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Most Wanted Killer
By Robert Scott
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Robert Scott
All right reserved.
Sunday, August 6, 2000, West Hills, Los Angeles
It was a typical morning in the West Hills section of Los Angeles on a warm summer afternoon. Pauline Mahoney was returning from church with her two boys and one of their friends, and as she approached the intersection of Platt and Ingomar Streets, she suddenly witnessed a sight that ripped apart the tranquility of the day. At least two young men, and possibly three, were beating and kicking a young teenager, who lay on the ground, trying to defend himself. As Pauline recalled later, "The boy they were beating was a young man. They were really beating the crap out of him!"
Mahoney would recall that it was four young men beating up the lone individual, when, in fact, it was two or three against one. Nonetheless, despite her error in numbers, she witnessed a severe beating in progress. Mahoney recalled, "The lone boy was lying on the ground, so I couldn't tell if he was thin or heavy, but he was not an overweight boy. He was lying down against a wall, and the others were kicking and beating him. It was all happening as I was driving by. I observed all of this for about twenty seconds, and then they threw him into a white van. The young men who were beating him were allwhite, and all of them had short hair. The victim was also white.
"My vehicle was only about four or five feet away from them. I drove up to a stop sign, and instead of making a right-hand turn, which I would normally do to go home, I continued forward in order to get the license plate number. I drove by slowly and got the license plate number, and then continued on slowly, looking in my rearview mirror just to kind of see what was going on. The van started to drive away, and it left one of the attackers on the street. It stopped to let him get in, and I was trying to look inconspicuous. Then I made a right at the next block and went home.
"My two boys in the car with me were six and nine years old. I wasn't able to write down the license plate number right then, so me and the boys stated the number out loud as we saw it, and continued repeating it until we got home. Then I wrote it down before I made a phone call. It was only about a minute from the time I saw the boy being beaten until I got home and made the phone call."
Mahoney's voice was excited as she called 911 at around 1:00 P.M. on August 6, describing the beating and what appeared to her to be a kidnapping. As far as things she observed, the boy who had been beaten did not voluntarily climb into the van, but rather was thrown in against his will.
Amazingly, there was a second phone call that went to a 911 dispatcher about the same incident. It was from a woman via her cell phone, and though she refused to give her name, the information she gave was similar to that of Mahoney. The caller described young men beating a boy as he lay on the sidewalk near a wall. Then the attackers threw the young man into a white van and drove away.
Despite such good information, especially from Mahoney about the van's license plate, nothing would go right from that point forward. The dispatcher who took the call from Mahoney reported it to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as "an assault with a deadly weapon with subjects still on scene." In fact, it should have been labeled as a more urgent dispatch-"an assault still in progress."
When LAPD officers Brent Rygh and Donovan Lyons arrived on the scene at Ingomar and Platt, there was no assault in progress by that point; there were no assailants, no victim, no van. Officer Rygh said later, "I thought it was some high-school kids just slap fighting, or horsing around, the way high-school students tend to do."
Officer Rygh did call Pauline Mahoney on his own cell phone, but he never went to see her in person. When he took the information she had given about the van's license plate, he ran the numbers, but mistakenly thought the address of the van's owner was a long distance from the scene, rather than close by. Officer Rygh and his partner did not go to the van owner's address to check up on the whereabouts of the van. Nor did they pass on the information they had to other nearby police agencies.
Further mistakes were made on the second 911 call by a dispatcher. This dispatcher labeled the call as an "information-only broadcast," instead of the correct labeling as a "kidnapping in progress." Officers Rygh and Lyons never got any information about this second message at all, since it was deemed to have such low priority.
Little did the LAPD know at the time that the white van was now traveling out of the county, eventually heading for Santa Barbara. Inside, it held four young men, three of them kidnappers: twenty-year-old Jesse Rugge, twenty-year-old William Skidmore and nineteen-year-old Jesse James Hollywood. Their victim was fifteen-year-old Nick Markowitz, and his half brother, Ben, had once been Hollywood's pal and fellow drug dealer. But on August 6, 2000, Ben was no longer Jesse Hollywood's friend, and the feud that had gone on between them for six months now took a dangerous turn for everyone involved.
Chapter TwoBen and Nick
Ben Markowitz was a handful from an early age. He was headstrong and willful; trouble seemed to be his constant companion. His father, Jeff, tried almost everything he could to get Ben back on the right path, but nothing seemed to work. Jeff related, "The first (bad) thing Ben ever did, he slashed some tires, and from there it escalated into an assault with a deadly weapon, which was brass knuckles. He thought he was protecting a girl. Little things like that. 'Little' big things that just kept going on and on. Ben was living with his mother, at twelve years old, and he started getting into trouble. So he moved in with myself and my new wife, Susan, and basically, we kind of got him on track for a while. He got involved in karate, baseball and a lot of different sports. He was doing okay for a while.
"Ben was a good athlete. Exceptional. He was a national champion in karate, he was in all-star baseball, he was an unbelievable little athlete. And a real joy to watch, to be honest. The other stuff-we kept hoping it was going to get better, but at fourteen he brought a weapon into the house and my wife, Susan, found it. She actually found a clip to a weapon, a nine-millimeter pistol. We traced it down, found out whose it was, and what it was all about.
"From that point on, Benjamin was in karate, and we actually had him move in with his sensei (karate teacher). His sensei said, 'Let me have him for a while. I'll take him to school.' So we tried that route. And after about eight months, Ben came back home and I took the three-car garage and we turned it into his bedroom. But he and I got into an argument over painting it. He wanted to go out and not help paint, and it was a knock-down, drag-out fight with my son. I had to hold him down and tell him that we were going to finish the project. He actually attacked me.
"We painted that night, and I got him to stay. I told him that if he finished painting, he could go out. The next day we went to counseling. Ben had been in counseling since he was four years old. At counseling I kind of blew up with Ben, and the counselor said that there was no way I could get into physical confrontations with my son. So I said to Ben, 'You can either do it my way, or the highway.'
"I got home from the counselor, and we were going to finish a few things in his room, and he disappeared. I didn't hear from him for six months after that. Well, actually I heard from him, but I couldn't get ahold of him. He would call and say, 'I'm fine. I'm fine.' And I was thinking that sooner or later he's got to come back, and he did. But he came back tattooed from his shoulder blades down to his ankles. He had moved in with a tattoo artist. And he had a real hard-core attitude, including an SFV tattoo."
SFV stood for a gang from the San Fernando Valley. It was, in part, a white supremacist gang, which Jeff and Susan Markowitz, being Jewish, found incredibly offensive. In fact, one of Ben's tattoos was a swastika. Ben was fifteen years old.
"He came home with two pit bulls and said, 'Well, I want these dogs.' And we had a giant argument over those two dogs. We already had two dogs, and I said, 'No, we can't have any more dogs!' And he disappeared again.
"Maybe a month later I got in touch with him at a friend's house. This family had always been interested in helping out. Always been there for him. They took him to school and he went to continuation school next to his old high school, and he was doing okay at his continuation school.
"But some kind of confrontation happened in the school between him and another student. I was at work and I got a phone call from the principal of the continuation school to get down there. They had black gang members from one end and they had white supremacist gang members at the other, and Ben was the one who instigated the whole thing. All turned out fine and well, everybody ran away, and it all dissipated, but again, Ben ..." Jeff left the rest of the sentence remain unspoken. "This thing escalated into something of unbelievable consequence.
"Through all of this period, Ben was working for me. I was picking him up, bringing him to work, and he was taking the bus. I was trying to do whatever I could do to try to bring him back. The assault with a deadly weapon was when he was fifteen. He was at the beach and he ran into a guy that had raped a friend of his, and Ben thought he had to be her protector. He walked over to this guy, had his hand in his pocket, and he also had brass knuckles. The guy came at him when Ben confronted him, and Ben took a swipe at the guy. Actually cut the guy on the top of the head.
"The police happened to be right there, because these boys had sneaked onto the beach, and the police had been called to go after them. So the police happened to be right there when Ben confronted this boy. Ben was arrested, and he was in for about eight months.
"When Ben got to be eighteen, I got him into an apartment, and he and a group of guys, well, it turned into a fiasco. Actually, before that, I moved out with him, and personally moved into his apartment. Just he and I. I took him to work every day, back and forth, and I visited with my wife on the weekends. Just to try something. Just to make him regroup and understand the ethics of work. It was the only thing I thought might work.
"In the meantime Ben, well, he's probably the most lovable guy you'd meet. And he's very caring and very considerate. I can't tell you how many friends and how many enemies he has. It's probably fifty-fifty. Anybody would do anything for him, and at the same time, he has people that really dislike him. Ben was an urban legend in our town, because he would defend himself. He would fight for what ... well, a lot of times it wasn't for what he believed, a lot of times it was because he had been drinking. Which is probably, like, a lot of people's downfall. But if backed into a corner, he'd come out on top. It's just the way he is. In juvenile hall there was a guy after him that was two times his size. The guy finally cornered him in the shower, but Ben came out smelling like a rose. That's just the way he is.
"He knew karate, but beyond that, even before that, you could throw him up in the air and he'd land on his feet. He's a cat with nine lives. The problem is what he left in his wake behind him."
Ben Markowitz had a friendship with another young man from the area-Jesse James Hollywood-and Ben had played in the same baseball league with Jesse. Although years older than Jesse, Ben and Hollywood hit it off, and in time Ben moved into Jesse's residence, and was part of his party scene. Because of Ben's tough image, some people even came to view Ben as Hollywood's "enforcer."
As one reporter put it later, "Jesse James Hollywood was a wannabe bad boy. Ben Markowitz was a real bad boy." Ben recalled later, "I'd known Jesse for years. He was younger than me, but we played the same sports. Later I sold marijuana for Jesse Hollywood. He would just front me so much at a time and I would pay him back when I got the money. He was supplying me with about two pounds a week. It cost about four thousand two hundred fifty a pound. I'd sell that and I'd get, like, fifty-two hundred. I was turning two pounds a week. Jesse was getting it from his dad. I knew from the beginning that his dad was in the drug-dealing business. We would not really talk about it, but Jesse let it be known.
"There were about four or five other people dealing for Jesse Hollywood. There was a guy named Brian, John, Ryan, Jake and a guy named Josh. As for Ryan Hoyt, I used to go out with his sister when I was young, like, twelve years old. I met Ryan then. Jesse, he had a way of picking on everybody, but I guess he picked on Ryan more than anyone. Just making fun of him."
A Los Angeles magazine writer named Jesse Katz, who later studied this world of Jesse Hollywood and his buddies, wrote: Jesse Hollywood was a businessman. The people around him were basically lost souls. Jesse James was kind of the center of their universe. None of these kids would stand up to him, but Ben Markowitz just didn't seem to care, and he was probably the only member of that crew that didn't kowtow to Jesse James Hollywood.
Hollywood might have made fun of the others, but Ben would not take very much of a ribbing from him or anyone else. He had a volatile temper, was extremely strong, proficient in karate, and most people knew not to mess with him. Ben had one more thing-a younger half brother named Nick, whom he liked very much, and whom Ben took steps to keep from following down the path he had taken.
Jeff and Susan Markowitz were recent divorcees when they met in San Fernando Valley in 1982. They hit it off, and about a year later they were married. Susan's only son, Nicholas, was born to them in 1984. Susan recalled that Nick was a happy baby and a very quick learner. By the age of two and a half, he could identify Snow White and all of the seven dwarfs.
The family eventually moved to a housing tract in the West Hills section of Los Angeles, which was on the edge of the San Fernando Valley. Originally the area had been the site within the domain of the Spanish San Fernando Mission. The valley remained mostly agricultural, with picturesque orange groves, until the early part of the twentieth century, when Los Angeles obtained water from the Owens Valley, which allowed new housing in the San Fernando Valley. After that occurred, the days of agriculture were over, and the Valley became a vast suburb of Los Angeles. The mid part of the Valley over time became somewhat run-down, but by the year 2000, West Hills was still one of the "tonier" areas of the San Fernando Valley.
Growing up in one of those suburban homes, Nick took piano lessons, enjoyed drama, read Shakespeare and studied martial arts. He and his mother were very close and even wrote in a journal together. It contained notes on the day's events, funny stories and depictions of how they were feeling at the time. Susan later told a reporter, "He was the funniest person on earth. He just had so much energy. I don't know what was going on in his head, but he would do anything to make us laugh."
Nick wasn't just a "mama's boy." He studied Tae Kwon Do and was very proficient at it. Jeff Markowitz later said of his son Nick, "He had a lot of friends. He had a funny personality. He was full of life. He was a jokester. He was in drama, and he just loved to use that on everybody, and he could play it up. He had awards for drama, and did it three years running, from junior high into high school."
Longtime friend Laura Milner knew Nick from the time they went to elementary school together, and she was interested in the theater as well. She said, "We were both theater geeks. Nick had a way of lighting up a room. He was silly and you could talk to him. He liked to mess around with the guys, but could hang out with the girls. That's why girls liked him."
As tough as he could be, Nick was also very sensitive. Alireza Hojati, his teacher at the Academy of Karate, in West Hills, said of Nick, "In the first ten minutes, you could see that he was sensitive. He sparred, but you knew that he was a very gentle soul. He had a very hard time bringing himself to hitting anyone."
At his Bar Mitzvah, Nick chose to speak about Moses, near the end of his days, and his admonition to the people of Israel to follow a path of justice. It was a speech about fair play and doing what was right. In many respects the things Nick talked about covered the area of witnesses and trials, ironic in light of what was to happen later to him and those around him.
Excerpted from Most Wanted Killer by Robert Scott Copyright © 2010 by Robert Scott. Excerpted by permission.
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