crazy. "He couldn't catch his dick in his zipper," Hawkins cracks. "That's how close he came. If it weren't for America's Most Wanted being shown in Holland, I wouldn't be here today."
Hawkins says that his three years on the lam have caused a tremendous inner sea change. "I don't miss anything about America," he tells me poker-faced. "I used to be a flag-waver and as true-blue as you can imagine. I was brainwashed by America. I didn't even know I was a racist. I used to say to all our customers, 'Thank you for shopping at Just Sweats, and thank God you're American.' Now I'm a socialist. I really believe in socialism."
Clearly, he's not about to discuss any of his earlier scams. Of the shoe caper with Hanson, he says flatly, "The Italians screwed us on that shoe deal." As to the insurance scam with the New York apartment, he shrugs his shoulders innocently and says, "It was Gene Hanson's insurance, and Gene Hanson made the insurance claim."
He says that he left Las Vegas when he was seventeen and drove out to Newport Beach, California, where he found work as a welder. I ask if that's where he hooked up with the gay hustling world. He lashes out in a tirade: "I'm not gay. I'm not bisexual. I only like women. I was engaged to marry Giusy when I was arrested, and if I ever get out of this mess, I would like to come back and marry her." Later he says, "Would you please publish that I'm H.I.V.-negative. It would be a great relief to all my girlfriends. You can't imagine how many girls are upset about that stuff."
I tell him that I've spoken with several gay men, whose names he recognizes. His face falls, and he seems shaken. "[So-and-so] spoke to you?...I can't believe it. Unbelievable. When they call those boys the Velvet Mafia, they're not kidding. They mean Mafia. Those guys don't mess around," he says, shaking his head. "I left that scene as fast as I got into it."
I can see his mind scampering, deciding what and what not to reveal. He says he met the Hollywood jet set through Boggs. "I used to play basketball in Laguna Beach. Boggs had a house there. He used to come and watch basketball games so he could cruise the boys." He describes Boggs as "a really bad guy...evil. You have no idea." Then, quickly covering himself, he adds, "But I had no idea he would kill somebody."
Hawkins claims that Boggs was looking for someone to sell drugs for him, and that he became his drug dealer to the glitter crowd. "Look, I was making six figures before I was nineteen," he says, "and it wasn't from sucking [a well-known producer's] dick for $100 an hour. Why do you think I was at the back bar [at Studio 54]? Who do you think got grass for [a major singing star]?" Yes, he says, he met the rich and famous, but it wasn't because he was hustling. He declares that some of them even became his friends.
He says that he doesn't regret being caught, that it was "the best thing that has ever happened to me. If not, I would never have read any of these books. I've read at least twenty psychology books, and I've looked deeply into myself. I come from a bizarre family. My father's family is really, really sick." He tells me he's worried about the length of his sentence. "Some people can handle this," he says, "I can't. I can't handle doing even five years. I'll escape or I'll die trying."
Halfway through the interview, Hawkins leans forward and says tantalizingly, "Let me ask you this -- let me put another idea into your head: What if there was another person? What if there was a fourth man?" I ask him if he means Cecil Tanner, Hanson's oldest friend, who was the alternative beneficiary on the insurance policy. "No, it wasn't Cecil Tanner. Cecil's as honest as the day is long. But you should think about it...a fourth man."
As I prepare to leave, he pleads what will be his defense. "What would you think if a doctor told you he could get a stiff out of the morgue? Wouldn't you believe him?"
I walk him out to the hall, and we say our good-byes. As I'm leaving, he calls, "Does Mick know?" "Know what?" I ask. "You know," he says, shuffling his feet. "You mean the hustling?" I ask. "Yeah," he says. It's an awkward moment. I try to soft-pedal it. "He knows...but it's OK."
The next day, Mick won permission to see Hawkins. It was only the third time he had seen his friend since his arrest. "He was real worried about me knowing about the gay stuff," Mick tells me. "But I understand how it happened to him. He said he got $2,000 for giving [a major fashion designer] a blowjob. It's not something he's proud of, I'm sure." Mick says he still doesn't believe Hawkins is gay. "I can tell if somebody is looking at me with weird eyes. I was naked on the boat with him sometimes. He would have made a pass at me, right?"
Hawkins also told him that he was "under a lot of pressure to testify against Gene," says Mick, "and he doesn't want to do it. He hates Boggs. He said that Boggs is one of the biggest drug dealers in the United States but that Gene is just a weak person. Supposedly, they told him that they were going to use a corpse from the mortuary. He didn't think they would be killing anybody. I know John is a bit of a con, but he's not a murderer. He said he was betrayed by the other guys."
Jon Perkins isn't buying it. "Number one, he had pulled off insurance frauds before -- the 'stolen furniture,' car crashes that never happened, auto thefts that never happened. He knew very well that this was an insurance fraud that required a dead body. A dead human being."
Perkins insists that it was impossible for Hawkins not to have known that someone was going to be murdered. He cites the "triangulation of phone calls -- daily phone calls," made by Boggs, Hanson, and Hawkins. Among the most damning calls was one Boggs made to Hawkins on April 1, after he had lured Barry Pomeroy to his office. "The plan is set," says Perkins, speculating on what happened. "He tells Hawkins, 'I got a fish.'" Later, after having botched the murder, Boggs calls Hawkins from Denny's Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, where he had dropped Pomeroy off. By then the three were growing desperate to find a body, Perkins claims, knowing that Hanson's million-dollar insurance policy would expire in May. "The clock was ticking," says Perkins.
On April 16, Boggs phoned Hawkins from his office both before and after Ellis Greene was murdered. Additionally, Gene Hanson called Hawkins from his hotel room shortly after the murder and hours before he flew off to Miami. "He hustled everybody else to do his dirty work," says Perkins, "so he could say, 'Hey I was in Ohio. Those guys killed him, not me. I had nothing to do with it.' He is the ultimate hustler."
Mick, Marco, Max, Marilena, and Roswitha all vow they will keep writing to Hawkins. Neither Mick nor Max has spoken to their father since Hawkins's arrest. "When John gets out of jail," says Mick, "I'll think about talking to my father."
In late July, John Hawkins arrived at the Los Angeles County Jail, escorted back from Italy by Jon Perkins. Deputy District Attorney Albert MacKenzie, who's responsible for the case and who tried and convicted Boggs, says Hawkins, if convicted, could go quite a stretch of time -- even life in prison. However, MacKenzie says that he wouldn't be adverse to making a deal with Hawkins in exchange for his testimony against Hanson, who keeps stalling his trial, and also against Boggs, who has filed an appeal. "We'd give it a lot of consideration," says MacKenzie. "He's got some opportunities, but so far we haven't heard from him that he would like to rat on Gene Hanson." MacKenzie says Hawkins has blown his best shot: negotiating a deal while he was a fugitive. "That window is now shut."
I visit Gene Hanson as the Los Angeles County Jail to get his reaction. Three and a half years of confinement have marked him. His hair has almost thinned away, and his face is eerily wan, though he still smiles easily and has his childlike laugh. Hanson rails on about Perkins. "I hold him responsible for Cecil's mother," he snaps. Cecil Tanner's mother had a stroke, which she has yet to recover from, when Perkins insisted on searching her house for Tanner. "He couldn't have waited fifteen minutes for Cecil to come home?" fumes Hanson. He says he was never a personal friend of Richard Boggs; however, he still regards Hawkins as his close friend. "Nothing's changed," he tells me. Finally, I ask him the $64,000 question: How will it feel if Hawkins turns state's evidence? There is a long pause. Hanson glances down at his hands and, choosing his words carefully, says, "I would be unhappy. I would be very disappointed."
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