Hastened to the Grave: The Gypsy Murder Investigationby Jack Olsen
They were a notorious gypsy family that seeped into their victims' lives like a deadly cancer. And they couldn't be stopped-- until one courageous woman took on the cases no one else would touch...
Elderly, well-to-do men and women who, due to their failing health, strength, and faculties, could be conned out of their fortunes by heinous
They were a notorious gypsy family that seeped into their victims' lives like a deadly cancer. And they couldn't be stopped-- until one courageous woman took on the cases no one else would touch...
Elderly, well-to-do men and women who, due to their failing health, strength, and faculties, could be conned out of their fortunes by heinous neglect, abuse, and possibly even murder.
Several members of a ruthless family of Gypsies known for their cunning con-games and remarkable ability to extract large sums of money from their unwitting pawns.
Fay Faron, a beautiful, never-say-die P.I., determined to bring these culprits to justice-- even when the authorities turned a blind eye to the Gypsies' crimes time and time again.
In this shattering expose, bestselling author Jack Olsen follows Fay Faron as she retraces every step of the Gypsy family and the crimes they stand accused of: moving in on their helpless prey, extorting money, signing the fortunes of elderly millionaires into their own names-- and speeding up the death process with sadistic neglect, slow poison, and unspeakable cruelty. Not since Peter Maas' King of the Gypsies has the world of Gypsy crime been exposed in such shocking detail and with more fascinating insight.
"A jaw-dropping true account."The New York Times Book Review
"[A] brisk, well-researched treatment of murders most foul."Publishers Weekly
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Hastened to the Grave
The Gypsy Murder Investigation
By Jack Olsen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Jack Olsen
All rights reserved.
An Easy Touch
FAY FARON ALWAYS answered her phone with a cheery "Rat Dog Dick!" even though she was well aware that some of her callers would gladly garrote her and feed her to the crabs off Pier 45. When she'd first established her one-woman detective agency, she tried answering in a businesslike contralto to create the impression that she employed a receptionist, but a friend complained that she sounded like a table dancer.
This morning's caller was Ken Chan, her lawyer and favorite client, asking if she could drop into his office on busy Union Street to discuss an assignment. "No big deal," he added.
"I'm halfway there," Fay said. You could never tell what Chan meant by "no big deal." On one of his cases she'd ended up chasing rustlers in the Arizona desert, earning a year's supply of flank steak for herself and Beans, her Rastafarian dog and confidant.
ONE GOOD THING about Ken Chan, she reminded herself as she climbed into the rattly old car she called the Frog Prince, he's quick pay, unlike some other lawyers. She was $68 delinquent on her veterinary bill and a week or two behind on less important accounts like electricity and telephone. Some of her clients hadn't paid up in years, but she would rather skate naked across the Union Square ice rink than dun a customer. She considered herself a relaxed and forgiving soul, lighthearted, playful, famous among her friends as an easy touch for men, women, dogs, cats, gerbils, lizards and goldfish. It was one of the reasons she was usually broke.
THE SESSION IN Chan's small third-floor office wasn't five minutes old before she realized that this would be a simple research job — no tricks, false closets or mirrors. The client was an Anglo-Russian expatriate named Hope Victoria Beesley who believed she was being hustled out of several hundred thousand dollars by an odd-jobs worker whose name abruptly appeared on her property deed as co-owner. Chan said that the elderly widow's house was worth $500,000 and stood out from its Sunset District neighbors by virtue of the sheen on its lustrous green roof. The inside was so lavishly decorated that the place had been featured in Better Homes and Gardens alongside rococo old mansions from Nob Hill and Pacific Heights.
"What's the guy's name?" Fay asked, pencil poised above the legal-size yellow paper that she customarily used to take notes. She was acutely aware that other investigators utilized minicassette tape recorders resembling Fig Newtons; she planned to buy one when she caught up on her bills or at the turn of the millennium, whichever came first.
"Teeny," she heard Chan answer. "Danny Teeny. A big guy. The client says he looks like a beached sea elephant. See what you can find on him, will you, Fay?"
She asked how to spell the name. Despite a high IQ and prodigious verbal acuity, as shown in her weekly newspaper column "Ask Rat Dog" and other published and unpublished writings, Fay had never heard a name she couldn't misspell or mispronounce. "God gave you so much, dear," a teacher had told her in childhood. "He just didn't give you spelling."
Chan said, "T-E-N-E."
"Odd name," said the PI. "That'll make things easier. How many T-E-E-N-Es can there be?"
"Two E's," he reminded her. "T-E-N-E. How much time do you need?"
Fay asked herself, Why are lawyers always in a hurry? She collected her notes, zipped her down vest from Eddie Bauer over her flowered print dress from Laura Ashley, smiled sweetly and said, "Will yesterday be soon enough?"CHAPTER 2
DRIVING HOME FROM the lawyer's office, Fay felt invigorated. Her carrot-cake-and-baked-oatmeal diet was producing a steady flow of energy, just as she'd hoped. She shook her head as she thought of the money she'd wasted on other people's idea of miracle foods — sprouts, wheat grass, lecithin, ginseng, various picolinates and chelates, betacarotene, dried nettles, everything but unicorn horn. She hadn't ingested a shred of "health food" for a month and felt twenty years old again, or about half her age. This very morning she'd biked two miles to the Golden Gate and two miles back, and when she got home she felt like making the trip again, and did. She planned to cycle to Alaska someday. It was only — what? Three or four thousand miles? She hoped Beans could keep up. He was just the right size to feed a family of grizzlies.
FOR TWO YEARS Fay and her dog had lived in the Marina, a sunstruck part of San Francisco that belied Mark Twain's well-worn quote about the coldest winter he ever spent. Her office-apartment was a five-minute walk from the beach and a bracing stroll from dozens of restaurants where she could replace some of the calories that she burned off on her new rope-jumping regimen, which consisted of nine hundred acrobatic jumps in varying positions, or as many as she could manage before fellow residents started banging on the walls. When the north wind blew off Fisherman's Wharf, a faint iodine scent made her imagine a tourist at Alioto's slurping an oyster or cracking a Dungeness crab. She found this another useful dieting aid.
INSIDE HER THREE-ROOM office-apartment, Fay offered Beans some leftover chicken curry soup, enough to lick but not enough to cause the same unfortunate reaction that a full bowl had caused the last time. He was a two-year-old golden retriever-German shepherd mix that she described as "the world's first canine Rastafarian" for the dreadlocks behind his floppy ears. The dog was clumsy and undisciplined and a profuse shedder of zigzag hairs of the same gauge as speaker wire, but there was no question that he meant well.
With her best friend at her feet, the private investigator installed herself at her Star Wars control center. This was the part of her work that she enjoyed the most. Admirers were convinced that she could produce the vital statistics, credit records, shoe sizes, blood types and personal histories of anyone from Governor Wilson to Vlad the Impaler, although Vlad might take a while. Of course skip tracers weren't supposed to have access to credit reports and other confidential information, but what were friends for? Fay called her personal network the Friends of the Rat Dog Dick Detective Agency and tried to give as good as she got.
HER DINING ROOM was draped in swags of spaghetti wire and patch cords that climbed like May Day ribbons to a multiple socket in the four-bulb chandelier. Her desk consisted of a heavy oaken door laid across two filing cabinets and spray-painted to resemble the finest Carrara marble. To the left of her workstation was a microfiche reader that she'd bought at a county salvage sale for $25. It served her well as long as she remembered to pull the plug at the first sign of smoke. On utility shelving to her right were a battered black-and-white printer that oozed copies according to its mood and a vintage fax machine that spat tightly curled messages with charred edges. At her fingertips was a crotchety old Everex 286 computer that she called Evie, or sometimes Evil Evie, attached to a Hayes modem that ran at 2400 baud, the slowest rate available from her favorite electronics shop, where her account was too seriously in arrears for an upgrade.
A RED LIGHT winked on the answering machine that she'd picked up at the Goodwill, but she decided to ignore it for the moment. Like the pilot of a transoceanic jet, she sat among her humming machines and blinking lights to launch her journey into the private world of — what was that name again? She consulted her notes and found "Danny Teeny." She hoped Ken Chan hadn't misspelled it. Then she remembered that it was pronounced "Teeny" but spelled T-E-N-E. Or was it the other way around?
For a start, she punched "Tene" into a data bank that claimed to hold every listed phone number in the United States. She expected a bare minimum of hits, if any, for such an unusual name, but Tenes turned up in New York, Boston and its suburbs, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and several smaller cities, plus a few in the San Francisco Bay Area.
She switched tactics and dialed the online number for the Social Security Master Death Index, a listing of names and Social Security numbers of citizens who'd forfeited their privacy rights by dying. More Tenes appeared: John, Mary, Angelo, Tina, Larry, Tom, Frank, Steve. The name Pete Bimbo Tene popped up and sounded remotely familiar, as did Pete Tene Bimbo, but Fay couldn't remember where she'd heard them. Several Ephrem and/or Ephraim Tenes turned up; one of the Ephrems also seemed to be named Brian or Bryan. A few listings were so baffling that Fay decided they were simply errors, typographical or otherwise.
In other handy data banks she discovered that some living members of the clan seemed to have two or three Social Security numbers, some had none, and some were using numbers that belonged to the dead. A few SSNs checked back to the wrong names, and vice versa. In court records, the names of several Tenes and Bimbos and Tene Bimbos appeared on restraining orders. An infant Tene, twenty-three days old, had died under peculiar circumstances. Another Tene had been killed in a parking lot. One had been arrested for picking pockets, and other members of the clan had misdemeanor records. There were also evictions and charges of welfare fraud.
Fay cruised the information superhighway every day but she'd seldom encountered such mystifying files. How could these Tenes expect old-age benefits if they didn't pay into their own Social Security accounts? What was the point of building up a retirement equity for someone else, or for the dead? She wondered if the Tenes were a Mafia family, running some kind of scam. She called a network friend, a detective who worked organized crime; he told her that the name Tene meant nothing to him.
IN THE EVENING, she took her sidekick on his regular evening frisk to Marina Green, then decided to file the Tene mystery in a far corner of her mind and go to bed. She'd studied creative writing at Arizona State, authored A Private Eye's Guide to Collecting a Bad Debt, and regularly critiqued detective novels in a column called "The Gumshoe Letters" in the San Francisco Review of Books. On this cool winter night she decided to lull herself to sleep by plotting out still another project: a novel about a skip tracer. She got as far as the title — Lily Kills Her Client — when her concentration began to slip.
Then Beans licked her face, a pigeon cooed on her balcony, and the steam heat system hissed and knocked, a triad of events announcing the arrival of dawn. Her clock said five-fifty. Darn, she said to herself, I gotta stop sleeping so late.CHAPTER 3
Tracking a Tene
SHE STARTED HER new day by rearranging her document files so they wouldn't come crashing down while she showered. She kept most of her papers in crates along the wall of her art deco bathroom, where they rose six sinuous feet like Oriental acrobats. The W to Z folders stayed damp from bathtub runoff, but A to V were dry. A shorter stack of wanted posters, legal documents and back copies of dog-lover magazines perched atop the water closet at a slight angle.
At 9:00 a.m., after a bracing ride to Seal Rocks with Beans gallomping behind her bike, Fay called the Department of Motor Vehicles to request the driving history of Hope Victoria Beesley's friend Danny Tene. She learned that a Dan Tene had been involved in minor traffic matters but otherwise seemed clean. He was the registered owner of a metallic-gold Corvette. Fay reversed the license number through the system and this time the owner came back as Sal Lamance. Same address, same car. She wondered why Danny Tene needed two names. It was perfectly legal under California law, but ... odd. Maybe this job wouldn't be as simple as she'd thought.
SHE DROVE HER 1982 Tercel to the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office and learned that a photocopy of the police report involving the dead Tene infant would cost $25, an offer she was obliged to decline. She perused City Hall records and found that a Dan Tene resided in a nondescript neighborhood, stood six-three, weighed two-eighty, and had been born in New Jersey in 1957 or 1962 — the printing was faint — which made him thirty or thirty-five.
After a hasty carrot cake brunch with iced damiana cappuccino, she dropped by Ken Chan's office. "I've been trying to connect Tene with Mrs. Beesley," she said after reporting her preliminary findings. "So far — no connection. What do we know about her?"
The lawyer described his client as an irascible eighty-two-year-old eccentric who alternated between spinning fascinating tales about her past and cussing him out. "Most of the time I really enjoy her, but she can be hard to take. Hates lawyers, doctors, politicians, bureaucrats, Americans. She calls Russians"Bolsheviks. "Has an opinion on everything, usually negative. You name it, she hates it. Except the English. She was born Russian, but she's proud of holding U.S. and English passports. She looks down on Asians and lends them money at eighteen, nineteen percent. She's got about a half million dollars on the street. Sometimes a debtor skips to China and she gets stiffed. That's where I come in. It's tough work, and she's never satisfied."
Chan said the old woman had offered several explanations of how the opportunistic Danny Tene came to be listed as co-owner of her luxurious home with its stained glass windows and objets d'art in jade and ivory and precious metals. The bare home, minus contents, had been appraised by the city at $373,000, but it was worth more on the open market.
"She doesn't remember how she met Danny," the lawyer continued, "but it might have been when she was taking a walk. He offered to help her out — housework, gardening, handyman. Told her he enjoyed helping old people and did the same things for his mother. After a while he asked if he could rent her empty garage —"
"For his gold Corvette," Fay interrupted. "California license 1PLL244."
Chan ignored her display of expertise. "One night Danny mentioned that he needed a place to stay and since Mrs. Beesley had five empty bedrooms, why couldn't he just move in? Next thing she knew he was a permanent guest."
"Was there any — uh ... you know?"
"Not likely. She's under five feet, weighs ninety pounds. He's huge. And he's fifty years younger. But ..." He shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe you can find out."
Fay said that sexual profiling wasn't one of her specialities.
Chan smiled. "After a few months Tene got her to sign a joint tenancy deed. Said it would legalize their living arrangement. She didn't suspect anything. She'd taught English, and he was her tenant, wasn't he? Simple enough. She also speaks Russian, French and German, and she can get by in Mandarin and Cantonese and some Chinese dialects I've never heard. Learned 'em in Hong Kong."
"Hong Kong?" Fay was a busy traveler herself, a compulsion that had begun when she'd said to herself "I'd rather be anyplace but here" while enduring 120-degree heat in the playground of Royal Palm Elementary School in Phoenix. Since then she'd been to fifty states and four continents and had enjoyed every trip except the midwinter freight train ride from Mount Shasta to Seattle.
"Mrs. Beesley was in Hong Kong in World War Two," the lawyer explained. "She spent three years in a Japanese concentration camp."
Chan said that Danny Tene had promised the old woman $75,000 in return for her signature on the joint tenancy agreement. Chronically worried about money, she'd accompanied her roomer to City Hall and signed in front of a notary. After the document was recorded, the handyman dropped out of her life. "That was two or three years ago, and she hasn't seen him since. She's hurt, but what can she do? She had no idea what he was up to, and she had other things on her mind — opera, philanthropies, costume parties, entertaining. She likes to dress in her Russian costumes and play piano in charity wards with a group called the Half-Notes. Shakes her tambourine and does dances she learned in Russia. A very busy old lady."
Fay said, "Hope Victoria Beesley doesn't sound like a Russian name."
"She was born Nadia Malysheff. Married an Englishman named Beesley and renamed herself after the Hope diamond and the queen. She says she came from a family of aristocrats — doctors, teachers."
"What makes her think she's being scammed?"
"A year after she signed the joint tenancy agreement, the Assessor's Office raised her taxes. She sent a note to Danny saying something like, This thing that you recorded, whatever it is, you gotta unrecord it because it's costing me money. Danny ignored her. He had what he wanted. The joint tenancy agreement makes him co-owner of her house. When she dies, he'll own it outright."
Fay nodded. She'd heard of a few similar cases. Big-money scams had been based on the fact that the phrase "joint tenancy" actually meant "joint ownership" under the law. She wondered when California politicians would learn basic English.
Excerpted from Hastened to the Grave by Jack Olsen. Copyright © 1998 Jack Olsen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
Jack Olsen is the author of thirty books published in fourteen countries. A former bureau chief for Time, he has written for Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, People, Paris Match, and Reader's Digest. He has won the National Headliners Award, citations for excellence from Columbia and Indiana Universities, three Edgar Award nominations, and the 1990 Edgar for Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell. He lives on an island in Washington's Puget Sound with his wife and two children.
Jack Olsen (1925-2002) is the author of thirty books published in fourteen countries. A former bureau chief for Time, he has written for Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, People, Paris Match, and Reader's Digest. He has won the National Headliners Award, citations for excellence from Columbia and Indiana Universities, three Edgar Award nominations, and the 1990 Edgar for Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell.
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