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|The End of the Hustle |
A Harvard-educated neurologist, a courtly southerner, and a Hollywood hustler have all been convicted in a bizarre murder/insurance scam. Their crime was the same, but they had three very different motives.
"Yes, I killed him. I killed him for the money and for a woman. And I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Funny isn't it?" Double Indemnity, 1944
Visitors usually wait about three hours to see an inmate at Los Angeles County's notoriously overcrowded and gang-infested men's jail. Most are teenage girls with artless tattoos on their arms and shoulders and noisy children clutching at their legs. What English is spoken here, is best described as a sub-dialect and is often unintelligible to the uninitiated, and on a recent visit I realized that I was the only person among hundreds who was reading.
It is a curious irony that this Dickensian clearinghouse is where Gene Hanson, a courtly southern businessman, has spent most of the last six years, waiting to go on trial for a crime which 10 years earlier would have been beyond his imagining. He was in visible pain, suffering from a prostate condition, when I visited him in August. "I really shouldn't talk about this with a lady," he said, "but if you could mention something to my attorney about me needing a doctor, I would appreciate it."
Shortly after Hanson's arrest in 1989, I interviewed him in prison in Columbus, Ohio. He chain-smoked throughout our talk, and was reticent to speak about himself, but he was effusive about his young cohort, John Hawkins, whom he had not seen in nearly a year. "John is my partner and close friend. Nothing has changed." When I asked him about Hawkins's existence as a playboy and a hustler, he smiled indulgently. "We all have double lives," he said.
"I made it very clear at the very beginning that I didn't want to do anything that would hurt John," Hanson told me after his trial was concluded. "And why should I?"
In the early hours of April 16, 1988, a Glendale, California doctor named Richard Boggs dialed 911 to report that a patient of his, Melvin Eugene Hanson, a 46-year-old businessman from Columbus, Ohio, had just died of a heart attack in his office. The police and coroner arrived and collected the body. In July, Farmers Insurance contacted the police with a routine question: Had they compare the deceased with his driver's license? They had not, and the body had been cremated the following day at the direction of Hanson's partner and sole beneficiary, John Hawkins. By the time the police responded to the inquiry, Farmers had paid the 25-year-old Hawkins $1 million on one of Hanson's life-insurance policies.
Two months later, investigators realized that they had been fooled. The dead man in Boggs' office was not Melvin Eugene Hanson but Ellis Henry Greene, a 32-year-old bookkeeper. In January 1989, a man wearing red bermuda shorts and a yellow T-shirt was stopped for questioning at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, en route from Acapulco. Custom agents found $14,000 in undeclared cash and 13 different ID's in his suitcase, including several for Ellis Greene. The man was Gene Hanson although, he now looked significantly younger, thanks to plastic surgery and a sandy-blonde toupee. He even had a new name: Wolfgang Von Snowden.
Within days Hanson, Boggs, and Hawkins were charged with 10 criminal counts ranging from insurance fraud to murder. But while Boggs was arrested and subsequently convicted of all charges and Hanson awaited trial, John Hawkins spent three and a half years blazing through Europe like lightning on a quiet lake, living the life that others dare only to dream about.
Struggling to explain the convoluded body-double scam in court, Hanson said that he and Hawkins had realized that one way he could retire was by collecting on his life insurance. Asked what that meant exactly, a poker-faced Hanson said, "We discussed that I would die," which prompted a few jurors to burst into giggles.
Indeed, in the beginning, perhaps it was all supposed to be a giggle -- the ultimate white-collar caper: get a John Doe corpse from the morgue, fake Gene's death with some nifty paperwork, and cash in his life insurance. And if all had gone according to this ingenious plan, the jury might have stood up and cheered these working-class heros who had taken a bite out of a billion-dollar insurance company. But, true to life, things went awry. First, according to Hanson, Boggs couldn't get his hands on a corpse, and the next thing they knew someone was going to have to die. Of course, they weren't killers. But the clock was ticking. Two insurance policies were soon to expire, and $1.5 million was almost within their reach. O.K., so they'd find some fellow heading for an early grave and just move the date up a bit. And suddenly they had crossed the line. It was no longer a clever little caper. It was cold-blooded murder.
As Hanson and Hawkins's trial unfolded this summer, I spoke with Boggs in prison in Vacaville, California. "Gene's a follower," he said. "He'll do exactly what John tells him to do....My impression is that they had been a couple and later became friends, but Hanson was always completely captivated by John....It was always John's idea, and he offered me $25,000 just for signing a death certificate. I told him you can't get a death certificate without a body. He said, 'Maybe you could get one from the morgue?'" Boggs recalled how Hanson had grown frustrated when he couldn't come up with a corpse: "What did he think this was? Dial-a-Body?"
For many, Vacaville (officially the California Medical Facility) is synonymous with "state loony bin," made famous by such alumni as Charles Manson, but now it is known as the repository of the state's H.I.V. inmates. For the rest of his life, Vacaville will likely be home to Richard Boggs, 62, a Harvard-educated Glendale neurologist who once owned a stately residence and a Rolls Royce, was a pillar of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and had a devoted wife and four children. By the mid-70s, however, like Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Boggs had slid into another personality and lifestyle. While his days continued to be centered on his practice, his nights became an obsessive pursuit of anonymous sex and drugs in L.A.'s gay netherworld.
During the 70s and 80s, Boggs was slapped with a succession of lawsuits for fraudulent business deals, malpractice and loan defaults. By 1980 his marriage had broken up, and two hospitals had removed him from their staffs for disciplinary reasons. Visitors to his office reported smelling "a peculiar odor" -- which investigators later determined were fumes coming from the manufacture of methamphetamine, known as speed. In the late 80s, Boggs nurse, Hans Jonasson, a striking-looking Swede of 25, was also his lover, and worked side by side with Boggs' son Dana, who was the office receptionist. "In the beginning I found him charming and so interesting," Jonasson, now a studen at the University of Stockholm, says sadly. "And I started doing the drugs. I mean, he was a doctor and he said it was O.K. I think the drugs turned him into a monster. He was drowning in debt and he thought he had found a way out."
I visited Boggs in 1993, three years after his conviction for the murder of Ellis Greene and afterhe had tested H.I.V.-positive. He had put on 30 pounds since his incarceration. With his slight paunch and steel-rimmed bifocals, he looked like what he once was: a church elder. When I asked whether he was the only doctor in the prison, he chuckled dryly. "Yes, you could say that I'm the only neurologist in Vacaville."
In April, seven years after the death of Ellis Greene, the trial of Melvin Eugene Hanson and John Barrett Hawkins began in Los Angeles Superior Court under the aegis of trim, patrician Judge Paul Flynn. Less than 100 feet down the hall, the O.J. Simpson circus played on simultaneously. According to courthouse scuttlebutt, Flynn had been the first choice for the Simpson trial, but had passed.
Friends and witnesses familiar with the defendants in their high-flying days were shocked by their appearance. Both men, who once lived for beach, sun, and sex, were jailhouse grey. Hanson had spent more than six years behind bars, Hawkins nearly four. Hanson was now bald except for a long wispy fringe of hair around the back of his head. Hawkins, once a bronzed Narcissus, looked every minute of his 32 years. While Hawkins seemed electrically charged, his jaw clenched and twitching, Hanson sat slouched in his chair, a paragon of resignation.
Hanson, who had squandered his money on his lavish, fugitive lifestyle, was given Henry Hall, a well-regarded public defender, to handle his trial. Hawkins, who investigators believe got the lion's share of their ill-gotten gains, had hired one of Sardinia's top lawyers to fight his extradition back to the States. He had then retained aging star Melvin Belli and a high-profile drug lawyer named David Kenner. Apparently, Hawkins eventually depleted his resources and was compelled to accept a court appointed lawyers, Joan Whiteside-Green, a stylish black woman of 51, who provided a shrewd defense.
Deputy District Attorney Albert MacKenzie may be the least charismatic prosecutor ever to walk into a courtroom. He is humorless and as rigid as a ruler. But he tends to win. Among the felons he has sent away for what's called L-WOP -- life without parole -- is Richard Boggs.
Parked at MacKenzie's side, coiled up and ready to strike, was Detective John Perkins. A short bullet of a man, Perkins has recently adopted the Kojak look, with a shaved head, repleat with mustache, goatee, and earring. It was Perkins who made the judgement call that Ellis Greene had not died of natural causes, who tracked Hanson around the country, and who appeared on America's Most Wanted and Oprah, appealing to the world to turn in Hawkins. "Let me tell you something," Perkins told me early on. "This is a tale of two hustlers -- Hawkins and me."
At a Hollywood party in 1981, Gene Hanson, then a successful shoe buyer for Robinson's, an upscale Los Angeles department store, met an 18-year-old hustler with dazzling self-possession named John Hawkins. The only son of a beautiful, doting mother who worked as a pit boss in the Las Vegas casinos and a welder turned small-time gangster, Hawkins was of that rare breed who never have a moment of self-doubt. According to a friend, Hawkins was inspired by the film American Gigolo to head west, and though he soon found that women weren't lining up, cash in hand, for him, there was no shortage of men. He also made the acquaintance of Hanson's doctor, Richard Boggs, who, investigators say, had a sideline selling prescription drugs.
In 1982, Hawkins moved to New York and through his Hollywood contacts landed a job as a bartender at Studio 54. Greg Gunsch, a fellow bartender, remembers that the late Steve Rubell, 54's co-owner, promptly developwed "a big crush" on Hawkins and gave him the lucrative "back bar," the watering hole of such V.I.P.'s as Roy Cohn, Cher, David Geffen, Barry Diller, Bianca Jagger, Halston, Calvin Klein, and Andy Warhol.
From the back bar, according to several sources, Hawkins sold drinks, drugs, and himself. As Rubell's protégé, says Gunsch, Hawkins ingratiated himself with the glitterati. He also fell in love with Ilanna "Missy" Hughes, the young star of the soap Another World. Although Gunsch says that Hawkins was making more than $3,000 a week, he was forever plotting capers. Fascinated by insurance scams, Hawkins told people he had once arranged to have a friend "run him over," then troubled Dr. Boggs for the appropiate paperwork and pocketed a quick $25,000.
By 1984, Hawkins had talked Hanson into quitting his job at Robinson's and going into business with him in New York. They shared an apartment at Lexington and 26th Street and made their first foray into white-color crime. Instead of buying shoes from Italian companies, they stole the samples and copied them. Later, Hawkins boasted to friends about how he and Gene had "robbed" their Manhattan apartment of all its rented furniture and then filed a claim against Hanson's homeowner's policy. The insurance company paid out nearly $110,000, which became the seed money for Hawkins' first "legitimate" business.
In 1985, Hanson and Hawkins formed Just Sweats, a chain of stores selling sweat clothes to America's new fitness addicts. Within a year, they had 22 outlets in Kentucky and Ohio, grossing $10 million annually, with headquarters in Columbus. In 1987, Hawkins ended his relationship with Missy Hughes and, as he told me years later, developed "a stable" of girlfriends in the new location. His favorite was a 23-year-old waitress named Amy Blizzard, who, like virtually every Hawkins girlfriend I have met, was a petite, large-breated, doe-eyed blonde.
Despite their newfound wealth and prestige, Hawkins was soon bored and restless, and Hanson would later testify that he, too, wanted out. In 1987 they brainstormed the perfect crime. According to friends, the two men had watched Billy Wilder's noir classic, Double Indemnity on television. The movie's plot pivots on a murder/life insurance scam and is set, coincidentally, in Glendale, California. In a variation on the movie's plot, Hanson would "die," another person's body would be substituted for his, Hawkins would cash in Hanson's insurance policies, and they would divy up more than $1 million. For Gene Hanson, strange as it may seem, the idea of "dying" and starting over again had considerable
"I never knew my real father, and I wish I never knew my stepfather," Hanson told me recently. His birth father, Melvin Snowden, a philandering dead-beat, left his family when Gene was two. His mother, Katharine Lawley, entered another loveless marriage to Cecil Hanson, a deacon in the Baptist Church. "If the children didn't get a good grade," Lawley testified, "Cecil would whip them bad." After a three-year Army stint, Hanson set his sights on Richmond, Virgina, where he launched a successful career as a shoe buyer. In 1976, Katharine and her third husband, Doyle Lawley, visited Gene in Richmond. "There was another young man there. I thought he was a roommate," recalls Katharine. "But when we left, Doyle said to me, 'Gene's queer, Katharine.'" Katharine did not hear from Gene again for 13 years, until his arrest. His first words to her were "You know, Mother, I'm gay."
For most of his adult life, Barry Pomeroy led a quiet, almost invisible existence. By day, he kept busy in a series of entry-level jobs in computers and publishing. At night, he made the gay scene in West Hollywood; sometimes he found companionship, but he was always drunk enough not to care. Otherwise, he killed the time in his tidy apartment with his classical-music collection and enough liquor to last til the millenium.
Pomeroy met Dr. Boggs at the Spike, one of West Hollywood's oldest gay bars, in late March, 1988. At Boggs's trial, Pomeroy said that it was "around two in the morning" when a man who introduced himself as Peter Richard suggested that they have a late dinner. Afterward, Pomeroy accompanied the doctor to his office and waited while he made a series of phone calls. Then the doctor drove him home.
A week later, the doctor called and asked him out for a date on April 1. Again, after dinner, the doctor asked him to accompany him to his office while he returned some patients' calls. In fact, Boggs called Hawkins in Columbus and Hanson in Miami, just as he had during Pomeroy's first visit. Next he offered to give his date an EKG test, which he did, then excused himself again to make another call. Upon his return, he went to embrace Pomeroy, who suddenly felt a stinging shock. In his testimony, Pomeroy said Boggs was "jabbing me in the back constantly....I was fighting him off and all of a sudden I thought, This is no joke." Pomeroy told a West Hollywood gay paper, "It dawned on me that this man was trying to kill me." When Pomeroy finally succeeded in throwing off his assailant, a black stun gun fell from Boggs' hand to the floor. As Pomeroy staggered away from him -- his shirt bloodied, and with a cut on his neck and abrasions on his forehead and chees -- the doctor abandoned his Mr. Hyde personality and apologized contritely. At Boggs's trial, Pomeroy testified, "I remember him saying that he was having some sort of problems and he was seeking help."
Despite a solicitous call the following week from Boggs, Pomeroy was sufficiently disturbed to file assault charges with the police on April 9. A few days later, Pomeroy got a call from Detective Jim Peterson who, Pomeroy alleged, "totally discouraged me from doing anything." The detective sang the praises of Boggs and his family, which included Boggs's brother William, who had been a sergeant with the Glendale police. The D.A. saw little merit in Pomeroy's case and declined to prosecute the doctor. One insider revealed that "the thinking was that this was just a fag-versus-fag case." Five days later, Ellis Greene breathed his last on Dr. Boggs's examining table.
Barry Pomeroy was one of the legions of sad, lonely souls who struggle at the margins of American society. Alienated from their families, frequently addicted to alcohol or drugs, they are easy prey to would-be predators and make up the majority of unsolved murders.
Ellis Greene was also a member of this unhappy club. In the words of Deputy District Attorney MacKkenzie, Greene, who looked older than his 32 years, was "the perfect man to murder." One of seven children born into a hardscrabble, working-class family in Ohio, Greene grappled for years to find his identity. It wasn't until Ellis had been married for several years that he finally admitted to himself that he was gay. In 1985 he moved to Glendale and found a job as a tax preparer.
Parker Martin, a C.P.A. who hired Greene, remembers him as a conscientous employee willing to put in long hours at tax time. On April 15, 1988, Martin says, he and Greene scrambled all morning to meet the tax deadline. In the afternoon, they had some drinks at the Rawhide Bar, a gay bar in North Hollywood. Although Green died with an astonishingly high blood-alcohol level -- .29 -- Martin maintains, "I never saw him drink at work." Greene also turned out to be H.I.V.-positive, but Martin says he's sure Greene didn't know. "He didn't have medical insurance, so he never had checkups." Around three in the afternoon, Greene left the bar, telling Martin that he "was going to Long Beach for the weekend." But one drink led to another and he never made it.
Around 7:30, Greene hooked up with his friend Chip Suntheimer at the Bullet Club, another gay bar in North Hollywood. Suntheimer testified that when he told Greene that he had yet to type up his tax returns, Greene kindly offered to typ them for him at his office. Their task completed, Suntheimer then drove them to the post office. Outside, Greene saw a distraught woman and asked her what was wrong. She said that she hadn't been able to finish her taxes. On the hood of his friend's Mustang, Greene completed a total stranger's tax forms and refused to take anything in return.
Shortly after 11 p.m., Greene was back at the Bullet, but the bartender refused to serve him. Instead he gave him a Coke and at Greene's request, called a cab for him. It was the last time anyone remembers seeing him alive. Prosecutors argued that Greene probably meandered back to the Rawhide, where he made the fateful acquaintance of Boggs and Hanson. At 1:22 a.m., a six-minute call from the Rawhide to Boggs's office was charged to the doctor's credit card. Investigators believe that this was an "alibi call" -- Gene Hanson leaving the message on his doctor's machine that he had chest pains and needed medical attention.
On the first day in court, Detective Perkins was uncharacteristically gloomy, depressed about the O.J. Simpson trial. "They've got more physical evidence than we do," he said. "I don't have DNA. I don't have fingerprints. I don't even have a goddamn corpse." Perkins often spoke in the first person about this trial, and casual immodesty won him many enemies.
But, no one's dislike approached the smoldering loathing that Jackie Cirian, Hawkins's mother, felt for Perkins. "He's a demented man who's obsessed with my son," she announced caustically to a stranger sitting next to her in court one day. A pretty, petite woman with long, bottle-blonde hair, Cirian looks far younger than her years and bears an unmistakable resemblance to her son. She is a careful, color-coordinated dresser, who has made it to the altar four times. Once her son was extradited, she left her job in the casino of the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas and moved to Los Angeles
"After Hawkins fled," Perkins says, "Jackie moved out of her trailer in the boondocks of Las Vegas and bought a new R.V., got a young boyfriend, did some traveling, then moved into a condominium in downtown Vegas. Then she lost everything and moved back to the trailer park." Cirian denies that there was any change in her lifestyle other than a move to a more secure community to protect her and her 18-year-old daughter from the media. She also denies Perkins's speculation about receiving any money from her son.
In many ways, Cirian is Perkins's alter ego, equally involved with every aspect of the case, scowling at her perceived enemies and coddling her friends and supporters. She decided that I was an enemy and told me she had had a "nervous breakdown" because of my two previous stories on the case in Vanity Fair, notably my references to her son's pansexuality, although once told a Columbus reporter that her son was "a gigolo, a male prostitute....For Johnny it was only a stepping stone." Waving her hand dismissively, she huffed, "That stuff is 12 years old. You gotta think about what can happen in jail to him. I know he'll [beat the murder rap], but he's still gonna do some time for the fraud. So be careful what you write. Look," she says, flushing with exasperation, "I'm just gonna turn you over to God," and sauntered down the hall. Sometimes she sat with daughter, Kari, John's half-sister, or a friend. One day a courtroom visitor commented on how attractive her son was. "That's right," she said with a grin. "I've never made a bad-looking kid."
Like her son, Jackie Cirian can be enormously personable, chatting up perfect strangers, assuming a disarming intimacy with new acquaintances. The courtroom is her lair and her son was never out of her sight line. But to several observers, her relationship with him seems strained. One day after court ended, she approached him before he was led away. "Johnny, I have to tell you something." He looked at her impassively. In the first days of the trial, the bailiff returned a belt to her that she had given to her son. "It was six inches too small," the deputy told her kindly. "Your little boy has grown up."
A day after Ellis Greene's death, Hawkins phoned his roommate, Erik De Sando, and said glumly, "Gene is dead." His grief, however, was short-lived. "Hawkins called me the next day and wanted to know which mortuary he should go to," relates Boggs. "When I told him that the body wasn't at a mortuary but at the coroner's office, and that there was going to be an autopsy, he started screaming that there couldn't be an autopsy because Gene had explicitly written he didn't want one, for religious reasons. He came out to L.A. and tried to stop them from doing it." Though Hawkins failed to thwart the autopsy, he saw to it that the corpse was promptly cremated, and that the ashes were dispersed.
On July 8, De Sando heard a jubilant scream. "I got my money!" Hawkins cried aloud, meaning the million-dollar check from Farmers Insurance. Then he emptied the Just Sweats bank account, totaling $245,000. On July 15, he drunkenly, confessed to De Sando. "Gene's alive....I'm leaving tomorrow, and you're never gonna see me again." When a bewildered De Sando asked who had died in Boggs's office, Hawkins said that "they had got a body from the morgue, where Boggs had a guy on the take." The next day, Hawkins drove his Mercedes to the Columbus airport, left the keys in the ignition, and disappeared.
For the next four months, he flitted about the country like a moth. He visited his mother and friends and had a succession of flings. Hawkins talked Amy Blizzard into joining him for two weeks in California, and on a visit to Alcratraz he told her, "I'll kill myself before I ever go to prison."
In August 1988, David Forrest received a phone call from John Hawkins. Forrest, an affable man of 47, runs a male escort service known as Brad's Buddies, which caters to Hollywood's elite. "Hawkins called and said he was in town and looking for work," recalls Forrest. Hawkins named several prominent movie moguls and said he didn't want to be sent to them, because they were friends. "So I fixed him up with [a well-known physical-fitness expert] and a couple of other guys." What was never clear was why Hawkins would bother to sell himself for $1000 when, according to investigators, he had stashed away more than $800,000.
In the fall of 1988, Hawkins fled to Toronto, the Caribbean, and Washington, D.C. He forged a new identiffy as Bradley Bryant. On December 31, 1988, he headed for Amsterdam and hooked up with a young Dutch crowd with a passion for basketball and young girls. His new best friend, 24-year-old Mick van Rijs, who described himself as "a lost soul before I met Brad," had the chiseled looks of a model. Mick's younger brother Max said, "Brad had this incredible aura that just shines and rubs onto you." Another friend, Marco, affectionately described him as "hypersexual....And he was very manipulative -- but we loved him." Then adding, quietly. "We love him."
In September 1989, Hawkins spent $30,000 for a red catamaran, and in May 1990 he and a friend set sail for Malaga, Spain, where they picked up Mich, and then headed for Italy.
Back in Los Angeles, John Perkins had hit a wall. There were no fingerprints of Hawkins anywhere. However, Hawkins had left his phone book behind. After dialing a dozen numbers at random, Perkins realized that he was speaking with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, and they weren't happy to hear from him. One movie mogul repeatedly slammed the phone down on him, though Perkins kept calling him back. Before he hung up the last time, he spat out what would prove to be Perkins's most valuable clue. "He's got vitiligo," he said. "Viti-what," asked Perkins. "Vitiligo -- it's a skin-pigmentation disease," the magnate snapped. "Except it's only on his dick."
For three months, Hawkins and Mick stayed in the sleepy town of Carloforte, Sardinia, where they went into the boat-chartering business. Hawkins learned Italian, fell in love with a local girl named Giusy Agus, and plotted his escape to Brazil, a country which doesn't extradite fugitives who have children there. On some quick trips to London and Belfast, he acquired two new IDs: Simon Kaye and Glen Donald Hewson.
On July 14, 1991, a special segment of the Oprah Winfrey show about the unsolved cases of America's Most Wanted, featuring the international manhunt for Hawkins, was shown in Amsterdam. When Mick's father, Hans van Rijs, saw the show, he instantly recognized Hawkins as Brad and knew that his son Max was sailing with Hawkins at that very moment.
On August 1, Hans flew down to Sardinia, where he was met by Andy Hogan of the Naval Investigative Service. Miraculously, they soon found the red catamaran in the harbor of Cannigione, and after a brief stakeout Italian police seized Hawkins. At the station Hawkins denied that he was anyone other than Glen Hewson. Stymied, Hogan called Interpol for assistance. "I found out about this big white spot on his penis," recalled Hogan, "and the carabiniere decides he's got to check this out for himself." Telling Hawkins that he needed to examine him for injuries, the Italian policeman talked Hawkins into lifting his shirt and dropping his pants. "I think Hawkins knew as soon as he did it that he had made a big mistake," said Hogan. "The white spot on his penis definitely was the clincher."
For almost a year, from Calgiari's dreary Buoncammino Prison, Hawkins fought extradition to the States. In order to get a cell to himself, according to a source, he made a suicide attempt by slashing his wrists. On New Year's Day 1992, with the help of one of his Dutch friends, he crawled out of the window of his cell and lowered himself down a 30-foot rope made of bedsheets. He would have succeeded except for the audible thud he made when he dropped the ground. He was then thrown into solitary confinement
I met Hawkins for the first time in the Cagliari courthouse, where he was being arraigned for his escape attempt. Later, during a two-hour interview at the prison, Hawkins maintained his innocence. When I asked him about the New York apartment-robbery scam, he was quick to pass the blame. "It was Gene Hanson's insurance," he said with a shrug, "and Gene Hanson made the claim."
He vehemently denied being gay or bisexual. "I was engaged to marry Giusy when I was arrested," he said, "and if I ever get out of this mess, I would like to come back and marry her." When I said that I had spoken with some prominent gay men who knew him, his feistiness evaporated. Shaken, he said, "[So-and-so] spoke to you? I can't believe it."
Talking about the crime, Hawkins said, "Boggs is a very bad guy -- evil." He added quickly, "But I didn't know he would kill somebody." It was selling drugs to the glitter crowd, he told me, not sex, that had earned him "six figures before I was 19." Sure, he had met the rich and famous, but not because he was a hustler. He told me some of them had even become his friends. About one prominent Hollywood mogul, he said, "He was my idol, because he was a completely self-made man. He's the biggest prick in Hollywood, but the smartest. I guess he was my role model,"
As I rose to leave the prison, Hawkins called out, "What would you think if a doctor told you he could get a stiff out of the morgue? Wouldn't you believe him?" Hawkins said he knew he couldn't bear a long prison sentence. "I can't even handle doing five years. I'll escape or I'll die trying."
Like many behind bars, Boggs never tires of asserting his innocence. He said at his trial that Hanson had phoned him in the middle of night complaining of chest pains, and that he had agreed to see him at his office. Instead, he claims, he found Hanson with a drinking pal named Ellis Greene. "They smelled like they had been in a brewery," he said distastefully. It was Greene, according to Boggs, who actually had the chest pains and who, 15 minutes later, dropped dead.
As to why Boggs identified Greene to the police as his longtime patient Gene Hanson, Boggs makes the remarkable claim that Hanson threatened to blackmail him -- "revealing my alternative lifestyle if I didn't." Over and over, Boggs makes the point that "I never socialized with Hanson or Hawkins," as if such a distinction mitigated his guilt. The antipathy between him and his co-conspirators is fierce. The first time I interviewed Gene Hanson in prison, he said he wanted me to know that there was a "difference" between people like Hawkins and him and someone like Boggs.
Boggs says that the fact that he was the only one not to flee proves his innocence. "Why did I call 911 instead of just calling the mortuary and having them take away the body?" he demands. Clearly, Boggs has been kicking himself ever since for not doing the latter. "I'm sure Gene thinks that I screwed it all up and he's right. If I had called the mortuary, it would have been the perfect crime," he says, then adds, "that's if I had been part of the scheme."
For the nine months Gene Hanson was a fugitive, he skidded through Florida pursuing fun and fantasy with a vengeance. An incompetent criminal, he dropped clues everywhere he went. Even the name he picked. Wolfgang Von Snowden was the name of the father who had abandoned him and his mother. In late November 1988, he met up with Hawkins -- traveling under the alias of Jerry Green and, not surprisingly, with a young blonde -- at a gym in Fort Lauderdale, and they had Thanksgiving dinner together. Previously they had had an August rendezvous at the airport in Las Vegas, where Hawkins handed Hanson $85,000 in cash. In July, Hawkins had delivered $30,000 to Hanson in Miami, and soon after that he had given him the bad news that they would never see the $450,000 from a second life-insurance policy. In a bizarre twist of fate, the company had mailed the check to Hawkins's old address and was able to cancel it before it was re-delivered. According to investigators, if the scam had gone perfectly, there would have been the $1.8 million Hanson attempted to embezzle from Just Sweats in January 1988, the $1 million from Farmers, $450,000 from Golden Rule, plus another $240,000 pillaged from Just Sweats accounts, or a total of about $3.5 million.
Hanson also learned from Hawkins that they were both wanted for insurance fraud, and that Perkins was badgering the Los Angeles D.A. to warrants for their arrest for the murder of Ellis Greene. In December, Hanson fled to Mexico City, then to Puerta Vallarta and Acapulco, where he rented yet another house, which he intended to turn into a guesthouse. But first he needed to fly back to St. Petersburg, Florida, to close the deal on his house there. He never made it. Asked why he had 13 different IDs and a book entitled How to Create A New Identity at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, he would testify, "Everyone has habits, and I'm a packrat. I don't throw things away." Custom agents also found in Hanson's bag two 8-by-10 glossy photographs of a sizzlingly attractive young man: John Hawkins.
Curiously, never in the course of the trial did anyone allude to Hawkins's sexual pursuits Furthermore, Joan Whiteside Green, Hawkins's court-appointed attorney, decided that the seductive Hawkins would not take the stand, where the risk of such relevations would be all but inevitable under cross-examination.
Joint defenses can easliy turn into nasty slugfests. From the start, insiders speculated on whether Hawkins and Hanson would turn on each other. Clearly, Hanson had more to gain by doing so. Perkins had cleverly arranged for the two to be separated. But John Hawkins knew he didn't have to worry. Boggs was right: Hanson was more loyal than a dog. I once asked Hanson how he would feel if Hawkins turned state's evidence against him. Hanson was so choked with feeling that he could barely answer, "I would be very disappointed."
Barry Pomeroy's testimony at the Boggs's trial in 1990 was so compelling that the doctor was lucky to escape the death penalty. However, the Hanson/Hawkins jury never got to hear Pomeroy's story. Sometime shortly before three in the morning on April 9, one week before he was scheduled to testify, Pomeroy leapt or fell from the balcony of his third-floor apartment. "He was on medication for depression and had been on disability for several months," recalls one of Pomeroy's neighbors. "He listened to his classical music and he drank."
Because the state had no eyewitnesses and no corpse, Pomeroy was critical to its case. "The fish that got away," Perkins dubbed him. Perkins and Deputy District Attorney MacKenzie, miserable and disbelieving, sat on the information. Eventually they disclosed to the court that they wouldn't be calling their key witness. Hanson and Hawkins jolted to attention but betrayed no emotion. Once outside the courtroom in the adjoining foyer, however, the two men jubilantly jumped in the air, according to the bailiff, slapping their hands together in the traditional high five.
When I informed Boggs about Pomeroy's death, he smiled wryly. "I find the timing very interesting. A suicide a week before he's to testify? Maybe Hawkins's father has connections in L.A., eh?"
About a month into the trial, Jackie Cirian entered the courtroom with a slender young woman with shoulder-length strawberry -blond hair. Immediately, Hawkins turned around and waved. It was Amy Blizzard, his Columbus girlfriend, who bears an uncanny resemblence to Jackie. After Hawkins's disappeaerance, according to Perkins, Blizzard was deeply embittered and told friends she had burned John's letters and thrown out his gifts.
A curious subplot of the trial involved what has been dubbed the baby imbroglio, and began when Perkins approached Blizzard during a break. Immediately, Cirian stepped in front of her as if to fend him off. "You don't have to talk to him," she instructed her. "You can get a lawyer." Then she turned on Perkins. "Look, things are different now. I'm trying to protect both of them...being a grandmother now." Perkins was struck speechless. Was Jackie bluffing, or was it possible that Blizzard had conceived when she hooked up with Hawkins when he was on the lam? Later, a defense source told Perkins that Blizzard had had a child by Hawkins -- a boy now five years old, which meant the two had to have been in contact sometime in late 1989. "Totally possible," says Perkins, "We know Hawkins snuck back in the country at least one time -- maybe two or three times."
"Hawkins was carrying on that if it hadn't been for Perkins snooping around, he never would have known he had a kid," according to bailiff, Pete Vandenberg. "But he seemed pretty pleased about the news." Soon Hawkins was proudly showing the bailiff and Hanson a small photograph of his son. "He kept saying, 'He looks just like me, doesn't he?"' recalls Vandenberg. However, Blizzard vehemently denied that Hawkins is the father, and, according to Cirian's attorney, Hawkins and his mother also denied it. Blizzard told me that she regretted having come to court, and that any publicity linking her and Hawkins could have a negative impact on her child. "I only came out of curiosity," she said curtly, adding that she was in L.A. visiting her boyfriend, whom she described as being in the film business.
Pomeroy was dead, but hanging like a rain cloud the defendants was the chilling prospect that Boggs might waltz into the courtroom and testify against them. Boggs confirmed to me that he had had a visit from Perkins and another investigator. "They said they were very nervous about John Hawkins. They said they knew he was the mastermind, but they were worried that without my testimony he was gonna walk." If he testified about Hawkins's and Hanson's involvement in the murder, the D.A. would reduce his first-degree conviction to second degree with a possibility of parole in 12 years. (Deputy District Attorney MacKenzie denies ever having made such an offer.) Evidently, Boggs figured that at his age, with his H.I.V. status, this was an offer he could refuse. "I kept saying, 'I'm not gonna lie. I'm not gonna lie,'" he protested to me tartly. "I didn't kill Ellis Greene. I never killed anyone in my life." Nevertheless, he equivocated for months, keeping his co-conspirators choked with anxiety.
Meanwhile, Hawkins turned down the option of pleading guilty to second-degree murder. "We offered him 25 years. He'd have to do 20, then parole," Perkins said. "Twenty years would have made me happy. This was the biggest gamble of his life."
It was clear from the outset that Hanson's cool detachment and occasional droll humor were not charming the jury. He explained with some impatience how Boggs had promised to provide Hawkins and him with a body. In November 1987, he said, he flew to L.A. and gave the doctor a $25,000 cash advance and waited for the delivery of the corpse. As for his disappearance in early January with $1.8 million of company funds, he said, that was simply borrowing against his part of the insurance money. However, investigators believe the money was an intentional embezzlement, meant to dovetail with his "death." When the company's lawyers told Hawkins that they intended to notify the F.B.I. about the theft, he flew to L.A., for a rendezvous with Hanson and brought most of the money back.
Hanson told of repeated trips to Los Angeles, where, he said, the unreliable Boggs kept dropping the ball. Finally, on April 15, 1988, he received a call in Miami from Boggs. Hanson said he once again grabbed his leather satchel with the final $25,000 cash payment in it and headed to L.A. Boggs, he said, picked him up at the gate at eight in the evening. Over a brief dinner, he said, Boggs informed him that "he was still trying to uphold his end of the bargain." Claiming that he hadn't wanted to wait around at Boggs' office, Hanson said that he had had Boggs drop him at the Numbers Bar, a gay bar once popular with Hollywood's jet set. At closing time, he said, he left the bar just as Boggs was pulling into the parking lot. Boggs announced the consummation of the deal, Hanson testified, and drove them back to his office. Upstairs, stretched out on the examining table, was a corpse, he said. Hanson claimed he had not helped Boggs "dress" the corpse but had previously given some of his clothes and identification to the doctor. He said he spent only a few cursory moments looking over the corpse, paid Boggs the other $25,000, and went on his way.
When I relayed Hanson's version to Boggs in prison several weeks later, Boggs seemed genuinely taken aback. "This is a big fabrication -- a fantasy." he said. Hanson made one serious gaffe on the stand. Asked how he came to have Ellis Greene's ID on him, he said that Boggs mailed it to him, but lhe later testified that Boggs never had his address, "just the phone number." The testimony clearly irritated Boggs. "I didn't have his address in Miami," Boggs said huffily. He claimed he had never gotten the $50,000, either.
During Hanson's three days on the stand, he said nothing that would incriminate Hawkins. Though Hanson conceded that they had conceived the scam together, he very nearly gave the impression that he -- not Hawkins -- was the mastermind.
"He's protecting John Hawkins," said an irate Thelma Kernan, whose son has been married to Gene Hanson's sister Cecilia for 29 years and who accompanied Hanson's mother to court for the penalty phase. I gingerly asked the women why they thought this was so. "Because he loves him," Katharine Lawley responded with so much emotion that I thought her frail form would totter. In a bizarre slip of the tongue, I referred to her son as Ellis, then corrected myself. But it was a meaningful slip, for Gene Hanson and Ellis Greene could almost have swapped lives: both men rose above painful childhoods and emerged resourceful and well-meaning, but tragically flawed by their shame, secrets and perhaps their dependence on unrequited, romantic love.
"I'm not surprised that Gene would sacrifice himself for John," Boggs told me at Vacaville midway through the three-month trial. "Gene is a romantic idealist. Hawkins could tell him the sky is purple and he'd believe it." Perkins goes one step further: "Hanson was a puppet, and Hawkins and Boggs were the puppeteers."
Hawkins's Columbus roommate, Erik De Sando, now a casting director in Los Angeles, concurs. "Gene is not a guy who will start something. He has to be pushed along. John has the best criminal mind there is -- better than his father. You would never know that John is not educated. He's smoother than anybody I've ever met -- even out here in Hollywood."
De Sando is one of the very few for whom John Hawkins's charm has utterly dissipated. Almost everyone else, from Mick van Rijs to Hawkins's friends in Columbus, Amsterdam, and Sardinia, still cherishes him. "I know it was a fantasy traveling with Brad, but it totally changed my life," Mick tells me by phone from Amsterdam. "I don't see him as a murderer. We're all rooting and praying for him."
Many were struck by Hawkins's seemingly invincible optimism all through the trial. Deputy Pete Vandenberg says, "He told me repeatedly that he wasn't going to get convicted -- he'd get convicted on the fraud, and with time served he was planning on walking right out the door."
Called to testify by the prosecution, De Sando was staggered by Hawkins's appearance. "He looked like an old man," he said. "I really feel sorry for him. God knows what goes on in prison. I mean, I saw The Shawshank Redemption." As for Hawkins's guilt, De Sando says he has no doubts. "I'm unequivocally sure of it. I don't think it was ever going to be a morgue scam."
When the trial concluded at the end of June, Judge Flynn told the defendants that the jury had been promised a week off for the Fourth of July holiday. When the jurors returned, they deliberated for two weeks without reaching a verdict, keeping the participants in agonizing suspense. Then one of the jurors told the court that she had a much-anticipated summer vacation coming up. Rather than replace her with one of the 10 alternates, Judge Flynn, with the concurrence of both sides, halted deliberations one more time. With Hanson facing the death penalty and Hawkins life in prison -- due to the terms of his Italian extradition -- the jury had more than three weeks of vacation time during deliberations.
On August 8, one day after arriving back from the second break, the jury informed the judge that they had verdicts on six of the charges but were deadlocked on Count Two -- the actual murder -- and one of the fraud counts. The suddenness of their verdicts took everyone by surprise. Jackie Cerian didn't even make it down to the courthouse.
As the verdicts were read out -- guilty for both men on Count One, conspiracy to commit murder -- Hawkins dropped his face into both hands and shook his head as if trying to throw off a bad dream. He knew that in California conspiracy is almost the equivalent of murder, carrying a mandatory 25-years-to-life imprisonment, with parole not even countenanced until at least half the sentence has been served. As expected, both were also found guilty of insurance fraud.
The following day, the jury had even worse news for Gene Hanson. While "hopelessly deadlocked" on the murder charge against Hawkins (with eight voting to convict and four holding out), the jurors found Hanson guilty of the murder, along with "special circumstances," meaning murder for financial gain. Henry Hall, Hanson's lawyer, and his paralegal looked shattered. Hanson, who now faced the bleakest of options, the death penalty or L-WOP, stared at the ceiling. As Hawkins was led out, he mumbled, "I can't believe it...This is terrible. And what about my son?" Jackie Cirian, her face shielded by oversize sunglasses, sat weeping profusely, barely able to look at her visibly devastated son.
On August 21, the penalty phase began. The fact that Hanson was now perilously close to a death sentence seemed a joyless victory even for the prosecution. MacKenzie didn't seem to have his heart in it when he asked the jurors for the maximum verdict. Even Perkins seemed to lose the thrill of the final kill as he speculated on whether Hanson would have to die for his crimes. "I'm not saying it's going to happen," he mused darkly, "but if Gene didn't have bad luck, he wouldn't have any luck at all."
The two-day hearing was suffused with almost unbearable anguish. The prosecution had flown out four members of Ellis Greene's family, each of whom spoke briefly of their grief. Huddled close to one another like the Joad family, they separated only to take the stand. When Darlene Greene spoke of her "loving son" who called her weekly, one juror burst into tears. "It really took a lot out of me, and out of the entire family," said Mrs. Greene. "They were all tore up." Clearly, the most agitated was Ellis's identical twin brother, Basil, who sidled over to the stand wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt. His brother's murder put him "into a depression," he said, which "caused me to start drinking heavily." Basil said he checked into the hospital at one point for three months, and had been in and out ever since. He didn't tell the jury that a week after learning of his brother's death he had attempted suicide. "The neighbors saw him hanging on his back porch," his mother told me, "and they hurried over and cut him down." Her youngest daughter, she added, had also tried to take her life and, "she's still in counseling."
The ante in this emotion-drenched courtroom rose even higher as Gene Hanson's 73-year-old mother, Katharine Lawley, took the stand. All day she had wept in the hall outside the courtroom, awaiting her turn. It had been a terrible time in a very difficult life for her. In 1987, her son Donald, Gene's youngest brother, had killed himself. In June her husband of 19 years, Doyle, the pillar of her life, had died suddenly. In her soft, breathy tones, punctuated by tears, Katharine spoke of Gene's goodness, his childhood, his leadership at their local church, the family's condemnation of homosexuality, and her 13-year estrangement from her son. More than ever, it seemed that only a sliver of psychic space separated Gene Hanson and Ellis Greene.
Earlier the jury had heard from Norman Zeichner, one of Hanson's colleagues from the shoe business. A handsome man past middle age, he saluted Hanson when he took the stand. "His bosses...thought Gene was one of the best buyers in the country," he said. "He was an excellent number-two man...Gene took direction very, very well." It was a double-edged comment -- one that may have cleared many doubts that Hanson was the mastermind of this crime but that also sealed his guilt as a follower.
Thelma Kernan told the jury that she had known him since he was a child. "I really don't know - as the boy never had a speeding ticket," she said. Outside the courtroom, she said bitterly, "Gene wouldn't be here if it weren't for that other fella."
Henry Hall, clearly stricken by the fate of his client, made some telling points. "Dr. Boggs was the actual killer, according to the People's theory," he reminded the jury. "And John Hawkins was the man who got the money...What was Gene Hanson's involvement?" He then tacked up a glossy headshot of John Hawkins and spoke of Hanson's capture nearly seven years earlier. "Gene had identification and things that belonged to a lot of different people. But there was not one piece of identification that belonged to Melvin Eugene Hanson," he said. "There is one belonging he had that tied him to his identity before April 16, 1988," he said, pointing to the exhibit, "a photograph of John Hawkins." He then asked the jury to consider the mitigating factor of "domination."
Within 40 minutes the jury had a verdict. Gene would spend the rest of his days in prison but be spared his life. A palpable wave of relief flooded the courtroom as Hanson's defense team hugged him. Some jurors said they would have convicted Hawkins of the murder had they known more. One of them surprised me when she said, "We figured that Gene Hanson was in love with John Hawkins. Otherwise, it just didn't make sense."
On the morning of Friday the 13th of October, John Hawkins demonstrated his mastery of courtroom drama. Giggles and gasps greeted Judge Flynn's announcement that Hawkins's sentence would be delayed briefly, as "Mr. Hawkins is getting married in chambers." At 9:15, Hawkins, wearing a gray linen jacket, white shirt, and tie, his hair in need of a shampoo, entered the judge's chambers accompanied by his mother, his half-sister, two bailiffs, a judge, and his betrothed, who was none other than Amy Blizzard." According to one witness, the two kissed and exchanged rings. Hawkins will now be entitled to conjugal visits in prison.
Blizzard, wearing a simple dress, left the courtroom quickly, before her spouse's sentencing. Basking in a postnuptial reverie, Hawkins barely reacted to the judge's sentence of 25 years to life, but Whiteside Green promptly filed an appeal. "Good luck to you, Mr. Hawkins," said Judge Flynn, to which Hawkins replied, with all the earnestness of Jimmy Stewart, "Thank you, sir."
Though Hawkins, the reputed mastermind, recieved the lightest sentence, he will no doubt do the hardest time. His friends wince painfully at the thought of John behind bars. For few ever loved life more or lived it more voraciously. Even those who met him as a hustler say he so transcended his status that the eagerly sought his friendship. One man who met Hawkins in 1979 and knew him in both New York and Los Angeles says, "I remember him showing me his calendar book, and it was chockablock full of dates with powerful men and beautiful women. It was amazing how he juggled both. I introduced him to some movie agents, but he didn't want to be an actor. He wanted power. He wanted to be a player. And I though he would be. Truly, he could have written his own ticket, so why would he have done this?"
The last time I saw Boggs, in May, he had put on even more weight. Above the chest pocket on his prison-issue denim shirt was a rainbow ribbon, the gay-pride insignia. At the request of some of the prison doctors, Boggs says, he has become a jailhouse doctor of sorts and AIDS educator among the inmates. He refuses to take AZT or any other treament, though his T-cells have dropped into the 800s, down from the 900s two years ago. Boggs speculated that at least 30 percent of Vacaville, as well as the national prison population, is H.I.V.-positive, "but they don't know it, because they won't get tested, because they don't want to know. There are men here who are totally 100% heterosexual on the outside, but in here they have 'girlfriends.' One of the things about being old is that I don't have to deal with it. No one wants me."
Five days a week he works at the library. "I enjoy that because I get to read a lot and order the books I like," he said. "Maybe I've read 3,000 or 4,000 books in here." Most of his fellow travelers, he said, have little more than "a third- or fourth-grade education," although he isn't the only representative from the professional classes. "There's a guy here who was a stockbroker who works with me in the library," he told me. When I asked him what his crime was, Boggs shrugged. "You don't ask questions like that in here. You might end up with something sharp in your eye."
"I made the cardinal mistake of a defense attorney," said Henry Hall after the trial. "I came to care about Gene Hanson. I mean, I never had a client before who wouldn't do anything to save his own skin. I know he's mad at me for having his mother and Thelma testify at the penalty phase, but I had to do it. Gene really cares about his soul."
"I didn't want anyone begging for my life," Hanson explains to me three days after the verdicts. "I didn't want my mother to debase herself in front of jurors I didn't think were worthy to judge me. I'm glad that John was not convicted of the murder charge," he said. "And he'll never be convicted of murder," he added with some satisfaction. "He was in Columbus. He shouldn't have even been convicted of conspiracy." I asked whether he felt the same way about himself. "Well, neither of us should hav been convicted of murder," he said, but as he spoke for himself, his voice lost its enthusiasm.
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